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

Booked!

Dear Traveler:

Today I booked three tours for my Bucket List trip to the Caribbean. I locked my flights in last weekend and I have been trying to finalize everywhere that I want to visit on my 10 week holiday this week to take advantage of the discounts available at the Travel Expo this week. So far I have saved over $1000 by doing this so I am pretty happy.

The plan at this stage is to fly from Melbourne to Cancun airport where I will have 10 nights in Mexico to relax and explore. Whether I split my time in a few areas or stay in the one place (Playa Del Carmen?) is yet to be decided.

From there I fly to Havana Cuba where after a few nights on my own I will be joining G Adventures on their 1 week Sail Cuba Itinerary. Followed by a 1 week tour of the mainland with Intrepid.

The day that my tour in Cuba ends I fly back to Cancun to join my second Intrepid tour. This one is a 16 day trip from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize and will tick off one of the places on my Bucket List: The Blue Hole in Belize and Caye Caulker.

From there I am hoping to fly to Roatan, Panama and Jamaica before heading back to Mexico City for another 6 days with my friend Luis. With 3 and a half weeks for this portion I should be able to relax and explore each area.

Then I have 4 nights in Anaheim on the way home for an obligatory Disneyland visit on my birthday.

I am nervous but excited, this will be my longest trip yet and the longest that I have traveled on my own for. It is hard to say which part I am looking forward to the most, hopefully it is all amazing!

-Jeanette