Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Down Mexico Way

The Bugger Me Moment
We are getting very excited now about our South American trip - only 3 sleeps now until we head Down Mexico Way!

We love to cruise and this time we are trying out Holland America - have always done the Princess Cruises before, but we are now looking for new and exciting places to go and like most people Machu Picchu has always been on the must do list.  I don't like to call it a bucket list, because to me this implies you are on your last legs, for me this is about doing these types of things while you can.

I still remember the first time I heard of Machu Picchu, it must be 15 years ago and I was reading the Sunday paper, as always I had my head in  travel section, even though back then we didn't travel quite as extensively as we do now, but thought to myself, this is a place I want to see, this is a place I want to experience one day.  Well one day is here.  

At the Great Wall of China
My love for going to out of the way places started in 2005 when we went to China - prior to that our overseas travel consisted of Island paradises where you could sip cocktails, laze on beaches and not do too much of anything but soak up the sun.  We had kept the big travel until the kids where old enough to remember and old enough to have a room to themselves.  The feeling inside me when I first set eyes on The Great Wall of China was indescribable, it was something I don't think I have ever felt in my life and from then on, it was always about seeing the incredible things in the world and having holidays that left you awestruck.

While wanting to do these types of adventures we soon found however that travelling on bus tours can be tiring and while there is no doubt about it, you get to see heaps of things it was our 28 day Europe trip with Trafalgar Tours that I realised that waking up at 5am every morning, packing 4 suit cases, being on the road all day was exhausting and left you with little free personal time to either relax or explore.  I really felt like I needed a holiday when we returned.  

Probably my favorite moment of the Holy Land Cruise
Our first big holiday without the kids saw us taking our first cruise - The Holy Land Cruise - discovering the Mediterranean, and all that is ancient in places like Pompeii, Ephesus, Israel, Egypt while still enjoying those island paradise destinations of the Greek Islands, plus pampering days at sea and from then on we were hooked on the cruise as it provides you with a good blend of holiday, no packing and unpacking (except when you do an overland trip - which we always do, but it is a small suitcase only job), great food, great entertainment, the ability to rejuvenate from long day excursions, a home away from home to always come back to, and we feel great value for money.  It was this trip that lead us to go "what are we doing here", as we sat in the Plaka in Greece post cruise enjoying fabulous food, sun, wine, music and being happier and more relaxed than we had been in years and with the thought that it was only a few days before we would be back at work.  This was our bugger me moment, when we decided to start planning for retirement, put a date on when we would retire, and began to seriously think about the things that we would need to do to enjoy retirement. Our count down had begun!

We are taking the 31 day Incan Empires cruise, which starts at San Diego, from there we head to Cabo San Lucas, Hautulco and then onto Puerto Chiapas for the first round of Inca ruins being the Izapa Ruins.  After these 3 Mexican ports (with a few days at sea in between), we head to Panama where we are taking a Canal Experience, I simply cannot wait for this, as you take a special boat through the canal along with the ships passing through. 

Heading onto Peru into Trujillo we will be visiting Chan Chan Citadel, which I can't wait to see, we have been watching a great documentary on South America and last week it was on Chan Chan and WOW how incredible does this place look, where they built an oasis in the desert via canals around 800 AD.

I suppose though  the piece de resistance is our 3 day Machu Picchu Overland adventure where we get off the boat and fly to Cuzco and begin our Lima and Machu Picchu experience.  With altitude sickness medication on hand, and staying at a motel that has oxygen machines we are feeling confident that we should be OK, and we are taking the train up - not walking so hopefully fingers crossed  we make it OK.

The journey continues on to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala (where we will be doing Zip Lining across the jungle canopy).  The last week sees us cruising back into San Diego, with more stops in the up market Mexican beach resorts  of Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta.

I think this will give us a great overall experience of the old, new, modern, up market and grubby of the area, and with a great range of excursions to experience a wide range of activities.  At first I didn't like the Holland American way of booking excursions in so much as you had to pay for them straight up, where with Princess you book them and then when you take them they charge you.  Now however with everything fully paid, I think this is not a bad idea, outside of drinks, any pampering or souvenirs the whole trip is now fully paid for  and I was able to do most of these when the AU dollar was high rather than taking my chances.

So if I don't blog in the next 5 weeks, you will know where you can find me - Down Mexico Way hopefully with a Tequila in one hand and a Burrito in the other !

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tales of Tangalooma - Moreton Island

Where is Tangalooma you may well ask - well it is the 3rd largest sand island in the world and only a 1 hour boat ride from Brisbane, so right on our door step.  It is amazing how many people who travel to Brisbane, or live in Brisbane have never been to Tangalooma and yet will travel 2-3,000 kms to go to a Barrier Reef Island.  

We went to Tangalooma once before for Dereks 50th Birthday so about 7 years ago, but it was the place we choose to spend Danni's or D2's 21st Birthday.  We prefer to go away or do something special as a family for milestone events rather than have parties, because generally we feel it is great to all be together and have some wonderful memories and to be honest today having a party is expensive, people don't RSVP so you never know how many people you are catering for, and people generally don't buy anything decent for presents that balance the scales of catering vs loot received.  Our last big party for a birthday was Dereks 40th where even back then it cost a few thousand dollars for 2 years supply of body paint (if only the girls knew that their lunch boxes for years was not nutella but chocolate body paint which in effect is exactly the same thing) and copious amounts of Scotch, given Derek is a  teetotaler this is pretty useless in the scheme of things.   Instead we have always felt that the money we would have spent on parties is better spent doing something great and making that special event go over a few days.  I must admit a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders with this event now over as for me it was the last of the big events that I would have to pay for (I will give the girls a ladder to elope when they get married, but I am not into big weddings), and its been hanging over my head since we retired.

Tangalooma is a paradox in so many ways, because it is such a fantastic place to go, but it is a bit expensive and while we had forgotten from our last visit,  it all came flooding back once we arrived, the service is pretty poor.  I suppose in todays age, where service is the highest priority of most places, Tangaloomas is a hit and miss affair, and quite disjointed ie:  private tour offices that don't align with the Islands tour office, tour codes on bills that no one in reception can tell you what they are for, making the checking of the bills difficult, many staff who don't speak English very well (which is great for the OS visitor, but I am in Brisbane and had difficulty in explaining something to a few staff) and main meals being brought to the table before starter plates had been cleared off etc. Of course there are always 1 or 2 people who provide excellent service and in this case I do want to acknowledge these people right here as from where I sit these people make a big difference to your holiday experience but more than that these people show a care factor, they treat guests like they should be treated and act in the manner that is helpful and meaningful so right here I want to thank Nancy - who provided such a fantastic pre-arrival service, and backed up this while we on the island - if only every person who worked on the Island served the customer like Nancy I am quite sure that Apps like Trip Advisor and other travel advisories would be full of great comments instead of what seems to be a common theme of poor service.  Thank you Nancy you talked the talk and walked the walk!  Maurie who is honestly one of the best guest services people I have ever come across, again you would think he owned the Island because he wanted everyone to feel loved, cared for and happy - Maurie is one of those people who you can trust and goes above and beyond to ensure guests needs are looked after.  Bobbie (or it might have been Robbie) at the bar - what a happy, nice person he was and gave service with a smile, sometimes under a lot of pressure when there where lines of people waiting for a drink and Angel or April (can't quite remember which) in the bar was extremely helpful as well when we needed a fridge for our 21st Cake items that the reception staff had said they would organise but promptly forgot while we waited over 2 hours to get into our room.  So for these 4 people thank you for making a difference and thank you for caring it is people like you that over power in the memories the less than adequate service components.  I did want to get these up front, because for me people often complain but do forget the people who try and while this blog isn't about complaining it is about talking about overall experiences and there will be some things in here about the lack of service generally, but overall I would still say Tangalooma is a great destination.

So what does Tangalooma have to offer and how do you get the best value for money holiday here.  To be honest as I said right up I am always amazed at how few people I know after living a lifetime in Brisbane have never been, because as a short holiday destination it really has it all for all age brackets (without the need for air travel), remember we traveled with 6 of us, so people from the ages of 21 to 81 and I would say we all had things that we were able to do and in 2 1/2 days I don't think any of us were bored or lacked for some new experience.

Given we had been to Tangalooma before I was keen not to double up on activities we had undertaken while giving Derek a boys weekend for his 50th, on that occasion we did the Quad Biking, hired a 4WD and spent the day going around the island and discovering all it has to offer, fishing and whale watching - which where all fantastic experiences but not cheap and I really didn't want to redo these again, so it was great there were a few new activities added to the list since our last visit.  The website is good to use, easy to navigate around and establish what activities are available, the cost and roughly when they are available www.tangalooma.com.au as well as accommodation options and online booking.

This time we choose to do the Sand Tobogganing (well the kids did, us oldies didn't) which they really enjoyed, snorkeling, dolphin feeding (which was included in our stay so done by all of us including my Mum at 81), Segways and some of the free activities such as archery.  We would have liked to do some other activities, but unfortunately even though the weather was perfect a P&O cruise was in on the Saturday and  house guests where unable to participate in many of the activities the island has to offer.  This was one thing that ended up driving me insane from the moment we got there until the boat left, because on Friday when we arrived everyone was sooooooooooooooo busy (or according to them) because we have a big cruise in tomorrow and some areas where closed for cleaning, repairs or other things on Friday and on Saturday everyone was soooooooooooooooo busy because of the cruise being in and unfortunately paying house guests came a sad second - no discount offered because of this though it was still full tote odds.  I will say though that the cruise being in gave the Island real life and it was great to see it full with people, bustling and alive so it did have its advantages and its sad it isn't like that which I feel it could be if it didn't seem so expensive.  

We took the 10am boat over and arrived just before 12, we choose to stay in the Deep Blue apartments this time because the last time the standard accommodation was pretty tired and from the pictures on the website they hadn't appeared to have changed all that much.  The Deep Blue apartments are right on the beach with fabulous views and we choose a 3 bedroom one so it accommodated all 6 of us with 2 bathrooms, one with a spa.  It was a fantastic setup, very modern, with a great balcony with BBQ etc, sun lounges etc and would highly recommend paying a little more for one of these and taking your own food as one thing Tangalooma doesn't do well is food, catering and restaurants and while a bit more expensive at the onset, it does end up saving you money and food disappointment.  The occupancy seemed quite low for the weekend given the glorious weather we have had.

Given we were carrying 2 eskies of food and one with all the 21st cake stuff in it and we had some activities already booked for 1.30pm, we were really disappointed that our room was not ready when we arrived, remember our stuff had been in these eskies since 6.30am and my gut feeling was no one had stayed in the room the night before (I could be wrong, but it was definitely the impression I got), but because we had chosen the linen package beds needed to be made - yes folks, be aware that you pay extra for wanting linen ie:  bed linen and towels.  I did explain the situation but all I kept getting was you are guaranteed a 2pm check in - I don't know but from an operational view point, one would think, get large groups into rooms first especially large groups who have paid the most per night, and who have chosen the large apartments with BBQs etc and those that had activities already booked.  But no and this is where the no care factor seemed to kick in, really no one cared, no options provided to us, just your name will be called when your room is ready and we guarantee that you will be in by 2pm.  Well guess what folks, we were not called by 2pm and when I questioned so do we get a discount, no one seemed to know what the guarantee was, it was just an I don't know I don't care.  Enough of that ranting!  We finally did get in and the kids went off and did their Desert Safari tour (even though the bus broke down, they seemed to enjoy themselves) which is what it was all about.

Derek of course had taken not 1 but 2 metal detectors with him given he had miles and miles of virgin beach or so he thought, and as always went and asked at the tour desk if it was OK to do this, of which he was told yep that fine.  One of the staff who saw him doing this, also requested that if he found any jewelry could he hand it in as they have heaps of lost items on their list, of which he went yep that's all good.  So he and Dave D2s boyfriend went off for a few hours each day and both finding quite a bit of money - on Saturday when the boat came in they had a bit of competition as there were people everywhere with them, and some finding rings etc (which Derek did say, you should take that up to reception primarily because he was cranky that they found some over areas he had done the day before lol), so you can image my distress when on Sunday morning Dave was confronted by a staff member saying he wasn't allowed to do that here, I was walking past so asked if there was a problem, when I got, you can't do that here.  I did explain we had asked permission, plus we have a mining license when all of a sudden I got a tirade of abuse being yelled at me and was being screamed at that only a Director can give permission and who did we ask, which continued as he walked backwards yelling and screaming at me and telling me to get off the Island and that people with our attitude don't belong here (people with my attitude who spent $4K over 2 days uuum) - I later found out this person is the assistant Motel Manager and then all made sense.  Staff follow the leader and this man Hank was their leader and definitely not someone who has any customer skills - in reading advisories after being screamed and yelled at it wasn't surprising that many people had had run in with Hank of a similar nature.  Its such a funny thing that people like this get offended by detectors roaming the beach - Derek and Dave picked up heaps of ring pull tabs, empty cans and generally they clean up the beach as they go - we don't leave holes and besides that everyone is interested in what they are doing, the day before Derek was like the piped piper as all the kids gathered around, he spends time showing them what he is doing, gives them a go, lets them keep whatever is found and for them it is something exciting.  This activity is generally interesting to most people and it cleans up the beach from things that might cause harm to others.

The waters were nice and warm, and of course the water around this island is blue and beautiful, so we went off to do some snorkeling on Saturday after the 21st Breaky which was about the only activity we were allowed to do given the cruise was in.  There is an artificial reef at Tangalooma but boy the current was strong and it was hard to get out there, but all in all worth the swim, I would however not recommend this to those that are not strong swimmers and to be aware that boats come and go in this area and they are not always watching (even the organised tour boats) for where snorkelers are.  Given we didn't really leave until after 10 to go, and its a pretty long walk from the resort, this took up the rest of the morning and good part of the afternoon.  Following a nice swim in the pool behind the apartment which was quiet compared to the main resort pool, we all started to get ready for our 21st Birthday dinner which was the only meal we had elected to have out in the resort.

Sunday saw everyone doing Segways which was a fun activity before we headed back home.

Overall I will say as I did at the beginning, Tangalooma has lots to offer, and is a beautiful location and fantastic beaches, sealife, activities and the Deep Blue apartments are a terrific modern option for accommodation in the right location for a perfect Island getaway.  Would we go back again, well probably not after having been twice now, we have really done it all and as I indicated at the beginning it isn't cheap but for us it was great value for money, even if some of the service levels where lacking, but again we were self catering most of the time so this didn't really bother us as much this time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So what have we been doing you might well ask!

I enjoy blogging, but not to the extent that I have to do it regularly - that wasn't the intention of this blog.  Unlike others who blog to make money, my blogging was to record things we are doing, places we are going, things we enjoy and how we change over our retirement time.  Sometimes I just don't want to sit inside especially at the moment given the beautiful weather or be hooked to a tablet while out and about.  In fact the longer we are retired, the less I feel compelled to check emails, answer phones - so unless I really have something worthwhile saying I would prefer to say nothing at all. For those who know me well they would attest to this being a dramatic change in itself.

We have now officially entered our 2nd year of NINKERING and enjoying retirement living as of last week.  We were never really sure how this lifestyle would suit us, or what our long term goals might be.  Would we want to go back to work, would we want more, would we get bored ...... hence the reason why we always said we were having a gap year to establish if this was where we wanted to be, how we wanted to live.

This time last year we just getting ready to head off to Vanuatu - I know this because I was in big trouble from D2 because we were going to be away for her 20th Birthday - but not this year as she turns 21 on Saturday and we are all heading off to Tangalooma for a long weekend and birthday celebrations, which includes a lot of fun activities like sand tobogganing, snorkeling, feeding the dolphins, banana boat rides and sun set cruises.  We had taken D1 on a 3 day P&O cruise last year for her 21st but when looking these up for D2 we found there was only 4 day cruises that went to Tangalooma so we thought, lets just head there especially given we are now on a count down to our 31 day Inca Discovery cruise in less than 4 weeks.  No doubt I will have lots to blog about on our return from our 21st weekend.

In the last month or so I have been working - so does this make me less of a NINKER if I am earning a little  money?  It is amazing how out of the blue friends with businesses contact you and offer you nice little jobs to do.  Its great to have some money going into the bank for a change, but for me it was a great confidence booster and so for the last month or so, I have been busy a few days a week working on strategies, marketing and proof of concept demand ideas, which has been heaps of fun.  Out of the blue another few calls have come in so it looks like I might well have a few things on my plate in the New Year.  Its nice to know that people still respect your skills and that they trust you with their business, but more importantly that they feel you are someone who can help them.  This is has been nice and of course it been incredibly fun to be tossing ideas around for growth strategies but I will say the brain hurt there for a few days and I felt totally exhausted.  

Other than that, we have been out on the boat (which we sold yesterday), sometimes you have to think about downsizing assets to upsize income and while we have loved our boat and boating experiences over the last 4 years and more especially in the last 12 months, it was starting to get a bit expensive on a retirement budget, and of course we have discovered other things we enjoy doing on the land.  With going away for over a month, we thought, lets sell - one less thing to worry about while we are away, and selling the boat can give us another good years living without reaching into our hard earned investments.  We have had great fun this year in the boat and probably will buy another one at some stage, but something a bit smaller and something we can just do quick day trips in rather than week long adventures.

Derek has still been busy with his detecting and we have continued on our walking adventures to get fit for South America.  I have also had a need to go shopping for clothes both for the 21st and the cruise - can't be seen in the same outfits forever and I have been really proud of the way we have been able to live with what we have this year - I wasn't sure if some of the habits of years of earning great money and just going shopping and buying anything would be hard to give up, but we have been really good in this area and have not bought any new clothes in a year so its been nice to go out and shop!

Until the next blog I will leave you with this thought, as I feel this is summing us up nicely in our retirement.

Life is not about finding yourself, its about creating yourself.