I’m usually not one to travel in the summer due to the fact that for a short period in time, Toronto has great weather and also because I dedicate my summer travels to volleyball (9-Man). It also is prime time for work opportunities. I made an exception this time around as it all started with my friend Lulu trying to convince me to join her and Renee back in Feb/March to goto Hawaii with them. With this being said, it led to us booking a one-way ticket to Maui. With the one-way ticket purchased, it left me to planning a trip that we could do in a 2 weeks span and also island hopping. Once my itinerary was made, I was able to convince (not very hard to) my friend Tiffany to join us making us a group of 4. I have previously been to Hawaii back in 2014 to photograph my high school friends wedding and staying in Oahu for 13 days – it was amazing and I was mistaken for a Kama’aina surfer girl (a local).
Looking at my last few trips, you can probably tell that I am a very ambitious person and my itineraries are jam-packed. This one was no different. For 2 weeks, we made it so we would island hop – Maui to Oahu to Kauai. This itinerary was made 1.5 months before the trip was to happen and a month before, I injured my leg – side note: sprained my hamstring a month before and didn’t let it rest enough – knee irritation during trip.
For good quality poke anytime, anywhere – goto Foodland.
Download the Gypsy Guide – for your most in-depth car ride. It is an off line audio guide that tracks where you are and will tell you where to stop off to get the most of the islands. It is also very informative and fills you in with all the history that makes Hawaii what it is. We downloaded it for Maui especially for the Road to Hana and also for Kauai.
And of course, last bit of advice: Check airport car rental hours before booking your flights to ensure the offices are open when you land. Late late night flights are no good if you can’t actually leave the airport.
Some facts about Hawaii:
Hawaii is one of the only places in the world that I cannot really tell ethnicity apart. That is because it is a mishmash of many ethnicities and of course tanned complexions. The reason for such mix of ethnicities comes from back in the day when the concept for having an owner and workers started. Before that, people believed they could just survive off the land and live well that way. There was a shortage of workers to work plantations once they adopted the owner and workers system. Since there was a shortage, Hawaii took in workers from different parts of the world such as China, Japan, Philippines, Korea, Puerto Ricans, and Portuguese etc.
After each ethnic group started to immigrate to Hawaii for a better life, the locals started to feel like they were taking all the jobs and started to xenophobia them over and over as a new group came in. Sugar cane plantations were a huge source of income however in 1990, 150 years of plantation ended as the introduction of high fructose sugars started being put into food and the demand for real sugar dropped.
100% Kona Coffee is one of the highest qualities however the price that comes with it isn’t always ideal.
Hawaii has also banned non-coral friendly sunscreens.
Now onto my itinerary. To make the most of our time, I tried to align each day to explore certain areas of each island and tried to alternate hiking days with beach days. I think the biggest thing I am happy to have done was reversing the Road to Hana route – Drive all the way to the end of Road to Hana and explore in reverse for optimal time at Pipiwai Trails and less tourists.
8AM – Meet at Office (Green Discovery – Sales Office – No. 10 Rd & No. 46 Rd) – Store our luggage in the Office. Drive an hour to Tree Top Explorer at Jungle Hotel Paksong (Paksong); hike 1-2KM to site
11/14 – Pakse
-Tree Top Explorer
-4-5PM – Drop off at office/hotel
-HOTEL: Salachampa Hotel – Lakmeung Village, City Center
-Dinner option – Champady – restaurant off the main st – good pad thai; passion fruit and strawberry shake are amazing.
-Sunday street market – Nightmarket – 4-5PM-11PM – the market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes all the way along Ratchadamnoen Road until Wat Phra Singh in the center of the old city (about 1.5 km). This is the place for souvenirs, t-shirts, artwork, hand made items and just about everything in between.
-Siam Rice Cooking class – 800 baht – evening session
–Blue Elephant – Thailand Tours – One Day Chiang Mai Elephant bathing & riding bareback + Whitewater rafting + Longneck Tribe. 830AM pickup – 630PM drop-off – Mae Rim, Longneck Karen & Big ear Kayor Hill tribe village, Muang Kud Valley and raft along the Mae Tang River, Makha Elephant Village – 22000THB – 4c pp – BRING CASH TO PAY ON SPOT! (http://www.blueelephantthailandtours.com/package/tour-detail.php?id=107)
-Akha Ama – Ahka Hilltribe Coffee – Hussadhisewee Road Soi 3 in Santhitham or Rachadammoen Road near Wat Phra Singh
– Graph Café – one of city’s best coffee – nitro cold brew coffee on tap -9AM-1PM – Rathvithi Soi 1
-Mao Coffee – mao gafaae – drunk coffee -8AM-5PM – Kankhlong Chonprathan Road heading south towards Hang Dong
– Chiang Mai has a beauty contest as well that is preceded by the Loy Krathong parade that begins at Tha Pae Gate the first evening of the festival. The temples also feature their own private celebrations where the devotees release khom loy and float their krathong and they welcome visitors to share in this deeply intimate event.
-Tha Phae Rd / Praisanee Rd / Chaoroen Prathet Rd and Thanon Charon Mueang – epicenter for paper lantern festival
FLY – CHIANG MAI -> BANGKOK – $73CDNpp – Air Asia – 125PM-245PM
This heat is killer. I decided to go for a morning bike ride for about 30 minutes then came back because I was a little dehydrated. It’s nice ride though because it’s so quiet in the morning. It’s a low of 24 with 63% humidity. It’s weird to say but I miss Toronto’s ugly March weather.
We stayed at the hostel for a bit in the morning then booked a tour for the day. Estuary and mangrove boat tour for $35USD. We walked into town as only one bike there was available. We went to check out prices for surfboards and rash guard rental and to get sunscreen. We rented from Kelly’s Surf for half day at $5USD including rashguards and lockers. I got a long board. I decided to leave my flip flops in the locker. Big mistake. The cement and sand were terribly hot and I burnt the bottom of my feet. I literally ran through the parking lot and beach to the water. I haven’t surfed since 2010 and I wasn’t that good to begin with. I struggled to even stay afloat at first but managed after a while. I did catch a few waves but I grabbed the tiny ones. Sarah ventured off further and did great. The waves here are barrels which don’t really go anywhere. There were some amazing waves I tried to catch but found I was always staring down a person who was in front of me in the water so I’d have to bail. It’s getting busy because of Holy Week and the waters are full. Holy Week is family time and hundreds to thousands come from San Jose to Tamarindo to have a mini vacation. I gave up after two hours because there wasn’t a safe path to surf. We walked back to the hostel but forgot again to purchase water. Ate lunch and hid from the sun for a bit. We met a group of 4 French Canadians who came down here to setup a hostel in Nicaragua and they drove all the way down from Quebec stopping over in Tamarindo to purchase boards.
We hid from the sun some more before making our way to the end of Tamarindo beach to catch our boat for our tour of estuary and mangrove with Emiliano aka Shaggy. The family that was suppose to take this tour cancelled so it was just us 3. He was a great guide who told us the history of the national park island and the mangrove trees. The white mangrove trees are the only trees the howler monkey’s eat because the the red are too salty. These monkeys are also vegetarians. Apparently they are around 69 crocodiles in the water we surf and swim in. We spotted a few more today. Shaggy guided us through the islands and pointed out other things then we arrived at our end destination of the monkeys. It was cool to see them but man the bugs sure love me and in this instance, wasps. We hopped back into the boat and Shaggy cut open a pineapple for us and we fed the little hermit crabs.
Overall it was a nice afternoon outing not directly in the sun. We made it back to shore in time to watch the sunset. We bumped into the 4 Canadians again on the beach and had a friendly chat before all of us went back. Power went out for a bit then we made our dinner -a salad with lettuce, chickpeas, avocado, corn, cheese and apple. We let our dinner digest a little then went back into town. We haven’t been able to stay up past 10PM so we went for a walk and explored a little more. This town is seriously all beach, surfing, outdoor activities and eating. I’m happy with our choice in hostels because it’s so quiet and away from the activity. So many people everywhere because of Holy Week. At night, the main area fills with tourists who want to party as well as locals here to have a good time. If you want to party every night, this place is for you.
Got up at 7AM and biked to town to try to grab coffee beans at Tico Cafe which according to Tripadvisor had the best local Costa Rican coffee. I biked out and it was actually pretty empty in town in terms of the cars that lined the streets the night before. I made it to Tico to find it to be closed for Easter weekend – Semana Santa and will reopen Monday.
A very lazy day spent on the beach and hiding from the sun. I went back out around 230PM for a bike ride but the bike handle came loose so it was very difficult to steer. I decided to take a different path which led me up a hill to hotels and tennis clubs then beach down I went towards the main grocery store because I was hoping to catch a few riders at the skate park but nothing. Hung out some more in the shade then around 5PM we returned to the beach to catch last light and catch the sunset. Each sunset is different. A voice called us from behind asking where our surfboards were. It was Johan who we met earlier from the hostel. He had ended his shift and wanted to catch the last waves for the day and pulled out all sorts of tricks.
Johan started surfing at 13, has been living in Tamarindo for 13 years. He originates from a town close to the Panama border. Johan runs the tour shop for the owner who is Danish that only lives in Tamarindo for half the year. He works 26 days straight with 4 days off a month but when he finishes work, he is able to just cross the street and catch some waves. He introduced us to the Caribbean guy who is a surf instructor on the main strip who also lives in the hostel.
Ate at Park Cafe then to land we went – Cozumel, Mexico. It’s so strange to see other cruise ships docked right beside our boat making all the rest look tiny in comparison. The port basically was a outlet shopping centre but you can also go out into the city. We made our way to the excursions area to line up. From there we were put into specific taxis to bring us to Uvas Resort (uvas means grapes) which has a spa, bar, pool and of course our excursions of clear kayak and snorkelling. Our guide Angel and Louis made the day really fun. My first time kayaking and with the guidance of Jo I think I got the hang of it. I had attached the go pro to the selfie stick and held it with the paddle to get some cool angles but I guess the paddle hit the release button and my go pro sunk into the water. Luckily, we had just gotten into the water so it wasn’t too deep so my hero for the day Louis dove down and retrieved it for me. We were only in the kayaks for a short period of time before we switched to snorkelling. It was a great experience as there are coral reefs which we went over.
Back in the port area, we did a little shopping then back onto the ship to make it in time for volleyball. After a few hours of playing we went for dinner in Windjammers (surprised? I think not). We had timed it perfectly so we could go straight from dinner to our show which was Come fly with me starring performers from Hairspray and the other productions – the performers are multi talented and I guess because they are on the ship on contract, they provide entertainment in a variety of ways. There was some pretty cool acts like the aerialists and gymnasts. Right after the show, we decided to line up for the comedy show and we are so glad we did because the acts were great. Simian was my favourite who actually knows Tokyo Disneyland theme song and dance by heart.
Final night on the cruise ship in cruising mode. We decided after that that we should try Flowrider. It’s actually more difficult than it looks. Jo and myself went in just our swim suits with no shirt to cover up on top and Jo was wearing a strapless. You can tell where I am going with this… NOTE: wear a t-shirt over your swim wear. Final session of volleyball then we quickly washed up and headed to Windjammers for dinner then straight to the comedy show where we bumped into our volleyball crew. On the final night, you pack your things and leave your large luggage in the hallway so the crew can relocate it to its proper section for when you depart and check-out from the ship. We attended farewell party at Blaze Club and met all sorts of people from around the world including a couple named Brooke and Christina who are both in the army and don’t get to much time with each other as they are deployed for 6-10 months away from one another. Christina turned 27 at midnight and they had been dating for 6 years and married for 2. It was a good night.
Final morning breakfast before disembarking the floating island of a ship. We ended the trip the way we started – in lines. Security checks, luggage pick-up, final ship check-out, airport security and waiting in a crowded airport only to have your flight be an hour delayed with you sitting in the plane for 30 minutes before even moving.
All in all, this was a great experience and for a person who was skeptic about cruises, I would most definitely do a cruise again. Although I would much rather do my own thing, for a short trip where not much thinking needs to be done except choosing what free shows to see, where to eat free food and whatnot, this type of travelling is perfect for it.
We woke up to find our bodies burnt from the sun the previous day.
We went back to opus for buffet breakfast which features smoke salmon. Right after breakfast, the ship docked at Labadee Port and intercoms announcements about the schedule for the day. We left the ship and hopped on a little speedboat for our Haitian cultural tour which took us to a private beach where we were dropped off in the water (knee high waters) to walk to shore. We were given complimentary drinks with Haitian rum. Our guide Pierre brought us around this little section where we saw some of the plants the Haitians use for everyday uses. Haitians try to use all the natural resources to make their life easier by living off the land. The country has been under major turmoil but they make the best of what they have.
We were shown an example of what some of the houses they live in which consist of structures made from branches, leaves, mud and clay. Pierre told us since he was a child when it rains he would just get naked and take a shower and till this day he continues to do so. We saw locals demonstrating everyday life routines such as a fisherman making lobster traps out of bamboo. Did you know they use fruit to capture lobsters – fact: lobsters are vegetarians. We saw local ladies making peanut butter with nothing but Haitian peanuts and using a mortar & pestle then adding some pepper flakes for a little kick. It is absolutely delicious. We were also shown the same technique for making coffee. Over a hot stone surface, they made cassava bread/pizza/naan which was made with just shred cassava and sugar. Our little haven of a beach was lovely with white sand and palm trees that nestled us from the sun.
In Creole to say hello/what’s going on you say Sak pasé and they answer nabulé.
Returning to the main beach at Labadee Port which is owned by royal Caribbean, we ate jerk chicken and ribs along the beach side (all provided by the cruise line). At the very far depths of the beach, there were a few beach courts where we managed to find our BC friends Joel, his wife Anita, their boys Rylan & Landon as well as their friends Ian and Ramira. The water was wonderful but rocky. We played volleyball for a bit then would occasionally take a dip. The area was nice but it was hot and the courts had rocks stabbing at your feet. We spent majority of the day on the island before heading back to our room around 230-3PM. We then rested for a bit then went back up to the Upper deck to Wipe out to make ourselves nachos and grab ice cream.
The promenade will have nights where there are sales such as a $10 blowout sale on items such as scarves, watches, bracelets, ties, wallets etc. Our first show of the evening was by the front deck on the 14th floor below the solarium to take in the Sunset in Haiti. Once the sun went down and we made out way over for the Oasis Dream Aqua theater for their performance. It’s an amazing show with people diving from all over the place including the very top of the 16 floor ship to the 6th. To describe how spectacular and well coordinated a show it was is to let you know the the stage runs on hydraulics but looks like a normal stage however the platform lowers and becomes a pool which gets lowered and raised for certain routines which is such a crazy thing because worst case scenario, the stage isn’t low enough when the diver jumps it could be their demise. There is also a trampoline that is built into the floor that rotates in. Great show and also so many good looking people with great bodies. We moved from that show to another – Jerome Bell performance. Jerome was on American Idol and now stars as Seaweed in the musical Hairspray on the ship as well. After the show, we walked around the boardwalk and grabbed some cookies and pizza before deciding to head back to our room and changing to go workout.
I went on my first cruise with Royal Caribbean – Oasis of the Sea on their 7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise. I travelled with my friend Joanne. We picked up a last minute deal and flew down to Fort Lauderdale with WestJet and with our deal we also have included gratuity and airport transfers. We boarded the boat at Fort Everglade (a 10 minute drive away from the airport) and cruise for a day before we arrive in Haiti at Labadee port which is it’s own private manmade beach area. So what is there to do while we cruise; tons of activities on the boat.
To check in, you go from line to line but that is expected with such a large vessel. After the airport transfer we had a security check then a final check in where we received of sea passes which is like the octopus cards in Hong Kong. It’s cool as they embed your photo into the strip of the card. We were then led to walk the boardwalk on the 5th deck of the ship which looks like a mall and not a ship. We then went to the solarium which was suggested for food as there are healthier food selections. Aftering finally settling into our statesroom, we booked our excursions: cultural tour in Haiti, horseback riding in Jamaica, clear kayak and snorkel in Mexico adding up to $220USD.
In line to book, we met a family who was suppose to depart the same week on Carnival Dream (the boat that broke down at sea) who got the last room on Oasis as someone cancelled. Shortly after booking our excursions, we decided it was time to start soaking in the sun as much sun as we could for the day as it was already 330PM by that time. We stayed outdoors for awhile but realized we had a show that night. The entertainment on the ship is free but you do have to reserve spots (you can call in from your room or book at info desk) We went back to our room and got ourselves ready for dinner and also caught the first sunset aboard. We went to the Windjammers Marketplace for a casual dinner buffet located at the 16th floor at the butt of the ship. Our show for the evening was Frozen in Time – A show on ice. On ice you say? yes, there is a skating rink on the ship. By far the highlights were the couple that did amazing tricks and one handed to no hands tricks and Alexa the sand artist illustrating a story with sand and her hands. After the show we had a second wind and took to the on-board running track and hit the fully loaded gym for a workout.
You lose track of time on-board a ship. I woke up early and I went directly to the top deck to catch sunrise. It’s nice to see that some people do appreciate a nice sunrise. I walked around almost falling over as the force of the wind came shooting at me. We went for breakfast at the Opus dining buffet. We were “cruising” today so a full day spent on the ship sailing to our first destination. From there we grabbed our seats poolside and planted ourselves there for a good 5 hours soaking in the sun even with the crazy amount of wind. It’s so awesome how there is free soft serve ice cream built into the walls with rotating featured featured flavours.
Continuing trying out all the food options, we went to Wipeout cafe for a late lunch and then back to the room to change for the volleyball competition on the sports court. They have a full sized basketball court on the upper deck with mesh netting surrounding the entire open air top so balls don’t get launched off or around the ship. When we arrived, we made friends with a family from British Columbia. Joel and his sons Landon and Rylan. We also met some other cool people to play with like a group from Georgia – Morgan, Will and Keith. We lost the competition unfortunately as three boys weren’t allowed to play because they were under the age of 18 but we did play again when it became open gym time. We then returned to our rooms to quickly changed for the formal dinner in Opus dining. It is a nice feeling to get dressed up for a semi-formal dinner. The dining experience was nice but it took a while for food to be served which you get instantaneously from the buffet style of the other food options on the boat. From there, we did some cosmic skating. We walked the crowded promenade and made a friend at promenade cafe where they had a great selection of cookies and desserts. We then rushed to the Opal theater to watch the last showing of Hairspray.