Thursday, February 20, 2020

Zip lining through a rain forest in Fiji

Sometimes when you find yourself making lemonade out of lemons, the new activity is even better than you might have had before. That’s sort of what happened on our recent cruise across the Pacific Ocean.

One of the islands we looked forward to visiting was American Samoa. But a measles outbreak there got serious enough that the island became off limits for Americans. As a result, our ship couldn’t dock at the intended ports. Instead we spent an extra day at Suva, Fiji. 

Larry is ready for the first zip line.
Larry and I had an excursion on tap to visit Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, a spectacular rain forest with clear river waters and a waterfall pool just right for a cool dip. With our bonus day, we booked a last-minute tour to go zip lining through a rain forest—and it was one of the best we’ve ever done.

We arrived at Wainadoi Zip Line after a brief delay to enable our emptied bus to navigate deep pot holes in the dirt road. But it was worth exiting the bus for. Soaring through the air over a lush, green rain forest proved to be a fantastic experience.

Guides helped guests strap on harnesses and helmets and gave quick instructions for stopping oneself when approaching the platforms. Unfortunately, some of those instructions didn’t stick for some of the guests!

Beverly comes in for a smooth landing.
Opened in 2008 as Fiji's first zip line, Wainadoi is set in a thick rain forest. Platforms for eight zip lines of varying lengths are attached to trees. Constructed of iron in an open design, the platforms allow water to drain in order not to rot the wood. Ferns, palms, and a variety of tree species seemed close enough that we might collide when whooshing on the cables. But, of course, that didn’t happen.

Except for the path between zip lines one and two, which required a steep uphill trek, the other platforms were easy to access. That is, if you braked yourself properly and landed upright on the platform. Several folks found out that braking too soon stopped their momentum, thus leaving them dangling mid-line, and requiring them to pull themselves hand over hand to the next platform. A more exciting experience than they anticipated!
Another zip for Larry

The last zip provided a spectacular finish.  Guests soared through the trees, over a ravine and above a glistening pond. Refreshed with cool bottled water at the end, we enjoyed watching as smiling, excited (maybe relieved!) guests cleared the final hurdle. 

Although we had previously zipped in numerous other countries, this was still a thrilling ride, a serendipitous excursion that made missing a desired port a little less annoying. 

Back on the ship a delicious surf and turf dinner at the specialty restaurant followed by a glorious sunset capped a perfectly fine day at sea.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A day at Australia's Gold Coast

Despite the massive fires in Australia during their 2020 summer, during our January trip to Brisbane and Sydney we did not experience heavy smoke or see burned sections of land. Fortunately, there had been rain a few days before our arrival in Brisbane, which cleared the air and allowed us to follow our schedule of planned activities.
View of Brisbane as seen from the water on a Duck Boat ride.
Our first experience was a Duck Boat ride through the city and into the water for a look at the coast and Surfer’s Paradise skyline from that viewpoint. Back on land, we headed to the SkyPoint Observation Deck. A quick elevator ride whisked us 77 stories to the glass walls of the Q-Deck, Australia’s only beachside observation deck.

With unrivaled 360 degree views, we could see from the coast to the hinterland.  Informative displays shared facts about the region, but we were most enthralled with extended views of the 52-mile-long beach and a unique overview of the many bridges, canals, and Brisbane River that cris-cross the city.

A series of rivers, canals, and bridges winds through the city of Brisbane.
SkyPoint Observation Deck transforms into a chic, high altitude lounge bar with music and glittering skyline views on weekend nights. Unfortunately, we could not stay that long; in fact, a fast-moving storm mid-afternoon hastened our departure.
Our time at the Gold Coast
As Larry and I spent a warm sunny day exploring this uber-famous resort area we quickly understood why Australians often chose Queensland’s Gold Coast for vacation. Its unique combination of natural beauty and city attractions makes it a destination of choice for Aussies as well as travelers from other countries.

The beach extends for a very long way.
Australia has 35,000 miles of shoreline, but few are as impressive as the Gold Coast. White sand beaches, stunning high-rise residential towers, plenty of inviting shops and cafes, and a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere lure visitors here. This was especially true since our visit took place during the last week before a new school started. But there’s ample room on the beach and among shopping venues for crowds to spread out--and plenty of activities to keep all ages occupied.
Larry and I started our visit to the idyllic seaside community of Surfer’s Paradise with a lunch of fish and chips at the Surf Club. It was perfect for people-watching and enjoying beach scenery. After a modest shopping spree along the main street and in a few of the 120 mall shops (I purchased a cross made of Australian opal) we went for a stroll on the beach. A well-defined walking path sprinkled with adequate benches and even some shade enticed us to walk further, observing surfers riding breaking waves offshore and families enjoying the refreshing water.
Waves were just large enough to entice surfers.
I can’t be on a beach, especially one with soft golden sand, without testing the water. So I shed my shoes, tiptoed over some hot stairs, and waded into the surf. By this time, the wind had whipped up, so I didn’t venture too far into the blustery waves. But I accomplished my mission to sample the Pacific Ocean at Brisbane.
When the wind started blowing, sand was kicked up all along the beach.
Following our relaxed afternoon in Surfers Paradise, it was time to leave this small section of the Gold Coast and return to Brisbane. And the rains—which were definitely welcomed by the Aussies-- came soon after. Additional rain will alleviate devastating effects from the widespread fires, which would hopefully encourage more visitors to this beautiful region.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A new way to celebrate Mardi Gras

Padre Island in Corpus Christi, Texas will host the 11th Annual Barefoot Mardi Gras Parade and Festival on Saturday, February 22, 2020. Barefoot Mardi Gras captures the great spirit of Island life and gives everyone in the family something wonderful to experience during this most lively time of the year.
Toes in the sand for Mardi Gras in Corpus Christi, Texas
The Barefoot Mardi Gras festivities will kick off with the Parade at 11:00 a.m. at Whitecap Beach and continue through Padre Balli Park.  Over sixty floats will stroll on along the beach, all decorated in traditional Mardi Gras themes and complete with the tossing of necklaces, galleons, and candy to the spectators. The Barefoot Mardi Gras Festival continues through 5:00 p.m. with an admission fee of $5. It will feature food trucks, live jazz and Cajun music, exhibitors, an art show and free children’s activities. The festival will be located at the Briscoe King Pavilion in Padre Balli Park.

Brisco King Pavilion in
Padre Balli Park, Corpus Christi
The 2020 King and Queen Ball will take place on Fat Tuesday, February 25 with a New Orleans style event featuring Cajun food, live music, and different fun activities. This event takes place at Waves Resort from 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.  At 9:00 p.m. the new Barefoot King and Queen will be crowned during a traditional New Orleans Processional in the festival.  Tickets for the Ball are $30 per person in advance or $40 at the door. The event is for people 21 years and older. Costumes are encouraged.

"We invite everyone to join us in a traditional Mardi Gras celebration that is family-friendly and uniquely held at the beach, said Elaine Motl, Event Producer for the Padre Island Business Association. “Leave your shoes at home and come let the good times roll!"

Whitecap Beach, Corpus Christi, Texas
Proceeds from the 2020 festival benefit the Island Foundation Schools and Big Brothers Big Sisters. For more information on the events please visit

Information courtesy of Teresa Rodriguez, Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau,
Photos from free sites

Monday, February 3, 2020

How is an Airbnb different from a B&B?

Today’s post is by Christopher Elliott, whose latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.

The lines between an Airbnb – an apartment or room rented through the home-sharing site – and a traditional bed and breakfast (B&B) are blurring. Even the pros have trouble keeping up. And that's a problem.
"Airbnb has co-opted the B&B name," says Heather Turner, the marketing director for the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, a marketing organization for the B&B industry. "The terms Airbnb and B&B are being used interchangeably by guests – and by journalists."

Briefly, here's the difference: Airbnb is a lightly regulated home-sharing site that lets almost anyone list accommodations for rent. A B&B is a regulated small inn subject to state or local lodging laws. Think of it as a small hotel with a few extra perks and personal touches.

Why it’s confusing

It's not just the name that's confusing travelers. It's also that you can find a B&B on Airbnb, says Jordan Locke, principal consultant at Rev Party Consulting, an industry consulting firm.  And since Airbnb is technically an online travel agency, you can find professionally run B&Bs on the platform. "Many B&Bs and boutique hotels sell through Airbnb," he says. 

Airbnb owners, especially in some European countries, have also been running their properties like B&B owners, further blurring the lines.

So what's the difference?

The second "B" in B&B (meaning "breakfast") is the biggest distinguishing feature. 

"The difference between an Airbnb and a B&B starts with a complimentary full breakfast," says Brian Shields, the owner of Manor On Golden Pond, a small inn in Holderness, New Hampshire. A typical Airbnb will have a kitchen, sometimes stocked with coffee and tea, but rarely, if ever, will a host prepare a full breakfast.

"A true B&B is typically independently owned, and the owner lives on property or nearby, provides daily breakfast and housekeeping and the experience is very personal," explains Hana Pevny, an Airbnb host and the innkeeper at the Waldo Emerson Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine.  "In many instances, the B&B is a historic property or has a unique quality about the building or property." A home rented online through Airbnb can also be special, but you might have to cook and clean for yourself. You might also never see your host.

A real B&B is usually operated by someone with formal training in the hospitality business. And that person has insurance – lots of insurance. RenĂ©e Humphrey, who runs the Rainforest Inn in Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Forest, says her property requires expensive liability insurance. "We're also inspected by both fire marshal and health department as part of our licensing," she says. Vacation rentals booked online carry some insurance (you can buy more to cover a possible cancellation), but your hosts probably don't have any formal hospitality training.

B&Bs are less likely to have hidden fees. At least that's the assessment of Pam Willis, who runs The Gables Wine Country Inn in Petaluma, California. The rooms in her property are also available on Airbnb. "The published Airbnb rate appears much cheaper, but the fees drive up the costs," she explains. "While we don’t charge a cleaning fee, I’ve seen guests pay as much as $70 per night for the service fee. Airbnb charges us 3% of the room rate, so for $250 per room, that's $7.50 in commission, but the guest ends up paying a great deal more."

Is one better than the other?

No, say guests. 

"I think it all comes down to the style of hospitality," says Clayton Durant, the CEO of CAD Management, an entertainment consulting company in New York. "Many B&Bs offer many of the same amenities, like a single bed, bathroom, and breakfast. Each Airbnb has a unique personality of each house and apartment I get to stay at. You can’t beat the travel experience."

When deciding which is better for your next vacation, here are three key questions to ask:

Are you a do-it-yourselfer or do you like personal service? If you like breakfast, daily housekeeping, and concierge-level service, you'll want a B&B.  If you like making your own meals (and more privacy), go for an Airbnb.

Cozy or spacious? Fact is, most B&Bs give you a bedroom with shared common space. An Airbnb can give you the whole house. If you like to spread out while you're traveling, go with the Airbnb.

Are you trying to save money?  If you're staying somewhere for more than a week, an Airbnb can be far more cost-effective, even with extra fees.
Photos from free sources


Monday, January 27, 2020

Tips to avoid jet lag when traveling abroad

The prospect of dealing with jet lag has kept many travelers from scheduling overseas flights. If you’re finally taking a long-planned vacation over multiple time zones, symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and nausea can keep you from enjoying your time abroad.

The physical and emotional distress of jet lag happens when exposure to light and dark is misaligned with your body’s internal clock. You need to help your body gradually adjust to the new time zone, and this adjustment starts even before you arrive at your destination.

If you  need to hit the ground running when you travel, here are tips and remedies suggested by experts to help keep jet lag from negatively impacting your travel experiences.

  • First of all, get plenty of rest before leaving on your trip. Some experts suggest gradually changing sleep patterns before departure, if possible, to align more with the time zone of your destination.
  • Plan ahead, pack early, and don’t cram too much activity into the last day prior to leaving (forego the bon voyage party!).
  • Arrive at eh airport early so you have plenty of time to check in and relax. This will set the tone for your flight.
  • Drink plenty of water. Limit alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated sodas during the flight. These drinks add to dehydration which results from re-circulated air in the plane.
  • Eat small quantities of food or consider fasting during the 12 hours prior to the wake cycle at your destination.
  • Set your watch to the new time zone as soon as you board the plane, and try to sleep enroute. Catching some zzz’s during the flight will help you be more functional upon arrival and enable you to get on local time more quickly.
  • While the temptation to watch one movie after the other may be hard to overcome, make sure you get up and move. Exercise at your seat and walk the aisles to keep your blood flowing.  This could prevent a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis, which can be very serious, even deadly.
  • Upon arrival get out in fresh air and sunshine, if you arrive during the day. Taking a walk in sunlight will help your body re-set to the new time zone.
  • If you arrive in the daytime, resist the urge to sleep for even a short time. If absolutely necessary, limit your nap to half an hour—nothing longer.
  • If you arrive at night, exercise or walk around, preferably where there’s a source of light since light helps reset your body’s natural clock. Staying indoors will worsen jet lag, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Images from free sources. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

How to leave your travel loyalty program (and you really should)

Guest post by Christopher Elliott, author of “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.

Maybe there's no 12-step program for it, but there are plenty of ways to leave your travel loyalty program. And plenty of people want to get out. 
Do you belong to a lot of "reward" programs?
 Steve Danishek, a travel agent from Seattle and million-miler, is one of them. He says airlines have added new fees, made it harder to get an award seat and continue to dilute their programs. "The programs are in decline," he adds.

But how to leave? There's no better time to ask than right now when many loyal frequent fliers are taking end-of-year mileage runs designed to help them reach elite status. But before answering, let's take a quick inventory of the recent program declines – and there are many. It turns out leaving your loyalty program may be the easy part of the equation.

Why you should leave your loyalty program

More rewards are based on dollars spent.
The latest trick: "dynamic" award pricing that changes based on demand, which makes many award seats out of reach for the average traveler. Also, instead of rewarding loyalty, travel companies are giving their best perks to the big spenders. That makes the loyalty game almost unwinnable for many travelers.

If you have lifetime status on one of the airlines or are a business traveler on an expense account, it might be worth sticking around. Otherwise, there may be better ways to spend your time and money than chasing the next elite level, says Steven Ryals, owner of Notiflyr, a travel deal site. 
Families are less likely to reap rewards
from airline loyalty programs.

Remember, points and miles almost always lose value. In other words, a "free" award ticket that cost 25,000 points last year may require another 10,000 points next year. You might also have to pay a fee to redeem the miles.

And one other thing: Check the terms of your program, which are absurd. For example, did you know that your miles don't really belong to you? Your travel company can change the rules at any time, for any reason. It's all buried in the fine print.

Here are your options if you want to quit

If there's a nicotine patch for frequent fliers, it's shifting to a points-based credit card. You might receive rewards that are as good as or better than your airline or hotel loyalty perks. If you move your spending to a points-based credit card you might realize more perks.

It's hard to be a true "winner" in many of
today'sloyalty programs.
Cash-back cards are also great for kicking the habit. That's what Bud Nykaza, a retired marketing researcher from Maui, recently did. He stopped participating in his airline loyalty program and moved to a Costco Visa card for travel. "They give you a 3% rebate on all of your travel purchases," he says. "That is worth more than the value of a mile earned with a credit card."

Credit card programs are just a temporary fix. The real problem is that you're collecting points that lose value, that don't belong to you, and that may be unusable. Worse, you may be spending more money than you otherwise would. Only the travel company or credit card is really benefiting from that kind of purchasing behavior.

You might be better off finding a credit card with a lower interest rate and no annual fee. Then buy a ticket or book a hotel room at the lowest price, without regard for the points or miles you might earn. Over time, that strategy will save lots of money.

Ready to leave? Here's how to leave your loyalty program

Take the rest of your miles and book a flight to a warm-weather destination. Burn your hotel points on a suite overlooking the ocean. Go enjoy your vacation. Then take a pair of scissors to your loyalty card – and never look back.

"It makes no sense to participate in loyalty programs anymore," says Mike Gnitecki, a recent loyalty program quitter who works for a hospital in Tyler, Texas. "Most of the major airlines and hotel chains have gutted their loyalty programs. I now shop almost exclusively based on price."

Three annoying reasons to leave your loyalty program now

1. Dynamic award pricing

Airlines and hotels favor dynamic
award pricing model.
Many travel companies have stopped using fixed award charts to determine what you get for your points and miles. Instead, they use a dynamic model. Less desirable flights cost less, but award seats on the most popular flights cost more.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and, most recently, American Airlines, InterContinental Hotels and Marriott now do this.

2. Revenue-based programs

Revenue-based programs award miles and points based on how much you spend, as opposed to how many miles you fly or nights you stay. Customers who spend a lot benefit from a revenue-based program. But travelers who simply travel often will see less return from their loyalty program. American, Delta and United have this type of program in place.

3. Redemption fees

A travel company may charge a fee to redeem your points or miles. For example, American has a $75 fee for award tickets or mileage upgrades requested less than 21 days before departure. So much for a "free" ticket. Every major airline and any other travel company that can get away with it is now doing this.

Photos from free sources.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park

Hiking the Fire Wave Trail in Valley of Fire State Park

The name is the first clue of what visitors will discover. Within the 42,000 acres of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is a huge expanse of accessible and postcard-worthy naturally sculpted red sandstone. The result of shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, followed by extensive erosion over 150 million years, Valley of Fire is one of the most beautiful yet least known parks we have visited.
Bee hive formations invite visitors to explore.
With sunlight shining on formations such as Beehives, Petrified Logs, White Domes, and Seven Sisters, the sandstone fairly gleams from one end to the other. Colored by iron oxide, silica, and manganese, it’s not the glitz of Las Vegas (about an hour’s drive away) but the glamorous landscape that only Mother Nature can create.

Driving in Valley of Fire State Park is an adventure itself.
Although Valley of Fire became the state’s first park in 1934, people have traversed this maze of cliffs, boulders, slot canyons, and arches for eons. Visitors driving the hilly 10.5 mile Valley of Fire Road today stop often to admire unusual formations created by wind and water.
For the adventurous there are hiking trails, one of which leads to Mouse’s Tank, a natural basin named for an outlaw who used the area as a hideout in the 1890’s. Rainbow Vista is an excellent photo stop along the winding park road which provides a panoramic view of multi-colored sandstone. One of the park’s many picnic areas is available at White Domes, where a 1.25 mile scenic trail leads to a slot canyon.
Arch Rock shows the power of wind and water to sculpt solid rock.
Historical features include Atlatl Rock where you can see outstanding petroglyphs, examples of ancient Indian rock art including depiction of the atlatl, a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. Nearby is Arch Rock, a formation sculpted by blasting winds and eroded by infrequent rains in this desert setting.
Petroglyphs at the top shed light on life for early settlers in the park.
Perhaps the most recognizable sight in the park is Fire Wave, undulating striped formations of red and white rocks. Even though we arrived there at high noon in mid-September, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a 1.5 mile hike to experience the unique wave formations at the end of the trail.

Undulating patterns of red and white sandstone shine in sunshine.
Despite the nearly 100-degree weather, we hiked over sandstone rocks and plateaus with distinct striations in varying patterns and colors. White and red (truly) rocks stretched out before us, enticing our feet to continue walking, to see what lay ahead. We really didn’t want to leave, even with the rocks absorbing heat from the sun and reflecting it back on us. I can only imagine how beautiful the Fire Wave would be at either sunrise or sunset.
Contrasting colors add beauty to nature's stunning landscapes.
Unlike anything we had ever seen, Valley of Fire is a vast, virtually untouched wilderness, aptly described as an “Adventure in Color.”, Rocks change hue and mood with shifting angles of the sun, so you might see a different portrait whenever you go. As a true desert landscape (average annual rainfall is four inches), plants, animals, artifacts, and rocks are precious and protected by law. 
Fire Wave is a moderately easy trek; don't miss it when you visit..
During your visit, make time to stop at the Visitor Center where you’ll learn more from multiple exhibits on the geology, ecology, and history of the park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier