eviivo Awards 2011 – Winners and finalists revealed

eviivo Ltd. presents the winners and finalists of the eviivo Gold and Friendliest Awards 2011

eviivo Awards 2011 – Winners and finalists revealed

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

eviivo Ltd. presents the winners and finalists of the eviivo Gold and Friendliest Awards 2011 – two awards launched last year to recognise and reward the excellence of small, independent accommodation businesses throughout the UK, as voted by their guests.

The eviivo Gold Award and the eviivo Friendliest Award are based on the online reviews from guests who have stayed in the featured accommodation. All properties using eviivo’s online booking software are eligible for these awards – all is needed is a minimum of 10 online guest reviews received during the year and the rest is down to the feedback and opinion published by the guests.

Kathryn Glover
, eviivo’s Commercial Director, said: “Online guest reviews have totally transformed the travel industry and research shows that today, more than 8 out of 10 travellers check reviews before booking a place to stay. Throughout 2011, eviivo collected over 356,300 genuine reviews on behalf of 4,670 properties and the overall rating score was a staggering 4.4 out of 5!

“We are extremely proud of the eviivo Awards’ winners and finalists for reaching the top of the list and also of all our customers for receiving such high review scores. This is a testament to the excellence of service and unique guest experience provided by B&Bs, small hotels, guesthouses and inns in the United Kingdom.”

Theodore Koumelis Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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ETIHAD AIRWAYS OFFERS STOPOVER PASSENGERS ONE NIGHT?S FREE ACCOMODATION IN ABU DHABI

(TRAVELWIRES) : Etihad Airways is offering its stopover passengers one night?s free accommodation in Abu Dhabi on a minimum stay of two nights before December 1, 2012.

: Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will offer one night?s free accommodation to passengers stopping over in Abu Dhabi for a minimum of two nights before December 1, 2012.

The Essential Stopovers offer, part of the Essential Abu Dhabi program, can be redeemed at 25 hotels, ranging from three to five star.

Further nights in five and four star accommodation can be purchased at rates as low as US$59 per person, based on twin occupancy, and US$43 for three star accommodation.

Etihad Airways passengers taking advantage of the stopover offer can also enjoy two-for-one deals at Ferrari World, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Yas Links and Monte Carlo Beach Club.

Two-for-one safaris or tours can also be claimed from operators Desert Safari and Abu Dhabi City Tour.

The stopover program offer is available to all Etihad Airways guests, as well to passengers travelling on Etihad Airways marketed flights. All passengers must have an onward booking beyond Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Airways Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner said: ?We are delighted to invite people from all over the world to experience Abu Dhabi for themselves. The capital city of the United Arab Emirates has so much to offer both business and leisure travellers.

?This offer is intended to encourage people to make time to get off the aircraft at Abu Dhabi and explore the emirate ? be that with a visit to the Arabian desert, a trip to one of the world?s largest mosques, a tour of the attractions on Yas Island or by sampling the emirate?s world class hotels and restaurants.

?Abu Dhabi is a magical place with something to offer everyone.?

About the deal

The Essential Stopovers deal can be redeemed at the following Abu Dhabi hotels :

Five star

Millenium Hotel Abu Dhabi

Park Rotana

Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana

Intercontinental Abu Dhabi

Beach Rotana Hotel and Towers

Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort

Rocce Forte Hotel Abu Dhabi

Grand Millenium Al Wahda

Etihad Towers Jumeirah

Hyatt Capital Gate

Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi

Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara

Fairmont Bab Al Bahr

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort

Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Villas

Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri

Four star

Yas Island Rotana

Cristal Abu Dhabi Hotel

Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi Yas Island

Cristal Salam

Mafraq Hotel

Radisson Blu Yas Island

Traders Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri

Three star

Centro Al Manhal

Centro Yas Island

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.etihad.com/stopovers

About Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, began operations in 2003, and in 2011 carried 8.3 million passengers. From its hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport, Etihad Airways serves 84 passenger and cargo destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, with a fleet of 66 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and 100 aircraft on order, including 10 Airbus A380s, the world?s largest passenger aircraft. Etihad Airways also owns nearly 30 per cent of airberlin, Europe?s sixth largest airline, and 40 per cent of Air Seychelles. For more information, please visit: www.etihadairways.com.

-END –

Media Contact

Contact Person: Jenitha Singh
Company Name: Fleishman-Hillard, South Africa
Email Address: jenitha.singh@fleishman.co.za
For more information visit: http://www.etihad.com/stopovers


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The Devil?s Picnic

Taras Grescoe travels the world looking for banned or disapproved of drinks, foods and substances. So he goes through a meal via aperitif, crackers, cheese, main course, a smoke, digestif, dessert, herbal tea and finally (and very final) a one-time-only nightcap

Devil's Picnic• Hjemmebrent – Oslo Norwegian moonshine
• Poppy seed crackers – Singapore and the whole Singapore control and restriction story from chewing gum to pornography
• Époisses – France – smelly French cheeses and why Americans are so scared of them
• Criadillas – Spain – bull’s balls
• Cigarettes – and no smoking regulations, particularly in San Francisco
• Absinthe – France and Switzerland – the ongoing allure and terror of the ‘green fairy’
• Chocolate mousse – chocolate
• Coca – coca leaves in Bolivia and the whole absurdity of the War on Drugs
• Phentobarbital Sodium – suicide in Zurich 

The most interesting parts, I thought, were the whole question of the war on drugs, particularly in Colombia. Read about the damage done by thoughtless aerial defoliation and you quickly see why the US can so easily become so mistrusted and disliked in so many countries. Plus that final chapter on assisted suicide and our rights to do what we want, as long as it doesn’t harm others.
Kokopau Market
? He barely touches on that popular Asian and Pacific stimulant the betel nut. In Papua New Guinea it’s known as buai and I spent some time wandering the buai markets of Kokopau and Buka, on opposite sides of the Buka Passage which separates Buka from Bougainville. The Kokopau buai market sign warns you, in pidgin English, not to chew baui in the market and to ‘kipim Kokopau taun klin’ – keep Kokopau town clean. Air Niugini must be one of the few airlines which warns you that not only is smoking banned so is chewing betel nut.

Betel Market
? The market sold the three things needed for betel nut chewing – the buai nut itself (50t is about 25c US), the mustard stick (daka) and the crushed-coral lime powder (cumbung). Like cigarettes or alcohol first encounters with betel nut are not pleasant! Long term use stains your mouth and teeth red, keep going and eventually your teeth will turn black.

Buka Market tobacco
? Tobacco leaves, pre-rolled (in newspaper) cigarettes and cigarette lighters were also on sale in the market.

The Devil’s Picnic also only mentioned fleetingly another popular intoxicant, the qat or khat of the Middle East and East Africa, particularly Somalia and Yemen. Coincidentally when I arrived back in Australia after my PNG trip my taxi driver from Melbourne airport was from Somaliland and he told me were to find qat – if I needed some – near the Lonely Planet office in the Melbourne district of Footscray. 

Source: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/tonywheeler/books_articles/the_devils_picnic/

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iCruise.com introduces Natural Language Cruise Search

Allowing consumers to find cruise vacations by typing or speaking their travel parameters

iCruise.com introduces Natural Language Cruise Search

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cruise travel retailer iCruise.com announced the launch of Cruise Finder Plus, a free-text cruise search box, on its website www.icruise.com. This innovative new feature uses award-winning, natural language search technology that allows consumers to find cruise vacations by typing or speaking their travel parameters.

Visitors to the iCruise.com home page see both a typical search with drop-down menus that are common on most travel sites and Cruise Finder Plus, which allows users to search in complete, naturally-spoken phrases with as much detail as they like. For example, a search for: “Mediterranean cruises from Istanbul in July on a sailing ship” or “Disney cruise to Alaska on August 18” will return real-time search results just like standard search methods. Google Chrome users can speak their phrases if they prefer.

“Web users can’t always verbalize what they want online like they can with an actual travel agent,” says Uf Tukel, Co-President of iCruise.com parent, WMPH Vacations. “Cruise Finder Plus lets them do that with immediate and accurate results.”

iCruise.com partnered with Israel-based Evature, a leading provider of free-text search technology, to become the first in the cruise industry to provide this natural-language search on a website. Evature’s EVA, B2B service, won the DEMO award for most game-changing travel innovation at the PhoCusWright 2011 Innovation Summit. Cruise Finder Plus uses EVA to parse key elements from a user’s search phrase, then receives a response from the iCruise.com booking engine reflecting the consumer’s cruise preferences.

“EVA provides consumers with a superior travel-search experience,” says Barry Volinskey, Co-Founder of Evature, “We are very excited to cooperate with iCruise.com to offer an industry-first natural language cruise search.”

Tukel says iCruise is dedicated to keeping an eye on emerging technologies. “Whether it’s mobile apps or natural language search, we are constantly looking for new and convenient ways to help our clients find the right cruise vacation. Evature is a perfect example of an innovative company that has a great solution to a common problem.”

Vicky Karantzavelou Friday, April 20, 2012

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On Magical Hats, Sorcerers and the ‘NextGen’ of theme park storytelling

By Robert Niles: Looking back, I missed something important last December when I visited Tokyo DisneySea.

The theme park was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and DisneySea had placed a “Magical Hat” in each of the theme park’s lands to mark the occasion. But these hats weren’t designed just to look “magical.” They did things – if you could find the correct trigger on, or near, each hat. Perhaps it was a sound effect, or a light display. But the displays were enough to attract queues of eager visitors, waiting their turns to trigger the magic.

Magical Hat in Arabian Coast at Tokyo DisneySea
The ‘Magical Hat’ above the entrance to the Arabian Coast in Tokyo DisneySea. There’s an interactive Aladdin’s lamp next to the walkway below.

I was too busy trying to get to, ride, and photograph all the top-rated attractions at Tokyo DisneySea to give these Magical Hats more than a quick glance. But after playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World last month, I wish that I’d paid more attention to what Disney had done in Tokyo. Because, together, these additions to the Disney theme parks help draw a line toward the future of Disney’s vaunted “NextGen” project.

Ultimately, NextGen is about redefining the attraction experience beyond the physical limits of specific rides and shows to involve the entire theme park. It’s a natural extension of the immersive environments that define “theme” parks. Not only should these environments look the part, they should play it, too.

Think of theme park lands in NextGen not just as settings for attractions, but as platforms for them. Imagine props throughout the land that interact with you, responding to your touch, or instructions. The Magical Hats were a small step toward that end. They took a few of the gimmicks found in places such as Disneyland’s Indiana Jones and the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion queues and released them out into the park.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom takes another step. This interactive game brings story into the mix, and requires a higher level of interaction from guests to participate. You’ve got to make decisions now, in choosing which cards to hold up to the magic portals to defeat the Disney villains you battle there. Sorcerers connects the various interactions throughout the park into defined narrative quests, as well.

This concept isn’t new – the Kim Possible game did something similar at Epcot. Heck, even some of the old kids’ arts and crafts projects around Epcot gave you the chance to follow an agenda around the park and do something creative at each station. But viewed in the context of Tokyo and the new interactive queue at the Haunted Mansion, Sorcerers shows a direction that Walt Disney Imagineering is going.

The next step is what I call “passive customization.” Instead of you making a decision about what card to hold up to a Sorcerers portal, for example, the next step in NextGen is to have the prop in the park make the decision. This will require individualized RFID-enabled room-key or admission cards (or wristbands), with your personal information embedded. Touch it to a prop in the park, and the prop can respond based on your data. (Disney’s implementing RFID room keys and NextGen technology at its new Art of Animation hotel, opening in May.)

A simple implementation? Touch the prop with your wristband and boys get a pirate emerging from behind it; girls get a princess. Or grown-ups get simulated pyro, and little kids get a cute cartoon character popping up. Expect simple gimmicks at first, perhaps without much customization. But as Disney gains experience with the technology (and more importantly, with how guests interact with the technology), Imagineers can begin to use this technology to tell truly interactive stories – custom “choose your adventure” narratives that could be unique to each guest.

You thought Tower of Terror’s multiple ride profiles had repeat-ride appeal? This technology could help make Walt Disney World visits even more addictive for certain theme park fans.

Of course, not every guests wants a customized interactive adventure. When I told my wife about this technology, her face turned green.

“I don’t have the energy for that,” she said. A simpler vacation’s more relaxing for her. If Disney’s smart, this element of NextGen won’t be imposed on guests anymore than a ride to Pirates of the Caribbean is today – it’s there if you want it, but if you want to skip it in favor of something else, well, that’s fine, too.

But the more options – and, let’s face it, price points – that a theme park resort can offer, the more consumers it might attract. Frankly, before I played Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, all this NextGen talk really didn’t do much for me. I skimmed by it, as I did the Magical Hats in Tokyo, because I’ve always been more interested in theme parks’ story-driven narratives, and not so much the story-less tech gimmicks. I see now how story can play into and with in-park interactive technology, however.

More interactive “props in the park” are coming to Walt Disney World. And they’re bringing some questions with them: What stories will these installations enable Disney to tell? Will Disney follow through and develop these stories? And will these interactive experiences engage guests the way traditional attractions have for generations?

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Celebrity Shay Mitchell?s ATTA-Supported Ireland Adventure Generates 28+ Million Impressions

Generating Massive Digital Footprints?and Worthy New Narratives

By Chris Doyle, Editor,  Nicole Petrak, Assistant Editor, AdventureTravelNews.com

Mitchell kayaking in Ireland.

Adventure tourism can benefit directly from the extraordinary influence that today?s celebrities bring to the world of social media, many of whom have literally millions of followers. In its foray with Hollywood in March 2012, the ATTA learned just how quickly the celebrity world spins: In less than a month, Pretty Little Liars? young actress, Shay Mitchell?s adventure in Ireland generated 28+ million impressions. And, that?s just the first phase of the effort.

Destinations hosting film production crews is not new to tourism. It is widely believed throughout the history of film that movie locations, along with stars in them, can significantly influence travelers? destination interests. Prime examples being Peter Jackson?s Lord of the Rings filmed in New Zealand, or the legendary classic, Lawrence of Arabia, filmed in Jordan and Morocco, or the more recent, Twilight Saga, filmed in Washington State. Each are believed to have profoundly influenced traveler interest in the noted destinations.

Partly due to the film industry?s known impact on tourism, the ATTA has begun to test the waters with the help of Co-Founder/CEO Richard Janes of FanologySocial.com which builds online entertainment networks for celebrities (an introduction made by long-time ATTA partner Liz Ferrin). And, Janes? group, which focuses on celebrities who understand the value of their fans and the importance of owning their own image and voice on the Web, was the ideal first partner in this endeavor.

Its first test in the celebrity world began with Shay Mitchell who stars in the award-winning Pretty Little Liars television series, one of ABC Television?s highest rated series launches ever. In the case of Mitchell, this young star is early in her acting career and attracts viewers, mostly women, between 18-49. Combine the adventure tourism industry?s interest in appealing to younger travelers as the boomers continue to age, with the ideal scenario of a popular young person participating in healthy outdoor activities on another continent and interacting with another culture, and a potent elixir emerges.

So for the ATTA, it?s more than simply trying to attract interest to destinations through film, it?s also about how these stars come across as travelers while on holiday.

Celebrities? popularity and influence are often measured now in terms of their ?digital footprint?, including such things as the number of fans they have following any number of social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Probably even more important than the sheer numbers of followers and fans a celebrity receives, is how the celebrity is portrayed as it?s the one place in the world of media where a celebrity can have the greatest control of their image.

?For the ATTA, we see an opportunity to broaden what the viewing public sees influential celebrities doing while on holiday,? said ATTA President Shannon Stowell. ?Rather than only showing images of celebrities partaking in nightlife, shopping or sun tanning, we want to attract more celebrities to truly meaningful travel where they?re shown being transformed and participating in healthy activities, visiting new cultures and experiencing extraordinary natural environments worldwide.?

So, Shay?s digital footprint is in literally in the millions. While on holiday in Ireland, where she claims family ancestry, she posted photos, blogs, video clips and more daily, all while doting fans devoured her every move. The ATTA connected Janes with Fáilte Ireland, which then reached out to ATTA Member Vagabond Adventures of Ireland, leading to the special celebrity arrangements and subsequent publicity blitz.

Rob Rankin of Vagabond Adventure Tours

Questions & Answers with Rob Rankin

Rob Rankin is the Founder of Vagabond Adventures Ireland, and served as Shay?s guide on her week long adventure

This is the first time you?ve done a celebrity FAM trip ? how did it go?

The trip went great, we saw a lot of Ireland, did a lot of activity and mixed it in with plenty of history, culture and scenery.  And I hope we provided Shay with some topics of discussion that will pop up in interviews for years to come  – especially the bog photo?s!

You had mentioned that Shay (and many of her fans) is younger than Ireland?s, and Vagabond?s, usual demographic, and that you had concerns about hosting a celebrity in terms of not knowing what their expectations or preparation for this type of adventure tourism would be. How do you think the selection of Shay impacted the FAM?

Shay was an excellent choice, she was fun, adventurous, photogenic and charming to all she met. She might not necessarily be in the target demographic for Irish tourism,  but she brought a younger, contemporary and dynamic feel to the project. If a famous, cool, fashionable, well travelled person like Shay could be impressed by the scenery, food, adventure, history, culture and hospitality of Ireland, then that?s a great endorsement.

Plus the fact that she was doing the trip for the publicity and wasn?t being paid was vital. it was very obvious from first meeting the girls that they were here to enjoy Ireland but also work hard to promote the trip, Ireland, Vagabond and Shay. It was a huge relief!

What did you learn that you?d want to do differently next time?

Pre-tour, I think it would have been great to have a bit more of a lead in time would have useful allow a build up on social media and get the anticipation going. As the ATTA statistics show, 40% of a person?s enjoyment of a vacation is the anticipation and we missed out on that for this trip.

And maybe a pre-arranged meet and greet for fans might be good local PR. There was certainly plenty of interest. The girls were also saying that next time they would like to take a person who could have assisted with the preparation of material to be sent out. Especially in terms of video, which we did capture on the trip. It was a full-on experience though and the girls were busy during the day travelling and with their escapades, and so had to do their blogging, etc. in the evenings ? and they worked hard at it. Maybe someone who could prepare a 90 second short each day about the day?s adventures with a view to producing a longer film at the end.

I probably should have predicted too their need for constant internet and next time I would suggest having some mobile internet ?Dongles? ready (I think you call them Aircards or something). Most of the overnights only had decent internet signal in the reception and lounge areas.

What?s the consumer response been like?

Feedback on the blog has been good, lots of people have mentioned it and commented positively on it as an inducement to visit Ireland. We have found it very useful to drop a mention of the trip into conversation or an email with potential customers, it lends us great credibility and also makes a good talking point. (My personal street cred also went sky high!)

And what kind of impressions have you been able to track through social media and your other sites?

As for Twitter, our followers went up from about 80 to 350 during the trip. Most were teen followers of Shay?s, but plenty were also within our target demographic. For reactions to Facebook posts: It seemed at first that reaction to posts was limited, with fewer likes than when we posted a picture taken from a ?normal? tour. So we were keen not to over-do the trip on Facebook. Our theory is that our relationship with our facebook page ?likes? is built on a mutual trust, so we try and avoid the really obvious selling posts and concentrate on stimulating conversations to build a Vagabond community, especially one where potential customers can connect directly with past ones.

A key strategic point, Rob, all the research supports that you build a far deeper reach with your fans that way.

Absolutely. However the figures below show that our reach on Facebook greatly increased during the trip and the subsequent peak was after posting a link to YouTube featuring Shay?s trip.

It seemed people looked at the posts but for some reason didn?t share them, and it has been interesting afterwards that everyone who we connect with on Facebook,seems to have known about Shay?s tour. Maybe they thought it would be uncool to ?like? the posts? As yet we only have a couple of video?s up on YouTube (and we have tweeted links and posted them all on Facebook).

Our web hits have not had a huge difference, but most of the focus was really on the social media channels. It wasn?t until after the tour that we added the website URL to the blog, and we did see a rise in hits then. And enquiries have certainly been strong since the trip, though none have directly mentioned Shay?s visit when enquiring.

How about Shay?s end of the social media promotions? She was quite active across multiple sites ? her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest?

Feedback on her blog was really positive. I think for future products it is important to know what subliminal message you want to get across. For example we tried to slip in bits about bringing the family back, to encourage the concept of Ireland as a family destination ? virtually all our tours have some form of family or multi-generational group on them, often with adult kids and parents/grandparents. Mentioning the range of activities etc., but at the same time not making it sound like a sales document.

What kind of follow-up are you doing to get the most out of the experience?

Shay mentioned some print media and TV opportunities to mention her trip, and that would be fantastic to follow up the social media with some more conventional PR which might have a greater impact on the vacation decision makers.

Shay?s Trip Itinerary

Rob reflected on the trip?s itinerary ? click the links below to see Shay?s blog on each day:

Day one ? We have arrived!
The adventure begins as we land in Ireland and head for the west coast. Today is a mix of cycling, mussels and seaweed!

After meeting the girls at Dublin airport, and introducing them to the Vagatron, one of our Land Rover tour vehicles, we set off for the west coast of Ireland. Along the way making a rough plan for the trip and going through the options (like kayaking, surfing etc). We stopped for a photo shoot near Dublin. After which we drove across Ireland up to Westport, the girls managed to sleep the whole way across Ireland.

The first activity was the Electric Bike ride from Westport house along the Atlantic Coastline towards Croagh Patrick (Ireland?s holiest Mountain). The idea being to have a picnic when they got there. Paul, their cycling guide gave them a great introduction to the west of Ireland, telling them while they were here to ?listen to the mountains?.  I think it made a big impression.

After a fabulous bowl of Mussels we headed for the hills and Delphi Mountain resort. As we drove up into the Sheefry Mountains the sun was setting over the sea and evening light was quite breathtaking, the hillside were lit up with a golden glow ? it was the perfect way to end the day and as we arrived at Delphi the girls both agreed that they were in love with Ireland!

It was a good start. (They then both had the restorative hot seaweed baths in the Spa, and came out for dinner looking very relaxed)

Day two ? Canoes and mud
What a day?canoeing on the Atlantic ocean with seals before getting down and dirty in the ?bog.?

Sea kayaking was the first activity this morning and it was a great introduction to the Atlantic Ocean. At first the girls were a bit apprehensive about the wetsuits, but they obviously looked much better in them than we did, so that was a concern overcome. We paddled out on to Killary Harbour (actually a fjord) and the highlight was definitely being surrounded by seals (and the chocolate biscuits that James, the canoe guide, had bought along).  We managed to get a bit of history in too, as we glided past the remains of long deserted settlements and the potato beds which has once provided the staple diet for these remote communities.

Lunch was in Hamilton?s Bar in the village of Leenane, and offered Shay a great opportunity to meet some locals. Half the Irish army were outside the pub when we arrived, and the sight of Shay and Jody climbing out of the vehicle right in front of them made their day. Shay also met ?Tom?, the local character (every pub has one) and she interviewed him at length about life in Leenane. Its on video and the highlight was when Shay asked Tom if he thought she looked Irish, to which he replied ?Well, you look very nice to me?? Until this point we weren?t sure quite how clearly Tom could focus.

Then it was on to the Turf Guy adventure Race through the bog. The pictures speak for themselves, but the girls were a great sport and took it in their stride ? Even when the wetsuits were handed out, and it became apparent that this was going to get wet and dirty. Up until this point information on the what awaited the girls had been on a strictly need to know basis, and I had thought it was better that they didn?t know. Shane?s (Shane Young from Killary Adventure Company, who ran the Turf Guy) sales pitch was that it would take them back to their childhood, but neither of them could really remember jumping in the bog when they were young (I could though). Basically the course is designed to make you progressively muddier, so each step was a challenge. We started by getting our shoes dirty and by the end of the event, we were covered from head to toe in ?bog?.

A group of Dublin School girls were at the centre playing ?laser skirmish? and as we ran through their battleground I asked one of the girls if she had heard of Shay Mitchell? She stared in disbelief at Shay, who she recognized instantly. Unfortunately, being a bit distracted, the schoolgirl got thoroughly strafed by the other girls playing skirmish. Soon word got out that Shay Mitchell was there and we had a to take a break from throwing ourselves into mud-holes to meet the entire group. Shay was very gracious and spent time chatting with all the girls and taking photographs.

After the turf guy we stayed at the 4 star Ballynahinch Castle Hotel for the night. Its a fantastic hotel in an amazing location in the heart of the wild and rugged Connemara landscape.  And after about 3 showers, we pretty much got clean of the bog.

A nice moment during our superb dinner was when the manager came over and presented the girls with a book of poetry (some of it even rhymed) and read out his favourite, before sitting down for a chat. This was not special treatment by any means, just a great example of true Irish hospitality.

Day three ? Castaways on ?treasure Ireland?
See what happens when you strand Shay Mitchell on an island. Plus Galway city and the Burren moonscape.

We shipped the girls off to the Aran Islands today, and all went smoothly until the ferry that was due to bring them back decided it was too rough to land and cancelled their service. (They took a ferry to the islands and were then to take another ferry south to Doolin, thereby also crossing Galway bay from north to south, while I drove round to meet them at the other side).

I thought Jody was joking when she called to say the sailing was cancelled, but no! Luckily we managed to get on to the local airline, Aer Arrann,  and they ?scrambled? a plane which went and airlifted the girls back to the mainland. So actually they got an extra adventure and some great aerial photographs. Shay was also recognized on the Islands by a group of girls, who would probably have taken her home for the night if they had got stranded.

I double backed and met them in Galway city for lunch before heading to the Burren region in County Clare. A area famous for its lunar landscape, wild flowers, caves and archeological sites. I would like to say that Shay and Jody were fascinated by my on-site account of Poulnabrone Dolmen, one of Ireland?s greatest archeological treasures, but I think their minds kept wandering back to an image of Shane Young covered in mud.

It was our first pub evening, after a night in a mountain resort and a castle, and Doolin stood up to the mark. It?s a small village famous for its high quality traditional Irish music, and after an excellent meal in McGann?s Pub the girls got their first taste of a traditional Irish music ?sessun? (session).

Day four ? Cliffs, Shannon and surfing
From one of the natural wonders of the world to an adventure sport for which Ireland now has a global reputation. More wetsuits!

The Cliffs of Moher in the morning, not only stunning but also as featured in the Princess Bride ? could it get any better?
Then south over the River Shannon, and into Kerry for an excellent, though relatively basic, lunch in the Tavern bar overlooking the sea. The food was a particular surprise to them, in a good way! They were genuinely delighted with the quality of the meals, and not just in the fancy restaurants, but even down to a delicious bowl of veg soup in a small remote pub.

Then it was photo shoot time on the beach and surfing, again the pictures tell the story, but Jamie Knox Watersports in Castlegregory did a great job. The girls managed to stand on their boards almost right away and also had a go at Paddle Boarding  – the new big thing here. Overnighting in Dingle in the super-chic Castlewood Guesthouse, one of the towns many excellent new super-guesthouses. Dinner was in ?Out of the Blue? restaurant down by the fishing harbor, which only serves fish ? it was a spectacular meal. Their favourite so far.

Day five ? Horses and lambs
Horse riding on the beach and cuddling baby lambs dreams do come true! An awesome day down in Dingle and the Ring of Kerry.

Horse-riding first, along the beach. Shay looking more at home in the saddle than Jody, it has to be said. Lovely sunny day and all went smoothly, despite Shay?s allergic reaction to the horse! We then went back into Dingle for lunch, shopping and free time. The girls found themselves in one of Dingle?s 54 pubs (in a town of 2500 people) only to see a man at the bar reading the day?s copy of the ?Irish Examiner? (a national paper here) with Shay surfing across the front page. The pictures had been taken yesterday afternoon at the photo shoot.  I had also spotted it in a supermarket and we all arrived back to the vehicle very pleased with ourselves.

After Dingle we headed for Killarney, the Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry, but mainly we headed towards the Kissane Sheep farm to cuddle some baby lambs. For five days there had been squeals of joy and delight from the back of the Vagatron as we passed EVERY field with baby lambs in it, so we had to go and meet some. Plus we were given a masterly display of sheep-dog handling by John (the owner of the farm) and with the sun setting over the mountains, it was fantastic.

We overnighted at the Shelburne Lodge in Kenmare, its a fantastic period house personally decorated and managed by Maura Foley, our hostess. And in fact it turned out to be their favourite overnight stop, even over the castle! Dinner was in the Wild Garlic restaurant, and again it topped the charts as their best meal.

And just when things could get any better, the evening was rounded off by the live irish music by Michael O?Brien, the only man in the world who can sex-up the accordion. Some of the locals gave the girls a lesson in irish dancing, while Jody returned the favour with a display of the chimney sweeps? dance from Mary Poppins.

Day six ? Castles, princess?s and Guinness
Off to Dublin but plenty of history, bling and rolling green fields on the way.

We had a  bit of a drive home today,  but an interesting stop at one of Ireland?s greatest historical sites, the Rock of Cashel, and then a picnic lunch in the sunshine up in the ruined fortress of The Rock of Dun na Mase, were a big success. Only matched by the sight of an irish Gypsy cleaning his horse in the jet wash at a service station on the way home,  it is moments like that you only get in Ireland.

Finally we arrived back into Dublin under a shroud of secrecy, as Twitter was going mad with people trying to find out where we were heading. People had travelled from all over Ireland and were driving around the city looking out for a glimpse of the vehicle and Shay.  No visit to Dublin would be complete without a stop at the Guinness Factory for a tour, before dropping the girls at their hotel in Dublin.

That?s just a brief account of the trip, but I hope it gives a good picture of what the girls got up to, some of the people they met, their adventure experiences, some light-hearted moments, and the hospitality they met along the way

Source: http://www.adventuretravelnews.com/celebrity-shay-mitchell%E2%80%99s-atta-supported-ireland-adventure-generates-28-million-impressions

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Food Travel: First Class Menu of The Titanic being recreated by Prime Meats

The 100 anniversary remembering the sinking of White Star Liner?s The Titanic is creating a big buzz around the world with cruises and restaurants coming up with their own gimmicks to honor a great ship that ended in a sad tragedy.

The owners of Prime Meats in Brooklyn, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, will be serving a 10-course dinner replicating the exact menu served during the only journey of the Titanic. The menu will include some rack of lamb, oysters, roast duckling in apple sauce, foie gras, and Waldorf pudding.

The passengers of the Titanic enjoy the finest cuisines available during their journey, and this feast will be rememberd at Prime Meats this coming April 15. A seat during this elegant dinner and celebration will just set you back $115. It is a black tie affair, and call them for more details. You can email rsvp@frankspm.com to reserve a seat, but we are not sure if they are not yet fully booked for this Titanic event.


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Bad Coffee in Paris?

‘Why do the French make such horrible coffee?’ I used to think when I lived in Paris in 1996. If I’d bothered researching the question I’d quickly have found the answer – bad coffee was French government policy. The French government pushed the cheaper, lower quality Robusta coffee beans, rather than the more expensive, higher quality Arabica coffee, because Robusta was what grew in French colonies. Since Robusta was best for making those tiny cups of bitter sump-oil-black espresso, which is what the French think of as coffee, that’s what they learned to like. And that’s the only coffee French bar staff learned how to make.

Now Arabica coffee is making inroads into France and – quite apart from the 50 or so Starbucks in Paris – other coffee bars are popping up. The Melbourne newspaper The Age ran an article on where to get a good cup of coffee. Try Le Bal Café (6 Impasse de la Defense, 18eme), La Cafeotheque (52 Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, 4eme), Coutume Café (47 Rue de Babylone, 7eme), Kooka Boora (62 Rue des Martyrs, 9eme), Cafe Lomi (9 Rue de Saussure, 17eme) or Merce & the Muse (1 Rue Dupuis, 3eme).

Stars & Bucks
? Coffee’s an international drink, I’ll find it in Papua New Guinea, where I’m going soon, and just before Christmas I had a coffee in that one off coffee shop Stars & Bucks in Palestine

Source: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/tonywheeler/my_lists/bad_coffee_in_paris_1/

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Alaska-Kamchatka Service Summer, 2012

Eastern Russia?s premier air carrier Yakutia Airlines has applied to the US Department of Transportation for approval to provide scheduled and charter air transportation between Russia and the United States, with the intention to commence weekly service between Anchorage, Alaska, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia, on July 12, 2012. Yakutia plans to serve the route with its fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft. The service would reestablish a vital transportation link between Eastern Russia and the West Coast of North America.

Sportsfishermen from the US have long awaited a convenient way to get to Kamchatka, legendary worldwide for its unparalleled flyfishing. This volcano-studded peninsula, long isolated by geography and politics, is also expected to draw adventure travelers to experience its breathtaking landscapes, hot springs, unique wildlife, and the hospitality of its local Russian and native populations.  Regular service is expected to create countless new opportunities for business cooperation, as well as cultural and educational exchange between Eastern Russia and North America.

Schedules, prices, booking and tour information will be available after Yakutia Airlines receives final government approval to serve the route. 

Source: http://www.adventuretravelnews.com/alaska-kamchatka-service-summer-2012

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Uttarayan Kite Festival ? When Gujarat Shows its Aerial Skill

 

January 14th has a tremendous spiritual and cultural significance for the Indian state of Gujarat. Parents who usually find it difficult to get their kids out of bed will find the same kids strategizing and planning aerial battles even before sunrise. The markets turn colourful with a variety of decorative kites and homes exue the sweet fragrance of special recipes ? Undhiyu (mixed winter vegetable) and chikkis (made of sesame, peanuts and jaggery).

January 14 is the day Gujarat celebrates the ?Uttarayan Kite Festival?. People throughout the state fly kites on this special festival ? especially kids and the youth. The sense of enjoyment is contrasted against a cutthroat scuffle in the sky as the kids try to out-maneuver each other with their kites.

The meaning of word ?Utterayan? itself defines the reason for celebration. It?s made of two words ? ?Uttera? that means ?the north side?and ?yana? that stands for ?to go?. On January 14, the sun travels towards the northern hemisphere and indicates winter?s retreat. It?s believed that the God who was sleeping throughout the winter gets up that morning. That?s why people celebrate it in early morning and fly kites to show their happiness. The kites are fabricated with special light paper and bamboo to be sturdy enough to fight with the rival kites

In Ahmadabad ? the capital of Gujarat state, Utterayan Festival is celebrated in a special way. The city hosts an International KiteFestival as a part of official celebration of this occasion. Master Kite makers and flyers throughout the world come here and present their unique creations and skills to enchant the crowd. Wau-balang kites from Malaysia, llayang-llayanghave from Indonesia and giant banner kites from the USA are some international varieties of kites, which have wowed people in Ahmadabad in past years.

Source: http://blogs.hungrybags.com/2012/01/13/international-kite-festival/

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