travel

Things To Do: Waterparks

Growing up in Florida, I had never been to a water park (why pay when the beach is free?!) When I was 22 I got a part-time job in a theme park, which gave me free entrance to the adjoining water park. Since then I’ve been hooked! My job on a cruise ship has brought me many places, and many of those places have water parks within metres of the ship’s terminal. What better way to relax, relieve some stress, and have fun with your co-workers for an afternoon? I mean, there are only so many temples, marketplaces, and bars you can visit in the world. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the most fun water parks I, or my colleagues, have been to around the world.

Adventure Island

Located: Tampa, Florida, USA
Last Visited: August 2016
Approximate Admission Cost: $50, valid all season
Favorite Attraction: Key West Rapids

Being the first water park I ever visited and so close to home, Adventure Island is the standard for which I measure others against.

Located 20-30 minutes from both the port and airport, this park is more for the locals. It has nice beaches for relaxing and they allow you to bring in small coolers with bottled drinks and snacks (and maybe a Publix Sub if you’re lucky!). There are picnic areas and also a few places with food and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) available for purchase.

To provide fun for the whole family, there are both toddler and children’s areas as well as slides of all thrills, including the newest and fastest – the Colossal Curl. There is also a large lazy river, racing slides, corkscrew slides, and mega drop slides. There is even a large beach volleyball area for a little waterless fun. And, one of the things I love the most is that they play real pop music instead of cheesy theme-park elevator music. You can enjoy a day at the “beach” without having to bring your own stereo!

The park is only open seasonally, from Spring Break until Labor Day. In the heart of summer, they extend their hours until sunset in an event titled “Summer Nights” with extra music and dancing on the beaches. A one-day pass can be a bit pricey, but it lets you in every weekday for the whole season (again gearing it more towards locals).

Vinpearl Land

Located: Nha Trang, Viet Nam
Last Visited: March 2014
Approximate Admission Cost: $20-30USD
Favorite Attractions: Space Hole, Family Rafting Slide, and Wave Pool

Probably one of the coolest parks on this list. You get to the park via a cable car, which, if you came by cruise ship, passes right over your ship!

While the park has no theme, per se, it has some of the most unique rides of any park on the list. Rides include a “half pipe” Tsunami slide you can ride in with a one-, two-, or three-person tube – Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub! There is also a wave pool where you sit in (or flip out of!) inner tubes instead of the usual treading water. There are the usual racing style slides and a few tunnel style ones. There’s one that dumps you into a “UFO” bowl before you drop another 3 feet through the middle. Lastly, there is a family style rafting slide where you carry your own raft to a hook and pulley (hey, it IS Vietnam!) For the less adventurous, there is also an aquarium and dolphin show in the park and a beach with access right to the sea!

Admission costs around $20-30 USD (depending on exchange rates) and there are plenty of bars with snacks and beverages for purchase at a reasonable (by Western standards) price. Best of all, admission gets you into the regular amusement park as well (you have to go through it to get to the water park) where you can check out the toboggan ride. There’s usually a DJ by the entrance and last I checked, the park also held monthly Full Moon Parties. Definitely worth checking out if you’ve already done the standard temples and markets deal.

Aquatica (Sea World)

Located: Orlando, Florida, USA
Last Visited: August 2016
Approximate Admission Cost: $50 USD
Favorite Attraction: Roa’s Rapids

In the land of theme parks, this on isn’t so much to write home about, but it does have some major thrill slides. It is most known for it’s Dolphin Plunge slide, where you slide through a clear tube and if your timing is spot on, a dolphin swims past you. There are also slides which you enter via a trap door dropping out from under you – not for the feint of heart! My favorite attraction is Roa’s Rapids, a “not-so-lazy” river (the actual Lazy River is less than relaxing and more like an LA Freeway at 9am). Downsides are that there are no real “beach” areas to relax, and it is always crowded with long lines. That being said, it’s still possible to go to Aquatica and SeaWorld in one day.

Maya Lost Mayan Kingdom

Located: Mahahual (Costa Maya), Quintana Roo, Mexico
Last Visited: January 2017
Approximate Admission Cost: $89 USD
Favorite Attraction: Hurricane

This park is one of the better themed ones on my list. Everything centers around a giant Mayan pyramid – of which the bottom level is lockers, restrooms, juice bar, and elevators or stairs to the attractions.  (You read correctly, ELEVATORS!  They definitely gear towards cruise ship tourists)

There are lots of slides – some with mats, some with tubes, some body ones.  The nice thing is that there is plenty of good signage giving you a picture of the slide’s layout, safety information, and thrill level (in English!) so you know exactly what you can handle.

They also have two zip-line courses and a “Zip Coaster” (zip lines aided by a metal track) – all of which end in the water.  The lazy river is an Expedition style, salt-water lazy river with lots of photo ops.  There are lots of photo ops on every ride and photos are very reasonably priced (for 4 people for the day, it’s $39 for all your photos on a USB stick, or $5 to have one photo delivered to you via email).

There is also a really nice pool area with loungers and beds – for free.  They also offer massages and a snack bar with reasonably priced Americanized Mexican food (think Moe’s Southwest) and delicious smoothies and juices (no alcohol in the park though!). They also have free WiFi (a perk for cruisers!)

The park is really clean and well maintained, with a focus on safety (there’s safety briefing before each ride!) All staff are well-trained and speak perfect English.  The admission fee is a bit hefty – $89 for adults and $79 for kids and it is definitely geared towards cruise ship passengers as it is right outside the port. They sometimes make a deal for ships’ crew though!

Scandinavia doesn’t have a lot of water “parks”, per se, but they do bring a whole new outlook to the community pool.  An honorable mention to a couple water “parks” I visited in Norway (they’re more like indoor aquatic complexes, but they have water slides!)

Pirbadet

Located: Trondheim, Norway
Last Visited: July 2013
Approximate Admission Cost: $20 USD

Right next to the cruise terminal, this indoor aquatic complex features three water slides, a rock-climbing wall that falls into the wave pool, diving platforms, large inflatable rafts and icebergs, a lap pool, a rapids river, and of course a sauna and steam room.  And like most Scandinavian pools, free showers! (Be prepared to get naked though!)

Aquarama

Location: Kristiansand, Norway
Last Visited: July 2013
Approximate Admission Cost: $20-30 USD

Similar to the above park, but slightly newer.

Finally, a few other parks that friends have recommended, but I have yet to make it to:

Aqua Fantasy – Kusadasi, Turkey

WaterPark – Rhodes, Greece

Blizzard Beach (Walt Disney World) – Orlando, Florida

Typhoon Lagoon (Walt Disney World) – Orlando, Florida

Also be sure to check out this list of some of the world’s best water parks!  Perfect for summer travel plans!

Reading List: Wanderlust

Part of my job the past few years has been leading book clubs of travel or regional based literature.  I thought I would carry some of that over and share it with you in a series of reading lists.  I will only include books that I myself have read, but please use the comments section to add your own recommendations!  Also check out this great list.

This first list includes books covering world-wide travel – to inspire the wanderlust in all of us.

  • Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne – This book was my earliest inspiration to travel.  It has also been the inspiration of numerous books, movies, TV shows and games.  Challenge accepted, anyone?
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – Cliché, I know, but isn’t the reason most people start travelling to “find themselves”?  Or to find love.  In any case, it gives three distinctive reasons to travel – food, spirituality, romance.  It certainly inspired by ‘I’ travel list. Also, the book is way better than the movie, as always.
  • One Year Off by David Eliot Cohen – This is an older, little known book about a family with three children who sell everything and embark on a year long journey around the world.  It’s done in that time just before the internet blew up when reservations were still made by fax and phone. It’s a true testament that you can travel no matter how many things you think you have “tying you down” if you really want to.
  • It’s Only the Himalayas by S. Bedford – I read this book when I was, how appropriate, trekking in the Himalayas.  But don’t let that fool you, the Himalayas is only a small chapter, the book also includes tales of Africa and Southeast Asia.  More importantly it’s a tale of how everything probably will go wrong on your travels, but that’s half the fun of it!

And finally, one of my favorite books of all time….

  • The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner – The tale of a journalist’s search throughout the world of what makes people happy.  It’s an interesting outlook on travel, because ultimately aren’t we all on a journey towards true happiness?  Plus he’s very witty and snarky, so it’s an entertaining read.  I am currently reading his sequel, The Geography of Genius.

 

So there you have it folks, the first of what I hope will be a few book lists!

Click on the book covers to get more information on any of the titles.
If you purchase them through their links, I get credit 😉

“I would not have done anything differently. All of the moments in my life, everyone I have met, every trip I have taken, every success I have enjoyed, every blunder I have made, every loss I have endured has been just right. I am not saying that they were all good or that they happened for a reason…but they have been right. They have been okay. As far as revelations go its pretty lame, I know. Okay is not bliss or even happiness. Okay is not the basis for a new religion or self help movement. Okay won’t get me on Oprah, but okay is a start and for that I am grateful. Can I thank Bhutan* for this breakthrough? It’s hard to say […] It is a strange place, peculiar in ways large and small. You lose your bearings here and when that happens a crack forms in your armor. A crack large enough, if you’re lucky, to let in a few shafts of light.”
~ The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

*For me, replace Bhutan with Nepal – same effect!

What Do You Want to Know?

Okay, so having just recently renewed my efforts in this blog, I have many ideas for topics to write on, I just don’t know where to begin!  So I have decided to ask my readers, family, and friends – what would you like to know more about???  Certain locales? Or a specific topic?

While you’re at it, subscribe to ABCTravelEye by email so you can see the resulting articles!
(Just scroll to the bottom and click the green button that says “Follow”)

Here’s two surveys – so please vote! (You can choose up to 3 choices on each!)

An American in the Rest of the World

Since about four years ago, when my travels finally took me out of North America, I’ve become a weird hodgepodge of customs and terms from the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve known, and so, I’ve written you a little poem.

I’m American by birth (don’t hold it against me!)
But I measure the temperature in Celsius degrees.
I still measure lengths and heights in feet and inches,
but mountains I measure in metres.
I measure my weight in pounds and stones,
and I measure volume in ounces, but also in litres.

My phone is set to 24-hour time,
(when it has power)
I measure distances by kilometers,
but still know the speed limit as miles per hour.

I calculate times zones in my head,
but I never have a clue what is the date.
I know dozens of currencies,
and usually the current exchange rate.

I still say “y’all”,
but also say “jumper”,
I’ll use “elevator” or “lift”,
but I avoid the word “chips” all together.

I can “take” or “make” your photo,
and get Pidgin and Spanglish, si?
But around some people,
I will still be a ‘Grammar Nazi’.

I’ve learned many religions,
even practiced a few,
but at the end of the day you’re most likely to find
me at a theme park or zoo.

 

I had the realisation the other day, that this year I am kind of living my ABC Travel idea.  I spent the first half of the year sailing from Argentina through Antarctica and eventually on to Alaska (A’s). I started my holidays by visiting family in Tennessee and Texas (the T’s). I will finish my holidays by travelling to the Netherlands and Nepal (N’s). Ok, so maybe I’m living the ATNs, ha! In any case, just goes to show that it can be done! 

Finding Frugal Flight Fares

My company pays for my flights when I travel for work, so it wasn’t until I started travelling in between my contracts that I realized how expensive those flights can be, especially when you have to be there on a specific day.  So I started shopping around for the cheapest flights I could find, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The two best things I did when trying to find my flights, were to (1) search around online for tips and tricks such as these (congratulations, you’ve already completed this step!) and (2) visit flight search sites like kayak.com and my new favorite – skyscanner.net.

Flight search engines will be your best friend when comparing rates.  Most people are aware of Expedia.com and Kayak.com.  My preferred site though is Skyscanner.net, they don’t advertise (just like kayak.com didn’t in the past) and therefore have even lower fares.  They also search even some of the budget airlines’ sites (read about those in my Budget Air Travel post).  I recommend checking all of these sites in your search.  It takes only a few minutes and can save you loads!

In addition to using these sites, here are some other best tips I’ve collected over the past year for finding the best possible deals on airfare.

Search and book your flights about six weeks out.

Many people think you need to book your flights months in advance for the best rates, this is not the case.  I don’t believe there is a magic number, but experts say that booking your travel six weeks before your departure is the ideal time (even my company books our flights 45 days in advance).  I would start looking 8-10 weeks in advance, this way you can have some time to shop around for a week or two without being under the wire.

Book on a Tuesday around 3:00pm EST.

Again, this is a tip I read that I’m not sure is entirely accurate.  The theory behind it is that jetBlue releases its reduced fares at this time, so the other airlines reduce their fares briefly to compete (what is known in the industry as the “jetBlue effect”).  I’m not sure this really matters if you are flying overseas, but booking on a Tuesday or Wednesday might still be ideal as most people are not worrying about their vacation plans in the middle of the work week so prices go up over the weekend when most people have time to sit and plan their holiday.

Sign up for free frequent-flyer programmes.

Sign up for frequent-flyer programmes from your favorite carrier (or better yet, the main carrier for where you want to go) – they send special rates to their members in their newsletters!  Plus, if you do book from them, you can collect miles to use towards free flights, upgrades, or in-flight services.  And it’s all free!  Additionally, you can sign-up for fare alerts from sites like Expedia or Tripadvisor.  Do this a few months before your travel and you can monitor the fare trends for yourself.

Use the airline’s official website.

Find the cheapest fares for your vacation on a search engine site, then search for those same flights on the airline’s official website.  Sometimes you can get a better deal if you know specifically which flight to look for! Better yet…

…Use Codeshare Partners.

Many airlines partner with other airlines.  For example: Delta / Air France / KLM or American Airlines / British Airways / Iberia Airlines.  You can sometimes book the exact same flight on he exact same plane for less through one of eh airline’s affiliates.  It’s worth a visit to their websites anyways.

Fly one-way.

Compare two one-way tickets versus the cost of a roundtrip (return) airfare.  Sometimes this is actually cheaper, especially if your travel involves multiple destinations.  Sometimes it might also be cheaper to fly to one airport in a city and from another.  For example: fly to New York JFK and home from Newark airport.  Or, fly to London Heathrow and from London-Gatwick.  It all depends on the airline.

Browse incognito.

Browse incognito when searching for airfare, or delete your web browser’s cookies before booking.  Some sites will up their prices each time you visit if they know you really want to go there (again, not sure if this is really true, but basic laws of supply and demand dictate that it is quite plausible).

BE FLEXIBLE!

Be flexible in your dates.

This is probably the biggest money-saver right here.

See when “shoulder season” is for your preferred destination.  This is usually a month in between peak travel seasons.  For example, to go to Iceland, it is recommended to travel in April or September, before the midnight-sun filled summer or the aurora-filled winter.  Many people like to visit Paris in the Spring-time (maybe because of the song?!)  Try going in the winter when it’s a little less crowded, you’ll find it easier to get into all of the major attractions too!  The same goes for Venice.  In the summer, the city fills with cruise ship tourists, causing it to be crowded and prices to go up.  If you’re looking for a romantic gondola ride for two – go in January.  The prices will be lower due to significantly less tourists, which means you will also have a bit more privacy and the canals won’t be heated to a rotten stench either!

If you have fixed dates you can travel, see which destinations are the cheapest to travel during those dates!  This way you can still take advantage of shoulder seasons.

Quite often the difference of a day or two can save you a couple hundred dollars.  Most sites now allow you to search flexible dates from anywhere between three-days around your ideal date to the entire month to finding the cheapest fare for the entire year!  If you have the flexibility in time, chances are you will be able to do a lot more with your money.

Avoid peak travel.

As you would expect, peak flights generally offer higher fares (again, basic supply-and-demand economics). Try and take flights at the quieter times such as mid-morning or early afternoon and avoid travelling on Monday mornings and Friday evenings (peak business travel) or Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays (peak holiday travel) if you want the lowest fares.  I’ve found Thursdays to be a great time to fly, as well as Monday evenings, but it may depend on your itinerary.

Fly multiple airlines to/from a major hub city.

Not every airline can fly everywhere.  Most major airlines have a few major hub cities.  Pick a city in between your departure and destination city and look into flying different airlines direct routes between them.  Some of the easiest to fly to are Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, New York, Los Angeles, and Houston in the United Sates and London, Paris, and Amsterdam in Europe.  Check out fares between some of these hubs and then add the price of a budget flight (i.e. jetBlue or easyJet) flight from your desired departure/destination city.  Check out my post on Budget Air Travel to learn about some lesser known budget airlines that may offer flights to your desired destination.  Or, if it’s close enough, you could even take a train or bus!

This might be especially useful if you are flying to some more off-the-beaten path destinations.  Be careful though, in doing this you may have to pay double baggage fees which could negate the money you saved on fares.

Go the “wrong way” around the world.

As I said before, my company usually books my flights.  And they book them through an automated system set to book the cheapest fare.  Therefore, I was not surprised when they had to fly me from Florida to Hong Kong that they flew me through Amsterdam.  Yep, rather than fly to Los Angeles and then to Hong Kong as most people travelling from the US to Asia would do, they flew me from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Hong Kong.  The best part?  It still took the same number of “days” to get there and I got a fee mini-vacation in Amsterdam during my layover.  This is a great way to visit multiple destinations for no extra money.  More of that in a later post.  If you have the time, look into flying through a hub city in the opposite direction you would normally travel, you might be pleasantly surprised.