Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Top Twelve Tips Iceland for First Timers and Old Hands

Iceland, one of the youngest islands in the world has inspired artists and photographers, writers and filmmakers, Viking and Icelandic Sagas  - and, it is sure to inspire you.  Iceland is one of the ultimate islands of contrasts --- fire and ice... long nights with colorful northern lights and daylight for 20 hours, glaciers and steaming hot geysers, mighty Vikings, and magical elves, volcanoes, and plains of moss punctuated by craggy cliffs.  Here are a few travel tips you should know before heading out to Iceland with Tours of Distinction.

Stock Up @ Keflavik Airport

Drinks are expensive in Iceland and you are not allowed to bring liquor into Iceland from your point of departure. For example, you can't bring in liquor from a duty-free store in New York @ JFK. No worries when you land in Iceland at the Keflavik Airport, the duty-free shop is open and ready for business!  This is where Icelanders (crew included) and fellow passengers stock-up!  If you miss the Duty-Free Store, Alcoholic beverages are sold in state-run stores called Vinbudin.

Layer, Layer, Layer 

Icelandic weather is extremely unpredictable and in the winter (September - April)  it can be windy and wet with temperatures averaging from 41°F to 38°F.  It rarely falls below 29°F or exceeds 49°F.  Off season months are the best time to visit to avoid summer crowds, plus, winter is the best time to  view Northern Lights. 

Layers should consist of a base layer of a merino wool bottom and top. Merino wool is an ultra soft lightweight fabric that has moisture wicking capability that regulates body heat really well and provides next to skin comfort and warmth. For a review on some of the best merino wool base layers click here.

After putting on your base layer, add a shirt or sweater, comfortable slacks, and a parka or winter coat, waterproof is best.  If your coat is not waterproof, and, even if it is -- bring along a lightweight plastic rain poncho (Totes makes them) that can be easily stored in your travel bag and used in case of rain.  Leave your umbrella home, they are useless in the Icelandic wind!

Don't forget woolen socks and good sturdy shoes.  When touring some of the waterfall areas the lava rocks can be wet and slippery, so a good pair of lace-up shoes is advisable.  Hats, scarves, and gloves should also be worn when touring outdoors.

Don't Forget Your Bathing Suit!

Set in a barren landscape of snow and black lava rock, hot pools, have impossibly blue and unbelievably warm water making a soak otherworldly and unforgettable.    The Blue Lagoon is just one of the many hot springs in Iceland.  The love of hot pools is a deeply ingrained Icelandic tradition that dates to the Vikings, and today, they are like social clubs where news is discussed. 

The Blue Lagoon even serves drinks!  Even though the milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon and other hot pools are enticing, take your time going in, get your body use to the geothermal heat, the surrounding steam will keep you warm.  And, always remember to take a shower with soap and scrub up before entering a hot pool.

About the Showers!

Bottom line, there is no need for concern if your shower smells like sulfur. The warm shower water smells this way because it comes from the ground and is supplied by geothermal water plants. Once you are out of the shower, no worries, you don't smell like sulfur at all! On the plus side, there are many health benefits to bathing in sulfur-rich water.

Natural Spring Water

There are so many places in the world where it is unsafe to drink the water -- not in Iceland!  Much of the fresh water comes from a crack located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Thingvellir between the Eurasian and North American continental plates. The water is never chemically purified and comes straight from sources where the water has filtered through lava...and it is delicious.  There is also an abundance of Icelandic bottled water for sale for the wary.  

Tour @ Night!

Iceland is one of the best places in the world to watch the extraordinary colors of the Northern Lights dance across the Arctic sky. To see the Northern Lights it has to be a dark, cloudless and very clear night.  Experts say to point your camera to the north to catch a faint green aurora that can quickly become a solar storm!  

The dance of the Northern Lights is caused by electrically charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth's magnetic field. Peak viewing season for the Northern Lights is November - March when the nights are long and dark.   Be on the lookout for the Northern Lights between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. and remember, they are less defined if the moon is full.

Cultural Heritage -- Elves

In Icelandic folklore, the Hidden People or Elves known as Huldufólk make Iceland their home in tiny wooden houses across the nation. They are said to favor the wild unpopulated places of Iceland. They are a force of nature in Iceland that is not taken lightly.  For example, if a new road is started Icelanders make sure there are no big rocks that have to be moved because they don't want to upset the Huldufólk. 

According to National Geographic 54%  of Icelanders believe in Elves so be on the look out for them on your  sojourn in Iceland.  It is noteable that  Reykjavik has an Elf School. For a great article on Huldufólk click here.

Diverse Photo Opportunities

Iceland is ethereal and beautiful with dramatic sunrises and sunsets, milky blue hot springs and black lava beaches, soft green moss and wildflowers, red-hot bubbling mud, translucent geysers and silver-white glaciers. 

South Iceland is especially photogenic with breathtaking waterfalls around every corner, glacier lagoons, incredible vistas around Vik, and bucolic farming villages with sheep and Icelandic horses as far as the eye can see. Make sure to watch the wind in terms of camera movement, the mist from waterfalls on your lense and watch your step on slippery lava rocks in the rain.

Icelandic Cuisine

Iceland's geographic isolation and the government's strict environmental regulations help to produce some of the healthiest and freshest food on the planet.  Here you will find excellent fish from the North Atlantic Ocean including cod, herring, haddock,  char, and lobster.  Smoked salmon and free-range lamb are also specialties.  There are innovations on the food scene as well with gourmet additions using berries (bilberries), lava salt butter, and creative foams. A traditional mainstay is plokkfiskur which is a mashed fish stew that is sure to warm you up after a long day exploring.

Don't miss trying an Icelandic hot dog or pylsur that is made from a blend of beef, lamb, and pork -- get it with the works... crunchy deep fried onions, sweet brown mustard all topped off with a creamy remoulade!  

Forget the carbs, try the rye bread and butter, it is excellent with smoked salmon.  If you are daring you might want to try the fermented shark that is always paired with a shot of "black death" a clear, unsweetened schnapps that helps wash down the strong flavor and smell of this traditional delicacy.

Reykjavik - Architecturally Amazing

This has to be one of the coolest and most compact cities in  Europe... so easy to explore and get around.  Downtown is lined with all sorts of shops, boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants that make it fun and interesting.  

The architecture ranges from cute buildings on cobblestone streets that are straight out of the 1800s to eye-popping modern architecture.  Shops sell a variety of items from jewelry made from lava and handmade traditional Icelandic wool sweaters and machine-made knitware from Icelandic wool to books, amazing artwork, vintage items, unusual Christmas items, and even reindeer skins.

Icelandic Wool 

The right of passage for the first time visitor to Iceland is to purchase an authentic handmade Icelandic wool sweater.  The best place to purchase a sweater is at the Handknitting Association of Iceland located at Skólavörðustígur 19, in the old city center of Reykjavík. This shop has the largest variety of colors, sweater patterns, and sizes in Iceland. The Association was started in 1977 by a few women that liked to knit together. Today this cottage industry has grown to a nationwide knitting cooperative of over 200 members. In addition to sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, Icelandic wool and pattern books are also available.

Get Your VAT Back

VAT or Value Added Tax (24%) is added to all goods purchased in Iceland and is their sales tax on goods and services.  The good news is that VAT refunds are given to noncitizens of Iceland who purchase goods in the country to take home.  To be eligible for a refund, you have to present a passport proving you are not a citizen of Iceland.  All goods must cost a minimum of 6,000 ISK (about $60 U.S.) to qualify.  When purchasing something be sure to ask for a tax-free form from the store fill it out with the appropriate details and have the store sign the form and attach your receipt to it.  

There are two ways to get your refund. The best way is at Keflavik Airport.   Before you check your luggage look for the Arion Bank counters located in the arrivals hall and drop off your forms. Two other things to keep in mind is that the buyer must take the purchased items out of the country within three months and, if asked, the buyer must be able to produce the articles on departure so it is best to get your VAT settled before you check your luggage.  

You can also apply and send your VAT information to Iceland for reimbursement but it is better to take care of this at the airport.

Iceland with Tours of Distinction

Iceland Inspired is a small group tour of Iceland with no more than 24 participants and will depart November 2 from Boston and return November 9.  This eight-day tour includes 6 nights accommodations,  deluxe motorcoach transport, roundtrip air from Boston, comprehensive sightseeing, a full-time professional Tours of Distinction Tour Director, 14 meals, gratuities and special excursions that include the Blue Lagoon, Glacial Lagoon, Gullfoss, Thingvellir, Froheimar Farm, Entrance to Ice Cave at Langjökull Glacier,  South Skoafoss Waterfall, City Tour of  Reykjavik,  Hellisheiöi Power Plant, the hunt for the Northern Lights and much more.  For  details and to book click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hawaiian Cruise Ports of Call - the Big Island and Kauai

When you look at some of those picture perfect postcard images of the South Seas the beautiful islands of Hawaii often come to mind.  Think white sand beaches that overlook azure blue lagoons, bright pinks, yellows and oranges of hibiscus flowers and emerald green peaks that touch the horizon. The Hawaiian cruise with Tours of Distinction goes well beyond these idyllic Paul Gauguin images when the next port of call is the Big Island of Hawaii and the final Port of Call is Kauai. For our Cruise Blog on the Maui and Oahu portion of this cruise click on the names of these ports of call!

The Big Island or Island of Hawai'i is the largest and youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands and it is still growing!   Since the ongoing eruption of the Kilauea volcano, more than 600 acres have been added to the island. One of the most fascinating aspects of this island is that it has eight of the thirteen different climate zones in the world and these ecosystems range from tropical forests to snowy alpine deserts! 

Your first stop on The Big Island is Hilo located on the west coast of the island.  The highlight of the day is the drive past acres and acres of macadamia nut tree orchards en route to the Hershey owned Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center. The factory tour here is deliciously fascinating. 

Visitors will watch how this delicious nut is processed and packaged. The nut is first husked and carefully dried; then it is roasted to perfection, afterward, it is hand-dipped in chocolate or other flavorings then packaged...right before your eyes! An added bonus is the chocolate demonstrations and, of course, the free samples!  The gift shop offers a delightful selection of Mauna Loa products that are found nowhere else. If you don't want to take the items you purchase with you, no worries, you can have them shipped!

A must see for any visitor to The Big Island is a trip to Volcanoes National Park that encompasses the  Kīlauea and Mauna Loa active volcanoes. The Crater Rim Drive is unforgettable as it wends its way over stark lava fields and passes steam vents that cloud the tropical air.  When conditions permit, a drive to the "End of the Chain Road" offers visitors the opportunity to view excellent examples of the slow advance of lava across the coastal plain. Since 1986, lava has flowed repeatedly over this road increasing the acreage of the park by nine miles and hundreds of acres.

In the park itself, the Jaggar Museum tells you all you need to know about the geology of this area.  There are volcanology exhibits, maps, and a 25-minute award-winning video, "Born of Fire, Born of Sea" that is shown throughout the day.  The best view of the steaming Halema'uma'u Crater is steps away from the museum.   A highlight of this visit is the 20-minute walk through a lush tree fern forest where an illuminated pre-historic cave-like lava tube awaits exploration.   Even though the Thurston Lava Tube (Nāhuku) is lit by electric lights, bring a flashlight to see the shapes and colors of minerals leeching from the rock. The main part of this lava tunnel has a flat rock floor and a ceiling height in some places of more than 20 feet. There is another segment of the tube that is completely dark with an uneven floor that should only be explored if you have a strong flashlight and are sure-footed!

Surrounded by artfully shaped mango trees, the easily accessible Rainbow Falls is another must on the Big Island circuit because it presents an easily accessible picture-perfect photo opportunity. A trail gives hikers a birds-eye view of the falls.  Look for the alcove behind the base of the falls which was believed to be where King Kamehameha buried the bones of his father. Another legend claims that Hina, mother of Maui, lived in this alcove.   

A not to be missed stop in Hilo is the famous Richardson Beach Park. The sand here is actually a combination of black lava and green sand.  The green sand is made of olivine crystals that formed during an eruption of  Mauna Loa more than 49,000 years ago. This is one of the few green sand beaches in the world; the other three are in Guam, the Galapagos Islands and Norway.

The next stop on The Big Island is in Kona.  Here you will take an evocative excursion into the distant past of Hawaiian culture as you explore the tranquil grounds of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau.  The Pu’uhonua offered more than physical protection because it was regarded as a sacred place of supernatural power in ancient Hawaiian times.   This Pu’uhonua is the last remaining historical "place of refuge" on the Hawaiian Islands. Visitors are greeted by gigantic Kii statues that tower over the bay guarding the sacredness of this land. It was here that lawbreakers sought refuge and could find forgiveness, no matter what the crime, and where warriors came to be healed, and where women and children found a safe haven in times of battle. 

This walled refuge has well-maintained trails that lead to archaeological ruins that include the Great Wall, the Royal Grounds, and a sacred temple.  Surrounded by fish ponds and a variety of traditional structures, the Royal Grounds was once the home of the chief of Kona. Here you can play a game of papamu, a traditional game played by royalty that is similar to checkers.  A visit to this park at sunset affords stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

The last day of the cruise brings you to the magical island of Kauai nicknamed the "Garden Island." Kauai is the oldest of all Hawaiian Islands and, proudly wears a distinctive regal mantle of tropical foliage that is punctuated with jagged cliffs, cascading waterfalls and emerald valleys. The spectacular natural beauty of this island is undeniable.  Your first glimpse of the ruggedly beautiful Napali Coast lined with cliffs up to 3,000 feet tall and accented with lush emerald green valleys, waterfalls that plunge into the ocean and sea caves is -- simply breathtaking.

A visit to Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific is one of the highlights of the day -- there is nothing else in the islands quite like this geographic marvel. Sweeping views and rolling valleys dip more than 3,600 feet into the earth -- and the views...spectacular.  This gorge is 14 miles long and a drive through it is amazing. 

The name, Waimea is Hawaiian for "reddish water," this canyon gets its name from the color of the rocks as well as the tint the water takes on when running through it. Afterward, explore Waimea Town, Hanapepe Valley, Port Allen and Old Koloa Town, the sight of Hawaii's first sugar plantation. 

Rivers are rare in Hawaii and those that you can navigate are rarer still.  A hidden gem in Kauai is a cruise to Fern Grotto.   Guests will listen to legends of ancient Hawaii as they cruise inland, away from the Pacific Ocean, and into a tropical rainforest on the Wailua River to Fern Grotto, that is only accessible by boat.  

This is a natural lava rock grotto with hanging ferns in every shade of green imaginable punctuated with colorful tropical flowers and cooled by the mist of a waterfall. The river's fresh water pours down from Mount Waialeale, that averages 450 inches of rain a year making it one of the wettest spots in the world, and this rain makes this river trip possible...and impossibly unforgettable.

Cruise Details

Tours of Distinction is offering a fabulous cruise excursion departing from Oahu to the fabled South Pacific Islands of Maui, the Big Island, Kaui and Oahu January 17 -27, 2019 that includes eleven days, twenty-seven meals and the islands of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kaui.  Book by May 31 and Save $200! 

This tour includes two nights at the Hilton Waikiki Hotel (two breakfasts and an award-winning Luau Dinner), and seven nights on NCL's Pride of America with all meals.  This has been voted as the #1 Hawaiian cruise for 12 years in a row.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Travel Tip - Travel Rewards

Credit cards are one of the quickest and easiest ways to earn points and miles for travel from sign up bonuses to points earned on everyday spending. Getting the most out of travel reward credit card perks is a tricky business. Most importantly, always read the fine print.

The Score
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to play the travel rewards game and get as many perks as possible. 

1. Know your FICO score.  Most credit card companies use this to determine your eligibility. This score is very important and is determined by your payment history, how much you owe, how long your credit history is, and the type of credit you have.  For a free look at your FICO score click here. FICO scores are not static, they fluctuate with your credit history.

2. Don't carry a balance. The larger your balance on your credit card, the lower your FICO score is and this could affect the cards and travel perks that you are eligible for.

3. Know the rules.  Every credit card has different rules and perks, read the fine print! Some credit cards have restrictions such as the number of credit cards you apply for with a particular credit card company in one year or the number of bonus perks you can claim.

4. Be aware.  Make sure your investment in a new credit card pans out. "Pay" attention to how much money you have to spend in order to claim a travel perk!  It is best to figure out if the cost of the minimum spending requirements is worth the travel perks.

For a complete listing of travel card reward programs calculated click here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hawaiian Cruise Port of Call with Tours of Distinction - Maui

If you are looking to explore new sights, expand your perception, savor scrumptious cuisine, see a world-famous volcano, and smell the coffee, literally, then this cruise curated by Tours of Distinction coupled with exclusive land excursions is the best way for you to experience the magic of Hawaii.

This South Pacific sojourn starts off in cosmopolitan Honolulu on the iconic Waikiki Beach.  Pre-cruise highlights include three of Hawaii's top visitor's attractions, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona, plus an award-winning authentic Hawaiian Luau.  There will be plenty of free time to shop for your favorite Hawaiian styled shirt or sarong to put you in the "Ahola" mood! Check out our blog on Oahu tour delights here!

 Cruise Port  - Maui - The Valley Island

Voted, "Best Island in the U.S." by Conde Nast Traveler readers for more than twenty year this beloved island is one of the  top spots  to visit because  of its world-famous beaches, the sacred Iao Valley, gorgeous waterfalls, lush rainforests and endless acres of farmland growing tropical fruits and flowers... all of which you will see as an exclusive  guest of  Tours of Distinction.

Tour Highlight -Maui Tropical Plantation

This exclusive excursion immerses guests in a side of Maui few get to see. Natural beauty surrounds you on this historic 500-acre plantation with fields that are tucked against the majestic West Maui Mountains.  This historic property that was once a busy hub for sugarcane production has been transformed into a modern plantation growing a diverse number of tropical plants. 

Your first stop will be the Mill House Roasting Company to see, smell and taste a fresh cup of Maui grown coffee. The highlight of the visit is the tram tour that gives guests an inside look at this vast plantation where you will learn how the amazing flora and fauna grown here has been used for centuries. 

For the adventurous, there is the Flying Hawaiian Zipline that soars across the landscape, for shoppers, there are Maui handmade gifts and produce at the Kumu Farm stand and, for lovers of natural beauty, there is a self-guided walking tour and a lanai to relax on with an excellent view of Waikapu Valley.

Tour Highlight - Iao Valley

This emerald parkland encompasses a dramatically scenic valley that is hemmed in by towering sharp ridges with the most famous being the Iao Needle (Kyka'emoku) that rises 1200 feet from the valley floor and 2250 feet from sea level making it a perfect photo opportunity.  This high peak was created over thousands of years by the erosion of the softer rock that surrounds it.  

In ancient Hawaiian times, the Iao Valley was considered to be sacred because of its inaccessibility. Only Hawaiian royalty was allowed to visit this area, and often their remains were interred in the cliffs because it was believed their bones were a mark of divinity and sacred to the culture.

The Iao Valley Park is also the site of the Battle of Kepaniwai in 1790, where King Kamehameha  conquered Maui's warriors in pursuit of uniting all Hawaiian Islands.  Follow the paved walkway into the spiritual rainforest that offers a number of waterfalls, swimming holes, and picnic areas.  

Travel Tip - Be sure not to miss the paved 0.6 mile walk that affords a scenic viewpoint of Kuka'emoku (Iao Needle).  

Travel Tip - Be sure not to miss a walk through the botanic garden to learn about the plants brought by the Hawaiians that settled in this pristine valley.

Travel Tip - It is best to arrive here in the early morning before the clouds start settling in this tranquil mountain valley.

Travel Tip - According to the Maui website, this is one of the wettest places on earth with an average of over an inch of rain per day - that isn't every day, but, it is wise to plan accordingly!

Travel Tip - The Hawaii Nature Center located in the park has a number of interactive exhibits and restrooms.

Tour Highlight- Lahaina Town

In 1802, King Kamehameha made Lahaina the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.  It served as the seat of the Hawaiian government for 50 years until the capital was relocated to Honolulu for its harbor. 

The eclectically charming Front Street
As a historically eclectic seafaring town that served as a major port for the Pacific whaling industry, Lahania has been serving up fun for centuries.  On Front Street, you will find everything from restaurants and bars, to "made in China" trinkets and more than 40 high-end art and craft galleries... there is something for everyone here... the choice is yours!

Travel Tip - Don't miss a photo opportunity by the 60-foot tall Banyan Tree that was planted in 1873 by Sheriff William Owen Smith to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina. It was also the site for King Kamehameha III's birthday in 1886 and the ceremony to mark Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory in 1898.

Cruise Details

Tours of Distinction is offering a fabulous cruise excursion departing from Oahu to the fabled South Pacific Islands of Maui, the Big Island, Kaui and Oahu January 17 -27, 2019 that includes eleven days, twenty-seven meals and the islands of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kaui.  Book by May 31 and Save $200!

This tour includes two nights at the Hilton Waikiki Hotel (two breakfasts and an award-winning Luau Dinner), and seven nights on NCL's Pride of America with all meals.  This has been voted as the #1 Hawaiian cruise for 12 years in a row.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hawaii by Land and Sea with Tours of Distinction - Oahu

"Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace." Paul Theroux.

Many of us have Hawaii on our bucket list and with good reason. This necklace of South Pacific islands offers an astounding variety of terrain from snowcapped mountains and barren lava landscapes to lush rainforests with fern-draped grottos. Add the generous spirit of "aloha" to beautiful beaches, ancient Polynesian culture, an entertaining nightlife of mai tais, hapa haole music, luaus and hula girls and you have a rich and exotic destination in these all American islands.

Cruise Details
Tours of Distinction is offering a fabulous cruise excursion to these fabled South Pacific Islands, January 17 -27, 2019 that includes eleven days, twenty-seven meals and the islands of Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kaui.  This tour includes two nights at the Hilton Waikiki Hotel (two breakfasts and an award-winning Luau Dinner), and seven nights on NCL's Pride of America with all meals.  This has been voted as the #1 Hawaiian cruise for 12 years in a row.

Roundtrip air, the cruise, and motorcoach transportation for exclusive excursions curated for the clients of Tours of Distinction are also part of the package.   A professional Tour Director, on staff of Tours of Distinction always accompanies clients to make sure their travel adventure is fun, fulfilling and memorable. Check the website for complete details and booking information.  And, if you book by May 31, 2018  you will save $200.

Tour Highlight - Cosmopolitan Honolulu

This is one of the world's most popular holiday playgrounds known for its perfect beaches, the most famous being Waikiki, soft sea breezes, brightly colored flower shirts, umbrella drinks, historic landmarks, world-class shopping and dining, and, the romance of Polynesian culture. It is no surprise that Hawaiian Royalty made their capital Honolulu.  Trade ships and legends of the islands natural beauty has made this city and these islands the vibrant gathering place for visitors from across the globe for centuries. 

Tour  Highlight - About Waikiki Beach

Waikiki whose name in Hawaiian means "spouting waters" became a playground for Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s.  Elegant mansions were built, and there were horseback rides on the beach, canoe races, and surfing on longboards... it makes one wonder where the word  luau evolved -- or does  it  -- the  tradition of  fabulous  feasts is a tradition!  It wasn't long before Waikiki came to the attention of visitors and by the 1880s there was a tram from Honolulu to Waikiki. 

In the 1930s Hawaiian music gained popularity around the globe attracting more guests and many celebrities to Hawaii. Early visiting celebrities included luminaries such as Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Amelia Earhart and Joe DiMaggio. Today, Waikiki is a must-see for visitors that flock to Hawaii and Tours of Distinction has a great Oahu tour planned as well as a fabulous cruise and amazing excursions on each island.  In Oahu, expect, world-class resorts, fabulous food, colorful cocktails, great shopping, and entertainment -- all wrapped up in the natural beauty and the low-stress lifestyle that is Waikiki.

Travel Tip - To experience a South Pacific sunset and a hand-crafted cocktail go to the Top of Waikiki, Hawaii's only revolving restaurant and enjoy 360 panoramic vistas of Waikiki and the city lights of Honolulu.

Travel Tip - Every Friday @ 7:45 p.m. there is a fireworks show over Waikiki sponsored by the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Travel Tip - Happy hour and vacation go hand in hand and there are lots of bars on Waikiki Beach;  many of them have "happy" hours when drinks are less expensive. The concept of "pau hana" that loosely translates to "work is finished" makes happy hour in Hawaii special.  Right on Waikiki, the open air Mai Tai Bar is famous for "pau hana" drinks and Hawaiian music.

Travel Tip -If you like authentic Hawaiian music and hula dancing, check out the free Kuhio Beach Hula Show on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 pm to 7 pm. (Dec.- Jan.) check the website for other times during the year. The show takes place on the Kuhio Beach Hula mound near Uluniu Ave. across from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki.

Tour  Highlight - Polynesian Cultural Center

This center is one of Hawaii's #1 attractions.  It is the home of the famous Alii Luau and the world's largest Polynesian night show, "Ha: Breath of Life."   "Ha" means breath in Hawaiian and this show is universally captivating in its appeal.  It features over 100 Polynesian performers and is a symbolic tale of love and family, tragedy and triumph told in Polynesian dance, music, fire knives and many amazing special effects.  
Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center 

The center celebrates the diverse cultures of Polynesia with canoe rides, demonstrations, authentic food, and seven recreated villages situated on 42 beautiful acres of large lagoons, waterfalls, and lush tropical flora; there is even an "erupting" volcano!  Every day at 2:30 p.m. a beautiful pageant takes place on the water as dancers representing the islands of  Fiji, Hawaii, the Marquesas, New Zealand, Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga put on a show of their native dances and music. Best viewing areas are along the shoreline of the lagoon.

Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center 

The cultural center also has dozens of informative demonstrations including Tongan drumming, fire making, and coconut tree climbing. There is a new mini-museum, a display of hand-carved replicas of voyaging canoes used throughout Polynesia and an exhibit featuring moai statues of Easter Island made by the artists from Rapa Nui.  An epic  tale,  "Hawaiian Journey"  is an unforgettable immersive cinematic experience about the power of volcanos that is not to be missed.

If you are a shopper, the Polynesian Cultural Center doesn't disappoint - you will find a diversity of shops and kiosks amid the displays. Items of special interest include Hawaiian jewelry, Polynesian art, and aloha wear.

Travel Tip - A great way to discover where to go first is to take a canoe ride of the entire facility for a personalized tour of the center.

Tour Highlight  - Hawaiian Luau

Courtesy Polynesian Cultural Center 

The traditional luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center is a buffet feast like no other and begins with the regal Royal Hawaiian Court procession and the presentation of the imu-roasted pork that is cooked in a traditional underground Hawaiian oven.  There are many side dishes that may include braised teriyaki beef, stone-fired slow-cooked pork, shoyu-glazed chicken, panko crusted fish, poi (made from the fermented root of taro),  honey roasted sweet potatoes topped with coconut flakes, salads, fresh seasonal fruits, vegetarian chili and much more. Make sure you save room for dessert that may include: fresh pineapple bars, guava cake, chocolate haupia cake, the house special bread pudding and sugar-free pie.

Travel Tip - What to Wear - If you want to get into the "aloha" spirit at a luau be sure to wear a floral pattern- the more colorful, the better!  There are plenty of Hawaiian print shirts for men and floral dresses for women such as a traditional mu'umu'u or a sarong. A simple accessory such as a puka shell necklace, fresh flower lei or flower tucked behind your ear is a perfect addition.

Tour Highlight - Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial

Nearly eight decades have passed since the USS Arizona was sunk by the Japanese in 1941 and, yet each day, rings of iridescent oil bubbles up from the ship (like tears), only seen by those that know to look for them.  Pearl Harbor, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,000 miles from the west coast of the United States and 4,000 miles from Japan, serves as the central gathering place for the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

The USS Arizona is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona and is the final resting place of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when the ship was bombed by the Japanese Naval Forces.  The memorial itself is stark and has a white marble wall with the names of the men lost in this disaster etched on it. What makes the USS Arizona different from other war memorials is that most of the victims are still entombed here and  the ship is still an active cemetery with more than 10 of the survivors of this attack having their ashes interred inside the ship to be with their fallen crewmates. 

Your tour will begin with a compelling 23-minute documentary film on the history of the attack on Oahu. After viewing the film, board a US Navy operated boat and cruise over history. This ride is an unforgettable experience. The narration ends by asking, ''How shall we remember them, those who died? Mourn the dead. Remember the battle. Understand the tragedy. Honor the memory.''

Travel  Tip - Pearl Harbor is a National Historic Landmark as well as an active military base.  For security reasons, bags are not permitted at any of the Pearl Harbor Sites. There is a baggage storage area in front of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center where bags can be stored for $5 per bag.

Travel TipThe Pearl Harbor Visitors Center offers a comprehensive look of the December 7 attack from events leading up to it to the salvage efforts and the Pacific War that followed. Highlights include murals, immersive films, oral histories and scale models.

Tour Highlight - Dole Pineapple Plantation

Back in  Honolulu after your seven-day cruise, Tours of Distinction will treat you to a special excursion to the Dole Pineapple Plantation. Originally operated as a fruit stand beginning in 1950,  the Dole Plantation opened to the public as Hawaii's "Pineapple Experience" in 1989 and is a  sweet experience and  a perfect way to say aloha!  

Ride the Pineapple Express Train for two miles and learn about how this business was founded, afterward,  get lost in the pineapple maze, said to be one of the largest in the world or wander through one of Dole Plantation's eight different gardens for a close-up view of coffee plants to cacao pods. A sweet send off to the mainland!   Make sure to get the  details and look for our next blog -- Chapter #2 of this fabulous  cruise curated by Tours of Distinction

Look for our next blog on Maui Coming Soon!