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RTW #7: Lounges, Retreats & Business Class Seats

7th Annual Round the World Trip – Ready, Set, Go!

Posted by on Jan 10, 2012 | 2 comments

7th Annual Round the World Trip – Ready, Set, Go!

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After months of planning, the day is finally here!

This afternoon, I’ll depart for my 7th Annual Round the World trip! As I’ve said before, 30 days is more a guideline than a rule and this year’s trip will top the calendar scale at 45 days (thanks, primarily, to award seat availability in and out of the U.S. – but who am I to complain?).

It will also be my most ambitious itinerary yet with 19 stops in 16 countries (increasing my current country count from 105 to 115). Like previous trips, most of the stops are new to me but there are a few favorites that I never miss when “in the neighborhood” (like Paris, Bangkok & Auckland).

Two of this year’s stops are hard to reach destinations that have been on my wish list for years – Easter Island and the Maldives. Thanks to some creative flight routings, this is the year I will finally get there!

I’m also happy to report that one of my very good friends, Susan, will be joining me for two weeks in the middle of the trip (meeting me in Paris and flying home from Hong Kong).

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Photo of the Day – The Unglamorous Side of RTW Travel

Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 | 0 comments

Photo of the Day – The Unglamorous Side of RTW Travel

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Well, let’s just say RTW #7 is off to a rocky start! Yes, RTW travel is not always as glamorous as it might seem. Today was one of those “Murphy’s Law” travel days and it’s only thanks to a few minor miracles and the complete inefficiency of LAN Airlines (actually working in my favor for once) that I am writing this to you now from my hotel on Easter Island, at last.

It all started out fine enough with a perfect Delta flight into Lima last night that arrived right on time at 11:00pm. But as soon as I stepped off the plane into the chaos that was the Lima airport, I knew something was amiss.

Of course, South American airports can sometimes be a little less civilized than those in the U.S. or Europe, but this was another level. As the Delta passengers entered the gate area on the way to customs, I was thankful we were separated by a glass partition from the agitated throngs waiting to board our plane.

It was apparent that some of these people had been in the airport for a while. They had the look. I noticed as I made my way to the transit area that the monitors showed a number of flights canceled for the night (including the last one to Santiago). I wondered why since the weather seemed fine and we didn’t have any delays on arrival but didn’t give it much thought.

Since my flight wasn’t until 8am I figured it couldn’t possibly affect me.

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The Mystery of Easter Island

Posted by on Jan 20, 2012 | 2 comments

The Mystery of Easter Island

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It’s one of the most remote islands on earth. A startling 2,200 miles west of the nearest continent and 1,290 miles east of the nearest populated island. The United Nations has proclaimed Easter Island the most isolated inhabited island in the world.

It’s also one of the world’s greatest mysteries and an undisputed archaeological treasure. Easter Island is home to more than 20,000 archaeological sites. But despite intensive study of these sites, the question still remains: What caused the dramatic rise and fall of this ancient Polynesian culture?

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5 Reasons Why Malta is Marvelous in the Off-Season

Posted by on Jan 25, 2012 | 2 comments

5 Reasons Why Malta is Marvelous in the Off-Season

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It’s inevitable that in the course of my annual January round-the-world trips, I will sometimes be visiting a destination in its off-season. This is especially true since I always try to include at least one European stop on the itinerary (I mean, you can’t just skip over an entire continent…it’s simply not practical).

After learning my lesson the hard way with an ill-advised stop in Berlin on Round-the-World #1, I have since become much smarter with my choice of January European destinations. I’ve tried Croatia, Turkey, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and the Amalfi Coast and, for the most part found them to be delightful – with mild weather and without the hordes of summer tourists.

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Mauritius: Lions, Beaches & Peaks…Oh my!

Posted by on Jan 30, 2012 | 2 comments

Mauritius: Lions, Beaches & Peaks…Oh my!

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I arrived on the island of Mauritius fairly exhausted after a 36-hour travel day involving 4 flights from Malta and a 6-hour layover (turned tourist outing) on neighboring Reunion – more on that in the next post.

After realizing a few days earlier that my hotel in Mauritius, Le Meridien Ile Maurice, was a staggering 40+ miles from the airport on the opposite end of the island, I figured I’d better go ahead and reserve a car for my two day stay. I was thinking of getting one for the next day anyway so I could get out and explore the island but the looming $100 cab fare from the airport made that decision a no-brainer.

It turned out to be the right decision because Mauritius is a large island that is much more easily discovered with your own wheels.

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The Garden Island of Reunion

Posted by on Jan 31, 2012 | 0 comments

The Garden Island of Reunion

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Sandwiched between Madagascar and Mauritius…and hundreds of miles from anywhere else, lush Réunion Island is a French outpost with a decidedly spicy Creole flavor.

Though it’s not known for pristine beaches and flashy resorts, like neighboring Mauritius, the island does have a few picturesque sandy shores framed with sparkling blue sea and more than one nightlife-centered resort town.

But the real draw of Réunion is its stunningly unique natural setting featuring soaring peaks and one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes.

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24 Hours in Abu Dhabi

Posted by on Feb 2, 2012 | 0 comments

24 Hours in Abu Dhabi

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After a 12-hour flight from Réunion, I landed in Paris and hopped on the train to meet up with my friend Susan at the Westin Paris. Susan flew in earlier that afternoon and will be joining me for the next 2 weeks of RTW #7! No one has ever joined me for this long on one of my RTW trips and I am super excited that Susan is coming along.

After meeting up at the hotel, we headed out for a spectacular dinner at my favorite little restaurant on Ile St. Louis before calling it a night (since we both had spent most of the night before on a plane). The next morning we caught the train back to the airport and headed to Abu Dhabi.

Situated in the southeast of the Arabian peninsula, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is a federation of seven emirates (similar to principalities) and the capital city is Abu Dhabi. I’d visited one other emirate before – Dubai – on RTW #1 and it was quite an amazing experience.

The UAE is known for oil, opulence and over the top architecture and I wondered if Abu Dhabi would measure up to Dubai.

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Heaven on Sand…the Magnificent Maldives

Posted by on Feb 8, 2012 | 5 comments

Heaven on Sand…the Magnificent Maldives

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If not for a bit of luck in Abu Dhabi and a minor miracle in Doha, Qatar…we might have missed the Maldives entirely.

After a full day exploring Abu Dhabi, we arrived at the airport at 10:00pm excited for our redeye flight to the Maldives. We were flying Qatar Airways, which meant a quick connection in Doha to catch our longer flight to Malé, Maldives.

As we got in the line for check-in, I glanced at the departures board and noticed that practically every flight showed delayed or canceled. What!?? The weather outside seemed fine, we were in the middle of the desert after all, what could be the problem? As it turned out, the problem was fog. Enough fog to cause the virtual shutdown of the Abu Dhabi airport.

Having spent months researching flights to the Maldives and knowing how limited the options were, I had an immediate sense of dread. If this flight didn’t go, we were in big, big trouble. We’d be lucky to get to the Maldives at all, much less by the next day.

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Sri Lanka: As Peace Prevails, Tourism Thrives

Posted by on Feb 10, 2012 | 0 comments

Sri Lanka: As Peace Prevails, Tourism Thrives

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After a quick and painless 90-minute flight from Malé, we landed in Sri Lanka just as the sun was setting. Susan had booked our room in Colombo with her Hilton points and arranged for the hotel to pick us up at the airport.

We considered renting a car for our 30-hour stay but since we would have had to pay for 2 days, we decided to get to the hotel first and consider the car rental for the next day. The drive into the city took almost an hour and as I peered out the window, I quickly realized that this was not a country I wanted to drive in.

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Koh Samui: Thailand’s Next Great Tourism Star

Posted by on Feb 13, 2012 | 0 comments

Koh Samui: Thailand’s Next Great Tourism Star

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After an overnighter from Sri Lanka and a quick change of planes in Bangkok, Susan and I landed on the lovely Thai isle of Koh Samui teetering on the edge of exhaustion. We stepped off the airplane to a colorful trolley car (not a bus, for once) and were shuttled right to the arrivals hall of the charming and seemingly brand-new Koh Samui airport.

Rumor has it Koh Samui is on track to be the next big destination for Thai tourism and the airport might as well be one big pristinely-landscaped, engraved invitation to visitors. With the recent opening of several properties by international hotel chains (like the two Starwood resorts we would be calling home during our stay) it seems Koh Samui is well-positioned to compete with perennial Andaman tourist powerhouse, Phuket.

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Everything’s Better in Bangkok

Posted by on Feb 14, 2012 | 0 comments

Everything’s Better in Bangkok

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Ahh….Bangkok. My home away from home on these RTW trips and the only place I’ve visited on all 7 trips.

Why? Because it was love at first sight on RTW #1 and – truth be told – I fall more in love with Bangkok every time I visit.

From gleaming temples to exotic markets. The chaos of hot pink taxis dodging rainbow-colored tuk-tuks to the electric hum of the backpacker ground zero of Khao San Road. A winding river lined with 5-star hotels next to ramshackle fishing huts and aromatic street food beckoning from seemingly every corner.

Blend them all together and you’ve got one of the greatest cities in the world.

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High-Octane Hong Kong & Mild-Mannered Macau

Posted by on Feb 15, 2012 | 0 comments

High-Octane Hong Kong & Mild-Mannered Macau

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It had been 6 years since my last (and first) trip to Hong Kong – on RTW #1 – so this year I decided it was finally time to go back!

My first visit fell over the Chinese New Year holiday and while that was an incredible time to be in the city, it also meant almost everything was closed all three days I was there. I was limited to eating mostly at my hotel and don’t even get me started on the fact that I didn’t get to shop in one of the world’s best shopping cities.

So, yes, it was definitely time for a re-visit to the bright lights and skyscrapers of Hong Kong.

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Marvelous Melbourne: Australia’s Second City

Posted by on Feb 16, 2012 | 0 comments

Marvelous Melbourne: Australia’s Second City

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For the trip from Hong Kong to Melbourne, Australia I was back on my official Skyteam Round the World ticket for the first time since landing in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. Which also meant I was back in business class…yippee!

My flight was on Delta partner China Southern and it was my first experience flying with them. After a quick 30-minute flight from Hong Kong, we landed in Guangzhou where I had a one hour layover before boarding my 10-hour redeye to Melbourne.

The short flight wasn’t much to speak of but the overnight flight was pretty good. And the Guangzhou airport and China Southern Lounge were both very nice. I managed a little sleep on the flight before landing in Melbourne around 9am.

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A Devil of a Time in Tasmania

Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 | 0 comments

A Devil of a Time in Tasmania

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After a quick one-hour flight from Melbourne, I touched down on the beautiful island of Tasmania. Just under 200 miles south of the Australian mainland, the country’s only island state – nicknamed “Tassie” – has a unique and compelling history.

For more than 25,000 years, Aboriginal tribes lived here in isolation. The establishment of a British penal colony in 1803 shattered that peaceful isolation. 

In the years that followed, more than 700,000 men, women and children were forced to migrate to Tasmania. In addition to the convicts, hundreds of penal administrators, civil and military officers and their families arrived and made a lasting impact on the island. Tasmania’s settlements prospered from the forced labor of the convicts who suffered brutal conditions at Port Arthur.

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Vibrant, Vivacious…Vanuatu: The Happiest Country in the World

Posted by on Feb 21, 2012 | 0 comments

Vibrant, Vivacious…Vanuatu: The Happiest Country in the World

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By the time my 3-hour flight from Sydney touched down on the island of Vanuatu it was approaching midnight. Despite the late hour and the almost total darkness outside my airplane window, the 30 or so people on our flight were greeted at the tiny airport by live island music played by a smiling group of locals.

I just love landing on tiny islands where you get a reception like that. No matter how tired you may be after the flight, it always gets you right into that island spirit.

Like in Tasmania, I’d procrastinated about booking a hotel in Vanuatu and only in the past few days had confirmed where I would be staying. My top choices were the Erakor Island Resort and the Hideaway Island Resort, both on their own separate islands reachable by jetty.

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