Burj Al Arab (Dubai)
My wife and I were recently on honeymoon and as part of our honeymoon spent some time in Dubai. As we were on honeymoon we decided to treat ourselves to Afternoon Tea at the 7 star Burj Al Arab hotel. The cost was 425 Dirhams per person, which is around £75. Granted this isn't cheap, but the experience was fantastic and worth every ... penny in my view.
On arrival we took some pictures of the lobby and fountains which greeted you through the revolving front door before taking the lift to the 27th floor where the Sky View Bar is situated. On arrival we were greeted and seated and given a glass of champagne. Additional glasses are charged at 150 Dirhams (£26). We made do with 1 glass and set about trying some of the many tea's that were on offer. There were tea's for all occasions and from all round the world and tea, coffee and water were all included in the price.
We were seated by the window and had great views out to the sea and the Palm. We thought it was a great setting. The staff couldn't do more for you and we set about making our way through the various courses of sandwiches, scones, buns and chocolates all washed down with our lovely tea.
My wife also got a rose as we had stated on booking that we were on our honeymoon. I also noticed some people were presented with a small cake, I am presuming they were celebrating a birthday. I thought this was a nice touch.
The hotel itself is out of this world. I have never seen such a lavish, grand interior before. It was almost worth paying the money to get to look round the hotel.
It's an experience that I would highly recommend to anyone who is visiting Dubai and perhaps looking to do something a little special to mark a special occasion.
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Borneo Rainforest Lodge DanumValley (Borneo)
We chose to have a couple of nights at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge after the nights we spent in the riverside lodge at Sukau on the Kinabatangan river just so that we could actually have some time walking in the rainforest and possibly see other animals we had not been able to see from the boat on the river. The Danum Valley is a primary ... rainforest jungle, is far removed from human habitation and renowned for its rich variety of both plants and wildlife
We were driven by our guide and driver in a 4x4 from Sukau Lodge on the Kinabatangan river to Lahad Datu where we met our guide/driver who would take us by 4x4 to the Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley, a drive that too about two and a half to three hours along some fairly 'interesting' roads. We kept our eyes peeled as our previous guide had said they often saw wildlife on the drive but sadly we saw nothing of any great interest. You can fly into and out of the tiny airport at Lahad Datu and in fact when we left we flew from here to Kota Kinabalu. The driver/ guides from the lodge will pick you up from the airport and return you there and that is included in the lodging price.
When we arrived after this long and quite uncomfortable journey we were met by a lovely lady who took us upstairs (take shoes off first please) and sat us down with a cold drink decorated with an origami grasshopper made from grass. She explained that all food was included, what time the meals were and also introduced us to our guide who would take us on our walks while we were staying at the lodge.
Our guide told us a bit about the programme of activities and then told us that our first experience would be a jungle walk straight after our lunch.
Our luggage was taken to our room and we were escorted to the room by the young lady. All the rooms are above ground on stilts and you access them by wooden board walks. These were incredibly slippery when wet and we walked along them with great care. Another lady we had met at the previous lodge slipped over when she arrived and hurt herself. The staff at the lodge were so apologetic and upgraded her and her husband to the superior accommodation with balcony and spa bath overlooking the rainforest.
Anyway we were taken to our lodge which was pretty impressive after the previous jungle lodge. This lodge was huge and had really high wooden eaves in the roof/ceiling which had been carefully designed to let hot air out and helps cool the room. It gave a feeling of space and was also very impressive. Each lodge had a large king sized bed but it looked quite small as the room was so huge. Beside the double bed there was a single bed and then in one corner a sofa bed and across the room near the bathroom was a sort of single sofa which could also have been used as a bed. I think it would have slept at least five people but no doubt you would only have been allowed to have that many if it was a family with younger children. There are designed to accommodate two or three people officially.
The over riding impression in the lodge was of space, openness and light but we did notice that all the lovely big windows also meant that you were in a bit of a goldfish bowl once it was dark as everyone could see straight into the room. Although the lodges were meant to be positioned so that you didn't look directly into another one many people walked around the lodges as they were looking for wildlife and wildlife are not respecters of people's privacy.
In the room apart from all the beds and sofas we had a wall of shelves and some hanging space. A safe was fixed high on the wall so useless for me as I couldn't reach it never mind see to put in numbers on the lock. We also had a fridge with constant cold water available over at the main lodge and also replaced in a jug in the room. A kettle was provided with coffee and tea as well as two jars of home made mini biscuits.
The floors in the lodge were dark polished wood except for in the bathroom were there were ceramic tiles. We made sure that we took off our muddy jungle shoes and leech socks before we entered the room and left them outside the room tucked under a seat so that they didn't get wet
The rooms had been carefully designed to keep them as cool as possible using the least amount of electricity. There were ceiling fans and louvered windows all around the tops of the walls of the rooms which were insect screened and could be opened from below with handles. The balcony over looked the rainforest but ours was not quite as private as the luxury ones were and we could see other lodges and people on their verandas too.
The balcony was pretty big and had a really giant sized chair with a sponge cuchion that looked more exciting than it was comfortable. It was too big to sit on as a chair and not really quite long enough to be a chaise long but it looked good.
The bathroom was also pretty big with a really large walk in shower and the shower head was a rain shower which was lovely after you came in filthy and sweaty from a muddy hot jungle walk. We were left plenty of eco friendly toiletries and I was very happy to use those even though they didn't smell that exciting.
THE MAIN LODGE BUILDING AND FOOD
The main lodge building was similar in design to the individual room only far larger. It was all polished wooden floors and you had to take your shoes off when in the building. It was all one large room but had different sections on the floor. In one area were several groups of comfortable chairs and tables where you could sit, enjoy a drink and have a chat or just sit and look out over the rainforest. If you were lucky then some animals may come down and sit in the trees or walk around under the lodge. One day we were sitting there and a family of Red leaf monkeys came and had their breakfast in the trees at the level we were sitting.
In one corner was a raised platform with a low table and cushions. This was the only area where you might get some wifi coverage but it was a bit hit and miss. You have to remember it is in the middle of nowhere so they were relying on satellite coverage I think.
In the centre of this huge building was a bar and then behind that was the buffet and the tables where we sat for meals. All the tables overlooked the gardens and the rainforest and looked up to the hill behind which we climbed one day. The bar was well stocked and you paid for the drinks by billng them to your room.
The food was excellent and a big improvement on the Kinabatangan River Lodge.
Lunch and dinner were both buffets and I started each meal with a selection of very tasty fresh salads. The hot dished were all very good and served with rice, potatoes, bread and a number of local vegetables. One section offered local food and for lunch dishes such as roti Chennai which is a chapatti with a veggie curry and is eaten locally for breakfast or a snack at any time. I liked it for my lunch after the salad but couldn't cope with it for breakfast. You could have whatever you wanted from a range of curries, plenty of vegetarian dishes and different chicken and meat offerings too. The menu changed for each meal that we were there and I was never stuck for something different to eat.
The desserts were great too which is unusual for Malaysia as they like very bright coloured jelly desserts which are very tasteless I find. Here we had a choice of fresh local fruits as well as at least two non neon jelly offerings.
Breakfast was far more than I would ever need. I always enjoyed the fresh fruits as I love tropical fruit and then I opted for yoghurt and if I felt very naughty I looked for something sweet. My husband loves his cooked breakfasts and was in his element as there was just so much to choose from. They had all the usual beef bacon, eggs of various types including omlettes and fried eggs freshly cooked as well as the Japanese options and the Malaysian chicken porridge which is exactly as it sounds a kind of thick chicken flavoured soup offering which looked disgusting and my husband has only tried it once so it obviously is not good! Malaysian breakfast such as roti Chennai and Nasi Lemak, a strong fishy one and not a good breakfast food in my view were also available should you want something really different.
I can't leave this section without mentioning the exotic toilets. They were rather Japanese in style with dark wood cubicles and white ceramic toilets but what I was most taken with was the scented steam blower that emitted gorgeous smells. I was so taken with it that I bought one from Amazon when I got back. They also had mini real towels for you to dry your hands on and lovely round basins set on the counter as well as nice hand lotion to finish off with.
The first activity we had was a jungle walk and for that we had to don our full gear, long sleeved light shirts, leech socks and walking boots and long trousers. We really looked like intrepid jungle explorers. We then met our guide under the lodge and they offered us walking sticks. We declined but regretted this as we were with three Swiss people who obviously did mountain climbing as a hobby and galloped at speed through the jungle. It was really muddy and slippery and many of the 'paths' were up and down slopes which became a bit like a muddy water slide. You couldn't hold on to anything in the way of vegetation as leeches were there waiting to grab you ad many of the plants had barbs, stung or were poisonous. One of the Swiss men gave me his stick and they were great at grabbing hold of me as I slithered down these slopes. I really didn't want to end up on my backside! I have to say apart from leeches we didn't see much on that walk, I think maybe that was a test walk to see if we could cope.
The next activity was a slide show about the Danum Valley, the rainforest and the project to care for the rainforest. Oil palm trees have replaced many of the rubber estates that cleared the rainforest about a hundred years ago and they are trying to stop too much more forest being destroyed at the same time being aware that local people need to have an income. It was quite interesting and they also told os what sort of animals we might see as well.
We then went for a night drive after our evening meal. This was in a huge truck with benches at the back. It was not that comfortable and as the truck slipped and slithered its was along the mud roads my buttocks gripped the narrow wooden seat and my arms the metal rail so that I didn't end up on the lap of the man next to me (not my husband). The guide had a huge spot light and stood at the front and he was the spotter. The idea was that he would see the eyes of the nocturnal animals and once he found them he them shone the light on them so that we could see them. I have to say we were not lucky and only saw beasties so far away that I couldn't make them out and I do wonder if anyone else did either.
The next day we had our long jungle walk up the hill behind. It was about a mile and a half uphill climbing to about 100 feet. This would be okay but it was 100% humidity and about 40 ° C and the ground was muddy, slippery and once again you couldn't hold onto any vegetation. This time we did accept the sticks as they gave you a handle as you came down and stopped you sliding further than you wanted to!
It was an interesting walk and on the way we passed an ancient burial site where the local tribes had placed bones in crevices in a rock wall. Once we reached the summit we had great views over the rainforest and could see our lodge and the resort below. You could see for miles and we did see toucans fly across in front of us almost at our eye level.
On the way down was my favourite part. I hate going downhill as when it is so wet and slippery I spend all my time slithering and scared I am going to end up on my bum. However when we were almost at the bottom there was a clear pool with a waterfall and we could change in the rather rickety huts and have a swim there. I did take my swimsuit as did my husband but when I saw how tricky it was to change and the fact that we only had one small towel I decided that I would stick to paddling. The water was also pretty cold as the sun doesn't get through the trees.
The best part of this experience was the garrufa fish in there. If you sat on a rock or just stood in the pool then these little fish came and nibbled at your dead skin. I was not altogether sure I wanted them doing that all over my body either. My husband said that if he kept moving they didn't nibble him as he swam. I loved the feeling of them nibbling my feet and these were far more' toothy' than those I had experienced in 'Appy Feet' in Manchester (review written about that a while back). These seemed to almost have teeth while the UK versions sort of sucked you these felt like they had teeth. After I had been there for a while I had to dry my feet and put my socks and shoes back on. My feet honestly felt like I had had a foot massage. It was brilliant and I wanted to go back there the next day for another treatment.
We got back from here for a late lunch and relaxed in the afternoon around the lodge. That evening we went for a night walk which again sadly proved disappointing but it is luck with wildlife and nocturnal ones are even more elusive.
The following morning we went for a walk over the canopy bridges which offered some great views but once again the wildlife stayed far too well hidden. In the afternoon we were luckier as we saw an Orangutan quite close and another with a baby as well as several red leaf monkeys which look similar to Orangutans but are more social so travel in a troupe while Orangutans stay by themselves unless the mother has a baby with her.
The lodge accommodates a maximum of only 60 people and the staff are so good at making everything easy for the guests. As you get back from your walks in the muddy jungle there are seats where you can remove your muddy boots with special squirty hoses to wash the boots off. You then leave your boots downstairs and go up barefoot for your meal or drinks upstairs. When we got back from the long walk we were met with fresh cool drinks. There was a water refilling station wher e you could refill your drinking water bottles prior to going on the walks. The shop sold leech socks at a reasonable price as well as other jungle shirts and gear and some souvenirs but nothing that tempted us.
For two nights experience and return transport from Lahad Datu by 4x4 as well as meals at Lodge - 2 Breakfast, 3 Lunches, 2 Dinners per person costs U$656 for a standard lodge which we had but a superior one would be U$767. That price included all the activities as well as the guide who is a trained expert naturalist and a guide must be present for all walks/hikes. No one is permitted to go on walks/hikes without a guide except just around the lodge area. This is because there are animals in the rainforest and not all of them are friendly and of course it also protects the animals too. It is also |VERY easy to get lost in the jungle as there are no landmarks that are obvious.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes the accommodation is superb and you have so much to do in the way of activities but you do have to be prepared not to see any wildlife as rainforest creatures are notoriously shy and difficult to see. We had been spoiled in Madagascar as we had been so lucky and seen so many animals and this was a bit disappointing. Perhaps if we had not already experienced the rainforests in Peru, Costa Rica and Madagascar then it would have been more of a novelty just to be in the rainforest.
The place is really lovely, the rooms luxurious for rainforest lodges and the food really good.
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The Village at Izatys (Minnesota, USA)
Village at Izatys, Minnesota Our stay here started with a major error on my part. I thought I had banked our Diamond Resort points last year and I discovered I had not and we had many points that needed to be used in 2011 and no time to use them. The only way we could use them was to do an exchange through Interval ... International. I phoned and a very helpful young man looked for possible places for us in states that I suggested to him. He came up with this week at Izatys so we booked it. The rest of this trip was built around this week's stay.
We had not heard of Onamia before but it looked a nice enough resort and we planned on driving the top section of the Great River Road which coincidently Trevor McDonald recently did from New Orleans all the way up to where we are in a three TV programme series just before we came here.
The resort is set on a golf course and beside Mille Lac Lake with a mariner. It is the type of resort wher you stay if you are into lake fishing or golf. My husband plays golf but we hadn't brought his clubs and they don't have any for rent so he contented himself with watching others lose great numbers of balls into the water hazards just by our accommodation.
We could have taken a boat trip on the lake but they really only did fishing trips and neither of us is into fishing. This lake is world famous for its Walleye and apparently 3 billion spawn here annually. The week end that we arrived there was a huge Walleye contest taking place which was pretty hectic and interesting to observe. The rules are very strict about the size and numbers of ach type of fish caught in the lakes.
When we arrived we went to the Reception building and they checked us in and pointed us in the direction of our accommodation. We had a quick look around the building. There was large room with pool tables and air hockey as well as chairs and sofas. A small side room had a vending machine for snacks, a couple of 'restrooms' and a very small gym was about all that was there. Oh yes, there were four shelves of books but when we left ours there we found none that appealed to us to pick up so we just left our four. There was an entertainment or activity calendar but nothing that grabbed or attention at all, no quizzes or local walks around the area.
The Clubhouse was actually the golf club house and here we found a bar and restaurant. Happy Hour offered two for one drinks so $8 gave us four drinks. The food was also pretty good too and we both enjoyed a Wagyu beef burger with chips and salad for about $12 each - it was very good and the beef so tasty and tender. The little shop there sold toothpaste and toiletries and booze but no bread or milk at all so we had to drive about 7 miles to Isle the next day to buy a few basic groceries for the week.
Next to the clubhouse was a very nice swimming pool with plenty of seating but no shade at all. It was pretty busy on the week end but then almost empty during the rest of the week.
Next to the clubhouse was another huge building which we think was a hotel but we didn't go and look as there was nothing to suggest there was anything there that we could use in the blurb we were given. We understand from reading and listening to a few locals that the resort had been in financial trouble and has recently been bought and reopened. I don't know who does own it but the trouble with the resort is that despite the fact that the accommodation is amazing there is very little to do on the resort unless you can play golf, enjoy fishing or want to sit around the pool. There is also very little of any great interest in the area unless you are into hiking, camping, fishing, hunting or these sort of sports. It was very relaxing for a few days and the setting was perfect but after a few days we had had enough and were ready to find other things to see and do.
The accommodation was absolutely amazing and I don't use that word lightly nor am I exaggerating. We had a one bedroom apartment on the ground floor. The building had four one bedroom apartments, two down and two above. The upstairs ones had balconies while ours had a patio and lead straight out onto the grass and down to a marshy area and a natural mini lake. It was from this lake that a little turtle came up to visit us on our patio area. Beyond this we had a view of the golf course hole 18, the mariner and the club house and we could just see Mille Lac too. As I said the setting was pretty near perfect and very relaxing.
As you came into the apartment you entered the main living/dining room which was pretty large and carpeted in lush thick dark green carpet. The dining table had eight chairs around it and was huge. The sitting room had a three seater sofa/bed and a chair with ottoman. A huge fireplace with glass fronted electric 'log' fire place and the chimney was constructed with large cobbled stones. A shelf high on the chimney had two wooden water birds and a small tree as decoration. In the corner was a huge flatscreen TV and in the cupboard under that was a dvd player and stereo unit as well as the internet modem for the free wifi.
To the left of this room and sort of open area but divided by a breakfast bar was the fully equipped kitchen . On the living room side of the breakfast bar were four high chairs. In the kitchen itself we had a huge American style fridge, a huge America washing machine and a dryer both hidden behind a large cupboard door. We also had a dishwasher, again huge and a coffee maker, toaster, mixer, blender and whopping stove with ceramic hob and an over big enough to cook me in! Above the stove was a microwave also big enough to fit a turkey should I have wanted to put one in there.
The crockery and cutlery was all quality stuff and eight of everything, saucepans and frying pans as well as pyrex dishes, salad bowls, wine glasses and two other sorts of glasses. Everything you could possible need for self catering for a family and this was a one bedroom unit. It could have slept four using the sofa bed so there was plenty of kitchen equipment for four. They also left us two small packets of washing powder and 12 packs of dishwashing powder, washing up liquid and a washing up brush, tea towels, oven mitts and cloths. A welcome pack of coffee sugar and coffee creamer was also left for our use.
Now remember I said this was a one bedroom apartment well we had two bathrooms. One had a shower basin and toilet in it and could be accessed from the living room or from the corridor along our room next to the big bubbling bath tub. The second bathroom was obviously the one for the main bedroom and that was at the end of the corridor and had a huge shower with a big top nozzle and then two coming out from the wall to squirt at your neck and back. The toilet was in that room but the basin was outside at the end of that same corridor and this had a hair dryer and many drawers and a cupboard as well as a shaving mirror and other mirror to one side. As well as the two bathrooms we also had in this wide corridor off our room a huge Jacuzzi bath tub with mock pillars on one side. I am not exaggerating two people easily fitted in.
One night I put about a third of a Lush bubble bar in this and I had bubbles coming over the top that were thick and creamy. It was the height of luxury and I only wish I had had the foresight to buy some champagne to enjoy in there while being smothered in bubbles.
Our room was massive with a king sized bed, two bedside tables both with reading lights that had different settings and my side had a clock radio/alarm too. The patio doors looked out over the gold course so that in the morning I opened the curtains and as there was never anyone out there on the golf course we could sit in bed, enjoy a cup of tea and look out at the lovely view. The room was lovely and light with large yellow and cream striped wall paper, a mirror on the wall in front of the bed and above a set of pine drawers.
Down the sort of wide corridor with the Jacuzzi bath there was also a huge wardrobe but only six hangers, the sort that can only be used in that wardrobe so a big space with little hanging possibility. On the shelf above in the wardrobe we found the pillows and other bedding for the sofa bed but they stayed there while we were in occupation of the unit.
Our bed was very comfortable but I found the extra long pillows a bit hard, my husband who prefers more solid pillows loved it. I found my neck ached in the morning and preferred those pillows we had in the Marriott on our first night of this holiday.
Each room was decorated with care. The main living room had cream walls with paintings of boats in blues, the kitchen had a tartan sort of checked wallpaper and pictures od people on deck cairs. The main bedroom was wallpapered in wide yellow and cream wallpaper with a very tasteful painting of a lake shore above the bed. In the Jacuzzi area two shell paintings were in nice frames on one side. The first ensuite bathroom had wall paper that was ships flags and the picture to one side of the basin was a large knot from a yacht. In the last bathroom the wallpaper was olde world maps of the world and the pictures outside by the basin matched those by the jacuzzi and were different shells but inside the shower room the picture was of an old yacht.
We were provided with cream coloured towels and bath mats and in the cupboard above the toilet in the first shower room were more towels and again under the basin in the corridor I found yet more towels so we had plenty for a family of four for a week. There was no housekeeping at all while we were in the unit and if we had wanted we could have washed the towels and sheets ourselves. We had plenty of extra toilet rolls and boxes of tissues left as well as soap but no other toiletries.
Finally in a cupboard in the main living room beside the bathroom was a vacuum cleaner, an ironing board and iron and five more hangers presumably for those sleeping in the living room to use. If we had had others in the living room they would have had to use the cupboards in the bathroom and the drawers in the coffee table and under the TV for their clothes as well as this little hanging cupboard or they could have shared ours depending on how close you wanted to be.
All in all it was a pretty near perfect spot to stay and you couldn't fault the unit or the setting. It is just a shame that for us there was not more to see and do in the area around the resort We actually left a day early as there were places we wanted to see on our way back to Chicago and we set off up northwards to Duluth and then down to Chicago for a week with my son and his girlfriend.
If you are into fishing and want a truly peaceful place to stay in ultimate luxury ten this is for you. If you prefer to have more things to see and do then like us it is nice for a few days but after that we were desperate to get on and see and do something.
Five stars for the apartment and setting as that is really what I am reviewing not the surrounding area.
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4 Stars Hotel International
Hotel International / Studio Apartments in Kalamaki, Zakinthos, Greece.
Address: 2321 North LaCrosse Street / Hotel International / Rapid City / SD 57701 / USA
Address: Hacienda Pinilla / Hotel International / Santa Cruz / Costa Rica
Address: Atalos Villas / Hotel International / Hotel in Kamari Santorini 84700 / Kamari Santorini / Greece
Hotel International / 4-star hotel in Fethiye, Turkey.
Torrequebrada Holiday Rentals / Hotel International / Torrequebrada / Benalmadena / Spain
Hotel International / 3-bedroom villa in Fuerteventura, Spain.
Address: 7299 Universal Boulevard Orlando / Hotel International / FL 32819 / USA
Hotel International / Aparthotel in Santa Eulalia, Ibiza.
Address: 30 North 100 East / Hotel International / Bryce Canyon City / Utah 84764 / USA
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