San Ignacio

I think that these two nights of the tour were designed for people to visit the ATM cave. Which every one did on the tour except for me. 

As an experienced caver in my youth I didn’t feel the draw that everyone else did to the subterranean tour. Instead I decided to explore town after my first sleep in for a few weeks. It didn’t take long being a smaller town though I did pay a visit to the local market and scored a great new dress and skirt within 5 minutes. Winning!

One of the first things that I did was run into a fellow Aussie at the smoothie bar. He was travelling I  the opposite direction to me so we spent some time swapping tips on where we had been and where the other was going. Then I mentioned my plans to visit the Iguana Sanctuary in town and he decided to join. 

The Sanctuary was incredible.  Once I got past the Banana Spiders at the door that is. 

To start with our guide explained the purpose of the sanctuary to breed and release Green Iguanas back into the wild.  Then he introduced us to some of the bigger tenants. After this he rustled up some Banana Palm leaves which was lunch for the hungry reptiles. They came running to snack on the leaves while we held them. 

Next we got to meet the babies. They were fluro green and very cute. They clung onto our clothing and skin like they had glue on their feet.  When they moved they ticked something shocking and once they’d been taken off of us we could still feel them tickling for several minutes

After a light lunch of corn chips and salsa we decided to do as the locals do and took a dip in the river to cool down.  The current was super strong and I needed to stay close to the edge so that I didn’t get swept away. 

That night there was a band in the square. One of the first things if noticed arriving into town was that there was a local election being promoted.  Whether the band had anything to do with that or it was just regular Saturday night festivities I have no idea. I do know that we could all hear the band very clearly from our hotel rooms next to the square and I think more than one of us was happy when they finished up at 10pm.

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Go Slow in Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker was a bucket list destination for me. There were two things that put it on my radar. The blue hole of Belize which is nearby and being able to swim with the wild manatees. Unfortunately I only got to do one out of two but this area of the world is one I would gladly come back to.

The island itself was small and there was not a lot of great beaches. The seaweed filled with little dead fish took away from those that there were (we were there at the wrong time of year) however there were some pretty cool beach bars and pier bars with semi submerged swing sets and tables and chairs in the water to make up for this. 

After a bit of miscommunication in the morning regarding snorkelling trips my first day om the island ended up being a relax and pamper day. I booked myself a manicure, eyebrow wax, massage facial and body scrub package. I had lunch at a sports bar and read my book at a beach bar in the afternoon. I also paid a visit to the Caye Caulker animal shelter where they encourage you to go in and pat the animals. You can even take the dogs for a walk in the evening when the weather has cooled down.

My second day was spent mostly on and in the water. I took a trip out to the reef in a speedboat and got to snorkel with Turtles, Sting Rays, Sharks and my bucket list Manatee. The whole trip was incredible and I was so happy that I’d decided to do it. I was glad that I had already swum with sharks in Mexico even if it doubled up because I had no fear getting into the water with them in Belize.

Caye Caulker is also famous for Lobster and on my last night I made sure to try it. $15usd for a whole grilled lobster and sides. Yumm.

The motto of the island is Go Slow and its hard not to with the laid back feeling and friendly locals.  There aren’t many cars on the island, most people using golf carts, bicycles or just walking to get around.  A popular place to go in the evenings is The Spit which is a great spot to watch the sunset and a popular place for the locals to swim (so you know its the best spot).

There isn’t much to do on the island except relax or tame trips out on the water so a few days is enough. Though I think I could definitely have handled a couple more. 

Tulum

One of my friends said this was her favourite area of Mexico and the best beach she’d ever been to.  Either things have changed, I went to the wrong beach or she needs to go to more beaches as I was quite underwhelmed.  Possibly it was the time of year too as there was lots of sea weed on the sand. 

The town is a few kilometres away from the beach unlike Playa Del Carmen. Taxis will try to charge you about $10 one way and if you walk or ride down watch out for the sun.  Once you get to the beach is also tricky to access as so many resorts, hotels and restaurants are built along it that you can’t see the beach from the road so unless you know where you’re going then you are taking pot luck with the beach. I found if you turned to the left you could find a larger stretch of open beach but again it was a fair way down the road. To the right the beaches were more like little coves. I preferred these to the big beach as they were quieter and cleaner. 

Town itself has mostly cafes with a couple of stores. Definitely not as much variety as Playa Del Carmen and arriving on a Sunday didn’t help matters as a lot of businesses were closed. 
On the first day we were there I hired a bike and after dropping off my laundry in town I rode up and down the main street before heading down to the beach for lunch. It was a very relaxed day. I visited the Mexican version of Walmart to buy extra sunscreen and some after sun, along with a new hat to replace the one I left in the back of a taxi in Cuba.

The second day I headed down to the Cenotes which some of the people in our tour had visited the day before and highly recommended. We went to Cenote Dos Ojos which consisted of two pools. The first seemed mostly to acclimatise yourself to the freezing  water and fit your masks and fins. The water was so clear you could see right to the bottom and watch all the little fishes swimming around. The second pool was the main event, our guided snorkelling tour took us past stalactites and stalagmites, to an area where if you ducked under the water you could see another cave opening which looked only 20 meters away but was actually 60, over areas of the cave that used to be habitated when they were dry and the remnants and pottery could still be spotted by those with sharp eyes. The finale was the most spectacular part for me though.  We had to swim through a low hanging maze of stalactites to reach the final cavern. Home to a colony of tiny bats. Most of them were sleeping upside down from the roof however some were flitting around, others were huddling together in little groups and two looked like they were upside down break dancing, whether they were fighting or flirting I couldn’t tell.  By this stage though my finger tips were starting to go numb from the cold so even though I would’ve loved to spend longer in the bat cave it was time to get out.
There did seem to be some very nice cafes around.  Indeed all the places we are at were great.  There was even a Vegan Ice Cream van not far from the hotel where I ordered a Chai Ice Cream. He mixed the spices up fresh and combined all the ingredients for the ice cream before folding them over a coldplate to freeze the ice cream before my eyes. We also went to a Mojito bar where they pressed their own sugar cane and served the drinks with a stick of fresh sugarcane as well.
While I’m not going to rush back to Tulum I can see why some people love it.

Cuba Sailing

First allow me to get the negatives out of the way:

The boat is small, well its big for a Catamaran but small for 14 ppl to live on board for a week.  So you won’t have a lot of options for privacy. Especially as you are usually sharing a cabin. 

The cabins are small. Especially when people bring large suitcases, theres just no room for them.  My case lived for the week outside my cabin with just my essentials inside with me.  Others had theirs squashed under the ladder or slept around their cases on the bed. This only worked for those on the bottom bunk though. 

The top bunk (my bunk) was smaller than the bottom and because of the curve of the boat you could not lie straight in bed, it was too small. I eventually found a strange looking position where I would wedge myself into the corner of the bed and could sleep with a slightly bent waist but straight legs with my feet only just hanging off of the bed.

Its not quiet. Remember: small boat / 14 people. On top of the noise of the other guests and staff there was the water pump and the motor which ran at times.

The bathrooms are small and when you use the shower everything in the bathroom gets wet. Including toilet paper if you don’t put it in the cupboard before you shower. 

The toilets are pump action. This isnt too bad actually, unless your roommate doesn’t listen how to use them properly and doesn’t flick the switch after using it which means everything comes back up into the bowl again.  (Not a pleasant smell for the first 2 days.)

Its sunny and there’s not a lot of shade. The shade that is there is deceptive too. I spent the whole first day lying in it with sunscreen on and still got burnt. 

Its salty. I would wash clothes and peg them to the side to dry and the waves as we move meant I’d come back to find little dried salt flakes on them.  Also on my skin after rough waters with lots of spray.

The rough waters.  Left a few people feeling sick a bit of the time. 

Speaking of feeling sick after a week living on a boat I got land sickness when I got off and it took me 3 days to stop feeling like I was still on waves. 

Now that I have those points out of the way let me tell you slit how amazing the whole experience was and how I would do it again in a heartbeat:

The view! Wow what a way to wake up.  What a way to sit and eat meals. Water so blue and in varying shades to make an artist weep for joy.  Being treated to amazing skies as thunderstorms rolled past in the distance and spectacular sunsets at the end of the day.

The activities!  You might think that a week on a boat could get boring. It was definitely relaxing however the crew made sure to fill the day with plenty of optional activities, from snorkelling, kayaking, beach walks, mangrove tours, impromptu costume parties and more.

The food! Not only was the seafood often freshly caught (fish and lobster) but the chef was great at making everything taste delicious.  Even a simple pasta salad.

The Wildlife! Plenty of snorkelling stops gave time to see fish and turtles and lots of reeflike. Dolphins joined us at times while we sailed playing in the water off of the bow. Stops on local beaches gave us plenty of access to Iguanas and even a cute local giant tree rat with big whiskers called a Jutia. The absolute highlight of the trip was having the opportunity to help release baby turtles though.

The prices! All of the food was already included in the price so it was only drinks we had to pay for.  Cocktails were only 2cuc ($3aud) and delicious. 

The people! I was absolutely blessed in the group that I had.  The staff were amazing and the other travellers too. There were no dramas and everyone was friendly and welcoming. 

3 Nights in Cancun

Dear Traveller,

My first impression of Cancun was twisted by the tired crankiness that only comes from a 22 hour flight journey. So while the first night there I was not in love with the place I tried to keep an open mind. It reminded me of a weird mix of Surfers Paradise and Phuket. Our hotel was located at the top of the hotel zone and within walking distance to the clubs. The beach and hotels reminded me of Surfers but the people on the street trying to sell you everything from jewellery to club entry was what reminded me of Phuket. Not something that I wanted after a long flight when I just needed to relax, our venture out of the hotel was short only for food.

Speaking of our hotel, I stayed at the Krystal Cancun and really I can say that the best thing about it was the location. Beachfront with a nice pool overlooking the ocean with its own pool bar and located close to shops, restaurants and other transportation. I was really happy with where the hotel was situated. The facilities and the lobby of the hotel had a 4 star feel so it was unfortunate that our hotel room itself felt more 2 star. From the “$80 a night roadside motel” feel of the bathroom to the view looking out over the back service area and rooftop of the restaurant next door, complete with noisy pump which was programmed to go off at 6am for 15 minutes. Not knowing what any of the other rooms in the hotel were like I think we possibly had one of the worst, this was because the hotel hadn’t noticed the request for 2 beds in the room which meant it took him 5 minutes to find us something suitable. Another thing that slowed down our check in was the fact that somehow they’d dropped two letters from my surname and had the room booking under Jeanette Wards.
Nevertheless we didn’t spend much time in the room so the disappointment was minimal.

On my first full day in Cancun we walked to the nearby ferry terminal and took a trip out to Isla Mujeres. The first ferry ride was smooth and felt quite quick. Once we arrived on the island our plan was to collect a Golf Cart for the day and explore. Our first lesson was to bring cash to the island. The ATM on the main street we were warned recently was found with a skimmer attached and the EFTPOS terminals at the first two Goft Cart places were not working, however third time lucky we found a place that was working even though it was $100 Pesos more for the cart we were soon on our way.
The first stop was for a drink on the beach, soaking in the sun and the view of blue blue waters.
We then decided to enter the “Coolest place in Mexico” also known as the Ice Bar and they might just live up to the moniker as it was a chilly -18c. After a bit of conversation with the lady at the entry we decided to buy an entry only without drinks however she must have liked us as when we got inside they told us that we did have one included on our pass, the bar tender must have liked us too as he gave us a free shot each as well.
We lasted about 15 minutes in the Ice Bar, by the end of which my feet were starting to feel numb but they rest of my body had acclimatised, they give you a fur cloak to put on however as it was 30c outside I wasn’t wearing a lot underneath it and I only had sandals on my feet.
From there we drove to the Turtle Rehabilitation Farm. It was very busy and as touristy as I expected. You could purchase little packets of food to give to the adult turtles that weren’t being released and there was a man with a horseshoe crab scaring the little kids which was entertaining to watch.
From there we drove to the very tip of the island where there was a restaurant with a beautiful 180 degree view. More issues with the Eftpos machines when we tried to pay for our food but luckily the eventually worked and we were on our way. We ended the day with a walk around the main town of Isla Mujeres which was packed with shops and bars for the tourists before catching the last ferry back to our area of Cancun.

The second day of the trip was Luis’s birthday and I had booked as a present to him a visit to one of the seven new wonders of the world: Chichen Itza.
The tour started early however we still managed to get up and go grab some Starbucks before being picked up at 7.35am, we were shuttled to the main bus meeting point and boarded our coach for the 3 hour journey to the archaeological site. On the way there they served continental breakfast and the guides introduced themselves and filled us in on what was going to happen that day. The staff were great, funny and informative which is always a winning combination and we learnt how to count using the Mayan Calendar, don’t ask me to do it here or explain it though because it is very complicated.
The first stop of the day was for souvenirs made by and sold to benefit the locals of the area, while there were lots of pretty things knowing that I still had 10 weeks of carrying my bags I restrained myself. Though I was very taken by a local stone called Golden Obsidian which appeared black until the sun hits it when it turns gold. Fortunately for my wallet I couldn’t find anything made in the stone that I really wanted but it was very cool.
Finally we were on our way to the site, even with the early start we weren’t arriving at the park until midday. We had our tickets already (they’d been picked up during the shopping stop) and so we walked straight into the park. Our guide had us stand in the shade while he taught us about the different areas of the park like the ball court, main temple, sacrificial alters, sacred cenote and after about an hour with him we then had an hours free time to explore and take photos. One thing that surprised both of us was the amount of hawkers in the park selling trinkets and souvenirs, we had been warned off of them by the guides on our bus though.
Chichen Itza was a lot smaller than I had thought it would be however it was very pretty, two of the sides have been rebuilt to the original however the other two sides show the vandalism that happened when stones were taken from the temple to build nearby houses. Those houses are now also heritage protected so the stones can not be taken back again.
The design of the pyramid was fascinating with the whole monument acting as a calendar. There are special designs that can only be seen on the solstices and as the seasons change when the sun rises the light will hit completely on one side of the pyramid on the first day of one season and the flight hits another side completely on the first day of a different season. On top of that the stairs on each side all add up to the exact number of days in a year. There was so much more however I won’t list it all here.
After the park we were taken to a buffet lunch and sat at a table of 4 with two new American friends from California. As if the tour guides controlled the weather a storm broke right as we were all seated for lunch and being in the tropics it was pouring down, however the weather had all cleared up by the time we had finished eating.
From lunch we were taken to a Cenote for a swim, initially we had been quite excited about this idea however when we got there it was crowded with tourists and not at all what we had all imagined so none of us went in.
Then it was time for the long drive home and we were finally dropped at our hotel (second last to be dropped off with the boys from Cali being the last) at 8.30pm.

The third and final morning in Cancun was spent in the pool then having a lazy brunch before catching a taxi down to Playa Del Carmen for the next part of my trip. So while I spent 3 nights in Cancun I really didn’t spend much time there. The beach was beautiful and if you like large resorts then it will work for you however I much prefer the vibe and style of Playa Del Carmen even if the beach isn’t as nice. More on that later though!

Across the Pacific with Virgin Australia

Dear Traveller,

I had booked my return flights to Mexico with Virgin Australia and upgraded my economy ticket to the Economy Plus option. At around $150aud each way it was, in my opinion, worth the extra money. I am almost wary to share this information for fear that it will become too popular and I will not be able to book it again next time I fly, but oh well here goes:

The first feature is Priority Check In. I did not think that this would mean a lot to me however I was proven wrong when I arrived at the airport 3 hours ahead of my flight due to an overeager mother/taxi (who obviously couldn’t wait to get rid of me, jk) to find the longest line I have seen for an airline check in, and to make matters worse for those in it was that it didn’t seem to be moving quickly at all. With Priority Check In I was able to line up in the Premium Economy line which was empty, so instead of spending the first 40 minutes of my trip lining up to check in I instead got to sit with a coffee and enjoy the view at the cafe near the gates.
Economy Plus also gives you Priority Boarding however this was another feature I didn’t think I would use and indeed I was one of the last on the plane. I never see the rush to be on board, I already have my seat assigned and I don’t need to fight for overhead locker space so I usually wait until the queue has died down to get on board. However if you did want to board early and start watching the on board entertainment which is turned on right away then you could.

The biggest draw card for the Economy Plus for me was the seating. The Economy Plus seating is either located in the exit rows or in its own section of the plane with extra leg room. It also seems that they don’t offer free upgrades to this section as there was plenty of spare seats, meaning I could curl up across 2 for my in flight naps. Having the extra leg room meant that I barely noticed when the person in front of me put their seat back and that it was easy to step past the person on the aisle when I needed to get up from my Window Seat.
Being in it’s own compartment meant that we had our own bathrooms to use on the flight too and I didn’t have to wait once.

The last feature was another that I didn’t use but would be handy for most. You get the first choice of the meal options on board the flight.
The reason that I didn’t use this was because I had requested a Vegan meal, I have to say I was quite happy with the options. The first meal was a vegetable stew of some sort with minted peas and cous cous. It was accompanied with an egg and dairy free chocolate cake. The second meal was less recognisable but still enjoyable with baked beans, roast vegetables and some sort of vegetable patties on top. I was pretty happy with the quality of the meals considering Vegan Airline Food is not something that any one looks forward to.

The entertainment on board the planes was also great, lots of options to select from, plenty I hadn’t yet gotten around to seeing and some I was happy to watch again. In the economy plus section they give you noise cancelling headphones to use which only really saved me getting my own out of my bag but was still great.

 

The part of the flight I was most surprised about was the arrival in LA. Last time that I was there we lined up for almost 2 hours to pass through passport control (which helped make all the lines in the theme parks seem like nothing in comparison) this time however it took me literally 15 minutes to get through. They have introduce self check in machines that print out slips and then you line up to see the real person. When I mentioned how quick it was to the lady that checked my details she mentioned that I had arrived at a good time. Fingers crossed my next flight does too!

A week in New Caledonia

Dear Traveller,

This was my second visit to New Caledonia, however, this time I was there for work and not on holidays. My first visit was for 10 days with friends and involved a lot of relaxing, walking around to take in the local sights and hiring a car to visit some areas outside of the city of Noumea.

Being there with work meant that I was able to see a different side to the island nation, one that I would not necessarily have booked for myself, however, one that I am glad I was able to experience. I arrived earlier than the rest of my group as I was the only travel agent flying in from Melbourne and as such spent the majority of the first day with my private driver and guide escorting me to various hotel inspections and helping fill in my time in between with visits to local lookouts and stories. Some of my favourites were:

  • There is an island off the coast of Noumea which is connected to the mainland via a bridge. This island is home to the prison, a mental institution and the local university. One year a man broke out of prison just before Christmas. Then he reappeared in his cell after New Years. When interrogated he stated that he’d wanted to spend the holidays with his family but had returned after to serve the rest of his sentence.
  • Another time the prison guards noticed a strange man in the prison exercise yard. He had a backpack on.  When they asked him what was going on and he explained that he was a University student who lived on the opposite side of the prison. For the last 3 months, he’d been walking through the prison yard to get to uni and back every day to save himself half an hour of walking!
  • Noumea is also home to a new hospital facility complete with Helipad. Which they had to remodel immediately after it was built as it had been designed with only stairs leading up to the hospital which as it turned out wasn’t very good for the stretchers.

While I learned many fun and interesting facts about the island and the people in the week that I was there, these three stories stood out above the rest.

 

Dear Crazy Cat Ladies,

If a holiday to New ‘Cat’edonia isn’t already on your bucket list you might want to reconsider. There were lots of friendly kittehs to pet and pat in every town that we visited, some were super affectionate, some were shy however all were very open to the possibility of sharing some bacon or fish from your breakfast or dinner plate.

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Dear Fussy Eaters,

If you have dietary requirements and do not speak French then come prepared. One of the managers of a hotel I inspected was kind enough to write a note for me in French explaining I could not eat Dairy or Egg however as I found last year on my own independent holiday it was tricky in some places to find food. I was fortunate enough this time to have help with meals and as such only accidentally had dairy once which was manageable, last year travelling without anyone that spoke French and not knowing what restaurants could cater for me I struggled and ended up quite unwell by the end of the trip. I also found this time that our visit to the tribal area and the East Coast made things easier as they appeared to cook with oil over butter.

 

Dear Past Jeanette,

If you had the ability to read this before visiting New Caledonia on your own holiday last year I would say several things to you:

  1. Plan a visit to Kone and do the Microlight flight over the heart of Voh. You and your friends would love it plus the hotel there is beautiful!
  2. Visit the Spa at the Chateau Royal Hotel, it is perfect for a rainy day activity!
  3. The reason you could never see the restaurant at the top of the Ramada Plaza rotating is that it takes 1 hour to complete a circuit. Too slow to notice from the outside.
  4. You know that town you drove through twice on the way to and from Bourail: La Fou. Stop for a drink in the bar/cafe. They have a ceiling covered in caps from around the world.
  5. You know that road you accidentally took out of Bourail and had to stop and U-Turn, next time keep going until you reach Chez Collette and stop for a delicious home cooked meal.

Planning, planning, planning!

Dear Fellow Holiday Planners,

I know that I like to take my holiday planning to the extreme. After all, why would I spend my actual holiday planning my holiday? I like to have the main details all worked out and locked in before I go, while still leaving free time to explore and relax while I am there.
Perhaps this comes in part from knowing that I am indecisive and often will just opt not make a decision when I am put on the spot meaning that neither option eventuates. Perhaps it comes from my anxiety which doesn’t flare up as often when I have considered all my options and when I have clear expectations. Probably it is both.

There is now less than 3 months until I head off on my biggest trip yet and the details are finally all coming together. Back in February, I locked in my flights at the start and end of the trip and the last 4 nights accommodation, leaving 66 nights to plan. The next step was booking in my tours, after spending hours playing around with different options I settled on 3 tours and the shape of my trip came together. In the last month I have since booked all of my internal flights and in the last week finalised most of my accommodation.

 

So for those of you who are playing along at home my trip so far looks like this:

Flying with Virgin Australia from Melbourne to LA and then onto Cancun. I have splashed out a little on my flights and booked the Economy Plus seating for the long haul sections. This should give me priority boarding at the airports and extra leg room on the flights. There are a few other perks but these are the ones that I wanted.

Arriving into Cancun I will spend 3 nights here at the Krystal Cancun, booked because they were the cheapest option in the right area and the hotel looked nice enough. I really wanted something in the hotel zone and on the beach. The fact that the hotel is close to the ferry terminal for Isla Mujeres was a bonus as well because this is what I want to do on the second day of the trip. The hotel is also good for it proximity to some of the nightlife. My friend Luis will be joining me here and it is his birthday on the 3rd day of my trip which is why I am staying in Cancun to begin with. We are going to take a trip to Chichen Itza on his birthday and possibly end up at one of the aforementioned clubs if the long day and jetlag don’t conspire against me.

Day 4 sees us move down to Playa Del Carmen where I will spend the next week and Luis will spend another few days with me. While he is there we will go to see Cozumel, enjoy the Caribbean Sea, the food, the drinks and the culture. There might be a trip down to swim with some local Sea Turtles and to visit Tulum too.
After he heads back to Mexico City I will have a few more days here and I will definitely be checking out Xcaret which looks like a lot of fun. I am still trying to decide what other places I need to make sure I see while I am here. I am 80% sure that I will book to swim with the Whale Sharks while I am in Playa too.
I have chosen to stay at the Hacienda Real Caribe, again this is a cheaper hotel (I am going for 10 weeks, I needed to keep the price down) but I really liked the atmosphere in the photos of the property and it is a great location, close to the nightlife and heart of Playa.

After my week in the Riviera Maya I head over to Havana, Cuba. I am spending 2 nights here before my tours and am yet to decide which area is the best for me to stay in. These 2 nights are part of the 6 that I have left to book. While I am there I am going to book onto an old car tour for the day I arrive and a walking tour of the city for the next day. I am itching to take as many photos as I can of this beautiful city. If I still want to see more then I will jump onto the Hop On Hop Off bus for my third day before meeting up with my tour group in the afternoon.

My first tour of the trip is a week long sailing adventure with G Adventures. From Havana we are being taken down to Cienfuegos to board our Catamaran and spend 8 days sailing around the Cuban Isles. Can’t wait!

After this tour drops me back in Havana I meet up with my next new group of friends for an 8 day Intrepid Tour of Cuba that will take me to Vinales, back to Cienfuegos and on to Trinidad. The day that this tour ends I fly back to Cancun to start my third tour, also with Intrepid.

This time it’s a 17-day tour from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize, stopping for 3 nights at a place that has been on my bucket list for a long time: Caye Caulker and the Blue Hole. Here I am hoping to swim with the Manatees too. Which has also been on my bucket list for a few years; ever since I saw you could do it in Florida. (After I had already come home from my trip to Florida unfortunately, so this is another reason I like to be extra organised and thoroughly researched before I go anywhere now.)

At the end of my month-long stretch of back to back tours I will be striking out on my own. From Antigua in Guatemala I will spend one more night in Guatemala at the very exciting Guatemala Airport hotel (actually it looks really nice so I shouldn’t pick on it), for my less than exciting flight time of 5.30am where I will jet off to my actually exciting next destination of Roatan. Originally I had wanted to spend time in Utila the party island next door. But after carefully considering the prospect of multiple ferries after multiple flights and the need to do that in each direction while travelling on my own for the first time in non-English speaking country it seemed like less of an adventure and more of a hassle. Hence I have stuck with the equally as beautiful, less intoxicated and with more activities to choose from island of Roatan.

I am booked to stay here for 6 nights at the Lands End hotel in West End. While here I want to visit the Cayos Cochino which looks incredible and swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat at Anthony’s Key Resort. I might try a beginners Scuba Diving trip or head out snorkelling to look at the reef, hire a car to explore the island or just relax and enjoy the island vibes.

After my week in Roatan, I fly via El Salvadore to Panama City. Frustratingly I have a long layover in El Salvadore but not quite long enough to book the stopover tour that I found here which would take me to look at the town and the local Volcano. Hopefully, I will have seen enough Volcanoes in Guatemala though and I won’t feel like I am missing out.
I am only in Panama for 2 nights and as my flight arrives in at 11.30pm and flies out early when I leave I have decided to stay at another airport hotel but have yet to decide which one. On my 1 day in Panama, I want to visit the Panama Canal and I have found a tour that does this and takes you out to a National Park who have a large monkey population which sounds great. If this tour doesn’t end up running then my backup is a local food walking tour or just exploring the city for the day on the Hop On Hop Off bus.

My next stop after Panama is Jamaica, I have 7 nights here in an all inclusive resort, hello cocktails. I definitely want to do a trip out on the Bioluminescent Lagoon one of the nights that I am there and I am considering a trip to the resort town of Ocho Rios to visit Magic Mountain which has a roller coaster through the jungle themed like a Jamaican Bobsled. I also want to visit the town of Negril and see Ricks Cafe with its famous cliffs. Aside from that the other essential item I need to tick off while I am there is eating the famous Jerk Chicken!

From Jamaica I fly back to Mexico, it’s a long day of flying, however, I will have not 1 but 2 friendly faces to meet me at the other end. I am heading to Mexico City and will be staying with Luis again. Now my friend Yvette has booked to join me for the last 11 days of my holiday. So we will arrive into Mexico City at the same time (fingers crossed for no flight delays for either of us.) While in the city I can’t wait to visit Zocalo and take as many photos as I can of the beautiful buildings. We are going to hire a car and drive to some of the other sights further away on a road trip, visit Teotihuacan and the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque. I am still trying to decide if I book a nights accommodation in Pueblo but I am definitely booking a night in San Miguel Allende the UNESCO-listed city which looks incredible. These are the last 2 of my 6 remaining nights to book.

From Mexico City, Yvette and I will be flying to LA where we will spend 4 nights down in Anaheim and 4 days in Disneyland. While we have both been several times before there is always so much to see and do in the parks and I didn’t want to end the trip feeling rushed because we tried to pack too much in.
Our flight arrives in at LAX in the early afternoon so the plan is to go to the Pirates Dinner Adventure that night for dinner and a show of sexy topless Pirates, we might check out Medieval Times one on of the other nights if we feel like it.
I am also hoping while I am there that I might be able to catch up with my LA buddies Cornelius and Ben if they are around!

From LA we fly back to Australia on my birthday to arrive in 2 days later because of the date line. I had considering flying over my birthday so that we skipped it and so that I stayed a year younger (because that’s how it works right!) but decided that being in Disneyland on my birthday was a better option.

So far I have locked in all my flights, 64 nights of accommodation and a handful of activities. Once I have the last 6 nights, a couple of transfers in the harder to get around places and the final essential day tours booked in all I need to do it wait.
Actually, now I have to think about what I am going to pack!

– Jeanette

 

 

 

 

 

Disneyland: What to do while you’re there. 

Dear Disney Traveller:

If you haven’t already read my “What to know before you go” post then I would head over and have a quick read of that one first. This post, however, is about enhancing your experience inside the parks once you are there.

Photo Pass: This is one of my favourite Disney products! You can buy a photo pass when you arrive a Disneyland or online before you go. The main benefit to buying online beforehand is that they send you a CD with extra stock photos that you can use. The downside is that you have to order it within a certain amount of time before your planned visit and allow long enough for it to be delivered it’s also hard to find the right site for this. We found that they gave us quite a selection of stock photos in our online account anyway so next time I won’t buy it in advance, just when I get there.
You can buy the photo pass from a few places in the parks and in Downtown Disney, they are available at the photography stores in each area, here they will give you a lanyard with a barcode which you simply need to present at the rides and to the stationed photographers so that they can link your photos to your account.
The ride photos are always fun but when you buy them individually they can be $15 each. The photo pass is $39usd for unlimited photos for 1 day and $78usd for a week, this means that you can have the photo every time that you go on a ride. If you are there for a few days you will probably do most rides more than once and this will help you take some funny photos and you can choose the best of them later.
On top of the ride photos, there are photographers stationed around the parks at scenic points. Think in front of the castle, the fountain, the giant Ferris wheel etc. To find just have a look at the Disneyland App which will show you them all. When you get to the photo point the photographers are usually standing with a Tripod, though in some spots they just have the camera around their neck. Either way, you can usually spot them pretty quickly. Wait your turn and then show them your photo pass. They will take a variety of photos for you in different poses and help suggest them to you when you start running out of ideas. They can also set up a photo for a “Magic Shot” which is where they photoshop characters into the photo with you.
In addition to all of the ride photos and the scenic photo stops you also can use the Photo Pass anytime there is a photographer at a Character Meet and Greet. Some characters won’t have a photographer with them but most of the more famous ones will have them.
It is also good to note that if you don’t have the photo pass these photographers will always take a couple of photos with your own camera or smartphone too.

FASTPASS: Firstly you automatically have access to the Fastpass system as a part of your entry ticket. You don’t need to pay extra for it like you can in some theme parks.
Fastpass is a system that waits in line for you so that you can enjoy yourself doing other things. Not every ride offers Fastpass, however, there are 7 or 8 rides in each park that do and you can also use it to reserve great seats for the World of Color show.
You are allowed to get 1 Fastpass every 2 hours or a new Fastpass when your last one is ready to be used if that is less than 2 hours away. Hot Tip: The time when you are allowed to get your next Fastpass will be printed on the bottom of your Fastpass ticket.
For rides, the Fastpass gives you a timeframe to return between and when you do you then have access to a special line which moves much quicker than the regular one. My recommendation is to make sure that you have your next Fastpass before you return to the ride for your turn.
You can have several Fastpass tickets at once depending on what times the Fastpass return is for the rides. You can also see when the Fastpass return times are using your Disneyland App.
What can you do while you are waiting for your Fastpass though? Well, you can enjoy the other rides, the app will show you estimated wait times for these. You can have some lunch or dinner, go shopping, see a show or parade or if you know that you love that particular ride you can even line up in the regular line for it and when you’re done if your Fastpass time is close then it’s almost like you get to ride twice in a row.

Planning out your day in the park: This will depend on how many days you will have there and what your interests are. If you want to see the shows and parades then these will structure your day as they are at set times.
There are a couple of rides that are more popular than others and the Fastpass times and the lines fill up sooner than the rest. The new Cars Ride in California Adventure is one, Toy Story Midway Mania is another and I would guess when the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride opens where Tower of Terror was this will too. It is a good idea to try to get to these rides or Fastpass machines first thing in the day.
I don’t tend to plan out the whole day, instead, I plan a couple of moves ahead and I find that my plans are constantly changing. I use the time that I am waiting in line for rides to check the Disney App to see what the wait times are doing and what characters are nearby for photo ops.

Disneyland: What to know before you go, the basics.

Dear Disney Traveller,

Where to start?! There are so many tips and tricks to make the most of your Disneyland Holiday, whether you have 10 days in the parks or only 1 so here are just a few of mine:

To start with you need to plan right. I always recommend buying a Hopper ticket no matter how long you have, the Hopper ticket allows you access to both of the parks in Anaheim on the one day. As one park will open earlier than the other and the second will close later than the first this is a great way to maximise your time in the parks. The parks are located across from each other so it is very easy to walk between the two of them.
The Hopper ticket also means that you can take advantage of the ebb and flow of the line times. If you notice that the lines in one park are starting to lengthen then sometimes the lines in the other park might be better.
There are also multiple parades and shows in each park and you can easily jump between parks to go see the different shows. For those who aren’t a fan of the rides then the Hopper ticket is great for this reason too.

One of the hardest questions to answer is also one of the questions that I am asked the most often: How many days do you need to spend at Disneyland?
I guess the answer to that will always depend on the individual and what interests them. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it I love almost everything that you can do at Disneyland, the rides, the shows, the parades, the fireworks, the magical moments, the character meet and greets, the photo pass opportunities. Because of this I always find that I could have used more time there no matter how often I go.
Honestly, if you only have 1 day then it is still worth the visit however if you have the time then go for as long as you can. 5 days is a good amount to do as much as you can without exhausting yourself. There is a special 10 day ticket that you can buy from Travel Agents in Australia which I always recommend if you are going to be staying in Anaheim for enough time. There are plenty of other things to do in Anaheim and with the 10 day ticket you can pop into Disney for a half day after shopping or in the evening after visiting other parks. Also, the difference in price the last time I checked between a 5 and 10 day ticket was only around $20aud per person.

Before you go make sure that you download the Disneyland App onto your smartphone and that you will have internet access on your phone while you are there. At the time of writing this blog they still don’t have free Wifi in the parks at Anaheim so you will need a local sim or a data plan that works in America. I buy a local US sim for around $40usd which gives me unlimited calls, texts and data for a month. Even if I am only there for a week it usually works out the best option.
The Disney App is a big help in making the most of your time in the park, play around on it a little before heading over so that you know how it works, this will save you time working it out when you get there.
Not only can you see all of the ride wait times on the app, you can also see when the current Fast Pass distributions are. I will cover off on the Fastpass system more in a separate post for while you are in the parks.
You can also see what characters are in the park at any given time for photo opportunities and see where the special photo spots are for those with the photo pass which is another highly recommended product that I will cover off on in my ‘while you are in the parks’ blog.
You can also use the app to book Character Dining, to see all the offered services in the parks, find the closest restrooms, check the menu at the nearest cafes, see the shows in the park and what times they will be on or just to help with your bearings and find the shortest way to get your next destination.

Money Saving Tip: Once you are in the parks you will see everyone wearing their best Disney Merchandise. Knowing that we only had the budget for a couple of special souvenirs from the parks when we were there my friend and I had pre-purchased a pair of matching Disney tops to take with us and wore them when we got there. People loved them and many asked us where we’d bought them, we then had to break the bad news to them that we’d brought them with us from Australia.

-Jeanette