Based in Mayo

Rachael Higgins

It's Nice To Meet You

Travel is my passion, and with more than 26 years’ experience in the travel industry I can confidently say that when you book with me your travel plans are in safe hands.

‘With us it’s personal’ really epitomises what your holiday plans mean to me. Whether you are looking for the honeymoon of a lifetime, a luxury cruise or that perfect family holiday, I will make sure that you get the personal and exceptional service you deserve.

I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to visit many destinations including Australia, the Far East, Africa, America, Canada, the Caribbean and of course Europe. I love cruising and have personal experience of most of the major and most popular cruise liners. I have recently gained my ‘Cruise Ambassador’ status with CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) which is a recognised accreditation by ‘City and Guilds.’

Being part of Travel Counsellors means I have access to award winning technology and better buying power than I have ever experienced before. I also have access to all of the big travel industry names as well as lots of niche products at better rates than anyone else.

For further information and advice on how I can help plan the trip of your dreams just give me a call!

I look forward to chatting to you soon.


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My Blog

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.

My advice for booking your honeymoon

04 September 2019

For most people, a honeymoon is one of the biggest trips they will ever take and is understandably laden with high expectations. It is very exciting but can also be overwhelming for some couples. I have over 20 years of experience in planning and booking these special trips. I have several hints and tips below to help you plan the perfect honeymoon. Not sure where to start? -Make a bucket list of destinations (separately) you would love to see, then grab a coffee and sit down to go through both options. In most cases there will be a few places that you both want to see, and if not, you can be sure there will be a compromise where you can combine 2, 3 or even several of your ideas if time allows! -Think outside the box! Your honeymoon doesn’t have to be sun and sand if you don’t want it to be. Have you always wanted to take a hot air balloon ride, learn to scuba dive, go whale watching or even learn how to make the perfect curry? All you need to do is let me know, I work with fabulous local ground handlers and if it’s possible, I can make it happen! -Try and be flexible. Sometimes couples come to me with a very specific destination in mind, which can be a great thing. However, some circumstances can change may cause you to change these such as weather, vaccines, religious festivals etc. -Delaying a honeymoon has become very popular in recent years and for each couple it can be for a different reason; maybe to avoid a rainy season, perhaps due to annual leave at work and sometimes just to savour the moment and have something to look forward to once the dust has settled after your big day! -Decide on a budget. Your budget won’t be the deciding factor in how enjoyable your honeymoon is, but it will give me realistic parameters for where is feasible for you to travel to. -Speak to your GP or local vaccine centre if possible before booking your trip. Many long-haul destinations will require vaccines or anti-malarial medications so there is an extra expense and in most cases, they need to be in your system for a few weeks before they are active so it’s important to plan in advance. Keep in mind that some countries still have specific entry requirements surrounding Covid, so its a good idea to keep up with your vaccination programme and any applicable boosters. -Book early where possible and the reason for this is simple – it usually saves you money! We also have a fabulous app and one of the most popular features for my honeymoon couples is the ability to make payments off your honeymoon quickly and conveniently. My ultimate advice would be to book with someone you can trust and who is there for you whenever you need them. This is the most special trip you will ever take, so it’s imperative that it runs smoothly. The assistance and financial protection I can offer is second to none! I can help you choose the perfect destination to ensure the memories you make will last a lifetime! Still looking for inspiration? - Below are my top five honeymoon destinations for 2023... 1) Maldives - A chain of approximately 1200 islands make up the Maldives and they truly are a 'Robinson Crusoe experience' - barefoot luxury at its best. With some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world, the Maldives truly are remarkable! 2) The Caribbean and Mexico - Picture turquoise water with white sands and luxury all-inclusive hotels. The Caribbean and Mexico are perfect places for honeymooners to rest and relax. If you want to see more you can enjoy day trips like Chichen Itza - the Mayan ruins (Mexico), Stingray City (Antigua), the Mount Gay Rum Tour (Barbados) or enjoy a fun packed day at a waterpark! 3) Cruising - Such a wonderfully relaxing way to see lots of places without the hassle of 'packing and unpacking' and it’s all done in luxury aboard a state-of-the-art ship with fantastic service and mouth-watering food! Personally one of my all time favourite holidays. 4) South Africa - Honeymoons in South Africa are remarkable. Renowned for amazing safari experiences, but that's just one of the great opportunities you have when visiting South Africa. Most first time visitors spend a few days enjoying iconic Cape Town, and then hire a car and drive the infamous Garden Route which is picture perfect, with pretty towns, vineyards, sea life and dramatic scenery and of course bags of culture. It's a great spot for foodie's and good value when you get there too! A South African honeymoon is truly memorable. 5) North America - There is so much to do; from vibrant cities like Las Vegas and New Orleans, to beautiful islands Key West or Maui. For anyone seeking adventure I recommend National Parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone, or epic train journeys through the Rocky Mountains... The USA and Canada really does have something for everyone. My husband and I enjoyed a fabulous honeymoon in the USA and Canada in December 2006, and I have a few photos attached! If you're thinking about your honeymoon or holiday of a lifetime, why not contact me to find out more!

New England Adventure

22 August 2019

Our adventure started in Boston (you can read all about it on my ‘Quackers about Boston’ blog!) Coming from the traditional damp Irish summer, the weather in this part of the world was just perfect for a road trip – sunshine and blue skies – what more could you ask for?! A short 45-minute drive from Boston, our first stop was the historical city of Salem which was made famous by the Witch Trials of 1692, when numerous locals were executed for allegedly practising witchcraft. We stopped by the Salem Regional Visitors centre where we watched a short video on the history of the city, and then began the ‘Salem Heritage Trail’. The trail brought us to all the major sights including the Witch Trials Memorial which was particularly poignant. Honestly, we weren’t entirely convinced about making the stop here initially, but it transpired to be well worth the time – a pretty town with friendly people and it was also very interesting! Before continuing our journey, we stopped and had brunch at ‘Red’s Sandwich’ which I would highly recommend – popular with locals, its great food and great value (and with pancakes bigger that your head you better be hungry!) Moving up the coast we left Massachusetts behind, drove through New Hampshire and on to Maine. Next stop the Kennebunk’s… Relatively unknown to European travellers the Kennebunk’s stole my heart the moment we entered the first town. The neighbouring towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are extremely picturesque – the word ‘quaint’ just doesn’t cut it… white picket fences, traditional wooden houses, fishing boats, boutique hotels… this area has a charm that is hard to describe. The pace is relaxed and despite the tourist traffic it just has this wonderfully homely feel. A car is essential to explore this incredible coastline. What is there to do in the area? Just wander, drive, people watch, relax on one of the many beaches, eat one of their infamous lobster rolls and don’t forget your camera! As luck would have it, we arrived in Kennebunk on 4th July which is of course American Independence Day. If you haven’t experienced a 4th July in the USA before I would really recommend it – we spent a lovely evening down by the beach and enjoyed the fireworks sitting by the sea with locals. If you haven’t already guessed, this area was my favourite and one of my most memorable days was when we drove down to Walkers Point (the summer retreat of the former President Bush) and then along the coast to Cape Porpoise – take a look at the photos attached! After 4 nights in Maine, we hit the road again, driving south, returning to Massachusetts but this time to Cape Cod… Famed for sand dunes and miles of beaches, this narrow peninsula is very well known and for good reason. Its home to many ‘picture-postcard’ towns, and with its proximity to the city, it’s a popular spot for Bostonians as well as many other visitors. We stayed in Falmouth which was a great base to explore the area… Our second day here was for one of the highlights of the trip! After a short drive to the town of Barnstable, we boarded our boat for an afternoon whale watching. Well what an experience… Our experienced Captain and Crew covered a vast area to ensure we had the best possible experience. From Barnstable we sailed right to the heart of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. During our journey, our knowledgeable naturalist told us all about the area, the sea life and of course the whales, which not only passed the time but built the excitement until, finally, a humpback whale came into sight. What a surreal experience; there must have been over 300 passengers onboard, but everyone fell silent whilst this amazing creature swam and lunged right in front of us…The staff onboard told us this was ‘Mobil’; an adult male and they can recognise each of them since their tails are all individual – like a thumb print. Mobil might have been the most impressive mammal of the trip, but we were also lucky to see a few Minke whales during the afternoon too. This was my first whale-watching experience… it really was fabulous and something I definitely want to do again. Whilst the whale-watching was a hard act to follow, we spent 3 more wonderful days in Cape Cod and explored as much of it as possible. My favourite towns were Chatham, Sandwich and last but certainly not least; Provincetown. At the very tip of Cape cod, a visit to Provincetown, or ‘P-town’ as the locals call it is a must. Popular with the LGBT community, it has a really cool vibe. There are some great art galleries, quirky shops, lively bars and one of the best fish restaurants in Cape Cod – the Lobster Pot. Sadly, our adventure came to an end all too soon, but it was certainly filled with happy memories. Other places we visited included Martha’s Vineyard, Gloucester, ‘Water Country Waterpark’ in New Hampshire, shopping at the Kittery Outlets in Maine and the historical city of Plymouth… There is so much to do in this part of the world, and just not enough time to write about it all! I would absolutely recommend a visit to New England and since there is still so much more to see I hope to return in the future. If you are planning a visit, please call me on (094) 9376765 and I would be delighted to share more information with you and help organise your trip to New England.

Quackers about Boston!

24 July 2019

Our adventure started in the city of Boston, just over a 6-hour flight – direct from Dublin with Delta Airlines whom offered a great and very comfortable service. America’s oldest city is charming. It has bags of character within its different districts, but best of all it is a fairly small city, so you can pretty much walk all of it and that is exactly what we did…. Although for a small city there was so much to see and do, it's hard to know where to start…so here are some of my highlights: - Boston Common is such a beautiful park in the centre of the city. Perfectly manicured gardens abundant with bird and wildlife. You will find lots of families here during the day, particularly around the frog pond (a paddling pool for kids) and carousel. Also, lots of Bostonians relaxing during their lunch break or on their way home from work. - The New England Aquarium is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. Myrtle (a turtle) in the ‘Great Ocean Tank’ was our favourite of the day, but there are so many exhibits, including the penguins, seals, shark and ray touch tank (don’t worry they are only small!) plus lots more. Great for all ages, but a really good option for families. - Of course, when in Boston you have to go ‘where everyone knows your name!’ The original and iconic Cheers Bar can be found in Beacon Hill. It has a great vibe and it worth popping in for a drink or two; just keep in mind this bar was the inspiration for the series, so it wasn’t filmed here and looks quite different to the set. - Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall both located downtown this spot is great for shopping, eating and entertainment. Faneuil Hall is part of the famous ‘Freedom Trail’ and is an interesting spot. Its currently being restored, but you can still go inside and up to the Great Hall where free talks are given throughout the day telling the history of this building which was most significant in Boston’s history. Quincy Market and the surrounding area has some great eateries as well as lots of talented street entertainers… a stop in the market is a must for great seafood at a good price. - Ducks! Ducks are a bit of a theme in Boston, we loved the bronze statues of Mrs Mallard and her 8 ducklings in the Public Garden and indeed the famous Duck Tour is a great way to see the city. We stayed in the Back-Bay neighbourhood, which is perfect for shopping and dining. Many of the streets in the area are residential with beautiful old brick town houses. The streets are lined with trees and there are lots of designer shops and great restaurants. Stephanie’s on Newbury Street is a great spot for breakfast and if you are there early enough you might see the ‘Birdman of Newbury street’ whistling and feeding the sparrows by hand. Another favourite was ‘Atlantic Fish’ on Boylston Street. Always busy, but the staff are very accommodating, and their food is mouth-wateringly good! Boston is a great city, and I hope to be back, but it was just the start of our New England Adventure… Part two of my blog will follow soon!

The Canadian Rockies!

25 October 2018

This October I was reminded of how amazing our world is and the very reason I love my job! I was fortunate enough to be invited on a trip to Western Canada with Rocky Mountaineer, British Airways and American Airlines along with the tourist boards of Alberta and Vancouver. So where better place to start than at the beginning with our flights? Sometimes a laborious part of an adventure, but we were given a golden ticket and upgraded to business class! Let me tell you there was no part of this that was difficult – the comfort was exceptional, thanks to very spacious seats that converted to a fully flat bed. The service and food were amazing, and the staff were friendly and courteous. It was certainly a reminder that its worth paying the extra when you can as it made the journey go in the blink of an eye. Thanks to the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation for entry to Canada, we got on the road quickly, and were in our hotel within about 20 mins, a nice relaxing evening before the adventure really got going. The following morning, we were up and about early to squeeze as much as possible into our day in this great city! There was a decent amount of snow on the ground, but that didn’t slow us down – we took in breakfast at Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, Calgary Tower and WinSport. The Zoo is a great attraction, particularly for families. They are passionate about conservation, and currently have four giant pandas visiting from China! Heritage Park is as it sounds all about the history of the area, but they have done this in such a cool way – it’s really a living history museum with something for everyone. Next up was Calgary Tower, standing 626ft up in the clouds, it’s a must do in the city, and the glass floor gives a fantastic view to the happenings below! Our final stop of the day was to WinSport, which is multi-purpose training and competition facility, and hosted the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary. This facility is open year-round and has something for everyone. I must give a quick mention to an amazing restaurant in Calgary called Rouge - we had the most delicious four course lunch there, and it was excellent – the cuisine, staff and beautiful old house made it a real treat. So… after a busy day, we boarded the bus and head west to the town of Banff which was to be home for the next two nights. Wow! Banff is awesome– the town itself is small and quaint, and with the Rockies as its backdrop, it really is a ‘picture postcard’ town. For a small town it has a lot of life – very welcoming, with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars. On this day we toured the surrounding National Parks and took in the truly jaw-dropping Lake Louise and Emerald Lake. These places had me lost for words, just remarkably beautiful. Three different alarm calls later (I couldn’t risk sleeping in for this one!) we got up with the birds to join the infamous Rocky Mountaineer train. The route is aptly named ‘First Passage to the West’ and its one of the most popular journeys they operate. It was all so incredible it’s hard to know where to start! The train itself – you wouldn’t have to be a train spotter to appreciate how stunning this iconic train is. We were in the ‘Gold Leaf Carriage’ which is of the highest level of comfort – reclining seats and a glass domed roof allow for uninterrupted views of the snowy mountains as the scenery is huge part of this trip. Downstairs you will find a great open-air vestibule and their restaurant which is reminiscent of a bygone era with beautiful white linen, fine wines and excellent food (their eggs benedict is phenomenal!) The staff are such an integral part of this experience. They are ‘minds of information’ with interesting facts and anecdotes about the area and the train itself, but their genuine warmth and kindness really make this trip so special. What I hadn’t anticipated was the wonderful fall / autumn colours, I had always imagined tall spruce and pine trees. Indeed, the mountains were trooped with tall handsome evergreen trees, but the area beamed with vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red that you might expect in New England. Another thing that surprised me was how quickly the day passes – a full day on a train may at the outset seem like a long time, but rest assured this is not the case. In addition to the beautiful scenery is the anticipation of spotting wildlife and there are many different species in abundance. Some of our sightings included Elk, Bald Eagles, osprey, long horn sheep, jumping salmon and even a coyote! Of course, this can vary at different times of the year, and quite often passengers will spot a bear. Day one of this bucket-list trip brought us through the mountains (and tunnels) in the Rocky Mountains. A common misconception of this journey is that you sleep on the train – in fact you have a very good night’s sleep in a good hotel in the town of Kamloops. This is where the Rocky Mountaineer get to show off at how good they really are at what they do – you don’t have to touch your suitcases – you get to your hotel and they are already in your room, and when you depart the next day, you leave them behind you securely in the knowledge that they will be waiting for you at the next destination. It’s a small detail, but it’s the details that make this journey so perfect! Day two and as we crossed the Thompson River and left Kamloops it was like arriving in another country – the temperature rose, but our clear blue skies continued as the scenery changed dramatically to almost desert, then through lush forests with waterfalls through the Fraser Valley ending in vibrant city of Vancouver. Vancouver is a smashing city with a wealth of things to do. We made the most of our time, and saw Stanley Park, Gas Town and Yaletown. We also did a great ‘foodie tour’ of Granville island (yum!) and crossed the Capilano Suspension River… brilliant! We finished our day tour at the ‘FlyOver Canada Attraction’. This incredible ride is a flight simulation from east to west of Canada and which I would highly recommend and was a great way to finish up our magnificent escapade! Phew… busy but what a trip! Someone asked me what my highlight was – it was all tremendous, but one of the memories that will stay with me for a long time is standing on the outdoor vestibule of the Rocky Mountaineer Train, staring up at the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Rockies with the icy cold air blowing in my face, it was so exhilarating…. One of those moments in life that help put perspective on things and remind you so stop and breathe in the beauty of the world. Canada you are beautiful, and I will be back!

Awesome Abu Dhabi

12 August 2016

‘Awesome’ – not a word that I draw on very often, but it’s a great way to describe my brief encounter with Abu Dhabi at the start of May. We flew out of Dublin on a direct flight with Etihad Airways. The flight was comfortable, and the food, entertainment and service were nothing short of excellent. Etihad Airways aircraft are a young fleet, modern with the best of facilities. Not a long journey – just 7 ½ hours, so feasible for a ‘short-ish’ break in the sun. If I am honest, in the past I had only every considered Abu Dhabi as a stopover destination, and by that I mean somewhere to break a long journey before pursuing more exotic climes. I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion Abu Dhabi is the epitome of new Arabia – a unique experience with modern shopping malls, luxurious accommodation, fine dining, excellent beaches, all in harmony with a completely different culture. The first thing that struck me about the city was the opulence – hi spec cars, designer shops and the latest phones are the most important fashion accessory. But there is more to Abu Dhabi than shopping and sunshine. Their Royal Family are making every effort to make sure the city has longevity, and this is evident in their current and future attractions. In fact they are currently building Abu Dhabi Guggenheim and Louvre. We stayed in the stunning Jumeirah Etihad Towers (where the ‘Fast and Furious 7’ was recently filmed). A modern sky scrapper with a stunning observation deck, it was a real treat. I could have happily sat for hours in the lobby people watching. A highlight (and a must see) for me was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. A beautiful white marble structure, it’s incredibly intricate – a photographers dream. It has some of the largest and most elaborate chandeliers in the world, and my visit was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the country’s Islamic religion and culture. It is a place of worship, so we were asked to dress accordingly, and rules are very strict, so if you are very fortunate enough to vista, make sure to wear the correct attire. Moving on, Yas Island is a name many associate with the Formula 1. The Viceroy Hotel at the centre of the race circuit is a marvel and when we arrived the roar of Formula 3 engines greeted us as cars whizzed around the circuit. There are many driving experiences you can pre-book at the circuit if you are brave enough, and there aren’t many places that can offer that sort of opportunity. For those (like myself!) that aren’t quite that skilled, a day trip to Ferrari World is a must. Its home to the fastest rollercoaster Formula Rossa that has a top speed of 239 km/h! The park is mostly indoors, so you don’t have to suffer the heat to enjoy the rollercoasters and rides, and has something for all age groups. Next door there is Yas Waterworld, a great waterpark and you can get tickets to cover both theme parks. Speaking of The Viceroy Hotel, I have to mention the food there and around the city. We enjoyed a really good lunch at the Viceroy – buffet style with a phenomenal choice. In Abu Dhabi you can find many varied cuisines – local specialities as well as international. Afternoon tea is quite a popular event with international business people and even groups of young Emirati to be found in some of the best hotels in the city. This is a Muslim country, but tourists may still enjoy alcohol in licensed restaurants and bars, however be aware that there are some religious holidays when the city is dry / alcohol free. Our final evening was a real treat – dune bashing in 4x4 jeeps, and then a barbeque under the stars. This was such fun – the dune bashing isn’t for the faint hearted, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. We stopped at a camel farm then continued on to have a Bedouin feast. Abu Dhabi is still a work in progress – the city is very spread out, but taxis are cheap and plentiful. Unlike many European beach side cities, there aren’t many promenades or walking opportunities – there are a few nice places around the Corniche area, but as our guide pointed out, it can often be too hot to walk for any length of time in Abu Dhabi, so air-conditioned transport is king here. I must say I really enjoyed by brief interlude with Abu Dhabi – it was nothing like I expected. In fact, it far surpassed my expectations, and I hope to go back someday with my family. I was fortunate enough to see more than I have time to mention here, as well as some amazing hotels (including the handsome Emirates Palace). If you would like more information please feel free to call me on 094 9376765.

Escape Completely... Med Cruise

21 August 2015

Work, politics, bills, cooking, cleaning, childcare...the list goes on... Sometimes life is a daily struggle, and we all need somewhere to escape to. Long ago I was sold on the idea of cruising. I have been fortunate enough to have personal experiences of many of the cruise lines and I personally think it’s a perfect holiday – after all, how else can you see so many places, enjoy great food, fantastic service and wonderful entertainment without any hassle and stress?! On a hot sunny morning at the end of August I pulled my suitcase out of the busy arrivals hall in Naples and joined our coach transfer to the port of Naples. After a speedy 15 minute transfer, we arrived at the port and gazed at the beautiful Princess Cruises ‘Ruby Princess’ ship. For me the first sight of a cruise ship is always a heart stopping one – the excitement and anticipation of what is to come is incredible, and Ruby Princess didn’t disappoint! This stunning jewel in Princess’ crown, Ruby is an elegant and sleek ship. We boarded quite quickly and headed straight to our staterooms to freshen up. Ours was an ocean view cabin which was spotlessly clean and although not huge, it was very functional. We had barely put our bags down before our stateroom attendant had come to the door and asked if the room was ok for us, and to check if we needed anything else – now that is service! Next stop the buffet! The food on board the ship was nothing short of fantastic. Every palate is catered for and to an excellent standard. There is a great choice of eateries too, so no room for boredom. Entertainment on board was great – lots to do with a very varied programme, and the entertainment team were encouraging but not intrusive. A favourite of mine was ‘Movie under the Stars’. This poolside cinema was available day and night showing new and classic films, but its particularly beautiful at night when snuggled up under a blanket and enjoying some popcorn. Another favourite of mine was ‘The Sanctuary’ - a wonderful poolside retreat which is adults only and which as the name suggests is blissfully calm and quiet. The choice of excursions Princess offer is great – varied in pace, duration and price. Prices on board are in the US dollar. I experienced a day into Rome as well as glamorous Monte Carlo and they were exceptionally well organised. A final note for families- although I was sailing solo this time, I did make a point to visit the kids clubs. They are great – lots to keep every age group happy, but notably very good for teenagers with lots of activity day and night. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced many of the major cruise lines so human nature being as it is I constantly compared the ship to others during our sailing. So what’s the verdict on the cruise line who owned the original ‘Love Boat?’ Princess Cruises are up there with the best of them – a great overall experience that I would highly recommend - the perfect escape!

Pangkor Laut and Kuala Lumpur

28 April 2012

From the moment we checked in with Emirates the holiday of a lifetime started. We were lucky enough to travel business class, which was immensely comfortable and the service was second to none. This was a whirlwind trip so the extra comfort was a huge bonus. Although not my first time in Asia, this was my first visit to Malaysia, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. We touched down in Kuala Lumpur airport and were transferred by luxury minibus to the ferry port for our short crossing over to the private island of Pangkor Laut. Our ferry crossing was at sunset, so the views were simply stunning and we were given a very warm welcome by the hotel staff when we reached the port. Everything was incredibly well organised and my room was beautiful. After coming from the rather wet and windy West of Ireland everything was so different – the heat (of course!), the sounds (of fruit bats!) and even the residents (we were reminded to lock our doors so the monkey’s couldn’t get into the rooms!). I really had arrived in paradise, and already I knew that this is a place I will go back to. Why ? Because Pangkor Laut ticks all of the boxes – lush green hills and jungle, a picture perfect beach known as Emerald bay, amazing scenery, world class service, a spa you only dreamt about ( it does exist) and of course fantastic food. It is still close enough to civilization, yet has all the ‘decadence’ you would expect of a private island. During our two night stay we enjoyed a tour of the island and got to view all of the different rooms types available in this little piece of paradise including the Pavarotti Suite (named after the world renowned Tenor who fell in love with Pangkor Laut), and the luxurious estates so if you are considering a trip to this island please give me a call as I would love to tell you all about it. We also enjoyed some incredible Malay cuisine as well as a very relaxing and enjoyable afternoon in the Spa Village and a sunset cruise around the island. Alas all too soon we had to leave Pangkor Laut behind! Next stop Kuala Lumpur and the Ritz Carlton hotel. The Ritz Carlton is an oasis in this busy city. It has a very central location nearby all of the tourist spots and shopping area, yet when you walk into the hotel a sense of peace and calm prevail. The hotel fully lives up to its 5* rating, with an excellent spa, pool area, business centre and extremely comfortable rooms, but it’s the staff that make the difference in this hotel – they are very kind and attentive, and it was the little touches (like a monogrammed pillow case!) that really blew me away. Just seconds from the hotel there are amazing shopping opportunities which are great value! A visit to China town is a must and be ready to barter! The Petronas Towers are a necessity for any visitor and a trip to the observation deck is well worth the entrance fees – the view is breathtaking. It’s worth taking a tour of the city to take in spots such at the Batu Caves, China town and the majestic Royal Palace. If I was to compare to other Asian cities I have visited, I would have to say that Kuala Lumpur is by far my favourite; the Malay people are very welcoming, the capital is busy but not overwhelming and walking around the city I felt very safe, which is quite unusual to say of a capital city these days. My trip to Malaysia was not long enough, this is a remarkable country and I will return without a doubt!

Family Cruising

24 November 2009

When we booked our family holiday, I must admit I was a little sceptical. I had cruised before, but this time was to be different as we were travelling with our 20 month old daughter... On the 15th August we flew from Dublin to Barcelona, and checked in for 1 night at the Renaissance hotel Barcelona Airport. Our flight arrived into Barcelona quite late, so we opted for convenience. The hotel had an airport shuttle bus which brought us directly to the hotel which was a mere 5 minute journey. The rooms were quite spacious, and very modern - perfect for an overnight stay. It was highly convenient as the hotel had a bus to the port the following morning. So far, so good! The port in Barcelona is really beautiful. It is right beside the city – just a short walk from the Marina area. Our home for the week was waiting for us – the beautiful ‘Voyager of the Seas’. Embarkation was extremely well organised – the best I have experienced to date. Royal Caribbean even had their staff waiting with cold drinks and freshly baked cookies! From arrival at the port, to opening the door to our ocean view cabin took less than an hour and a half! We had dreaded long queues in the midday sun, but found everything quick and breezy (thanks to the air-conditioning and very competent staff!) Our cabin was bigger than I had expected. Even with a cot in the room there was adequate space, which cannot always be said of a hotel room, let alone a cabin! There was even a supply of nappies waiting for our daughter, which we had pre-organised to help with our luggage allowance. Our cabin attendant, ‘James’ was faultless. He was extremely friendly, and ensured that we all had everything we needed. We set about exploring the ship straightaway, and found many activities we could do as a family. Children onboard are catered for fantastically. There were even daily activities that our little girl could be involved in at the ‘Aqua Tots’ group and she loved it - there was even more to do than at home. The pools of course were a huge bonus too. Our itinerary for the week was an action packed one – ports of call included Naples, Rome, Pisa, Monte Carlo / Nice and Marseille. Excursion possibilities were endless, and everyone was catered for. We booked tours for Pisa and Monte Carlo. Initially we were a little nervous of these because we were travelling with a toddler, but we were pleasantly surprised to find we were one of many families on these trips. Everywhere we went on the ship the staff were amazing, and exceptionally welcoming. They truly made our holiday an extraordinary experience. Food was phenomenal, and the choice was great. The US dollar was the currency onboard, so we found that drinks and any other items we bought were great value. In the past I had always considered a cruise to be about the ports of call. This time I would say, if we hadn’t left the ship once we would have just as good a time. The huge array of activities, facilities, and great hospitality made it a holiday of lifetime, and I would never hesitate in recommending a cruise to families now – in fact I would say it’s the ultimate family holiday if budget allows. Eventually our weeks cruise sadly had to come to an end. The ship docked into Barcelona the following Sunday, and we disembarked the cruise with sadness, but again great organisation. Fortunately, we still had a further 3 days to enjoy in Barcelona. This was my third visit to Barcelona. I think it’s a great city, and being beside a beach its perfect for the summertime. I find it to be a lot more laid back than some other European cities, and again with something to suit everybody. We took the opportunity to visit the Zoo in Barcelona, and incorporated some shopping with long leisurely walks around the marina. No longer sceptical, I would whole-heartedly say this was one of my favourite holidays, and cruising is definitely on my ‘wish list’ for future family holidays! If you would like any advice on cruising, or indeed Barcelona, feel free to contact me and I would be delighted to help!

Cruising the Caribbean

03 March 2009

Having enjoyed a ‘mini-cruise’ in Europe in 2006, I was really excited about cruising in the Caribbean, and the trip certainly didn’t disappoint....... Flights I flew with a group of colleagues from Dublin to London Heathrow with Aer Lingus, and then Heathrow to Miami with British Airways. Both airlines were comfortable, in particular British Airways. In my opinion they offer great facilities for economy passengers: Food was great, seats very comfortable and everyone had personal seat back screen with a variety of channels and movies. Miami Unfortunately my stay in Miami was only a short one! I stayed 1 night pre- cruise in Miami at the 4* Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel was approximately 20 minutes from the airport and is conveniently located at the port. The rooms were spacious and modern with a lovely bathroom. For a city hotel, it had a relaxed ‘resort’ feel and a lovely pool area. Although this hotel is not within walking distance of the main sights of Miami, I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for somewhere to stay in Miami pre-cruise. Also, across the road is a small shopping centre, with a selection of restaurants and great for a bit of retail therapy before boarding your luxury liner!! Cruise 7 nights onboard the 4* Freedom of the Seas wasn’t long enough!! This really is a beautiful ship, and currently one of the largest in the world. Its size is certainly an advantage – the ship felt virtually motionless due to its huge stabilisers, and with so many wonderful facilities onboard you could almost get lost on the ship! We had an inside cabin, which initially I was a little sceptical about, but I was proved wrong! The cabin was perfectly adequate (if a little compact), of course en-suite, with air-conditioning, flat screen TV, hairdryer, mini-bar, vanity area, wardrobe and room service! What more could you ask for?! With so much onboard however, we spent very little time in our ‘stateroom’ (cabin). Our itinerary was the Eastern Caribbean, and ports of call included St Thomas, St Maarten and Puerto Rico. Each island was slightly different. St Maarten is quite unique as one side of the island is Dutch, and the other French. We did a tour of the island which was very interesting and I would certainly recommend it. Puerto Rico had a distinct Latin American feel, and was one of the best spots for Duty free shopping. My personal favourite was St Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands. We spent a wonderfully lazy day on the beach at Megan’s Bay, apparently one of the top 10 beaches in the world as ranked by National Geographic. Back onboard, we enjoyed some terrific entertainment, including live bands, theatrical shows, comedians and a phenomenal skating show! For the active, the ship features a rock climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, full gym and even a ‘Flow Rider’ – surfing simulator. For the less energetic there is a beautiful spa area, (which was surprisingly reasonable), a vast pool deck, and even an adult’s only pool area. Children of all ages are catered for and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely, giving parents a well earned break! Food onboard is fabulous. They say that the average person gains something like a 1lb a day onboard a cruise, and it’s not hard to see why. Restaurants offer a great variety and cater for even the pickiest eater, and vary from formal dining to the buffet restaurant. A couple of restaurants had a small supplement to eat in, but given the standard and indeed value they were well worth trying! So gone are the days when cruising was considered only for the elderly and infirm, cruising is for everyone – honeymooners, retirees, families, even groups of singles! I can’t wait to set sail again!

Riva del Garda and Venice

14 November 2008

This was my first visit to Italy and I’m sure it won’t be my last! My husband and I enjoyed a fabulous week in the Hotel Villa Nicolli in Riva Del Garda. Lake Garda is stunningly beautiful and with several towns surrounding the Lake we found it hard to decide where to stay. Riva Del Garda is set at the north of Lake Garda and approximately 1hr 30 minutes coach transfer from Verona airport. The scenery en route is awe inspiring, so we didn’t notice the time go by! Hotel Villa Nicolli is officially a 4 star hotel, but if comparing with a hotel in Ireland I would certainly rate it as a 3 star, but this is usually the case in Italy. Rooms were clean and comfortable if a little dated. The hotel is family run and independent. The staff were helpful and friendly. Being a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town meant that the hotels grounds were large enough for a pool and whirlpool, a real bonus in August! The town itself is steeped in history and the architecture would delight even the sceptical. As with most places in Italy, Riva has a ‘cafe bar culture’ so no imposing nightlife or lager louts!! Perfect for a couple or indeed a family. Food is delicious and surprisingly reasonable - Italy has a stigma for being expensive but I personally found eating out to be cheaper than Ireland. Around the Lake you will find museums, hiking, cycling, windsurfing, shopping, pebbled beaches, fishing and even paragliding, the area certainly has something to offer everyone. One of the reasons we were particularly drawn to the area was its proximity to Venice. We enjoyed a fabulous escorted day trip to the city and for me it was the highlight of the holiday. I’m fortunate enough to be able to say I have visited some of the major cities in the world – Sydney, Paris, Montreal, New York, Singapore....but for me this is the most beautiful city to date. It is the city of Amore, but don’t forget your wallet! Whilst expensive, a gondola ride is a must, as well as window shopping in the designer boutiques and people watching around St Mark’s Square. It is possible to visit Florence, Pisa and Verona from Lake Garda, but as we only had a week, we chose to visit the Lake side town of Salo and Limone. These are two beautiful towns, somewhat smaller though than Riva. There is a ferry service that is very reliable and this transports to almost every town in Lake Garda. Italy is definitely on my lists of places to go back to, but with so much to see and do in one country the only problem I can foresee - is deciding where to go to next!!

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We recently booked our honeymoon with Rachael. I found her to be extremely helpful and friendly. She was extremely professional and she tailored our honeymoon to suit our tastes and needs. Rachael was always available to discuss the different options on offer and she was very accommodating. Rachael made the whole process so easy for us, she did everything, from organizing our flights and accommodation, to organizing our car rental. All we had to do was choose which options we wanted to go for. I would highly recommend Rachael to anyone.

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