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Where to Stay: Vacation Planning, Part 2

vacation

I’m back with part two of Vacation Planning, which I’m calling Where to Stay. In case you missed it, click HERE to read the first installment of this series.

In part one, the goal was to determine what your idea of the perfect vacation is, what kind of experience you want, and where you want to go. Then we discussed how the weather, the season, and how the timing needs to be factored into your trip. So, what’s next?

stay
Curacao, 2012

 

The Next Step

What have you decided on? A multi-city travel itinerary, tropical island, or country? Now is the time to do your research. I always turn to Trip Advisor first. This is the link for the travel forum. Find your location, and navigate from there. I get so much information about where I am going on Trip Advisor. When we went to Cancun several years ago, I read about Jungle Spa near Puerto Morelos. An American ex-pat who’d moved to Mexico learned about a local custom where generations passed down the art of Mayan therapeutic massage. She started Jungle Spa as a cottage industry for these women to help support their families. The reviews of the spa were excellent. So, I scheduled us for massages through their Facebook before our trip. My husband still talks about what an incredible massage he had there.

vacation
Royal Caribbean

 

A Cruise?

Did you decide on a cruise? Cruise critic is a great place to start. You can research different cruise lines and read reviews of cruise ships. One of the areas most helpful to me is the forum boards that they have on general cruising information, specific cruise lines, and ports of call. When we decided to take our first cruise in 2007, I had no idea which cruise line to choose. The cruise critic site really helped me find which cruise line best suited us. For instance, we wanted a smaller ship with more adults and fewer children, excellent service, and good food. Cruising is a great way to wake up in a different country or city every morning. You can see so many ports of call in just a week-long cruise.

vacation

Puerto Morelos, November, 2016

 

Where to Stay?

So, where do you want to stay? A hotel, resort, condo, or vacation home? One of our favorite types of resorts are all-inclusive. An all-inclusive resort, for those of you who have never heard of one, is a resort where the cost includes everything. All meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, activities, and entertainment. All-inclusive resorts are very popular in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Condo Resorts or Vacation Homes

When we go to Hawaii, we generally stay in condo resorts. We like the spaciousness of condos, the choice of grilling on our lanai in the evenings or eating out, and taking our own beverages to the pool. We’ve stayed in some lovely resort hotels in Hawaii, but usually only for a few days of our 10 day stay.

vacation
Grand Hyatt, Kauai, 2015

My favorite website for booking condos or vacation homes is VRBO (also known as Home Away). If a property I’m interested in has a professional management company, I always go to the company’s website to compare prices before booking through VRBO.

A few tips: read the reviews, chose properties that have reviews, and compare the total costs before you choose one. The charges can vary greatly from one rental to another. An example is that one may waive the cleaning fee for stays of a week or more and the other property has excessive booking fees. Compare total costs.

Hotel Resorts

If you’ve decided on a hotel resort, then I recommend reviewing hotels through websites like Expedia or Costco Travel. I’ve personally booked trips through both websites.

Costco is great if you’re a member and are booking your airfare and hotel together. What I like about Costco is that they fully vet the properties listed and hold them to high standards. They do have a more limited number of hotels and resorts, though.

Expedia has a wider range of hotel and resort options. They also offer more airline options, too, if you are booking both airfare and accommodations. And, they don’t require you to book both together. I usually narrow it down to three or so hotels/resorts, then read reviews on multiple websites, including Trip Advisor.

Why I Do the Research

Hopefully I warned you in part one of Vacation Planning that I take planning a vacation pretty seriously! Unless I’ve stayed somewhere previously, I never book a vacation impulsively, without doing research. I have high expectations, so I want to ensure that I’m choosing wisely.

You’re almost there. Stay tuned for the last installment! That’s when I’ll share the plans from the Maui vacation we took last fall. Oh, and I’ll let you in on what I’m looking at for our next trip.

Ready to read more? Here’s the last part of Vacation Planning HERE.

Vacation Planning, Part 1: Destinations

wonderful destinations

Many of you are getting ready to plan vacations for this year, so I’m reposting part 1 of Wonderful Destinations: Vacation Planning.

In the past 10 years, my hubby and I have traveled to some wonderful destinations. Off the top of my head, we’ve visited 11 Caribbean islands; gone to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico; to Maui, The Big Island, and Kauai in Hawaii; and a few cruise ports in Central America. We’ve been on 5 cruises, which account for many of the Caribbean islands, and taken multiple trips to Hawaiian resorts, and Mexican all-inclusive resorts.

I get asked all the time how I plan our trips, so today I’m going to share that with you on the blog today.

Wonderful Destinations to See

Perfect Vacation
Hilton Waikoloa Village, Hawaii, 2010

I’m the designated travel planner in my family. Just ask anyone in my family, and they’ll tell you that I take my mission seriously. Before booking a trip, I do a lot of research on the destination, the property we are staying at, and compare prices.

I’ve only used a real travel agent once, for our 30th anniversary trip to St. Lucia in 2015. I probably won’t do it again. Not that it was a bad experience, because it wasn’t. I used the travel agent to help me narrow down regions for our trip and to choose a resort based on our needs. Her expertise was really helpful in choosing and booking our destination.

Perfect Get-A-Way
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, 2011

What’s Your Idea of the Perfect Vacation?

Our idea of the perfect vacation is going to a warm, fun, sandy place for some R & R (rest and relaxation). Everyone’s idea of the perfect is different, so it’s important to know that when planning. Some people travel for new adventures, to experience a new culture, or to visit a particular city. Every time you travel you are going to have a new experience, so your goal is to ensure it’s the type of experience you want.

Sandals at St. Lucia, 2015

How to Plan the Perfect Vacation

The first step is determine your idea of the perfect vacation. What do you want out of this vacation experience? Is it freezing cold where you are now and you want a warm, toes in the sand vacation? Or do you want to see a lot of places, say several cities in a week? Maybe you want to go zip-lining through a jungle? Understanding this is key to having the time of your life or coming home feeling like you still need a vacation.

Travel
Hawaii, 2015

How to Choose the Best Destination for You

Once you know what kinds of experience you’re looking for, it’s time to decide where to go.

There are so many wonderful destinations out there! Deciding what you want to do comes before deciding where to go since there are more factors involved in the destination.

Say you always take your vacation in the summer because your kids are out of school then. If a tropical, toes in the sand experience is what you want then you’ll need to factor in the season and weather. For instance, it’s hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the summer and fall. This means lots of great deals are available during the low-season, but a hurricane or tropical storm could affect your plans.

Seasonal Destinations

In Mexico, some places are really hot in the summer. Once, we went to Cabo San Lucas in July and it was blazing hot. I knew that it would be hot, but I didn’t realize the effects of the very high humidity. It was 110 with the heat index and we spent all day in the pool just to be able to cope with the heat. Another time, we went there in mid-August and had a tropical storm. In fact, our resort flooded and we lost water and air conditioning. We still had a great time though, and have a good laugh when we talk about that trip. Include Mother Nature in your decision-making.

Planning the Perfect Get-A-Way
The Arc in Cabo San Lucas, 2010

So, we’ve covered what type of vacation is your ideal, and what to factor in when contemplating all those wonderful destinations. I have plenty more to share, though!

Look for part two of planning the perfect vacation. I’ll cover other topics such as where to look for deals, researching where to say, and what to look for in a resort. I’ll be sharing that over the next few weeks.

Feel free to share any of your funny vacation experiences below.

Be sure to check out my other travel articles:

Get-A-Way to Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach

The hubs and I took a mini-vacation to Pismo Beach last week. Pismo Beach is a beach town in the middle of California’s Central Coast in San Luis Obispo county. We’ve gone there annually (and often twice a year) for 20 years. See photos from our visits and what to do and where to stay and eat in Pismo Beach, California.

Read more

Vacation Favorite Hawaiian Recipes

In honor of our Maui vacation, I’m sharing a few local favorites that we’ve enjoyed dining on. We always enjoy Hawaiian foods, especially the pork and fish meals. And, of course the variety of fresh fish here in Hawaii is amazing! Two of our favorite fish are Monchong and Opah, which are caught locally. So, read on to get some great dinner and dessert recipes and eat like you are on a tropical vacation this week!

Photo of hawaiian water and volcanic rocks

Hawaiian Meals – Lanai Style

Food prices are higher in Hawaii than other part of the United States. And, eating out is even more expensive.

As a Californian, I am used to paying premium for dining out, but Hawaii takes it to a whole new level. It is on par with the cost of dining out in San Francisco.

So, we usually stay in a condominium (with an outdoor kitchen on the lanai) while on vacation in Hawaii. It allows us to prepare some of our own meals and save money. And, it also gives us some extra room since we usually stay for at least 10 days.

Our most amazing dinners there are spent on the lanai, eating dinner while gazing out at the sunset on the Pacific Ocean and feeling the warm tropical breeze.

Read about our Maui trip here. And, part 1 of my vacation planning series here.

Hawaiian Fish and Recipes

One of the perks of being in Hawaii that is the abundance of fresh, local fish and seafood. Many nights we get our dinner ingredients from a local market and grill on our lanai. You just can’t beat freshly caught Hawaiian fish.

There are several different types of fish living off the waters of the Hawaiian Islands. Opah (moonfish), Kumu (goatfish), Monchong, Opakapaka (pink snapper), Ahi Tuna, Uhu, and Hawaiian Butterfish can be found in local restaurants.

This article explores how to prepare these different types of fish: HERE.

Grilled Monchong

We purchased fresh Monchong for dinner from a local fresh fish market. The resort we stayed at had a grill chef that grills food for the guests in the evenings.

So, we decided to have our Monchong grilled by the grill chef. There were several other guests having their dinners grilled, too.But, it was worth the experience.

The grill chef had at least 5 grills going at the same time! It was interesting watching him going from grill to grill, checking temperatures and sprinkling on seasonings.

Our grilled Monchong was perfect. It was lightly broiled on the outside and flakey inside, which is exactly how I like my fish grilled.

a plate with a grilled Monchong fillet, a traditional hawaiian recipe
Grilled Monchong

Grilled Monchong Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Brush the Monchong with melted butter and rub with seasonings.
  2. Heat the grill and brush well with oil to prevent the Monchong from sticking. Grill the Monchong for 3-5 minutes on each side over direct heat, then move to indirect heat until the center is opaque.
  3. Remove from grill immediately when done. Serve Monchong with steamed rice and a salad.

Grilled Shrimp with Fresh Herbs

To keep the Hawaiian meals theme going, we bought fresh shrimp from the local fish market. The shrimp were straight from the ocean and still had their heads attached!

Readying them for cooking was an experience. I’m used to buying shrimp that have been deveined and shell-split, but it was well worth the effort.

Along with the fish, we had the grill chef prepare the shrimp. He used butter and fresh herbs from the resort’s herb garden to season them.

a platter of grilled Shrimp with herbs, a hawaiian dinner recipe

Grilled Shrimp Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients and allow them to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.  
  2. Heat the grill and brush well with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Grill the shrimp for only 1-2 minutes on each side ,over direct heat, until pink.
  3. Remove from grill immediately when done.

Our Favorite Hawaiian Restaurant Meals and Recipes

During our stay in Maui, we have eaten at a number of local restaurants in Ka’anapali and Lahaina.

Here are some of the most popular Hawaiian restaurant meals and recipes.

Duke’s Macadamia Nut Herb-Crusted Fish

This recipe is a copycat recipe from Duke’s restaurant.

a dinner plate with a Macadamia Nut Opah Monchong fillet with a creamy sauce over rice
Duke’s Macadamia Nut Fish

Macadamia Nut Fish Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 (6 oz. size) Opah (Moonfish) or Monchong fillets
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese flour meal)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted macadamia nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. finely chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Combine remaining ingredients except olive oil; coat fillets with mixture.
  2. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté fillets until golden brown, about 4 minutes on both sides. Serve with Lemon-Butter Wine Sauce with Capers. 
  3. To make in an Air Fryer: After step 1, cook fillets at 350º in air fryer for 8 minutes. Check to see if fish fillets are opaque in the middle and the fish separates easily.

Lemon-Butter Wine Sauce with Capers:
In a saucepan, heat 1/4 cup dry wine, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons chopped chives, and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Cook until liquid reduces to half. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream; simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 1/2 cups softened unsalted butter, a little at a time. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup capers, and 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice. Makes about 1 cup sauce. 


Kimo’s Teriyaki Ribs with Mango BBQ Sauce

At Kimo’s restaurant in Lahaina, I had some delicious ribs for dinner. The glazed sauce was soooo good. So, I just had to get the recipe for this yummy Hawaiian dinner.

teriyaki ribs with a bowl of green salad in the background

Serves 4

Teriyaki Ribs with Mango BBQ Sauce Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 lbs. pork back ribs (20 ribs)
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. cracked peppercorns
  • 1-1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
  • 2  tsp. salt
  • 1 cup water

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1 cup catsup
  • 2 cups mango puree
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 2 tsp. sweet chili sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin

Directions:

Place ribs in a roasting pan. Combine bay leaves, peppercorns, 1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke, salt, and water; pour over ribs. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in electric oven at 375°F for 45 minutes. Combine the remaining ingredients to make the mango barbecue sauce. Remove ribs from roasting pan; place on rack of broiler pan. Basting frequently with the sauce, broil ribs in oven 6 inches from broiler unit until browned on both sides.


Hula Pie – a Hawaiian Specialty

A Hawaiian dinner would not be complete without dessert!

For desert, pies are really popular here. It seems like each restaurant has a special pie they are known for. One of them is Hula Pie served at Duke’s and Kimo’s restaurants.

a plate of hula pie, is a traditional hawaiian dessert recipe
From www.tsrestaurants.com

I found this recipe for Hula Pie on Hawaiì Magazine’s website. Make it and you’ll know why people love Hawaiian food!

Hula Pie recipe

Bring a little taste of Hawaii into your life this week by making one of these Hawaiian recipes!

a photo of a Hawaiian meal of teriyaki ribs with mango bbq sauce

You’ll love these meal recipe roundups:

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