Posts Tagged ‘tourism’

Cruising into 2015
I have some exciting news…can you guess what it is?

I’ll give you a hint…

It involves tropical breezes, sand between my toes, crystalline turquoise waters, breathtaking views, relaxation and a wonderful man by my side.

Drum roll please…

At long last, my hubby and I will be crossing off one of our bucket list items and taking our dream cruise to the Caribbean islands! 

The last time I went on a cruise was back in 2006 when my best friend and I took a 3 day cruise to Ensenada aboard the Carnival Paradise.  We had a blast, and since then, I’ve been dreaming of the day when I’d take my next cruise.

No stranger to the open seas, my hubby served in the US Navy for 9 years, but this will be his first pleasure cruise. Needless to say, he is looking forward to this slightly different boating experience and to crossing off one of his bucket list items, scuba diving in the Caribbean!

February feels far away, but I know that before we know it, we’ll be flying off to Puerto Rico for the beginning of our journey.

I look forward to writing my next 2 blog series, “Caribbean Bliss” which will feature “8 Hours in…”, a look at all there is to do and see on each of the islands in just 8 hours, and “Cruising Bliss” which will feature “Carnival for Couples”, a look at the various fun activities designed for couples.

I hope you join along in the fun!

What has been your favorite cruise destination?

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Highway 1

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 4th anniversary by taking to the open road and experiencing one of the most scenic coastlines in the U.S. – Highway 1 (otherwise known as PCH or Pacific Coast Highway).

My personal favorite stretch of PCH starts at Pismo Beach and ends in Carmel. Filled with shear cliffs, curvy roads, turquoise water, breathtaking views and crashing waves, it’s as if you stepped into an idyllic postcard.

So sit back, relax and join us as we travel this little stretch of heaven.

San Simeon

San SimeonI loved the elephant seals bathing in the sun!

San SimeonHearst San Simeon State Park

Highway 1

Highway 1

Rocky Creek BridgeImpressive Bridge #1: Rocky Creek Bridge

Rocky Creek Bridge

Bixby BridgeImpressive Bridge #2: Bixby Bridge

Bixby Bridge At 279 feet high, the Bixby Bridge was a sight to behold!

Bixby Bridge
CarmelThe white sands of Carmel Beach

Point Pinos LighthousePoint Pinos Lighthouse – Although not directly off Highway 1, it was a short drive from Carmel and worth the visit!

Point Pinos LighthouseFor a donation of $2.00, you can have a tour of the lighthouse from 1:00-4:00pm every day except Tuesdays & Wednesdays.

Point Pinos LighthouseView from the front of the lighthouse.

17 Mile DriveNo visit to Monterrey is complete without doing the 17 Mile Drive!

17 Mile DriveLife is good at the Spanish Bay.

17 Mile Drive

17 Mile Drive

The Lone CypressThe Iconic Lone Cypress

The Lone Cypress

Point LobosOn our last day, we experienced Point Lobos State Reserve…a must do!

Point Lobos

Point LobosThe scenery is breathtaking!

Point Lobos

Point LobosAnd don’t worry, if you ever lose your driver’s license in Point Lobos like I did, they will happily mail it back to you!  (And how they ever found it will forever be a mystery!)

Point Lobos

Point Lobos

So if you ever want to experience one of America’s most breathtaking coastlines, pack up your car with munchies and great tunes, head to California and get ready for a sensory experience you’ll never forget!




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Last Friday, I happily said “Au revoir” to 40.

But this time, I was excited to grow another year older because…(and feel free to sing along it if you know the words)…

“26 miles across the sea, a Birthday Island was awaitin’ for me!”

You see, my hubby and I wanted to do something fun (but without the hefty price tag), so we decided to take advantage of Catalina Island’s “Birthday Island” promotion consisting of discounts and freebies for the birthday girl or boy to enjoy!  BRING ON 41!

Birthday Island

When you check in with Catalina Express in Long Beach, they will give you a stylish “Happy Birthday” ribbon to wear throughout the day to score your birthday freebies/discounts and to enjoy VIP treatment…

oh…and to hear “Happy Birthday” from complete strangers!

Birthday Island

The biggest perk for celebrating a birthday was getting a FREE round trip ride from Long Beach to Catalina on the Catalina Express!  That’s a savings of $74.50!  SCORE!  To earn this freebie, you must leave from Long Beach ON your birthday.  We chose an 8:30am departure to make the most of the day.

Catalina Express

View of Long Beach

Leaving Long Beach

After our arrival around 9:30am,  we strolled down Crescent Avenue until we reached the Metropole Market Place where we discovered our first stop – Catalina Coffee & Cookie Co.  As soon as I entered the store, the associates greeted me with “Happy Birthday!” and automatically handed me one FREE 12oz. cup to fill with their wide selections of gourmet coffee!

Catalina Coffee & Co.

Free Coffee!

Around 10:30, it was time to head over to Parasail Catalina to partake of my FREE parasailing flight!  We registered online a few days earlier, so once we arrived, we were ready to go!


This offer DOES require that you fly tandem, so either find someone on the boat who is solo but wants a partner, or bring a friend or date who doesn’t mind paying the $65.00 (600′ flight) or $75.00 (800′ flight).  Or if you’re feeling generous, split the cost so you can both enjoy the savings!  I let my “date” pay his way 😉



Parasailing800′ here we come!

ParasailingJen approved.

ParasailingHubby loved it too!

After enjoying our amazing flight over the bay, it was time to satisfy our hunger with a picnic lunch.

A few days before my birthday, a free $10 birthday voucher from World Market appeared in my email inbox.  It pays to be a part of their rewards program!  We took advantage of this gift and stocked up on picnic supplies for Catalina – from salami, gouda cheese, crackers & grape leaves, it was the perfect meal to enjoy while overlooking the ocean view by the Avalon Theater…and it was FREE!


Part of the fun of Catalina is to just walk around and explore the island!  We came equipped with our cameras and practiced our photography to our heart’s content!






Descanso BeachDescanso Beach



After enjoying the island, it was time to cool off with a FREE ice cream cone at Lloyd’s of Avalon!


After scanning the flavors, the choice was clear…

Lloyd's of AvalonDouble Fudge Brownie!  Oh sweetness!!!

It was heavenly and the ideal treat for this warm day.  On your way out, they will stamp your ribbon because yes, there are people who have taken advantage of the freebie, and some have even come in multiple times on their birthday pretending that they didn’t know it was a ONE time offer!  Tisk, tisk…

If you’d like to take in a museum, enjoy a FREE 30 minute walking tour of the historic Avalon Casino.  I didn’t get a chance to do this due to time constraints, but next time for sure!

My hubby showed interest in doing the Under Sea Garden Glass Bottom Boat Tour, so for $15.00 a person (no freebie here), we enjoyed watching the ocean’s wildlife play and swim under the boat.  It was an interesting and fun journey out to Lovers Cove.



IMG_3453The fish became quite animated when food was tossed their way.


Before we knew it, dinner was upon us consisting of yet another FREEBIE, this time at Buffalo Nickel Restaurant.


Near Pebbly Beach, this low key, out-of-the-way restaurant served a nice selection of Mexican and American food.  There was a birthday menu to choose from, and I decided on the tasty and satisfying Tostada Salad.



A shuttle van transports you to and from the restaurant since it’s too dangerous for pedestrians to walk there.  Not bad for a birthday meal!

We closed the evening with enjoying ocean breezes, taking in gorgeous views of Avalon Harbor and chasing the sunset as the Catalina Express took us home.

Catalina Express

If you’d like to do something completely different and fun (without the hefty price tag) for your birthday, then “Birthday Island” is the place for you!  Check out this complete list of all the freebies/discounts you too can enjoy as you welcome in another wonderful year!

And for those of you who’d like to learn about the history of Catalina Island, please check out my friend Rob Rhein’s new book “Catalina A to Z: A Glossary Guide to California’s Island Jewel.”

What’s been your favorite birthday getaway?


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Catalina Dreamin'

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Manini Beach

Karen and Ron Repan are residents of Kealakekua Bay on the “Big Island” of Hawaii and are the owners of the charming and rustic Bali Tree Cottage. Popular on Airbnb, Karen and Ron enjoy renting out their cottage and meeting people from all over the world. Last year, my husband and I traveled to Hawaii and experienced this secluded slice of paradise. Little did we know that two years earlier on March 11, 2011, the residents of Kealakekua Bay were affected by a destructive tsunami brought on by the devastating 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.

In an interview with Karen, she recounts her experience with the tsunami and the effect it had on the community.

Karen, as someone who has lived all over the world, what drew you and Ron to Kealakekua Bay?

Hawaii has the most temperate climate we have found. No extreme hot or cold weather. 83 degrees max, 72 low!  After living in Seattle, we were ready to move somewhere where we did not have to wear lots of clothes and heat or cool our home.

Plus, we love the ocean, especially one that we can swim in year round.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, was there immediate concern that Hawaii would be next?  If so, how did you and Ron prepare for the possibility of a tsunami?

We followed it on the news and heard it would hit around 5:00am. We didn’t really think we would be so impacted because the last evacuation we had for a potential tsunami was not necessary.

We were actually here when the first wave hit and could tell it was in our lower back yard! We got our elderly dogs in the truck and were able to get away south towards the City of Refuge. It was still really dark.

Had moved some cars to higher ground, but really did not do much else.  [We] will now heed any sirens and have great respect for what the ocean can do!

I can’t even fathom what that must have been like for you!  When my husband and I came to visit last year, it was hard to believe that your idyllic community was ravaged by a tsunami…but it became all too real when you gave us a tour of the area and pointed out an empty lot where a house used to be.  What did you discover upon your return home?

We were all shell shocked!  Very depressed for several months.  Did not want to go into the ocean for 6 months!

We had some very good friends up the hill that came with two of his visiting cousins that helped us clean up all the debris. Their moral support and hard work made all the difference!  None of our near neighbors realized what disaster we had in our backyard and concentrated on cleaning up Manini beach.

Thank goodness for John Farquhar and his two Canadian cousins!

TsunamiThe Repan’s backyard after the tsunami.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe Repan’s backyard after the tsunami.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe twisted and empty remains of a home’s foundation.
Photo credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiAlong the near shore is a home that was swept into the bay
(only their grey roof is visible).  Photo credit: John Farquhar

I’m glad your good friend John and his cousins were there for you during this difficult time!  Was the “Bali Tree Cottage” affected too?

Yes!  It got knocked off its’ foundation and moved 4 feet until it hit the ficus tree. A folded mattress was supporting one edge and the tree rooted supported the other edges.

TsunamiInside the Bali Tree Cottage.  Photo Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiThe Bali Tree Cottage was knocked off its foundation.
Photo Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiThe Bali Tree Cottage.  Photo Credit: John Farquhar

Oh wow!  You would never know it seeing how it looks today!  Were you renting it out at the time, or was this before you listed it on Airbnb?

It was before we added electricity and water to it. Had just finished building it!

Bali Tree CottageCurrent photo of The Bali Tree Cottage (2013)

From what I remember, your property is inland by about 1/2 block, and at that distance, the water brought so much destruction to your backyard!  How was the area closer to the shore effected, and how did you eventually get comfortable going back into the ocean?

We were absolutely appalled what the force of those waves did to Manini Beach. Several beautiful trees washed out to sea. We normally have an annual community beach clean up the Sat before the Tsunami but it was raining so we cancelled.  All the picnic tables we would have re-painted were washed out to sea!  It took quite awhile to see the positive things – more sand, new space to put a community garden….

So many fish were lost and huge heads of coral were turned upside down. But the ocean is healing, and the coral is coming back. Just felt different about the ocean knowing how destructive it could be.

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

The Manini Beach I saw was a slice of paradise complete with sand, coral and lava rocks. Is it my understanding that the tsunami pretty much relandscaped the beach into what it is today?

Yes. There was just coral and lava – no sand.  And the entrance to the water got carved out so we gained about 10 feet of chanel.  In the corner where the community garden is was just a jumble of night blooming cirus.

We lost a beautiful autograph tree and a big shade tree near the entrance gate.

IMG_0422Current Photo of Manini Beach (2013)

Manini BeachCurrent Photo of Manini Beach (2013)

By some miracle, no one lost their lives, but from photos I’ve seen, lots of personal property was damaged and destroyed. What kind of outreach did the community as a whole experience from others?

We saw in the papers that all agencies that offered help would be in one location on a certain day. Most people thought FEMA would step in and help but there was not enough damage for them to offer any help.

We went to check out what resources were available and signed up for a 2% loan from Small Business Administration.  Did not see many people there taking advantage of all the great programs available from various agencies including Red Cross.

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

Tsunami Photo Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: John Farquhar

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

TsunamiPhoto Credit: Karen Repan

Have the people of Kealakekua Bay grown closer as a community since the tsunami?

Our little community has had many trials – An arson that burnt down a new house, a 6.5 earthquake, and then another house fire (not arson).  It brings all of us closer as we band together to help others.  It is amazing how people not from this area came to support us!

Today, Karen and Ron enjoy renting out their wonderful Bali Tree Cottage to vacationers near and far, traveling to exotic destinations and taking in gorgeous sunsets on the renewed Manini Beach.

Manini BeachParadise renewed.





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The Space Needle

The Space Needle is something everyone should experience at least once!

Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, this iconic landmark boasts stunning 360° views of Puget Sound, the downtown skyline and the surrounding mountains, SkyCity, the world-famous rotating restaurant, an abundance of informational displays and telescopes, and exciting 10 mph elevator rides to the observation deck at the top.

Last week, my family and I met in Seattle for three fun-filled days.  We all agreed that the highlight was experiencing the breathtaking panoramic views 520 feet high above the Emerald City…

and what a view it was!

Space Needle

Space Needle

Space Needle

Space Needle

For around $20.00 per person, you too can take in the splendor of this wonderful city!

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I was so shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of California icon, Huell Howser.

His love for California and genuine enthusiasm and curiosity for this great state and its people was lovingly shown week after week on his popular program, “California’s Gold.”  Huell inspired thousands to get out and experience all the wonder that California has to offer.

I had the privilege of meeting Huell at a travel show several years ago, and he was just as sweet and charming in person as he was on television.  When he spoke of California, he spoke with great affection…in that endearing Tennessee twang!

Huell HowserGod bless you Huell.

You will be greatly missed Huell…and will forever be California’s Gold!

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