Sent by V O'Connell
Based in Co Laois
Hi my name is Criona and I am a Travel Counsellor based in Mountmellick Co Laois. During my 20+ years in the travel industry I have developed a true passion for travel and I have gained experience in all areas of travel including package sun holidays, honeymoons, ski packages, city breaks, long haul and my personal favourite cruises.
As a mother of two girls I have plenty of experience with family holidays, along with breaks without the kids and girls shopping trips too.
As a Travel Counsellor my main objective is to offer you a personal and professional one to one service at all times. As I work from home my hours are more flexible than a nine to five agency and I can be contacted during the day, evenings and weekends. I have access to extremely competitive prices and you can be confident booking your holiday with me as Travel Counsellors is licensed and bonded in Ireland so your money is safe.
I have travelled to some amazing destinations during my 20 years in the travel industry including New York, Chicago, Boston, Jamaica, Bali, Thailand, Melbourne, Brisbane, Lapland and many European resorts and cities along with cruise holidays and I look forward to sharing my experience to help you on your next trip.
If you are planning your next holiday and need some advice please call or email me to discuss your options.
Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:
I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.
19 February 2020
In late October 2019 I cruised around the Western Caribbean aboard Royal Caribbean’s ‘Oasis of the Seas’. This was a family and friends holiday so again I was travelling with a big crew. We flew to Fort Lauderdale from Shannon via Newark on the Friday before the cruise. The cruise was embarking on Sunday afternoon but I’m a big believer in giving yourself plenty of spare time when travelling to a cruise, especially if you are travelling any great distance. I didn’t want the possibility of a delayed flight putting us under pressure but everything ran like clockwork. An added bonus of having the extra time before the sailing was having the chance to spend Saturday shopping. We all headed for Saw Grass Mills which has to be the largest shopping centre I’ve ever been in, and there were loads of bargains to be found. From picking up last minutes things we needed for the holiday, treating ourselves to designer hand bags and sun glasses (the prices are that good!), and having dinner in the Cheesecake Factory, we must have spent 12 hours there. We ordered taxis on Sunday morning to take us the short distance to Port Lauderdale. Driving up to the awaiting cruise ship is so exciting and even though I was expecting it I couldn’t help but be impressed by the size of it. ‘Oasis’ has eighteen decks and accommodation for 6,000 passengers and with its pools, Jacuzzi's, and seven separate ‘neighbourhoods’ it really is a floating resort. Some of the ‘neighbourhoods’ on the ship are , the Royal Promenade, an interior two storey, shopping and entertainment street, ‘Central Park, an open air park, packed with greenery and surrounded by bars and restaurants and ‘the Boardwalk’, a recreated boardwalk complete with a carousel and a hot dog stand. The Royal Caribbean staff took our bags away for delivery to the state rooms and we were sped through check in. In under an hour we were sitting on the pool deck enjoying a pina colada. Our western Caribbean itinerary included stops at Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico, and we started with Labadee, Royal’s private resort on Haiti. This stop is just a tropical playground for Royal Caribbean passengers, with sandy beaches, a craft market and plenty of places to eat and drink. There are lots of local arts and crafts to be had in the indoor market. There are lots of activities here, including a floating playground, the ‘Dragons Breath zip line’ and the ‘Dragons Tail coaster’. The zip line is the longest in the world over water and it was fun to watch people flying by overhead. When we got there we took one of the open air buses to ‘Adrenaline Beach’, we picked this beach for two reasons. The first is that this is the location of the coaster. You sit two to a car and are pulled up the mountain, but on the descent one of the passengers controls the ride while the other gets to take pictures of the breath taking views over the beaches and port. Make sure your camera is ready to go if you ever get to be the photographer on this, otherwise like me you could end up with 15 pictures of your finger covering the lens and one picture of a tree that could have been taken anywhere. The second reason for picking this spot is the floating bar. There is nothing that says ‘Caribbean holiday’ more than swimming out to a floating bar to indulge in a few ‘Labadoozies’, the local signature cocktail. Our second stop was in Falmouth, Jamaica. The private port area is beautiful and is full of shops and bars including a ‘Margaritaville’. The actual town is just outside the port gates and it is very pretty and lively. There are plenty of excursions that you can book on the ship or before you travel on the pre cruise planner. Our final stop was Cozumel, Mexico and once we exited the bustling port area we caught taxi’s to the centre of town. The centre is pretty and the atmosphere here is fun and very relaxed. The shopping here is good. We stopped to drink Margaritas by the water and a wandering Mariachi band serenaded us with ‘La Bamba’. We couldn’t have had a more Mexican experience if we planned it with the tourist board. I looked forward to the cruise days spent at sea as I got to laze on the pool deck. I did move occasionally to join in some of the many activities. Our group won the ‘Harry Potter’ trivia quiz and came second in the progressive bar quiz, I have the medals and the highlighter pen prize to prove it. We went to see ‘Mamma Mia’, all the Royal ships have extensive entertainment schedules which include a Broadway quality musical. There were two formal nights during the week’s cruise and it was a great chance to get glammed up, I had to remember to wear my fitted dress first because I couldn’t get into it by the end of the week. Did I mention how good the food was? As we were cruising over Halloween we got to attend the Halloween party and parade. I had learned from the year before that most people dress up for this so we all brought costumes from vampires too Hogwart’s students. One couple dressed as Crocodile Dundee and his crocodile, (yes, my poor sister had to spend an evening in a crocodile costume). When we finally left the ship we headed for Fort Lauderdale Hilton Beach resort to unwind. This hotel is located right on the beach and the rooms are huge and luxurious with spacious balconies. The next day we headed to Miami and booked into the Royal Palm Hotel right in South Beach, This hotel has a real art deco feel and the rear entrance leads right to a private stretch of South Beach. The water is great and the beach was fantastic for relaxing. In the evening we strolled down to Ocean Drive to watch the crowds and the pimped out cars. Versace’s mansion is located here, it is now a restaurant. This whole area is vibrant and busy with loads of places to eat and drink, I recommend heading down ‘Espanola Way’ if you are looking for a restaurant if only because the street is so pretty and lively. On the way home we stopped off in Washington and I am writing a separate blog on this because there was so much to tell. Make sure you have a look at it.
19 February 2020
In late October 2018 I went with a family group to spend a week doing an Eastern Caribbean Cruise on board Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Sea’s. Between us we would experience everything Royal Caribbean had to offer. Allure of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s ‘Oasis Class’ ships making it one of the largest cruise ships in the world. Our cruise set sail from Port Canaveral, an easy transfer from our apartments in Orlando, and over the course of a week we would visit Nassau, Saint Thomas and St Martin and have a number of sea days. We arrived around eleven to board a ship that had just disembarked nearly 5,500 passengers that morning and was about to board another 5,500, so you would expect chaos and delays, but there was none of it. Royal Caribbean is a well-oiled machine and before you know it your bags are whisked away, you are through security, checked in and are boarding the ship. We entered the ship at the ‘Royal Promenade’, a wide two storey internal street that is lined with bars, shops and restaurants and is the location of parties and parades throughout the week. By 2pm we all had access to our state rooms and our luggage had been delivered there. We had all treated ourselves to Central Park Balcony rooms so our bright and airy rooms had balconies that looked down into Central Park. This is a park in the centre of the ship that is open to the air and surrounded by bars and restaurants. Several stories of cabins overlook the park and it can be easy to forget you are on a ship when you are looking at this view. We spent many evenings there having an after dinner wine and being entertained by live music. In the afternoon everyone gathered on the pool deck to join the ‘sail away’ party as we headed out to our first port of call ‘Nassau’. A Caribbean cruise can be very relaxing. There are a number of excursions that can be booked on board. We all planned on doing as little as possible, just heading for the shops and beaches. There are bargains to be had in Caribbean ports particularly if you are shopping for jewellery because of the tax rules in this area. On the ship some of us attended the free talks on shopping. Royal Caribbean has a team of staff to help you with shopping advice. They also organise events in the shops and if you let them know what you are interested in they will have offers and vouchers delivered to your cabin. Nassau was our first stop, and we were all on deck to watch the ship dock, as the view of the narrow strip of land you sail past, with its lighthouse and beach bungalows lets you know you are really in the Caribbean, and, it is beautiful. From the dock we could also see the tall pink towers of the Atlantis Resort hotel, somewhere I’d like to check out someday when we have more time. We walked to the nearby shopping street with its colonial style buildings and checked out some of the shops. At the end of the street we found ourselves at a picture postcard beach. Golden sands and warm turquoise water just like we imagined the Caribbean to be. On our way back we headed down a side street that led us to Government House, the residence of the Governor General. This coral coloured, colonial style building, fronted by a statue of Christopher Columbus, was well worth the detour. Our second port of call was St Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands. From the port we took an open air taxi into Charlotte Amelie, the main town. There is a large straw market there which sells all sorts of local crafts. The island has a number of beaches you can get a taxi too but we all headed back to the ship for a late lunch and drinks by the pool. The last place we visited was St Martin, and the ship docked in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. Have you ever seen the videos of the beach where the aircraft come in so low, to land at the adjoining airport, that the beach-goers can be knocked off their feet by the blast? Well this is that place, and a taxi ride to Maho Beach will allow you to stand in the flight path if that’s your thing. I was more than happy to spend the day on the beautiful and calm beach at St Phillipsburg. A water taxi from the port is one of your options to reach the beach and I cannot recommend it enough. Skimming over the crystal Caribbean waters in the large open air taxi, while the crowd enthusiastically sang along to ‘Sweet Caroline,’ as it was blasted out of the taxi’s speakers, is one of my best memories of the entire trip. Again we stuck to shops and beach. We had become so skilled in the jewellery stores by now that one of my sisters negotiated a great price on a diamond ring. An afternoon swim at the beach rounded our trip off. On the days that we did not dock somewhere we found plenty to do on the ship. We spent our time lazily sunbathing by the pool or relaxing in one of the many Jacuzzi's. When we were feeling more energetic there was mini golf, rock climbing, zip lining, and ice skating among the activities on offer. There is also a full casino on board and as long as the ship is in international waters the casino is open. We found it a great place to finish off the night after dinner in the dining room and time spent in one of the many bars available. Everyone had a great time on Allure and was more than happy with the food and the service not to mention the abundance of facilities. In fact, we had such a good time, that before we left the ship everyone had signed up the cruise the Caribbean again the next year sailing the Western Caribbean on ‘Oasis of the Sea’s’,
31 August 2017
This year along with some of my siblings and our other halves I decided to spend St. Patrick’s Day out of the country. We have a cousin working in an Irish pub in Prague so we took this as a sign that we should spend our Patrick’s Day there. We travelled there on the 15th for a 3-night break flying from Dublin. Arriving in Prague in the late afternoon we checked into the Hotel Yasmin just off Wenceslas Square, a lovely hotel that was great value and served the best breakfast pastries. We spent our first evening catching up with our cousin over dinner in Caffrey’s Irish Pub. This pub (once a crematorium) is a must visit for its great food and drink and its location, right on the Old Town Square. Our cousin was our guide for the night and he quickly led us to the beer museum. Here you can buy taster trays with samples of 10 different beers. The Czechs take their beer very seriously so we felt obliged to do the same. The next morning (not too early) we made our way back to the Old Town Square, this beautiful square is surrounded by amazing architecture and at its centre stands the famous Astronomical Clock (try to catch it chiming). We weren’t sure where to head from here but the short answer was ‘anywhere’. Wherever you go in this beautiful city there are amazing sights to be seen. The castle overlooks the city so we decided to head there. It is an uphill trek but we managed to do it by taking plenty of refreshment breaks. In fact, we even managed to climb the 280 steps to the top of the south tower of the cathedral, the exhausting climb rewarded us with a breath-taking view but it is not for the claustrophobic. We strolled around Old Town and crossed Charles Bridge admiring the art for sale and stopping to rub the brass depiction of St John of Nepomuk being thrown from the bridge, it’s supposed to bring you luck and ensure you return to Prague. We finished the day’s sightseeing with food and drinks in a restaurant overlooking the Vltava River. We started Paddy’s Day early with drinks in O’Che’s, an Irish Cuban pub (seriously) and throughout the day moved from Irish bar to Irish bar. We did stop at a couple of Czech bars and while the beer is great and the prices are significantly lower than the Irish pubs they couldn’t match the level of craic. It turned into one of our best St Patrick’s days ever, finishing up with dancing at The Dubliner. The next day we flew back and were already talking about a plan for Paddy’s Day 2018.
08 August 2017
New York what an amazing experience and it just keeps getting better and better, I have visited New York several times mainly on girlie shopping trips (that’s a whole other blog) and breakaways with the hubby but this was the first time I brought my two girls (16yr and 12yr) along for the fun. We booked the 5-night holiday as a Christmas surprise for the girls travelling out from Dublin on the 2nd January which was great for me as the girls only had a little over a week for the countdown! We stayed In the Hilton Times Square, I have stayed in this hotel on other trips and loved the hotel especially the location. As it was the girls first trip to New York we got to play the tourist and we had great fun doing so. I got to see places and sights in New York that I never seen before. We explored Times Square, Central Park, 5th Avenue, Broadway, The Empire State Building, The Rockefeller Plaza which still had its world-famous Christmas tree on display (think Home Alone 2), and of course Macy’s, all within walking distance of the hotel. We had coffee’s and cannoli in Carlo’s Bakery Times Square, breakfasts in typical American diners along with the hard to resist Starbucks as they are on nearly every block in Manhattan, allowing us to fuel up on caffeine and taking advantage of their free wi-fi. We booked the hop on hop off bus for a day and explored lower Manhattan getting off at Union Square, Soho, NoHo, Greenwich Village, China town, Battery Park and the South Street Sea Port which I would highly recommend. The buses run approx. every 20 minutes so you can take as long as you like at each stop. Of course, being 3 girls in New York we spent an entire day in Jersey Gardens Mall making sure we used all our 23kg baggage allowance in the over 200 major brand stores, from Abercrombie to Vans and everything in between (the hubby didn’t do too bad either!). So, whether it’s culture, sightseeing, shopping, entertainment or just a fun trip New York has it all, after all it’s the city that never sleeps. Call me to find out more and book your trip to New York.
08 August 2017
After years of debating I finally booked my first cruise and now I wonder what took me so long! Along with my husband and 2 daughters (16 and 12) we set sail from Southampton on the fantastic Royal Caribbean ship ‘Independence of The Sea’s’. From the moment, we arrived at Southampton port it was “plain sailing”, our bags were taken from us kerb side by the Royal Caribbean porters, allowing us to proceed baggage free to the seamless check in and security area which took us a max of 30 minutes from start to finish. When we boarded the ship one word came to mind ‘Wow’. No expense has been spared either on creating the opulent ship interiors or providing a dizzying amount of services. After walking along the bustling Royal Promenade with its variety of shops, bars and cafes and checking out the wonderful pool deck with an abundance of sun beds, it’s tempting Jacuzzis and the thrilling Flow Rider we knew this was going to be a holiday to remember. Entering our cabin, I was pleasantly surprised with the room size and the amount of storage space. Our friendly cabin steward tidied up morning and evening, he even took time to create animal shapes with the towels (a different one every day!). We spent our first 2 days at sea exploring the ship. The girls climbed the rock wall, went ice skating, took line dancing lessons and enjoyed all the facilities that the teens program offered. They were given a daily teen cruise planner with multiple activities and even had their own supervised “Living Room” on deck 12 to just hang out. While the girls were entertained we took the opportunity to chill by the pool sipping cocktails and having the occasional flutter in the onboard casino. We even got to experience watching dolphins swim alongside the ship from the glass fronted ‘Olive and Twist’ on deck 14. Our ports of call on this cruise were Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and finally the highly recommended city of Vigo, a real hidden gem. We didn’t book any organised excursions but we went onshore at each stop and explored at our own pace. What other holiday can give an opportunity to visit this number of places in 10 days. The food on the ship was second to none. From the casual dining buffet style in the Windjammer to the formal setting of the main dining room not forgetting the café serving sweet and savoury treats all day and Sorrento’s serving pizza until 3am. There’s even serve yourself frozen yogurt stations by the pool. Luckily, I had packed some loose clothing, it was all I could get into by the time we returned. Overall, we enjoyed our first cruise experience so much that we booked another! We are sailing in September on ‘Freedom of The Sea’s’, a sister ship of Independence, along with 10 members of my family who were so impressed by our cruise experience that they booked to come with us…. Roll on September!!
Co. Laois 29/09/2017