Travel Tales

Travel+Tales

Laurel Critchfield

With summer approaching, many students make the decision to embark on international adventures. Here are a few travel experiences from our staff!

[tabgroup][tab title=”Punta Cara, Dominican Republic”]
[heading style=”1″]Senior trips offer special moments[/heading]

When I began planning my senior spring break trip back in September, I knew I wanted to stick to the classic tropical getaway. The group of senior girls that I decided to go with, along with some help from our parents, decided on Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. And after the trip, I believe that we were all very pleased with our decision.

The travel agent who booked our getaway was very helpful. She had just gotten raving reviews about a resort in Punta Cana from another client. She passed along the information and we ended up booking our rooms at that resort, Melia Caribe Tropical.

Check-in was simple; the people at the front desk detailed each part of the Melia experience. They showed us where our rooms were on the map and explained our choices of restaurants.

The Dominican beach was beautiful. The water was incredibly blue and I could see the ocean floor. The weather was perfect; it was in the 80s everyday and it only rained once while we were there.

The resort had a huge variety of restaurants and I was very excited to try an array of food. For breakfasts and lunches we generally stuck to the buffets, which were clearly European inspired. Each meal included collections of different cheeses and fruits. The breakfast buffet had specialty coffees, an omelet bar and classic breakfast foods such as eggs, bacon and pancakes. Lunches consisted of a main dish, which was usually some sort of seafood dish, and many other options for sides like soups, sandwiches and pastas.

For dinners, we stuck to the reservation-only restaurants. They were ethnic-food restaurants which included Dominican, American, Italian, French, Mexican and Mediterranean, among others. The dinners usually lasted between two and three hours, which is exceptionally long by American standards. Some of the restaurants were incredible and others were quite lacking. My personal favorites were the French and the Mediterranean. I got the chance to try both escargot and calamari, which was really exciting. My least favorites were the Dominican and the American. When in doubt, go with the steak. It was delicious at each and every restaurant.

If you decide to follow my advice and take a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, here are five things to do, and five things to steer clear of.

Recommendations: 

5. Go to the nightly shows

Each night in the theater, the resort hosts a show, ranging from movies to male beauty pageants. Several of the show were definitely worth seeing, especially the Michael Jackson impersonator. Others were less enthralling, like the magician. Regardless of your preference, each show is worth showing up for. If you don’t like it, no one will be offended if you bow out gracefully.

4. Take advantage of the included water activities

It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day of our week on the beach that I discovered all of the water activities that were included in our stay. One day my dad and I rented a catamaran and took it out for a couple hours. It was one of the most exciting, yet relaxing things I did all week. I wished I had discovered it sooner so that I would have been able to go windsurfing and kayaking.

3. Go to the Fun Pub

With a cheesy name like The Fun Pub, you wouldn’t expect much of a party scene, but as soon as you walk up to the darkened building you’ll hear the music booming and feel the floor shaking. The club isn’t very crowded which makes it a great place for friends to hang out and dance. Plus, it makes parents happy because it’s on the resort, which makes it really safe.

2. Make all your reservations for dinner on the first day

Making dinner reservations isn’t difficult, but it’s a bit of a hassle. You have to make reservations by a certain time, I believe it was 3 o’clock p.m. in order to get into the restaurant that you want to go to. It’s much simpler to just make all your reservations early on in the vacation. That way you will have a list of which restaurant you are going to each night. You can always change your reservations if you decide you want something different.

1. Pack comfortable shoes

The resort is huge. That is not an exaggeration. You will do a lot of walking. There are trains that go around the park, but there aren’t enough of them so they only come by every 15 minutes or so and they are frequently full. Prepare yourself to walk several miles a day and pack shoes that will be kind to your feet.

Regrets:

5. Upgrade to Royal Service

Royal service sounds way more exciting than it actually is. The people at check-in will try to bribe you with an exclusive restaurant, a private pool and room service. What they don’t tell you is that the exclusive restaurant has the same food as all the other buffets, anyone can get into the private pool and the room service isn’t even good.

4. Go to the Palma Real Mall

Ok, first of all, why in the world would you want to leave the resort to go shopping when one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is just 20 feet away? Also, Palma Real is way too expensive. Even in the little boutique stores that look somewhat affordable, the cheapest t-shirt I found was $20. My mom and I originally went to find chapstick for our sunburnt lips. There was only one store that even sold chapstick and the cheapest one was $5!

3. Go on the Excursions

In the resort, especially on the beach and at the pools, you’ll be asked frequently to go on day trips called excursions. They are not included in your all-inclusive stay. They range from swimming with sharks to a party boat which is affectionately refered to as ‘The Booze Cruise” to a night club in a cave called “Imagine.” I went swimming with sharks and stingrays with my family and part of the group went on a spa cruise. The trip was too structured. We went on a boat out to the reef and there were dancers on the boat that forced everyone to dance with them. We were required to wear lifejackets, fins, and a snorkel the entire time we were off the boat and had to stay with our group and follow our instructor. It definitely would have been more enjoyable if it had a looser structure. But it didn’t and it cost more than it was worth, so I probably wouldn’t do it again.

2. Go to the Jewel nightclub

When we decided we were sick of going to the Fun Pub every night, we convinced our parents to let us go to Jewel, which was the nightclub in the Palma Real Mall Complex. Our first mistake was letting the parents set our curfew to 1 o’clock a.m. Our second mistake was not checking the time that the club opened. We showed up at 10:30 p.m. even though the club opened at 11 o’clock p.m. so we had to sit around and wait for the bouncers to open the doors. When they finally did, they told us that people don’t usually show up until after midnight so we ended up spending 30 minutes standing around waiting for other people to start dancing. At that point we were so bored that we just left. It was pretty much a total let down.

1. Spend Much Time in your room

The beach is right outside your room. You can see it from your balcony. I totally understand the desire to sleep in, but you shouldn’t. Instead you should wake up somewhat early, put a swimsuit on, go down to the beach and go back to sleep there. Why sleep in your room when you can sleep in the sunlight with the sound of waves singing you lullabies? Seriously!

By Laurel Critchfield
[/tab][tab title=”Australia”]
[heading style=”1″]EF Tours offers chance to see the world[/heading]
 

My interest in Australia has always stemmed from the fact that this country is one of the most secluded places on earth. It is not like North and South America or like Europe, Asia, and Africa that are all in close proximity to each other. Australia is a continent all by itself. But besides its geographic isolation, Australia has always been “news” isolated too- another curious thing to me. You never really hear about the continent. It never seems to make world news. On a daily basis, one can hear about the fights in Africa, the civil wars in Asia, and the bankruptcies in Europe, but news from Australia, at least to me, is almost unheard of. The exoticness of this place was on my mind for years and for the longest time, I begged my mom to go.
My mom has traveled all her life. She knows what she likes and what she doesn’t. But saying that, it is not like my mom is picky when it comes to countries. Almost every country interests her. But once I mentioned “Australia” as a place we should consider as a family traveling to, she immediately shook her head. “There is no culture there,” “It’s too far,” “What is so special about Australia anyways?” were constant phrases my mom shot at me whenever I brought up the subject. After several moments like these, I quickly accepted the fact that the only time I would visit Australia would be with my own money a.k.a in my 30’s. But lucky for me, in the summer of my junior year, RBHS offered a trip to Australia and so I quickly sprung upon the opportunity. As long as my mom didn’t have to go, she was willing to pay for it. So June 2012, I boarded a plane Australia to and the next 15 days are history from there.
And so I present to you 10 things to do when you travel to Australia. Five of them are things I have actually done and the other five are things I regret not doing. Even if you have little interest in the country like my mother has, I still encourage you to read on.
Recommendations: 
5. Fraser Island
A small island off the coast of Australia, Fraser Island is listed as a World Heritage site. Tourists mainly visit because of the plentiful wildlife covering the area. The island’s white beaches stretch for miles and it is the only place in the world where a rain forest actually grows on sand. The area also has several dingoes and freshwater lakes.
During my two day stint here, I was in awe of the serenity of the place. It was obvious that the island was trying hard to conserve wildlife and keep human activity at a minimum. Fraser Island isn’t like those cheesy getaways where condominiums and hotels are being built on every square foot possible. The Island prides itself (and actually follows through) on the protection of the nature. Probably my favorite part of the excursion was swimming in Lake McKenzie- the most famous freshwater lake on the island. Swimming in the middle of nowhere in this pristine blue lake beat out any swimming experience I ever had. The ocean was no comparison.
4. Try some Vegemite:
While many of Australia’s foods are based off the English diet, the Aussie’s have at least one claim to fame that no one can deny them of creating: vegemite. For those of you who don’t know, vegemite is a yeast paste with a blending of salt and celery and onion extracts. It can be used on bread or as a filling for pastries. This paste is very popular within the country so I was expecting it to be delicious. Not the case at all. It was, in fact, disgusting. I was practically eating salt. But that still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. You can’t go to Australia and leave without trying some of their famed vegemite.
3. Hold a Koala:
Maybe I am just an animal lover or that koalas are just so darn cute, but seriously HOLD A KOALA. They stink horribly, but a picture of you holding this furry little creature is priceless. Unfortunately, not many wildlife centers offer this feature because in the past, koalas have gotten angry and slashed out at tourists. But if you really want to participate in this wonderful experience, seek out the Wildlife Currumbian Sanctuary in Queensland. They for sure offer this feature.
2. See a show at the Sydney Opera House:
Seeing an opera in the Sydney Opera House probably goes without saying. After all, the building is a symbol of Australia and one of the most representative pieces of modern architecture. I stayed in Sydney for three days and lucky for me, during that time, the Opera Warriors was showing. Surprisingly, there was only instrumental music during this show. Basically, the story was about three talented Peking Opera actors trying to bring beauty to the stage while dealing with their struggles, loves and fears. The costumes and the music were absolutely brilliant, but the opera especially had a place in my heart because I was seeing it at a world-famous opera house.
1. Visit the Old Church on top of Mount Tamborine:
To visit the church, you need to book an expedition with Southern Cross 4WD Tours. This company does full and half day tours around Mount Tamborine- where the church is located- as well as other places. I recommend the expedition because for one, the employees are very knowledgeable, and for two, I wouldn’t recommend driving up an entire mountain by yourself when the roads are super narrow. But, the reason the old church was so memorable out of the expedition was the very idea of it. Midway through the tour, you stop at this church and eat these mouthwatering scones, with a flavorful jelly spread and some whipped cream on top. A very rich and creamy hot chocolate is offered as the drink. I just thought it was so funny but awesome that we are eating at this café in the middle of a mountain delighting ourselves to some scones and hot chocolate. To be honest, it was probably my favorite part of the trip.
Regrets:
5. Great Barrier Reef
Known today as the biggest reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef competes with the Sydney Opera House as the most famous landmark in Australia. Stretching for over 2,600 kilometers, the reef is home to more than 1000 sea creatures. Even with the Great Barrier Reef so close by, unfortunately it was not on the itinerary for my school trip. Hearing about the reef for so long and finally going to the home of it, but not seeing it, you could definitely say I regretted missing the experience.
4. State of Origin Series
When I first arrived in Australia, it just so happened that there was a huge rugby game going on the following night- New South Wales against Queensland (states of Australia). This match was one of the three matches for the State of Origin series- an annual best-of-three series of rugby league football between Queensland and New South Wales. To many, it is known as the greatest rivalry across the country. Now who wouldn’t want to see this? Not only was it the biggest game rivarly- fans are so hyped up that its entertainment in itself- but also it is rugby. How many times do you see a rugby game in your life? Personally, I have seen none. Even though I am not an avid sports fan, I’m still sad that I had to miss this opportunity. I just think it would be so cool to be in the stadium cheering on a team like you are a native Aussie yourself.
3. Ayers Rock/Uluru
Whenever I tell someone that I regret not seeing this, I get varied responses. Some are like “You really missed out” or some are like “It’s just a rock.” I tend to roll my eyes at the latter people, because yes it is a big rock, but that is not the only reason why it is famous. It is also a sacred spot for the Aborigine people (the first people in the country/continent). You can take tours around the rock and see many of the Aborigines’ rock art. But besides walking around the rock, tourists are also allowed to climb the rock if they so please. In 1983, the Australian government gave the Aborigines full control of Kata Tjuta National Park where Ayers Rock is located.
2. Buy an Opal (if you can)
Australia is home to several opal mines. But even though these precious gemstones are nearby, the prices are still high (especially for a poor high school student). There are several different kinds of opals, some more expensive than others. Variations include white opal, boulder opal, and black opal. When touring the Opal Museum, black opals were my favorite because of the vibrant colors splashed across the stone. But because the stone is so colorful, this kind of opal happens to have the highest dollar amount- simple earrings can cost several thousand dollars. So if you can’t buy an opal, at least visit the museum. Whether you purchase one or not, opal museums are worthwhile trips.
1. Visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Even if I were to visit Ayers Rock, I would still want to visit Tjapukai Aboriginal cultural park. Ayers Rock may have Aboriginal influence, but it is not the place to go if you want to learn all about Aboriginal culture. In Tjapukai park, you can learn all about the Aborigines’ hunting methods, medicinal treatments, their dance, their didgeridoo and more. It has always fascinated me how humans manage to adapt to even the toughest environmental conditions.
By Stazi Prost
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[tab title=”Grand Cayman Islands”]
[heading style=”1″]Cruisin’ to the Caribbean[/heading]
Most of my journeys to foreign places, or Central America, have been through cruises. These cruises have the ability to whisk you away from cell phone service and social interaction and make you feel as if you have left civilization behind. And as you land in port, the land becomes a magical, unknown paradise.

My favorite port so far has been to the Grand Cayman Islands. This is seriously one of the most beautiful places. The water is the perfect blue, and the environment is welcoming. The boat ride onto the island is short and then you step onto the tourist attraction part: all the stores. What I expected was something like the shops in Cozumel, Mexico, where the employees sit outside the store and try to bribe you to come in. The shops were nothing like this. They were secluded and didn’t have people asking me to buy a new bracelet every five minutes. It was just peaceful.

My family had planned an excursion previously for the island, and we quickly exited the dock and got on another boat to explore the island and water. And this excursion was the best thing ever. We first went to go feed and hold stingrays, which is one of the coolest things ever. If you ever get the chance, do it.

We then moved on to go snorkeling at a coral reef and to see a starfish farm. The starfish were neat, as I had never seen one alive before, and they were so weird to hold: they sucked onto my hand while I held them. When we went snorkeling at the coral reef, it was so amazing, and it was easy to get pulled out far away from the boat because I was constantly entranced by the view. The excursion was amazing. The water was so clear I could see the sand inert on the floor of the ocean, about 50 feet down. And it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

And now, I list 5 recommendations and 5 things I regret not doing while in the Grand Cayman Islands.

Recommendations:

5. Go shopping.

While it doesn’t seem that fun, some of the best things can be found at these little tourist attractions or down the street, in the downtown area. You can find a new pair of sunglasses or a wooden miniature giraffe (trust me, I’ve seen it and almost bought it). The souvenirs I’ve gotten from my trips are always proudly displayed in my room, where they remind me of the amazing places I’ve been.

4. Explore the island.

Definitely don’t stay in one place. Take an adventure and you may be able to discover something amazing. You can rent scooters or jeeps to take on the beach or around the island. This would be a great way to see the island and experience the culture without paying too much money.

3. Eat the food.

The food is the best part of any vacation because you can eat so much of it. The cuisine brings out the culture of the island, so definitely take a bite out of the culture while you’re there. Get my pun? Bite? Haha.

2. Take a bunch of pictures.

Memories don’t stay forever and having photos saved on my computer to browse through brings back every emotion. The beauty of the island definitely needs to be captured for future use. You’ll definitely want these photos to reminisce with one day, so taking pictures is a necessity.

1. Do something in the water.

Go parasailing, or snorkeling, or swimming with the dolphins or petting stingrays. Those experiences made my trip, and I still remember every second of the excursion. The beautiful water was the best part, and if I would have missed the opportunity to play in it, I would have regretted it.

Regrets:

5. I regret not having enough time to explore the island. We only had a few hours in port, so there was only so much we could do. We did plenty of things, but the extensive beauty of the island can’t be embraced in a few hours.

4. I regret not eating much of the food. We were running around everywhere on the excursion, so I can’t even remember what we ate for lunch. But I feel like, if we would’ve had time, we could have really enjoyed the food.

3. I regret not exploring the beach or the rest of the island. We boarded the excursion boat and were gone quickly and stayed in the water the rest of the day. So any chance to explore was taken away. I just wish I could’ve seen more.

2. I wish I would’ve gotten more souvenirs to remember the trip by. The trip, being my favorite, should have included a lot more souvenirs, but I did get a stingray made of marble and 2 giant conch shells, so I’m happy with that.

1. I wish I could’ve taken more pictures. The amount I took definitely filled up my memory card, but I wish I could’ve taken more. I guess I just want to relive the trip.  

I loved this trip and anyone else would too. It was such a gorgeous place, and I would love the opportunity to go back someday. The Grand Caymen Islands are so beautiful and are an amazing destination for any vacation.
By Alyssa Piecko
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