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DestinationsEuropeFamily HolidaysFeaturedSunseekers

Corfu

The-Travel-Expert-Corfu-2

As a travel agent I always loved selling Corfu. I regularly got calls from customers who came back thanking me for sending them there. In fact usually people rebooked the same place the following year, they loved it so much!

I love holidaying in Greece in general, I love the people, the food and the laid back atmosphere – Corfu is no exception. Unlike many other European destinations most hotels and apartment complexes are family owned so you feel like you are staying in a home away from home.  You will probably get to know the owners and by the end of your stay you will probably be their friends on facebook!

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There are many resorts to choose from, it really depends what you are looking for. If its nightlife you seek try Kavos or Ipsos, or if you want peace and tranquility try Kommeno Bay. For the rest of us there is actually a large choice. I loved Sidari, it is visually stunning with lots of small cove beaches, plenty of bars and restaurants and just enough night life without being over bearing. The canal d’amour ( canal of love) is a famous natural phenomenon where the cliffs form a canal in the sea. If you are staying elsewhere it is worth a trip to see this alone.  If I was to find fault I would say Sidari is a little too far from Corfu town and the airport for me.

Corfu Sunrise, The Travel Expert, Sarah Slattery

Messonghi and Moraitika, two resorts that run into each other are probably the most popular with Irish holidaymakers. They an ideal choice if you want to relax, have great food and some nightlife too. The main road linking the two has a strip full of bars and shops but I thought was a little run down. The beach life on the other hand is fantastic. I stayed in the Delphina Hotel right on the beach and loved it. Rooms are basic like most Greek hotels but the service and welcome you receive more than make up for that. Best of all at night time you just need to wander along the shore to find a good bar or restaurant. In fact you could actually go barefoot because the bars have chairs literally on the sand – when you read about beachfront bars, they actually mean it! There are numerous restaurants to choose from and each one as good as the next. I love the Greek food, the salads, the stifados and the saganaki! My kids loved it too, everything is so cheap you can actually order a choice of main course or starter and the bill will still be ridiculously cheap! This is one of the reasons it is so popular with families, the endless supply of watersports and slides at the waters edge is another. The sea is shallow for a long way out so you can chill on a sun bed knowing your kids are safe in the water.

The Travel Expert, Corfu blog, review, Sarah Slattery

Try Spiros’ Baracco beach bar at Messonghi for a pre dinner drink or a night cap, either way you will receive a warm welcome. The Village Taverna is definitely worth a trip, great food and a great atmosphere in the old town of Moraitika. One of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in is in this area, Archontiko. Situated at the top of a peninsula this purpose built restaurant will amaze you. It is completely different to anything in the resort centre, modern in design and stunning gardens, you really have to go here! Everything we had was fantastic but they are renowned for their amazing steaks. The whole experience feels so five star but the prices are still really reasonable. In fact that’s one thing about Corfu or Greece in general, it is so cheap to eat out and overall you will spend a lot less than you would in Spain, France or Italy.

Travelling with children

 

While most of the resorts are laid back and generally unspoilt you may find it hard to spend your money! The shops are pretty poor with most offering the same souvenirs and beach wear. Corfu town on the other hand…has great shopping! There are great local and designer shops and it is a lovely town to potter around and people watch. Cruises stop here regularly in peak season so it can be very busy and of course if travelling in July or August it can be very hot! I would suggest going early evening when the temperatures are cooler and the day-trippers have gone back to their cruise ships! Enjoy a walk around the old town and marvel at the fortess and venetian mansions, do some sightseeing and catch a nice meal before heading back to your hotel. There are regular bus services from most of the nearby resorts so take this into account when choosing your holiday resort. Although I loved Sidari in the north of the island, you wouldn’t exactly pop into Corfu town for dinner!

Corfu town, The Travel Expert, Sarah Slattery

There are plenty of excursions that can be arranged through your local representative or with local agents in your holiday resort. We hired a car and explored the island ourselves and I would highly recommend that. The roads are poor with no highways but the island is small and is easy to navigate. Stop off at hill top villages and admire the typical white washed houses or find an unspoilt stretch of beach for an afternoon dip. The island itself, the people and the landscape are what makes this island so alluring and why visitors return year after year. There are numerous hideaways waiting to be discovered, I recommend you go and find them….

 

Sarah

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DestinationsEuropeFamily HolidaysFeatured

Our trip to see Santa in Lapland

From the moment I told my kids that we were going to Lapland, all they wanted to know was were they going to meet the ‘real’ Santa? I guess it is every child’s dream to meet him and my kids were no exception.

 

 

As soon as we arrived at the airport and saw the North Pole on the departures board the excitement was palpable. We were met by the lovely Tinsel Tina, the Sunway representative who gave the kids goodie bags filled with colouring books, crayons, Santa hats and the very much appreciated Cadburys selection boxes. Not that we need any of them, because we received a lovely hot breakfast free of charge on the flight (a rarity these days).  The flight literally ‘flew’ by as we were entertained throughout with Christmas carols and games. We arrived in Lapland within three hours.

 

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

We were whisked away immediately and brought to get our snowsuits and boots for the duration. This was brilliantly organised, we were back on the bus fully loaded with clothing to combat the cold within ten minutes. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and cleanliness of the clothing. I had purchased snow boots and clothing for my kids beforehand but really there was no need. What was supplied was more than adequate and in retrospect I would have travelled lighter!

We were brought to our accommodation at the foot of the ski slopes which was another welcome surprise. The standard was really high, with a really spacious cabin with all mod cons, including a sauna and most importantly it had underfloor heating! I guess I expected an old cabin where we would have to wear layers in bed but it was the opposite, in fact another place where I could have saved on the packing – no need for the kids ‘onesies’!

Lapland, The Travel Expert

It was then that the adventure began. As the moderate daylight faded, we were brought off in the dark to our our first activity which was snowmobiling. I thought it would be like a theme park ride around a purpose built track. It was the opposite. We were led deep into the snowy forest to meet our experienced guides. We were then given a brief lesson, supplied with helmets and given amazing snowmobiles to ride. It was like a scene straight out of a James Bond movie!

Lapland, The Travel Expert

The adults drove the snowmobiles while the kids were pulled behind in traditional sleighs, lined with reindeer hides. It was magical! We drove deeper and deeper into the dark forest for a leisurely thirty minute drive. It was full of Christmas trees covered in snow, it was like a fairytale. Don’t tell anyone, but I think the adults enjoyed it every bit as much as the kids! We had worked up an appetite at that stage so we welcomed the buffet which was laid on in the hotel beside our cabin. It wasn’t exactly Michelin star quality but there were clean plates all around! We had just enough time then to try some tobogganing before bedtime. Each cabin came equipped with kids toboggans and my two kids loved going down the hill beside our cabin, it was great fun.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

The second day in Lapland was the big one! Our first port of call was a trip to a husky farm, once again very well organised. Half of the group enjoyed a brief chat about huskies while sipping hot berry juice around a cosy fire. We learned about their role at the arctic circle and had the opportunity to meet and pet some eight week old husky puppies. The other half of the group took a ride in the sleigh pulled by eight husky dogs. It meant no one was waiting in line for too long in the freezing temperatures. The dogs were remarkably fast and it was great that all of the family could go together in the same sleigh and that we could get the obligatory family picture.

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A short drive later and we were at the reindeer farm. This was another beautiful setting at the edge of the snowy forest. Once again, the group was split in two. A brief chat about reindeers and some more hot berry juice was given while the others took the reindeer rides. They are beautiful creatures, almost mystical, but the ride itself was quite slow and not as exhilarating as the previous two. In fact, there was a huge snow slide at the farm, basically a steep hill covered with ice and I think the kids actually enjoyed sliding down that more than the reindeer ride itself. They did receive a reindeer driving licence afterwards, a nice touch and a lovely souvenir to bring home.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

It was then time to go to see the man himself, the excitement was exacerbated by the lovely Elphina, on our coach. Elphina was our honorary elf guide throughout and she made each journey effortless, with plenty of Christmas songs and games being played. We also got to learn a little Finnish too. We arrived then at Joulukka and were warmly greeted by two rather large elves. Complete with pointy noses, beautiful clothes and fantastic accents – they were the real thing! We were brought into their village and had lunch in a beautiful elf cabin made of logs.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

We were served by more elves, all equally as impressive. We then went to see Santa’s secret command centre. It’s hard to come up with words to describe this, suffice to say I believe again! We were shown how Santa receives the letters, how Santa sees the naughty and nice children and where the elves were working underground making all of their presents. One of the elves then asked us to sing a Christmas carol and as my daughter duly obliged, the wall behind us magically disappeared.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

We peeked around the corner and there he was, the answer that has perplexed us all for so many years, Santa was real! His immense size complete with a beard that touched his knees, you could tell there was something different about him, compared to his helpers that you see in other places. He knew Luke and Alex’s names and what they had written in their letters. The expression on their faces is something that I will never forget, it really was priceless.

They came out of the command centre with a lovely toy husky dog from Santa. Somehow I think that toy will be tucked under sleeping arms for many years to come. As I relived the experience with my husband I turned around to see my once sceptical son lying on the ground with his ear to the snow and ice. When asked what he was doing, he said he could hear the elves underground, making toys – it doesn’t get much better than that!

Lapland

Our day wasn’t over yet! We then went to elf school and learned many tips from how to be kind to others to how to decorate gingerbread cookies. We were allowed bring our iced cookies home to granny, another nice souvenir. It was time to go back to the cabin then for some much needed rest. Although with three hours of free time, you could choose to go tobogganing or in our case build a snowman, a request that was promised to my daughter before we left Ireland.

We were collected again at 7.30pm for a trip to Santa Park. This completed an already fantastic day with a nice meal, a show and another appearance by the man himself. Santa posed for pictures with everyone, which gave you the opportunity to capture another shot in case the earlier one didn’t go as planned. We went on an indoor train ride, made our own elf decoration as well as making a wish by banging three times on the ‘Drum of Dreams’.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

The last day had come, and time to say hey hey (goodbye in Finnish) to our beautiful cabin in this winter wonderland. We had a final stop at Santa Village where we sent our postcards complete with Santa’s official stamp to friends and family at home. There was also a chance for some souvenir shopping, (the necessary Christmas decoration from Lapland), and a chance to cross the arctic circle line. There were also two ice slides here so it gave the adults time to souvenir shop or grab a hot chocolate while the kids played on the ice with their new found friends. A quick stop to return the borrowed thermal clothing and off to the airport we went.

As we queued to check in, the honorary elf guides played with the kids, telling stories and singing songs. The entertainment continued on the plane home with Tinsel Tina singing more songs and painting faces after our inflight Christmas dinner. Tina then asked kids to go up to the top of the plane, speak into the microphone and tell everyone about their favourite part of our trip to Lapland. While most kids said meeting Santa, as many said ‘everything’ was their favourite thing. This really summed it up for me because while you initially think the trip is all about meeting Santa and the elves, it’s really not. Lapland is about family time, building a snowman, tobogganing, husky rides, snowmobiling, snowball fights and reindeers.

A trip to see Santa in Lapland by The Travel Expert

Lapland is a magical place that until now only belonged in fairytales. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough so try to go before its too late. Sure, you could get a two week family sun holiday for the same price and no doubt you will have a good time, but which holiday will have memories that will last with you for a lifetime?

Sarah

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I went on Sunway’s two night sleighbell spectacular trip. Please email me: sarah@thetravelexpert.ie for personal quotations or  Visit Santa in Lapland with Sunway

 

Destinations

Orlando – Where to stay

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Before you book your accommodation you need to ask yourself, do you want a hotel or a home, and do you want to rent a car.

If you are going to spend most of your time in Walt Disney World then maybe one of their Hotels or a nice Home in Lake Buena Vista would be most suitable. If on other hand you are visiting most of the other Theme Parks then International Drive is ideal. There are plenty of great value Motels here and  there is a regular bus service (I-Ride) to all of the main attractions and shopping malls, so car hire is not required. There are plenty of  bars, restaurants and lively nightlife, so if you want to be in the hart of the action, then I-Drive is for you.

My favourite theme park is Universal Studios so given the choice I would stay at one of their hotels. They have four hotels of varying standards so they have one to suit every budget. One of the main advantages is that you are allowed to enter the park one hour before opening, fantastic for the Harry Potter Rides. The Cabana Bay Resort is their three star hotel but to be honest its more like a four star. Its 50s retro style gives you the feeling you have walked on to the set of Grease. They have a bowling alley upstairs and a real diner downstairs. In fact I’m told the reason it is not rated four star is that the diner is self service.   I thought it was a great family hotel, really spacious rooms with a kitchenette, which saves on the cost of dining out. There is a large family pool with a lazy river, slides and a jacuzzi, open till late every night, a fab way to relax after a long day at the park.

Tom ten city breaks for families

Depending on your budget, there are also three luxury hotels which, not only allow early access to the park, but where you receive a complimentary express pass ticket. Express pass tickets are fantastic, particularly in high season, the queue should be no more than 15 minutes on any ride.  Note the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is excluded from the express pass.  You  can also buy these passes at the gate but they only sell a limited number and they cost $89!

My personal favourite was the five star Portofino hotel, its such a contrast from the busy Theme Parks. Designed by Steven Spielberg, it is an exact replica of the jet set Italian Resort. Sitting at one of the lake side cafes, sipping a latte, listening to the Tenors singing, you almost forget where you are. The rooms are very spacious and beautifully furnished and the service is what you would expect of a five star hotel. It is suitable for families and couples as there are three swimming pools. You can choose from the lively family pool with slides and waterfalls, the quiet pool, or the fantastic spa. You can also avail of the free water taxi straight to Universal Studios, it’s such a nice touch.

Portofino hotel

If, however, you fancy a livelier setting then the Hard Rock Hotel is for you. However bear in mind, you can’t get away from the music, it’s everywhere, even under water in the swimming pool.  It is also a five star hotel so you can expect the same excellent service but for me it lacked the grandeur of the Portofino.  There is also another choice, Lowes Royal Pacific Resort, another themed hotel, this time like a Pacific Island. I felt it was a little dated and more like a four star but then it less expensive to stay there than the others and the cost of drinks and meals  are reasonable too. It is one of their luxury hotels and you will still receive a complimentary express pass, so this is an excellent choice if you want to keep the costs down.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

Family HolidaysTravel Tips

8 Airport Tips You Need To Know Before You Fly

dublin airport

For some people who are not used to travelling the airport can be very stressful. Read my top airport tips below and get your holiday off to a great start.

  1. Weigh your luggage before you go!
  2. Passports, visa and all the important stuff.
  3. Check terminals, car parking, roadworks.
  4. Get to the airport early.
  5. Use the fast track.
  6. Check-in.
  7. Security screening.
  8. Before you board.

1. Weigh your luggage before you go!

Before you go you should make sure you weigh your luggage to ensure you are within the weight limits for the particular airline you are travelling with. You don’t want to be one of those people at the top of the queue taking clothes out of one bag and placing them in another. You will also want to avoid any excess baggage charges, as not only are these exorbitant, but usually you have to queue up at the ticket desk to pay them and then re queue to check in. This can be very stressful if you are short on time and the security queue is very long.

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2. Passports, visas and all the important stuff.

Important documents like passports, drivers licence, insurance etc as these have a habit of going missing! I think it goes without saying to make sure that your passports are valid but you will also need to check the regulations of the country that you are travelling to, as some destinations require that your passport is valid for 6 months after your return date. This is becoming more and more common with some European countries applying this rule as well as the USA and many long haul destinations. If travelling to the USA make sure you have your ESTA in place, it is compulsory for everyone travelling to America now. Log on to https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

airport tips

3. Check terminals, car parking, roadworks

You should check with AA road watch to ensure your planned journey is free of road works, sometimes the airport website will also have this mentioned in their news section.  Check which terminal you are departing from. As a general rule, Aer Lingus and long haul flights go from Terminal 2 and most other airlines from Terminal 1 but you need to check your travel documents to be sure. Allow plenty of time if using the airport car parks, especially the long term ones as some of these are 20 minutes from the airport terminal! The DAA airport website is very useful and have many top tips, details of airlines and their terminals,  plus the latest car park deals – €29 for 1 week at the moment.

airport tips

4. Get to the airport early.

There are many new restaurants open in our airports now now including Diep le Shaker, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and the fantastic food market – Marquette. Depending on the time of your flight it might be an idea to go to the airport early, no need to worry about traffic, queues etc and enjoy a nice meal before you depart or enjoy the excellent duty free shops at The Loop!

airport tips

5. Use the Fast Track

If you are short on time or have a particularly early flight – use the fast track!  It’s a fantastic service that caters for a variety of travellers. If you don’t want to queue at security you can pay from €5.95 – €7.99 to use the fast track service. You also get 10% off your shopping at the Loop so if you are buying perfume or expensive make up, it pays for itself ! You can use an executive lounge for up to three hours (regardless of what class of ticket you have) with complimentary drinks, snacks and newspapers for only €25 if booked online or €29 if you pay at the airport.  There are also other genie services where you can book a family care attendant or chaperones if someone is travelling alone and needs help. All of these are available to book on the Dublin Airport Website, www.dublinairport.com.

airport tips

6. Check-in.

Where possible always check-in online before hand. Even if you still need to check in a bag, it usually guarantees you a shorter queue and seats together on the aircraft. If  travelling with Aer Lingus use the dedicated self check-in kiosks to weigh your own bags. If you are travelling within Europe, you should arrive at the airport at least ninety minutes before your flight departs, irrespective of whether you have checked in online or at the airport. If  you are travelling long haul this is should be increased to two hours. If travelling to the USA some airlines require you to go through emigration at Dublin or Shannon airport and therefore check in times can be as early as 3 hours before departure. Remember  you will still need to go through security even if you have checked in online and in busy periods these queues can be long.

airport tips

7. Security screening.

With regard to security, this seems to be where everyone’s stress levels increase. I think it goes without saying not to pack sharp implements, but even kids toy guns, razors etc should never be in your hand luggage. Ideally pack all liquids in your checked baggage also but if you need to have them in your hand luggage, make sure that there are no liquids over 100ml, as these will be confiscated. Some things are evidently liquid, like drinks and perfume, others are less obvious, like gels, pastes, lotions, toothpastes, hair gels, face creams, liquid cosmetics, lip-gloss, deodorants and shaving foam. Any liquids at all even below the 100ml limit should be placed in one clear plastic bag and separated from your bag on the trays provided.

Medication is allowed but you may have to demonstrate that they are for medical purposes so I would recommend a note from your doctor stating this. Likewise baby liquids, drinks are allowed but you may have to drink them to prove they are indeed what you say they are! Remember to remove outer jackets, belts, shoes, laptops from cases when you reach the passenger security screening area as this will speed things up.

airport tips

8. Before you board.

When you make it through the screening area check the flight information screens, to see which gate your flight is departing from. Sometimes gates can change for operational reasons. If shopping in Duty free on the way out, make sure to use Shop and Collect system – they take care of your purchases and you don’t need to worry about the extra weight in your luggage, you simply pick them up when you return. Take advantage of the ‘honest’  airplane water stops that are scattered around the terminal. Put €1 in the box provided so you will have water when you board and stay hydrated for your journey!

 

Bon voyage!

 

Want to see more travel tips? Click here!

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

 

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