Monteverde is a small, windy town high in the Costa Rican “cloud forest”. It is essentially a tourist town, hub for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and extreme sports. Parts of the town are typically Costa Rican, with makeshift store fronts and dogs roaming the streets. But the centre has developed a decidedly hipster vibe, … Read more Monteverde Costa Rica Blog
Ah San Jose, what can I say about you? You’re not the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen…. but you just might be the ugliest.In fairness, arriving on New Year’s Day when everything is closed and the clean up from the night before is still to begin, probably won’t make the best first impression for … Read more San Jose Blog
Four hours from the unremarkable capital San Jose you’ll find a beautiful natural paradise in Manuel Antonio National Park. We are staying in Quepos, a small town just 7km from the park entrance and an array of wonderful dark sand beaches. Public buses run every 20 minutes to a public beach outside the park. There’s … Read more Pura Vida in Costa Rica
Voted on by no one in particular and selected by no particular authority other than me. I’ve been to all of these places – but I’ve only proposed at one of them. 10 Hot Air Ballooning over the Serengeti Your special partner will never forget a proposal floating above herds of giraffe or zebra, followed … Read more The 10 Best International Places to Propose
The Qantas American Express Ultimate card is the best Qantas points earning credit card on the market, and right now is the best time to apply for one.
Qantas/AMEX is offering a massive 120,000 points and 120 Status Credits on new cards approved by June 15th 2021.
Even if you used those points for Woolworths vouchers at the worst conversion rate (about half a cent per point), you’d have $600 worth of groceries, more than offsetting the $450 annual card fee. And you’d still have $450 to splurge on Qantas flights.
Personally I look for redemptions worth at least 2 cents per point, which values this offer at $2400.
What I love about the QA Ultimate card is that it keeps working hard to reward your loyalty. Regular bonus points offers can you really boost your points balance, and cashback promotions help to further offset the annual fee. Contrast this to most bank Visa and Mastercard offerings where the bonuses run out after the initial sign on (and they wonder why we churn credit cards!).
And thanks to a new REFERRAL incentive from Qantas, a couple could theoretically turbo charge their QFF balance by 290,000 points.
This is much better than the AMEX referral incentive where the referrer gets a swag of points but the new card applicant (Referee) gets LESS points than if they had applied independently.
Here’s how it could work for you…
Spouse A applies successfully for a new Qantas Amex Ultimate card
Spouse A receives card and refers to Spouse B
Spouse B uses referral link to apply for a new Qantas Amex Ultimate Card
Points Earned: Spouse A New Card: 120,000 Spouse A Referral: 50,000 Spouse B New Card: 120,000 Total points: 290,000
Even if Spouse A is an existing member they could refer to Spouse B and generate 170,000 points. They would then each have $450 annual card fee and $450 Qantas flights credit, OR if not wanting to hold two accounts, Spouse A could close their account and continue as an additional card holder (free) on Spouse B’s account.
To find your referral link, login to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account, go to My Account, and look through My Offers.
If you don’t already have the card, you can apply for one through this link: (full disclosure, this is my link and I’ll receive 50K points and you will benefit from the full current points offer if you apply by 15th June 2021)
Arenal Volcano is the first thing you see as you navigate the mountainous road from Monteverde to La Fortuna.
It looks exactly what your 8 year old self would have drawn if told in school to draw a volcano. Cone shaped and perfect, a plume of cloud sitting atop.
It burst into life in 1968 with a pyroplastic show of force, changing the landscape and the lives of surrounding residents. Quiet now, surrounding hot springs are the tell tale signs that destructive power still lurks within.
La Fortuna is one of the bigger towns outside San Jose that we’ve visited. It serves a burgeoning tourist trade of travellers seeking thrills and nature experiences.
We climbed the lower slopes of Arenal for views of the lava fields. It is illegal to climb to the crater rim, given the dangers. Climbing down through jungle rainforest, we then rewarded ourselves with a long luxurious twilight soak in a hot river flowing down from the slopes.
Next day we were off to a much colder river, under a grey and rainy sky, for our Gravity Falls experience. This entailed rappelling down ferny waterfalls, jumping into fast flowing rapids, and throwing ourselves off a platform high above a deep rock pool.
All of this supervised by experienced guides and instructors of course. Plenty of adrenaline, never any real danger.
Back in LF, there are plenty more tours to sign up to if you are so inclined. We wandered out to a small sloth sanctuary in town. Not the most authentic way to go sloth spotting, but the sloths here are still free to roam about the canopy, and we did enjoy our closest-yet sloth encounter.
outside LF, you can hike beside the Rio Celeste in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Depending on weather conditions the water is often a dazzling blue, there’s a beautiful waterfalls, and you’ll see (and smell) thermal springs bubbling up out of the river.
By night, Restaurante Don Rufino offers some very fine dining. The arracacha and beet salad is a knockout. Expensive compared to other options, but a delicious reprieve from rice and beans.
Monteverde is a small, windy town high in the Costa Rican “cloud forest”. It is essentially a tourist town, hub for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding and extreme sports.
Parts of the town are typically Costa Rican, with makeshift store fronts and dogs roaming the streets.
But the centre has developed a decidedly hipster vibe, with a number of good restaurants and even something of a coffee culture. Cafe de Montverde will serve you just about the best cappuccino you’ll find outside did Melbourne.
Something I’ve also discovered about Costa Rica is that they are cake masters. And Cafe Orchid in MV has a mouthwatering selection of cheesecakes.
Selvatura Adventure Park is just 10 minutes from town and boasts the longest zipline in Central America at 1.5km. It’s an unforgettable experience, soaring over the rain forest canopy like a bird, and not being able to see where you started from or where you’ll finish.
Another popular activity is the night jungle walk, led by an experienced guide who will point out many of Costa Rica’s exotic wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a mother sloth (sleeping) and her more active baby high in the canopy. Our guide spotted many other creatures we would never have found on own.
Ah San Jose, what can I say about you? You’re not the prettiest capital city I’ve ever seen…. but you just might be the ugliest.In fairness, arriving on New Year’s Day when everything is closed and the clean up from the night before is still to begin, probably won’t make the best first impression for any city.We explored downtown SJ fortified by Starbucks coffee. Having seen the pigeon infested squares and parks, it was clear you need to look a little harder for this city’s charms and points of interest.There seems to be a thriving graffiti culture. Street art manages to lift some otherwise depressingly decrepit buildings and street scapes.There are also some interesting brutalist buildings in the city, nonetheleast being the gold museum underneath the Plaza de la Cultura.The Gold Museum’s pre-Columbian displays are interesting, but the space itself was the star for me.IIf you’re still struggling to engage with the city then do some research on some of the cooler restaurants and bars. Prices are reasonable and there is some great locally influenced cuisine to be had.Restaurante Azoteca Calle 7 is excellent with a lovely rooftop bar. And the neighbourhood around Barrio Escalante on Calle 33 for a great selection of bars and eateries.
Four hours from the unremarkable capital San Jose you’ll find a beautiful natural paradise in Manuel Antonio National Park.
We are staying in Quepos, a small town just 7km from the park entrance and an array of wonderful dark sand beaches.
Public buses run every 20 minutes to a public beach outside the park. There’s a vibrant beach culture but without over-development. Capuchin monkeys climb over the buildings and amongst the trees fringing the beach.
Nearby Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest but most popular in Costa Rica, a country that boasts some of the highest biodiversity in the world, and some pretty solid green credentials for a developing country.
Park entry is $16 USD but spend money on a telescope-equipped guide who is sure to find more animals than you will spot on your own.
In two hours we saw numerous sloths, monkeys, spiders, crabs, frogs, snakes and even a small deer.
End your jungle walk with a refreshing swim at MA’s private beach – much less busy than the nearby public beach.
You could spend the rest of the day hiking numerous trail in the park, or you could do as we did and hop on a small yacht for a relaxing sunset cruise.
We stopped for ocean swimming and some snorkelling. Dinner was included and it was a great finish to a truly idyllic day.
Stef and I have just done two days at Anaheim Disneyland between Christmas and New Year – as peak seasons go, it doesn’t get any peaker than that. In fact, on both days the park hit capacity, meaning that 75,000 plus people had flooded through the gates.
Were the crowds unbearable? That depends on your tolerance level, but we were mostly able to move about the parks with a degree of patience.
Were the lines out of control? Some of the wait time were up to nearly three hours for the most popular rides, but we never waited more than an hour for any ride, and still managed to do all of our most wanted rides at least once.
Ticket choice is key. We bought a two-day Park Hopper pass with a Max Pass add on.
Buy the passes online and download the Disney app to your smartphone. Upload the passes to your app and you are good to go when you arrive at the Park (no tickets to print).
Ideally, arrive at the park 30 minutes before opening (parks open at 8am most days, but check your times on the app). You have to pass through security screening and then queue for the Disneyland Park (it usually opens before California Adventure Park).
On your first entry you’ll have your photo taken and be given a paper ticket – use this for the rest of your visit.
As soon as you’ve gained access you should book your first Fast Pass – use this for the ride with the longest wait time, not necessarily the ride you most want to go on. Space Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones at Disneyland and Cars Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of The Galaxy, and The Incredicoaster at California Adventure typically had the longest wait times. Then head straight to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and get in line because these latest attractions don’t offer the Fast Past service yet.
The Fast Pass will give you a 1 hour time slot to attend for that ride, and you will go pretty much go to the front of the line.
Note that you can’t book Fast Passes on the app unless you have purchased the Max Pass add on. Without a Max Pass you can only get Fast Passes by queueing for a voucher at the ride – time wasted on foot and in a line.
After booking your fast pass, use your app to check the wait times at some of your other favoured rides – head to one with less than an hour wait. Enjoy the ride.
You can use your Fast Pass again after 70 minutes OR straight after you have ridden on the Fast Pass ride that you booked.
The total number of Fast Passes is limited on any given day, and typically run out by mid afternoon. Another reason to get to the park early and make the best strategic use of your passes.
Be warned that you can also lose a lot of time waiting for food in the parks – consider taking snacks in with you (especially if you want to eat healthier) or exiting the park to dine in the Downtown Disney precinct. It will be quicker and less crowded, and re-entry to the parks is usually straightforward after the morning crush.
Alternatively, you can book food in the park on your app.
You can also book priority viewing areas for Fantasmic and World of Colour light and fireworks shows through the app.
We managed to ride all of the best attractions, some of them 2 or 3 times, across our two days. But we did spend a solid 14 hours at the park on the first day.
If travelling with children I’d recommend a 3 day Park Hopper so you can go at a more leisurely pace. (don’t forget to add the Max Pass). This pass also gives you one early entry – you can gain access one hour before regular opening times. Make sure to get to the park on time for this benefit as you’ll be able to fit in a couple of rides with minimal wait times.
It may sound trite to say that the journey is just as important as the destination, but try flying first class with Emirates and you’ll have a new appreciation of Emerson’s oft-quoted platitude.
Early in the year (whilst surfing Qantas’s booking engine – as I often do) I stumbled on a First Class Award flight, Melbourne to Singapore, on Emirates on a date that worked for me. I’d had no plans to visit Singapore, but the lure of my first ever first class flight was more than I could resist. It would prove to the best 90,000 points and $300 (taxes and carrier fees) I have ever spent in the air.
Flight day and we’re at the airport early to make full use of our first class lounge privileges. In Melbourne, Emirates partners with Qantas to give first class passengers access to the Australian airline’s first class lounge – and I can tell you it is a massive step up from business class.
The Qantas lounge is a sanctuary of style and serenity away from the crowds and queues of the International terminal and departure gates (dare I say, away from the common people?) – and its’ all free with a first class ticket.
We staked out a vantage point in the restaurant where we could watch the take offs and landings, sip some pre-flight cocktails, and peruse the Neil Perry menu. The lounge offers genuine 5 star dining, the likes of which I never thought possible in an airport, and the wine list is pretty impressive too.
Here’s a tip: put your name down as soon as you arrive for a massage or facial in the spa. That’s right… there’s a luxury spa in the lounge. I had the men’s detox facial and returned to the lounge feeling even more blissed. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone travels without a pre-flight spa treatment.
Spa bookings are limited, but even if you miss out you could still freshen up with a shower before your flight. The bathroom facilities are replete with ASPAR toiletries.
As tempting as it was to try all the cocktails in the bar and every dish on the menu, we knew that Emirates had plenty of culinary delights in store for us on the plane. And so it was time to head to the gate and make our way onto the Boeing 777-300ER.
The welcome is gracious as we are introduced to our cabin crew and directed to our suites. There are 6 first class suites on this Emirates 777-300 and on this flight we are the only two passengers! The crew tell us we are welcome to use any suite we like, even to eat in one suite and sleep in another.
The greatest luxury when flying is space, and the Emirates first class product gives you plenty of it. But they also deliver many more surprises to keep the wow factor going. My suite is furnished with a personal mini-bar and generous snacks, I have a wardrobe, a privacy screen for sleep time, and a huge entertainment screen and noise cancelling Bowers and Wilkins headphones.
Complimentary amenities include Byredo facial products, a Bulgari pack of toiletries and perfume, a writing set, and a luxurious package of pyjamas and slippers.
I’m still exploring the loot when the pre-take-off Moet is served and the crew explain some of the seat and suite functions. Once in the air and we have levelled off, the Dom Perignon is served. Don’t mind if I do!
This really is next level luxury, and way beyond what you really need for an 8 hour flight to Singapore – but I can’t deny that I’m loving every minute of being treated like royalty.
The food service commences with some tasty amuse bouche, followed by a mezza plate specially tailored to my vegetarian preferences. It includes two types of egg plant dip and a selection of warm breads that any fresh bakery would be proud of.
I select a 98 French red wine, knowing nothing about French red wines but it sounds expensive so I go for it. After nodding my approval at the first sip, the host decants the rest of the bottle into a carafe and leaves it at my table!
I’m encouraged to also have the caviar plate from the apetisers menu, and, paired with a Belvedere Vodka, it is absolutely divine.
The food service is al a carte and on demand. I’m only half way through my French red when I order the pumpkin ravioli for mains – it’s delicious but more than I can finish.
Sitting at adjacent suites we both watch the same movie together. Tea service is provided and we have a chocolate clairefontaine for dessert.
Our host turns down the bed for a few hours of sleep before arrival into Singapore. Really nothing is too much for the crew, and they help to ensure that every aspect of our first class experience is an absolute delight. After we’ve safely landed, part of me doesn’t want to farewell the crew and leave this flying palace behind.
Flying home in Economy is going to be tough!
** Brett and Stef flew MEL-SIN First Class on an Emirates 777-300 on an award flight using Qantas Frequent Flyer points. They flew home on a paid Qantas Economy flight.
I was given a points upgrade from Premium Economy to Business on a recent Qantas flight out of Singapore. As the second leg of a long haul from London this was a much appreciated treat.
Singapore – Melbourne, QF36, 7 hours, June 2019
As we were in transit, our boarding passes were organised by very helpful and courteous staff in the Business Lounge while we sat down and relaxed with a drink
Qantas will be moving into a new lounge later in the year, and I’d heard the Business lounge in Changi T1 was fairly ordinary. However I was pleasantly surprised. The lounge was spacious and comfortable, plenty of seating, a full service bar and plenty of food available. I would say though that the vegetarian options were somewhat uninspired. There was a 20 minute wait for the showers but they were clean and well appointed with plenty of hot water and pressure.
64 seats in Business Class on the upper deck of the A380
Designer pouches in various Australian themes with Aspar toiletry samples, eye patch, socks and dental kit. And of course the iconic Qantas pyjamas.
Middle row in a 2-2-2 configuration. The seats are the classic Qantas Skybeds – they may look dated but for my money they afford a greater sense of space
My skybed seemed to have a hump in the middle even when set to lie flat position. Having said that I still managed to get a few hours of good sound sleep on this overnight flight. Plenty of storage space at your side, in front, and overhead. And no chance of me reaching the seat in front with my legs fully outstretched
What you’d expect from a full service airline, nothing more nothing less. Noise cancelling headphones are offered but I still prefer to use my own Bose
Friendly and efficient, food and drinks are out quickly to allow people to maximise sleep if that’s what they want
A choice of 4 mains, I had the snapper and it was excellent. My partner had a chicken ciabatta sandwich and was very pleased with it. Plenty of breakfast options too.
Qantas arguably offers some of the best wine selections in the air. The range of coffee, tea, beer and softdrink options in Business Class is just as good.
The space in Business Class on Qantas’ A380 is almost overwhelming
Summing up, it’s always a pleasure flying Qantas Business Class, especially when its a last-minute points upgrade that you weren’t sure of getting. From lounge to cabin to arrival, this flight was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Hotel Cafe Royal, without a doubt one of London’s best
Located on Regent Street, spitting distance from Piccadilly Circus, the Hotel Café Royal has a well-deserved reputation as one of London’s best.
Oscar Wilde and Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill and David Bowie, David Chipperfield and Elizabeth Taylor…. and now Brett Jobling and Stefan Pavlovic have added their names to this venerable and truly memorable London hotel.
We transferred to this hotel after 5 nights in a micro hotel, having purchased the Café Royal’s £750 Spa Package – this entitled us to an upgrade to a Grand Superior Guest Room, £100 per person spa credit, and full breakfast.
From the doorman to the check-in we are treated like VIP’s. The foyer is a stunning foretaste of the hotel’s décor.
We are early and our room is not yet ready, so we head to the Akasha Spa to book our hot stone massages – again we are made to feel like very special guests.
The spa facilities are in a cavernous underground space – gym, lap pool, jacuzzi, dry sauna, and hammam (steam sauna). Bathrooms are generously appointed with complimentary toiletries, slippers and robes. Our massages are delivered by a skilful therapist and by the time our room is ready we float out of the spa in a state of sheer bliss.
But more luxury surprises await. On our way to the room our Guest Relations Host explains the complimentary town car service for one-way chauffeur driven trips around central London. “So, if you have somewhere you need to go, just ask the Concierge if the Bentley is available.”
Bentley? Free ride in a Bentley? I’ve definitely got somewhere I need to go!
Our host takes me to our room and gives a run-down of the features and functions. The bathroom is bigger than our previous hotel room! There’s welcome chocolate strawberries in the bar and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot on ice in the living room. A Bang & Olufsen TV, automatic curtains, a giant bed, and robes hanging in the wardrobe. The bathroom has a rain shower, heated panels behind the towel rails, generous toiletries, and an in-mirror TV (of course).
The hotel is simply beautiful throughout – sleek modern décor in the halls and guest rooms contrast with a grand classical ambience in the lobbies, stairways and restaurants, redolent of the Café Royal’s glorious history. In particular, The Grill Room, also known as the Oscar Wilde Lounge, is a study in gilded opulence – you can take High Tea here (bookings essential) but at the very least you must go in for a look at this masterpiece.
We are only here for a night so we really don’t want to leave the property – but the Bentley beckons, glistening and shiny just outside the front doors. We book a ride to Covent Garden (the service is only good for a 2 mile radius) in near peak hour traffic. It would have been quicker to walk, but hey, it’s a ride in a Bentley and the looks from passing pedestrians (they’re going faster than us) makes it worth the while.
Back at the hotel we have a leisurely cocktail in The Green Bar – complimentary bar snacks of course. On return to our room we find that the turn down service has provided complimentary slippers and some heavenly sleep spray. Only the most inveterate of insomniacs could fail to get a good night’s sleep in the Hotel Café Royal.
Next morning we enjoy our generous included-in-the-package breakfast – A la carte menu plus pastries and spreads. I can only assume that the little jars of jam and honey are also complimentary, because they travelled home with me.
As we’ve been given a complimentary late check out, we’re able to do some last-minute shopping around Regent and Oxford Street. Even after check out we are afforded –complimentarily – use of the Akasha spa facilities. So we are relaxed, showered and refreshed when we eventually leave the Café Royal for our late flight out of Heathrow.
This was probably one of the finest hotel experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. Impeccable service from a 5 star property and we were made to feel like genuinely valued guests at all times. I can’t wait to go back.