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Australia Trip

Sandy’s  Amazing Aussie Adventure- A Taste of Australia-- September 15-25, 2013 (Spring time).
Off to “Down Under” on Qantas’ Airbus 380- double decker nonstop service from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia.  I’m 5’8” and found coach to be quite comfortable.  I call it a “flight of 2 meals, 2 movies and a nap”.  The personal entertainment system had at least 30 movies selections; as many TV shows and music stations.  First class was also on the lower level consisting of 14 closed suites; while upstairs was Premium Economy with a couples inches wider seats and more leg room; business class seating of 64 flatbed seats and the private, small business class lounge.
Arriving the morning (2 calendar days later) in Sydney we hopped another 3 ½ hour flight on virgin Australia to Uluru/Ayers Rock – “The Outback”.  The Town Square is the only developed are for miles where the 3 star Desert Gardens Hotel; 4 star Sails in the Desert (where I stayed) and nearby basic lodging cabins and camping.  A short ride away experience the luxury 5 star tent cabins at Longitude 131 if you want quiet, great service with an unobstructed view of amazing Uluru/Ayers Rock.  There are so many special ways to experience Uluru/Ayers Rock. At sunset at the Sounds of Silence Dinner where you can taste kangaroo, crocodile, emu and star gazing.  Arrive at the viewing stations to watch the sunrise at Uluru.  then breakfast at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center to meet and learn from an indigenous/aboriginal guide for an interpretive walk at the base of the ancient monolith.
Then take a 4 hour AAT & Kings comfortable motor coach throughout the Outback to Alice Springs.  A few “stations” (ranches) provide limited roadside services out where kangaroos and camels run wild (didn’t see any camels but a lot of kangaroos).
Alice Springs is the main city of the Outback but still very small in size and populations.
Welcome to the food and wine capital of Australia.  Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city of 1.2 million residents.  This very “English” settlement is now a beautiful city setting beside the Murray River; surrounded by parklands and the cool culture of a capital city.  Everything from award-winning sports to world-class art, amazing restaurants and the fascinating Central Markets (a must-do open Tuesday-Saturday).  Known as the “20 minute city” since you can walk, trolley or bus to all.  Very easy from our modern, city central stay at the Rendezvous Grand Hotel Adelaide.  I even tried my hand at tagging/spray painting our “art” at the “Free Wall”.  A wonderful base since day trips to enjoy for Adelaide-
Just a two hour flight on Virgin Australia to arrive in amazing Sydney, New South Wales! This city is a must!  How about doing the –
-“Bridge Climb” of the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge.  From the summit of the bridge are the most beautiful views of the harbor, the famous Opera House and all of downtown Sydney; plus across to Darling Harbor.
-Sydney Opera House where you can learn and see so much with a guided tour.  Many performances to enjoy in the evenings.
-Sunday’s a wonderful time in Sydney with the stalls of the street markets under the Sydney Bridge in the Rock’s District to exploring by using any of Sydney’s public transportation – train, bus and ferries for about 2AUD for the day.
-Wildlife Sydney is the animal adventure in the heart of the city.
-Sea Life Sydney Aquarium also downtown.
-Fish Markets are fun to watch and get a really good, fresh and inexpensive meal.
-Stay at the most luxurious – The Shangri-La Hotel in the fun and historic Rocks District.  If not staying in one of their spacious rooms with amazing views of the Sydney Harbor; go and have a drink at their lounge on the top floor for really one of the best views in Sydney (if you are not up to climbing to the summit of the bridge).  From here walk to the many restaurants, pubs and lounge making The Rocks the bet fun for nightlife.
-Circular Quay is nearby and fronts the harbor from downtown Sydney. Enjoy walking along the harbor by the ferry docks, by indoor and outdoor restaurants; entertainment and shops to the Opera House.
-Opal shopping at Altmann & Cherney to see the “Biggest Opal in the World”; learn about opals and maybe purchase one of their beautiful opals to bring home.
How about a wonderful morning letting “Let’s Go Surfing” teach you to surf off Bondi Beach- only 15 minutes by cab from downtown Sydney.
Also beyond Sydney are many more wonderful wine valleys.
Really Sydney is a wonderful starting point to start seeing a country so vast in experiences, culture and geography. Australia is as large as the United States- so much to experience.  the “Taste of Australia” shows its differences but you really need to come back to visit more, like-
Gold Coast
Great Barrier Reef
Perth . . .
and more!
Sandy Walmsley
Travel Shoppe
7461 N First Street, STE 102
Fresno CA 93720

Ivy’s trip to Mexico at the Grand Velas Resort Rivera Nayarit

For starters arriving at the Puerto Vallarta International Airport was an interesting surprise because it appears that they completely renovated the airport so it felt more like I was walking through an Ikea with marble floors as opposed to an airport.  The driver for my transfer to the airport was ready and waiting with a clearly marked sign, bottle of water, a cool scented towel for my hands, and was very attentive to taking care of my bags.

When I arrived at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit I was warmly greeted by the staff with smiles and a hibiscus iced tea.   I was joined and seated in the courtyard by my hostess who had my check in information ready for me to sign after I had received a five minute shoulder and neck massage by one of the masseuses from the Spa.   You can already tell that the last thing Grand Velas Resort wants you to do after you arrive is lift a finger and that you came to the right place for relaxation with luxury.

I was guided to my room iced tea in hand by a bellman carrying my bags and an iPad.  He gave me a brief explanation of where everything was located on the property and the amenities available in my room as well as the amenities offered by the resort.  The rooms were decorated with a subtle elegance, upscale amenities such as L'Occitane en Provence body & bath products, spa inspired bath robes, and a gorgeous hand woven beach bag to use while staying at the resort.

After settling down in my room and taking what seems like a million pictures of the view from my private balcony I made my way down to the poolside bar and infinity pool where I ordered a glass of champagne and a bite to eat.  Even though the menu at the poolside bar was quite extensive I chose a simple cheeseburger, and that cheeseburger is the best I have ever had, even better than the cheeseburgers in Kauai.  If I were to describe the food at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and Casa Velas as phenomenal it would be an understatement.  I dined at the French restaurant Piaf where the food was so amazing it inspired me to take a cooking class there the very next day.  The cooking class was led by executive chef Claudio Hotter and I was taught how to prepare stuffed mushrooms topped with scallops and a red wine bacon reduction sauce, red snapper baked in philo dough with vegetables, and chocolate lava cake, all of which were wine paired perfectly.

In the mornings I joined in the LaBlast dance fitness classes that were led by ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Louis Van Amstel.  The LaBlast fitness classes are aerobic classes based on various styles of dance and the music varies from pop, rock, hip hop, country, and even disco.   The class was a great experience because it was outdoors in a pavilion right next to the beach and very conveniently located next to the breakfast buffet at Azul.

  I spent an afternoon experiencing the tranquil environment and escape of the Grand Velas Spa which for all too obvious reasons is a winner of the Condé Nast “Most Excellent Spa Hotel” Award.  The spa offers an extensive hydrotherapy area with hot and cold plunge pools, hydrotherapy spa, reflexology spa, dry sauna, herbal steam room, high pressure showers, and a relaxation area that features fresh flower petal mandalas floating in water with herbal aromas.  Spa edibles like fresh pineapple, various melons and berries along with refreshments are offered to you by your own personal spa butler at the time you arrive and leave the spa.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico without doing the most luxurious thing of all….absolutely nothing.   I dedicated an entire afternoon to doing just that, nothing by the pool and beach, and it was AMAZING.  Grand Velas has an incredible offering of things to do and see, but I think that they have absolutely perfected the vacation art of allowing their guests to relax completely.  Poolside near the beach is where I posted up with my fabulous borrowed beach bag and sun tan lotion.  The waiters and staff of the pool area are phenomenal, I never once felt bothered or watched but at the same time I never had to ask for anything, everything was always offered without a worry and taken care of immediately.  When you leave Grand Velas you leave relaxed, full of gratitude, and happy, which is why I plan on returning in the future with more friends and family.
Ivy Nielsen-Jones

Cheri’s trip to Washington DC

Washington DC  is a great city for exploring and for learning history while visiting the locations where events actually took place.  You can stand in George Washington’s home  at Mount Vernon and see the exact view that he saw so many years ago: it is  breathtaking.  Gettysburg is also a must see when in DC.  Standing on the same land where our soldiers were in battle is unparalleled.  Don't forget to visit the memorials; they are astounding.    Also, all of the museums are spectacular. Recently,  a  new pay museum opened called the News Museum and it has everything you can imagine pertaining to the news.   When you are done visiting all of the sites head to Georgetown for a great place to dine.   Be a tourist and do it all:  Capitol tour,  White house tour, Smithsonian  Spy museum, and all of the monuments.   You won’t be disappointed!

Montage Kapalua Bay

The most anticipated hotel opening in Hawaii
On the heels of the opening of the Andaz Maui at Wailea , Montage hotels just announced their latest new resort in Hawaii, which will open on/about April 1st 2014. The new Montage Kapalua Bay will be located on the NW coast of Maui, on the site of the original Kapalua Bay (a Rockresort, at one point). Kapalua Bay is one of Maui's most beautiful oceanfront locations, part of a 23,000 acre residential and resort development that opened back in the 1970s. The new Montage Kapalua Bay will feature 50 spacious all-suite accommodations, featuring two, three, and four bedroom configurations. Every suite will have a large terrace, at least 600 sq ft and bigger. The property will also have a large Montage spa, with many indoor/outdoor spaces and beautiful views. The property is currently managed by Montage (not under its brand) as the resort undergoes renovations, improvements, and a series of new spaces. Montage is also building a new restaurant, which the old residential estate did not have. A big selling feature of the property is the beach, a stunning, protected cove perfect for swimming and snorkeling. Kapalua has two championship golf courses - the Plantation and Bay courses - and the golf experience has been rated #1 in Hawaii by many experts. In addition to all the activities and options on property, Kapalua offers two miles of ziplines and hiking trails.
Thank you
Cheri Verrastro

AMA Waterways Cruise

My husband and I had a great time on our AMA Waterways Cruise. We sailed on the Paris to Normandy cruise. The ship, AMALegro, was very comfortable and relaxing. The food was fabulous and meals included wine and beer. We also had a wine maker on board from Santa Barbrara, it was crazy to drink California wine in France! The ship had local entertainment at night; some was entertaining and some was just ok. All the tours and staff were good with a pace that was very relaxing and easy to do. The scenery was absolutely amazing! The owner of AMA, Christine, a young cute blond from Germany, was also on board the AMALegro. She was very nice and courteous and seemed to always want to please the guests. I would highly recommend river cruising for the experienced clientele. It may not be a place for the young, unless you have a group so you can all interact together. We had a few days in Paris after the cruise and had dinner at the Eifel Tower at Le Jules Verne. This was amazing! Truly, a once in a life time opportunity. The view was spectacular and the food exceeded expectations. It is a must do in Paris at least once in a life time. Would I do it again? Absolutely!

Cheri Verrastro
Travel Shoppe
7461 N. First #102
Fresno, CA 93720
Ph: (559) 447-5767