One of the downsides of being a travel writer (and there aren’t that many, I admit) is that you are often traveling alone. That might not sound like a big deal, but think about it the next time you are taking a cruise or an escorted tour or maybe visiting a romantic resort. (“Yes, I said table for one, please.”) Travel is simply more fun when you can share it with someone. With that in mind, my Fave Five trips of 2009 had as much to do with the company I was with as it did with where I was going.
Father and son in front
of the British Museum in London
// © 2010 Ken Shapiro
The year started out on a great note, as in March I not only got to take my first European river cruise, but I was able to bring along my 9-year-old son Henry. We sailed on the Danube from Budapest, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, onboard Uniworld’s new River Beatrice, then took a couple extra days on the way home to visit London, staying in Red Carnation’s incredible The Montague on the Gardens hotel. The River Beatrice is a beautiful ship, and I was blown away by the top-notch amenities and by how friendly the crew was — especially to Henry. After this experience, I wouldn’t hesitate bringing my kids on a river cruise another time. It was also great to explore these classic European cities with him and see them through a 9-year-old’s eyes. Henry’s favorite was London, partly because he was so impressed by the Montague’s “fancy” British decor that made him feel like an English prince, and also because he got to go to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. (Just don’t bring up the Chamber of Horrors before bedtime!)
Sally Meets Elmo
Playing in the Italian Village pool at Beaches Turks & Caicos // © 2010 Ken Shapiro
Just a month or so after traveling with my son, I was able to prove myself the equal-opportunity father as I took my 5-year-old daughter Sally to the opening of the new Italian Village at Beaches Turks & Caicos. It’s definitely an understatement to say that Beaches knows how to do family vacations right. As if meeting Elmo wasn’t enough, the newly expanded Pirates Island Waterpark — billed as the largest in the Caribbean — had Sally splashing happily all day long. The new Italian Village suites were great too, with plenty of room for a family of four, let alone the two of us. I think Sally’s favorite moment from the trip — besides a catamaran ride in the company of Elmo and friends — was watching some of the older kids show off their new DJ skills learned at the resort’s Scratch DJ Academy. To my wife’s amusement, Sally still attempts to replicate some of the moves at home to this day.
The Art of Living
Halekulani executive chef Vikram Garg preparing a meal in the Orchid Suite // © 2010 Ken Shapiro
After all that father/son and father/daughter time, my wife and I were fortunate to experience a romantic getaway neither of us will forget any time soon. The assignment: See how the other half lives at The Premier Suites of Halekulani. While most hotels have one or maybe two high-end suites, Waikiki’s Halekulani has three incredible, unique suites that are just steps from the beach. It was tough to decide which one my wife and I liked best between the Vera Wang Suite, personally decorated by the world-famous designer herself; the classic Royal Suite, with its grand piano and wraparound lanai; or the modern Orchid Suite, which features a home theater and high-tech amenities. Clients can experience the suite of their dreams through the hotel’s Art of Living program. In an incredible vacation filled with highlights, probably our favorite moment was having the hotel’s executive chef Vikram Garg cook dinner just for the two of us served on the lanai of the Orchid suite under the moon and just yards from the ocean. It was a moment to remember.
Big Fun in Big Sur
Watching the waves at Big Sur’s Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park// © 2010 Ken Shapiro
Before you start thinking that this Shapiro guy is totally spoiled and can’t rough it, the next great trip of 2009 was a family vacation camping in Big Sur, Calif. This is one of my all-time favorite places, and it was great to be able to go back again with my family and in the company of our longtime friends and their kids. We chose the Riverside Campground and Cabins are our home base, which has campsites as well as rustic cabins right on the Big Sur River. Besides playing in the river, it was just great to hang out on the beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and watch the waves.
A San Francisco Treat
One of the working attractions at the Musee Mecanique at Fisherman’s Wharf // © 2010 Ken Shapiro
My final top trip of 2009, took my family and me to another one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. Even though my wife and I had, at one time, lived in the city for several years, we finally were able to enjoy an annual Bay Area tradition, an aerial show over the bay by the Navy’s Blue Angels. The show by the Blue Angels is a Fleet Week tradition yet, somehow, we had always missed it when we lived in the city, so we were excited to finally get a chance to see these amazing pilots. Our hotel for the weekend was the perfectly situated Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf. Not only does this hotel provide a front-row seat for the Blue Angel exhibition, but it is also a great destination throughout the year as it’s located in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf and close to transportation for the rest of the city. Besides the incredible feats of the Blue Angels, our new favorite Bay Area attraction is the Musee Mecanique. This tiny space right on Fisherman’s Wharf is packed with a huge variety of nickelodeons, pinball machines and other mechanical entertainment machines many dating back to the early part of the last century, most in working condition. It was a delightful find and a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the Wharf.