Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Taste of Ireland With CIE Tours International

Ah Ireland! One of the prettiest places on Earth with the friendliest people and what better way to see all the sights than with a tour through CIE Tours.

We recently experienced their five night, six day Taste of Ireland tour and added three nights with a car rental after the tour to see as much of Ireland as possible.

Our experience began before we left with wonderful documents  in beautiful cases, two backpacks, luggage tags, luggage straps and two vinyl ponchos so we'd be prepared for any type of weather.

One of the worries many people have about taking tours is packing and unpacking going to so many hotels, but our cube system packing makes this very easy. Click here to read our story on efficient packing. Because we would be staying in hotels for two nights at the most, the cube system makes this much easier.

We chose CIE's 5 night tour beginning in Dublin and ending in Shannon. CIE has another option to return to Dublin adding an extra night as well as many other tours. After our tour ended in Shannon, we had a rental car and spent two nights in a b & b and a third in a hotel before flying back from Shannon.

Because we knew we would be dealing with jet lag on arrival in Dublin, we chose the tour option to arrive in Dublin a day before the actual tour began. CIE included tickets for the Hop on Hop Off Bus and a choice of a free tour of the Guinness or Jameson factories.

When our flight arrived, we met our CIE representative and boarded buses to our first hotel, the Burlington Hotel in Dublin. When we arrived, a room was ready for us so we dropped our carry ons in the room (our checked luggage was brought to and from our rooms on the entire tour by CIE) and set out to find the Hop On Hop Off bus. (We'll review each hotel separately on this blog).  After our bus tour, a stop at the Guinness Factory and dinner in downtown Dublin we returned to the hotel early for a good nights sleep.

The next day we had the morning to ourself before we were to meet our group. At 2 pm we met our guide and driver, Liam Finnegan, for a bus tour of the city and a tour of Christ Church. We returned to the hotel for a welcome drink and briefing from Liam on what to expect and then left again an hour later for a trip to the Merry Plough Boy Restaurant for dinner and a wonderful show. Breakfast and dinner are included each day on a CIE Tour.

The next morning we left our checked luggage outside our hotel door, had breakfast and were off to Killarney. Liam is a fantastic guide who is a wealth of knowledge and briefed us on the history of each town we drove through. We stopped for a photo op at the Rock of Cashel and then were taken to a sheepherding demonstration, which was fascinating.

We also visited the Blarney Castle with the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. Beware- there are over 100 spiral steps to go up to the top of the Castle and the stone, where two guides assist you laying down and bending your head backwards to kiss the stone. There was plenty of time st the Blarney Woolen Mills to purchase beautiful sweaters made in Ireland.

We continued on and went to our next hotel, Killarney Towers in the wonderful town of Killarney.  Killarney is exactly the type of small town in Ireland we expected, full of colorful shops, bars and restaurants. We had dinner at the hotel with our group and then were out on the town for the evening on our own.

Day four and on to a tour of the Ring of Kerry. We were taken to a great seaside restaurant on Valentia Island for lunch and then taken across the bridge to the Skellig Experience. I knew nothing about this but was captivated by the story of Monks who built a monastic outpost on Skellig Michael, a small rock island off shore of County Kerry. Skellig Michael is a Unesco World Heritage Site and should we go back to Ireland, a place we will take a boat tour to. We returned back to Killarney Towers for a free afternoon and evening.

Day 5 was checkout of our Killarney Hotel and on to Bunratty with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. You  can easily spend a half day viewing the Cliffs from many different perspectives. We spent several hours at the Cliffs, eating lunch and walking the Cliffs.We also drove past the Lahinch Golf Course, one of the top 50 courses in the world, with stunning views and holes atop huge sand dunes.

We arrived at Bunratty Castle Hotel later in the afternoon where we had an hour to check in and shop at the woolen outlets before our Medieval Dinner and Banquet at Bunratty Castle. The dinner was great fun and after dinner we had a farewell drink with the friends we made on our tour who were going on to Dublin with the tour.

The next morning, we had breakfast and then were transferred to the Shannon Airport to pick up our rental car for our journey on to three more independent nights, which we'll review separately.

Our driver and guide, Liam, is what truly made our tour enjoyable. Liam, as most tour guides, loves his job and it shows in how he treats his guests. He was a wealth of information and we actually said to each other when we traveled independently that we wished Liam were with us to tell us about the towns we traveled to and what we were seeing along the way.

A tour is truly the most economical way to see a country and you will get the most out of a country you are not familiar with. The wealth of knowledge that guides offer (and this is not just with CIE, we have found this on independant tours as well) give you information you would never know by visiting on your own. For instance, at Bunratty Folk Park, before we went to dinner, Liam took us around the park and explained each area and building that was in the folk park. Other tour drivers simply led their passengers straight to the Castle. 

Besides the history you hear on your tour, breakfast and dinner and all tours are included on a CIE tour.  The only extras you have are lunch costs, gratuities to your tour driver and shopping.  Some tour companies offer "optional" excursions you must purchase on your tour if you want to see them. 

Ready to take a tour? Call us to help book the best vacation anywhere in the world. 516-608-0568.

Efficient Packing for your Vacation

You've planned and booked your vacation, made your payments and are feeling the excitement of your departure date getting closer.  One thing that I procrastinate doing is packing because the task appears to be daunting. How much should I pack? How is the weather where I am going? Do I need to pack casual, business casual, formal or just bring bathing suits?  What if it is cold at night and hot during the day? 

Am I going on a trip that I can unpack once and repack at the end of the vacation?  Or am I touring and staying one or two nights in several hotels?

One way I have found to alleviate the dread of packing is by using packing cubes.  These can be found on websites such as EBags or Magellans and have made my traveling life much easier.

We recently went on a nine day trip to Ireland, where 5 nights were spent in three different hotels and  three additional days at a different hotel each night. If not for my packing cubes, my suitcase would have been a darn mess.

This is how I packed for nine nights.  Each packing cube contained three days worth of clothing - pants, tops, pajamas, underwear and socks. All I had to do was remove one cube on day one and had clothes for the first three days without having to touch the other cubes.  Once I went through all those clothes, it was time to use cube 2, and so on. I had an additional cube for cosmetics and liquids, and a third for jackets.  And I bring a compressions bag for dirty clothes - just roll the bag down to remove the air and you'll have much more room in your suitcase going home.

If you are traveling to the Caribbean and will be at an all inclusive where you will pack and unpack once, you can use smaller cubes for bathing suits and cover ups, one for your tops, one for bottoms, one for undies and pajamas.  Instead of a suitcase looking like a bomb exploded at the local thrift shop, just pull out your cubes and put them in the drawers - voila, instant organizing.

Has this packing tip made your life easier? Let us know!  516-608-0568

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hotel Review- Killarney Tower Hotel - Ireland

Killarney Towers Hotel

In a wonderful location in the middle of Killarney is the Killarney Tower Hotel. This is rated a 4* hotel and it certainly lives up to that reputation. You'll enter a sleek, modern looking lobby with the reception desk on the left.

The rest of the hotel is decorated in beautiful darkwood throughout. The halls are beautiful and lighting enhances the wood.

The rooms are small but elegantly appointed. The king sized bed is comfortable. There are extra pillows in the closet which will probably be needed.There are two upholstered chairs and a table in the room.

The only issue we had with the room is the lack of storage space. There is a long bureau that the flat screen tv is on that appears to have a compact refrigerator in on the left side but in fact holds a coffee pot and hair dryer - no refrigerator at all. There are three small drawers for storage, not enough for much. The closet has several hangers which are difficult to get to due to the bar being hung from the back of the closet to the front. There are two nightstands with a small drawer in each.

The bathroom is small but beautiful. There sink area is marble, and there is a jacuzzi tub, a rarity in any hotel. The bathroom has great amenities- shampoo,body wash, body lotion, soap, shower cap and grooming kit. There is a built in shelf above the toilet that has plenty of storage space.

All rooms have air conditioning and more important are quiet. It was extremely clean as is the entire hotel. Our room, 331, was located next to a storage room that had was sounds like a water heater or the main air conditioning unit in it. We heard a slight humming noise all the time, but it quickly became white noise and we didn't notice it much and after the noisy room at our prior hotel this didn't bother us.

There is a very good restaurant in the hotel called the Innisfallen Restaurant that served a good buffet breakfast (included in rate) and dinner (extra but reasonably priced). There is also a restaurant called O'Donoghue's Public House offers a full menu from 12:30 pm to 9:30 pm. O'Donoghue's also has local entertainment each evening beginning at 9:30 pm. Room service is available between 12 noon and 9 pm, with a limited menu available between 9 pm and 7 am. Breakfast room service is available by filling out the door hanger card and leaving in your door before 3 am.

There are three other entertainment venues at the hotel - The Kube Bar, Scruffy's Bar and The Crypt Nightclub.

The hotel has a large indoor pool as well as a well equipped gym. There are also spa services available at the sister hotel, Killarney Plaza.

We were very satisfied with our stay at Killarney Towers and wouldn't hesitate to stay here again or recommend it for clients. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Review - Montauk Yacht Club

If you live on Long Island and want a quick weekend getaway, where do you usually look? A casino in Atlantic City or Connecticut? The Poconos? Boston?

Too often we think of going west and out of New York when we have a wonderful choice right in our backyard - The Montauk Yacht Club and Marina.  This gem of a resort is located on the bay in Montauk, a five minute drive from downtown Montauk on Star Island Road.
Pull into the check in circle and you'll be greeted by a porter who will assist with your bags while you check in at reception. Staff are very friendly and accommodating. Check in was swift, even with a group that attended a wedding the night before checking out.

The buildings and grounds were spotlessly clean. After reception, we were directed to our room, an Admiral Class Waterview room.  Our room had two double beds.  The room next to us had a king sized bed, which makes it easy for families to book connecting rooms.  The room had a nice nautical theme and was also extremely clean.  In the room was a t.v., coffeepot, clock radio, table, chair and a wonderful view of the harbor. (You can also get a beach view room). 

There is also a very nice desk next to the beds. The bathroom was very large, with a pedestal sink and tub/shower.  There is also a large dressing area off the bathroom that had a mini-refrigerator. Plenty of closet space!
There is a small balcony with chairs.  There were a handful of boats tied up outside, but I can imagine the view when the marina is full! Boaters can bring their boats and dock them when staying at the resort- there is an additional fee.

The other room categories on property are Admiral Class Beach Bungalows, which are located on the first floor of each building. These rooms have a patio type deck with deck beds and curtains that can be drawn for privacy. There are also courtyard view rooms, again that have either the bungalow rooms or the balcony rooms.

There are several restaurants on property. The Gulf Coast Kitchen is a beautiful room with a fireplace that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a buffet breakfast menu, a small lunch menu and a very nice dinner menu.  We shared a wonderful chicken avocado sandwich and Harvest Salad for lunch and  Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken for dinner, which was a bit oversalted.

Hurricane Alley is an indoor/outdoor restaurant that was not open when we were there. There is also another outdoor restaurant called The Promenade that was not open when we were there but has a nice pizza oven and fixings.

There are two lounges - the Barracuda Bar, which is the main bar, and Turtle Lounge, off the main bar. We had some great laughs with the friendly bartenders at the Barracuda Bar.

On the grounds are two pools, a small beach,  a playground for kids and indoor pool. 

 There is also a spa on a separate part of the property. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we arrived so we were unable to see it.
One of the most unusual features at the Montauk Yacht Club are it's private "villas". These are small houses in a separate section of the property that are great for couples seeking more privacy or for a family.  The one bedrooms villas feature king beds and upgraded amenities, such as better quality down pillows, a 37" t.v., refrigerator and a spacious bathroom and vanity area.

There is also a villa suite which is great for a family with two kids. This room has a king bed in the bedroom, a "parlor" with a queen pull out sofa and the same upscale amenities as the king villa. On request, a connecting king room can be booked for larger families.

Truly the finest feature at the Montauk Yacht Club are the employees.  Every one of them was delightful to deal with. From the waiters to the bartenders to the cleaning staff, we received warm welcomes from everyone.  The waiters were wonderful to interact with, especially the breakfast group.

If you are considering a destination wedding, this is a great place to have one! There is a banquet room that can hold 160 people and they also handle outdoor weddings for up to 1,000 people overlooking the bay.

Next time you are thinking about a weekend getaway, consider the Montauk Yacht Club. It is a fantastic alternative to going out of NY to spend a weekend. Call us at 516-608-0568 - we can guide you to getting the best room.