Here’s a bit of a round up of my travels – what I liked, what I didn’t, what worked well, what I’d do differently next time and just other general bits and pieces.
London in late June (early summer) is light. It’s light at around 3.30/4.00am in the morning until around 10pm at night. I found this a little difficult to get used to, especially coming from winter in Australia. My advice if you like your sleep, make sure your windows are closed, blinds pulled down and perhaps invest in some earplugs and an eye mask.
Find a Waitrose, M&S or local fruit stall to stock up on fresh fruit. Pret a Manger is a great cheap place to find breakfast or a sandwich and they are everywhere.
The underground was really easy to use. I would suggest getting an Oyster card before you arrive in London.
I would definitely stay at the Rydges Hotel Kensington again. It wasn’t really walking distance to all the action, but it was a few underground stops away and there was definitely enough in the area to not need to be. It was close to the underground, supermarkets, plenty of restaurants etc. I ate at the Hotel restaurant, the Jam Cupboard and was really impressed with the meal. And of course, Kensington Palace and Hyde Park were just down the road.
There are people out late on the streets, but a lot of stuff doesn’t open til later in the morning. So use it to sleep in or explore the streets while its quiet or go for a walk through Hyde Park.
Grand Cayman Island
The Caribbean Ocean is stunning. However, it is very salty. It played havoc with my hair, hats and clothes. My suggestions would be to travel with a small container of hair treatment or at least wash your hair after every beach visit. Rinse anything that you wear into or around the water so that the salt doesn’t ruin it. Don’t pack overly good clothes. Make sure it’s beach friendly, because truly that is where you will spend half of your time. I reckon I didn’t use 1/4 of the clothes I packed for this very reason.
Sunscreen is a MUST. I can’t stress this enough. Even coming from Australia, the sun was so bitey. Please be careful or you will end up very, very burnt. And make sure you drink enough water. Dehydration can happen rapidly.
Take an underwater camera, disposable or otherwise. Schools of fish, stingrays and starfish can all be found in stunning clear water less than 1/2 meter deep. So even if you aren’t into snorkelling or scuba diving, you can be assured to see sealife somewhere!
This is the place for water sports. And because the waters are so calm and warm, it’s the best place to give them a try for the first time too. Snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, scuba diving – just give it a bash.
Despite the fact that Cayman is not huge, it is not really that easy to get from one part of the island to the other. A lot of the attractions are spread across different parts of the island. My advice would be to either hire a car, or if you want to hit up numerous attractions pick up a tour. Generally the tours visit the same locations, so choose between what you will see on the tour and what you can get to by local bus or taxi easily.
I would definitely stay along 7-Mile beach again. A self-contained room, like what you’ll find at Sunshine Suites is perfect. That way you can prepare the majority of your meals and then just splash out on the odd one. There are some great value buffet meals around – like XQ’s and the Marriott’s Buckaneer’s feast. But don’t forget to try some local specialties.
If you are happy with a not so close up snapshot of the Statue of Liberty, just catch the free Staten Island Ferry. If you want a better close up, I would suggest taking one of the paid ferries, which travel closer to the statue. Of course, if you actually want to access Ellis Island and climb the statue, then that’s another option again.
The museums are huge. Central Park is huge. A lot of the time, you will need to decide whether you have time to dedicate a whole day or whether you want to fit more into your day. I chose to do a little of each thing, rather than one or two things, but that’s just me.
New York is an easy city to walk around. I walked most places, but I found that cabs were affordable and used them on occasions such as late at night or for further trips. Bring good walking shoes.
New York is a noisy city. Earplugs did not work for me. Get yourself good and tired during the day and then have a few glasses of wine before bed, perhaps go to bed with the TV on snooze and hopefully that will give you a few good hours before daylight.
I found it easy to eat relatively healthy in New York. There are plenty of shops such as Pret a Manger, Fresh & Co, Hale & Hearty where you can get fresh salads, sandwiches and fruit and they are open all day serving breakfast through to dinners.
New York is literally the city that never sleeps, but the city doesn’t sleep in either, so if you are into getting out there and seeing all the sights you can stuff into your visit, plan on some long, long days. There are people out on the streets until late at night, and you can dine at any time of the day.
I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time. I stayed at the Affinia Manhattan in Midtown, across the road from Madison Square Gardens and a 10-15 minute walk from Times Square. I felt this was a perfect location. The hotel, whilst old, had been recently renovated. The rooms were large and funky, if not still showing some signs of age. Niles Restaurant had great meals and hotel guests were entitled to a 20% discount on dining in. There were a load of restaurants around the area in any case.
I stayed in Belltown and I don’t reckon I could have chosen a better place. Walking distance to the Space Needle/EMP, Pike Place Market, the shopping district and the waterfront, loads and loads of restaurants and bars to choose from – what more could you want. Seattle is an easy city to walk around, and its such a pretty place, there’s no reason you wouldn’t want to.
Get out and visit Mt Rainier – it’s worth it. I chose Mt Rainier over Yosemite, as Mt Rainier is only a 2hour trip each way. I chose Evergreen Escapes and although I probably paid a little more, the service and quality of the day was well and truly worth it.
Things don’t get going that early in the morning, so go for a walk around the markets, sleep in or do breakfast somewhere nice.
I wouldn’t stay here any less than 4 nights next time. And I would definitely stay at the Ace Hotel again (I had a private room, but you can book otherwise). The free breakfast was awesome. The place smelt so clean and fresh and the staff were awesome. The bed was the most comfortable I stayed in the whole time I was away. FYI – Ace also have a hotel in New York.
San Francisco is not really an easy city to walk around. A lot of the streets are actually at a 45 degree angle. Obviously if that’s what you’re into, then go for it.
There are homeless people everywhere, as with all cities, but I didn’t feel threatened anywhere else. I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough and ended up on the edge of Tenderloin (well I knew there were homeless people around, but just not quite the extent). In saying that, Macys, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Hilton and the Westin were all about two blocks away and they weren’t immune either. I probably would have felt more comfortable staying in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, seeing as that’s where I spent most of my time. There’s loads of restaurants here and most of the tourist attractions are here or leave from here. Because I didn’t feel safe here by myself, I would suggest the city sightseeing buses or guided tours with hotel pickup/dropoff.
I chose to stay at the Best Western Hotel California. The vegan restaurant at the hotel, Millenium was fabulous. Don’t let the fact that its vegan put you off – the meals are so hearty that you probably won’t even notice. But I wouldn’t stay here again.
If you want to go to Alcatraz, book in advance if possible.
Pack warm. Even in ‘summer’. July (summer) is the foggiest month. I would say it was more akin to winter in Perth.
Let’s face it, I don’t think there’s many parts of Singapore that you could go wrong for accommodation. But that said, I like indulging in everything that Singapore has to offer. The only thing that would determine my accommodation is this – if you want to relax by the water, have kids or want to indulge in water sports – head to Sentosa. If you are keen for shopping – stay on Orchard Road. If you are into luxury – head to Marina Bay. If you like Museums and great food, perhaps head for Chinatown or the Raffles area. If you want a quieter, greener area, try around Cuscaden Road. Keep in mind, nowhere on the island is more than a 10-20 minute taxi ride and Singapore’s MRT system is fantastic. So you really can’t go wrong.
There is always something new to do in Singapore. Keep an eye out on www.yoursingapore.com, www.timeoutsingapore.com or even just make sure you pick up the tourist brochures at the airport like Where and you will find out all you need to know about where to go and what to do. I can recommend any tours by Tour East (www.toureast.net), especially the Night Safari with dinner, which I find to be the best value.
Singapore is not just about tourist attractions though, so if like me, you had no idea how much history Singapore had particularly in relation to World War II, make sure you check out Fort Siloso (on Sentosa), Changi Prison & Chapel, Fort Canning or the Old Ford Factory for starters.
Culture vultures will not want to miss the Chinatown Heritage Museum and the Peranakan Museum. There are also numerous walking tours through Chinatown and Little India. And for art lovers – you must stop by SAM or the Art Science Museum. But sometimes, the best thing about Singapore is that even if you just stroll around the streets, you will get a really good picture of the country, its food and its people. And don’t be afraid to try anything here – the food is amazing.
Again, things don’t get going until around 10/11am in the morning, so use the time to enjoy brunch, sleep in or just explore the streets or Botanic Gardens while it’s quiet.
Hotel 1929’s terrace rooms are the best. That said, I would only chose one of these if I were by myself or with a boyfriend etc, simply because the rooms are on the small side and the toilet is situated in with the shower, surrounded by glass. The hotel itself is in a great location, the staff were amazing. Free wifi, good coffee, free breakfast, free cookies and drinks. Well worth the price, which was much less than a lot of the other big name hotels
Don’t bother with a transfer here, just grab a cab from outside the airport.
Whilst there’s lots of conjecture over what works and what doesn’t when trying to combat jet lag, what worked for me was a) following the time clock of the city I arrived in (ie. even if you are tired, make yourself go out for dinner or even just sit on a city sightseeing bus and go to sleep when the sun goes down) and b) try Jet Ease (or No Jet Lag), they may be called something different in your country, but I found this homeopathic remedy to work a treat.
Book transfers. I know you can catch taxis, but I prefer to know that I don’t have to bothered thinking about where I’m going and how I’m going to get there after a long flight.
I booked a lot of tickets on line which saved time queuing up.
When you are budgeting, make sure you include for tipping – I found this added incredibly to my bills in Cayman and the US.
Everyone will tell you this – but don’t over pack. You won’t use it all. And if there’s something you need while you are there, if you need it bad enough, you can buy it.
Buy a second battery for your camera. I take lots of photos and the best investment I made was in a second battery. I find there are lots of days where I spend all day snapping away and not having to worry that I’m running out of battery is a relief. Obviously make sure you have lots of spare cards if you are also this way inclined.
My best flights were with Emirates, Jet Blue and Singapore Airlines. I was surprised that you had to buy food on the six hour Virgin flight from New York to Seattle.
Order a low fat meal for the flight home!
Any questions? Please drop me a line and I’ll be more than happy to share my point of view!