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Beach sunset panorama

Discovering Oahu

O’ahu brings to mind The Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head and surfing the North Shore. But there is so much more to this Island that I’ve visited so often. I recently spent a week on O’ahu studying with the Visitors Bureau to become a Master Specialist. There were lots of course work and cultural studies. But it also included resort tours, from luxurious 5-star properties to amazing beach cottages, sampling the delicious food, a wide range of excursions as well as some time to get to know the feel of the Island. Which included early morning walks along the shore, enjoying the breeze, the beauty and the sound of the waves.


We spent a morning touring Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. There are museums and a Park Service Movie that tell the story of the attack where World War II began. It’s very sobering as you pay your respects at the memorial. Oil still bubbles to the surface from the Arizona. One legend is that the oil represents the tears of the 900 plus soldier entombed below.


We spent some time at the Kualoa Ranch. There is so much to do on the 4000 acre family owned ranch. Horseback riding, ATV tours, zip lining and more. We took the Movie Site tour. Scenes from Hawaii Five-0, Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Lost. Plus the views throughout the Ranch were stunning!

 

 

Time spent at the Polynesian Cultural Center was fascinating with villages and exhibits representing the island cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and Easter Island. There are canoe tours, hand crafts, food and traditions being portrayed in the live villages. At the of the day enjoy a traditional Luau and a live show. The food and the entertainments was fabulous.

 

We were honored to be invited to spend some time at The Paepae o He’eia Fishpond, an ancient Hawaiian pond built for sustainable fish farming. Our host provided great insight on sustainability and then we all had the opportunity to do a little fishing for predatory fish.


We had the privilege of being taught Gyotaku, traditional Japanese art, by Naoki, a leading local artist.

Time spent in Waimea Valley was like walking through paradise. Not only are you treated to beautiful trees, flower and bushes, but exotic birds and peacocks wonder the ground. At the end of the main path is a beautiful waterfall.

 

 

Sailing on a catamaran, snorkeling and swimming with dolphins and turtles in their natural habitat was an experience I’ll never forget. And we were blessed to have the fabulous Meredith of Sunn Photography join us to capture these amazing shots.

 

Do I have your interest? Not yet? How about sitting on a beach, feeling the gentle trade winds, drinking a Kona Longboard, listening to a slack key guitar concert and watching the sun slide into the night….I’m ready to go back.

I’d love to help you experience these type of adventures. Call me and we can start creating this amazing trip for you!

 

 

Terri Kunselman
Travel Designer
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314-724-1394

 

Exploring New Zealand Tour with Collette Vacations

I've recently returned from the land of the Kiwi's, New Zealand. I took this adventure with a dear friend and Collette Vacations. It truly was the trip of a lifetime! Having never traveled on a guided tour before, I was skeptical about how much I would really enjoy it. Would there be enough free time for me to explore on my own? Were the planned activities suited for me? Would the hotel and transportation accommodations meet my standards? We we too young for this type of guided tour? I can honestly say all of my doubts were wrong. I was blown away by the service and friendliness of our driver and tour manager and the detailed itinerary that Collette put together for the Exploring New Zealand Tour.

Collette Vacations thinks of every small detail and lets their customers truly relax knowing everything is thought of and taken care of. To begin, when you purchase a Collette Vacation your transportation to and from the airport is included if you live within 50 miles of the airport. This is such a nice touch knowing that you don't have to worry about paying for airport parking or finding a ride to the airport. The friendly driver comes to pick you up and chauffeur you to the airport with Collette's Sedan Service. Your vacation, as mine did, truly begins from the moment you step out of your home. 

Driver

Upon my arrival in Auckland, I was greeted by both my tour manager and driver with a friendly 'Kia Ora'. After a short bus ride to the hotel with the tour group, we were on our own to explore the City of Sails for the day. Wanting to experience some of the adrenaline thrills New Zealand is known for, we headed to Sky City and base jumped 192m off the top of the Sky Tower! It was the biggest thrill I've had and a great way to start our Kiwi adventure. Later that afternoon we strolled down to the Viaduct Harbor which was the venue for the America's Cup in 2000 & 2003. There are a number of restaurants and cafes around the harbor and we chose to have a few beers outside a cafe that overlooked the ferry terminal and Auckland Harbor. Collette arranged for a nice group cocktail hour and dinner that evening where I met my fellow tour companions. This was a great way to get acquainted with everyone I'd be spending the next two weeks with. 

SkyDive

Tower

 

The following day we enjoyed a panoramic city tour of Auckland by bus where we saw the America's Cup Village, the War Memorial, bustling Queen Street and world famous Auckland Harbor Bridge before venturing into the countryside of Matamata. This part of New Zealand is truly beautiful and awe-inspiring! The idyllic landscape of Matamata is where The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films were produced. We journeyed into Hobbiton to tour the movie set and ended the tour with drinks in The Green Dragon pub. Lord of the Rings fan or not, this place was so whimsical and magical that it was a highlight for everyone in our group. We then had the unique opportunity of experiencing a New Zealand Farm Stay for the evening. Our gracious hosts Libby and Jim invited us into their home where we spent the evening laughing, learning about Kiwi customs and life on a New Zealand Farm, and ate a traditional delicious home cooked meal. The farm stay was truly a highlight of this trip and another unique experience that Collette gives their guests!

We then ventured into the dramatic geothermal region of Rotorua. Being in this area felt like being in a completely different world! We visited Te Puai and hiked the wandering trails between the geothermal geysers and mud pools, saw the endangered Kiwi bird and were immersed in Maori culture. We learned first hand from our Maori guide about how the tribal people first came to land New Zealand, about their heritage and about their culture. Some more highlights from the morning included a visit to the National Carving School and National Weaving School where we watched the age old carving and weaving skills being taught to the Maori youth. Later that evening, we attended an authentic Hangi dinner celebration where the Haka war challenge and poi dance were demonstrated. Think Polynesian dinner show on steroids-the Maori rituals and Haka are both intimidating and powerful to watch. Very moving! 

Rotorua

While in Rotorua, I had to check another experience off my bucket list...zorbing! What is zorbing? Well, this experience invented in New Zealand and made famous by travel shows and adrenaline junkies from all over the world, is where you climb into an inflated ball and roll down the hill side. Imagine being in a giant hamster ball. The company I did this with, OGO Rotoura, provided a go pro for some fun video and still shot photos of the experience. We purchased the cd for about $20USD but the pictures/video of us laughing hysterically the whole way down are priceless!

 

Although I wasn't quite ready to leave Rotorura, our journey had to continue. We drove south through the rugged country side and then along the picturesque shores of the Tazman Sea into the city of Wellington. While in Wellington, we toured historic St. Paul's Church and the Old Government Building which is the largest wooden building in the Southern Hemisphere, saw school age children demonstrating at the Beehive (New Zealand's Parliament), the Wellington Botanical Gardens and took the Wellington Cable Car up the mountain side for panoramic views of the harbor. We wrapped up our North Island experience with a climb up Mt. Victoria for the 360 degree spectacular view. 

The following morning we boarded the Inter-islander ferry (the row row) for a picturesque 3 hour cruise across the Cook Straight to the South Island of New Zealand. This has been dubbed "the most beautiful ferry ride in the world" and it did NOT disappoint! After arriving in Picton, we were off to the city of Christchurch where we shopped, dined and drank our way around the Re-Start area and found a quaint little bar for some shelter from the rain.

The following day we were up before the sun to catch the Trans Alpine train from Christchurch to Authors Pass. It was the most beautiful train ride I've ever taken! The pictures don't even remotely do it justice. Riding from the low country up through the mountains immersed us in a winter wonderland in the middle of August. Worth the early morning rise for sure! 

Before departing Christchurch, we stopped for a tour of the International Antarctic Center. This is the place where anyone traveling to Antarctica on this side of the globe must check in. We got to take a ride in an Hagglund which is the type of vehicle people use to get around in Antarctica. Our driver took us up steep hills, over crevasses, and through some pretty deep water. it was basically a simulation of what it is like to get around on Antarctica. No pics during because it was soo bumpy but we had a blast!

On our way into the Mt. Cook region, we stopped for tea at a local farmers house. They showed us around the property and we even got to hold a baby lamb. We got to watch a "strong eye" herding dog round up the farmers heard, which was pretty cool. 

I was absolutely blown away by the drive into Mt. Cook National Park. The sun was setting on the mountains and glaciers as we arrived to our stop for the night, The Hermitage Hotel. I could now see why the Maori word for Mt. Cook is Aoraki, meaning "cloud piercer". This is the view from my room. It was absolutely stunning! We ventured out into the frigid cold late that evening for an unspoiled view of the sky. The stars felt so close, and I got to see with my own eyes the Southern Cross which is only visible in the night sky from the Southern Hemisphere.There were multiple shooting stars that evening and the Milky Way galaxy appeared to be swirling in the sky. It was a life changing experience for sure!

Cook

The next day we traversed the rugged Lindis Pass en route to Queenstown, our final destination. We stopped in the Central Otago region, which is becoming world famous for it's wines, and had a private owner escorted tour of Akarua winery. 

Our final destination of our New Zealand tour was the city of Queenstown. There was so much to do here, I could have stayed an entire week! Some of the highlights were cruising through the breathtakingly beautiful Milford Sound. This fjord is one of the most visited sites on the South Island and is an absolute MUST DO while here. It has rock faces that rise nearly 4,000 feet on either side and the amount of waterfalls, scenery and sea life took my breath away. I opted to splurge a little on a private small plane ride back to Queenstown. It was worth every penny! Flying over the Southern Alps with a bird's eye view of the Tasman Glacier in a small plane was both scary and exhilarating! It was such and extreme environment. This plane ride is not for the faint of heart, but oh my goodness it was so beautiful and so worth the splurge.

I struggled with writing this blog because I feel like I can't even put into words the sheer, raw beauty and amazing experiences I had on this trip. It was the trip of a lifetime for sure! If you would like to learn more about the stunningly beautiful destination of New Zealand, or are interested in planning a similar adventure let me know and we will turn your dream vacation into reality!

 

Jessica Kruse
Travel Designer
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36-233-4572

 

Puerto Vallarta Dreamin

After my first visit to Puerto Vallarta I was in love. In love with the city, in love with the culture, in love with the views, and in love with the people. The town completely swept me off my feet. I'm not quite sure why I wasn't expecting to be blown away, but I wasn't. Boy was I wrong.  After visiting this past December, I truly fell in love with this part of Mexico! It is a beautiful, lesser known gem with so many wonderful things to offer. Puerto Vallarta and the Rivera Nayarit are located on the Pacific side of Mexico at about the same latitude as Cancun. The area lies on the beaches of beautiful Banderas Bay, and is surrounded by the lush Sierra Madras mountains. The mountains actually meet the sea here, which makes for stunning views. There are several luxury resorts in the area as well as some very nice ones that price really well.

Puerto Vallarta is such a charming town that boasts authentic, vibrant Mexican culture with lots of local shops, street vendors, restaurants, and art galleries. While visiting, take a short cab ride Downtown and visit the Malecon. This is a pedestrian only boardwalk where locals and tourists alike explore, shop, and dine in the many boutiques, open air cafes, and art galleries. There is also lots of nightlife here if you are looking to go off resort for some fun. There's American touristy places such as Senor Frog's you can stop in and have a drink, and also lots of little local bars and shops if you are looking for a true authentic Mexican experience. Check out the Our Lady of Guadalupe church. Even if you are not religious, this historic structure is a beautiful must see!

 
Another reason I love P.V. is for the many eco-adventure tours and excursions. These types of activities price very well here in comparison to other Mexican and Caribbean like activities elsewhere. Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jaliso where tequila is made. There are lots of options for visiting tequila farms here, and sampling is a must! True, Mexican tequila is so yummy and tastes nothing like what we have in the states. Why not try a tequila 101 class? Even if you think tequila is not for you, I guarantee you will find one you love after some sampling.  You can  also do things like rent atv's and ride through jungle trails, dolphin adventures, zip line on Mexico's longest and fastest course, or my personal favorite the Marietas Eco Discovery. This is the coolest tour I have ever seen! The Marietas islands, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, are only accessible by boat. Once there, you will have to kayak or snorkel into the inner beach to experience the wildlife both above and below the water. This is a very unique tour and one I highly recommend for anyone visiting P.V.  During the months of November-March many tourist come to Puerto Vallarta to whale watch. And if you're lucky (and have an oceanview room overlooking the Bay of Banderas) you may even be able to spot these beautiful creatures from your balcony while sipping on your morning coffee.
 


The warmth and friendliness of the people is so genuine and heart felt here. I really love the culture and true Mexican charm this city has to offer. The locals welcome tourists with open arms and are thrilled to share their beautiful city and rich history with us.

If you'd like to add this destination to your travel 'must visit' list, give me a call or send me an email. I'd be glad to share with you my favorite resorts and activities, and design your perfect vacation. 
 
Jessica Kruse
Travel Designer
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636-233-4572

New England Dream Journey

New England and More
by Terri Kunselman

I just returned from a road trip to the New England region. It's been on my bucket list for a while. I love touring the beautiful places we have right here in the USA.
One stop in Connecticut was Mystic. Mystic Pizza is a favorite movie of mine, so I’ve always wanted to stop in for “A Slice of Heaven”. It actually was really good pizza. The town straddles the Mystic River, and as we were enjoying our slice of heaven, we watched the historic Drawbridge rise to allow river traffic through. Not something you see every day. We walked across the bridge and admired the view of the river. Several kayakers were out enjoying the beautiful day. The town is full of coffee shops, unique boutiques, fun bars and great little seafood cafes.

We stopped to enjoy an incredible hike along the coast in Rhode Island…The Cliff Walk. On one side you get these amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean breaking against the shore. On the other side you see beautiful mansions from the late 1800s that served as the playground for the rich and famous (think “The Great Gatsby” and “The Age of Innocence”). The trail is a mix of paved and natural rocks and sand. Lots of wildflowers, birds and geological features make the hike so exhilarating.

 

 

As we made our way up the coast, we took a detour from the mainland, left our car behind and took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. The minute I stepped off the ferry, I felt my body sigh and totally kick into relax mode. Between the bus system and your own two feet, you can explore the entire island. Each area has its own unique personality. Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven have tons of restaurants and shopping, great little seaside bars to enjoy great seafood, a cold beer and the ocean air. Aquinnah is on the West end of the island. We hike up to the lighthouse and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the multi-colored clay cliffs and a climb to the top of the Gay Head lighthouse.

Our next stop was in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, considered the landing site of the pilgrims in 1620 and a symbol of American history. It sits on the shore of Plymouth Harbor in Pilgrim Memorial State Park. There’s even a replica of the Mayflower anchored there. There’s even a living history museum where you can explore a 17th century village with costumed role players and experience how the pilgrims and Native Americans lived.

We started our tour in Boston with a Duck Tour in the Charles River. Our tour guide had a great sense of humor and was full of fun facts and interesting tidbits about Boston history and landmarks. And with the Duck Tour you get a different perspective of Boston. I definitely recommend this tour. We spent a morning walking The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile walking trail through downtown Boston that takes you by 16 locations significant to American History, like The Old State House (the first place the Declaration of Independence was read aloud), Paul Revere’s route along Battle Road Trail and the Old North Church, We toured Fenway and stopped for refreshments at Cheers.

The first thing that came to mind as I looked out at the crashing waves of the Atlantic off the Coast of Maine in Ogunquit was “Wicked Gorgeous”. As we walked along the Marginal Way, I had to keep stopping to just look at the amazing views. It’s almost a sensory overload, but so peaceful ….listening to the crashing waves and the cawing seagulls, feeling the wind and mist coming ashore, you can smell the briny ocean and then you settle in for a meal of fresh caught lobster….oh my!!

We left the coast and headed inland to the beautiful White Mountains in New Hampshire. The highway winds gracefully through these beautiful mountains offering us a different view at every turn. There are hiking trails for every level that will show you spectacular views of lakes, lookouts and waterfalls. We hiked to the top of Rattlesnake mountain for a beautiful view of Squam Lake where On Golden Pond was filmed.

Took the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway in Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountains to the top (4,100 ft) for views that seem to go on forever, hiked the trail to the watchtower then toasted at the highest tap in New Hampshire. First aerial tram in North America built in 1938.

And hiked through the Flume Gorge, a natural chasm with beautiful waterfalls and amazing mountain views.

Then it was time to visit the Green Mountains of Vermont. I didn’t know this until I started doing research for my trip, but the Green Mountains run 250 miles north and south down the center of Vermont and are part of the Appalachian Trail. This is another beautiful area for hiking…all levels. One of the hikes we took was into the Quechee Gorge (considered Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon). The view from the top was amazing and then we hiked down into the Gorge and along the bank of the Ottaquechee River. It’s not surprising that this has become Vermont’s most spectacular natural wonder. The hike back to the top was just as enjoyable enjoying the beautiful trail and sounds of the mountains.

Leaving Vermont, we dropped south through the edge of New York and took a detour for a drive through the beautiful Catskills. The road meanders through forests, crossing streams and passing through cute little towns. We stopped for the afternoon in the groovy town of Woodstock. Lots of unique boutiques, art galleries and great places for a meal or refreshment. And if you’re so inclined, there are several yoga studios and hiking trails nearby.

Our last stop was Philadelphia. When we crossed the Delaware River and drove into Philly, we managed to hit it right in the middle of rush hour. So my first impression was not positive. We settled into our hotel and asked the concierge for a recommendation for dinner. She gave us several options within walking distance. The downtown area is pulsating, lots of restaurants, bars and shopping to keep the area vibrant. The city has really done an amazing job of reviving itself from a near bankrupt state in the late 1980s. They have capitalized on the rich history of the City. There are over 60 National Historic Landmarks. We walked all over the city to take in many of these sights. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Betsy Ross’ home were just a few of what we saw. And they might not be considered Historic Landmarks, but as long as we were there, we had to have our picture taken at the Rocky Statue and enjoy a Philly Steak and Cheese!

I honestly feel like I was continually learning something new on this trip.10 Days, 9 States 1,170 miles driven, unknown miles walked/hiked, unknown number of calories consumed, unknown number of beers drank, made new friends, visited new places and created the most amazing memories together.


If this type of tour is also on your bucket list, call me and I can put together a custom tour designed just for you! 

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Aulani Resort on Oahu

Aulani: A Disney Resort and Spa with Teenagers and Adults

by Michelle Woodruff

Our immediate party of 7 departed from St. Louis, flying via Southwest Airlines, to San Diego, CA. We decided to spend the night in San Diego, each party separating to spend the day enjoying local sights. Our family drove to Hollywood for the day to take in the Walk of Fame. It made for a long day and, had we not been visiting our daughter, we should have stayed in San Diego. We spent the day locating the iconic buildings that Disney’s Hollywood Studios recreated in the theme park, identifying some of our favorite stars on the walk and eating at Musso and Frank. Musso and Frank was a step back into the Golden Age of Hollywood.
We departed the next morning via Hawaiian Airlines and arrived in Honolulu around lunch time. We rented our car from the airport, well in advance of our arrival as it was half the price of a rental from Aulani. The resort is 17 miles from the airport, an easy drive. The staff immediately took our keys (in case they had to move the car before we returned), handled our luggage and made us feel welcome. We participated in online check which allowed us to utilize the outside kiosk where we were offered infused water, obtained our room key, a resort map, the ‘Iwa (daily publication of scheduled activities and information) and our greeting leis. Our rooms were ready upon arrival, allowing us to immediately locate our rooms and begin exploring the resort.


Our rooms were at ground level, with the Island view. The Halawai lawn was outside our patio and we could sit on our patio when they presented outdoor movies, the Halloween party and the Starlit Hui (a Hawaiian inspired show followed by a typical Disney dance party). We had a deluxe studio room which had a mini refrigerator, coffee pot and microwave. The bathroom is a split bathroom allowing several family members to get ready simultaneously.
The resort’s architecture reflects the Hawaiian culture, stories and history. Those seeking an authentic Hawaiian experience will be pleased with the grounds. They offer a tour of the grounds highlighting the nature and art of the resort, fire pit storytelling by “Uncle”, local bands, lei making, hula class, and Aunty’s beach house ( for the children in the group).


The pool area is heavily landscaped and shaded. We found a secluded area alongside the lazy river where we frequently convened. The pool area has several pools, four whirlpools, two splash areas, and two slides-all beautifully landscaped with native plants and trees. There is an adult only pool and a couple of adult only whirlpools. We chose to remain on the resort a couple of days, as it had a lot to offer.


Our party had 10 travelers, as we met up with more friends at the resort. The youngest was age 12, followed by 2-16 year olds, a 19 and 20 year old. Those were our younger members. The rest of us ranged in age from 49-58. We brought snorkel equipment and snorkeled in the Aulani lagoon almost daily. They have snorkel equipment available for rental, as well as stand up paddle boards and kayaks. The beach is meticulously clean with plenty of beach chairs. There is a paved pathway along the lagoon that extends to the Ko Olina Marina and runs alongside the four lagoons in Ko Olina. I enjoyed early morning walks along the lagoons and participated in sunrise yoga one morning.
Our young people spent the majority of their time on the beach, whereas the rest of us spent the majority of our time in or near the lazy river and whirlpools. There is a fine dining restaurant, a buffet-style restaurant which doubles as the location for character breakfasts, a pool side restaurant and bar, and a counter service location. We ate at the counter service and pool side bar, the food was pricier, but not unreasonable. One of the best amenities for us was the Weber gas grill stations!! We checked out grilling utensils from the community hall and grilled several evenings as the men in the party were quite enthusiastic about their grilling. No need to wash the tools, just return them to the community hall in the trash bag and they will take care of the rest. While we are on the subject of food and beverage: A DRINK IN THE FROZEN PINEAPPLE IS WORTH IT!!! One of my most relaxing memories is sitting poolside in the evening, listening to live Hawaiian music and drinking from my pineapple drink.


I am a Disney shopper and was pleased with the shops (2) at the resort. Just a warning, if you see something purchase it. The tour buses stop by the resort for non- resort guests to shop, making it crowded at times. Photopass service is available at the resort. One morning we got up early and dressed for pictures. We took several of our own in addition to utilizing the Photopass service. Photos can be taken in the Community Hall, where you can chose additional backgrounds. Stitch actually photobombed us when taking pictures outside.


We didn’t partake in the spa services, but maybe next time when it’s just myself and my husband. The kids enjoyed working out in the gym and participating in the beach cardio rush and circuit work out. Some of the other onsite activities offered include canoe races, lei making, hula, teen scavenger hunts, Disney Character meet and greets, Supplied air snorkeling at Rainbow Reef (Aulani’s reef in the pool area), seaside stretching, pool parties, storytelling and Aulani art and culture tour. As with most Disney experiences, there are children’s clubs and activities.


This is an early morning resort; they are up before the sunrise and close shop early. The slides close at 6 and the pools at 8 (we visited in October). It is easy to get up before sunrise when there is a 5 hour time difference from the states. Speaking of sunrise, one activity I failed to mention was watching the sunset, which goes on for a long time. You won’t miss photographing it because it last for at least 45 minutes and continues to change colors until the last speck of light has faded.


We stayed 7 nights at Aulani and did venture off the resort taking in Hanauma Bay snorkeling (don’t expect a beach chair here), North Shore (Giovanni’s Shrimp truck), the Island drive, Koko Marina (Kona Brewing Company at the Marina for lunch), Waikiki, Waimea Valley and Falls, surfing at Iwa Beach (a beginning surfing lesson we booked out of Aulani), the Arizona Memorial and 2 half days at the Aloha Stadium Swap meet.
Aulani-A Disney Resort and Spa has a lot to offer onsite and is steeped in the Hawaiian culture. As always, Disney delivers something for everyone.