Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Travel Disappointments

My favorite type of travel blogger is an honest travel blogger. As great as it is to read about 101 ways in which a particular city, country, attraction or adventure blew your mind, it is so refreshing to hear from fellow bloggers about why a travel experience fell short. I think too often travelers shy away from criticism, even constructive criticism of their travels because they either are trying to avoid offending a local who may be reading, or they don’t want to admit to themselves that the trip they planned meticulously for many months was anything but perfect.

The reason I cancelled my subscription to a popular travel magazine was due to this “everything is always A+” mentality. The final straw with said magazine was when they featured an article praising a new Paris hotel as the epitome of chic luxury and a ‘game changer in the city’… only to discover that reviews on TripAdvisor (i.e. the closest you are going to get to impartialism) said the hotel was overpriced and underwhelming.

With that in mind, I would like to present my ‘Top 5 Travel Disappointments’ (in no particular order):

Disclaimer: These are mostly locations that I have visited only once. It’s quite possible that any number of variables such as time of year, weather, travel mates, my own mental state at the time of the visit or just poor luck could have cast a negative light on my experience. Thus it should be considered that if I visited these locations again the result may very well be different.

Olympiapark in Munich, Germany

I will preface by saying I loved Munich, the beautiful architecture, the Bavarian culture and of course the world famous beer. The Olympiapark, however, was a letdown. What may have been a world class facility built for the 1972 Summer Olympics now just looks dull and dated over 40 years later. I’m sure there would have been more activities going on if we had visited during the warmer months (we were there in February) but even so, we found it offered little to justify the train trip to get there. It was a lot of walking around uninspiring buildings and average landscaping. Walking time that would have been much better allocated to the city’s beautiful old streets. The only thing we found moderately interesting were the views of the city and the distant German Alps from the top of the Olympic Tower, but when you factor in the cost of this it is still a part of Munich worth skipping.

The Alpine view was the highlight of this day trip

Los Haitises National Park, Dominican Republic

This was a somewhat expensive day tour offered through our vacation provider while we were staying in the Samana region of DR. While the boat ride through Samana Bay to the park was enjoyable and there were some impressive views of islands and cliffs upon entering the park, the caves they took us to were not overly exciting. The history here is interesting and we were told the area was used as a filming location for some major Hollywood productions, but we didn’t really see what the big deal was. The caves were littered with graffiti from past visitors which pulls you right out of the natural environment the guide is trying to convey. The caves were also relatively small and packed way too tightly with several tour groups at once. Maybe if you arrived via private boat and cruised around the islands and cliffs while enjoying a rum cocktail this would be a fun experience, but I wouldn’t recommend booking the group tour offered through your vacation provider.

Impressive islands, caves not so much

The Food of Venice, Italy

Venice is a magical and unique city and something every traveler needs to experience at least once. The food however, I cannot recommend. Like many major European cities (especially in Italy) it is overrun with expensive, low-quality tourist trap restaurants that prey on travelers that just don’t know any better. After finding this out the hard way the first night, we did some serious TripAdvisor research and looked for dinner spots a little off the beaten track that were well reviewed. While these places were definitely much better quality, the Venetian cuisine was just not to our tastes. Instead of the classic Italian we all know and love, it was something different with influences of its trading partners over the centuries like Turkey. Sounds exotic and exciting I know, but I’ll take a classic Napoletana pizza any day while in Italy. Even the quick-service food was disappointing. Sandwiches that looked like they had been sitting under a heat lamp all day were selling for 12 Euro, go figure! Our best culinary experience in Venice came from the great selection of meats and cheeses we bought from a local deli and ate in our hotel room.  

If only we had a kitchen to cook our own meals in Venice, then we would be set!

Tampa, Florida

I have been to Tampa a couple of times, either to see a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game or as a base to explore the nearby gulf coast beaches. Lightning games are a blast, but if you are going for the beach do yourself a favor and stay on the beach. Driving from Tampa to Clearwater Beach or St. Pete’s Beach is not as close as you might think, and if you encounter any traffic along the way you are in for a frustrating drive/parking search. I found the city itself lacked offerings for the intrepid traveler. The historic Ybor City area with its cigar-making past is kinda cool, but other than the highly recommended Tampa Bay Brewing Company, we were hard pressed to find anything in the area that interested us. After the Lightning game we wandered around downtown looking for a good bar, but everything was closing up. I love the state of Florida, mostly because of it's world class beaches. If you are looking for a city trip with sightseeing, dining options, bars etc. there are many more better suited cities in America.

Good old fashioned traffic trying to get from Tampa to Clearwater Beach

Valletta, Malta

First and foremost, Malta is one of my favorite European countries that I have had the chance to visit. We stayed on the rugged northwestern coast which was absolutely beautiful. The problem was we were only there for 3 days and thus could allot one of those days to exploring another part of the island. We chose the capital Valletta, instead of the more recommended ancient city of Mdina. Our entrance to Valletta was grand. It had a very North African feel like we were entering Casablanca or something. From there we found it offered quite little, just a lot of shopping and crowds. The views of the sea were nice, but we didn’t need to travel from the coast we were staying at for that. There did not seem to be many major sites of interest, and the one we did try and visit (Shipwreck of St. Paul) was closed without any info on when it would be open. We found we were quickly bored and wanting to head back to Golden Bay. We were also quite upset we had missed out on our chance to see Mdina. Oh well, next time! 

The entrance to Valletta was sadly the highlight of the day trip to the Maltese capital

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Monday, February 1, 2016

I Love Europe, But Dream of The Caribbean...

I have been lucky enough to travel to Europe two springs in a row and four times in total. I have had the pleasure of experiencing so many of the cities I wanted to visit all my life; Prague, Venice, Barcelona, Vienna, Munich, just to name a few. I would surely head back every year if time and funds allowed it.

Europe, with all of its culture, food, architecture and history, sits comfortably as my 'number 2' favorite type of vacation. The 'number 1' spot however has always belonged to the Caribbean All-Inclusive… and here’s why!

Vacations in Europe or North America just can’t get you the same bang for your buck as a Caribbean All-Inclusive (AI) can. To get to Europe (from Toronto) you are looking at anywhere from $700-$1500 depending on itinerary and time of year… and that’s for flights alone, we haven’t even begun to discuss hotel costs, food, bar tabs, sights or additional travel within the continent. As low as $1,000 can net me a round-trip flight, 4+ star accommodations and unlimited food and drink for a week. Even the little things like airport transfers and tips are included in the one-time price.  

Europe in the winter can be great, don’t get me wrong. There are Christmas markets, beautiful city streets and even at its coldest it is usually more tolerable than back in Canada. That being said, one of my biggest pull factors when going abroad is the sunshine. Aside from a brief hurricane season in the fall, the weather in the Caribbean is typically awesome year-round. As I mentioned in a previous posting, there is nothing quite like boarding a plane in -25C Toronto weather and disembarking in +30C island heat.  

The Caribbean sun just makes you fee good!

The beaches in Florida are some of my favorites, and Europe has some good ones as well (I was in Malta last year and absolutely loved it!), but if you have ever been to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic you know there is just no comparison. Stretching as long as the eye can see, powdery white, lined with palms and warm clear waters all year long… a good Caribbean beach is simply in a league of its own.

Not all beaches are created equal

Most of us in North America are subject to the go-go-go lifestyle of working 40+ hours a week (not including rush hour commuting) and then spending our precious free time with the chores and errands required to maintain a household. When it finally comes time for a vacation, I just want to relax! In the Caribbean you are not trying to squeeze 10 famous sites into a day’s itinerary. You are not walking past countless restaurants each night wondering which are authentic and which are overpriced tourist traps. You are not rushing to the airport or train station at 5am to connect to your next location. You are chillin’ pool or beach-side, catching rays, sipping on a mojito and deciding which of the five gourmet on-site restaurants you want to head to that night.

The definition of a "vacation" for me. 

I will end by saying my experiences do not cover the entire globe as I have never been in Asia or Africa. I have been doing a bit of reading this winter and it seems like some of the beach locales in the Far East have the potential to amaze. Thailand? Philippines? Vietnam? Hopefully someday soon!  

Looking to book a Caribbean all-inclusive? Check these postings out! Part 1 & Part 2.