Punta Cana, DR- Something for Everyone

October 22, 2009

Just returned from another trip to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, my third time visiting there. Punta Cana boasts some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, and as a growing all-inclusive resort destination, offers just about the best value in the Caribbean. There are resorts to suit all tastes. Singles will enjoy lively Bavaro Beach, where the party never ends.  Home to the Merengue, Punta Cana is a great place to dance the night away. Occidental Grand Punta Cana is a great choice, with its Mangu Disco, popular with locals and tourists alike. Other choicespuntacana09 091  for those travelling on a budget and looking for best bang are Grand Paradise Bavaro, Barcelo Resorts and Majestic Colonial. There is not a whole lot to do outside of the resorts in Punta Cana, so having all the meals, drinks, watersports and entertainment options included is the way to go.

Couples looking for more romantic and luxurious settings should look no further than Excellence Punta Cana. This adults only property on a breathtakingly beautiful private beach has it all: horseback riding,  massages, body boarding in their wavy surf and great dining options. Excellence is a little far from the center of Punta Cana, so those wanting to be closer to everything and willing to pay a little more will love Paradisus Palma Real This resort is top of the top, in my opinion. Amazing beach, upscale rooms and amenities, and a sexy chic atmosphere with beach cabanas, fire dancers and an eclectic vibe.

There is plenty for families too here, Dreams Punta Cana seems to have the most families for all ages, including the sometimes hard to please teens, with archery, a rock climbing wall, batting cage, even a mechanical bull, not to mention all of the great beach and watersports.

So if you are looking for a stress free, all-inclusive Caribbean vacation for a great price, Punta Cana will be a great choice. PLease contact me if you would like to find more about rates and packages to this exotic destination.

Frank Lazzaro


Touring New Zealand

August 26, 2009

Mount Aspiring National ParkWhat can you say about a country that boasts only 4 million people and over 40 million sheep? Well, a heck of a lot of sheep for one thing, but better yet lots and lots of wild and open spaces just beckoning the avid adventurer. New Zealand offers so much in the way of outdoor activity, and attracts those looking for everything from soft adventure to adrenalin pumping extreme sports. Hiking, biking, skiing, jet boating, sailing, fishing, hot air ballooning, and of course bungee jumping, just to name a few.
We started our trip landing in Auckland, on the North Island, and passed through to Rotorua, one of the main seats of traditional Maori culture, and also known for its thermal springs. Her e we were treated to a cultural performance at Te Puia, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imbC1g3bofk  followed by a tour of Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and its spouting hot geysers. An obligatory visit to the Agridome and its entertaining sheep show was next, as well as a stroll through Rainbow Springs Nature Park. A morning soak in the natural Polynesian Spa, and its sulfuric hot pools, worked out the kinks from the previous day’s ventures. Now it was on the South Island, where we would be spending most of the trip. Following a visit to the garden city of Christchurch, we embarked on a scenic train ride on the TranzAlpine railway through snow covered peaks and mountain passes. The Southern Alps, which dominate mu7ch of the scenery of the South Island, were just starting to reveal themselves. The train terminates in Greymouth on the West Coast, where we caught a coach up to Punakaiki, known for its Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The Punakaiki Resort offered a nice respite from the stormy weather we had on the West Coast. Next stop was Franz Josef and its stunning glacier. Heli-hiking is the most popular activity here, however unpredictable and changing weather conditions prevented us from partaking in that activity. Instead we did an easy hike to view the glacier, and later in the day as the weather cleared, we were treated to a scenic helicopter sighting flight up and over the glacier. I have posted a short video of this trip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0HN_HaAkio    Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are a year round attraction, and easy to access as part of any South Island itinerary. Camper vans are a popular way to go. The remainder of our trip would be spent in Queenstown, the picturesque town built around the lake and surrounded by snow filled alpine peaks. Although only late May, winter had already hit with a vengeance, so there was a lot of snow in the mountains and surrounding valleys. Queenstown is pure escapism, where the limits stop and people take over. Adventurers of every sort flock to this small city, which operates in all seasons, but is most popular during the winter ski season. There are so many activities and excursions to choose from when using Queenstown as a base, that it is hard to cram it all in. I went with a couple of must-dos: Milford Sound and the Shotover Jet. The scenery at Milford Sound (actually a fiord we are told) from the cruise boat is simple awe-inspiring. Alpine peaks, chasms, countless waterfalls, marine wildlife (seals, dolphins, and penguins) provide a stunning backdrop to the pristine waters. We opted for a scenic plane flight back to Queenstown, which was actually a highlight in itself. Here is a short video from the cruise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQvo7cC7HLo 
Adrenaline junkies will love the Shotover Jet, the original NZ jet boat excursion, speeding up the scenic Shotover River, narrowly avoiding boulders, rock walls, and spinning 360s the entire way. It’s a rollicking good time and a great way to wrap up a short stay in the Queenstown area.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfsPfreO01E   I found New Zealand to be a wonderful destination. The people are humble and friendly; the scenery breathtakingly gorgeous and extremely diverse. From scenic coastline and beaches, low lying rainforests to alpine peaks, there is something for everyone in New Zealand. Oh, and did I mentioned all of the great ales they brew? Speights Gold Medal was one of my personal favorites. For more information on travel to New Zealand, please contact me at http://www.southpacific-vacations.com
Frank Lazzaro

Castaway on Fiji

July 8, 2009


Fiji was our chosen honeymoon destination, so this year for our anniversary we decided it was time to go back to one of our favorite places. There are so many islands and resort choices in Fiji, so rather than return to the same places, we opted for a new itinerary. The Outrigger on the Lagoon (on the Coral Coast), and Castaway Island Resort, being sister properties are offering a great deal: Split your stay between the two and they throw in a free helicopter transfer between the resorts. We spent the first 3 nights at the Outrigger, one of the few 5 star resorts on the main island Viti Levu. This extensive resort is modeled after a Fijian village with traditional thatch roofed bures (bungalows), as well as resort and ocean view rooms. We opted for an ocean view room, since we would have a beach bure at Castaway. The rooms are very tastefully appointed in modern Fijian style, with large verandahs overlooking the lush property and the clear blue lagoon. The beaches in this area are prone to extreme tidal fluctuations, so swimming and snorkeling can only be done at certain times of day. The resort makes up for it however, with a very large swimming pool and 4 great restaurants and bars. The food at Outrigger was top notch, ranging from simple lunches at the pool bar, to fine dining at their award winning Ivi restaurant. We celebrated our anniversary there and were warmly serenaded by the restaurant staff, and presented with a beautiful and delicious custom made dessert. The Fijians our famous for their beautiful singing voices and harmonies. Even the breakfast buffet was accompanied by guitars and Fijian songs. The Outrigger’s hillside spa and is sweeping views seduced us into splurging for a couple’s massage, which was worth every penny, especially with the current exchange rate The helicopter transfer was one of the highlights of the trip. It takes off from Outriggers onsite helipad, and after traversing lush forests, rolling hills, azure seas, and tiny islets, touches down directly on remote Castaway Island.
Here is a short video of the flight  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhoY12pSb3E&feature=channel_page Castaway is a private island resort in the Mamanucas island group, the closest and most popular chain to the main island. By private island, I mean it is the only resort on the island-actually the only facility of any kind on the island. I know, sounds expensive right? Not necessarily- island resorts are the norm in this region, so there are offerings for every budget. Castaway is a mid- range property, and popular with families. It has around 65 bures on its lush tropical grounds, with 2 large amazing beaches, a myriad of water sports, and 2 restaurants. The staff are very friendly and by the second day many would address us by first names. Our days were spent swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling (there is an amazing reef system, just 50 yards off the beach) kayaking, sailing and just relaxing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pmTwrwVtgI&feature=related  We kayaked around the entire island in less than one hour, and the waters around the island are crystal clear, revealing their colorful coral reefs below.. We spent 5 days on Castaway, so one day decided to venture off on a little island hopping tour. They take small groups on their stayed of the art speedboat to visit neighboring islands and have a lobster and champagne lunch on a deserted beach. We visited Plantation Island, Musket Cove and Malolo Island, also whisking by the newer overwater bungalows at Likuliku Lagoon Resort, now popular with honeymooners. Evenings at Castaway are mellow affairs, listening to the serenadors, drinking kava, the national herbal drink with is mild sedative qualities, enjoying great meals, and just taking it easy. For excitement they have the hermit crab and frog races, on which you can bet. Our last night was graced by the Meke (traditional dances) and Lovo feast, with its underground oven, similar to a Hawaiian luau.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoSp1ZnLiI4  During our romantic dinner, the staff came out and sang their anniversary song to us, which almost brought us to tears. Upon departing Castaway, we were again serenaded, this time to the tune of their well known farewell song, “Isa Lei”. We returned to Nadi on South Sea Cruises, the high speed catamaran that ferries guests between these islands. The return transfer was about one and a half hours to Port Denarau where we saw a beautiful sunset wishing is farewell. But we know we will always return to our beautiful Fiji. For more information on travel to Fiji, visit  http://www.southpacific-vacations.com

Swimming with Dolphins in Kona

June 22, 2009


I am a frequent visitor to Hawaii -usually at least twice a year, and Kona on the Big Island has always been a favorite spot of mine. On a recent trip, and as I do on every trip there, I set out with a friend to kayak Kealakekua Bay, in hopes to spot and maybe even swim with wild Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.

I love marine mammals. And because of the many experiences I have had with wild whales and dolphins in Hawaii , California and Mexico, I have developed a keen appreciation for them in their natural environment. I have disdain for captive dolphin swim programs, and although they serve as a popular attraction for their ease and guarantee of interaction, it is really at the animals’ expense. Seeking whales and dolphins in the wild, although unpredictable, has been one of my personal most exciting and rewarding wildlife experiences. And Kealakekua Bay, near Captain Cook, south of Kona on the Big Island, is one of those magical places where you do stand a good chance of interacting.

This particular day was like any other. We tried to set out bright and early, lagged as usual, and after picking up our kayaks form a local vendor, got down to the bay by 1030am. There are several choices for renting kayaks in and around Captain Cook, or there are a few local residents who are now renting kayaks at the bay. This option saves you the trouble of loading and returning the kayaks with your car, and also helps support the locals. Most people will tell you that very early in the morning is the best time to see the dolphins, but I have encounter3ed them at many different times of day here. It was not too long after heading out into the bay in our double kayaks that we spotted a pod of spinner dolphins, who come into the calm and protected bay waters to rest and play. Within minutes I slipped into the clear blue water with my mask, snorkel and fins to survey the situation. Much to my delight, the pod of around 10-15 dolphins was visible below and swimming alongside our kayak. That day I spent around one hour in the water with this group, playing and cavorting. The group had expanded by combining smaller congregations to up to about 4o dolphins. The spinner dolphins are so named for their tendency to jump out of the water and pirouette, I behavior which they exhibited repeatedly this day.

Closer sitting and watching showed the dolphins apparently playing a game of pass with a soggy leaf, a behavior that I have witnessed before. They key to enjoying wild dolphins is meeting them on their terms in their environment. It is important not to chase, swim after or harass the dolphins. Looking eye to eye with wild dolphins in Hawaii can be described by some as a life changing experience. I would have to agree.

Here is a video I made of this swim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-htZQmmDdpw

If you go to Kealakekua Bay, and you don’t see dolphins, you will still have an amazing experience snorkeling the pristine reefs inside the bay, and learning about the history of this sacred place.

For more information on visiting Hawaii go to http://www.southpacific-vacations.com

Honolulu for Singles

June 12, 2009


What makes Honolulu one of the Top 10 US citied for singles? That’s easy- their location, on the world’s most famous beach, Waikiki attracting international visitors from all around the world; Their wide range of accommodations, from budget to 5 star, excellent shopping and nightlife make it a mecca for singles looking for fun ion the sun, and after dark.

On a recent trip during March, I found there to be plenty going on around town, catering to spring breakers, as well as more mature travelers and locals alike. I stayed at Aston Waikiki Circle, a modest hotel with one of the best locations around- right in the heart of Waikiki, across the street from the Duke Statue and prime surfing beach. The rooms are small at this landmark hotel, but the city and ocean views are inspiring, and for only around $100 a night, you just cannot beat the value and location. Other offerings popular with single travelers, both solo or travelling with friends are Ohana  Waikiki West, Aqua Waikiki Wave, and Aston Waikiki Beach. All are a great value, and close to all the action. For a little more upscale, my favorite In the area is Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, with its classic beach bar Duke’s Canoe Club. This is hands down one of the best places to watch the sunset, sip cocktails, mingle with visitors and locals alike, while listening to sweet Hawaiian music. And the food is great too. Activities in Waikiki are unlimited: learning to surf is at its finest and most forgiving here. Outrigger canoe rides are always a rush. And let’s not forget that sunset cruise. After dark, Honolulu has a wealth of choices for night clubbers. One of the best happy hour places is Maitai’s at Moana center. Live bands of all types can be found at Gordon Biersch by Aloha Tower. Disco dancers go for Club Ra on Kuhio Street or trendy Indigo in Chinatown. There are bars and clubs for any taste, from acoustic music to karaoke, jazz, rock and house music. For an artsy alternative scene, check out Ong King in Chinatown. There first Friday program features monthly musicians, poets, even belly dancers. A great place to catch a meal and some great beers is the Kona Brewing Co. at Koko Marina. On our last visit we were graced with a performance by slack guitar great Ledward Kaapana, who plays there on Sundays with accompaniment  by various family members. Two of my favorite Honolulu restaurants are Ono Hawaiian Foods and Irifune, both on Kapahulu Ave.  Onos serves up traditional Hawaiian food at inexpensive prices in a very local atmosphere. Irifune offers great Japanese food, fresh sashimi and their specialty garlic Ahi. Both restaurants are affordable and genuine Hawaiian dining experiences, as is the local plate lunch to be found everywhere at takeaway places such as the now famous L & L, and countless others. Honolulu has something for everyone, and is the great Gathering Place, is an ideal place for singles looking for value, fun and excitement.  Here is a short video clip from the beach at Waikiki: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtPd0kwimnk

For more information on visiting Honolulu see http://www.southpacific-vacations.com or


Honeymoon in Fiji

September 12, 2008

Fiji makes a great honeymoon destination for those looking for that idyllic south seas romantic getaway. Fiji boasts many private island resorts that are far less pricey than one would think, and the exchange rates makeit a better value for US travellers than Tahiti. Most people who have been to Fiji would agree that one of the country’s best assets is the friendliness of its people. Fijians are very outgoing and naturally hospitable folks, who are eager to get to know you, not as a tourist but as a friend.

With so many islands and resorts in Fiji, how does one decide where to stay?  For that, a travel specialist is your best companion, one who has been to and knows the destination, as there are so many offerings. For our honeymoon, we choose to split the destination into 3 segments for a total of 10 nights. Keep in mind travellers from LAX will cross the dateline on the way to Fiji, so we lose a day going -but we make it up on the day of our return. Our first 3 nights were spent on a popular Coral Coast hotel, Hideaway Resort. Popular with couples and families alike, this resort has something for everyone. Great snorkeling right off the beach, horseback riding, close to a reasonably sized town and many of the inland nature activities that Fiji offers. Hideaway is now offering an all-inclusive plan (meals and drinks) which makes a great value when you are over there.

For the next leg we did a Blue Lagoon Cruise, on the Mystique Princess Gold Club 3 night cruise though the Yasawa Islands. Now, here is a real gem of an experience for honeymooners. Small ship, luxurious, great dining options, and some of the most beautiful island scenery and clearest water you will ever see. The crew were friendly and fun, and there were some great choices of activities and nighttime festivities. The beaches and snorkeling during this portion were unsurpassed. For us, 3 nights/ 4 days is just about the right length of time to be on a boat. Although the waters were so calm and sheltered there was never the slightest bit of seasickness.

For are final nights we saved the best for last, the adults only private island enclave, Tokoriki Resort. Here we spent the last 4 nights in true luxury and romance, with only 30 bures (bungalows), so lots of privacy, and we often had the beach to ourselves. We kayaked around the entire island in about one hr, with its calm waters and many reefs. We did some island hopping and visited one of the local villages where we partook in the kava drinking ceremony (highly recommended, especially in the evenings) , and witnessed the local dances and handicrafts. Tokoriki is in the Mamanuca Island group, and there are quite a few nearby islands that one can visit, including the island that Tom Hanks used for “Castaway”. Meal plans are a good idea at Tokoriki, since there is nowhere else to eat. The dining was fine and you could choose a table for 2 just overlooking the beach if you wish. When it was time to finally leave, the soulful voices of the staff singing their farewell song brought tears to our eyes.

This was truly a dream honeymoon, and we plan to return to Fiji again for our 5th anniversary. For more information on honeymoons in Fiji, visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/fiji/fiji-specials.php

Bula Vinaka!

Playa del Carmen Mexico-singles paradise

June 4, 2008

Just back from Playa del Carmen, south of Cancun in the Rivera Maya, Mexico. What a fun place, especially for singles! They have some of the hippest beach bars I have seen anywhere, everything from laid back morrocan style lounges to latin music, and killer discos with fire dancers on the sand. The beach there is gorgeous and topless optional, so there is alot of freedom. Playa seems to draw young adults from around the globe and has accomodations for every taste and budget. For more info on visits to Playa del Carmen and other Mexico destinations for singles, visit http://www.singles-getaways.com


Club Med Bora Bora

May 13, 2008

I took a recent trip to the Club Med in Bora Bora, Tahiti as I wanted to see how the all-inclusive resort option would work in French Polynesia. Well, what can I say, considering Hinano beer s run $5-8 a pop everyehre on the island, I think I got my money’s worth on that alone. Thats right, Club Med, in addition to including all buffet meals, also includes OPEN BAR, which is unheard of in Tahiti. All the Hinanos, cocktails, wine, mai -tais and various umbrella drinks you can handle, and no bar bill! That makes paradise even a little more attractive. Aside from the food and drinks, Club Med prides itself in their activities program. Windsurfing, sailboats, kayaking, snorkeling (by boat) and a variety of land sports are all included. One of my favorite parts of the resort was not actually at the resort itself. Club Med gives their guest access to a private beach on a motu, just a 10 minute boat ride away (several departures a day) with water so crystal clear and a view of the island so breathtaking, that we spent most of our time there. We got to laze under thatch roofed tiki huts, swim with stingrays, and sip cold Hinanos, at times with the whole beach to ourselves. Club Med’s evening entertainment is hit or miss, but they do have one of the only discos on the island, and even the locals come to find a little nightlife on an otherwise very quiet island. Accomodations are Polynesian bungalow style, beds were a little stiff for my tastes, but overall comfortable, fairly private, and nicely appointed rooms. Ours was right on the beach and worth a splurge. In Idyllic Bora Bora, where everything seems overpriced, Club Med came in at a great value and and even greater experience for watersports enthusiasts and social beings. For more information on Club Med Bora Bora, check out http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/islands-of-tahiti/club-med-bora-bora/index.php

Aloha to Aloha!

April 29, 2008

After 60 years of servicing the beautiful Hawaiian Islands, Aloha Airlines calls it quits. This came as quite an unexpected blow to the travel industry, but with their recent declaration of bankruptcy, it was only a matter of time. So how will this affect travel to Hawaii? At the moment, it has driven airfares up a bit, that combined with increasing fuel costs. We in San Diego are particularly affected, since we lost our beloved low cost non stop flights to Maui. And with another budget carrier ATA also ceasing operations in the same week (LAX and SFO their popular gateways), the west coast was hit hard. Aloha blamed another low budget carrier, Go! which mainly serves inter island flights in Hawaii, as the main culprit in forcing them out of business. But the competition between airlines for business to Hawaii will remain intense, eventually forcing the many remaining carriers to bring their fares down in their predictable summer fare wars. So my advice is keep your ears and eyes open as fares will drop in the coming months, and Fall is always a good time to visit Hawaii. In the meantime, there are some great deals to Mexico! For more information on Hawaii vacations (and/or Mexico) visit http://www.southpacific-vacations.com/

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April 22, 2008

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