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Friday, May 30, 2014

“Did a coconut mojito really make me cry?” My visit to The Modern Honolulu

I just returned from a week in Waikiki and was fortunate enough to stay at The Modern Honolulu for my first time.  From the moment I arrived I was delighted and astonished. The Modern Honolulu defines themselves as “cosmopolitan chic," and that’s exactly what they are.  Sexy and sophisticated.  The aroma of plumeria greeted me immediately upon entry. Now I’ll be the first to admit that at the very mention of perfume (AH-CHOOO!) I sneeze uncontrollably.  But this scent was so very subtle and perfect. I found myself popping down to the lobby throughout the week just to catch another whiff. Well, either that, or to catch another glimpse of the quirky Herbie Fletcher original broken-in-action surfboard back splash.

The rooms were aesthetically divine, so crisp and clean looking; all white with a slight pop of Hawaiian color. I was relaxed just looking at the décor.  No tacky artwork or paisley bedspreads in sight. There are only 310 guest rooms in this hotel, the perfect size boutique setting that I so love.  There was a wedding occurring while I was there and it was absolutely beautiful.  You can actually have your guests sit on chairs IN THE POOL.  Talk about a unique.  (Okay, I should mention that the upper pool is a 4 inch wading pool, but the perfect WOW factor for your wedding!).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Magical and Peaceful Bulgari Bali is the Definition of Namaste

When I arrived in Bali on January 6, 2014, I was taken back by how much tourism has destroyed the peaceful island that I had remembered when I was nine years old. Staying on the Kuta Beach area in Bali feels a bit like being in an Asian version of South Beach, Miami. Crowded with lots of tourists, loud and a little dirty, kind of neon with lots of hotels, restaurants, beach hustling locals and outdoor shopping malls. 
The next beach town close by to Kuta is called Semiyak. This area of Bali is more the American version of Kuta Beach. A little more secluded than Kuta with hidden luxury hotels off a main strip filled with small, amazing restaurants and unique, boutique shopping. 
By day three, we reach Ulawatu Beach or Dreamland Beach where my family and I had afternoon tea at sunset to celebrate my birthday in Bali. They named it Dreamland Beach because 20 years ago when Bali was filled with mostly surfers, they would come here and lay out naked after a long day of ripping through the epic waves. Que entering the Bulgari Resort ...

The Bulgari Bali is the definition of namaste to me. The resort is located about 45 minutes from the airport and is on the only part of the island where you can see the sun rise and set in the same location. When you enter the grounds, you are greeted by security and you must be on their list in order to enter the property. The gates open and the first thing you see is a temple which looks down over the cliff of hidden suites and villas over looking the ocean throughout the grounds. At the main lobby we met our guide who took us around the hilly property on a golf cart. When staying at the Bulgari, you can call the front desk to have this person take you to other areas of the resort like the spa, two restaurants, infinity pool and sun deck with luxurious and modern lounging areas or the sun cafe where we enjoyed our afternoon tea. The property has a magical Asian inspiration throughout but in tradition with other Bulgari properties, they hold true to their Italian traditions in their restaurants. The modern suites of dark woods and natural stone are situated in the cliff side, so you wake up to glass walls that can open up to your infinity plug pool over the Indian Ocean. You literally can see the ocean and its never ending waters right from your bed. Na-ma-ste

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Visit Turks & Caicos Islands Where the Hotel is More Than a Place to Sleep

There are SO many reasons to visit Turks & Caicos Islands, but I just discovered another one. The Regent Palms Hotel.  I’m sorry but for those people that say "Oh, I don’t care where I stay or what kind of hotel it is, I just need a place to sleep," they seriously need a reality check!  It does matter, to me, what hotel I stay at and I think I just about found the absolute most perfect place to stay...

Let’s just start by saying that Turks is not just your regular ‘run of the mill’ Caribbean island destination!  Everything is just a little bit more ‘special’ here….the water color is more fabulous, the hotels & resorts are more magnificent, the food tastes just a bit more delicious, the pedestrian shopping area is a bit cleaner & nicer, and the people are just SO friendly!  But, it’s not for everyone.  If you are not a beach-goer and don’t enjoy being in the sun, or you don’t enjoy water activities, then by all means – STAY AWAY!  
There is no nightlife to speak of other than their tiny little casino that mainly locals frequent, and there isn't much going on after dinner at the hotels. So get active during the day and enjoying spectacular water sport activities and having fun in the sun, then have a late dinner, and sit by a fire pit or out on your balcony with a nice glass of wine and enjoy the company of your travel companions and then call it a day.  It truly makes for an extremely relaxing time!

The Regent Palms Hotel is absolutely spectacular!  From the minute you arrive until the time of departure you are made to feel warm and welcomed. Friendly staff greets you in the lobby area with some nice cold towels and refreshing cucumber juice.  Check-in is easy, efficient and a staff member quickly escorts you to your room which is quite a bit more than a room. From the Junior Suites to the Penthouse Suites, you really can't go wrong. The accommodations are very luxurious, marble everywhere, stainless steel appliances, Nespresso coffee makers, all kinds of kitchen gadgets in the one bedroom suites that you could possibly need along with beautiful balconies, comfortable living room furniture, heavenly bedding, bathrooms that you could have a party for 20 people in, and the list goes on & on.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best of Holiday Travel- European Christmas Markets and Austrian Delicatessen

We landed at the Munich Airport on a cold and gray day and took a transport (a bus) 2 hours to Innsbruck. As soon as we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, we headed to the Old Town area - a five minute walk - and stumbled upon one of the most beautiful streets I've ever seen. If I hadn't been so jet lagged, I would have appreciated it more!

This is the ugliest street in Innsbruck. Only kidding! There is a commercial side to Innsbruck but the old town area is what everyone comes for. It is uniquely beautiful with a mix of architectural styles and the stunning background. We hired a private guide who showed us many hidden gems in Innsbruck, shared restaurant choices and the best bars to go to. She even showed us where one of the Von Trapp descendants lives.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Epic Family Journey to My Father's Birthplace in Indonesia

Selamat Tahun Baru! Happy New Year! The Siregar’s began their New Year on the island of Sumatra, my dad’s birth place. On the first day of 2014 we landed in Medan, Indonesia, the capital of Sumatra. 
Jennifer, Toto and Jessica Siregar at Lake Toba

This day shall also be known as the day I lost my passport, twice! Once before I left the hotel in Jakarta and once as we waited for our baggage in Medan. After a 2 1/2 flight from Jakarta we landed in Medan and we’re immediately surprised as to how modern the airport was and how many people were at the airport, at what seemed they were just hanging out there. I immediately realized I left my passport and itineraries in the seat pocket on the plane and literally sprinted back just in time! About two minutes before it pulled back to fly again. Whew!! Setting us up for the turbulent ups and downs for what lied ahead…

We met our driver/guide named Saleh at the airport. We found out the airport was newly opened in August and because of New Year holiday, many people took their day off to check out the new airport. So they were just hanging out. Well the large amount of people certainly did not stop at the airport as a 3-4 hour drive turned into a 6-7 hour road trip packed with trucks, motor bikes, rubber trees, burning garbage and lots of playing chicken on the road with other SUV's to get us to Lake Toba  as quickly as possible. There were people everywhere! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Best of Jamacia's All-Inclusive Resorts for Couples

Mark & Tiadora visited Ocho Rios, Jamaica on December 3-9, 2013 and stayed at the beautiful and all-inclusive Couples Tower Isle Resort. This all-inclusive property is modern, clean and up to date as it has just underwent a million dollar renovation. Between Couple's Tower Isle and close by Couple's San Souci, this was the best choice as the San Souci property is very old.

Tower Isle's staff was amazing, very attentive and helpful. The bartenders were the best especially Terry, Pasqua, and Omar! The resort's decor was beautiful and had an open air feeling to it. The lobby was actually open so the breeze passed through the entire time.
Tia and Mark at Couples
View from their room

Lobster Night at Eight Rivers

The food was amazing all over the resort. The buffet tasted good with an excellent variety but tended to get cold quickly. The presentation was amazing at the buffet, and the people were so friendly. The Veranda is the Jamaican restaurant which is very laid back, with great service and people and the food was amazing! We ate out of coconuts, which was so cool! We liked this spot because we were able to listen to the ocean and enjoy ourselves. Eight Rivers is the upscale restaurant on property where the servers are very proper and the decor is simple and beautiful.  The lobster bisque has to be the best I've ever had but all the food was very good! The Asian Bistro is our favorite restaurant, because it sat right on the ocean and was so relaxing to have dinner out there. Though the service was the worst we had all vacation the food was amazing! I especially loved the plating and the layout. The Veggie Bar was open during the day and you could have fresh veggies with different kind of dips as well as plantain chips. They also made fresh fruit smoothies and drinks in fresh coconuts. Pool Grill was a great place because it was open all day and was the perfect snack place when you were hungry. Their hours are 12:00 p.m.- 6:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.- 6:00 a.m. They had ice cream, nachos, and popcorn and soda and water at all times. They also offered Jamaican beef and chicken patties, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, calamari etc.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cruising the Mediterranean during off-season on Regent Seven Seas Voyager

It is lovely to visit the Mediterranean late in the season when the weather is usually wonderful, there are less crowds everywhere and between summer and the holidays, it is just a nice time to travel. And it is especially lovely to do so on an exquisite luxury ship. Arriving in Rome for two leisurely days in one of our very favorite cities, gave us time to rest up and lose the jet lag before boarding the beautiful Regent Voyager. She was just out of dry dock with a major refurbishment which made her look brand new!

This is a small ship by today's standards accommodating just 700 passengers in elegant veranda suites of varying sizes. We splurged on a huge Seven Seas suite with 1-1/2 bathrooms and a butler which was pure heaven for our ten day voyage. The ship is small enough to be intimate and have no crowded spaces or lines anywhere, ever! Yet large enough to have various dining and entertainment venues to please everyone.  A lovely touch is Regent’s “block party”, right after muster the first afternoon, all passengers were invited out into their hallways and asked to bring a glass from their bar. And there waiting to greet us were waiters with canapes and bottles of champagne as we greeted our new neighbors and the officers who passed by to greet us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Discover Bavaria’s Culture, Beer & Wine in the Magical Land of Germany

I recently participated in an educational trip to the Bavaria region of Germany. Germany has so much to offer and every state is a little different. There are 16 states within Germany.  I never get tired of visiting Germany since there is always something different. During this visit I saw the amazing fall colors everywhere that were more breathtaking than New England colors at times!

Our first stop was Wurzburg in the German State of Franconia, truly one of the loveliest baroque cities in Germany.  You will notice the old and new with so much charm everywhere you look. Franconian are always on the world's top wine awards and certainly worth tastings whenever you can. There are many “Weinstuben” restaurants which have their own tasting rooms and many own their own vineyards.  Make sure to make stops at the various green markets and especially the Christmas market. 

If you plan on driving the “Romantic Road," this drive is on the top of my list. Wurzburg is a perfect town to visit as a first stop after arriving in Frankfurt. Don’t miss the Residence Palace after walking through Old Town. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Five Star Experience in Florence Italy at The Hotel Brunelleschi

I'm happy to say that I finally made it to Florence!  Although it was a very short visit (only about 20 hours and part of the time I was asleep), it was enough for me to realize the 'magic' of this beautiful city!  The first thing that was very apparent to me was that you should NOT drive if the purpose of the trip is to visit the historical city center!  Even for the experienced driver it is extremely difficult to navigate the streets of Florence. Two-way streets can barely fit one car through, let alone two!  And of course there are areas marked that say 'Area Pedonale', which means 'Pedestrian Area' so naturally an American tourist will avoid turning in those streets; little did I know that you can (and need to) actually turn in those streets in order to get to where you're going to!

So the first (and only) challenge was getting to the Hotel Brunelleschi. After following the navigation system around the same area about three times, I finally called the hotel and spoke to Sergio, the front desk concierge, who guided us to the same area we had passed multiple times. When we got closer to the hotel he had the Bellman step outside and guide us the rest of the way  for the last two turns!  Sergio stayed on the phone with me until we safely made it to the courtyard.  So this is the view that magically appears once you turn that last corner!

The hotel has historical significance dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries, part of it once being a church and the tower part at one time being a women's prison.  What is so beautiful about this hotel is the fact that they have preserved the historical aspect of it yet have remodeled it to make it one of the most luxurious hotels in all of Florence!

View from my window

The location is absolutely perfect, in my opinion.  For someone wanting to be in the historical part of Florence there really is  no better location, no better hotel than The Brunelleschi.  It is a stone's throw from Ponte Vecchio and from Piazza della Signoria, the 'leather market' and so many cafes, restaurants, gelaterias, etc.  It is a very unique gem, no 'cookie-cutter' look for this place!  And better yet is the staff, starting with Claudio Catani, the General Manager, and then on to Sergio, Antonella, and Stefano.   In my short stay each and every person that I came in contact with was extremely and genuinely pleasant, and greeted every guest that they passed by.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mother, Daughter Trip of a Lifetime to Machu Picchu in Peru

     This was a mother daughter, once in a lifetime, bucket list type of trip.  We had always wanted to see Machu Picchu and when we found the trip that included getting there on horseback, that just seemed like the ultimate experience. Our expectations were high because the brochure made the trip sound extraordinary.  Well, the brochure just didn't do it justice. It was without question the best trip I have ever taken.  

     It started with the services of Largay Travel that made booking and getting questions answered easy as could be.  Both Amanda and Vivian were fabulous to work with.  We did not have one single snafu with flights, bags, or hotels.  Now that NEVER happens but it did.  Once we were picked up by Mountain Lodges of Peru, it was indescribable.  They have it down to a science.  Everything worked like clockwork, we felt completely safe at all times, we were catered to on every level.