Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Karen in New York, Miami & Las Vegas

We're having a look back at some of our favourite travels from last year - Karen headed to the USA, visiting New York, Miami and Las Vegas, on an action-packed trip. Here's a quick look at the highlights of her visit State-side . . . .


I've been to various parts of the States before, but this was my first trip to New York - it's one of those cities that's so well known on TV and in films that you kind of feel that you know it already, so it did feel like I was on a movie set at times - or at least in an episode of Friends! 

I chose to stay close to Penn station as I was taking the train to my next destination - the Wyndham New Yorker is in such a handy location, plus I love the Art Deco feel of the place. I used the hop-on hop-off buses quite a bit - what a great way to get around and to take in all the main sights - plus I took a cruise out towards the Statue of Liberty, which was fab! There's so much to see and do that you could go back time and time again and see new things, but as this was my first trip to the Big Apple there were some basics I wanted to do - the Empire State Building, Central Park and One World Trade Center were top of my list.


I also wanted to catch some sport and take in a bit of nightlife, but being short of time I tried to combined the two - being an avid Liverpool fan I managed to watch one of their matches at the fantastic Carragher's Bar in Midtown Manhattan, but given the time difference the match started at 8 am so the 'nightlife' aspect didn't quite work out. Still, it's beer o'clock somewhere in the world - and at least the Reds won!




I then took the train from New York to Miami - we book a lot of holidays with trains in the US but not normally this route as it's around 30 hours, but as I was travelling with my husband and he's a train nut, I didn't really have the choice! Thankfully it was great fun - we had a fab little cabin - and it was fascinating to see the US countryside pass by. If you're interested in travelling by train in the US just give me a call and I can tell you all about it!


I love Miami - I hadn't expected it to be quite so entertaining! It has to be one of the best places for people-watching I've ever been to - anywhere! We spent an enjoyable few days just watching the world go by in South Beach - Miamians love to see and be seen, so we took a seat in a bar with a view and sat back to take it all in! I was lucky enough to stay at the iconic Fontainebleu Hotel, a gorgeous Art Deco property set right on the beach - it's a resort in itself so there was barely any need to leave, but with so much going on in Miami we took the opportunity to explore. It's an amazing place, and the architecture in South Beach is fabulous - a great place for a lazy day of mooching (and people-watching!)




I also visited Las Vegas, a city that's been on my wish list for some time - and I wasn't disappointed! What an incredible place - such a buzz!  I was treated to a stay at the new-look Park MGM (if it's good enough for Lady Gaga's residency then it will suit me just fine!) and as it's in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip the location is perfect for taking in this incredible city - it really is like nowhere else I've ever been to!


 One of my highlights of my stay in Vegas was taking a hot air balloon ride over the city and Red Rock Canyon - seeing Vegas from the peaceful surrounds of a balloon was really magical, and as you drift away from the city and in to the stunning scenery close by, you start to see a different side to Nevada - Las Vegas makes a great place to start or end a driving trip through Nevada, Arizona & California, rather than just being a party town in the desert (although my big night out at Hakkasan Club at the MGM Grand was a bit on the legendary side and would have been worth the trip to Vegas on it's own!)





My USA trip finished with a helicopter flight over The Strip - what a way to finish an amazing itinerary!





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Sunday, 13 January 2019

Our Top Trips in 2018 - Darren in Bali & Java

As 2019 gets underway we've been having a look back at our favourite trips of 2018 - we love to travel at Escape Worldwide, and one of Darren's favourite trips last year (there were many to choose from!) was to Indonesia, taking in the islands of Bali and Java. Here's a quick look at his highlights . . . .

​I've been to Bali a number of times over the years, but this time I also visited a totally new place for me, the neighbouring island of Java. On Bali I based myself in the lively resort of Seminyak - probably my favourite part of the island - but explored all the main resorts. When I say 'explored' I actually mean 'bar-crawled' - there's no better way to get to know a place!



Seminyak has a real buzz to it, with loads of restaurants and bars, but it's not as lively as Kuta. For me the reason I love Seminyak is for sunsets - grab a beanbag on the beach and a cold Bintang beer, and watch the sun set in spectacular style. The next evening I headed down to Jimbaran, towards the south of the island, which has a very different feel - it's much more relaxed than Seminyak, with a glorious stretch of beach and loads of local seafood restaurants  dotted along the shore. For a few Pounds I had an incredible meal, with my feet in the sand sitting under the stars.
My final stop was in Sanur, on the east coast - so no spectacular sunsets - but for me this resort is ideal if you like a buzz, but not too late night partying. There's a string of places to eat and drink along the beach footpath, with low prices and plenty of choice. I had a fabulous meal at Cafe Bamboo, set right on the beach. All of Bali's beach resorts are very different so it's important to get the right one for you - if you're not sure which, just ask me!


For me Bali really becomes special as you head away from the coastal resorts and start to explore the interior a little - this is where  you really start to see the uniqueness of the island's culture, and the beauty of its scenery. I drove through the countryside passing through small villages, many of which were gearing up for a festival that evening - there's always something to celebrate on Bali! On the way up to Bali there's a string of small villages, each of which specialises in a particular craft - woodwork in Mas, wind chimes in Sukawati and silver jewellery in Celuk. I'm not allowed to buy any crafts on my trips any more (I got banned after an incident with a giraffe carving in Kenya) but it's a great place to window shop!


Ubud itself is a small town in the hills, but the Ubud 'area' takes in gorgeous scenery of rice terraces and river gorges of the surrounding countryside. The town is packed with restaurants, shops and galleries, but for me it was the tranquility of the countryside that really stood out. I visited the friendly Wapa Di Ume Resort, set just outside the town itself and surrounded by beautiful scenery - as soon as you arrive you feel relaxed (the food here is amazing!) There are plenty of hotels in this area, and a few days away from the coast will really show you a different side to the island.



For me the highlight of this trip was Java, an incredibly diverse island of stunning scenery, energetic cities and an incredible history. I travelled overland from Bali to Yogyakarta in Central Java, travelling via Mount Bromo on the way.


Mount Bromo is an active volcano and probably the most spectacular place I've ever been - although to do it justice you have to see the mountain as the sun rises, so it involves a 3 am start (after an 11 hour drive to get there!) Mount Bromo smoulders away and is one of three volcanoes standing in the vast crater that's 10 km across. After sunrise I climbed up to the rim of the volcano itself (seemed like a good idea at the time!), at which point you can really feel the ferocity of it.


  
From Mount Bromo it was another epic journey through Java to the city of Yogyakarta, the heart of the island and a city rich in culture & history. Yogya is fascinating, but for me the highlights were just outside the city - two phenomenal temple complexes that really took my breath away! Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist monument and it straddles a whole hillside, with its 500 or more Buddha statues gazing serenely over the surrounding countryside. Nearby is Prambaban, one of the largest Hindu temples in South East Asia, with the 1200 year old structures telling stories of their era.




I've been to Bali a number of times before but it's such a vibrant island and there's always somewhere new to discover. Java came as a bit of a surprise, and I'd say that it was my highlight of the year. Including Yogyakarta in an itinerary is surprisingly straightforward and I'd highly recommend it to anyone!




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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Escape Worldwide's Top 5 for Romance!

TOP 5 ROMANCE

Add a little romance to your life with our top 5 romantic destinations.

LIGHT A SKY LANTERN ON THE BEACH IN THAILAND


Traditional sky lanterns are launched across Thailand for celebrations and to bring good luck, and there’s no better way to mark a special occasion than to launch your own lantern in to the night sky. Made out of rice paper and a bamboo frame, the lanterns can drift for miles in a breeze before gently returning to the ground once the candle has gone out. The most popular time to launch a sky lantern is during the Loi Krathong festival in November, but lanterns are available in most beach resorts year-round – our suggestion would be to head for Krabi, and watch your lantern rise above a backdrop of island and outcrops of Phang Nga Bay.


HOT AIR BALLOON OVER THE MASAI MARA, KENYA


A safari is a special travel experience, and a balloon ride over the plains of Africa is truly something else – a real ‘once in a lifetime’ experience when the romance of travel goes in to overdrive. Your hot air balloon will take off as the sun rises over the Masai Mara, and you’ll glide just above tree height as the animals below start to stir. Drift silently with the breeze and see zebra, hippo, elephant, lion and a myriad of other creatures, undisturbed by your presence. As you land you’ll be greeted with a glass of bubbly and breakfast in the bush - the perfect setting to pop the question, perhaps!


PRIVATE DINING AT THE SIX SENSES NINH VAN BAY, VIETNAM


On a remote peninsula only accessible by boat from the Vietnamese mainland, Ninh Van Bay is home to the gorgeous Six Senses, the Country’s most exclusive resort and one of the most romantic settings imaginable. If you can drag yourself away from your beautiful villa with its own private pool and magnificent views across the bay, take a longtail boat around to the hotels private beach at Bai Nho, where you can have the place to yourself – apart from your own chef and butler to prepare and serve your dinner, of course. Quite possibly the most romantic meal you’ll ever have – the Vietnamese tiger prawns are to die for!


DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY IN HAVANA


The home of salsa and rumba, Cuba is an island with a passion for dance, where you’ll hear music at every turn. Spend a few days exploring its vibrant capital, Havana, and immerse yourself in the beat of the City. Take your dance partner to the Casa De La Musica in the Miramar district of Havana to see how the experts do it, or take a class to improve your own skills. Otherwise, sit back with a cool Mojito and watch the world go by from the pavement café at the Hotel Inglaterra, a Havana institution.


ESCAPE THE CROWDS ON THE BEACHES OF ZANZIBAR



There are few places to get away from it all these days, but the beautiful island of Zanzibar has a few hidden gems that are perfect for a romantic retreat. Tucked away on the southwest coast, Fumba beach is peaceful and relaxed, where the only crowds you’re likely to see are of dolphins and turtles. On the east coast, Pongwe beach is picture-postcard perfect, where a crescent of the whitest sand is backed by swaying palm trees, with hammocks strung between the trees. Both beaches have simple accommodation with few mod-cons – it’s just you and your other half!


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Thursday, 5 July 2018

Miami and the Florida Keys..... Darren loves it!

Away from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida’s far south holds a wealth of interest and something a little out of the ordinary. Darren picked up a car in Miami and headed through the Florida Keys to Key West.

Miami acts as the main gateway to southern Florida, and as one of the coolest cities in the US it’s a great place to start a trip. Most of the action takes place in Miami Beach rather than downtown, and Collins Avenue is really at the heart of things. Miami Beach Historic District is home to the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, with many of the buildings now turned in to hotels and clubs. Coined ‘Millionaires Row’, Collins Avenue is the place to be and be seen in Miami.


From Miami it’s only a little over 50 miles until you leave the mainland and hit the Florida Keys, a chain of picture-postcard coral cays that run over 100 miles southwest to Key West. The first town you’ll hit is Key Largo, a world away from the bright lights and glamour of Miami, and the contrast is one of the town’s appeals. Key Largo is a sleepy affair in comparison to her northern neighbour, where the pace of life is slower and the atmosphere is altogether more relaxed. This is one of the best locations in the US for deep sea fishing, and diving is also popular.

Driving in Florida is easy, with spacious roads that are well signposted, and it’s easy to slip in to a relaxed pace as you travel through the Keys. Miami itself is like many large cities in the US and can experience terrible congestion, so it’s best not to rely on a car here, but the journey following Highway 1 south from Miami to the Keys and through the islands towards Key West is a real pleasure. One of the highlights is Seven Mile Bridge, spanning one of the longest gaps in the islands roughly half way down the Keys. The original bridge dates back to 1909, and once a year in April the main bridge is closed for a few hours to allow for the annual Seven Mile Bridge fun run to take place. The views from the bridge are superb.



As you travel through the Florida Keys be sure to stop regularly, and randomly, wherever takes your fancy. There are plenty of excellent locations for snorkeling and diving, hire a boat at one of the marinas and take to the water, or just chill on the beach for a while. It’s easy to follow the main highway through the Keys, but getting off the highway to explore the islands turns the journey in to an adventure.

At the very end of the Florida Keys is the town of Key West, the southernmost point in continental USA and one that is closer to Havana in Cuba than Miami. The town has a relaxed feel year-round but really comes to life in the winter months, when the tropical climate attracts the jetset crowd from around the US. The trendy set from Miami make Key West their winter party hangout, and it’s an ideal place to chill out for a few days after travelling through the Keys. The Old Town of Key West is a major draw, with buildings dating back to the 1880’s and an air of history that’s perfectly charming. Look out for the birthplace of Pan Am, the airline which started here back in 1927 for mail delivery between Key West and Havana.


While many visitors to Florida head to the theme parks of Orlando, the southern part of the state is home to some fascinating corners, and the drive from Miami to Key West is a great way to get a little off the beaten track.


Don’t miss…Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, a historic landmark and one of the most famous bars in the US - a great place for a cool beer on a hot day

Don’t miss…head to one of the numerous shopping centres in the Miami area to grab yourself a bargain – clothes and electronics are popular

One to avoid…parking in Miami is an expensive business, with valet parking being anything up to $60 a day - collect your car after your stay here and head out of town



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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Driving Holidays.... a great way to holiday

A driving holiday is a superb way to really get to know a destination, and many countries are well suited to this style of holiday. Darren shares some of his favourites.

The USA is one of the most popular self-drive destinations and there are a myriad of routes and itineraries you can consider, from the theme parks and beaches of Florida, the volcanoes and coastline of the Hawaiian Islands or the classic Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. One of the most popular itineraries combines the states of Nevada and California, taking in Las Vegas, San Francisco and LA, plus a host of other locations in between. From Vegas it’s only a short drive to the Grand Canyon, albeit in the wrong direction, while the route through to San Francisco will take you via Death Valley and Yosemite National Parks. Then follow the Californian coast south to LA, stopping in the likes of Monterey, Carmel and Santa Barbara en route.



If you want to combine your transport and your accommodation, then hiring a motorhome is a great option, and New Zealand is one of the best destinations to do this. Motorhomes accommodate between two and six passengers so are great for couples or families, and come complete with shower and flush toilet, decent cooking facilities and often a built-in barbecue! New Zealand offers drivers good quality, quiet roads and is crammed full of interest, especially for the outdoor enthusiast – be sure to allow yourself enough time to do it justice. South Island is far quieter than North Island and is home to the most spectacular countryside, while North island has cosmopolitan towns and more historic interest. The combination of both islands, linked by ferry across the often-choppy Cook Strait, will give you a truly memorable trip. There aren’t many places in the world where snow-capped mountains and glaciers are so close to the coast, where you can see geysers bubbling and where bungee jumping is almost a national sport.


For something a little bit different why not head to Cuba, where the lack of public transport means having your own wheels really comes in to its own. Roads are quiet here so driving is fairly straightforward, and the Country is crammed with interest, but there are a few tips to ensure your trip runs smoothly. There’s a lack of signposts so get hold of a decent map before you leave home as local maps tend to be poor. Plan your journey to avoid driving after dark, as street lights are gloomy or non-existent. Try not to cover too much distance at any one time – getting stuck behind a donkey and cart is a common occurrence, and can really slow you down! Most importantly, take a phrasebook, plenty of patience and a sense of humour – things never run as expected in Cuba, and that’s part of the charm of this wonderful country.



South Africa is one of our favourite driving destinations, with spectacular scenery, loads of interest, great food and superb wine – it’s also extremely good value for money when you get there. The ‘Garden Route’ is a classic drive along the Country’s south coast from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, taking in a number of national parks, attractive towns and a stunning coastline. The detour to the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s most southerly point and where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, is well worthwhile, while the Cape of Good Hope is a rugged and dramatic coast dotted with beautiful beaches, but with an icy-cold sea. Park up for a few days in the winelands area around Stellenbosch to sample a Chenin Blanc or two!


Wherever you decide to explore on a driving holiday, take a sense of adventure with you as it’s often the best way to really get off the beaten track and to truly experience a destination away from the tourist crowds.


Top tip…Check out any local laws or driving customs that are different to the UK such as speed limits or give way rules before leaving home. For example, in South Africa you’re obliged to move over in to a special hard shoulder when being overtaken on certain roads.

Top tip…where possible, plan your itinerary to collect your vehicle in a quieter location to give you the chance to get used to the local style of driving on quieter roads. For example, start a New Zealand itinerary in peaceful Christchurch rather than more hectic Auckland.





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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Amazing Havana in Cuba....

RETRO - HAVANA

The Cuban capital Havana is a captivating mix of intriguing history and faded glamour, with a decidedly retro feel. Mark spent a long weekend discovering the charms of the City.

Havana is an extraordinary city that’s packed with interest, and one that makes a great destination for a long weekend with a difference or as part of a wider trip to Cuba. 500 years of history has left the City with an incredible array of buildings from various architectural styles, while the last 50 years or so has changed its character again. Lose yourself in the backstreets of Old Havana, watch the waves crash on the Malecón, Havana’s seafront promenade, and take in the nightlife of Vedado - ideally with a cold mojito in your hand.

A great place to start exploring is at Parque Central, a tree-lined square that marks the start of Old Havana where men sit under the shade of the trees to discuss the latest goings on in the world of baseball, a Cuban obsession. The square is surrounded by a series of historic buildings including the neoclassical Hotel Inglaterra, dating back to 1875, and the Gran Teatro de La Habana, a stunning building that’s home to the Cuban National Ballet. Just to the south is the Capitolio Nacional, the seat of Government until the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and a perfect place for visitors to Havana to appreciate the City’s neoclassical architecture.



From Parque Central walk along Calle Obispo (Bishop Street) in to the heart of Old Havana. The cobbled streets here date back almost 500 years, and this particular street is dotted with historic buildings that are now home to boutique hotels and lively bars. Calle Obispo leads in to Plaza De Armas, one of Havana’s most important and prettiest squares and one that’s been restored in recent years. Any visitor to Havana will notice that many of the City’s historic buildings are crumbling, but an ongoing restoration scheme is breathing new life in to these areas. It’s then a short hop to the Catedral de San Cristóbal de la Habana, a Havana landmark noted for its unequal towers and fine baroque architecture. Plaza de la Catedral is a great place for a spot of lunch – check out the Restaurant El Patio’s grilled fish and sublime mojitos!



Havana’s diverse history is also reflected in its places to stay, with hotels dating from various eras in the City’s history. Old Havana is dotted with quirky hotels that were formerly merchant’s houses, such as the Hotel Florida on Calle Obispo, a beautiful property centered around an internal courtyard. Perhaps Havana’s most renowned hotel is the Hotel Nacional De Cuba, dating from 1930 and reflecting the era’s Art Deco architecture. The hotel welcomed Hollywood legends in its heyday including Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and today is a great place to soak up the City’s retro atmosphere.

A great way to really experience Havana is to rent a classic American car for an afternoon – you’ll need a driver too as the cars tend to be held together by a wing and a prayer (or at least a piece of rope and a roll of sellotape!) as spare parts haven’t been available for years, but it’s quite an experience. Cruise along the Malecón to the Plaza de la Revolución, the heart of revolutionary Havana that saw Fidel Castro address huge crowds. Today, the square is dominated by the famous Che Guevara image on the side of a government building.



Even in a short trip, Havana’s charms will grab you immediately. Recent reforms have given Havana a new burst of life, and things are changing quickly so visit soon to experience one of the world’s truly unique capitals.


Don’t miss…drinks at the terrace bar at the Hotel Inglaterra – the service can be typically Cuban (slow), but it’s a great spot to watch the world go by.

Don’t miss…dining at a paladar, a local restaurant often housed in private houses, where some of the best food in Cuba is served in an informal setting.

One to avoid…keep an eye out for crumbling buildings, potholed pavements and even badly pitched baseballs when exploring the city, to avoid any unexpected injuries.

We have some fantastic trips to Cuba including magical Havana - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/cuba/index.html


Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
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Thursday, 17 May 2018

Family Safaris.. a truly amazing experience for both young and old!

An African safari may not be the kind of holiday that first springs to mind as a family-friendly option, but a safari can be the perfect trip for a family to share adventures and experiences of a lifetime.

A safari is a holiday with a difference, for both adults and kids alike. Spending time in the national parks and game reserves of Africa is as much an adventure as a holiday, and one that is action-packed and exciting, fun and educational in equal measure. East Africa is one of the best areas for a family safari, with Kenya and Tanzania offering easily accessible game parks that are home to a huge variety of wildlife including the famed ‘Big 5’, plus family-friendly accommodation and good value for money too.


Seeing animals in their natural environment is something that all kids will relish. Standing on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve watching a tower of giraffes on the opposite bank as they majestically stoop down to drink is a magical sight, and then a few minutes later you may be hurtling through the bush in search of lion on the prowl. Next stop is a pod of hippos wallowing in the river, making their extraordinary noise that sounds like playful laughter, belying the fact they’re one of the most dangerous animals you’ll encounter – albeit from a safe distance. After a relaxing afternoon around the camp’s pool, head out with your guide in search of more big game, as this area is home to a huge variety of wildlife including all three big cats as well as elephant, buffalo, zebra, crocodile and a huge variety of birdlife.



Many safari lodges and camps offer activities geared up especially for kids, so they can learn about the surrounding area and its wildlife in a fun manner, often with Masai tribesmen sharing their wealth of knowledge. The Mara Intrepids Camp on Kenya’s Masai Mara arranges different programmes of activities for different ages of kids, teaching them about the park, its wildlife and the environment in general. Masai naturalists will show them how to track wildlife from their dung, how plants are used and some basic survival skills in the wild. There’s even an obstacle course so kids can see what the wildlife has to go through!


School summer holidays are probably the best time for a safari in Kenya as the annual migration tends to be in full swing on the Masai Mara, with a few million extra wildebeest, zebra and other grazers making the plains their temporary home as they journey across from the neighbouring Serengeti. While the chances of catching the very moment when huge herds of animals spectacularly attempt to cross the Mara River are limited, visiting the Mara at this time of year leaves most visitors overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and variety of wildlife they see. By the October Half Term the migration tends to be on the move again, so a safari at this time of year should still give you plenty of activity in both Kenya and Tanzania. The annual migration only affects certain animals, and is unique to the Masai Mara and Serengeti, with other game parks unaffected as wildlife tends to be resident in these areas year-round. Christmas and the February Half Term have an emphasis on wildlife activity across the border in Tanzania, and while Easter tends to see more showers, it can be a surprisingly good value time to visit either country.

With a huge amount of wildlife activity year-round, visiting East Africa on a safari holiday at any time of year will be a rewarding, action-packed experience, and one that parents and kids alike will remember forever.


Top Tip…If you’re travelling with younger children arrange to have a vehicle to yourselves, so you can tailor the pace to suit your group. Consider travelling between parks by light aircraft to reduce travel times.

Top Tip …Combining two or three national parks will give you the widest cross section of wildlife, as each park is home to different animals. Take a guidebook or wildlife chart with you, so the kids can tick off the different animals as you go along.



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