Stuart – Holland America Line Mexican Riviera Cruise

I just returned from a 7 night Mexican Riviera Cruise on Holland America from San Diego. And wow wow wow is all I can say.

Stuart Ingram

The 7 night itinerary has 3 days at sea and 3 days on land. Ports of call are Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos/Cabo San Lucas/Mataclan. All very different and interesting places to see.

A great way to start or end your cruise is a stay at the US Grand Hotel San Diego staying on our Signature rate exclusive to Destination HQ.

There was a really good mix of guests onboard. Lots of USA families. HAL cater really well for kids with CLUB HAL and the kids all seemed to have a blast.

What is there to like about HAL?

  • great mid size ships (15 in the fleet) ranging from 800 to 2300 passengers
  • largest balcony cabins in their class
  • superb food
  • faultless service 
  • 6 different dining options to chose from and none ever seemed too busy 
  • HAL have aligned themselves with some really cool brands such as Americas Test Kitchen, BBC Earth, Billboard records. Makes for a really fun cruising experience.
  • The show each evening was a countdown of the Billboard record charts.

I have to say HAL does cruising so much better than many of their competitors – they have been doing it for 145 years and it shows. Service throughout was just faultless. Crew are all Indonesian or Philippino and deliver first class service at all times. I thoroughly recommend this cruise to anyone. I just loved every minute of it.

Stuart Ingram

Managing Director Destination HQ

Stuart was the winner of the NTIA award for Best Travel Agency Manager in Australia in 2017. Stuart has vast industry experience having worked in the airline, wholesale and retail travel agency sectors of the industry. Stuart loves to travel and to share his excitement and passion for travel with anyone he meets. Having travelled to Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, North America and throughout Australia/NZ, Stuart has a wealth of knowledge. His favourite destinations are London, Paris, San Francisco, New York City, Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong and the Maldives. He has also cruised with Oceania, Viking, Uniworld, Avalon, Seabourn, Silversea, Holland America, Windstar and Celebrity Cruises – just to name a few!

Contact Stuart to book your next holiday stuart@destinationhq.com.au

Melissa – A family holiday to Club Med Kani, Maldives

Melissa George

I recently stayed at Club Med Kani, Maldives for a multi-generation family holiday. All in all – we LOVED it!

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

We flew Melbourne/Singapore/Male. They are still the most polished airline, in my opinion.

We were aboard the A380 on the long haul flights. Nice, wide seat with good recline (even in the last row!!). Great service. Food pretty good and great packs given to the kids.

We had a 4 hour transit in Singapore in both directions and it was actually fine. I can highly recommend WOLFGANG PUCK’S THE KITCHEN CAFÉ for any transit meals – excellent quality and great coffee, too!

We made the most of the Singapore Airlines  initiative of all transit pax being give SGD$20.00 to spend within the airport (retail online, not food and beverage).

Singapore to Male we were on a small Silk Air plane. No in-flight entertainment on board so passengers need to download an app and you can then access movies etc on your own device whilst in flight.

This worked fine for us and we were advised to download the app before boarding the aircraft.

CLUB MED KANI

What can I say but WOW! The Island is only a short (20/25 min) speedboat ride from the airport.

It’s just so beautiful and the welcome from all the G-O’s is wonderful. Club Med staff are called “GOs”, or Gentils Organisateurs (Gracious/Nice Organizers). Everyone gets a bracelet on arrival that also opens your room so no need to carry anything around if you don’t want to.

Rooms are relatively basic but about 90% of them have direct beach views/access so you can book a lead-in with confidence as it’s a great product.

The food was of a pretty good standard throughout – we ate at all the outlets. The drinks were also great – if anything, bar tenders were more generous than anything and I definitely didn’t feel like they were watered down In any way. It’s great having this already included!

The Kids Club was relatively small but so well done. They offered a wide variety of activities from Masterchef classes, treasure hunts, sandcastle building comps, movie nights, funfairs and being part of the nightly show. It was great for my boys to get to know kids from different countries and cultures.

Our favourite theme nights were white night where they set up all the table on the beach and have a band playing and a water fountain etc. And then glow night where we had faces painted in glowing paint and there was a really fun dance party.

Activities included are varied as well. There are 2 snorkel trips a day (included) for an hour each in the morning and afternoon. They visit all different sites in the immediate area via boat. You do have to pass a (simple) swimming test to participate.

They also have diving, SUP’s, catamaran’s, kayaks, beach volleyball, badminton, botche, soccer pitch etc so always something going on.

There is a good surfbreak accessible from the Island but make I recommend booties are taken as the coral is SHARP (My husband learned that the hard way!!).

The only thing we paid for the whole trip was a massage. A 50 min foot and leg massage USD$110.00 – not cheap but pretty standard for luxury resorts.

And we also paid for private dining with lobster and champagne on the beach for a special  birthday celebration (USD$125.00/head).

Even a couple of doctor visits were included.

All in all – we LOVED it! It’s a great value Maldives property for everyone – families/kids/couples. The G-O’s really make the experience – they really are amazing!!

Our catch-cry for the whole time we were away was “HOW GOOD IS THIS?!!!”

Melissa George

I began my career in the travel industry in 2005. In my time I have travelled to nearly every continent: Asia including Bali, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China; USA & Canada; South Pacific including Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand and Vanuatu; Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and Europe. My favourite destinations are New York City or Cape Town; both vibrant, chic, modern cities with lots to do and yummy food to eat! I also specialise in family travel, recently returning from my own multi-generation holiday at Club Med Kani, Maldives!

melissa@destinationhq.com.au

 

Kate – A Journey through Sri Lanka

Kate Traynor

I just got back from a wonderful 11 nights in Sri Lanka. This country really exceeded all of my expectations.

I loved it and can’t wait to return!!

I was a bit nervous on recommending Sri Lanka before,  but now I know it really is a country for everyone!

Its so untouched which blew me away.

Its clean! The people of Sri Lanka thrive on having nice homes and having jobs so very little homeless people. 95% are educated, and it felt very safe for travelling.

Sri Lankan Airlines 

  • Easy check in
  • 2-4-2 configuration
  • Bright blue interior, a bit old looking
  • Seats the seat pitch is a bit off so your neck sits forward. Uncomfortable if you were sitting the whole time, so good to get up and stretch during the flight.
  • Staff friendly and attentive
  • I had a row to myself at the back of the aircraft as it was an empty flight
  • New plane A330 started in October, so these things may improve
  • Drink service came about half an hour after take-off. 
  • They walked up the aisles to offer and then came back down and offered a second round to everyone which was good
  • Food service was efficient. 
  • The chicken vegetable curry was delish.

Negombo- little Rome

  • 35 minutes from Colombo
  • A lot of tourists leave Colombo straight away and stay in this area
  • Portugal Dutch and Italian background
  • Many churches around

Anuradhapura

  • Visited local fish, fruits and veg markets
  • The Home of the Ancient Kingdom- temples
  • TIP when you know you are going to be visiting temples
  • Wear thongs as you have to enter temples in bare foot
  • Take a light scarf and wear something that covers your knees

Ulagalla resort, Uga – Beautiful resort

  • 5 star luxury resort- private standing villas with private plunge pool
  • I would recommend a minimum of 3 nights stay here – from this area in Sri Lanka you can go and visit Sigiriya Rock.
  • Activities include bike riding, horseback riding, archery, safaris, spa treatments, Helipad on land
  • Restaurant with Aussie Sri Lankan chef – This hotel restaurant by far had the best Sri Lankan food I had all trip
  • Al la carte style breakfast which was also 10/10

Dambulla – We stayed at 2 different hotels in this area.

The Amaya Resort

  • 4 star hotel on the lake
  • Beautiful open space with lots of greenery.
  • Large rooms – basic Sri Lankan style rooms but great for families
  • Big pool and good bar/restaurant area
  • Good buffet breakfast with lots of variety

Fresco Water Villas

  • This was the only 3 star hotel we stayed at in Sri Lanka and you can definitely tell the difference between a 3 star and a basic 4 star. 
  • I wouldn’t be comfortable putting my clients in a 3 star property in Sri Lanka. 
  • The staff were all really nice but the rooms were smelly, water pressure wasn’t great, insects in rooms etc. 
  • This hotel is often used for groups. When 2 x 50 seated buses arrived at 5pm there was no chance of getting on the Wi-Fi. T
  • The rooms are very close to the lobby, pool and restaurant so very noisy.

Sigiriya Rock – Highlight of my trip

Make sure this is done first thing, this is because of heat and crowds. You will need your passport on this day for valid identification. Surreal moment climbing the rock. Magical views and so much history. It’s so much more than a rock which I was unaware of.

Takes about 1.5 hours to do the whole climb and back again.

Village Tour

A fun tour that I would recommend. Consists of catamaran tour on the lake, meet the village people and do a cooking lesson- eat a local cuisine.

Santani Wellness Resort – Kandy area

  • This hotel is my everything.
  • I love the whole concept of this Wellness Resort.
  • Min 7 nights stay (there was a lady here who was on her 14th night when we arrived. She was practically floating she looked so relaxed and calm)
  • Meet a Doctor on arrival to chat about what you want to get out of your stay
  • Based on what you want to achieve- detox, caffeine, alcohol, weight loss etc
  • Chef & Doctor prepare a meal plan for you
  • Includes yoga and meditation twice a day, nature walks between 4-24km long, thermal pools, 3 course breakfast, 3 course lunch, 4 course dinner.
  • Amazing Day Spa. Treatments can be included based on your package.
  • Client view rooms from $650USD per night
  • 1.5 hours to Kandy
Welcome to Santani Wellness Resort

Kandy – Cool city to visit once

  • Busy loud city surrounded by the lake
  • Cute houses and guest houses
  • Famous for the Tooth Temple
  • I would recommend 2 nights max here
  • You can also base yourself and do the rock from Kandy

OZO Hotel- 4 star

  • Clean, Large hotel. Many groups stayed there
  • 5 min drive in a tuk tuk to town
  • Rooms overlooking lake
  • Pool, bar, gym
  • Bunnik and Gate 1 Travel Groups were all staying here

Driving

On our drive to Nuwara Eliya we stopped at a Tea Planation.  It had amazing views of the tea plantations but I would do research into what Tea Plantation you visit. Tea Bush is where we visited and was very basic. 

There are tea plantations throughout Sri Lanka where you can help the women in the factories with their tea making process etc.

Tea was so yum- spent $100 on tea to take home! Also on this drive, we stopped at a herbs and spice market. I would also recommend this. I bought so much Chilli!

Nuwara Eliya 

I would say 2 nights here, depending on what time you arrive. This is where you do the Horton Plains Trek. It’s a 1.5 hour drive, trek for 2 hours and 1.5 hour back. Meant to be one of the best view points in Sri Lanka. We didn’t get to do it but I will go back to do this.

Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella -3 hours

This is a must do! Everyone needs to experience this in their itinerary.

It’s only 80c for this ride.  You can just rock up at the station and hope you get a seat. For people who want a seat this needs to be booked about 2 months prior. You are amongst the locals, windows open. One side view is of the tea plantation fields and the other side is a rain forest.

Yala National Park

Home of the Leopards. Best time for Safari is between March-July. Do not visit in other months as you will see nothing on Safari!! Word from our Safari Guide!

Chena Huts

I stayed at Chena Huts…seriously check this place out. This is part of the Uga properties.

  • Defiantly need min 2 nights here
  • You would do one morning and then maybe an evening safari.
  • This property is located on the beach
  • 15 individual huts with private pools
  • Huge space but only allows max 2 people. 
  • For a family, they will allow another bed if child is under 14.
  • This property starts at like $1600USD per night.

Cheaper option in Yala which I was recommended is the Cinnamon Wild property. This is a 4 star on the beach and has its own Crocodiles. Pricing is from $250USD

Galle

Galle is a really cool town. I would stay here for 2-3 nights. Inside the Galle Forte there a restaurants, cafes, homeware shops. The beach is okay here but it is quite rough with lots of rocks.

You can either choose to stay in the Fort or outside. Staying inside the Fort I can imagine the properties being tiny. We stayed at a property called at the Amari which was about 5 minutes from town.

Beach front resort, 3 large pools. Rooms facing the beach. Large Balconies

Tips for Sri Lanka

  • Always have small cash on you- tipping is essential
  • Snacks for long car rides – some days we drove for 5.5 hours
  • Keep light pair pants in carryon luggage for visiting temples
  • Make sure you know that some guides will want to them to a Sari Shop, Gem Stone Factories etc along their way in the car. Just need to be firm with guide and say NO.
  • Sri Lanka requires a visa, online easy process 35USD

Kate Traynor

I started my career in travel in 2013, after studying Events and Tourism at University. I enjoy all aspects of the travel industry; from the amazing travel experiences and the beautiful people you meet along the way to the holidays you book and plan for your clients. I have travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA & Europe. My favourites would have to be Mexico and the Caribbean as I am such a beach lover, and would follow Summer around the world if I could. I also went on an African safari this year and it was incredible!

kate@destinationhq.com.au

Stuart – A weekend in Lisbon

Stuart Ingram

I just had the weekend in Lisbon. I would recommend 4 nights here as lots to see and do and it’s incredibly cheap! And the egg tarts are amazing and cheap (6 for 5 Euro). 

I flew Thai Airways to London and connected to TAP Air Portugal.

Very seamless as both operate in terminal 2 so couldn’t have been easier or faster.

Very impressed with Thai Airways Economy class on the A380 they use to London, Paris & Frankfurt.  Believe it is amongst the best economy class for sure.

You can combine Lisbon with Porto and the beaches too.

The people in Portugal are lovely and it’s a very cost effective way to spend a week in Europe or more.

Suggested touring:

  • Lisbon walking tour with Urban Adventures
  • Sintra day trip
  • Fatima

I stayed at Avenida Palace which is number 6 on Trip Advisor.

  • location couldn’t be better as you are right on the square
  • best egg tart shop 150m away
  • heaps of cheap good food in the immediate vicinity
  • can be in the old or new town in 5 minutes
  • taxis are super cheap here ($11 euro from the airport or airport city taxi was 20 euro one way)

 

Sophie & Janelle – Anantara Maldives & Niyama Private Island Maldives

Our experience in the Maldives really lived up to our expectations. The water is next level amazing! All we can say is WOW! And if you haven’t been, you need to get there!!

Janelle & Sophie

ANANTARA MALDIVES

A 35 min speedboat from Male Airport will take you to Anantara Dhigu.  It is then also connected to both Anatara Veli (Adults only) & Naladhu Private Villas.

Anantara Dhigu is a small intimate island.

Beach villa: The beach villas have recently been refurbished, they are lovely!! They all have direct access to the beach. The beach is stunning and perfect for swimming in. You could easily spend an entire day on the beach and in the water! Some of the beach villas have private pools. If you are happy to pay the extra then you should go the plunge pool option.

Overwater bungalow: Wow! Just wow!! These are incredible. Perfect for a first time traveller to the Maldives. 

Anantara Dhigu is a great family option for younger families (a kids club is also available). We think families with teenagers would run out of things to do on a longer stay.

We loved the breakfast and had dinner at their signature restaurant Salt, Fire Grill which was delicious!!

  • Dolphin cruise (1hr) –  ($80USD per person). Certainly worth it! We saw so many dolphins!
  • The day spa on Dhigu is also incredible!!!!

Anantara Veli (adults only)

  • Connected to Dhigu by a small boat.
  • Veli is a great alternative if you want to get away from children. Veli guests can still enjoy Dhigu and adult guests from Dhigu can still go across to Veli.
  • Veli also has the overwater bungalows and beach bungalows, however we preferred the bungalows at Dhigu.
  • You can eat on both islands, which is good as the islands are small so you can mix it up. Veli had a really lovely feel and good ambiance.

Naddhu Private Island Villas (connected by to Veli by a private bridge)

  • These are huge! The villas are amazing, very very private. These are for the families or couples who literally do not want to see ANYONE. All villas have their own plunge pools and direct access to the beach, they also come with their own butler. No over water villas on this Island. Naddhu guests can go to Veli & Dhigu at any time, however Veli & Dhigu guests cannot go to Naddhu Villas.

It is a good option if you are wanting a very private stay – you literally do not need to leave the villa if you don’t want!

Anantara Dhigu in general was small and felt like a true island resort experience. Beaches are beautiful and the resort had a relaxed, homely atmosphere.

NIYAMA PRIVATE ISLAND

  • 35 min sea plane from Male.
  • There is also a domestic airport 5 minutes away by speedboat. Great option if you are uneasy on a seaplane.
  • 2 connected islands (CHILL & PLAY)

Deluxe Overwater villa:

  • Private pool, stunning bathroom! The toilet and shower are open to the elements and not ideal when it’s raining and windy
  • Rooms are spacious and certainly have the wow factor. All Villas come with their own butler and each person gets a bike to get around
  • Butlers take around in buggies if you don’t want ride your bike. They top up your fridge with free homemade ice-cream daily

Beach Bungalows:

  • Direct access to the beach and some with private pools.
  • Amazing outdoor bathrooms! I imagine it would be like showering in the jungle. Beach is great and swimmable.

Family villa:

  • Family villa has a separate family room attached – FITS A  FAMILY OF 5!!

Kids Club

  • Niyama is really catering towards the families. 
  • Kids club up to 11 yo. They also have a program for 12mth- 2years aprox 20usd per hour, capped at $100usd per day.
  • Teenagers have a ‘chill’ area with xbox, pool table, darts, movies.

Activities

  • Free snorkelling, paddle-boards & Kayaks. 
  • Surf break! There is a surf break off the island. You can go to ‘Surf Shack’ and have a drink while watching people surf. This part of the island feels more like Sorrento back beach than the Maldives. Which is pretty cool. Not what you expect when you go to the Maldives.
  • Resort is large, it was at 90% capacity and didn’t feel it.

Dining

  • Food was AMAZING!!
  • Tribal – African Cuisine, with a full Africa theme (even served by Africans) Best ribs I’ve ever had!!
  • Nest – Asian Cuisine. Nest is built into the trees. It is one of the most amazing restaurants I’ve been to. You are literally eating in the jungle, unfortunately pictures wouldn’t work as it was too dark. The food was delish too!!
  • Edge – Fine dining. Built on a pontoon. Also has an underwater restaurant and night club. We liked the other two better.
  • Breakfast – was good (but we preferred Anantara Dhigu)

Would highly recommend a ½ board option. If we were paying for our dinners they would have exceed $300usd per dinner (not including wine). We really stress the importance of a ½ board option.

RECAP Anantara Dhigu & Niyama

Dighu has a lovely relaxed feel. Small but didn’t feel too small. Good food & service. Overwater bungalows were amazing. Perfect for couples or young families. Perfect for a 5-7 night stay.

Niyama is a completely different concept. Bigger with more activities and restaurant options. Would be perfect for a 7 night stay. Catering to teenagers aswell as young families.

Beach villa Vs Overwater villa

Overwater villa is perfect for a first timer who really want that full experience. However in my opinion I think a beach villa is just as good. Its so nice to be able to walk out of your villa onto the stunning beach. So if your budget doesn’t stretch to  an overwater option, I would book a beach villa experience with confidence.

Sri Lankan Airlines

  • On way over we had the old A330. Like other reviews from my colleagues, the seats are uncomfortable.
  • On the way home we had the new A330. Seats were MUCH better! The plane also has WIFI and allows international roaming on your phone.
  • Entertainment was lacking and food was ok
  • Service was great

Maldives seasons:

Best time to travel:

  • December-March

Monsoon:

  • May – October

We had one day of rain ALL DAY, although we were happy to hangout in our villa, I can imagine if you had a week of rain it might ruin your experience.

Click to read more on when to go to the Maldives

Our experience in the Maldives really lived up to our expectations. The water is next level amazing! All I can say is WOW! And if you haven’t been, you need to get there!!!

Sophie Anderson

I began my career at 2010 after discovering my passion for travel while living and working in Canada for 2 years. Since then I have travelled to the USA, Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Fiji, Croatia, Italy and New Zealand. I love to experience new things, learn about different cultures and, of course, taste food from around the world. Africa is also one of my favourite destinations I‘ve been to. I’m a Ski Expert and have travelled to Club Med Ski resorts in both France and Japan.

sophie@destinationhq.com.au


Janelle King


My love for travel developed from growing up in Hong Kong and Singapore – my Dad was based there as a pilot. I started working as a travel agent in the 1990’s and travelled extensively through Europe, and more recently through Asia with my young family. A family highlight was 4 weeks in America including Disneyworld and New York. My favourite cities are New York, Prague & Paris. My most amazing trips have been on safari in Kenya and visiting the amazing palaces in Russia. I travelled to Myanmar this year on a luxury cruise and tour which was amazing. My bucket list would be The Kimberley & Patagonia in Chile.

janelle@destinationhq.com.au

Niyama Overwater Villa

Melissa – Sri Lanka Luxury, a Destination HQ small group journey

I escorted a Destination HQ small group journey in Sri Lanka.  We stayed in some of the most luxurious properties in Sri Lanka, and got to experience the beauty of this up and coming travel destination.

Melissa George

SRI LANKAN AIRLINES

Really impressed with this direct service between Melbourne and Colombo. Check in was relatively fast and efficient. They do offer a “bid for upgrade” function online, up to 36 hours before departure. Minimum bid on this sector was $750USD. Business class upgrade at check in was $850.00. Great to keep in mind!

The aircraft was clean and modern. Two hot meal services were served on the flight. I was impressed with the standard of the food. Throughout the flight water and other drinks were offered frequently.  In-flight entertainment was a touch screen and a great selection of new and old movies/tv shows were available.

Actual seat in economy was a bit uncomfortable due to a head rest that juts-out.

On arrival in Colombo we had the VIP express arrival booked. We still needed to line up at passport control, which took a long time (around 45 mins) but after this we were whisked away to a holding lounge, where we were presented with drinks and more food whilst they collected our baggage. We were then led out a back entrance straight to our van so skipped the whole arrivals chaos! 

Our Local operator was excellent throughout. Given that Sri Lanka loses 3000 people a year or road accidents, you need to ensure you have a safe driver – as well as a personable and knowledgeable tour guide..

GATEWAY COLOMBO AIRPORT

Only a 10 minute drive to the airport (Colombo city is 45 mins to an hour away) Really convenient for Melbourne passengers arriving in late. Nice hotel, modern, but nothing spectacular. Breakfast was nice, buffet style with an eggs station too.

ULAGALLA

Amazing, expansive resort central to Dambulla, Sigiriya and Anaradapura.

Gorgeous little bungalows (all with private plunge pools) scattered over hectares. There are golf carts available to get you around the resort, or you can use the bicycles provided. 

It is quite isolated, so guests need to eat within the resort. Food was outstanding! A great variety of Sri Lankan and Western dishes. They also offer activities like horse riding, kayaking etc.

We did the cooking class which was one of the highlights of the trip. We were given aprons to take home, a certificate and recipe book – all really nice touches 🙂 highly recommend this property!

THE KANDY HOUSE

This boutique property, which is 8km out of Kandy City, is a refurbished colonial homestead with only 8 rooms. Each room is named after a butterfly and no two rooms are the same.

Although the rooms are gorgeous, this hotel won’t suit everyone. I stayed in the BLACK RAJA suite, one of the largest, but it had a Tub sitting in the middle of the floor (not great in the middle of the night!) and there was no privacy at all in the bathroom.

The grounds of the hotel are beautiful. And the food was excellent.

TRAIN TRAVEL KANDY-HATTON 

Basic train but wonderful scenery through all the tea plantations. It’s about a 2.5 hour journey.

Be warned when booking this that reservations are very difficult to confirm (we only got tickets 3 days prior to departure despite it being booked months in advance) well worth the effort though!

CEYLON TEA TRAILS – NORWOOD BUNGALOW

Highlight of the trip. This place is truly heaven on earth!

Norwood is one of the largest properties with 6 bedrooms. I had the master suite “Hazel” and it was incredible! This property is all inclusive and has its own Butler, chef etc 

Each day the chef comes out to discuss possible menus for the day. The food was top notch with lots of breakfast selections, 3 course lunch and dinner and an afternoon tea option too.

There are lots of walks available around the area, as well as mountain biking, kayaking etc for those who like to be active. We did a tour of the tea factory and learnt about the process of tea making, which was very interesting.

We also did a beautiful walk through a local village and up through the plantations themselves – another highlight 🙂

GALLE FORT

Historically significant walled fort on the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Has a very “hipster” vibe inside with plenty of trendy eateries and some shopping.

Enjoyed our time here at Taru Villa’s. I loved the walking tour around the fort, which was both educational and hilarious, with Shanjei. Definitely book this for your if you have a chance!

I also loved meeting a Red Hill boy who has set up a boutique guest house and coffee bar, also within the fort. Really great drip coffee (Vietnamese style) and iced tea during the day and cocktails and live music of an evening. It’s called THE PRINCE OF GALLE – they don’t have a website but you can check out some info here

Definitely worth a visit if you  are in the area!

The accommodation was a private villa inside the fort itself. Wasn’t my favourite property on the itinerary but still lovely, all the same.

COLOMBO

We were lucky enough to stay at Uga Escapes here – a beautiful boutique property that offered sanctuary from the busy city!

Only 11 suites (all very large in size with a lovely bathroom) – amazing, personal service and food to die for. Really nice pool, too – and one of the few properties I stayed at with a gym!

One of the best meals of the trip was at their in-house restaurant – worth booking even if you aren’t staying here.

Other places we can recommend for dining:

https://www.paradiseroad.lk/gallery_cafe/

https://www.facebook.com/bailliestreet.merchants/

http://parkstreetmews.com/

About Melissa 

I began my career in the travel industry in 2005. In my time I have travelled to nearly every continent: Asia including Bali, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China; USA & Canada; South Pacific including Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand and Vanuatu; Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and Europe. My favourite destinations are New York City or Cape Town; both vibrant, chic, modern cities with lots to do and yummy food to eat! I also specialise in family travel, recently returning from my own multi-generation holiday at Club Med Kani, Maldives!

melissa@destinationhq.com.au

 

Sri Lanka Review by Destination HQ

Sri Lanka has been ranked the top country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet. Eight of our Destination HQ team have each made recent trips to experience Sri Lanka. This is a collection of their travel memories and advice! If you are curious about Sri Lanka, reach out to your DHQ consultant or e-mail travel@destinationhq.com.au to start planning!

Posted by Destination HQ on Thursday, 22 November 2018

Vanessa – Luxury Cruising with Ponant

Vanessa Whittaker

I travelled to Bergen, Norway to board Ponant’s brand new vessel MS Le Champlain.  It is the newest vessel for Ponant and is a small luxury ship up to 184 passengers.

I absolutely loved the ship! It was not over the top, just the right amount of relaxed luxury, with a Scandinavian feel.

The food was excellent, French influenced, but plenty of choice if you preferred something else.

“As the only French cruise company, Ponant is an ambassador of the ‘French Touch’ around the world. With French crew, discreet service, refined cuisine and partners with excellent track records, we do our utmost to maintain our unique cruising philosophy.” – Ponant

The facilities were first class, heated outdoor pool, gorgeous sauna, fitness centre, yacht spa.

“Le Champlain has many common areas that are designed and equipped to meet all of your needs while preserving the intimacy of each passenger.” – Ponant

They have the first submarine lounge in the world – the Blue Eye which is fabulous and a unique feature. The Blue Eye lounge has 2 giant windows for viewing marine life. Sounds of marine animals will come through into the lounge as well! How cool….

The highlights for me were the destinations themselves and the scenery along the way which was absolutely breathtaking. I had so many WOW moments. Geiranger and the Briksdal Glacier were absolutely incredible.

About Vanessa

I started my career in travel in 2001. Some of my favourites places visited are Vietnam, Cambodia, Fiji , Bali, and the Greek Islands. I spent my honeymoon travelling through Vietnam and loved Hoi An a charming little town with a relaxed atmosphere and fabulous food. With two young children we enjoy family holidays in particular Bali and Fiji for the great weather, family friendly resorts and convenience of being not too far away!

E-Mail:  vanessa@destinationhq.com.au

Ponant Cruising Norway with Vanessa from Destination HQ

Ponant have designed itineraries that are rich in encounters and discovery. Vanessa was lucky enough to sail with Ponant onboard Le Champlain from Bergen, Norway. In this 3 night voyage her highlight was the breathtaking scenery that can only come when sailing on a smaller ship (184 passengers). French crew, expertise, attentive service, gastronomy; set sail in a five-star environment and enjoy a travel experience that is simultaneously authentic and sophisticated. #choosecruise #expedition #cruising CLIA Australasia

Posted by Destination HQ on Thursday, 25 October 2018

Maldives: When to go

Located at the equator, Maldives has two monsoonal seasons, the dry season during northeast monsoon and wet season or southwest monsoon. Generally, the weather in Maldives is dry and temperatures remain the same throughout the year whether it’s wet or dry season. You can expect 23°Cs to 31°Cs all year long which makes it a great place to visit for anyone looking forward to warm and beautiful beach weather.

The islands experience an equal split of 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night all year. During the day, there is an average of 8 hours of bright sunshine; perfect for long days on the beach.

January-April Weather

During the early months of the year, you can expect fantastic hot temperatures in Maldives with clear blue skies and minimal rain making it one of the best times to visit the country. This is especially true if you are looking forward to snorkelling or diving because waters tend to be very calm during this time of year.

May-September Weather

During this time, weather in Maldives gets wet and humid as this is the monsoon season. But despite that, it is still considered to be a period to travel to the islands. Since the islands are low-lying, rain clouds usually blow over quickly and rainfall does not last long.

October-December Weather

Once October rolls in, hot and dry weather comes back in Maldives. You can expect long days of sunshine and high temperatures during this time. Because of this, the islands are popular holiday destination during Christmas.

Overall, weather in Maldives are in beach season all year round. Even during the monsoon or wet season, you can still get to enjoy warm days on the beach with minimal disturbance.

If you are planning a trip to Maldives, we can offer you great packages with our Maldives Travel Specialists that fit your taste.

Source: Maldives Travel Connections

Kate – France River Cruise with Scenic Gem

I really couldn’t fault Scenic on my luxury France River Cruise. The staff were so friendly and always available for guests needs. The ship is modern, stylish, with lots of blues and blacks throughout the main areas. 

Kate Traynor

The itinerary really gets you to see the heart of France. From the beautiful old cities, to the little towns with the cutest patisseries in places you didn’t even know existed!

Hotel Scribe by Sofitel

  • 1 night pre-cruise
  • 9th arrondissement on the Right Bank

This is the hotel that Scenic use if you stay before or after your France River Cruise. It’s a fabulous, very grand, hotel.  Great for shopping as Galeries Lafayette and the big designer stores are all close by the hotel. It’s a 7 minute walk to the Metro (Madeline area). There is a Hop on Hop off bus tour stop about a 3 minute walk away which was really convenient.

I was upgraded to the Luxury Club Room which had a gorgeous interior with beautiful views of the street, and noise wasn’t a problem at all. One of the other agents I was travelling with was lucky enough to get a view of the Eiffel Tower from his room.  I saw the standard room which was still nice just smaller and had a different outlook. The Luxury Club Room had a Separate Shower and bath, spacious hall and comfy king bed. Breakfast was delicious with lots of variety.

48 Hours in Paris

For my 2 days in Paris before the Cruise I did the Hop on Hop off bus tour which I always recommend to see a city when you first arrive. I also did the ‘Popular Sites of Paris’ Segway tour which, was so much fun! You have to have a sense of adventure for this one, as it did get scary when crossing the roads and intersections of the crazy roads in the city. I would highly recommend this though as it was a great day out!

Scenic Gem

Our itinerary was 5 nights (6 days) with 80 agents and 20 media staff onboard. It was a sample cruise of the Normandy & Gems of the Seine River which is 10 nights (11 days) cruise.

  • Built in 2014
  • 127 Guests
  • This ship was specifically built to fit through the locks in Honfluer France
  • It is currently the only River Ship that can go into this area of France

I really can’t fault Scenic on my River Cruise. Staff we so friendly and always available for all needs. Modern, stylish, with lots of blues and blacks throughout the main areas in the ship

Food was delish with so many options. Breakfast was buffet or a la carte. The buffet had so many options with a chef there to cook anything you want. Lunch, you could either eat at the buffet in the main dining room or a light lunch in the River Café. The river Café was my favourite as the buffet food had heavier food (for me) for lunch. Dinner in main dining room each night, with different sized tables. Dinner is a 4 course A La Carte meal with different menu options.

Scenic Gem has 2 speciality dining options. We got to experience the Chefs table which is 8 courses all matched with wines. This was a really fun night and would recommend booking this when you get on board.

Cabins on Scenic Gem

I was so lucky to have my own balcony cabin. I was on the Diamond deck which is a great deck to be on. Diamond Deck has extra inclusions like breakfast delivered in your cabin and complimentary laundry service. The 2 below decks don’t get these inclusions.  All room types have their own butler.

Standard Suite ~ It was really spacious as they have the extra space due to no balcony. This has a small window at water level

Private Balcony Suite ~ My cabin. I would recommend this with confidence. Great décor, big balcony with so much light, can open up the balcony sliding doors which instantly feels like you have much more space. The wardrobes are a good size and has lots of room under the bed for suitcases

Royal Suite ~ Same as the Balcony Suite except has a separate living area.

Royal Balcony Suite ~ There are two on board the Gem. At the rear of the ship. So much space! The suite has floor to ceiling windows with bed facing the window. They get all the same inclusions except they can host a cocktail event in their suite complimentary.

Itinerary

We got to visit some gorgeous French towns along the Seine. Scenic Free Choice options included walking tours of each town, bike rides where we got to visit Monet’s Garden and Monet’s House.  We also go to see a lot of castles. These are all half day morning tours, which gives you the option to come back to the boat for lunch and then have the afternoon at your leisure.

The main day tour of the cruise is the D Day Battle field sites at Normandy Beach. Some guests choose this cruise itinerary purely to do this day tour. It is a full day which starts at 8am and finishes at 6:30pm. Its a very emotional day but so worth it.

Disembarkment from ship at the end of the sailing is very easy for guests. Scenic arrange private transfers taking them either to the airport or hotels (conditions apply) to continue their holiday.

Getting There

I flew with Singapore Airlines in economy class, and had no problems with them. We checked in online prior and chose our seats which was great as I got to select an aisle seat (my preferance). The A380 from Singapore is an older aircraft which looks a bit tired, but the food & Entertainment was good!

Kate’s Travel Tips

  • My most memorable thing that I loved was Monet’s Garden and riding our bikes along the river.
  • My packing tip at that time of the year as it was cooler (October) was my Kathmandu Jacket, it kept me so warm. It was light and can easily be folded up in my suitcase so takes up little room.
  • I would recommend this itineary to someone who has done the Amsterdam – Budapest River Cruise and wants something different. This itinerary you really get to see all of France. To the beautiful old cities, to the little towns with the cutest patiseries in places you didn’t even know existed.

Kate Traynor

Kate Traynor

I started my career in travel in 2013, after studying Events and Tourism at University. I enjoy all aspects of the travel industry; from the amazing travel experiences and the beautiful people you meet along the way to the holidays you book and plan for your clients. I have travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA & Europe. My favourites would have to be Mexico and the Caribbean as I am such a beach lover, and would follow Summer around the world if I could. I also went on an African safari this year and it was incredible!

Contact:  kate@destinationhq.com.au