Sunday, 25 November 2012

Guest post - A look at what a Royal Caribbean cruise offers

Royal Caribbean brands itself as 'the nation of why not' and with good reason. There are quite an incredible array of activity options for guests to investigate and enjoy while on-board any one of the company's near two-dozen ships. From enormous outdoor climbing walls to ice rinks and everything in between, Royal Caribbean offers ships tailor-made to deliver spectacularly enthralling holiday experiences that combine seamlessly with the opportunity to relax and unwind in some serious luxury.

Beyond all that, anyone who manages to book themselves some time on-board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship can expect to be met with one of the most impressive selections of dining options they've ever seen on land or at sea. There are typically a good range of restaurants all serving high quality cuisine, which you can enjoy unhindered as one stunning coastline after another goes by outside the windows. 


 The Independence Of The Seas is perhaps the best known cruise ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet and it is truly a sight to behold. Within its gigantic frame are promenades full of shops, eateries, bars and ambience, and so many activity areas it would simply take too long to try to list them here. What you can do if you'd like more information on the subject and on holidays aboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships is get yourself over to the Thomas Cook Cruise website. The search and booking process has never been easier and there are deals available right now for the final few months of 2012 and for throughout the early months of next year. You can book at the last minute if you are extremely keen to make sure you grab yourself a bargain or else you can plan well in advance and make the absolute most of your adventure by lining up an all inclusive package.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

History and charm in New Orleans

New Orleans has always held a fascination for me – elegant Southern architecture, jazz, creole cuisine and the mighty Mississippi River. I wanted to experience it all!

The largest city in the state of Louisiana, New Orleans combines French Creole architecture with world class cuisine and fascinating annual celebrations and festivals. One of the top ten most visited cities in the United States, the city is home to the French Quarter and the notorious nightlife of Bourbon Street.

The French Quarter is bounded by the Mississippi River, Rampart St, Canal St and Esplanade Avenue and is the oldest neighbourhood in the city. The most well-known of the French Quarter streets is Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is lined with drinking establishments including Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, The Old Absinthe House and Cat’s Meow. It is largely quiet during the day but really comes alive at night! Local open container laws allow drinking in the streets which creates a great ‘street party’ atmosphere.

One of the most popular drinks is a ‘Hurricane’ which is made with rum and fruit juice, syrup or grenadine.

 I was lucky enough to visit during Mardi gras which made the atmosphere even more electric. Mardi gras translates as ‘Fat Tuesday’ and refers to the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before fasting commences on Ash Wednesday. Everybody dresses up in colourful masks and costumes and dancing, parades and all round revelry prevails!

As I previously mentioned, New Orleans is world famous for its food and one of the most popular styles of cooking is Creole. Creole cuisine combines French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Native American and African influences. Classic dishes include Crawfish Bisque, Gumbo and Shrimp Creole. I visited The Gumbo Shop whilst I was there and had my first taste of delicious gumbo!

To top off an amazing stay in New Orleans, what better way than boarding a steamboat and cruising down the mighty Mississippi River. I took a trip on the Natchez steamboat which was built in 1975 and is operated by the New Orleans Steamboat Company. The Mississippi River is the chief river in North America and borders or cuts through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

New Orleans really does have it all, from raucous nightlife to French inspired architecture to leisurely trips on the river, I urge you to visit.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Monumental Splendor in Monument Valley

Another of the USA's great National Parks is Monument Valley in Utah. Meaning 'Valley of the Rocks' in Navajo, Monument Valley is characterised by a number of sandstone buttes, the largest being around 1000ft. Lying within the range of a Navajo Reservation, it is located on the Arizona-Utah State line.

The valley is a shimmering red colour which is made up of exposed iron oxide and the darker rocks get their colour from manganese oxide. The sandstone buttes are isolated hills with steep sides and a flat top. The word 'butte' comes from a French word meaning 'small hill.' They are usually formed by erosion when hard rock covers a layer of softer rock that is eventually worn away. The buttes are magnificent to view at any time of the day and night.

 There are so many unique views around the valley and one of the best ways to explore is by taking a guided Navajo jeep tour. This is Navajo land and has been for many many years so who best to give a guided tour than the valleys native people? It was enchanting visiting the fascinating rock formations as our Navajo guide played panpipes in the background.

It was very very cold when I visited in a January and there was snow on the ground but there was a magical aura about Monument Valley that really drew me in. That night, I had the great privilege of staying in a traditional Navajo 'hogan' right in the heart of the valley. A hogan is a traditional Navajo home and is usually round or cone-shaped. It is made of wood and packed earth and mud and the doors traditionally face east to welcome the rising sun for good wealth and fortune. There is a fireplace in the centre of the hogan which keeps it lovely and cosy inside!

We were treated to a traditional Navajo meal, a campfire and traditional Navajo dancing where we were all invited to join in. It was surreal to be spending the night surrounded by sandstone buttes with Navajo Indians and an experience I will treasure forever.

I came to Monument Valley staight after visiting the Grand Canyon and although very different, both were majestic in all their splendor and a fine representation of the USA's Great National Parks. I would urge anyone to visit.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A snow covered Grand Canyon

When I picture the Grand Canyon, I picture it bathed in sunlight, set in an arid desert landscape. What I don't imagine is a canyon dusted in snowflakes with icicles hanging off the many crevices. But that is exactly what I got when I visited on a very cold Januay day and it was magical!

Snow covered or bathed in sunlight, the first glimpse of the Grand Canyon literally takes your breath away. The pure expanse and size of the seemingly endless canyon takes a lot of comprehending. At 277 miles long and a depth of over a mile, it is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

The majestic Colorado River carves through the canyon and for thousands of years the area has been inhabited by Native American Indians. I visited the South Rim of the canyon and hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail. The trail begins at Grand Canyon Village and descends right down to the Colorado River.

Most visitors to the park head to the South Rim as the North Rim is smaller and more remote. As well as being more accessible, the South Rim has more lodging and dining options. Grand Canyon Village contains lodging, a church, a hospital and access to trails and guided hikes and talks.

There are many viewpoints which can be reached via shuttle bus or by walking the Rim Trail which gives outstanding views of the canyon. If you are thinking of doing the Rim Trail I would also suggest additionally doing a trail that leads into the canyon - even if you only venture a little way down. Doing this will give two totally different perspectives on the canyon. Looking upwards from below the rim is an experience not to be missed!

Walking the Rim Trail will eventually lead you to Hermit's Rest, the westernmost point on the South Rim.

I had a really great visit to the Grand Canyon and one thing's for sure - I never expected to be throwing snowballs from the rim!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Bucket List Destinations of the Week

Another week, another 5 places added to my Bucket List! Do any of these make your Bucket Lists?

1. Taking a safari.

This has always been a dream of mine. Travelling on safari across the African plains, the sun setting on the horizon and seeing majestic animals in their natural habitat. There can be nothing more magical than witnessing a herd of elephants or giraffes approaching and being so close to them.

2. Visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Although i've visited many places in Europe, I have never been to Croatia. With it's azure coloured seas and beautiful terracotta roofed architecture, Dubrovnik looks so inviting and beautiful.

3. Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska is a place that enthralls and enchants me and seeing photos of Mount McKinley shrouded in the mist entices me further to want to discover Alaska's biggest National Park. Camping beneath the stars at places like Wonder Lake and spending days hiking and wildlife spotting - sounds like a perfect little slice of heaven!

4. Ranching it in cowboy country!

Staying on a real working ranch, going on cattle drives and taking part in nightly cook outs is all part of the ranching experience and one I would love to be a part of! When I think of ranches, I think of spending hours riding, sing alongs around the camp fire, big family style dinners and the peacefulness of the wide open spaces - lovely!

5. The Norwegian Fjords.

Tranquility and serenity are what spring to mind when I imagine sailing through the Norwegian Fjords. The boat slicing through the still waters as mountains rise up on either side creating an awe inspiring sight while you take in all of the dramatic scenery - magnificent!

Look out for 5 new additions next week.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bright Light City Gonna Set My Soul...........

Driving into Las Vegas with Elvis's 'Viva Las Vegas' blasting from the stereo, the desert plains open up to a strip filled with a million neon lights. Big name casino's dot the landscape, Paris' Eiffel Tower glistens against the darkened sky and screams echo into the night of the thrill seekers brave enough to tackle New York New York's famous rollercoaster!

Las Vegas is the most populated city in the state of Nevada and is billed as 'The Entertainment Capital of the World.' I certainly can't argue with that! South Las Vegas Boulevard which is known as the 'Strip' is home to every kind of entertainment you can imagine from musicals, gambling, partying and even lions!

The Strip is around 4.2 miles long and casino's and hotels situated here include the Italian themed Venetian, The Mirage and Excalibur. The shopping is incredible and include the Miracle Mile shops inside Planet Hollywood and The Forum Shops at Caesar's. You can even find your very own MnM man at the MnM's store as well as take a seat on the lap of the Coca Cola bear!

One of the major attractions on the Strip is the Bellagio Hotel and Casino's fountain show. Inspired by the Italian town of Bellagio on Lake Como, the 8 acre lake between the Strip and the hotel building, is home to a large dancing water fountain which dances in synchronisation with different music. It is mesmerising to watch and I would advise staying for 2 or 3 songs just to see the diversity of the fountains. Be sure to watch after dark too as they are much more magical against a backdrop of a black star studded sky.

Las Vegas really is for everyone. Don't feel that you cannot come here because you are not a hardened gambler. You really do need not gamble at all and you will still have a fabulous time. There is so much to do from the world class shopping, the shows to the spa if you would realy like to relax, I defy anyone to not find something to do in Vegas!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Joining a Trek and camping in Death Valley

As my friend ran out of money and decided to fly home, I continued the rest of my trip by joining a Trek America tour. I did the Southern Sun tour and met 12 other travellers who all really made the trip what it was!

We travelled in a Trek America minibus with all of our luggage in a trailer on the back:

Driving to Death Valley, a desert valley in Eastern California, the roads stretched endlessly before us. Death Valley has the lowest and driest locations in North America and is located near the border of California and Nevada.

Before arriving at the campsite, we stopped at Badwater Basin which is the location of the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.

Badwater Basin:

We set up camp at Furnace Creek Campground and lit a roaring campfire, made some fajitas for dinner and drank wine out of mugs to warm ourselves up. During the evening, there were coyotes howling throughout the campsite which was quite frightening but they never caused us any harm or came too close.

Death Valley is home to the Timbisha tribe of Native Americans and the Timbisha name for the valley 'tumpisa' means 'rock paint.' Death Valley inherited its English name during the Gold Rush in 1849 although only one death was recorded during the rush.

Death Valley is open year round and in summer months the temperature rises to over 100 degrees.

Death Valley has a very desert like landscape and infact has 3.4 million acres of desert with 4 distinct areas and viewpoints.

The 4 areas are:
 Furnace Creek
Stovepipe Wells
Scotty's Castle
Panamint Springs

To plan a trip to Death Valley and for more information on these areas, visit

Fo more information on Trek America and the vast range of tours they provide click here.