Explore

Even though our motto is Eat • Drink • Explore, the truth about this blog is that its number one objective is to 'Explore'. We can eat good food and indulge in crazy drinking sessions at home or around the UK. Don't get me wrong, we will certainly embrace and enjoy the variety of food choices as we travel around the world, as well as trying as many brands of beer and cocktail concoctions as the liver will take. However, travelling and therefore exploring is what it's all about.

The aim is to hit as many continents and countries as possible, especially in the southern hemisphere. This is where you will find the stories of our travels in chronological order...

    Pre-Coronavirus Getaway

    After a few recent trips that didn’t hit our usual high expectations, we agreed that 2020 would be just about us two travelling together and visiting known places that we have thoroughly enjoyed previously. The plan for March was to take the cheap option of the Club La Costa resort just south of Fuengirola in Spain.

    It’s a lovely spot and, although not the hottest time of the year, it was still pleasant enough to sit by the pool, reading and recharging our batteries. The resort wasn’t fully open, which was good in terms of peacefulness, but bad in terms of having to walk further from the sun lounger to get a beer. Plus, the pool was set to Baltic temperature and body parts shrivelled up just thinking about going for a swim. We did make it into the pool on a couple of occasions, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience and it was more to prove that we could do it rather than we wanted to!

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    Belfast City Break

    This was our first visit to Belfast as a couple. I’d flown into Belfast previously on a work trip, before heading to Portadown, but that was many years before. Who knew that Belfast boasted two airports? Amanda had booked the flights and spotted how easy it was to get a train from the airport to the city centre. Unfortunately, this was based on us arriving at the George Best Belfast City Airport, whereas we arrived at the Belfast International Airport, which was 20 miles away with no direct train service. So, we hopped on a shuttle bus and headed into the city centre and our hotel called The Flint on Howard Street. It was an excellent choice, very boutique, and just perfect for our 3-night stay.

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    Cornwall is closed for the season

    Rather than taking our UK staycation up in Scotland, we decided to book a Club La Costa lodge in Castledore, near St Austell in Cornwall. On the journey down, we decided to stay overnight in a village called Axbridge, staying at the Oakhouse Hotel & Restaurant. We ventured around the handful of village pubs that evening and had a great laugh people watching. In the Oakhouse bar, one guy bought his puppy a £25 steak to eat whilst he was drinking. In the Crown Inn, a guy was doing some dodgy under the counter deals on raw fish, before consoling one of the bar staff who literally burst into tears for no apparent reason and then the same guy became our best friend as he turned out to work for Sainsbury’s in a similar line of work as Amanda. All-in-all, it was a great night out and a good way to start our week away.

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    Fjords Explorer

    For our second cruise adventure with Chris and Bailey, we’d booked the TUI Marella ‘Fjords Explorer’ package on the Marella Explorer Century-class cruise ship.

    The ship was broadly the same size as the MSC ship we took around the Caribbean, however, it was a totally different experience. The fit and finish was superior, more modern, and the facilities were massively better. In addition, TUI cruises are all-inclusive (including tips), which is some much easier and less confusing in terms of budgeting.

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    Orlando Again?

    A week in Orlando with the family is never a bad thing.  However, when you’ve done it previously  and when it replaces a romantic trip for two in the Florida Keys it can feel a little ‘average’.

    Nevertheless, we had a good week, visiting the Disney parks this time around and generally having a fun time. The highlights for me were Typhoon Lagoon and Animal Kingdom.

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    Caribbean Cruise 2019

    PART ONE – OOOOHHHH MARTIN

    Our first cruise experience was a mixed bag in so many ways, but overall it met our objective of finding out if cruise holidays are for us (more on that later). Part one of this trip started at Heathrow, were we met up with Chris and Bailey, our friends, cruise experts and tour guides for the next 10 days. The first leg was a flight into Miami and a few days soaking up the SoBe (South Beach) lifestyle ahead of boarding the ship.

    Chris had overseen booking 3 nights in a SoBe hotel, with a brief for somewhere nice, central and not too pricey. Technically he met this brief, however, there was a significant oversight to the Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Bar…it had an outside pool, bar and party area, with a live DJ playing until 5am every night of the week. Guess what our rooms overlooked? Ear plugs saved Chris’ hide!

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    Riviera Maya: Not So Relaxing

    This post is somewhat overdue given that we returned from Mexico on 3rd October 2018 and today’s date is 11th January 2019! The reason for the delay is because the last quarter of 2018 was one hectic period to say the least. The list of things we’ve had to deal with seems never ending; house break-in, car stolen, almost losing our house buyers, transferring to a new employer, buying a new car, packing up a 5 bedroom house, putting everything into storage, leaving our home of 8 years, staying in temporary accommodation for 5 weeks, moving into our new home, unpacking, DIY disasters, buying new stuff, snagging a myriad of problems, giving a home to a new puppy, Xmas/New Year illness and the final configuration and testing of a new computer system at work…did I forget anything?

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    Kusadasi, Turkey – A Must Visit

    A week away in the sun is never a bad thing; however, this trip was a mixed bag to be honest. We booked a week at the Club La Costa Kusadasi Golf & Spa resort through our holiday club. I’d wanted to visit this particular resort for a few years, mainly because the discounts were large, the resort included a golf course and I love kebabs! Although named after the seaside town of Kusadasi, the resort complex was 16km inland and perched high on a hill overlooking the surrounding area. The other issue that became abundantly clear relatively quickly after check-in was the fact that this was not a normal Club La Costa resort. A large amount of the complex, I’d say 80%+, was available to holiday tour operators to use rather than being exclusively for CLC members. In addition, the onsite restaurants charged a premium on top of the all-inclusive fee, apart from the free-for-all buffet that was horrendously busy and full of unruly kids and disinterested parents. Within a few hours it was clear we wouldn’t be returning for a second visit.

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    Thailand: First Far East Adventure

    As our first trip to the Far East together we chose Thailand, with 3 nights in Bangkok and 8 nights in Hua Hin. We also decided to play it safe and book it as a package deal, including transfers, through Virgin Holidays rather than booking the various elements ourselves. Visas were not required, but we needed to play catch-up on the appropriate inoculations even though we weren’t planning on venturing too far into mainland Thailand…better safe than sorry. The Far East has always been on our bucket list and we agreed that Thailand was a good place to start. It didn’t disappoint on any level.

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    Boston Weekender

    This was our first visit to Boston and I have to say we were very impressed. We used our air miles to supplement the cost of the trip and booked 3 nights at the Boston Park Plaza hotel. People constantly tell us that we are mad travelling long-haul for anything less than 2 weeks, so you can only imagine what we hear when we say we are heading away for only a few nights!

    The hotel was in a good location, just off Arlington Street and South of Boston Public Garden, a large park area. It was not in the heart of the tourist area, but near enough to make everything accessible. The standard of accommodation was excellent, which you come to expect when visiting the States. After getting checked-in and dropping off our bags we ventured out to explore the local area. It was already 7pm, so we weren’t planning on going too far.

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    Halloween in Orlando

    Florida, and particularly Orlando, is always a fun trip and our 2017 version was no different…well, unless you were those unfortunates at a Kissimmee bus stop, but more on that later! Amanda and I were joined on this trip by the wider family; Andy, Harry, Chloe and Ryan. This meant renting a Ford Grand Caravan minivan for the week to ferry us all around. These minivans have automation galore and a big powerful engine that allows you to pull off some great wheel spins. Our base of operations this time was at the second Club La Costa resort to open in Kissimmee, called Regal Oaks. It was pretty much the same as the Encantada resort, with the same three-bedroom town houses, but with a better bar/restaurant in the clubhouse.

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    Caribbean Chillout

    Saint Lucia has been a dream destination of mine for as long as I can remember, probably dating back to junior school geography lessons. I'm not sure why this Caribbean island stood out for me, but having now been, I can thoroughly recommend it if you want a mix of relaxed 5* pampering as well as excellent sightseeing and a fun party vibe.

    We stayed at the Royalton Saint Lucia in Smugglers Cove, at the Northern tip of the island. This is a new Royalton hotel, refurbished after purchasing the property from its former owners. It is a beautiful and top quality resort, akin to a Sandals resort. It never felt overly busy, getting a table at the various restaurants was always easy and the food quality was great. The only downside to this resort is the 2 hour transfer from Hewanorra Airport, which is at the Southern end of the island. Opt for a taxi rather than a coach transfer, it won't be that much faster, but it will be a more comfortable journey. If they offer a boat transfer snap their hand off.

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    Once Is Never Enough

    If you fancy a few days away, with warm weather and a mix of chilled activities, party options, good food, drinks a plenty and a fabulous atmosphere, where is your favourite place? How about somewhere in the UK? No, the weather is far too unpredictable and only truly warm on a few days each year. How about Europe? There are some good places to visit, but there are the language and culture differences to contend with, plus the weather is pleasant rather than consistently warm. How about Cancun, Mexico? Getting warmer and this is certainly a location that ticks most of the boxes. However, there is a standout winner and that has to be Las Vegas, Nevada, USA! It is a crazy, vibrant, 24/7 city that has so much more to offer than dropping coins into a slot machine all day (you can do this in Cleethorpes if that’s all you want).

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    The Land of Fire & Ice

    amanda-and-steveA visit to Iceland (the country, not the retailer) is on most peoples bucket list and it’s no surprise as Iceland is a geological wonder. Our trip was scheduled as a direct result of having our Florida trip cancelled due to Hurricane Matthew. We picked up a deal from Wowcher (not recommended) and travelled to Reykjavík for 2 nights. The way the flights worked out we had virtually 3 full days, which to do the trips we wanted to do was perfect. An extra night would have been good, but as a very expensive country be careful when budgeting. The exchange rate was around 140 Icelandic Krona to 1 British Pound, which makes the mental conversion tricky (well, for me anyway), but most items you will be buying are 45-55% more expensive than in the UK.  For example, 500ml of domestic beer was a minimum of 1,000 Krona, which is over £7 and in some places it was nearer £10 a pint.

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    Málaga Mayhem

    clcThis trip took us to the Club La Costa World resort called San Diego Suites on the outskirts of Fuengirola, which is a town on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. The resort is one part of a much larger complex, ranging from the luxurious to the basic. Fortunately for us San Diego Suites, along with its sister resort Santa Cruz Suites, is the top end of that scale in terms of accommodation, swimming pools and bars/restaurants. We had visited the complex previously, albeit staying in the Santa Cruz Suites resort on that occasion.

    Club La Costa World is Europe’s largest independent resort operator according to its web site, but to most people the word ‘time share’ springs to mind. We have been members for a few years now and, to be fair, it’s not as bad as some ‘holiday clubs’ or ‘time share’ schemes you may have heard about.

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    USA Road Trip: Chapter V - Jamaica

    Road-Trip-USAFollowing a short flight from Miami, we landed in Jamaica, the third largest island in the Greater Antilles and the fourth largest in the whole Caribbean. We cleared customs quickly and, for the first time ever, our bags were not only in the baggage hall, they had been lifted off the carousel for us to collect. The second surprise quickly followed. As we left the baggage hall, we were met by a Sandles representative and ushered into a private waiting lounge and provided with two glasses of Red Stripe, the local beer. We hardly had time to take a sip before we were told that our transfer coach was ready to take us the short distance to our hotel.

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    USA Road Trip: Chapter V - Florida Keys

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    We stayed overnight at the Pullman hotel by the airport for ease and used their complimentary shuttle service to return on Tuesday morning to collect the rental car. This time we plumped for a SUV and were given a Dodge Journey...not a patch on the Mustang, but a comfortable and steady cruiser.

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    USA Road Trip: Chapter IV - Las Vegas

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    If you read our previous blog post about Las Vegas (Nov. 2015), you will know we never made it to our wedding anniversary meal due to the after effects of an all-night poker and drinking session. So, on this visit we had to rectify that and go visit the restaurant we had booked 5 months ago, or as Amanda put it, "we're celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary 7 months early".

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    USA Road Trip: Chapter III - Los Angeles

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    We woke up alive and unharmed in Santa Monica...result!

    We checked out and headed down the street to Starbucks, avoided the homeless beggars, had a bagel and walked back to the car with hot coffee. The first destination today was Griffith Observatory to park the car and walk up Mount Hollywood to get a good photo of the iconic Hollywood sign. Once our mission had been achieved we looked around the observatory, grabbed a sandwich and drove back down the hill through Griffith Park.

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    USA Road Trip: Chapter II - Highway 1

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    Chapter II of our adventure is about us driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the iconic Highway 1 for a lot of the journey. We were up and about early, not because we were still time zone adjusting, more like excitement. As we walked down Powell Street for the final time, on the way to Alamo to pick up our rental car, we stopped off at Lori's Diner for breakfast.

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