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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Relaxation & Romance’

Prince Harry, Part II: Mahiki Madness

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I was pumped when my close friend from college announced that she would be having her “hen party” (British term for bachelorette) at MAHIKI (reportedly Prince Harry’s favourite club).  We thought for sure that we would have some royal/celeb sightings at this famous London hotspot.  What geeky American tourists we are…

You know, in all honesty, we could have seen Madonna, Harry and the Dalai Lama by the time we finally hit the dance floor…that is, after emerging from our tropical “submersion” in champagne-filled treasure chests, flaming booze lava fountains and enormous conch shells, spilling over with red rum fruity goodness…

But let’s back up for a minute…

Mahiki Hens: the adventure begins…

9:33 pm:  Eleven, dolled up twenty-somethings arrive to the door of London’s most famous club.  One sparkling bride-to-be, flanked by eight fellow Americans, one Canadian and two authentic “hens” (only one Brit and one Aussie in attendance…but we called it a hen party anyway…). Three are giggling, one is hobbling on crutches (me), and two are scheming re: the fact that we have missed the free entry cut off time by 3 minutes—how to get around this?

9:34 pm:  “Ten pound entry fee, five hundred pound minimum per table” asserts chic, blonde woman at door. 

I repeat, woman at door. We definitely aren’t getting around this…

9:35 pm: Julia Allison, long time friend of bride-to-be reveals her true colors as celeb. mag columnist and lifestyle/entertainment guru.  So much for her night of undercover debauchery with the girls.  Julia flashes biz card, dishes PR schpeel to chic blonde woman, who, after 38 seconds of conversing with Julia, officially loves us.  “Such lovely girls…’ she coos.  Free table, complementary drinks—yes, yes can all be arranged.

We’re in.

9:40 pm:  We are escorted to a large, tropical bungalow-esque table by a camp cabana boy waiter.  We keep our eyes peeled for Harry and co.

9:50pm: Against our better judgement, we order THE TREASURE CHEST (pictures to come ASAP).

10:00pm: THE TREASURE CHEST arrives, filled with ice, fruit, an unidentifiable concoction of hard liquor and 11 straws.  A pirate queen’s dream come true.  Camp cabana boys pour champagne into chest.  We assemble into a giggling circle and sip.

10:10pm: Still sipping…

10:20pm: Still sipping…

10:30pm: Is this a bottomless chest?

Circa 10:40pm: Cabana boys arrive with two flaming “volcanoes” of booze.  And, of course, 11 straws.  We’ve just (barely) finished our treasure chest, and the bride is drunk.  My fractured foot is, magically, “all better!”……

??:??pm: Cabana boys return with two of  the largest conch shells I have ever seen, filled with red, fruity mystery punch.  One of which is now the centrepiece of the bride’s work desk back in Oxford.

??:??pm: Dance floor…

Circa 12:15am: Bride and her crew from Oxford realize that they are not going to make it to the station in time for their 12:15am train home (why they booked a 12:15 train, I will never know….).

??:??am:  … ???

Right, so, in conclusion, Mahiki is an absolute blast; however, I will probably never be able to go there again: I’ll never be able to top our amazing hen party adventure—I’ll never again receive the same, superb degree of service (thank you, Julia!)…  

Well…maybe I’ll go when I get married.  Or next time Harry comes to town.  Or both, if you catch my drift? J

 

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Couples are biggest ”travelling groups” in Britain

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Around 58 million overnight trips were made by couples last yearAround 58 million overnight trips a year are made by British couples, making them the largest "travelling group" in the country, VisitBritain has said.

Elliot Frisby, a spokesperson for the national tourist agency, explained that the UK has "a rich variety of different appeals that make it ideal for all kinds of traveller … [including] a coastline that offers sandy beaches for walking, riding or building sand-castles, as well as ones perfect for romantic walks".

In addition, the country has "centuries of history and heritage attractions as well as a unique culture with events, ceremonies and more quirky traditions, rooted in music, film and literature", he said.

And on the subject of literature, Mr Frisby recommended: "Cosy up with a loved one for a break on the Yorkshire moors as immortalised by Bronte”s Wuthering Heights, or in Whitby in the north east with its gothic associations, cliff and beachside walks."

Earlier this week, VisitBritain partnered with high street bookseller Waterstone”s to offer visitor information to tourists in the UK.

Relaxation and Romance – Wining and Dining – Dine in some unforgettable settings including the Eiffel Tower and in the shadow of the New York skyline.
ADNFCR-1652-ID-18755460-ADNFCR

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PERFECT HOLIDAY CONTEST FINALISTS

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Thanks to those who participated in the 2008 isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest! We were overwhelmed with enthusiastic responses and sincerely apologize for the delay in posting the finalists. But we’ve finally done it! Hooray! The top 5 entries have been selected, and it’s time to VOTE!

FYI: though we could only select 5 finalists, we truly enjoyed reviewing your (100!) entries. We admire your imaginative efforts; thus, the majority of this blog is dedicated to the bulk of entries that did not make it through to the shortlist. We have explained why certain types of entries were not selected and have included some relevant travel tips to assist you in actualizing your dream getaways!

If this sounds boring to you ( – it’s not, actually!), you can skip straight to the action, and:

CLICK HERE to VOTE for one of the TOP FIVE ENTRIES

…as selected by our team of travel writers and product specialists. Go ahead, do it! But remember, you can vote once, and once only!

SOME TRENDS AND TIPS:

(By the way, we’ve listed the finalists at the bottom of this blog in hopes that you will actually read the rest of what we have to say!)

…right, so we learned a great deal about your travel desires and needs from reading your entries—namely that most of you are in need of a good, long holiday! There were also some recurring themes:

1. “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are with…”
A large number you would prefer to spend your precious time away from the office on a romantic getaway with your significant other. Your descriptions of destinations were often very imaginative, but also quite vague, as you focused on the experience that you would have with the love of your life—just the two of you—isolated in paradise. These entries were fantastic (and heartwarming) but were also, unfortunately, more difficult to judge as sometimes we were not sure where, exactly, you aimed to go on your holiday! We suggest visiting the Romantic Retreats section of the isango! website to transform your, ahem, ‘daydreams’ (wink!) into reality.

2. Family First.
A large percentage of you have young children and thus face difficulties with planning to please multiple parties. For you, the ‘perfect holiday’ is one that is free of logistical nightmares: your entries thus tended to be long lists of things that you wanted to avoid (long queues, large crowds, flight delays), rather than of things you actually wanted to do. Though we can do nothing about rubbish airlines (except to complain right alongside you) we can help you to avoid ‘on the ground’ family feuds by encouraging you to plan a detailed itinerary prior to departing. Start with our list of Family Tours under the Activities section of our website, which can be narrowed down, for example, to theme parks and self drive tours.

Others of you focused on the needs of your parents and grandparents, wishing to fulfill their dreams by taking them to parts of the world that they have always wanted to see. We suggest starting with our Seniors category and narrowing your options down by country, or city, from there. (You can also always contact one of our friendly customer service reps if you have any questions!)

3. Some of you are, well, CRAZY…
Really, wow. You submitted some fantastically wild travel ‘plots’ (- you know who you are!). Check out some of our quirkier blogs for more unconventional ideas and inspiration.

Now, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

THE FINALISTS:

1. Hanlie Burger, ‘Shipwrecks, Sand Dunes and Desert Elephants’.

2. Louise Brown, ‘Northern Solitude’

3. Sarah Berl, ‘Spelunk!!’

4. Marian Redmond, ‘Campania Felix’, and

5. Sarah Stocks, ‘Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’

A huge CONGRATS to Hanlie, Louise, Sarah, Marian and Sarah—and all of our participants—for dreaming up such fabulous ‘perfect holidays’! We cannot thank you enough.

Please vote here, and to pass this email along to all of your family and friends!

You can also check out more blog coverage of the contest here.

Thanks again for participating!

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Romantic Dream Getaways

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Ok, so I’ve learned a thing or two about our loyal readers and customers after plowing through some of the recent ‘Perfect Holiday’ contest entries…

Namely that you are a bunch of sappy romantics!

Seriously, though, we’ve received some descriptive and inspiring responses to our call for entries (to win a £500 isango! voucher), many of which I will posting on the blog in the coming weeks. To keep up with the competition entries, just select the ‘Perfect Holiday’ tag under ‘TOPICS’ on the right hand side of the page – we will be posting entries frequently.

Today’s Topic: Romantic Getaways.

OK lovebirds, I’ve done some research in response to your *heartwarming* descriptions of paradise.

Your entries, my suggestions….here goes!

1. ‘SILVER SMILES’, by Diane Russell.

“Toronto is a place I would love to see – all that colour, the lights flickering across the waters. Flying in a helicopter across Niagara falls…imagine the spectacular view!…WHY, you ask? Because the 20th of August 2008 is our Silver Wedding Anniversary. 25 years…WOW, that sounds like a long time.

( – Indeed!)

But I can honestly say, with my hands on my heart, that he is the man I always want to be with. We have a partnership, we share, and we work together to achieve our goals. LOVE is the word.

( – Awwww, how sweet…)

Romance in Toronto – this would be an experience of a lifetime…warm beaches…just our kind of paradise – the ultimate romantic escape for the perfect Silver Wedding destination. To be able to indulge ourselves in luxury…just closing our eyes and dreaming about the perfect week vacation…our perfect romantic getaway…”

Niagara Falls View

OK Diane, that’s quite a tall order – your 25th Wedding Anniversary! I’ve come up with a few activities that seem to meet your criteria:

1. Helicopter ride over Niagara Falls

Diane, this exhilarating flight over the Falls will provide you and your hubby with all of those magnificent views that you have been dreaming about! (You also may want to consider the Evening Light Tour of Niagara Falls).

2. 30,000 Islands Scenic Cruise

In response to your comment about ‘warm beaches’ (which, I must admit, I was initially confused by as I have never been to Toronto!), after some research, I discovered an island hopping excursion that sounds absolutely amazing…

The Miss Midland 30,000 Islands Boat Cruise departs daily from Midland, Ontario (which is just a scenic coach ride away from Toronto). You can explore one of the most scenic parts of Lake Huron, the Muskoka-Georgian Bay. The protected islands of this region can only be reached by boat and are supposed to be spectacular…

And on to our next entry…

2. Untitled, by Joy Lontine.

“I wake up to jungle sounds and sun streaming in an open window. Pour myself the perfect cup of coffee and step barefoot onto the deck which overlooks azure waters in the Caribbean Sea. I take a walk with the love of my life down to the palm tree lined secluded beach, picking the perfect ripe mango off a tree along the way. He and I slice the mango which is still warm from the sun and have the perfect breakfast. We board a small boat which is equipped with our scuba gear and take it to a secluded cove where we dive in warm, crystal waters. After an afternoon of diving and napping on the sands, we return to our bungalow then set out for a night on the town with the locals. We dine on succulent lobster which has just been caught that day. We dance barefoot to steel drums enjoying our mojitos. After enjoying a glass of champagne under moonlight, we kiss goodnight and anticipate tomorrow!”

Joy, have you ever considered the Florida Keys? I’ve visited them several times with my family—the islands are all quite beautiful, and if you do some good research, you will be able to find the secluded little resort that you have your heart set on.

And, from Key West, you can take this Caribbean Cruise, which similar to the one that you described (I have been on a snorkeling trip from Key West myself – it was amazing!)

You can choose from either a day snorkeling outing, which includes the equipment, or a ‘Champagne Sunset Sail’, which includes the booze… (or do both!).

Your dream vacation sounds very plausible and affordable.

Good luck!

More Romantic Getaway Ideas?

Send in your wildest, most imaginative holiday ideas (here), and we will attempt to match your requests with some exciting tours and excursions.

Dream big!

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Mama Mia! Mania: Behind the Scenes in Greece

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“(I would) fly to the beautiful Greek Isles, to a quiet marina, where I could introduce my wife to the boat that would take us island hopping – sailing from fishing village to fishing village…local ports fringed with tavernas…seafood washed down with the native wine whilst the blood-red sun kisses the Mediterranean sea `good night’…”

– Fred Harper, ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest Entrant

Sparkling blue water, rugged coastal terrain, sailboats, sunshine, serenity, and fresh seafood (mmm…..)

…not to mention a strutting, overall-clad Meryl Streep, a feisty Julie Walters, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a glowing Amanda Seyfried……and, of course, a non-stop ABBA marathon.

Who’s seen Mama Mia! And doesn’t want to go to Greece?

I’m always skeptical of movie renditions of musicals, but, in this case, the big screen certainly exploits what the West End can’t: the absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Greek Islands.

Behind the Scenes in Skiathos and Skopelos

Just over a year ago, Streep, Brosnan, and the rest of the multi-talented Mama Mia! cast were staging 1970’s ABBA mayhem on remote islands of the Aegean sea…

It’s time to follow in the footsteps of the stars (and as well as the imagination of our contest entrant Fred) on the following tours:

1. Romantic Sunset Cruise in Skiathos.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a blissful, young bride or groom to be, sheltered from the realities of the world on a little Greek slice of paradise. The amorous atmosphere of the Sophie’s dream island wedding lingers on the island of Skiathos, where a Calypso fishing boat awaits the next pair of lovebirds that desire a taste of Aegean seaside culture, music, cuisine and scenery.

The Skiathos ‘Music and Moonlight’ Sunset Cruise departs Tuesdays from 15 May – 15 October and is the perfect romantic outing for the adventurous duo. Indulge in freshly prepared island cuisine, feel the rhythms of the traditional Greek folk music, and dance your way into the sunset…..

2. Tour of Skopelos

Explore the magnificent setting of Donna’s infamously ‘rustic’ hotel—‘the greenest island in Greece’—by embarking on the Sporades Island Hopping Tour, which includes a stop at ‘Kalokairi Island’, or rather, Skopelos!

Your adventure will begin as you board a boat in the harbour of Skiathos, where some of Mama Mia’s most lively scenes were created. Coast across the sparkling Aegean until you arrive at what was, just under a year ago, the central hub of ABBA action—where Pierce Brosnan’s flip flops are now on display…and where the film’s fairytale church, Agios Ioannis, juts out over the sea on a magnificent, towering rock formation.

Your day will end with a stop at neighbouring Alonissos; you will return to Skiathos in time for a relaxing sunset meal.

Mama Mia! Here we go again…

May your romantic, island hopping adventure leave you ‘stranded’ at an isolated taverna…complete with a staff that breaks out into spontaneous song and dance…

Other great behind-the-scenes film tour ideas:

The ‘Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond’ Blog

The ‘Hollywood, Bollywood and Beyond’ Blog (a favourite!)

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Thailand’s backpacker image ‘outdated’

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Thailand is attracting a lot of honeymoonersThailand’s reputation for being a backpacker destination is "outdated", according to the editor of Luxury Travel Magazine.

Alyson Cook said:"Thailand has become a popular destination – particularly with the honeymoon market."

She added: "The boutique hotel market is a growing aspect of what they have to offer in that part of Asia … They have also perfected the spa side of the market and that, increasingly, is very high on the luxury travellers’ list; a decent spa is almost a pre-requisite."

According to the Kuoni Long Haul Report 2008, Thailand was the second most popular long-haul destination for British holidaymakers in 2007, coming second to the Maldives.

The report also found that boutique luxury continues to boom, and that holidays offering a very personal experience of a distant destination are growing in popularity.

Ms Cook said people can enjoy "wonderful" beach holidays in places like Koh Samui, as well as have the opportunity to travel up into places like Chiang Mai.

Relaxation and Romance – Wining and Dining – Dine in some unforgettable settings including the Eiffel Tower and in the shadow of the New York skyline.
ADNFCR-1652-ID-18678167-ADNFCR

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Thank You, Sex and the City

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FIRST OF ALL, I want to thank Sarah Jessica Parker (and Candace Bushnell) for making my name so trendy and cool. I am sure all of the (real!) Carries and Aidans out there can relate: we are now the (tragic!) victims of subconscious associations with sex, good looks and high fashion.

It’s amazing, the responses I get when I introduce myself to people—it’s almost like the general public has been hypnotized by SJP’s flouncy skirts and witty voiceover rants.

When I was a little girl, I never, ever imagined that when I grew up, a notable percentage of my introductory handshakes would involve the word “sex.” Instead, I was brainstorming ways to resolve the ongoing confusion in my family home: I was named after my dad (whose mother was incidentally a Cary Grant fan).

This may sound endearing—a baby girl named after her father—but picture yourself as an awkward preteen. What would you do if all incoming calls from potential suitors were filtered by your goofy dad, who refused to acknowledge the word “boyfriend” as a part of the English language?

“Yes, speaking” he would chirp into the receiver; “of couse this is Cary. Who did you think…?”

And the infamous: “oh, I see…you must be looking for Little Carrie. This is Big Cary. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

(You’d probably think about changing your name to “Boyfriend,” too…)

SECONDLY, I’d like to thank the producers of the beloved Sex and the City Movie for spreading the buzz overseas, thus securing my sex appeal abroad. You even followed me to London with your glamourous international premiere, which was amazing! PICTURES HERE.

Right. It was actually terrible—I couldn’t see a thing, and I think that I experienced the second most claustrophobic moment of my life (first being Mardi Gras ’03) when I was trying to exit through one of the side streets. That was the last movie premiere I’ll go to in Leicester Square, or maybe anywhere…ever.

I applaud those who braved the cinema queues for the film’s 28 May opening night in London…I really do. I just might have to settle for the reviews (and a few good photos of Carrie’s wedding dress, of course.)

LASTLY, I would like to thank my co-worker Daniele for suggesting, to the sheer delight of the girls in my office ( – not!), that we be featured in the recent “Sex in Many Cities” Newsletter (which went out to over 600,000 people) as corporate counterparts to characters Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

For all of you die hard fans, the newsletter, which can be viewed here, discusses several behind-the-scenes and personalized Sex and the City Tours.

Sex and the City, you sure do make life interesting!

Let the Carrie Bradshaw Madness continue.

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The Search for Prince Harry

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Last weekend, I took a day trip to Windsor and Eton with one obvious objective in mind: to have a royal sighting.

I know, I know—lame, BUT I’m convinced that the chivalrous young prince would have fallen for my “lost tourist,” damsel-in-distress act.

Right?

According to our chirpy Windsor Castle guide Penny, the Queen was in residence that day…

Windsor Castle Tour

But what about our favourite royal soldiers? Where was Harry hiding?

Among the guards?

Changing of Guards at WIndsor Castle

At Eton College—his old stomping ground?

Eton College, UK

We finally decided that the princes were most likely cruising down the Thames in a yacht. It was, after all, a beautiful day. So we set sail ourselves, in a classy rowing boat:

Rowing on Thames in Windsor

Rowing On Thames in Windsor

 

No luck, unfortunately—we were hoping for a royal rescue when we crashed into the bank (Twice! Oops!)—but I still have high hopes. That’s why I am leaving this blog open for responses and comments.

Harry: next time you’re in London, I should be free for a drink. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday nights are pretty good for me. I’m also up for the weekend countryside adventure…but I’ll let you decide.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Carrie x

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Cultural Adventures, Part II: Spain

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Following my guide to eccentric past times in the UK, I have outlined some of the most intriguing traditions and festivals to experience this year in España.

As I noted before, there is still time to make 2008 a year of cultural adventure! So take a chance, and discover some of Europe’s most bewildering and unconventional pastimes.

A guide to some of Spain’s most unique celebrations.

1. La Diada de Sant Jordi (Lovers’ Day).
What
: Like Valentine’s Day, except boys get books (?)
Where: Barcelona, Spain.
When: 23 April 2008.

Get ready for a little spring sunshine…and lots of Latin love!

This April, hopeless romantics will unite in the streets of Barcelona to honor Saint George, who, like our man Valentine, inspires thousands of young lovers to make their passions public via reciprocal gift giving. Stroll down Las Ramblas, and immerse yourself in the amorous buzz as you delight in street performances, quirky architecture, and, of course, the colorful merchandise of nearly every florist and book seller in Catalonia! Join in on the tradition: gentleman, woo your novias with roses, and ladies, make your men blush with some heartfelt selections of prose. continue reading

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College Spring Break 2008

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I know, I know—you want your Mexican rendezvous to involve the least amount of planning possible. It’s Spring Break, for crying out loud, and as long as there’s booze, sun, sand and some like minded crazy kids, you’re fine. The only thing you need to “plan” is what kind of plastic container you are going to hide your coconut rum in when packing your suitcase. Trust me, I’ve been there.

But before you hop on the plane in a few weeks (or, if you’re kicking it old school, jump in a van), I want you to do two things:

  1. Remember your passport or photo ID (the real one!), whichever you need for your chosen route of debauchery. And don’t lose it.

Put it in one of those dorky Samsonite pouches or something. Trust me, the overworked people at the airport/border do not care how much you’ve spent on your ticket/hotel, or who your dad is. They don’t. Forget/lose your ID, and you are screwed.

  1. Take 30 minutes to actually think about what is going on in and around the place you are visiting, and book a few things to do.

By this I mean: there are going to be plenty of opportunities to get drunk and sunburned. There are going to be thousands of people running around you all day long doing just this. At first it will all seem fantastic (and it is). But by the third or fourth day of non-stop drinking up with the Joneses, you will crash. There are plenty of cool and exciting day excursions that you can do to switch things up a bit. Many are cheap and take only a few minutes to sign up for.

You may be thinking, “oh, I’ll just figure it out when I get there…they will be selling tours to see the Mayan ruins left and right.” Yes, they will, and no, you won’t. After 72 hours of spending all of your saved up dough on daiquiris, forgotten toiletries, and expensive burgers, the last thing you will want to do is fork over a wad of cash for an overpriced tour to a perky sales agent. It will be even harder to talk a friend into doing it with you. So take a few minutes, and plan. continue reading

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