Get the River Cruise Run Down

by Kate Blake, Editor
Senior Travel Advisor- WMPH Vacations

Read more about river cruising on my River Cruise Specialty page

See a list of river cruise companies here on

River cruises are a great way to see a lot of the world that normally you would visit with a land tour- but your hotel goes with you instead of you taking a bus from city to city. This is a great way to see the major cities of Europe at a leisurely pace. Ideal for people interested in history and culture. River cruises offer specialty sailings aimed at food and wine lovers all year. Cruise through France in summer and see the lavendar in Provence. Cruise Paris to Normandy in the spring and see Monet’s gardens at Giverny. Sail into Budapest on the Danube and be awed by one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Visit the Black Forest of Germany and enjoy the wonders of Bavaria. See more fairytale castles than you can imagine. All of these experiences and so much more are available when you take a river cruise.

There are four general categories of river cruise service levels to choose from and a couple of specialty niche options.

1- Discount : this includes locally run and operated tour companies usually servicing people in the same language as the region they operate. You will find discounted options with companies like this provided by bulk tour providers who will offer cheap rates for charter dates usually off season- March, early April and late fall for Europe for example. These are pretty basic,meals are included but you pay extra for anything other than really basic walking tours. CroisiEurope, Gate1Travel, Vanguard are names that come up here. Expect to pay in full at time of booking. Usually these are much older vessels with modest decor built more for function than any kind of luxury experience.

2- Standard: this includes the big name mass market ships you see heavily advertised on television. Viking is the top one here, Emerald Waterways also falls into this category. Plus side- plenty of included tours, wine and beer included with meals. Generous air programs. Gratuities and premium alcohol are extra. Usually the standard vessel will have 180 + passengers at a time. Viking usually has their best rates if you pay in full a year in advance. Emerald allows you to make a deposit then pay final closer to sailing.

Check my Viking page for the best deals with Viking
Value options with Emerald 

3- Premium: this includes Avalon and their panorama rooms as seen on tv, Ama Waterways, and ARosa. Ama Waterways and Avalon are my favorites. Not quite as many people per sailing- usually 160 or less on the same size vessel the standard ships offer. Plenty of tours, really good food, nice wine and beer options. Reasonable rates to upgrade to all inclusive liquor and you can pre-pay gratuities. Pay a deposit and final is due closer to cruising. Usually you pay air as a separate charge- contract flat rates for air are available or you can book your own. AmaWaterways is GREAT for Asia. The AmaDara is a gorgeous vessel calling on Vietnam and Cambodia. I love their itineraries that call on Halong Bay. These premium lines do not overstuff their boats- expect 150- 180 guests on board.

Check my AmaWaterways page for the best deals with AmaWaterways 
Also look for AmaWaterways sailings chartered by Disney for family friendly adventures in Europe.

Avalon often has availability when other lines are full – they have a lot of new ships they are filling and offer aggressive promotions. Plus – they are part of the Globus family of companies and have some of the easist transfer services in the business. This means you can easily fit an Avalon cruise into the middle of a longer European itinerary.   Explore Avalon River Cruises

4- Luxury: All inclusive deluxe river cruise options are some of the most popular. Top four names include long time tour provider Tauck , ocean cruisings top luxury name Crystal is now part of the river cruise market, and finally Uniworld and Scenic which have been the top names in river cruising for decades. All inclusive lines include tours with fewer people per tour, all liquor is included not just beer and wine at dinner and tips are included as well. Air can be added on or you can do it on your own— the luxury providers know that their all inclusive guests often combine a river cruise with additional travel options.
Tipping is all taken care of along with your drinks and tours- so nothing to worry about. Book with a deposit and pay closer to sailing. These book EARLY – a year in advance is normal. Uniworld averages 120 guests on the same size vessels Viking has 180 or more people on.

My special UniWorld page
Read about my personal experience on Uniworld sailing the Danube 

Scenic options 

Crystal River options 

5- Specialty River cruises:
North America is a special case. There are several companies offering all inclusive river cruises on the big rivers and lakes of Norrth America. This includes paddle boats along the Mississipi and adventurous journeys in the steps of Lewis and Clark on the Columbia river in Oregon. Ranging from 4 to 10 nights these are usually booked early- the less expensive rooms book a year in advance.

Another new entry into river cruising is the new U by Uniworld . This line is aimed at younger more active cruisers- less amenities but with the quality Uniworld name. You will find these options in Europe in the summer. Lots of biking and evening activities. Not quite all inclusive to keep costs down.

Some things to keep in mind when booking river cruises:
All river cruises in Egypt and Africa are chartered vessels- none of the big companies own them- they put together packages and charter space on locally flagged and operated vessels. This does not mean you won’t get a great trip just know that sometimes there will be hiccups in service as the cruise line does not have complete control over your ship. Same thing in China. Look for companies that own their own ships like the AmaDara in southeast Asia.
Russia is another destination where this is the situation. ARosa sailings are all chartered from another company as are many of Taucks. Ask your travel agent if your sailing is chartered space or a vessel owned by your cruise and tour provider.

Many of the trips mentioned here are with smaller companies and most river cruises are big ticket travel items. Do not skip travel insurance when you book your trip.  You want to make sure you are covered in case of financial issues where your tour provider may declare bankruptcy. Read up on Cruise West and Renaissance Cruise lines for who can happen when a cruise line goes out of business in the middle of sailings.

By nature of the port intensive, tour intensive itineraries these are not tours designed for people who have a lot of accessibility issues. None of the European or Asian boats offer any ADA rooms. Only some have elevators on them. Most will offer some slow walker tours so folks who need to take it easy can do so. Be sure to mention any physical disabilities with your travel agent so you can get the best tour and river cruise for you!

Beautiful Barcelona in 3 Days

By Kate Blake and Admin

My sister and I came back from her first trip to Europe and my first to the Mediterranean in November, 2015. Our first stop was 3 beautiful days in Barcelona , Spain. We arrived early on Thursday November 12 to a cool but sunny day. I had made arrangements to have a car service pick us up at the airport and our driver was waiting as promised just outside the customs area. He delivered us to our hotel in no time.I had booked this through Travel Bound and was very pleased with the service we received.

Interior of Silken Gran Havanna Hotel

We chose the Silken Gran Havanna Hotel- I booked this through the web site- this is the hotel that cruise guests with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean can choose to book through them. It is centrally located in the art nouveau district close to but not right off of Catalunya Square. The hotel has a lovely late 1890s- early 1900s facade and truly modern interior. Our room was in a corner on a high floor and very quiet. So quiet I had trouble sleeping without my usual noises I am used to from an air conditioner and fan running all the time at home.

When we arrived our room was not quite ready yet so we purchased our Hop on Hop Off Bus tickets at the hotel front desk. 2 day passes were 38 Euros per person and had to be paid in cash. They are available to buy ahead of time for about the same price if you want to have passes in hand when you arrive. Catalunya Square where the bus lines start is 3 long blocks- about a mile from our hotel. We walked that first morning, then took cabs afterwards. Cabs to and fro within Barcelona are very reasonable. 4- 15 Euros will get you almost anywhere in the city.

We took the Gray Line hop on hop off bus- there is another company but Gray Line is the more popular option. They have two bus lines that you can take with the one ticket. They run from 9am to 7 pm in the winter, later in the summer.If you have never taken a hop on hop off bus tour- they are great. They give you headphones when you get on and you plug in and dial up your language for a detailed tour that corresponds to your stops.

Barcelona is one of many cities that grew by leaps and bounds at the time of the industrial revolution in the 1800s. The original central walled city was changed forever when city planners laid out the city you see today taking down the original walls. Barcelona residents like to crow about how old their city is but the truth is most of what you see is from post 1880. The 1888 World’s Fair and then the 1929 Barcelona Exposition were responsible for many of the ornate public spaces such as the zoo which you see today. San Francisco, Chicago, New York , Paris and London all also hosted worlds fairs in this time period and all share many of the same styles of architecture you see in Barcelona. I grew up north of San Francisco and the zoo area of Barcelona reminded me of the Palace of Fine Arts which sits at the end of the Marina district in San Francisco one of the few buildings from the San Francisco world’s fair to survive the earthquake that devastated that city in 1906.

We took the western line the first day. Your hop on hop off tour will take you past such places as the zoo which was home to the only albino gorilla in captivity Snowflake. He was at the zoo for 40 years and his children and grand children are still there today. After passing the zoo you go through the old art and theater district to port Vell. There is a nice statue of Christopher Columbus there. You can take a sky tram across the port area if you like the bus takes you to its departure area up the hill. Looking over the city you see the Olympic Stadium which was home to the 1992 Olympic games. Down the hill from there is the national art gallery. Further on the eastern route is the national football stadium which was of keen interest to our fellow riders from the UK.
After leaving the hills you head into the city again and see the first of the major buildings on the tour by renowned artist and architect  Gaudi- La Pedrera. It had been an amazing home and today has a museum and shops .

That evening we did dinner at our hotel restaurant having an amazing supper with a cold tomato soup, perfectly cooked sea bass and a light lemon sorbet for desert this meal including a glass of wine was only 18 Euros per person.

Day 2- Eastern Barcelona
We got a late start- jet lag caught up with us and we slept until noon local time. Once up and about we went to a cafe near our hotel for a nice lunch then it was a cab to La Sagrada Familia where we picked up our hop on hop off bus again. Our cab ride dropped us off in the front of the masterpiece cathedral which has an anticipated finish date of 2026- its construction began in 1882 with construction interrupted by the Spanish Civil war and resumed in the 1950s. For anyone thinking this is an awfully long time to build something remember many of the great gothic churches of the middle ages and renaissance took even longer to build. This is a UNESCO world heritage site.

After walking all the way around the outside we came to the rear where you enter the church ( tickets are sold in the front) and caught our bus. The eastern route includes The Hospital of St Paul- another world heritage site along with Gaudi’s Park Guell. You can’t see the park from the bus- you need to get out and walk uphill to the entrance. You really need to buy tickets to the Guadi sites ahead of time- these can be purchased online or through your travel agent.

The eastern bus route also takes you by the port- but this time instead of heading up into the hills you go toward the beach and through the more modern part of the city.

Not on the bus tour but worth seeing and easy to get to- Las Ramblas. This is the heart of the city right off Catalunya Square and is filled with markets and shops and bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels. One of the prettiest buildings in the city is the Palau de Musica- the main concert hall is home to all kinds of musical events and the area around it houses music schools. It is gorgeous with older and new buildings attached to each other. It sits just down the way from Catalunya Square and is worth the walk.

Speaking of walking Barcelona is an easy city to get around in. The streets are clearly marked and there are ample city bus and subway routes as well as easy walking paths throughout the city. Beware if locals tell you something is really close- just a few blocks- expect to walk about a mile. European and American distances are not the same. When Americans tell you it is a couple of blocks away- it really is a couple of blocks and usually a quarter of a mile or so. When Europeans say just a few blocks- ask to see a map. I had one person after another say- oh it is a 10-15 minute walk and that was always a mile or more.This is no big deal if you are physically able but if you have trouble walking distances – it is ok to take a cab.

Day 3- Costa Brava and Dali Tour

We booked a great tour through Shore Excursion Group- The Salvador Dali Tour from Barcelona

This was a full day trip. We met at the tour offices next to the Palau de Musica. We walked from there to Catalunya Square. This is about a mile- so be prepared for it. It is relatively flat and in the cool of a November morning not too difficult. One thing to remember- again-  Europeans walk everywhere and have little concept of people with walking difficulties. Every time we asked a European how far something was they would say just a few blocks and inevitably that would end up being at least a mile or more. Very few tours are designed for those who go slow or have any kind of disabilities. This was not too bad as each time you hiked- it was followed by either a car ride or someplace you could then take your time and go at your own pace.

The first part of the tour consisted of a lovely drive from the city of Barcelona up into the countryside and the rolling hills of Girona which feed into the Pyrenees mountains. As you go north- you are getting very close to France. The hillsides of Girona are covered with terraced vineyards that date back close to a thousand years or more. You can see remnants of very old stone structures throughout the countryside. The first stop of the day is the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres. This is a fun museum with so many forms of his art work on hand. There are strange storybook type pen and ink illustrations, paintings, sculpture, mixed media collages, art installations, jewelry you name it it is here! The central theater is in the heart of the museum and it is filled with light and air. I have to think it would be a marvelous place to hold a play or dance. I would love to hear music played in this space.


From Figueres you head to the coast. The Costa Brava is beautiful when I think of the Mediterranean this is what I think of. White plaster walled buildings, cobbled streets, little shops. out-door cafes with seafood galore and tremendous beauty. Cadaques is a summer town. In November it was almost deserted with only the heartiest of tourists out enjoying the crisp fall air. After a charming break we headed down the road to Port Lligat where Dali had his home. The house is not handicapped accessible but they have a little gift shop anyone can use and there is a flat beach in front of the house that looks across a lovely bay. I was reminded of my home stomping grounds in Sonoma county and the rustic beach areas around Bodega Bay. The mud flats had a very familiar feel.

I found a vintage video with Dali and his wife Galla doing some performance art on the beach and you can see the same spot in photos I took!

My photo at Port Lligat








If you are not familiar with Dali- he is the father of surrealism. If you wonder what that means it is the fantastical art that Tim Burton’s movies are made of. Things blend and melt and reality blurs into the dreamlike realm that is buried in the deepest levels of most people’s unconscious mind. Dali saw things this way all of the time. He did not do drugs he just worked on a different wave length. Back in the U.S you can find his best work on display at the Dali Museum in St Petersburg Florida. This was home to his most generous of benefactors who purchased much of his original work over many years.

On the ride back we headed back through those vineyards and the best image from my trip was the photo I did not get . The colors at sunset over the water of the Mediterranean and the rolling hillsides were pink, orange and fiery red. We were back in Barcelona by 7 PM . After tipping our lovely guide Laura we took a cab back to our hotel where we had a second night of tapas and wine at the roof top bar and enjoyed the lights over the city. Our time in Barcelona was coming to a close until next year.

Source: Beautiful Barcelona in 3 Days

Planning a fun Boston Weekend

by Kate Blake- admin, Travel Advisor WMPH Vacations

I have been calling Phoenix Arizona home since 2004 but I spent the ten years prior to that living outside of Boston and then about 4 years after leaving heading there regularly for work. Now I go for pleasure and to visit friends and family.

Whether you have ever been to Boston or not- there is always more to see and do every time you get to Boston. I am listing here a few of my favorite places to stay and eat as well as places to visit if you are in town for just a few days. There are so many reasons to visit Boston- business, vacation, you have a cruise beginning or ending in the city, someone is getting a medical consultation or treatment- or my favorite- you are checking out universities and colleges! No matter your reason for being in town- this is a quick list to get your Boston getaway going.

Where to stay
Stay in the city. Don’t stay in the suburbs if what you want is to see Boston and don’t stay at the airport as it is a pain in the rear getting in and out there.

Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel

Hotels that I like-

Boston Marriott Long Wharf

296 State Street, Boston

This is a great hotel right on the water front with easy access to the Italian district known as the North End. Great area for walking and seeing the town any time of year. Hop on hop off bus tours all go by here, there is easy access to downtown and great restaurants nearby.

The Colonnade Hotel
120 Huntington Ave, Boston
Elegant hotel near the convention center down the road from Harvard Medical School and the Longwood Medical and Academic Area in Boston. Good proximity to Fenway Park. This is in the Copley Place. Back Bay area.
Must do- go to the restaurant downstairs- Brasserie Jo. I will write more on that in a bit.

Sheraton Boston Hotel
39 Dalton Street, Boston
Just around the corner from The Colonnade. Stay here if you are working on getting points with Sheraton. Fantastic fluffy bedding, upper floors have nice views.

Where to eat
So many places are at your fingertips in Boston. Great dining options. I am going to list just a few of my favorites- new small local joints open all the time- I recommend you ask your concierge and explore!

I mentioned Brasserie Jo- this is a fantastic French bistro with great seafood as well as French specialties. I like the clams steamed in wine and when they have it- their lamb shank is amazing. This is great for a nice dinner either with friends and family or you can really make an impression if you are taking a client out. You will need reservations so plan ahead!

The Chart House Boston is next door to the Marriott- again this is a great seafood restaurant. Nice views and reservations are required.

Union Oyster House is the oldest restuarant in north America- fantastic traditional New England clam chowder and lobster are the specialties along with oysters. Again- reservations are suggested

Legal Seafood
A New England chain Legal as locals call it is hard to beat for a great bowl of chowder and whatever other delights the sea can offer. Less expensive than the choices above this is more casual and has a bar you can wait for a table. Great for business lunches. There are locations all over greater Boston including one on State St in Boston and another location across from MIT in Cambridge

If you are in the theater district catching a show- many broadway productions debut here or have top notch traveling productions that come to town- I recommend the chain Maggianos for a great pre or post show Italian feast.

If you are more adventurous- China Town in Boston offers tons of great little places for sushi, Chinese food, Chinese bakeries- you name it. Located near the Tufts University Medical School this is easy to get to and worth the trip.

There are a lot of ways to get around in Boston. One I do not recommend if you are planning to stay in town is renting a car. Boston drivers have their own way of doing things that is disconcerting to say the least if you are an outsider.
Taxis and Uber will get you to and from dinner reservations. The public transportation in the city is great. Buses, trains and trolleys are easy to navigate and reliable. You can use them to get all over the area including taking the Orange Line from North Station to Salem for a day of witchy sightseeing.
Amtrak runs from South Station with service to New York City and points south.

What to do
The USS Constitution is a must for history buffs- great for the kids and family. It is not wheelchair accessible but the museum at the Charlestown Navy Yard is

The Bunker Hill Monument is open year round and run by the National Parks System

Museum of African American History
Learn about the role of African Americans in the founding of our country and their fight for freedom. There are two campuses for the museum- one in Boston the other in Nantucket

JFK Library

Learn more about one of the most popular presidents in American history , his family, his work and the impact he continues to have on American lives and politics.


There are a number of fine art museums in Boston- be sure to check for current special exhibits before you go

Museum of Fine Arts Boston aka the MFA – if its raining- I recommend their restaurant for an elegant lunch. Easy access on the green line trolley

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Best known by many outside of Boston for a very famous theft some years ago- this is a local treasure. Many fine examples of contemporary art as well as more familiar masterpieces.

The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston
Hours Tues- Sunday, kids under 17 free
Gorgeous facility on the harbor

The Boston Children’s Museum
Full of interactive exhibits to fuel children’s imagination

Museum of Science
For all ages- check ahead for IMAX events and special exhibits

New England Aquarium
One of the best aquariums on the east coast- a must if you love penguins!

Grayline offers a wide variety of day tours including hop on hop off buses in the city and day long excursions all over the region. Perfect for spots outside of the MBTA trains routes.
Plymouth is a popular tour to see where the Pilgrims landed. I am a fan of heading to Salem and checking out the witchy history- there are nice tours if navigating public transportation is not your thing. The mansions of Newport are gorgeous when the weather is good- ditto for Cape Cod. Freedom trail tours through Cambridge, Lexington and Concord are interesting year round.

Duck Tours are very popular in the summer- I personally had a horrible experience with a duck tour in Grand Cayman and will not do this again – but if you are brave and can swim- you may want to try it out.

Boston is a big sports city.
You can catch a ballgame at Fenway Park and see the Red Sox play, you can watch the Boston Bruins play hockey or head to Foxboro and see The Patriots play or my favorite- catch an NBA game with the Celtics.

Other things to note- oh yeah- the state of Massachusetts just made marijuana legal though there is not anyplace you can buy it as of today when this is being published. If pot is not your thing- Sam Adams Brewery is a Boston favorite along with numerous craft beers that call this venerable city home.

Make the most of your Honolulu Layover

By Kate Blake- Admin Aerotravelplus and agent

Kate’s Oahu Self-Drive Tour in a Day

I visited Oahu recently and found myself with a full day with no plans. My hotel kicked me out at 11am and my flight was not leaving until 10:30 PM from the Honolulu airport. What was I to do? I opted to take a cab to the airport and pick up a rental car and head out exploring the rest of the island for the day.
I am going to outline for you a couple of nice sightseeing routes that make your last day in the islands one you will not forget.

First- take a cab to the airport- it was about $60 from where I was in Ko’lina , it is about $25-40 from Honolulu and Waikiki. Rent a car for the day ahead of time- I used and got a Jeep Compass for $65 including insurance. If I had known what a dog the Compass was ( horrible transmission) I would have opted for a Nissan Altima which was cheaper and nicer to drive. I rented through Hertz so it was quick easy and pretty much on site at the airport.

Download a drive map of Oahu

From the airport I recommend taking the H1 west and follow the signs to the north shore of Oahu- this is where the surfers go for the big waves and there is amazing scenery all along the way.
You will take the H1 to the H2 and then to the 99 and on to the 83 east. Get a map and you can see this takes you directly through the middle of the island. Just past the Schofiled Barracks you will see to the east of the road on the 99 the Dole Pineapple Plantation. This is a fun stop for snacks and to learn about pineapple farming in the islands.

Continue up the 99 and as you come over the hills you will get sweeping views of the north shore. Head west toward Waialua and out to Mokuleia for empty beaches with pounding surf and unspoiled views. You can go sky diving at the Dillingham Airport which is at the far western tip of the north side of the island. Not so adventurous? Head east toward Haleiwa and the 83. Haleiwa is a great stop to stop for lunch. There are usually tons of food trucks in the town as well as some cute restaurants and coffee shops. You can also check out art galleries.

Continue on 83 east and you will see miles of beaches- there are houses along the ways but the beaches are public- there is nowhere you can’t go. Stop and put your toes in the sand and enjoy the water.

Want an easy bit of beautiful ? Stop at Waimea Valley. There is a restaurant, gorgeous botanical gardens and the only fully wheelchair accessible waterfall on the island. There is a modest admission fee and they offer golf carts to take you up to the falls if it is really hot and sticky and you do not want to offend fellow travelers on your flight home. There is a nice restaurant on site here too.

You can take Hwy 83 all the way to the northern tip of the island then back down and around along the eastern shore. Key stops include the Kualoa Ranch where Jurassic Park and other tv and movies have been filmed. This can also be reached directly by taking the H1 to the H3 east from the airport and then the 83 north. Tours can be booked online ahead of time.

The 83 turns into the 72 which will complete your circle of the island ending in Waikiki at Diamond Head. Or you can take the H3 back to the H1 and return to the airport. I went into Honolulu and stopped at the Ala Moana Centershopping mall located just off the Nimitz Hwy and did a little shopping. Hilo Hattie is an institution also located on the Nimitz and on you way back to the airport. Get gas in town and you are ready to head back to the airport. My full circle plus 2 hours at the mall for a pedicure and shopping was about 10 hours in total.  The shops near the gates for the late night flights do not open until about 2 hours before the flights so there is no reason to rush to the airport.

Hope this helps give you some ideas on how to turn your long wait for a flight into a bonus day you will remember in Hawaii!

Source: Make the most of your Honolulu Layover

In the steps of Elvis- your own Blue Hawaii Experience

In the steps of Elvis- your own Blue Hawaii Experience
by Kate Blake
Admin Aerotravelplus and agent

The 1961 classic film Blue Hawaii starring Elvis Presley stands out from other beach movies of the era because it was filmed on location in Hawaii. Hawaii had just begun really growing as a tourist destination with daily flights from the mainland bringing tourists to Honolulu to experience the south Pacific they had heard so much about from GIs who had been through there or stationed there during World War II and beyond.

Blue Hawaii is pretty light on story but it is fun and they visited a lot of locations that are today considered iconic Hawaiian landmarks. The story started on Oahu and the Honolulu airport which was so small in 1961- you can’t really recognize the airport from then when you land there today. One thing that remains the same- any decent tour operator will make sure you are greeted with a lovely lei- this is a necklace made of native flowers.

Here is Elvis being kind of a jerk to his girlfriend who meets him at the airport with a lei courtesy of Waihila played by Hilo Hattie. Hattie is the same woman whose name graces the fun Hilo Hattie Hawaiian clothing shops which can be found on Maui, Kauai and in Honolulu at the Ala Moana Mall.

When you reserve a Hawaii hotel and cruise combo with , and WMPH Vacations- you will be met by a greeter who will drape you with a lei upon landing at the airport! Your greeters then take you to baggage claim and your driver who will take you to your hotel.
Upgrade your hotel experience to the Hilton Hawaiian Village and you will walk in the steps of Elvis! This landmark hotel has undergone a number of renovations over the years but its prime location in the heart of Waikiki remains the same. There is no place better to shop, have lunch on the beach or try your luck at surfing! Make sure you are up EARLY to ensure you can get some amazing views as the sunrises over the water.

One thing not shown in the movie- the Hilton has a fantastic tradition- on Friday nights they have a fireworks show! This is every week once the sun goes down.

Elvis’s character in Blue Hawaii Chad Gates really does not want to go into the family business and work for the pineapple company- but he does take his group of tourists to see pineapples being farmed. You can see the world famous Dole Pineapple Plantation on Oahu with a tour or it is an easy drive from the Honolulu airport and makes part of a great day trip on your own if you have a late night flight and time to kill. Rent a car and go!

Need ideas on how to spend a day driving around Oahu? See my post- Make the most of your Honolulu layover

If you want to snorkel where Elvis and Maile do in Blue Hawaii- you can go where the Obamas went just this week- head to beautiful Hanauma Bay State Park. You can get inexpensive shuttle service from Waikiki hotels so this is a great way to spend an afternoon without spending a fortune- and perfect if your hotel is not right on the beach. The snorkeling is amazing and the park looks pretty much the same as it did 50 years ago.

If you want to experience an authentic Hawaiian Luau you can spend a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center- it was featured in the movie. If you prefer a beach front luau- go off script and either book one under the stars on the roof of the Hilton Hawaiian Village or go to the west side of the island for a beachfront toes in the sane experience at Paradise Cove. Your travel agent can help you pre-book a luau- just ask.

The second half of the movie moves to Kauai. If you take a cruise around the Hawaiian islands on the Pride of America – you get to spend a day and half on this lovely island.

The Coco Palms hotel where the Kauai scenes were shot was destroyed by hurricane Iniki in 1992- this was the same year that Jurassic Park was being filmed on the island and Steven Spielberg and the cast had to hunker down as the hurricane whirled around them. There is a current project under way finally to redevelop the resort. It is scheduled to re-open in 2017.

Blue Hawaii wedding scene

Just across the road from the resort is the Smith Family ranch – you can book a luau and trip to the fern grotto where the Hawaiian wedding scenes were shot for the film. The grotto was also damaged by the hurricane but 20 years later the fern grotto is beautiful again.

Need more Elvis? You can book a night of Elvis impersonator fun in Maui with the Burnin’Love dinner show ( you do an overnight on the Pride of America cruise)
You can have a night of more Elvis fun in Honolulu at the RockaHula event at the Royal Hawaiian Theater – the Legends in Concert Waikiki includes Elvis and friends

To get in the mood- I recommend picking up Blue Hawaii on DVD- which makes a great gift for anyone heading to Hawaii for the first time or returning for the first time in a long time.

Best time to visit Hawaii? Value season is fall before Thanksgiving and the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Christmas and New Years are peak season- rates dip again after easter and through May. Summer rates from June – August are at the highest for the year when the kids are out of school. End of August is a great time for families rates drop a little and airfare drops a lot once you are past the first week of August.

To make the most of your Elvis Hawaii experiences check out a Hawaii Cruise Combo !

Source: In the steps of Elvis- your own Blue Hawaii Experience

Top Attractions in Barcelona- A Quick List and Guide

When you think of modern Barcelona there is one name that stands out- Gaudi. The term gaudy is derived from the artist and architect’s name. Antoni Gaudi was the best known Spanish architect of the late 19th century and into the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the modernist art and architecture movement that displaced the very traditional designs that proceeded him. He incorporated mixed mediums into his designs- ceramics, glass, sculpture all melded along with curves and spires and designs that today scream modern but at the time were outrageous and rule breaking. Unlike so many artists who must wait until they are dead to achieve any degree of real fame- Gaudi had fans in his own time and you can see his visions brought to life all over Barcelona. There are many tours which will take you to a variety of Gaudi sites or you can print out this list, use a map and explore on your own. Many offer tours ( for a fee) others you can view from outside. You do not want to miss these landmarks- many of which are world heritage sites on your trip to Barcelona.

1. The Sagrada Familia– This is Gaudi’s masterpiece. Construction began on this gothic cathedral in 1882 and is expected to be completed finally in 2026. You can visit it today- just make sure you book skip the line tickets or be prepared to wait all day to get tickets for your chance to go inside. The hop on hop off bus tours that go through the city all stop here.
Address- Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona

2. Casa Vicens- this is a private home built for a wealthy brick maker and is one of the first Art Noveau homes in the city. This is a world heritage site. Right now this property is for sale- if you have the money you may be able to purchase it. Here is the real estate listing site Here is the link for info on the site
Address- Carrer de les Carolines, 18-24 08012 Barcelona

3. Guell Pavillions– The Güell Pavilions were built between 1884 and 1887 by Antoni Gaudí. The pavilions were built for a summer residence of the wealthy Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell.
Address- Av. de Pedralbes, 7, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

4. Palau Guell- The Palau Güell was designed by the young Gaudí and is a wonderful blend of medieval opulence and the architect’s unique exuberant style. Completed in 1890, the building was the private residence of Gaudí’s patron, Count Güell. The Palau Güell is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address- Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

5. Teresian College – Located in the neighborhood of Sant Gervasi in Barcelona, at 85 Ganduxer Street, you will find the College of the Teresians, a work carried out between the years 1888 and 1890. You may see the exterior of the college.
Address- Ganduxer 85-105 Barcelona

6. Casa Calvet- The Casa Calvet de Barcelona (1899) is one of Antoni Gaudí’s earliest buildings. Some people consider it his most conservative work but it also contains markedly modernista elements, such as the façade which terminates in a curve and the attic balconies, which look like something from a fairy tale. The ground floor now houses a restaurant.
Address: Carrer de Casp, 48, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

7. Bellesguard- The Torre Bellesguard, which is currently owned by the Guilera family who still live in part of the house, was designed by Antoni Gaudí and built between 1900 and 1909. The building has straight lines which were seldom seen in his work and was inspired by the medieval castle where King Martin the Humane once lived, parts of which can still be seen in the gardens of the house. Address: Carrer de Bellesguard, 16, 08022 Barcelona, Spain

8. Park Guell – Park Güell, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This garden-city project was commissioned by Eusebi Güell but never completed. It eventually became the property of Barcelona City Council. The result is a public park full of imagination and colour where every detail expresses Antoni Gaudí’s desire to integrate architecture into the surrounding natural setting.
Address: Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona, Spain

9. Casa Milà, La Pedrera – This is one of the most important of Gaudi’s designs. When Pere Milà commissioned Antoni Gaudí to build a residential block, it gave the architect the perfect opportunity to bring to fruition one of his most complete works. Built between 1906 and 1912, the Casa Milà occupies an entire corner of the Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s Eixample.

Address: Provença, 261-265, 08008 Barcelona, Spain

10 . Casa Batlló – The Casa Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces and an iconic modernista landmark. Situated on Passeig de Gràcia, this building stands out from the rest due to its eye-catching design and colour. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain

11. Church of Colònia Güell- also Gaudi’s Crypt – The Church of Colònia Güell (Catalan: Cripta de la Colònia Güell, IPA: [ˈkɾiptə ðə ɫə kuˈɫɔniə ˈɣweʎ]) is an unfinished work by Antoni Gaudí. It was built as a place of worship for the people in a manufacturing suburb in Santa Coloma de Cervelló, near Barcelona (Spain). Colònia Güell was the brainchild of Count Eusebi de Güell, however with Güell losing profits from his business, the money was depleted and only the crypt was completed.
Address: Calle Claudi Güell, 08690 Colònia Güell, Santa Coloma de Cervelló, Barcelona, Spain

12. Sagrada Família Schools– these are the school buildings that are attached to the temple that is La Sagrada Familia. They offer tours and a variety of programs that the public can participate in.
There are many tour operators that offer multi-site tours featuring the work of Gaudi that operate in Barcelona.

Shore Excursion Group is one site that offers many options for cruise guests and people just lookng for a nice day trip while in the city. Prices are reasonable and there are a lot of tours to choose from depending on how much time you have and what you want to see.

A favorite of mine is always Viator- they have even more options that frequently do not get listed anywhere else.

For budget friendly options- consider one of many free walking tours offered in the city including many options for visiting Gaudi sites.

Source: Top Attractions in Barcelona- A Quick List and Guide