July 22, 2016

High Adrenaline Hawaii

I recently vacationed on the Big Island of Hawaii with my family which includes two teens.  We had not been there since they were very young, so this time we got to experience some more active adventures.

This island has a large variety of unique activities, so if you are looking for more to do than just lay on the beach or by the pool, it could be the perfect destination for you.  Check out some of the fun things we did:

Stargazing at Mauna Kea
While looking through telescopes is not a high energy activity, getting to the top of the volcano does take some effort.   The Visitor Information Center is at 9200 ft, and at nightfall temperatures drop into the 50’s or below.  So we packed long pants, hats, gloves, and sweatshirts along with our bathing suits.   If you have a “true” 4WD drive vehicle you can drive to the  14000 ft summit on a steep gravel road (check safety guidelines first). 
Setting up the telescopes
Here you have one of the clearest night sky views on the planet, we could easily see the Milky Way with the naked eye.  We also  saw Jupiter, Mars and Saturn through telescopes, and watched deep space images on video monitors.
The Milky Way seen from Mauna Kea

Zodiac Raft Trip to Kealakekua Bay
Inacessible by car, Kealakekua Bay is one of the most protected harbors on the island and has exceptionally clear water. It is also the site of the Captain Cook Monument, the only foreign-owned land in the United States.  The crew will fill you in on the whole story.  You can also book catamaran trips and kayak trips, but if you like speed and watching dolphins surf next to you, the zodiac boat is the way to go.

Chasing a fish off a volcano
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There is a lot to see here, and I generally recommend my clients spend a night or two at the summit. (I review the pros and cons with my clients as we design their itinerary.) 

Checking out a steam vent with a GoPro
Walk through a lava tube
We powered through a full day trip from our resort, and were still able to drive the entire length of Chain of Craters Road, have dinner, then go back to see the glow in the caldera after dark.
Kilauea by day and night
What’s exciting right now is a new lava flow which started right before our arrival.  It does require  advance planning as views are only accessible from a parking area about 45 minutes outside the park entrance, and you must hike a few miles along an emergency road.

Note: Lava conditions can change in hours, so visitors need to read the current updates on the NPS website, and talk to rangers before heading out on any hikes.
Lava arches at the end of the road

Night Snorkel With Manta Rays
This was not only the highlight of our trip, but could very well be one of the most amazing wildlife encounters we will have in our lifetime. Because of the particular tour we booked, we had at least a dozen huge manta rays (3-10 ft. wing span) swimming within inches of us.  Yes, it was scary at first, but it didn’t take long to relax, realize we were safe, and enjoy the experience.  You can see a video my son took with his GoPro here.

This isn't a spaceship, it's the underside of a manta ray!

And More Snorkeling!
The Big Island is known for some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii and we were not disappointed.  This is one of our favorite activities (we call ourselves "snorkel snobs"), so we chose a resort that had good snorkeling on site and several good beaches nearby, including one with black sand.  There were also lots of turtles at our resort, so it was not unusual to see them in and out of the water. 
Great snorkeling right at our resort
Lots of coral reefs and fish like this Moorish idol
There are many other fun adventures on the Big Island that we didn’t have time to fit in our trip:

Waterfall zip line ~ ATV or horseback riding at Waipio Valley ~ Swim with dolphins
Akaka Falls

Helicopter flightseeing  ~ Lava hike ~  Bicycling tours ~ Scuba and SNUBA

Lava fields
For more information about how to plan a fun Hawaii vacation for your family, send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.

June 26, 2016

Beating the Heat at The Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage

I recently traveled to the Palm Springs area for my nephew’s graduation.  My sister and I grabbed the opportunity for a one night girls’ getaway, and I instantly thought of the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, a property I have been eyeing for a while. I have many clients who travel to this area to visit family, or attend events like the Coachella Music Festival.

Palm Desert
The desert is hot in summer, of course, but this particular weekend it was even hotter than normal, with temperatures around 115 by mid afternoon.   Now why would someone want to spend good money at a luxury resort in these conditions??  Would you do anything other than sit in your room? 
Note the time at the top
Well, in fact I learned that this is the BEST place to be when temperatures are soaring, for several reasons:

> If you are going to be stuck inside, why not be stuck inside a beautiful resort with an elegant bar and restaurant with views, or a spacious room with comfy beds?

Inviting seating area in the lobby

Indoor - outdoor decor
Lots of space in even the entry-level rooms
> Most homeowners' pools are too warm to enjoy when temperatures soar above 100 deg.  But the Ritz Carlton’s pools were chilled, so they were refreshing, and after a quick dunk we were even comfortable sitting on the lounge chairs for quite a while.

Checking out the family pool from the poolside bar
> The resort had many outdoor shaded seating areas.  And while it’s still hot in the shade, it is cool enough to be tolerable. When you've been out in 115 deg temps, the upper 90's feel relatively cool.

Outdoor bar seating
A quiet area in the shade around the corner from  the bar
> There are misters outside the rooms and around the pool, so you don't even have to get completely wet to be comfortable.

Our private patio with misters and a shared firepit 
Sure doesn't feel like it's 115 now!
We were at the resort for exactly 24 hours, and we relished every minute.  We enjoyed a fantastic wine tasting while waiting for our room, hosted by a rep from Michael David wines. 

Big reds - yummy!
Ready for a group of locals to visit
Once in our room, we quickly changed and headed over to the quiet adult pool, with fabulous views across the valley.  

So peaceful!
Location, location, location!
We had to drag ourselves away for our dinner reservation at State Fare, and when I heard they were known for their hamburgers, I knew exactly what to order.  And my sister was happy to try the fried avocados that she had heard others rave about.  

It was as good as it looks.  And those fries!!
Guests dining at the steakhouse have a fantastic view of the valley

After dinner the temperatures had dropped to more reasonable levels, so we strolled around the grounds.   We knew the rooms on the west side were getting a great sunset view, as we could see the last rays glowing on the mountains across the valley.

Firepit rooms next to the lawn are perfect for families,
Never tired of the reflecting pool, which was always changing

Kids were playing lawn games as parents watched from their patios with fire pits, and some guests were eagerly waiting for the telescope to be set up for stargazing.   There were plenty of private spaces around the resort where guests could sit and chat.
Whimsical decorations
Bye bye sun, hello cooler temps!
The next morning we grabbed our coffee and found a quiet spot to read and enjoy the view, then took a tour of the spa.

Morning light
Great nighttime and daytime views from this spot
Another look at those firepit rooms
The co-ed lounge at the spa
For our remaining hours in paradise we hung out by the main pool, which was just steps from our outdoor patio.  After lunch, we relocated to our patio with the misters to enjoy our last few hours of our girls' getaway. It was with great reluctance that we packed our bags and headed home.

Yummy poolside tacos!
Really, we have to leave?
When I book clients at the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, they receive these complimentary Virtuoso amenities:

* Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
* Daily buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests
* $100 resort credit
Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

Yes, this breakfast is free for my clients!
And more breakfast around the corner (surrounded by wine)
So don't be scared to head to the desert in summer.  It might turn out to be a really cool vacation!

May 1, 2016

Gift Ideas for Grads Traveling Away to College

Here are some of my favorite travel accessories, which would make great gifts for graduating seniors.  We sent our first child across the country to college this year with several of these, which came in handy for his trips back and forth.

Clear plastic carry-on bag for liquids – It will hold up better than a ziploc bag through multiple trips.

311 TSA Rules:  3.4 oz, 1 qt , 1 bag 

Luggage scale – To discourage the teen’s instinct to shove as much stuff into one bag as possible.

Don't stuff hockey bags to capacity!

Duffle bag that collapses easily and compactly – Can serve as an extra carry-on bag when they pull out all the extra things from their checked bag.
Go Sharks! (Had to get that in for playoff season)

Cable lock – To secure bags when traveling by train or when waiting in airports.  They can also keep items secure in a dorm room.

The 3 ft long cable can link several bags together,
 or secure one to a stationary object

Durable luggage tags – A colorful one is easy to spot on a luggage carousel.

But don't store your jewels in checked bags.

Packing cubes – Full disclosure:  my kids still don’t want to use them, but they’ll appreciate having them some day!

Probably my favorite travel accessory

Portable charger – I love my Jackery, it's a lifesaver on a long flight or a long layover in an airport that has limited outlets.

Also has a light!

Even if your student is going to school in the US, they will probably have opportunities to travel internationally. When the time comes, they'll appreciate these items:

Dual voltage extension cord – So they can charge all their electronics at once (regular extension cords used around the house need a converter).
The Luggage Valet has one USB and three 3-prong outlets.

Universal travel adapter – So they can keep up with social media in multiple countries.
If your electronics and chargers are dual voltage all you
need is the appropriate adapter.

If you see something like 100/240V  or 110~220V on the label
then you don't need a converter.

Here's a tip for summer:  Apply for or renew their passport if necessary so they have a valid one when they head off to school.

And if you'd like ideas for a celebration trip, so your grad can try out his or her new gadgets, just send a note to suzette@family-treks.com.