Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Papeete, Tahiti By Frank Lazzaro

June 15, 2014

Papeete is the capital city of Tahiti, in French Polynesia. Relatively easy to reach form the west coast, it is an 8 hour non stop flight from LAX. Upon arrival into Tahiti’s Faaa Airport, we were greeted by Tahitian vahines (women) who gave the traditional tiare flower to place behind our ears. The flower goes to the left ear if you are taken, or right ear if you are available (or behind both if you are undecided). Also present in the arrivals area were Tahitian musicians and a dancer, creating a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle we left behind in LA.
Papeete is a modern, cosmopolitan city with a blend of South Pacific and European influences. Being a French Territory, it is common to find sidewalk cafes, upscale boutiques, pearl shops, and fine French cuisine. Papeete’s picturesque waterfront is home to its cultural centers, cruise ship piers, and ferry docks to its sister Island Moorea. Just a few blocks form the pier is Papeete’s colorful 2 story open air public market, “La Marche” the where locals and visitors come to shop. Here you will find everything from fresh seafood and produce, to local handicrafts, clothing and various souvenirs. It is best to visit in the early morning when it is bustling with activity.
We opted to stay just outside of Papeete at the Le Meridien hotel, which has a nice little beach and a lovely sand bottom swimming pool. We splurged for one of the overwater bungalows, perched over the lagoon with crystal clear waters and a stunning view of Moorea. From our outdoor deck we could feed the tropical fish teeming over the coral reef just outside of our bungalow. It was quite idyllic and the soothing sound of the waves crashing on the outer reef made for a good nights sleep. We did venture out to the main restaurant and bar where an amazing Polynesian Drum and dance troupe was performing for the guests. The speed and agility of the beautiful Tahitian women as they gyrated their hips to the pulsating beats was incredible to watch.
Once the sun sets, downtown Papeete really comes to life. One of the best features is the Roulottes or food trucks that set up every night at the waterfront promenade. Between 10 and 20 food trucks offer everything from Chinese food, to crepes, pizzas, poisson cru (Tahiti national dish- raw tuna in coconut milk), and a variety of other specialties. In addition to being a great place to mix with the locals, it also offers a great value for dinner, as Tahiti can be quote pricey at most nice restaurants. As the night wears on into the late hours, Papeete’s denizens of the night can be found hanging in and around vibrant nightclubs and bars. Papeete is the only part of French Polynesia to have any nightlife, and it is not unusual to see local entertainment in the form of drag queen shows and other colorful characters.
We rented a car to explore the main island outside of the city, and it was well worth doing. The circle island road passes some stunning black sand beaches, historical land marks related to Captain Cook and the crew of the Bounty, natural blowholes, majestic waterfalls, and small roadside eateries. We ventured further out to Tahiti Iti ( the smaller part of the island), all the way to the road’s end at the famous surf spot Teahupoo. Unfortunately the waves were flat, but we enjoyed the beach for awhile and the beautiful scenery in that undeveloped part of the island.
To inquire more and plan your Tahiti vacation or Tahiti honeymoon please visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com or call 1-866-435-0844.Tahiti roulottes

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Kava Ceremony in Fiji By Frank Lazzaro

May 9, 2014

The Fiji islands are known for their friendly natives and good natured spirit and outgoingness of their people.  Set in the South Pacific, Fiji is made up of over 300 islands, although most visitors touch base on the main 2 islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Kava is the national drink of Fiji, and is also used widely by other South Pacific nations such as Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu. Made from pounding the roots of  the Yaqona plant (Piper methysticum) and infusing the powdered kava root with water, the drink produces a mild sedative and anesthetic effect, as well as a mild euphoria.  Drinking Kava is a social pastime, although it also serves a role in traditional customs related to tribal society. Having made several trips to Fiji, I have always enjoyed experiencing the kava drinking with the locals, both at the resorts as well as in the villages.

Fijian village life revolves around a strong sense of family and community, with the presence of a local chief in each village or province. Fijian villages consist of modest dwellings, and some of the villagers still live in thatched roof homes. Each village typically has a small church and a larger community building where the villagers may gather to eat, celebrate and welcome guests.

We visited Navula Village, on the banks of the Sigatoka River with a member of the staff from our hotel. This village has only recently accepted visitors and we were received warmly. The looks of joy and wonder on the faces of the children in itself made the trip worthwhile.  As a tradition it is customary to bring a gift of kava roots to present to the chief upon our arrival. Once accepted and welcomed, our entire group sat cross legged on the floor opposite the chief and his assistants, who were already mixing up kava in a large wooden bowl in anticipation of our arrival. The kava preparation is and presentation is done with much ritual: chanting, clapping of hands and blessing.  Upon receiving the kava, served in a coconut shell bowl, the participant claps their hands one time and proclaims “ Bula!”, the Fijian greeting which denotes several meanings, (similar to “Aloha” in Hawaiian). The kava is drunk in one gulp, and then the bowl is returned to the host, followed by clapping three times. The kava drink has the appearance (and some say taste) of muddy water. Upon imbibing the drink, we felt a noticeable mild numbness of the tongue and guns.  After several bowls, a feeling of very light intoxication and overall well-being set in.

After and during the kava drinking, many members of the village broke out guitars and serenaded us with their lovely voices. The multi-part harmonies and moving melodies sung by all ages could only be described as heavenly.  No gathering is complete without food, music and dance, and after serving us a family prepared meal of local fruits,  leafy vegetables, starches ( cassava, taro, potatoes)  chicken and fish, we were all encouraged to get up to dance traditional style with our hosts. With a full belly of kava and the delicious lovingly prepared Polynesian style food, no one dared turn down the invitation to strut to the music and learn a few local moves.

Kava is part of daily life in Fiji, both in villages and in urban areas and across all classes and walks of life. ‘Having a grog’, as drinking kava is sometimes known, is used for welcoming and bonding with visitors, for storytelling sessions, or merely for passing time.

To book your Fiji Vacation call 1-866-435-0844 or visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/fijiImage

Shark & Ray Feeding in Bora Bora

December 10, 2012

Tahiti12 176Bora Bora is one of the beautiful islands in the world, and is a part of Tahiti and French Polynesia. One of the most popular activites on the lagoon is the shark and ray feeding tour. We went with Moana Tours on a small motorized catamaran, the first stop being the coral gardens for snorkeling. Here we encountered beautiful coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish, giant clams and even a large moray eel. The next stop was the shallow sand banks, where the playful stingrays congregate. With the amazing mountain of Bora Bora as a backdrop, we spent about a half hour in waist to chest high water feeding and covorting with the rays, which allowed us to pet and caress them. They often brushed up against us with firm pressure, which is alarming at first. But they are harmless animals unless stepped on, but most were without tale barbs. The texture of their skin was very smooth and slippery. The final stop was just outside the barrier reef to a spot populated by sharks. After throwing chum in the water we were greeted by several Black tip reef sharks and 2 rather large (around 7 feet long) Lemon sharks. While most of are group watch from the boat, a few of us went in with our snorkel gear and snapped photos while the tour leader had a few physical enconters with the sharks. No one lost a toe and a good time was had by all.

To book your Bora Bora Vacation, go to http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/tahiti

The Maldives- by Frank Lazzaro

May 25, 2012

Located in the Indian Ocean between the Arabian peninsula and India, the Maldive islands are an idyllic outpost as isolated and romantic as any island chain known to travelers. A 3 hr flight from Dubai (with a recommended stopover) makes the Maldives relatively easy to reach from the Eastern US and Europe. The Maldives are made up of several hundred atolls, grouped in small archipelagos, mostly no higher than a few feet above sea level. The Maldives are known for their private island resorts and over water villas, similar to the bungalows found in Tahiti. Crystal clear waters and near shore reefs make for incredible snorkeling experiences and world class scuba diving. While more conservative than even Tahiti or Fiji, the republic of the Maldives is made up of friendly people, and has a culture that seems to draw from the South Pacific, India and Africa. My host for the trip was Banyan Tree Hotels, and the accommodations they showcased were top notch. Banyan Tree Vibbinfaru, Angaana Ilhuru, and Angsana Velavaru were 3 of the private island resorts I stayed at or visited. Each of the resorts offer bungalow style accommodations, and all had amazing beaches. Velavaru features 2 story overwater villas with private pools, reached from the main resort by a short boat transfer. I would recommend the Maldives for honeymoon and anniversary couples, scuba divers and snorkelers, or anyone looking for a unique and remote hideaway. It is a truly amazing island destination, and becoming a prime vacation spot for visitors from all over the world.
To book your Maldives vacation, please visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com

Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana- By Frank Lazzaro

December 8, 2011

The first all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has opened in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. This sprawling resort takes the Hard Rock concept to an all new level, featuring unlimited meals and drinks, and the largest casino in the  Caribbean. The resort boasts over 1700 rooms, 15 swimming pools, an enormous hydrotherapy spa,  over 10 restaurants and several bars and lounges on a stunning beachfront location.

Stocked with a wide array of  rock star memorabilia, including oversized pieces such as Madonna’s silver prism  sequined limo and Sammy Hagar’s roadster, the décor offers plenty of eye candy. The resort is showing to be popular with singles, couples, families and groups, and was at almost full capacity during my recent stay. Nighttime entertainment included their house band “Revolver” nailing classic rock covers 3 nights a week, as well as DJs, karaoke, and the ever present casino. Plans are underway to launch an ultra hip disco night club on site, ‘Oro’ within the next 6 months. While pricier than most all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana, the uniqueness of the property and the luxurious rooms and suites are making it a popular  choice. Guests traveling this year also receive a $1500 resort credit to be used on tours, spa, casino, room upgrades and other amenities.

For more information on booking the Hard Rock and other hotels in Punta Cana and the Caribbean, contact Singles Getaways at http://www.singles-getaways.com

2 Weeks in the Cook Islands- By Frank Lazzaro

October 28, 2011

Those travelers looking for an authentic Polynesian south seas experience without the exorbitant price tag
should look no further than the alluring Cook Islands. A nine hour flight from  LAX (1 weekly nonstop) mkje the main island of Rarotonga fairly easy to reach and well worth the trip. Once a New Zealand territory, the main language is English, and the exchange rate is quite a bit better than their cousins in
Tahiti. Popular itineraries are 6 day or 13 day, limited by the flight schedules. We opted for the long stay, since it was our anniversary, and spent 7 nights on Rarotonga, and 5 nights on its sister atoll, the amazing Aitutaki.
The Muri Beach Club was a great choice for us: adults only, only 24 rooms, and right on Muri beach, the best on the island. From here you have easy access to the tiny offshore islands ( motus) perfect for a kayak picnic, snorkeling, and swimming in crystal clear water. Other activities on Raro include nature hikes
with the intrepid guide Pa, visits to the waterfall, a myriad of water sports, diving, boating, fishing, and surfing to name a few. An inexpensive and reliable bus service makes transportation a breeze around the island. It is virtually impossible to get lost sinve the island is round ( the bus has only 2 routes- clockwise or “anti”clockwise!). There are so many great dining choices on Rarotonga, with restaurants for all tastes and budgets, and they even have decent nightlife on the weekends. “Island
Nights” also feature traditional Polynesian food and dance almost every night at a different location.

Landing on Aitutaki is like literally stepping back in time to a simpler way of life in a true island paradise setting. Here we opted for Tamanu Beach resort, another amazing little all bungalow hideaway on a stunning palm fringed beach, with top notch snorkeling  just steps from the sand . Home to one of the most beautiful lagoons on the South Pacific, the best way to see this tiny group of islands is by booking a lagoon cruise. Here you will have a chance to snorkel, see giant clams, visit the ubiquitous One Foot Island (one of the most photographed beaches in the world) and have an authentic Polynesian barbecue lunch on an idyllic little island. We lovesd the cruise so  much, we did it twice with 2 different tour companies. Both had something different
to offer, so we were never bored with the locations or activities served. Aitutaki also has some great places to eat, our favorites were Koro Café for
lunch and the Boat Shed for an amazing seafood dinner and drinks. After our 2 weeks in the Cook Islands, we came home feeling so refreshed, relaxed and
renewed in our love that we will always hold that place very close to our hearts. Cook Islands are a great choice for a honeymoon, romantic getaway or
destination wedding. For more information on booking your trip to the Cook Islands, please visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/cook-islands

CANCUN- Beyond Spring Break by Frank Lazzaro

September 24, 2011

Cancun is notorious for its sizzling beaches and wild party scene. We have all heard about Coco Bongo, Daddy O’s, Senor Frogs, the wet T-shirt contests, blaring discos and packed multi-level dance floors…been there, done that. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these places, and a stroll down the main Cancun nightlife strip after midnight can be a mind boggling and entertaining experience in itself. But where do the over 30 folks hang out in Cancun, besides the aforementioned places and many more like it? That is a question I often receive, as well as which Cancun resorts are best for singles. That can be a difficult question to answer, as while Cancun and Riviera Maya have many adults only resorts, most really cater more towards couples then singles. So where do the singles stay? A few all-inclusive resorts I recommend for those past the spring breaker age are: ME Cancun- this ultra-hip. modern upscale and chic resort attracts an international crowd of beautiful people, with its beach cabanas,  sexy lounge scene and disco. Another fun spot is Temptation Resort & Spa, for those even less inhibited. A topless optional beach and pools, along with a hedonistic streak makes Temptation a unique spot for those adults (21 and up) looking for something on the wilder side. You will find a mix of singles and couples here, but very few honeymooners.

Golden Parnassus is another budget adults only on Cancun, though more couple oriented. I stayed recently at Cancun Palace, and found it to be a great mix with excellent food and bars, a lively pool scene, and great beach. It is a little more pricey, so that does weed out the spring breakers. RIU Palace and Fiesta Americana also offer something for everyone.

For a different style of nightlife, I recommend riding the bus from the hotel zone to downtown Cancun, where you will find smaller local type bars and clubs, and lively plazas with food vendors and street performers, making for great people watching and interacting.

For those looking for a more mellow scene than what Cancun has to offer, I recommend Play del Carmen. Just 45 minutes south of Cancun airport, here you will find a wide range of hotels, including some nice all-inclusive resorts in the Playacar area, all with easy access to 5th ave, the trendy pedestrian street where all of the shops, restaurants and nightclubs can be found. Playa also has some beach front open air night clubs and discos on the sand that our quite popular.

Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer something for everyone, including us that are over 30, or even more mature! For more information on booking Cancun resorts, visit http://www.singles-getaways.com/mexico/

Magical Maui

August 13, 2011

As a longtime return visitor and former part time resident, I feel compelled to visit Maui on an annual basis. It gives me a chance to see old friends, make new ones, and bask in the beautiful sea and beaches that Maui is best known for. I usually stay in the Kihei area, where my old condo was located, and this time was no different, opting for the budget yet comfortable accommodations at the Aston Maui Banyan, just across from Kamaole Beach Park II. Kihei has a nice blend of locals and tourists, with plenty of shops and good restaurants, decent nightlife, and easy access to  sunny South Maui’s golden sand beaches. From here it is just a short drive to Wailea and Makena, where the island’s best beaches and resorts are waiting for you. I usually head past all of the luxury hotels, down to Makena Beach, my favorite on the island (if not anywhere). Both Big and Little Beach (the clothing optional side) beckon on any given day, and Makena delivers with one of the longest stretches of golden sand and bright blue waters of any Hawaiian island.

It is Sunday afternoon, so I cross over the short but steep lava cliff trail to Little Beach. Sunday sunsets are an institution there, complete with a drum circle, fire dancers and large gatherings of people from all walks of life, but bordering on the bohemian side. I have no problem feeling at home there, and enjoying the body surfing is always a great way to spend the afternoon. After sunset we head over to the Four Seasons Hotel (what a contrast) to enjoy the gypsy violin and guitar duo playing in the outdoor restaurant there. Besides the amazing beaches, Maui is known for its verdant valleys and numerous waterfalls along the North coast to Hana. I always enjoy the short hike and swim at Twin Falls, the first stop on there Hana Hawaii. We are visiting friends in Haiku that live in a temple like hexagonal wooden palace overlooking the Pacific. There is an impromptu party with belly dancers (not hula dancers), musicians, great home cooked food and drinks. Mirayah,  a local belly dance instructor is our host and gives us a chance to reconnect with old friends.

Snorkeling is always great on Maui, and we find an amazing spot just before the lava studded south road ends at La Perouse Bay. Here I have swam with spinner dolphins on many occasions, but the wind is coming up, and no dolphins are to be found, so we go out at one of the lava rock turnoffs that are part of the Ahihi-Kinau Marine Preserve. The area is uncrowded, sheltered from the wind, so the is water crystal clear, with multitudes of tropical fish, and the occasional sea turtle. We see whales spouting in the distance.

Maui has a vibrant music and dance scene, as well as a great Cultural & Arts Center, showcasing all sorts of performances.  One evening we take in the show Ula’lena which has been running in Lahaina for over 10 years. A cross between Cirque du Soleil and the Polynesian Cultural Center, the cast of Ula’lena present the myths, history and magic of Maui in a way never before seen or heard. The show features thundering drummers and live musicians, aerialists, dancers, acrobatics, comedy and performance art, all in the theme of Hawaiian mythology and culture. I highly recommend taking in this show during your visit for something unique.

It is height of whale watching season, so we book a trip with Pacific Whale Foundation, the conservation and research company that I used to volunteer with. Humpbacks are everywhere. We see multiple breaches, whales swimming under our boat, mom and calves frolicking. It is a rare treat, and  I give it an 11 on a scale of 1-10 for whale watches. Every time I go back to Maui, there is always something new to discover, and Maui never disappoints. As the saying goes, “ Maui No Ka Oi” (Maui is the best!) To find more information on Maui, or to book your Hawaii vacation, please visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/hawaii

Diving with Manta Rays in Kona

June 3, 2010

As a frequent visitor to Hawaii, I am always looking for a new experience to expand my appreciation for the islands. A friend recommended I try the Manta Ray night snorkel, and at first I was hesitant with the idea of going underwater at night. But once I learned more about it, I was eager to get wet. We set out just before sunset with a group run by the local dive tour operator Neptune Charlie’s . The trip is open to both snorkelers and scuba divers, so there is no experience necessary, with the exception of knowing how to swim, and being fairly comfortable in the water as a snorkeler. On the way out to the dive site we were greeted by a gorgeous sunset and a playful group of spinner dolphins splashing on the surface. In about 20 minutes we were at the site, along with several other dive boats preparing to enter the water. We were briefed, and each entered the water with a bright flashlight to increase visibility and attract the vast hordes of plankton, that the mantas feed upon. Within a few minutes we were joined by a few graceful mantas circling below. With the multiple lights coming from the bottom and from our own lights, the scene was eerie and visually stunning at the same time. The manta rays have wing spans up to 15 feet wide, and beholding such a large sea creature in our midst is humbling. The are totally docile animals, and lacking teeth or stingers, totally safe to be with. As we spent more time stirring up more plankton to the surface with our lights. The mantas became even more engaging, at times circling and looping within a few feet of our masks.. The tour guides have names for each of the rays, and over 250 have been identified. Rays with names like “ Jackie Robinson, and ” Lefty” became our new acquaintances, and the 40 minutes we spent in the water with them flew by. This is one water experience I will never forget, and would highly recommend.  To see a short video of our encounter see: http://www.youtube.com/user/sopacvax#p/a/u/0/T7-xFZ2GVS8 For more information on planning a trip to Kona,  please visit : http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/hawaii

Frank Lazzaro

All-Inclusive Cozumel

April 15, 2010

Cozumel has been one of those places I have only experienced as a day tripper, either from a cruise ship, or off the ferry from Playa del Carmen. And while it seems to be most popular with those brief visitors, I decided it would be worth it to spend a week there, to get a better feel for the place and what it offers. We opted for all-inclusive resorts, as it was an unbeatable value, and we always loved the convenience of having our meals and drinks available and unlimited at  the resort.  We spent the first few nights at Cozumel Palace, a luxury resort close to downtown. The accommodations, dining, and service here were top- notch, with marble everywhere, and a highly attentive staff, it felt like 5 star quality. A Jacuzzi in every room and stunning ocean views made for a romantic setting. While the resort lacks a beach, it does offer decent snorkeling with easy ocean entry just off the vast pool deck. Here we were walking distance to the downtown plaza, and had easy access to all of the nightlife that town offers. The most popular places for the younger set were Carlos & Charlie’s and Senor Frog’s, as well as a few Latin style clubs offering live music, where we gravitated.

Cozumel is known as a scuba diving Mecca, but there are still enough things to keep non-divers entertained for a week. We love to snorkel, so we did a little research and got a taxi to nearby Dzul-Ha beach or the ‘Money Bar‘, as the beach’s restaurant/ bar establishment is known. The snorkeling was fine here, and within swimming just 50-100 feet offshore we were surrounded by a multitude of tropical fish, and some small but interesting coral formations. We found out that this is the first stop on the “3 reef tours” being booked from the ferry dock. This just whetted our appetite for more and we were eager to see what lied below in deeper waters. For a new experience, we booked a trip on Atlantis Submarines, an actual submarine that submerges to cruise over 100 feet deep along the ocean floor. Atlantis runs these trips throughout many islands in the Caribbean and Hawaii, and I had always been intrigued. The tour was fun and quite memorable, as we got to see reefs and marine life at depths usually reserved for advanced scuba divers, and stayed dry the entire time! Definitely one of those once in a lifetime experiences but well worth the trip. We spent the remainder of the week at the Allegro Cozumel, about 15 minutes down the coast on the famed Playa San Francisco. The setting here was much more rustic than the Palace, but it did have one thing that the Palace lacked: an amazing white sand beach with safe swimming and snorkeling. Water sports included kayaks, Hobie cats and wind surfing, also complimentary. The resort paled in comparison to the luxury of Cozumel Palace, but the location made up for it, on Cozumel’s best beach. While the shoreline snorkeling is okay, the only real way to see what Cozumel has to offer for divers and snorkelers is to book one of the many boat tours offered everywhere. We went for a tour to the 2 most popular and legendary reefs, Columbia and Palancar. Here we drifted effortlessly over the reefs while viewing amazing coral formations, and a variety of marine life, including a few sea turtles, barracudas, and a spotted eagle ray. The reef snorkel trip was definitely one of the highlights, along with relaxing for a week on beautiful beach resorts, in what is one of the most laid back resort destinations in Mexico.  Sharing Mexican hospitality with the best of Caribbean waters, Cozumel is a great choice of destination for divers and non- divers alike, and far from the hustle and bustle of Cancun.  For more information in booking your next trip to Cozumel, please contact me, or visit http://www.singles-getaways.com/mexico/

Frank Lazzaro