Travel Expert

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My Favourite Travel Hacks As Seen on Saturday AM

Being a savvy traveller is easier than you think, just remember to use some of my favourite travel hacks!

 

Research the weather

Before you book any holiday it is important to gauge what the weather will be like. In the age of constant climate change, the wunderground website is an excellent resource for checking historical weather. It will show you the temperature and rainfall for the same period you are looking to travel in, over the past number of years.  No more guesses, these are real temperatures which should give you the best indication of what the weather will be like, at your chosen destination.

Check in online, prebook seats & meals.

Checking in online will not only save long airport queues but it may ensure you get the best seats available. For airlines like Ryanair, you HAVE to print your boarding passes beforehand, for most other airlines this isn’t necessary. Although I would recommend doing it anyway, to save time when you get to the airport.

Pre book seats where possible, www.seatguru.com is the ‘Tripadvisor’ for seats! Use this website to find out where the best seats are on an aircraft, read honest reviews from travellers who have flown on the same aircraft. If you normally pay for priority boarding with Ryanair, book an exit seat and they will give you priority boarding free! If travelling long haul, pre book specific meals so you will be served first, particularly if it’s a night flight and you want to sleep. I find the vegetarian options are usually the best!

favourite travel hacks

Prebook attraction tickets.

Read travel blogs on the area you are going to, or use TripAdvisor to find out the top things to do in a particular destination. Check the local tourist boards for free activities and for discovery passes. Usually you will find a bulk attraction / city pass is cheaper than paying for each attraction separately. Websites such as Attraction Tickets Direct offer huge discounts for booking in advance and offer real tickets, so you can avoid queuing for tickets at your destination.

Take out car hire excess insurance

Car hire excess is a personal bug bear of mine. When you arrive at an airport, particularly with kids in tow, the car hire companies always insist you take their car hire excess policy, and they usually charge exorbitant rates. You can avoid paying these by taking out a car hire excess insurance policy before you travel. With prices from €2.99 per day instead of €15 per day (approx cost), this is a must have if you are hiring a car abroad. Visit carhireexcess.com for more details.

favourite travel hacks

Travelling with kids

I have many travel tips for travelling with kids but one of my favourites is to invest in light weight hand luggage. Loose the trunkis as soon as your children are able to wheel heavier cases. Kids like wheeling their own cases anyway and if you invest in the best lightweight case available you can save a fortune on checked baggage charges. I tell my kids they can bring whatever fits in their case, this usually works out well when packing! Buy a portable luggage scales and bring it with you to avoid stress of thinking you may be over weight. You can buy them here for less than €10.

If travelling on a city break, choose an early flight home. Once you have checked out of the hotel, the kids will just want to go home and you will spend a fortune trying to amuse them on the last day. The €30 saving you thought you had by coming back on the later flight, believe me you will spend it twice over. For city breaks where there is a lot of walking involved, buy a €20 fold up scooter from Smyths and depending on your weight allowance, leave it behind you if necessary.

Avoid bringing the kitchen sink! Most hotels have baby equipment so you wont have to bring your own. These are not always advertised in brochures, incase 20 families ask for buggies, sterilisers or bottle warmers at the same time. Call or email the hotel before hand and ask them what equipment they have and pre-book if possible.

I wish my kids didn’t need electronic devices to on holidays, but they can be a Godsend! Invest in a Mediashare, it’s a small portable device that creates it’s own wifi network so kids can watch movies and listen to music on their tablets or phones anywhere, even on a plane. It is also really compact so much easier to carry than a portable DVD player and lots of DVDs.

Verbatim 49160 MediaShare Mini Wireless MicroSD Card Reader Black Amazon.co.uk Computers Accessories

 

Use travel apps

If travelling outside the Eurozone, know the exchange rates. This is a common mistake. You arrive tired and although you may have known the currency conversion before you left home, the likelihood is you have forgotten once you arrive. Don’t end up paying huge money for taxis or tipping hotel staff the wrong amount because you don’t know the proper exchange rate. Download the XE currency app – it also works offline (you dont need to be connected to wifi or use roaming).

Tripadvisor app is invaluable when checking restaurant or attraction reviews. It will also send you push notifications about highly rated restaurants or attractions close by. Many people don’t realise it but Google Maps can also be used offline. Download your route plans before you leave home and use them offline on holidays. Google translate is another excellent tool, you can use your phone’s camera to photograph menus, sign posts etc, and it will translate them to English for you.

favourite travel hacks  

Photocopy or scan important documents.

It is not something we like to think about but is it possible that you could be a victim of a crime on holidays, or simply loose your passport or other documents. Passport, insurance details, credit cards, flight tickets – all of which are much easier to replace if you have copies of the originals safely stored. Alternatively, store the scanned documents in the ‘Cloud’, using Google Drive (15GB of free space and part of your Gmail account), Dropbox which gives you 2GB of free storage space or an app like Evernote. These digital copies are stored safely online and available by logging into from any computer in the world.

 

Have you any favourite travel hacks? Comment below, I would love to hear them!

 

Like Travel Tips? See more here!

 

Sarah

DestinationsFeaturedLong HaulRest of the World

A Safari in Tanzania

Tanzania5

I’m often asked what was my favourite holiday and the answer always surprises people – a safari in Tanzania.

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I have travelled to many far flung places but there was something magical about Tanzania that makes it stand out in my mind. It was a life experience as well as a holiday. There was no wifi, no email, in fact hardly any phone coverage, I really felt like I embraced nature at its best. I think the longing to go there came from a trip to South Africa the previous year, where I went on a safari in Kruger National Park – I was hooked! I am somewhat of an animal lover anyway and safaris for me are one of life’s amazing experiences. I decided to try a real authentic safari, and we set off for Tanzania.

A safari in Tanzania by The Travel Expert

Whilst a South African safari is great, there is a difference when you step out on to the Serengeti plains or the Ngorongoro Crater. The area is so vast and the density of animals is staggering. There are no fences and the animals travel from Kenya to Tanzania and back again. In fact on any given day you really have no idea what you will see or what to expect. I flew into Nairobi and stayed two nights at the luxury Tortillis camp in Amboseli National Park. Morning coffee is delivered to your tent so you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the elephants at Mount Kilimanjaro, before setting off on a game drive. The guides are so knowledgeable, you feel very much at ease. I never felt anxious, even when a lion decided to have a nap behind our back wheel! On one of our drives we witnessed a pride of lions killing a wildebeest beside our jeep. It was both distressing and exhilarating, to watch nature at its purest, with the hyenas and vultures waiting idly by for the left overs.

A safari in Tanzania by The Travel Expert

I then moved on to the Ngorongoro crater, one of the worlds most breathtaking natural wonders. It’s hard to describe the feeling as you stand on the rim of the crater looking at the various wildlife in their natural habitat. It really is a feast for the senses. The stunning views, the animal sounds, the aromas, are almost tangible. I was once told by a friend of mine to take a ‘mental’ picture when you are somewhere special, and that I did. I think that memory will stay with me forever. I was fortunate to stay at the Ngorongoro crater lodge, a stunning 5* hotel, probably one of the best in Tanzania, if not Africa. The hefty $1000 per person per night price tag gets you a personal butler who will have a hot bath and your drink of choice ready for you after your game drives! (Easily know I went pre – recession! ) It really is a once in a lifetime experience and definitely one that should  be on everyone’s bucket list!

A safari in Tanzania by The Travel Expert

After trying a luxury tent and a luxury hotel I decided to ‘rough’ it a bit and stay in a small lodge in Tanzania’s most famous National Park, Serengeti. The vast open plains are an amazing sight, they seem endless, and were a complete contrast to Amboseli and Ngorongoro. Famed for the annual migration it actually offers so much more. It has one of the best game viewing in the world as there is so little vegetation. I have one regret – not taking the hot air balloon ride over the plains – I guess I’ll just have to go back!

A safari in Tanzania by The Travel Expert

My trip might seem like a lot of travelling but believe me, it is worth it. If you want to experience Tanzania at its best, take the time to try different parks. Prebook a private guide to drive you where possible, and take the internal flights for the longer journeys. As you drive through the countryside you will witness every day life in Tanzania. Masai will stroll past with a weeks supply of groceries balanced on their heads while kids play football in their bare feet. Don’t be put off by the internal flights, they are like buses, with dirt tracks for runways. There is no check in times, or passport control, its hassle free. And when you are exhausted after all that travelling and the adrenaline rush, what better way to end your holiday, than chilling out in the exotic island of Zanzibar!

A safari in Tanzania by The Travel Expert

It really doesn’t get much better than that! This holiday won’t be cheap, in fact it’s probably one of the most expensive trips you will take, but believe me when I tell you, it will be an experience that will have memories that will last a lifetime.

Tempted? Click here for sample prices or email sarah@thetravelexpert.ie for personal quotations.

 

Sarah

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Sharm el Sheikh, 3rd September, All Inclusive, Flights & Hotel, €499

sharm beach

With year round sunshine, buzzing nightlife, ‘designer’ shopping and some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world – Sharm el Sheikh ticks all boxes.

 

Direct flights from Dublin will have you there in just over five hours, and the short airport transfer means the total journey time is the same as many of the Canary Island resorts. It is hard to beat the value to for money too, with most resorts being all inclusive, you will need very little spending money. In general the standards are very high, even some of the three star resorts receive great reviews on tripadvisor.

Most of the hotels have endless facilities to keep you entertained and with the various cosmopolitan resorts of SOHO Square, Na’ama Bay and Nabq Bay, you will be spoilt for choice if you do decide to dine out. You can choose the popular Hard Rock Cafe or wander around the cobbled streets of Old Sharm and sample some local dishes. Soak up the atmosphere and bargain in the markets or if you are feeling romantic take an excursion into the desert for a some star gazing! If you are looking for the latest designer accessory – without the expensive price tag, there is no place better. The quality is really good and you can have the latest Stella Mc Cartney bag or a Michael Kors watch for about €30! For more info on Sharm el Sheikh read my blog by clicking here.

Xperience St George Homestay

Fly from Dublin on the 3rd of September and spend seven nights at the popular  Xperience St George Homestay on an all inclusive basis for only €499 per person. This hotel receives fantastic reviews on tripadvisor and was awarded the travellers choice award for 2015. TOP TIP: When you have searched on the Falcon website and the results come back, change the sort by button to  ‘price low to high’ and you will see this offer pop up straight away.  This includes flights, transfers and 20kg checked baggage, fantastic value when you think all drinks and meals are included! So what are you waiting for?

 

Click here to book:

 

Like what you see? Click here to see all my travel deals in one place!

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

 

 

Uncategorized

Family Holiday to the Algarve, 19th July, 2ad & 2ch, €1535!

holiday, Alvor Portugal

A family holiday in theAlgarve is a great choice for a relaxing beach holiday. I spent many holidays in the pretty resort of Alvor a few times and loved it!

 

The white sandy beach is four miles long and I think one of the best in the Algarve.  My kids loved it too, they played in the many rock pools and went crab hunting which occupied them for hours! There are great family restaurants along the beach front that cater so well for families as well as the fantastic choice you will find in the old town of Alvor.

Unlike most of its neighbouring resorts, Alvor remains somewhat unspoilt.  If  you are looking for lively nightlife and a big busy resort, its not for you but if you want a quiet relaxing family holiday without all the crowds then look no further than Alvor.  For more information, read my blog post on Alvor by clicking here.

Family Holiday in the Algarve

I found this great deal departing on the 19th of July for seven nights staying at the popular Alvorferrias apartments. These apartments have been a firm favourite with Irish holidaymakers for many years and are highly rated on tripadvisor.

The price for two adults and two children is only €1610 including Aer Lingus flights and transfers.Use code AWHOLIDAYS75 to save a further €75 at the checkout 🙂

 

Click here for more details:

 

All prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to availability.

 

Sarah

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Destinations

Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast

amalfi-coast

Sorrento is a firm favourite with Irish holiday makers for many years,  it is not difficult to see why.

Sorrento is the largest resort on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, but still retains it’s old world charm. Complete with cobblestone pedestrianised streets, it is the perfect place to explore at your leisure. The historic buildings house everything from designer shops to local souvenirs so there is plenty of choice for even the avid shopper. The town comes alive at night with numerous al fresco dining options so you can admire the well dressed Italians as they pass you by.

Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast by The Travel Expert

It is not just the town of Sorrento that draws thousands of tourists to this coastline each year. The neighbouring towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello are all highlights and have to be seen. In fact if you are confident behind the wheel, I would recommend hiring a car and driving the Amalfi coast. Marvel at the breathtaking views across the bay of Naples with houses and hotels nestled perfectly on the cliffs edge. Stop off at small hilltop villages and sample some local dishes, it has to be one of the worlds greatest road trips.

Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast by The Travel Expert

There are numerous sights to see in this part of Italy, the ‘coast with the most’! Take a trip to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii or if you are feeling energetic  enjoy the panoramic views from the top of Mount Vesuvius. It is a three hour climb, round trip, but worth it for the profile picture alone!  There is nothing like a boat trip when you are away and no visit to Sorrento would be complete without sailing to the isle of Capri. Take one of the many ferries from Sorrento or pre book an excursion, either way Capri is a ‘must see’. Visit the blue grotto, the summit of Anacapri or try celebrity spotting in some of the designer boutiques in the centre of the island.

Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast by The Travel Expert

A stay along the Amalfi coast should be on everyone’s bucket list and staying in Sorrento is a good base to explore the area.  Go on spoil yourself, I dare you not to fall in love with the place.

Sarah

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Family HolidaysTravel Tips

Top 5 reasons to book your holiday early

Travelling-with-kids-4

With the busy booking period fast approaching for holiday bookings, here are my top five reasons to book your holiday early.

 

1. Travelling during school holidays.

If travelling during peak time, i.e when the kids are off school, the earlier you book the better. Special offers are very limited during these periods so usually the earlier you book the better value you receive.

 

2.  Have specific requirements.

Are you looking for something in particular, a 3 bedroom apartment, a good hotel on the beach or one of the top family properties with excellent kids facilities? Then remember these will get booked well in advance so make sure you do the same if you have specific requirements.

 

3. Get the best choice

Take advantage of the choices available. With most airlines on sale eleven months in advance you may find that you can get ten days for the price of seven or better flight times without paying large supplements. Many hotels offer early booking offers too with savings of between 10-20% if booking early.

 

4. Makes budgeting easier.

Use your holiday as a savings plan. When booking just pay an initial deposit and pay the balance off monthly. It will be easier to budget throughout the year and avoids one large payment eight weeks before departure.

 

5. Have something to look forward to.

It’s nice to have your holiday booked in advance and have something to look forward to. It makes it easier to plan other things and takes away the stress of worrying that you might not find a holiday at the last minute.

 

Want to see more travel tips? Click here!

 

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.

Husky dogs, travel expert,lapland,christmas,santa clause

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

 

DestinationsEuropeSunseekers

Tuscany, Italy

rolling-hills-of-tuscany

The contrast of the countrysides rolling hills mixed with the stunning cities of Florence and Pisa make’s Tuscany an irresistible choice for any traveller.

There is so much to see here, the problem is where to start! I have holidayed in Tuscany numerous times in various cities and towns and loved it each and every time. There are regular direct flights from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair and they won’t break the bank so its probably the most direct route to take. I would recommend getting the Ryanair coach from Pisa airport direct to Florence and spending a few days there first. Florence is Tuscany’s capital city and when walking around it, you get the feeling that it deserves to be! The Tuscan countryside is so beautiful that it would almost be a shame if its capital city didn’t have that certain heir of grandeur. Although the largest city in the region it retains its old world romantic charm. It has one of Italy’s must see Cathedrals or Duomo, the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce, the famous statue of ‘David’ by Michelangelo and of course one the largest collections of art in the world in the Uffizi Gallery. I would recommend doing an organised city tour to avoid long queues and will enable you to see most of the sights in the shortest time. If you would rather go it alone make sure you at least pre book the Uffizi tickets online, the queues can be over 2 hours long during peak summer months. Florence is not only known for its artistic charm, it’s really quite romantic too. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, one of the most photographed places in Florence, is lined with vendors, hoping the magic of this city will entice the spellbound tourists to purchase something for their loved one.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about Tuscany

From Florence you can take a train to nearby Siena which is only just over an hour away. In my opinion, this is another ‘must see’ if visiting Tuscany. It is one of my favourite places to visit. The old town centre is pedestrianised and is so easy to navigate. It doesn’t have that big city feel but there are numerous sights to see and it feels almost relaxing, strolling through the streets picking up souvenirs, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Florence. Siena has been declared a World Heriage site by UNESCO and after a visit to the Piazza del Campo you will see why. The Palazzo Pubblico or town hall stands magnificently beside the Torre del Magnia. Climb the 400 steps to the top to see the red roof tops of Siena and the surrounding countryside, it is breathtaking. This is also the famous location for the Palio horse race which takes place twice every summer. Ten horses with bare back riders race around Il campo each representing their own district, dressed in various colors, it really is a magnificent sight. For any movie buffs out there you may recall this from a scene in the James Bond’s movie, Quantum of Solace. Like most of the Italian cities and towns, there are loads of typical trattorias and osterias. One of the best lies in the heart of Siena. Unfortunately the secret is out so its usually thronged with locals and tourists but make sure you visit, you won’t be disappointed, Losteria on via de Rossi.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about TuscanyFrom Sienna, get a hired car. There is a fantastic train service to most of the larger towns but to experience the Tuscan countryside properly you really need a car. The freedom you have to stop at small walled towns and villages and sample the local produce, for me is one of Tuscany’s highlights. The Cypress trees, old country cottages and the striking sunflowers means the journey is the destination. Driving the Chianti region, stopping at various towns and sampling the local wines is another highlight. We came across Montepulciano, one of the oldest hill top walled towns while driving one day and to this day it’s one of my favourite spots. Although not exactly undiscovered, it’s not as well known as some of its neighbours so it doesn’t attract as many tourists as the famous San Gimignano just down the road. However, regardless of the large influx of tourists the medieval walled town of San Gimignano is town you just have to visit. The fourteen towers dominate the landscape and give a dramatic feel as you get closer to it. Like most of Tuscany’s towns it is also pedestrianised but although easy to navigate it can be extremely busy in the summer months. I would recommend staying there for a few days or even overnight to get a true feel for the place. Alternatively visit in the late afternoon when the numerous Tour buses have left. Because of the nature of the walled town it gets dark very early and is not the best place to see the Tuscan sunset. Its neighbour on the other hand, Volterra, is the perfect spot. Only a half hour drive from San Gimignano, but its situated perfectly to enjoy a late drink as the locals meet in the open square to discuss the events of the day. You get the feeling you are seeing the true Tuscany here while taking in one of the best sunsets in the world.

Top tips for taking the best holiday photos

You can drive back to Pisa from here as it’s only an hours drive and visit the famous leaning tower before flying home. Pisa however, for me lacks the grandeur of the other Tuscan cities. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Leaning Tower, I think I would probably skip it altogether. The great thing about the Tower and its surrounding buildings is that they are so close to the airport that you can really do a quick visit on your way home. There are four buildings, one of which is an impressive Cathedral but really a few hours is all you need here to tick the box and get the souvenir photo.

 

Sarah

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DestinationsSunseekers

My Guide to Lake Garda, Where to Stay and What to Do.

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For a long time now Italy has been one of favourite holiday destinations. I have stayed in Lake Garda twice, with and without children and loved it both times. Check out my handy guide to Lake Garda, with tips on where to stay and what to do.

Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is extremely popular with Irish visitors. There are direct flights to Verona from Irish airports during the summer months, as well as flights to nearby Milan and Bologna. It may sound like a cliché but Lake Garda is one of those destinations that caters for everyone. It is romantic yet family orientated, quiet but full of sports activities. It is also perfectly situated to visit some of Italy’s famous cities and towns.
 

 
Lake Garda is just over two hours from Milan and Venice, and only an hour from Verona – so if you are looking for a holiday where you can get out and explore some more of Italy, then Lake Garda is for you.

sirmione, lake garda, italy

If Venice or Milan seem a little too far to attempt on a day trip, Verona is most definitely not. It’s so easy to navigate and has some marvellous sights to see. The amphitheatre or Arena Di Veroni, is stunning, and is remarkably well preserved. In fact I thought it was more impressive than the Colosseum in Rome when I saw it for the first time.
 

 
You can also visit Juliette’s house and call out to your partner from the balcony where Romeo declared his love. If on the other hand you just want to wander, Verona is a beautiful city with plenty of shops and cafes that line its historical streets.

juliettes balcony verona, near lake garda
 

 

Things to do in Lake Garda

As much as there is to do close by, you may find it hard to leave Lake Garda. It takes approximately three hours to drive around the lake, and you will be surprised at how each town differs in style and size. Water taxis are available to most towns and are a great way to explore the lakeside towns.
 

 
The cable car ride from Malcesine to Monte Baldo is a great way to see the lake from above. You will see many jumping off the top of the mountain with parachutes – it is a remarkable sight.  If you just want to relax, there are many man made beaches to choose from, but the sandy beach of Lazise is one of the best on the Lake.
 

 
Gardaland is a must visit if on holidays in Lake Garda with kids – see more on that below, and a new cycle path is due to open in 2021, which I am personally looking forward to seeing.

monte baldo lake garda

Where to stay in Lake Garda

If you are only staying for a short time the choice of location is very important, particularly if you want to do some sightseeing. Generally speaking try to stay in one of the towns at the southern end of the lake if you want to be close to Venice, Milan and Verona.
 

 
If you are staying in the beautiful town of Riva, at the very north of the Lake,  it will take you a lot longer to travel to and from destinations. The town of Garda is a popular choice and attracts many visitors because it is only twenty miles from Verona. My favourite town in Lake Garda is Sirmione.

sirmione lake garda

Sirmione is situated at the southern tip of Lake Garda, on a long peninsula that juts out from the mainland. It is stunning! The old town is dominated by a thirteenth-century fairytale-like castle, the Rocca Scaligera. The fortress is open to the public and is well worth the visit. If you are travelling with kids, don’t despair. My daughter Alex thought it was like Cinderella’s castle, so it appeals to both adults and children. 
 

 
You can choose to stay in Sirmione, but bear in mind it will be very busy with tourists in peak season. A day trip might be a better option depending on the time of year you visit. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a more relaxed village to stay in, Bardolino or Limone may suit you.

bardolino lake garda

If you are travelling with kids, Pescheira would be my resort of choice. It’s southern location allows for a short airport transfer and it is also ideal for day trips to nearby cities. Its pedestrianised streets and Roman ruins make an idyllic setting, but its close proximity to Gardaland is the main attraction.
 

 
Gardaland is Italy’s largest theme park and one of the best theme parks in Europe. It is also home to Peppa Pig Land, and Legoland is opening a waterpark there in 2021. If you are staying in Garda for two weeks you may be better to buy an annual pass. This will allow you as many visits as you like, with automatic fast pass entry to most of the rides.
 

 
However, if one day is enough for you, order your tickets online to beat the queues. This saved us forty-five minutes queuing time in July. GardaLand is a super theme park with rides for all ages and I would highly recommend it if you are travelling with kids.

gardaland

Garda is just one of the many beautiful holiday destinations Italy has to offer, but is one that I can safely recommend for everyone. Whether you want to try some fantastic water-sports, visit some stunning Italian cities or simply enjoy a peaceful lakeside setting, Lake Garda has all in abundance.
 

 
Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

DestinationsEuropeFamily HolidaysFeaturedSunseekers

Alvor in the Algarve – The Perfect Place for a Relaxing Break.

Alvor fishing village portugal

Looking for a quiet break with great restaurants and a stunning beach? Alvor in the Algarve ticks every box.

My husband and I went to Alvor in the Algarve when I was pregnant with Alex and we couldn’t have chosen a better location. We stayed in the Pestana Dom Joao villas which are right on the beach. Although the accommodation is more like large apartments than private villas, you can’t beat their beachfront location. The sand is literally at the end of the garden, a luxury that is hard to find on a typical package holiday.

alvor portugal fishing village tourist attraction

Having the garden was a massive advantage. I was able to sunbathe while Luke slept. It was also handy when I was preparing meals, Luke was able to play football outside. The Dom Joao Villas are ideal if travelling with young children who don’t need kids clubs or entertainment to amuse them,  and are just happy to be at the beach or kicking ball.

There are dramatic rock formations all along the Alvor coastline. These are not only stunning to look at, but have the added advantage of creating rock pools, a great way to pass the time with young kids too, searching for crabs, small fish or other pirates treasure!

Alvor, The Travel Expert

Alvor is a small fishing village, yet despite the influx of tourists it still retains much of its old world charm. The village has narrow cobbled streets with some fantastic restaurants, as well as some lively bars boasting inexpensive prices. Adega Alvor is a great family choice with an extensive menu to suit all tastes. The local Alvor wine is particularly good too.

There are also some stunning restaurants built into the cliffs along the beach. Canico is a particularly good choice, you can access this from the beach, or through the Prainha Village complex. Canico is more expensive than the local village restaurants and although the food does not necessarily justify higher prices, the setting certainly does. Watching the sunset over the Atantic Ocean from its dramatic clifftop setting is something I would never tire of.

 

I recommend that you hire a car if you want to see a little more of the Algarve. The coach transfer from the airport can be two hours depending on the amount of stops, but to drive it, it is just over an hour. I also recommend a trip to nearby Portimao, the Algarve’s capital, to visit the modern marina and local shops.

Zoo Marine which is close to the airport, is an excellent theme park with dolphin, seal and bird shows. It also has a man made beach with slides and a splash park.

The Algarve is a great holiday destination with a huge number of resorts to choose from, but Alvor will always have a special place in my heart. I look forward to returning soon.

Sarah

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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

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Orlando, Florida

Orlando with the Travel Expert

Orlando is as much an adventure as a holiday.

In fact, if you choose to visit all the theme parks while you are there you may find that you need a holiday when you get back! Without doubt, its probably one of the best family holidays you will have with your kids, but what surprised me was how great it is for couples too. I travelled without my kids on an inspection trip and I had such a fantastic time (sorry Luke & Alex – I probably shouldn’t say that!)  There are direct flights to Orlando with Aer Lingus making it so easy to get there and transfer times from the airport are no more than 20 minutes.  Flying direct from Ireland to the USA allows you to go through customs in Ireland, so once you arrive in the States you are treated like a domestic passenger and avoid all the queues – bliss!

Depending on how much time you have you really need to plan your stay. If you are travelling with young kids, Disney is a must. The Magic Kingdom, as its name suggests is magical! There are more rides for younger children here and they can meet their favourite  Disney characters. They have daily parades too which are fantastic for adults and children to watch.  If you can let them stay up late, the firework shows are well worth it. Try not to go to Disney on your first day because the kids will probably be too tired to appreciate it and will inevitably fade before the fireworks begin. There are four Disney parks, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios so depending on whether you have kids, and their ages, you may choose to select specific parks rather than try to see them all. Bear in mind there are over twelve theme parks in the Orlando area and four waterparks so unless you are there for three weeks you won’t see them all.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan your trip and allow for rest days and also shopping days in between!

Pluto in Disneyland, by The Travel Expert

Discovery Cove for instance, where you have the opportunity to swim with Dolphins, needs to be booked in advance as they limit the number of visitors to the park each day. It may seem expensive at $289 but this is an all inclusive park so all meals and drinks are included and your ticket automatically allows you entrance to Seaworld and Aquatica too. If you upgrade to the Ultimate package, Busch Gardens is included in the price and you can go to either park as many times as you like within a 14 day period.

If you don’t want to go to Discovery Cove, the Orlando Flexticket might be for you.  You have unlimited access to Seaworld, Aquatica, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure , Wet ‘n Wild and Citywalk. The Flexticket plus includes Busch Gardens and a free shuttle bus from Orlando. If, on the other hand you want to see everything, then the Orlando Freedom ticket plus is for you, this has entry to all of the Disney Parks and all of the parks on the Flexticket plus and at the moment Legoland too.  Now can you see why planning is important?

My favourite is Universal though, they have two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of adventure. I’m a bit of a movie buff anyway but even if you are not,  the simulator rides are amazing. You really feel like Optimus Prime is grabbing you and throwing you up in the sky on the Transformers ride, the technology blew me away. If rollercoasters are your thing, there are plenty ! Personally they are not for me but I did  love the water rides in Islands of Adventure, there are several and a great way to cool down during the heat. The Wizarding World of Harry  Potter was the icing on the cake for me.  The attention to detail in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley not to mention the two simulator rides and the Hogwarts Express – as the American’s like to say ‘awesome’!

Orlando

Beside Universal Studios there is City Walk. This is a huge area with bars and restaurants and a few shops too. I was genuinely surprised at the quality of the food here and throughout the park in general. There are plenty of nite clubs too if that’s your scene. Dare I say it but I liked the Karaoke bar- Rising Star, it’s not like the tacky ones you find abroad, you sing with a live band and backing singers – the talent is really good. Remember if you are planning on drinking you must bring ID with you, even if you think you couldn’t possibly be asked, there were people aged over 50 refused alcohol because they had no Identification with them, so don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Last but not least – the shopping! The Florida Mall is a like a traditional shopping centre with all the typical high street stores, it has Abercrombie and Fitch and the new Pink store from Victoria Secrets plus a huge range of other shops. If on the other hand you are looking for a bargain , then head for the Premium Outlets, like the name suggests, it’s mainly designer shops at discount prices. Make sure you register at the information kiosk before you start. You need to pay $5 for a discount booklet, it will save you  a lot more in each shop, a massive 20% off the already discounted bags in the Michael Kors outlet alone! Remember to purchase an extra suit case  on your plane ticket for your return journey, or better still pack light on your outbound journey and then you will just have to go shopping when you get there!

Like this post? Check out my  blogpost on Universal Studios.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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