Archive for the ‘Tropical Destinations’ Category

All-inclusive Vacation Resorts: Luxurious Getaways or Velvet Prisons?

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Martha Brae Rafting

If you are pining for a well-deserved vacation, an escape from the drone of the business world, you might be tempted by an “all-inclusive” vacation.  But think very carefully before you don that thong bikini or those Speedo trunks.  All-inclusive vacations are not for everyone.

Read on . . .


Hana, Maui, Hawaii: Dramamine and Orchids – the Perfect Pair!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Photo by Sheree Zielke The road to Hana may be a cruel drive for those who suffer from motion sickness, but for orchid lovers, it might be the pathway to Nirvana.

Driving the road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii is a trip that can’t be committed to lightly. Replete with narrow roads and endless curves, driving to Hana is not for the squeamish.

But it is the way for orchid lovers to reach one of the prettiest places on Maui.  You might even see Oprah Winfrey’s land.

Read on . . .


Brownsville, Texas: Home to One of the Top-rated Zoos in the United States!

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008


It wasn’t my first choice.  It wasn’t even my second, third or fourth choice, but we are still bound for a place we’d never heard of before: Brownsville, Texas.


It’s a really nice place,” my travel advisor said.”  But I merely shook my head.


“Where the heck is Brownsville?  And why would anyone want to go there?” I asked.


“It’s right on the Gulf of Mexico just near South Padre Island,” she added.  “It’s a really pretty place with Spanish influence.  And the beaches are out of this world.”


“Yeah, but I’ve never even heard of Brownsville.  Never mind South Padre Island.”


“Trust me,” she said.  “The price is right, and you’ll love it.”


Yes, I never planned in my wildest dreams that I would be bound for Brownsville, Texas, but now I can hardly wait to get there.



New Zealand: The Right Cabbie Will Make Your Shore Day Exceptional!

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Need a cab driver in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand? Try Lance — A Great Find! A Great Friend!

There he stood, a large man resembling a sea captain with his salt and pepper hair, and weather-worried complexion.  Laugh lines near his eyes complemented the thoughtful pattern of wrinkles that lay horizontally across his brow; he made me think of the actor, Sean Connery.

Photo by Sheree Zielke

His cab, a small four-door white sedan, occupied the last spot in the taxi queue.  We were in the town of Mount Maunganui, in the Port of Tauranga, situated on the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand.  Since leaving the ship, we had already run the gamut of at least three dozen assorted cabs, shuttles, and tour buses before espying the taxi driver who was to make our day of adventuring very special.

The cabbie’s name: Lance Calder.  He told us later he had chosen not to be part of the vicious back-biting under-cutting group of taxi drivers awaiting the arrival of the cruise ship passengers on the pier.  When we asked his price, he stated simply $60NZ per hour.  “Not per person,” he added quickly, but “for the car.”

Lance Calder - Photo by David Thiel

Photo by David Thiel

He wanted to know what we had in mind; as seasoned travelers and photographers, we told him to drive in the direction of Rotorua, and we would tell him when we wanted to stop.  And that he was to avoid the regular tourist stops.  That gave him pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Lance, also known by the handle, “Olddog13-1,” was very quick to learn our desires, and our sense of humour.  He soon joined in our inside jokes as though he’d known us for years.  As a resident of the area since birth (he was born and raised in Te Puke – not as in vomit) he navigated the roadways well, stopping to give us views of the scenery, and share oodles of insider tips on the lifestyle and cultures of the area.

We spent seven hours with Lance – and in that time we saw stinky bubbling sulphuric mud pools in Rotorua, patted a lamb at the Kiwi Lumberjack Show (farm) (ask for Thomas –a handsome young man with a mischievious nature), tasted exquisite wines at the Mills Reef Winery, paid a quick visit to the art deco style Rotorua Museum, lunched in a small café, just up from the old Whakarewarewa Thermal Village (where young boys would dive for coins thrown into the water by tourists), and we visited the Comvita bee centre in Te Puke.

We also visited the Kiwi360 kiwi farm (Lance was extremely knowledgeable in this – he took us under the kiwi orchard canopy where the fruit was hanging like grapes from vines, he pointed out the male and the female vines and how kiwis are chosen for import, with flat-sided ones being rejected and turned into wine instead.)  Lance took us into the shop where we tasted our first kiwi wine (a little too much fruit flavour for our palate) and he took us to a favorite photography subject of ours, an old Mission cemetery, without ever being asked to do so.

Lance Calder - Photo by Sheree Zielke

We learned, through Lance that the huge tree with the gorgeous purple flowers is a Jacaranda tree, a soft drink is called a “fizzy drink,” a car trunk is called a “boot,” and that cruise ship passengers should never share a cab just to split the cost during shore excursions.

“It’s not a good idea,” says Lance.  “The couples can never agree on anything.”  He says he has never seen a cab shared successfully by people who barely knew one another, and who have gotten together just to split the cost of the taxi fare.  He says the only successful shared cab rides are those where the passengers have previously agreed upon where it is they want to go, and what it is they want to do.

Besides knowing the area so well, and being a charming traveling host, Lance is also specially trained in the art of assisting the handicapped, or the ambulatory-challenged.  He has extensive experience dealing with special needs children, and seniors in wheelchairs.

And if you are a wine lover, Lance has an inside track, having a son-in-law in the business.  Be sure to ask him for a little advice if you are going into the Napier-Hawke’s Bay area on what wineries to see, and the best route to take to see them.

Planning a trip to the Tauranga, New Zealand area via cruise ship?  Contact Lance Calder in advance.  You will feel like family when this burly congenial man welcomes you at the pier.  Tell him Sheree says you’ll need to buy a “Peepsi.”  He’ll know what you are talking about.

Contact Lance via email at

Sheree Zielke

Oahu, Hawaii: How to Have a Great Time with Little Cash!

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Flight and accommodations have been paid for and now your wallet is feeling a little light?  No problem.  Here’s how to spend a week in Hawaii and have a great time with very little cash. 

Giovanni's famous shrimp truck on Oahu's North Shore by Sheree ZielkeMoney Saving Tips for Vacationing in Hawaii 1.    From the airport, opt for a hotel shuttle or bus instead of a cab.  If taking a cab, you’ll need $35-40 to get from the Honolulu airport to the Waikiki Beach area.

2.    Get settled in…throw on your bathing suit and then stop at an ABC store (they are on almost every street corner). Essential Hawaiian beach equipment by Sheree Zielke.Buy an air mattress for $3.00…pay an extra 60 cents to have it blown up.  This is both your beach mat and your ocean toy.  It will easily last a week as long as you don’t tear it.While at the ABC store, purchase a 4-day bus pas for $20.  Best investment ever.  No need for a rental car because this pass will get you anywhere on the island as many times as you like.

3.    While you are walking, grab several tourist mini publications like “The Best of Oahu” booklet.  The brochures are full of great maps, both city and island.  In addition, you’ll find lots of coupons like “two-fer” specialty coffee drinks and Beard Papa’s cream puffs.  4.    And speaking of food, if your accommodations have even a tiny fridge and or microwave, use them.  Stock up on essentials like butter, eggs, cheese, bread, and juice at an ABC store or the Food Pantry on Kuhio Avenue.  If you are really feeling adventurous, do what the perennial tourists do and head to a major grocery store.  A quick call to “The Bus” and you will know exactly where and what bus to catch to get to Foodland or Safeway or Wal*Mart.

5.    As to Wal*Mart, there is no better place to buy cheap souvenirs, bathing suits, towels, and other beach essentials you may have forgotten in your rush to get away from the snow.  But if you can’t get there, an ABC store is always near by and they are well stocked with oodles of clothing and sundries. 

6.    Want a free ride?  Hop on a Hilo Hattie shuttle.  You’ll be chauffeured in an open air trolley all the way to the main store.  Here you’ll be greeted with shell lei…and fruit punch.  Wander through the store and exit into a bus depot.  As long as you are wearing your shell lei, you will be taken back to Waikiki for FREE.  And if you managed not to spend anything in the store you will truly have had a free ride.7.    Love to window shop?  Board a #8 or # 42 bus on Kuhio Avenue and travel to the Ala Moana shopping centre.  This gorgeous open air mall has everything from Prada to Longs Drugs.  The food court covers every taste from Asian foods to great cheeseburgers at the Cheeseburger Factory.  If you want a bus map, ask for one at Customer Service.Waikiki Beach sunset by Sheree Zielke.8.    Nighttime entertainment?  Watch the Waikiki Beach sunset for free and then make your way to the Banyan Tree by the police station right on the beach.  There is always a free hula show.

Or go to the Waikiki Town Centre or the Waikiki Mall for more free hula shows.  Excellent entertainment and it’s all free.

9.    Want tropical drinks but the prices are ridiculous?  Make your own in your room.  ABC stores sell everything from wine to beer to Cognac with Passion Fruit juice.  Just add your own choice of juice, ice, and enjoy at a fraction of the cost.10.                       Ready for an adventure?  Then grab that bus pass and board a #52 Circle Island bus from the Ala Moana shopping centre.  Put up with an hour of city driving and finally you’ll be in the Hawaiian countryside heading for the North Shore.  Hop off and hop on as many times are you like as the buses run on a 30 minute schedule.  Make your first stop the charming village of Haleiwa.  North Shore of Oahu Hawaii by Sheree Zielke.Ride up to Waimea Beach, Shark’s Cove, and Sunset Beach.  Pack a picnic lunch and your Circle Island trip won’t cost a dime.  Oh, and be sure to pack your camera, bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen as some of the most beautiful beaches in the world line this coast.

Hint:  If you can afford to splurge at least once, you must budget $12 for a plate of garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s shrimp truck in Haleiwa.  Absolutely delicious!  Sign his truck while you are there.

11.                       Continue around the island towards beautiful Kailua or catch the bus back in the direction you came and make your way back to the Ala Moana shopping centre.12.                       Want to snorkel?  If you have your own gear, take the #22 bus to Hanauma Bay.  This ocean preserve is a great place to see all kinds of bright tropical fish and green sea turtles.  If you don’t have your own gear, Snorkel Bob offers a complete snorkel kit for $9 for the week.

And there you have it!  If you can’t have a good time in Oahu, Hawaii following these instructions, then your pleasure meter is busted.

Best advice:  Use sun screen or budget your time in the hot Hawaiian sun.  After all, do you really want to lose 2-3 days to a nasty sunburn?  That’s one terrible and completely unnecessary price to pay.

Sheree Zielke