When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando resort in 2010, the fans went mad. For so long, they had waited for Harry’s world to become real and they were finally starting to see their dreams come true.
Since then, it’s expanded to become a double attraction in two interlinking parks, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in the Harry Potter experience. So what are the must do’s at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando?
Choose your wand
As Ollivander said, the wand chooses the wizard, so when you step into his shop in Diagon Alley, be prepared for an interactive experience. A Wandkeeper will hand you a selection of wands, so you can choose the right one – or rather, the wand can choose you.
Who knows whether you’ll end up with dragon heartstring like Hermione, or unicorn hair like Ron? Find out at Ollivander’s and purchase the wand that chooses you. Don’t forget to use your map and find out where you can cast real spells around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade!
Visit Hogsmeade first
With the two sections of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter now being interlinked, you’re best off starting your adventure in Hogsmeade. The Florida heat is punishing, so as the day wears on, you’ll want to head for cooler areas, which leads you nicely to Diagon Alley. Catch the Hogwarts Express and you’ll find it’s a little bit cooler on your arrival to Diagon Alley, with areas designed to keep the witches and wizards at a more comfortable temperature.
Exchange your money at Gringotts
The world famous wizard bank allows you to trade in your Muggle money for Gringotts banknotes. Head to Carkitt Market, enter the bank and speak to the goblin awaiting you. Ask him anything you like and he’ll give you an answer. Once you’ve got your wizard money, you can spend it almost anywhere within the Universal parks, so head over to the Three Broomsticks for a drink.
Grab a bite to eat at the Leaky Cauldron
You can eat at either the pub in Diagon Alley or the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade – both serve traditional British pub food. Make sure you wash it down with a good old butterbeer as well. You can choose to have it warm, cold or frozen, giving you three very different versions of this wizarding favourite. If you’re feeling brave, try a Green Fishy Ale from the Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley. It looks a tad strange, but tastes amazing!
Fly with dragons
Not for the faint-hearted, the Dragon Challenge sees a Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail race each other through the sky. These dual roller coasters will make you feel like you’re riding a dragon as they twist and turn, flipping you every which way. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, the Dragon Challenge should be at the top of your bucket list.
You can visit the dark and mysterious Knockturn Alley and see the vanishing cabinet in Borgin and Burkes, or pop into Dervish and Banges for all of your Hogwarts essentials like robes and your copy of the ‘Monster Book of Monsters’. Take a stroll to Honeydukes, where you can stock up on your favourites like Fizzing Whizbees, Chocolate Frogs and of course, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. Finish the day with Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, the ONLY place to buy all of your joke gifts and gadgets!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings the magic to life for everyone both young and old. Whether you’re going with your family, as a couple or even with a group of friends, you’ll be fascinated, amazed and completely hooked by everything that Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley has to offer. Be sure to book the park-to-park tickets for Universal, so that you can absorb every single bit of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and make it a core part of your holiday to Florida.
Bon Voyage can help you with booking your holiday of a lifetime to Florida and we’ll recommend the best hotels to stay in, the best restaurants to eat in, and even give you a recommended itinerary so that you can squeeze in everything Orlando has to offer. To book your 2016 Florida holiday, or for a last-minute trip this year, contact Bon Voyage and one of our holiday specialists will tell you everything you need to know.
Theresa Wilson is the born and bred American of the Bon Voyage team. Hailing from Milwaukee, Wisconsin she also lived in Phoenix, Arizona and Fairbanks, Alaska before moving to the UK. But she had never travelled to the islands of Hawaii……..
Imagine flying in a helicopter, with no doors, over an active volcano. Hovering so close you can feel the heat. Picture yourself 200 feet in the air, hanging by cables, suspended over a waterfall. What about a night swim with manta ray? And to think, I had never embraced the idea of Hawaii.
Naively, I thought it would be just like the Caribbean and it seemed a long way to go for a beach holiday. I am going on record as saying I was wrong! Thank goodness that chance presented itself in the form of an invitation as part of a tour operator familiarisation trip courtesy of the Hawaiian Tourism Board.
Off I went – London to Newark and then Newark to Honolulu – yep, all in one go! We were fortunate to try the new United Airlines Economy Plus and it was very good. The 767 on the second leg was especially roomy and the new in-flight entertainment system, superb. Worth remembering is that even though the 2nd flight was 3 hours longer than the international, it is still a domestic US service and therefore all food and alcoholic beverages must be purchased. I popped for a Mai Tai and sesame noodle salad. A bit pricey at $17.95, but the quality was good. And, when I managed to knock my Mai Tai off my tray and watched $7.00 worth of rum splash down the aisle the crew instantly replaced it without charge.
After 17 flying hours flying and a full 24 hours after leaving home, we arrived on the island of Oahu. Driving from Honolulu airport to Waikiki Beach it struck me that this was America but not as I know it. Strip malls, doughnut shops and 7-11s aplenty but also a return to the 1970s. I expected Tom Selleck as Magnum PI to appear around every corner. We arrived at Waikiki Beach just as the sun was going down. The main drag is Kalakaua Avenue and it reminds me of a mini Las Vegas strip without the casinos; lots going on and full of bars, shops and restaurants. But this ‘Las Vegas’ is where East meets West and you are soon reminded that to the Japanese, Honolulu is a weekend shopping destination. Asian visitors are not only numerous but they outspend the western traveller at a rate of 2 to 1.
Inevitably, given the time change, I was up before sunrise and took my first proper look at Waikiki Beach and the 300,000 year-old volcanic crater that is Diamond Head. The beach was already becoming a surfers’ playground and by 7am was swarming with longboards. Given time and suitable footwear I would have loved to have tackled the hiking trails of Diamond Head and view of Honolulu from the crater.
We spent our first day inspecting hotels. One thing is glaringly obvious – you must book an ocean front room or risk major disappointment. As one hotelier eloquently put it “the more green you give us, the more blue we give you!” Rest assured, Bon Voyage won’t let you make the mistake of choosing a car park view rather than the Pacific Ocean.
We escaped the frenzy of Waikiki and headed north to the tranquillity of Turtle Bay. Given just enough time to explore the stunning Turtle Bay Resort, glimpse a green sea turtle and the beach that provided the backdrop to the TV drama ‘Lost’ and all of a sudden Oahu had become a different island.
The nature of these trips is that there is little time to gather one’s thoughts and before we knew it we were aboard the short flight to Maui. What a contrast. We all let out a collective sigh as we stepped off the plane. You could instantly tell this island was the antidote to the frenzy of Honolulu. Maui is the older sister, a bit more grown-up and sophisticated, but still laidback and fun. I adored Maui. The people are special, the hotel selection first class, the beaches leave you speechless and the food is delicious. You could easily spend a week on Maui and you definitely need a car. Driving is easy and do pop for a Jeep or a convertible. The two main hotel/beach areas are Wailea/Makena and Kaanapali. When I go back I plan to split my time between the two as each has a different vibe.
We experienced our first luau, a traditional Hawaiian party, at the Royal Lahaina Resort. It was fantastic. It may seem a bit of a touristy thing to do, but I can assure you, the Hawaiians performing are doing so from the heart with genuine love and pride of their culture.
From Maui we enjoyed a day trip to the tiny island of Lana’i and once again I was blown away by the contrast in landscape. Palm trees were replaced by evergreens and pines bringing back thoughts of my native Northern Wisconsin. This is the island that was purchased by Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle, the huge tech corporation) and the history is fascinating. Once completely dominated by pineapple production, what happened next is most interesting. The Culture and Heritage Center tells the story and this alone is worth the ferry ride. Plus, it is right next door to Hotel Lana’i which serves the most amazing deep dish chocolate chip cookie. Arriving by sea back into Maui is another reason to make the day trip; the views of the island from the water were spectacular and I have about 55 photos to prove it! Back on land we spent a most enjoyable evening in Lahaina. It’s a sweet, old whaling village, perfect for mooching.
I was very keen to see Hawaii Island, but have to admit we had some ‘adventures’ planned that I wouldn’t normally sign up for. We flew into Hilo and proceeded immediately to the first, a helicopter tour of volcanoes and waterfalls. OK, I can handle that. Except do you remember the bit about this being a DOORLESS helicopter? Yes, nothing but that little seatbelt keeping me from getting real close to the lava. After the first ten minutes I start to relax a little and realise I was unlikely to accidentally undo my belt. By then we’ve made it to the Kilauea volcano and I just can’t believe I am flying over an active volcano that only 13 years ago destroyed 181 houses and 9 miles of highway. The landscape is dominated by molten lava and feels completely prehistoric. Again, another island totally different from the three we’ve already visited. If that wasn’t enough for one day, next we were whisked off for a spot of zip lining, eight zips in all. Being blonde, it hadn’t really dawned on me that while the first zip line was only about 20 feet off the ground, as you went through the ‘course’ the height increased until eventually you were hundreds of feet up (1,700 to be exact) and by then it was too late to bale out. And yet, I loved it! I still find it hard to believe that I completed the zip course and I owe it all to the crew at Kapohokine Adventures, an inspirational group of people.
After five hours of adventure, we headed northwest to Waikoloa and the Hilton Waikoloa Village, our hosts for the night. This place is impressive. With over 1,200 rooms, I thought for sure this wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, but you know, they do it very well. The property is so spread out that you don’t feel on top of anyone. Plus, it is one of the best whale watching spots on the island; the locals told us that February is generally the best month. We enjoyed one night here and then travelled south to Kona and the Sheraton Kona Resort. I’m running out of adjectives now; the setting here was just incredible. It’s right on the sea and surrounded by black volcanic rock. Here, ‘Rays on the Bay’ is Hawaii’s only restaurant built on lava cliffs and most evenings offer a view of the resident manta rays. Definitely make a reservation for one of the fire pit tables. AND, speaking of manta ray….yep, my final adventure, night swimming with these impressive sea creatures.
The excursion operator, Fair Wind, provides a first class experience. The crew even make putting on a wet suit in front of a group of one’s fellow swimmers not as cringe-making as it might be. The first suit I was given didn’t stand a chance of getting past my knees, but our guide thought it would. I loved him for that! Anyway, all suited, masked and snorkelled, we jumped into the ocean and held on to a floating line attached to the boat. The sea was lit from the bottom which illuminated the plankton, the only thing manta ray eat. They don’t have a stinger or teeth so are, in a word, harmless. Until they come right under you and span about eight feet wide! It is considered good luck if they swim up to you so I expect to win the lottery any minute. I wasn’t the least bit worried, it was all rather calm, except for the screaming of others in my group! They obviously missed the “they have no stinger or teeth” talk. We were in the water for about 40 minutes then headed back. Staying at the Sheraton is perfect for this excursion as we could still see the manta ray for hours, first from ‘Rays on the Bay’ and then from my room balcony. A truly amazing end to my last evening in Hawaii.
How can I sum it all up? I am in love.
I’m glad I went to Oahu and I am sorry we didn’t get to Pearl Harbour, so I’ll be going back for that. Maui and Big Island are magical and on the list for next year. I plan to spend a full week on Maui and at least 4 nights on Big Island. What do you need to know before considering Hawaii? It is going to be more expensive than anywhere else in the USA, but look at a map to remind yourself of where it is! They have to import everything, so staples like food and drink run about 10-15% more than cities like San Francisco and New York. Department store shopping isn’t great value, so make sure to mix this holiday with a great shopping city if that is an important factor. I did fly all in one go which I wasn’t keen on at first. Having now done it, I still think you get more out of a holiday pairing it up with pre and post stops, but if you are keen on spending your full two weeks in Hawaii – go for it!
Most of the hotels were built in the 1970’s tourism boom and the exterior views don’t hide the fact. The biggest lesson I learned is that you must look past the façade. The inner beauty of the places and people is there if you are open enough to see it. And, as I mentioned earlier – OCEAN FRONT is a must!
It’s a long way and it isn’t a beach holiday in the traditional sense. The Polynesian culture, people and history are fascinating and wanting to learn and immerse yourself is the reason to go. The beaches are just a bonus and form an amazing backdrop. As we boarded the shuttle to take us to the airport it was complete silence and heavy hearts. But, as the Hawaiians say “a hui hou.” Until we meet again.
For holidays to Hawaii visit the Bon Voyage website, or call our friendly team of USA travel experts on 0800 316 0194.
A little about me:- I’m 49, adore the Iron Man movies, think Dolly Parton rocks (this is me with the Smoky Mountain Song Bird, I was thinking at the time OMG, we’re touching breasts! ), disapprove of parents who pierce babies’ ears and smother mayonnaise all over my chips. Oh and I love, and I do mean LOVE, exploring the USA…..
As luck (or years of conniving opportunism) would have it that’s pretty much what my job involves. I’ve worked at Bon Voyage for 23 years, firstly as part of the sales team then as the manager of the department and now as Product Manager, deciding what it is we sell, who we work with and the terms of our sales agreements. I have crossed the Atlantic over 150 times and basically it’s a pretty cool job as I get to check out and seek new and original USA and Canada product for our travel consultants to entice you lovely people to venture across the Pond.
I’m often asked which is my favourite state? Or where I could live? Difficult questions; my heart belongs to Hawaii, but I couldn’t live there. Those islands sure are beautiful but it’s too remote for me, and there’s no IKEA. Whereas, California ticks all my boxes – beaches, scenery, mountains, lakes, wineries and those famous cities. It’s hugely diverse and that’s what draws me back to it time and again. You can be skiing in the morning (I don’t ski, am too lazy, but you could) and in the afternoon laze by a beach watching the rollerbladers swoosh by and the surfer dudes riding the waves.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to tour the Golden State on countless occasions and I thought I’d share with you some of my personal favourite must-sees-and-must-do’s.
With over 1,200 miles of beaches along the California coastline, this is a tough one. Let’s take two contrasting examples and you can decide which sounds your sort of place. The first is Manhattan Beach in south west Los Angeles County. Here we have a beautiful wide beach within the LA commuter belt. This is upscale California with attitude; where leggy blondes (male and female!) play energetic beach volleyball before heading for a sports or dive bar with names like Sharkeez and Simmzy’s . You really will love this place but hopefully not too much since with this beach and this location homes can easily change hands for $25million and if we’re talking waterfront then the sky’s the limit. Since Hollywood is just 40 minutes up Interstate 110 you might also indulge in a little celebrity-spotting although there are probably more sports than movie stars in the area. People- watching is naturally an important activity here and the aforementioned Simmzy’s fits the bill perfectly. It’s a great burger joint with that beach shack feel, famed for its selection of beers and right on the boulevard two blocks from the pier.
But if Manhattan Beach sounds a little contrived and you yearn to get back to beach basics then let’s travel 150 miles north to an unpretentious area a little to the south of San Luis Obispo: Avila Beach.
A glance at the map will show you that it’s nestled within San Luis Bay, south facing and only half a mile in length. Sheltered from the prevailing north westerly winds, Avila is usually warmer than the other beaches of California’s Central Coast and boasts three piers. Avila Beach Pier is the star turn being some 600 yards long and perfect for tourist strolling and recreational fishing. With a total population of about 1,700, none of whom paid $25million for their homes, the main occupations are in commercial fishing, apple orchards and tourism. If your idea of the perfect beach day is fine moist sand just right for sandcastles, calm waters for swimming, a small and cute setting where you can grab an ice cream or a beer and just hang out then…. ’Viva Avila’ as the locals would never, ever say.
Other notable days out include pulling up a sun lounger by the skate/bike path at Venice Beach (Greater LA, south of Santa Monica). You’ll see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly whizz past you. Great for families is endless Mission Beach, San Diego or Huntington Beach(Orange County, 30 minutes from Disneyland). The latter is known as Surf City; it’s a cool place to hang out with a lively main street and has a really wholesome vibe to it. Fancy a little beach romance? Enjoy a glass of wine and toasted marshmallows around a cosy fire pit at sunset on Aptos Beach (near Santa Cruz an hour and a half south of San Francisco). Here, you can hire beefy Beach Butlers who will cater to your every whim.
If you’re a fan of old films and the tear-jerking, shoulder-sobbing movie, Beaches, head to Crystal Cove (a few miles south of Huntingdon Beach) where countless big screen blockbusters were shot. Oh and I mustn’t forget another big favourite of mine, Carmel Beach in pretty Carmel by the Sea. We’re on the hopelessly idyllic Monterey Peninsula; hardly ever crowded, gorgeous white sand and crashing waves. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Point Lobos State Park close to the beach and was so inspired by the landscape he used it as the setting for his novel Treasure Island.
Best Hidden Gems
Capitola-By-The-Sea is where San Franciscans escape to at the weekends; it’s fun to watch the hunky surfers, dine in the seafood restaurants that line the beach and stroll around the eclectic boutiques. En route to Santa Barbara head inland to charming Los Olivos, a cutesy village with great wine tasting opportunities and the setting for the movie, Sideways.
Ojai is nestled in the valley of Los Padres National Forest just outside Los Angeles. It’s the secret rustic weekend retreat for many a Hollywood celeb. Here you can experience the legendary ‘Pink Moment’ at sunset and it’s one of only two places in the US that has a vortex (places of spiritual energy, apparently!) You’ll also adore charming Julian in the mountains above San Diego; set in acres of orchards and in this quintessential California small town you’ll find THE best apple pie ever at the Julian Pie Company on Main Street. The Old West mining town of Calico, now a Ghost Town is an interesting place to pass time en route to Death Valley. Pop into the Lucy Lane Museum here to view photographs of the town in its prime, the 1880s.
Fancy a trip down memory lane? Then you’ll love Barstow. Route 66 runs right through Main Street here. The downtown is a mecca for Route 66 enthusiasts. Pop into Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner and eat-to-the-beat with great music and wholesome food. Talking of which…………
Best Place to Eat
Kono’s Café in San Diego by the beach on trendy Pacific Beach; The Waterbar in ‘Frisco, has great views across the Bay. Ditto Gary Danko’s. Feel the sand between your toes in the Paradise Cove Beach Café in Malibu (20 miles north of Santa Monica); check out the movies that have been filmed here too. Mel’s Drive In at Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles – featured in the George Lucas film American Graffiti is a cool place to chill out with a burger and a shake. Any Cheesecake Factory anywhere in the USA is a must; BIG portions, an endless menu and great value for money. The queue is worth the wait.
Nepenthe Restaurant is perched 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, the views along the rugged coast are incredible, and there’s usually live jazz to accompany your meal – great for brunch.. And lastly, just to show I do have a fine-dining side The French Laundry in Yountville (Napa Valley). Good luck getting a reservation, they’re as scarce as hens’ teeth but the trick is to call precisely two months in advance and…..be patient.
There are countless scenic drives but for me you just can’t beat Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles – the Pacific Coast Highway. Take your time and if you’re travelling as a couple ask us for a classic Ford Mustang convertible. Go for the red one if they have it – it really shows off your tan! The views out to the Pacific are jaw-dropping as the road hugs the dramatic coastline. Since you’ll be driving on the right hand side of the road it’s important to travel from north to south. I don’t just throw this stuff together, you know! Another must-do is the scenic loop around Lake Tahoe.
Known as The Big Blue, Lake Tahoe has the clearest water I’ve ever seen. The alpine trees and snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this 60-mile drive. Stay at the Hyatt at Lake Tahoe; it has its own beach and in the evening you can sip wine around the fire pits as you gaze at the stars and dab Calamine Lotion on your sunburn.
Best Viewing Points
Enjoy the San Diego skyline from the rooftop bar at the swanky Andaz Hotel; or the shimmering Pacific Ocean at sunset from gloriously over-the-top Hearst Castle at San Simeon. A peaceful place for an interesting overview of Hollywood is from the fascinating Getty Museum. In 2010, a $12.5 million fundraising goal was met and the area around the Hollywood Sign was saved from developers. The 138-acre parcel became a part of Griffith Park, preventing any construction that would affect the world famous view. So it’s only fitting that from here, you can see the sign a short distance from the parking lot of the historic Griffith Observatory. Just walk along the railing on the right side of the lot for a great view. You might recognise the Observatory from James Dean’s iconic movie, Rebel without a Cause.
Going north again, check out the panoramic vista from the Twin Peaks in San Francisco; it’s in the geographic centre of the city and you can get there from downtown by way of the F-Streetcar to Castro then the MUNI Corbett-37 bus route to Twin Peaks. Now tell me, where else are you getting this sort of detail?! For our next lovely lookout we’re heading for the desert city of Palm Springs.
Here, the Aerial Tramway takes you on a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. You begin the 10-minute ride at the Valley Station – elevation 2,643 feet and end at the Mountain Station – elevation 8,516 feet. If you time it right you can enjoy dinner at Peak’s restaurant at sunset. It’s quite a view.
The view from the Heavenly Gondola which cruises high above Lake Tahoe is a must-do anytime of the year, but extra magical in winter.
My personal favourite though has to be from the restaurant at Skates on the Bay on Berkeley Marina, San Francisco Bay. I’ll happily sip my Cosmopolitan and watch the sun melt into the horizon behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Priceless!
Best Places to Keep The Kids Happy.
Did you know that California has more theme parks than Florida? These are my current favourites for family fun:- Universal Studios HOLLYWOOD; we can obtain ‘front of line’ tickets which will save you loads of queuing time. Next comes good old Disneyland, the granddaddy of American theme parks dating right back to 1955 now incorporating a relatively recent second park, Disney California Adventure Park which is themed on the Golden state with a Pacific wharf, Hollywood Land and the relatively new Pixar Cars Land. Knott’s Berry Farm actually pre-dates Disneyland and is great for thrill rides and therefore less suitable for under 10s. Big attractions in the San Diego area are SeaWorld, ‘wet ‘n’ wonderful’ and world-renowned San Diego Zoo. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is a special place; it’s one of the largest eco-friendly natural history museums anywhere. You and your family could easily spend a day here; the Planetarium is out of this world.
Many cities in California offer bike tours which are great for families; my favourites are Bike The Golden Gate Bridge and the super-scenic bike route from Monterey to Pebble Beach. Huntington Beach offers great Segway tours and biking trails along its seven mile expanse and the famous Corky Carroll’s Surf School will take youngsters from four years old.
Best Local Delicacies to Try
With its wide variety of soils, elevations and seasonal climates, California can grow or rear just about anything you might wish to eat. Offshore, the state’s Pacific waters are blessed with an amazing variety of fish and shellfish from Spiny Lobster to Yellowfin Tuna. Add to this a desire amongst many native Californians to follow a healthy and sustainable way of life and you have all the ingredients (pun intended) for culinary delight.
The fruit and vegetables are legendary and you should visit one of the Farmers’ markets that appear in most towns at the weekend. Rich, succulent California strawberries, super-sized avocados and albacore tuna provided the perfect roadside picnic on my last trip. When in San Francisco, head into Chinatown (the biggest outside Asia) for a culinary walking tour with www.allaboutchinatown.com. The history and culture are fascinating and as a bonus you finish the two hour ramble with an authentic dim sum lunch. Equally authentic are the Mexican restaurants of Old Town and southern San Diego – hardly surprising, I guess, since you’re less than half an hour from the border. You might want to wash it down with a frozen margarita with plenty of lime juice and easy on the salt. But, beware they do slip down rather too easily before the tequila kicks in!
You can’t talk about food and America without mentioning burgers and I mean REAL burgers. If you’ve not already met, let me introduce you to In-N-Out-Burger founded 65 years ago in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park. There are 213 outlets in California and I would definitely plan to find out for yourself why their company slogan is ‘quality is everything.’ It really is quite difficult to salivate and type at the same time, isn’t it?!
Best Bucket List Stuff In California
This is a biggy, there are so many. I’ve attempted to make these affordable and do-able rather than those lists where you hire a private jet, trek to the top of Mount Kill-Me-With-the-Effort with a one-legged guide and eat beluga caviar off the back of a unicorn, type thing.
Firstly, and my MD, Alan, would never forgive me if I didn’t include it (he’s a golf nut): a 2-night stay at Spanish Bay on the heavenly Monterey Peninsula and two rounds of golf including 18 holes on the (apparently) legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links. He road-tested it for you last year (so selfless) and we can book the whole thing including tee times and state-of-the-art club hire.
As you cruise along that most scenic drive, the Pacific Coast Highway, on a sunny day with the roof flipped back in your Mustang convertible (see ‘Best Drives’) aim to stay overnight in the terribly exclusive Post Ranch Inn perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Be prepared to rub shoulders with the great and the good. No Primark here, all Gucci, sweetie.
A day hiking with an ecologist in breathtaking Yosemite National Park and overnight in the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the El Dorado Diggins Suite which offers unparalleled views over Yosemite Valley. It has the only Jacuzzi bath in the whole of Yosemite too, perfect for soothing your aching limbs after your hike with California’s answer to Bill Oddie.
Shark cage diving in the Farallon Islands 26 miles off the coast of San Francisco. When I say shark cage diving I have every intention myself of taking part in this but from the safety of the deck. My current husband can do the cage bit.
How about this little distraction in California’s stunning wine country? A hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley; a private stretch limo wine tasting tour of the valley, a picnic lunch amongst the vines and finally overnight accommodation at 5-diamond Meadowood Resort. Oh and we should include spa treatments and dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant on site.
Hire a luxury houseboat (preferably with a group of friends or family) on Lake Shasta in beautiful northern California. When you’re not sunning yourself on the deck of your deluxe craft, spend time exploring the lake’s rugged shoreline wilderness where you might spot California’s very own Big Foot!
Well that’s got me in the mood for my next visit to the Golden State. I hope it had the same effect on you.
For holidays to California contact the amazing team of USA Tailor-Made Experts at Bon Voyage.
If you book an American city break anywhere this year, it simply has to be New York City. The Big Apple sees millions of tourists flock to its streets every year, in search of that buzz that only New York can give.
The city that never sleeps is full of bright lights, restaurants, bars, skyscrapers and iconic landmarks. One thing’s for sure; you certainly won’t find anywhere quite like New York.
Where to eat in New York
This is a tricky one because there really are SO many different options available to you. A lot of tourists tend to flock to Times Square and seek out the big names that they already know and love. However, you will also find that many people (particularly the locals) will head off down the side streets and away from the bright lights to the little, independent restaurants that nobody outside of New York has ever heard of. Of course, you don’t want to forget about some of the amazing food you can grab on the go. And no, we’re not talking about a typical McDonald’s. Try to sample a bit of everything and you’ll be sure to leave New York feeling full up and satisfied.
If you want some reliable American cuisine, make sure you go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. The inevitable long wait for a table is made easier by the rock memorabilia that adorns the walls. Failing that, one of the classic Hard Rock burgers and a cocktail will do the trick.
Some other fail safes are the Red Lobster or Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – both of which can be found right in the middle of Times Square. If you’re into seafood, you can be sure of a good meal at both of these chain restaurants.
For some good, old-fashioned street food, try Los Tacos No. 1 in Chelsea Market. Have a wander around the stalls and grab a taco for lunch – you won’t be disappointed. This taco bar is one of the very best eateries in the whole of New York city! There are also numerous pizza joints around the city, any one of which is guaranteed to give you a generous slice for an amazing price. Try Capizzi in Hell’s Kitchen for one of the best pizza and beer snack stops in town.
New York also has hundreds – if not thousands – of individual restaurants with something for everyone. Whether you want a traditional steakhouse or some authentic Chinese food, head to the independents for a real taste of the city. Daniel on 65th Street specialises in experience dining, so if you want to blow the budget and have an amazing meal out, be sure to check out this French restaurant. Alternatively, Club A Steakhouse on East 58th Street has rave reviews on TripAdvisor and is one of the best ranked restaurants in the city. If you want a classic American steak, this really is the only place to go.
Where to shop in New York
New York is a mecca for shoppers and you can’t pay a visit to the Big Apple without hitting infamous Fifth Avenue. Featuring the very best in high street and designer stores, the main street through Manhattan is home to the likes of Tiffany & Co., Harry Winston, Chanel and of course, Saks Fifth Avenue. There really is no better place to spend your holiday dollars than the shopping heart of the world.
If you’re on a tighter budget but still love the designer labels, be sure to visit Century 21 in Lower Manhattan. This outlet store has your favourite designer brands for a fraction of the cost; perfect if you want to treat someone back home or just go all out for yourself.
You may find yourself with a bit of spare time on your hands, in which case take a bus upstate to the Woodbury Common Premium Outlet. It’s about an hour out-of-town, but worth the drive as you can buy a suitcase there and then fill it with all your new purchases. If shopping is your main priority, Woodbury Common is a must-see; over 200 stores with amazing discounts cannot be ignored by a true shopaholic!
Where to stay in New York
New York has several iconic hotels that you can stay in; it’s just a matter of choosing one. Many of them are located in the centre of Manhattan, making it easy to get around to the different boroughs. If you want a truly luxurious, classic hotel, the only place to stay is the New York Palace. Featured in several hit television shows, The Palace has over 800 guest rooms and more than 80 suites. Situated directly opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the corner of 50th Street and Madison Avenue, it’s in a great location for getting all over the city.
Or why not relive the infamous Home Alone 2 movie and stay at The Plaza on Central Park? This grand hotel is a landmark in its own right and has everything to offer – including spectacular views of the park. Whether you’re on a romantic break away or a fun weekend with friends, the Plaza can cater to every need and give you the experience of a lifetime.
Alternatively, if you want something super modern and a bit different, check in to Ink48 in Hell’s Kitchen where you’ll find stunning views over the Hudson River.
This hotel boasts spacious rooms and something unique amongst the skyscrapers of the city – perfect for a little bit of escapism and we love it!
So now you have a list of some of the best places to eat, shop and stay, you just need to work out what you want to see on your trip. With so much on offer in New York, you’ll be spoilt for choice; the Empire State Building, Top Of The Rock, World Trade Center, Liberty Island, Museum Mile and the Brooklyn Bridge are all must-visit locations. We’d recommend making an itinerary of the places you want to visit, so that you can fit everything in and won’t miss anything along the way. Oh, and don’t forget your camera – you’ll want to capture your New York memories forever.
Bon Voyage has been arranging trips to New York for over thirty years, both as a city break and part of a multi-centre holiday.
Lots of people head off to America every year for their annual holiday. Many people fall in love with one destination and continue to visit year after year, while others like to go somewhere new each time. But what if you could visit more than one place on the same holiday? Multi-centre holidays to the USA give you exactly that option. Why stay in one place when you can visit two or more on the same trip?
For those who have gone for a multi-centre trip in the past, places like Los Angeles and San Francisco have been popular options, but many people don’t even entertain the idea of going interstate. Las Vegas, Nevada is a common bolt-on for holidaymakers checking out California, but would these people consider going further to say, New York or Washington D.C.?
The USA is huge and every state has something dramatically different to offer, so why not make the most of it and visit a couple or even three different destinations during your holiday? Renting a car or RV (recreational vehicle) to drive down Route 66 is one method of fitting in several states, but pre-arranged tours and internal flights are other options available that continue to increase in popularity. If you want to see it all, a multi-centre trip to America really is the best way to do it.
So many destinations, so little time…
When you book a USA multi-centre trip, you’ll soon discover that the combinations of destinations are endless. You will easily find yourself booking to visit places that you may not have previously even considered. Perhaps you had never given much thought to seeing the fall in New England, but if you’re planning to visit the Big Apple, New England is only a five-hour drive away. Rent a car or book a connecting flight and experience the local culture, stunning scenery and a completely different America to the one that awaits you in New York City.
Perhaps you’ve always been a sun-worshipper and frequented the Florida Keys to top up your tan each year. Why not team a few days there with an action-packed break in Los Angeles as well? You’ll have a sun-drenched holiday, complete with sightseeing, shopping and something a little different – a unique holiday that you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Or how about the Deep South? Considered by many as the soul of America, the likes of Tennessee and Louisiana are famed for both their music and food, as well as a rich history. You can spend time visiting Graceland and the New Orleans School of Cooking, as well as taking a river cruise on a Mississippi Steamer. Then, head on up to the cosmopolitan city of Chicago to check out the Chicago Blues nightlife, the Sears Tower Skydeck and shop on the Magnificent Mile. You really will get an eye-opening tour of the musical heart of America.
Why multi-centre is better
If you book a holiday to just one destination, it stands to reason that your holiday activities can be limited to those available in your chosen destination. But have you considered, for example, that you could book a winter break and ski for the first half then relax on a warm beach in California or Hawaii before returning home? How about exploring the unspoiled wonders of nature in the National Parks then living it up in Las Vegas or shop-til-you-drop in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles? Opting for a multi-centre trip, things are blown wide open. Not only do you get to do the sightseeing in completely different cities, but you also get to embrace the contrasting cultures along the way.
Multi-centre trips will give you a whole different perspective on your annual holiday and allow you to tick more places off of your destination bucket list as well. Why sample the local cuisine of one city, when you can tick off three instead? These sorts of holidays mean you don’t quite know what’s coming next and you can have some of the most wonderful adventures of your life.
USA multi-centre trips are an increasingly popular choice for honeymooners as well, and with good reason. If you both have somewhere ideal in mind that you want to visit and just can’t seem to completely agree, a honeymoon that features different destinations is the perfect compromise. You can do the busy sightseeing in the cities of New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Washington D.C. and finish off with a relaxing week on the beautiful beaches of Miami, Los Angeles or Hawaii. With a combination like that, who can argue? You’re guaranteed to have the honeymoon of a lifetime.
And if you’re just booking your annual holiday? Well, if you can please everyone, then all the better. So what are you waiting for? Next time you start browsing for holidays to America, take a cross-section of different places across the United States and go for something totally different. We guarantee it’ll be one of the best holidays of your life.
Transatlantic flights aren’t exactly the most fun part of your holiday to America or Canada. In fact, unless you’re flying in one of the premium cabins, they can be rather tedious and uncomfortable. Fear not, however, for this handy guide will tell you what to pack for a transatlantic flight to make the journey much more pleasurable. It might even be as good as flying first class! Well, almost.
We cannot stress enough how essential these are to pack if you want to listen to music or watch movies on the flight. Yes, you are likely to be offered some by your friendly flight attendant, but whether they’re actually any good or not is an entirely different matter. At least with your own earphones, you know that both speakers work, they’re comfortable and they can be relied on. There’s nothing worse than settling down to watch an in-flight movie to discover that sound only comes to one ear – after 11 hours, it’ll drive you crazy.
This is probably one of the things that you’ll appreciate the most, especially towards the end of your flight. A toiletry kit should include a toothbrush and toothpaste, face wipes, moisturiser, eye drops and a hair tie if you have long hair. The air pressure in the cabin can dry out the face and body, so the face wipes will keep your skin clean and allow you to reapply your makeup before you land if you wish. Moisturiser and eye drops will keep your skin hydrated and freshen you up, while a quick brush of the teeth will instantly make you feel better. Finally, if you want a nap mid-flight, use the hair tie to pull your hair out of your face – it’ll be a godsend.
Book or magazines
These might be heavy and weigh down your bag, but if you get into a good book, the time will literally fly by. If you’re heading on a beach holiday, pick a nice, summery read to get you in the mood while you’re on the flight. By the time you land, you’ll be bouncing with excitement to start your holiday.
If you are worried about lugging a heavy bag to the airport and through security, leave your books at home and pick up a couple in duty free instead. You can often find best sellers and a great magazine selection in the newsagents. Once the magazines have been read, you can just leave them on the plane and keep your bag as light as possible.
Like the earphones, you might be offered one of these by the flight attendant but it won’t be anywhere near as good as you want it to be. These scratchy, little square cushions aren’t a patch on the soft, foamy beans of trusted travel pillows that mould to your neck. Invest in one of these and your transatlantic flight will pass much more smoothly.
Long haul flights will have attendants bringing round a snacks and meal trolley, as well as a drinks trolley, but plan your food and drink intake carefully. Aeroplane food is often quite stodgy and carb-heavy so buy some light snacks in duty free before you board if you want to prevent that bloated, lethargic feeling. If you suffer with travel sickness or your ears pop during the flight, pack a few lollipops and hard boiled sweets to suck on – they’ll help to stop the pain and give you a distraction as well. One word of caution though – whilst taking fruit or vegetables onto the flight is fine, US Customs won’t be happy about you taking your leftovers into the United States.
Keep drinking plenty of water throughout the journey and try to avoid alcohol. While it might be tempting to have a glass of wine to help relax you – particularly if you’re nervous – it will just leave you feeling more dehydrated and you’ll probably end up landing with a hangover.
You’ve already got your earphones and you’re ready to make the most out of the in-flight entertainment. Of course, when you turn on your TV screen, you have one of the dodgy ones that doesn’t work properly, throwing all of your plans out of the cabin door. This is where your iPod, mobile phone or tablet will come in handy, particularly if you have already uploaded a couple of movies onto it beforehand. Just make sure it’s in flight mode, plug your earphones in and off you go. You’ll probably find yourself getting distracted by all the games on your gadgets as well, helping the flight time to go by in a breeze. It is important to note, however, that if you are connecting to another flight when you land, it is ESSENTIAL that you dont drain your electronic devices to the point they won’t boot up – you may be asked to power them up at security and you could be denied boarding if they refuse to turn on.
So now you have your list of things to pack, you just need to get a suitable bag to put everything in.
Pick something that’s comfortable to carry around and roomy enough to sling a few extras into – you never know what you might end up buying in duty free. Try to pick a bag that has a zip and buckles to keep it a bit more secure when it’s in the overhead storage and avoid everything falling out all over the place. Put your passport and ticket in a safe, sealed pocket then sit back and enjoy the flight. You’ll be starting your perfect USA holiday before you know it.
Thousands of people fly off on holiday to the USA every day. There have long been rules about what you can and can’t bring on board the aeroplane and these lists of prohibited items are often subject to scrutiny and regular updates. It can quickly get confusing – particularly if you don’t travel very often – so what exactly can you take on board your transatlantic flight?
For many years, the rules about weapons or dangerous items have been clear. No weapons of any kind are allowed to be carried on aircraft flying all over the world. These include guns, knives, scissors, any sort of blades, axes and swords. Some of them might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at some of the things people wish to take with them on an aeroplane! Remember that hiking poles, sporting racquets and umbrellas cannot be carried in hand luggage, so you’ll need to put them in with your checked items instead.
There are some passengers who need medication and if it has to be injected, this can be a concern for them. You can bring your medication onboard the aircraft, but it is worth speaking to the airline and members of security at the airport in advance to let them know what you will be bringing with you. This will give them the opportunity to prepare for your arrival and keep any delays to a minimum.
You will need to show your medication to security (where is may be screened) and keep it separate to other liquids you’re carrying. Used sharps will need to be contained in a sharps box. Ensure you carry your medication with you, rather than having it in checked baggage, as the air pressure can impact on the insulin and make it unsafe for use.
A more recent update to the prohibited list is liquids, which now have set restrictions. While they are not completely prohibited, liquids over 100ml (3.4oz) will not be permitted in hand luggage. This rule also applies to gels, pastes, creams and aerosols.
When passing through security, you will need to ensure all your liquids fit into a clear, plastic, zip-top bag – these are often available for you to grab as you enter the queue for security. All of your liquids must fit in this bag, so be selective with what you pack in your hand luggage. If you won’t need it until you land, put it in your checked luggage instead.
Up until very recently, most electronic devices could be carried on a plane. This included laptops, tablets, mobile phones, music players and various other devices. However, that regulation has now changed and it’s important that passengers are made aware of the new rules. This change only came in from the beginning of July 2014, so many people may still be unaware and arrive at check-in ill prepared, causing delays for themselves and other passengers.
The British government has announced that it will no longer be allowing passengers to board aeroplanes if their electrical or battery-powered devices do not power up. This means that if your phone runs out of battery before you get through the boarding gate, you won’t be allowed to get on the flight and will have to rebook or leave the item behind. The same rule applies to all electrical devices including laptops, tablets, e-books, mobile phones and anything similar. If your device does not switch on when requested, it will not be able to go in your hand luggage and you will be prohibited from boarding. Naturally, this could cause delays and additional expenses if you have to rebook your flight, so ensure that you are not put in that position. Make sure all of your items are fully charged and minimise the use of them to preserve power.
This rule is being rolled out to all airlines flying to the USA from the UK, so it’s essential that you’re aware and prepared. If you buy an electronic device in the airport, make sure it powers up and be aware that the packaging may be subject to scrutiny as well. Bear in mind that there are very limited opportunities to charge your devices in the airports, so try to conserve the power as much as possible. When you are on board, the usual rules apply for electronic devices – they can be used as long as they are in flight mode.
So when you start packing your hand luggage for your holiday to America, just bear this list in mind and check with your aircraft carrier for any specifics that you’re unsure about. If in doubt, put it into your checked luggage or call ahead and ask someone from the airline for verification. That way, check-in will be a breeze and you can start enjoying your American holiday from the moment you leave the house.
She’s an adventurous lady. That’s for sure. But not an adrenaline junkie. Not a barmy thrill-seeking, middle-aged woman who is rebelling against the inexorable slide towards chutney making at the Women’s Institute. It’s just that she’s reached a time in her life when she wants to experience “stuff”. And according to research there are countless women who feel the same and are embarking on great travel experiences as their lives at home start to simplify – and according to some research it it the girls who are more adventurous than the boys! Fair enough, I say. Macchu Picchu, The Great Wall of China, Cambodia – adventurous without being unreasonably reckless. The travel trade, rather patronisingly in my view, dubbed this sort of thing “soft adventure” some years ago.
So there we were the other evening talking about some of the things that Bon Voyage offers to its clients. A glass of chilled Sauvignon blanc may have been involved.
“Hey, I’ve done that, and it was great fun,” she squealed, rather animatedly, when I mentioned Harley adventures across America (click here for info), and in particular the iconic Route 66.
It turns out that she was a pillion passenger on a Harley and did part of Route 66, up to the Grand Canyon and then on to Las Vegas.
“Really?” said I, just a touch too sceptically. “Wasn’t it a bit boring just sitting on the back of the bike for hours at a time, with nothing but desert and tumbleweed to look at? Oh, and the back of somebody’s head?”
“No more so than riding the bike” she replied “but at least those bikes are built for comfortable cruising. And the amazing, breath-taking scenery is constantly changing. But it was sooo much more exciting than that” she gushed. “Riding without a helmet and the strange feeling of vulnerability, yet freedom, chasing a mile-long freight train , joining a group of hairy bikers for part of the trip , eating at the Road Kill Café and experiencing some parts of the Grand Canyon that we might never have seen. The exhilarating sweeps and twists of Red Rock Canyon to Sedona and wanting to exchange the bike for a horse, chaps and a cowboy hat! The ferocious sun burning through my jeans, and even the taste of the dust after a day on the road, and the sweet ecstasy of washing it away with an ice-cold beer. But it can get really hot coming down through the high plains at the Canyon and down into the desert as you approach Las Vegas. What with the sweltering desert temperatures and the heat coming off the Harley, I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and into the pool! Oh and to the shops at Caesars…erm, for the air conditioning, of course”. Of course.
So I guess at Bon Voyage we might have been guilty of thinking that Harley holidays would only appeal to the boys. Maybe living the Harley dream – the open road and bugs-in-your-teeth cruising on a throbbing, classic motorcycle – appeals to a wider demographic that includes the girls too!
If you like the sound of a Harley Davidson holiday in America click here.
About the author: Phil Newcombe is a director of Bon Voyage.
Bon Voyage Sales Manager, Nikki Gibbs, has spent 20 years with the company and seen just about every part of North America from Niagara Falls to the Californian winelands and from the rugged Rocky Mountains to the beaches of Miami. But our intrepid traveller had never veered this far off the beaten track……
Day 1 – London Heathrow to Whitehorse
I joined a small (but select!) band of UK tour operators for the Air Canada flight from Heathrow via Vancouver to Whitehorse in the Yukon. I’m always fascinated by the fact that because you take a ‘shortcut’ over the Pole to Vancouver, Western Canada the flying time from London is the same as Miami and an hour less than, say, Dallas. The check-in at Terminal Three is quick and easy and thanks to excellent in-flight entertainment the time passes quickly. Continue reading A week in the Yukon Wilderness→
Nick Dalton is a travel writer and expert in both cruises and American destinations. Following his recent journey on the American Queen he has kindly allowed Bon Voyage to feature his article that appeared in the Daily Express.
“I’m sitting on deck hypnotised by the relentless flow of the mighty Mississippi as the paddle steamer American Queen heads upstream.
“The river must be a mile wide, its banks thick with forest and the air is warm.”