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Last year, someone fell asleep at the wheel and allowed an airline mistake fare to go on much longer than it probably should have.  Thanks to good timing, we were able to buy round trip airfare from Chicago to Dublin for $209 per person on Etihad Airways.   The only catch was that the outbound flight routed through Abu Dhabi.   We have been intrigued by Dubai and since it’s only 45 minutes from Abu Dhabi we decided to go for it!   We spent about 12 hours in Dubai and that was enough for us.   It reminded me of Vegas.   It’s hot, sandy, and opulent.

But that stop was just the sideshow to the main event.   Our final destination was Dublin, Ireland.  What a contrast in geography! It was green and lush with perfect fall weather.    We stayed in two different Radisson Blu hotels in Dublin.  The first one, Radisson Blu St. Helens was just okay. I think another reviewer said it best when they wrote: “The grounds are beautiful and rooms are large but overall it’s mediocre.” The rooms and decor are a bit dated and worn. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was really good – we had the seafood chowder. Quite delicious!

The location is just okay as it is still in Dublin but it’s about a 15 minute taxi ride from the city center. If you are trying to decide between this and the Radisson Blu City Centre I would just stay at the City Centre location. The hotel is lovely. It seems to be brand new. Rooms are large and clean with luxurious finishes. The breakfast is a large buffet and includes traditional Irish options. The location is great, it is within 5-10 min walking distance to Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, Grafton Street and is right next to Dublin Castle. Really enjoyed our short stay here! We were in room 123 and there was no street noise.

 

We booked a couple of tours to see the Irish countryside.  We took a train and bus tour to the Ring of Kerry.

We used Extreme Ireland/Irish Day Tours for the tour to Giant’s Causeway.  This tour meets in a central location in Dublin (Dame St + Suffolk) and departs at 7am. The bus is a large coach and is generally comfortable for those under 6′. Taller people will find the space between seats a bit uncomfortable. However, our tour guide, Jennifer, and the bus driver (I think his name was Herman) did an excellent job! Jennifer shared alot of interesting information along the way and she played different music by Irish artists as we went.

The day starts out with a stop at a gas station about an hour and half after departure. You can get breakfast and coffee and access to restrooms. This isn’t a fancy place though. Next, you go through beautiful countryside and drive along the coast of Northern Ireland. Jennifer mentioned alot of scenery and places have been depicted in the Game of Thrones. We went through the Glen-cities (Glenarm, Glenariff, etc). These towns are so cute and scenic! I wished we could’ve stopped there but our first real stop was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The hike from the parking lot to the bridge is about a 20 min walk. It was very windy the day we were there and the bridge was closed. The winds were 45mph, so we couldn’t cross to the island. But the views here are absolutely gorgeous! We were there for about an hour.

From there it was only about a 20 minute drive to the Giant’s Causeway. We spent 2 hours total there and you eat lunch at this location. It also takes about 20 min to walk from the bus to the basalt stone formations of the causeway, but there is a bus here for those that don’t want to walk. The bus is 1 pound sterling. There is a guided tour option here also and I believe it is 9 pounds.


After the causeway, the path back to Belfast passed by Dunluce castle (also on the Game of Thrones). There is an hour stop in Belfast where you don’t have much time to do anything, and by the time you are there (after 4:30pm) most things are closed or closing. I could’ve skipped this part of the tour personally, but others enjoyed a stop at a pub. We got back into Dublin around 8pm. It was a great day!

We also visited the Guinness factory and spent a fun evening in Temple Bar at the Old Storehouse.  We went for dinner on a Saturday night and enjoyed both the food and the music. We had to sit upstairs since the band areas were crowded but the music is piped in through speakers so you can hear everything!  I recommend it!

Our trip wasn’t long enough, so we’d love to go back and visit other parts of Ireland!
-J

 

Earlier this year we visited the Island of Hawaii, specifically ‘the big island’.   We planned a stop in Seattle on the way so we spent the weekend in Seattle before flying out to Hawaii.  It’s cheaper and a little more convenient, in terms of flight times, to depart for Hawaii from the West coast.

We took an Alaska Airlines flight into the airport in Kona which is on the west side of the island.  We stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village about 30 minutes north of the airport.


During our stay there we experienced all three residence towers: Ocean Tower, Lagoon Tower, and Palace Tower. We stayed two nights in the Ocean Tower as award redemptions and the room was decent. The hotel is large, but it’s definitely walkable (without luggage) and the tram was running frequently although the boats were not while I was there. The Ocean Tower is a bit far away from main areas but it’s fine. The rooms seemed to be undergoing renovation on the higher floors while I was there.  Our room was on the sixth floor.

The power went out in the entire hotel one morning and that made the coffee bar in the Ocean Tower unable to serve breakfast so I ended up going to Waters Edge, the breakfast buffet. Breakfast is $25 but I used my $10 certificate from being a Hilton Gold member. They tried their best, but the food was lackluster due to the lack of power. Power came back on within 2 hours but the price of breakfast was not adjusted. I ended up writing Hilton a letter and they compensated me for that morning’s breakfast. Good form!

One night at the hotel was a paid stay and so I booked a Makai room in the Lagoon Tower. You get a bracelet that designates you are a Makai guest which allows you access to the spa and a reserved area of the pool. The Makai room in the Lagoon Tower was renovated and new and had robes for us. The room was actually smaller than the Ocean Tower room but felt more plush due to the finishes, updated touches in the bathroom, and the linens.

On our last day we checked out early due to a scheduled snorkeling tour. While we were already checked out, we returned to the hotel after snorkeling and we were able to use a changing room (in the Palace tower) to take a shower and change clothes. This is offered to all guests. You should know that items are pricey here. My margarita was $15 and as I mentioned, breakfast was $25. Overall, this is a large hotel, but we didn’t experience any negative problems and I would stay here again. The location is a bit far from the town – about 30 min. The Marriott Waikoloa is next door. There are other hotels that are closer to the city center: Sheraton Kona for example. The King Shoppes and the Queen Shoppes are within walking distances and have grocery stores and souvenirs.

We rented a car so we were able to visit other parts of the island.  One night we stayed in Hilo to be close enough to visit the Volcanoes National Park. It is truly amazing and a must see. Go back at night too! We were able to see the glow from the hot lava at night. We also visited the Lava Tube. Overall, very educational!

We attended a luau, which some consider cheesy and some consider a must do activity when in Hawaii. After doing some research, we chose the luau at the Royal Kona and we did enjoy it!

We visited the southern most point in the United States and saw one of only four green sand beaches in the world!  The terrain on the big island was somewhat surprising to me.  There are miles and miles of black rocky ground with nothing green in sight.   Overall, it was quite a trip and we would like to check out another Hawaiian island next year!  Any suggestions for a visit to Maui?
-J

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