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Don’t Get Stuck in a Resort – See the Real Jamaica

The temptation to go away on a well-earned vacation and spend the week holed up in a flash resort lying by a sparkling swimming pool sipping cocktails is all too strong in today’s hectic and stressful world. Make no mistake, this style of vacation sounds idyllic to most and the idea of a week doing nothing but relaxing is very appealing, but discerning travelers these days want more from their break and from their well earned and costly vacation.

Ocho Rios is the gateway to a number of authentic and rewarding experiences and excursions on Jamaica’s north coast and surrounding areas. The most famous attraction in the whole of Jamaica is that of Dunns River Falls. Starting on the beach at the base of the falls, you can experience a thrilling climb along rocks and through the crystal clear waters whilst surrounded by tropical plants and wildlife. For the more sedate, spend an afternoon exploring the serene beauty of Coyaba Gardens and Falls or Shaw Park Gardens. These lush tropical gardens feature many varieties of native flora and fauna, and allow visitors a relaxing couple of hours strolling through water gardens and enjoying stunning viewpoints of the bay of Ocho Rios. Further afield is a cultural Mecca for all visitors to Jamaica, the village of Nine Mile and the birthplace and final resting place of reggae legend Bob Marley. Hiring a car rather than taking an official tour allows you to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Fern Gully and hidden villages where locals go about their lives without the distraction of the mainstream tourist crowd. The journey inland is punctuated by places to stop to sample traditional Jamaican food and to get a glimpse of rural Jamaican life not available from a resort or an official tour. How about an early morning fishing trip to see how Jamaicans use the Caribbean Sea as a way of making a living? Watch and participate as local fisherman catch tuna, barracuda and snapper amongst others using traditional methods and near telepathic knowledge of where the fish are to be found on any given day.

Jamaica and specifically its utopian north coast is just begging to be explored from beyond the confines of a luxury resort. Renting a luxury villa, for example, enables you and your family and friends to enjoy the trappings of a five star resort with the added benefit of the staff’s local knowledge and the ability to explore the surrounding area. Even if staying in a resort is a must, it is easy to rent a car and explore this fun and laid-back country. You will fall in love with the place and its people and will have made your hard earned vacation truly worthwhile.

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Why Choose a Honeymoon in Costa Rica

According to a national Costa Rican news weekly, El Financiero, about 10.7% or 166,000 tourists in 2012 came to honeymoon in Costa Rica. In 2011, Brides magazine and the Signature Travel Network ranked Costa Rica in the top 10 of honeymoon destinations. Furthermore, couples who come to honeymoon in Costa Rica stay on average twice as long as those going anywhere else. Why is Costa Rica on the short list of so many couples? One reason is that many choose to get married in Costa Rica and have their honeymoon at the same time. Combining the two, a Costa Rica wedding and honeymoon, has many benefits. The primary benefits being the savings in cost and a much more relaxed atmosphere. Imagine starting your honeymoon the night of your wedding. No need to make special arrangements, pay, pack and wait for a separate trip. Of course, you can do this at any destination wedding, right? So what makes Costa Rica so special and unique?

Unique Location and Size

Costa Rica has a unique position in Central America, located between Nicaragua and Panama. It’s natural wonders, such as the rainforest and active volcanoes, draw travelers from all over the globe. Costa Rica is a favorite destination for eco-tourism, surfing, and wildlife lovers. Many couples who choose to get married here already have visited the country at least on one occasion and fell in love with it, or have been convinced by someone they trust who has visited Costa Rica and fallen in love with it. In any case, someone has fallen in love with and/or in Costa Rica.

Because of the size of the country, you can visit any part of Costa Rica quite easily from the capital, San Jose. This makes transporting yourself and guests quite quick, no need for connecting local flights (although this is an option to some places). Additionally, if you want to have your wedding at one location and honeymoon at another, this can be easily accommodated. Some couples choose to break up their honeymoon even more by spending few days at different locations. You can have your wedding at the beach, spend first few days of your honeymoon there, then opt to go to a volcano for a dip in volcano-warmed hot springs, then visit a rainforest, come back to the beach, and finally head home. In Costa Rica, traveling between all of these spots is possible within a single visit and a short span of time.

Stability, Security and Friendly Locals

Costa Rica has a long history of having a stable democratic government and without a standing army. This has led the way for Costa Rica to avoid internal turmoils and civil battles that have sadly plagued other countries in Central and South America. Over the decades the tourism industry has flourished in Costa Rica as a result and has become its leading source of revenue. Many of its neighbors have taken note and are trying to copy Costa Rica by developing tourism within their own respective countries.

The destination wedding and honeymoon industry has also matured to a great extent and offers all the standard services and perks you can enjoy anywhere. From rustic boutique hotels to luxury all inclusive five star resorts, Costa Rica caters to every whim and preference. The Costa Rican people have a reputation of being happy and very warm to foreigners. Their famous saying, “Pura Vida”, is also an attitude toward life in general. “Pura vida” means “pure life” and is used synonymously with “hi” and “bye”.

When and Where to Go

You can travel to Costa Rica any time of the year. The best time for your Costa Rica honeymoon is during the dry season between December and May. If you are looking for better rates then you can look at November or June which are just before and just after the busy tourist season. Lowest prices are generally found in the off-season or the so-called Green Season. During this time there is more rain but the rain is tropical with heavy downpour but not lasting more than a few hours. This means that you can usually get half day of sunshine each day on average.

For beach and ocean lovers, the best honeymoon destinations in Costa Rica are on the Pacific Ocean side in Guanacaste or Puntarenas. However, if you choose just to stay near the beach then you are missing on some of Costa Rica’s most romantic honeymoon spots. These include places such as Volcano Arenal where you can enjoy a romantic dip in volcano-heated thermal springs, or Talamanca Mountains that drape with cloud forest, waterfalls and other natural wonders. For a truly romantic experience you can stay at one of the many fine boutique hotels in Costa Rica. These hotels are small and most integrate very well into the natural surroundings and offer much more privacy than the larger all inclusive hotels and resorts.

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Paris Attractions for Sports Fans

Paris has plenty for the sports aficionado to do and see. Whether your game is tennis, football, cycling, horse racing, golf or rugby, you will find something special among the numerous prestigious sporting events held in Paris throughout the year.

Spectating Paris Sports

If football is your cup of tea, visit the famous Parc des Princes to watch newly rich Paris Saint-Germain and their top striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action. Standard tickets for matches in the French Ligue 1 can be snapped up at about 50 euros; for a weightier price (500+ euros), you can enjoy a VIP match day experience, including sought-after seats in a luxurious director’s box.

The Parc Des Princes is not the only football stadium in France’s capital; the Stade de France, an 82,000-capacity stadium built for the 1998 World Cup Finals, is also in the city. Here, one can watch games featuring the French national team, as well as important domestic games such as the French Cup final. The stadium is also the stomping ground of the city’s two biggest rugby clubs, Stade Francais and Metro 92.

If football doesn’t tickle your fancy, another significant Parisian sporting event is the final stage of the Tour de France, which takes place every year and concludes on the Champs-Élysées. Tickets are best secured through tour operators or official Tour de France providers; but even with a ticket, be sure to arrive early for the event, or else gaining a good view might prove problematic.

If you prefer a dash of tennis, consider attending the Roland Garros Tennis Tournament in June. France’s primary grand-slam event allows you to catch a glimpse of top tennis stars, such as Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Just as for Wimbledon, tickets for the event can be expensive, but are nevertheless worth the splurge if you’re big on the sport.

Participating in Sport in Paris

If you prefer to don your shorts and get involved in sport, you might like to imitate the Tour de France riders and hop on a bicycle for a glide around the city. To do so without having to bring your own bike, visit one of the Velib bike-rental stations located at regular intervals throughout the city. Bikes can be rented at one location and dropped off at another, making this a convenient way to get about. Indeed, this is a healthy alternative to the ever-busy underground system, and will allow you to move quickly between top tourist spots such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

If you’re a keen golfer, you’ll find the city and its surrounds are not short of quality courses. The pick of the lot is the Paris International Golf Club, located just to the north of the city near the forests of Montmorency. With its undulating terrain and plethora of water features, the course is a challenge, and will deliver hours of fun to all golf-lovers, no matter the handicap.

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Southern California Daycation

Editor’s note: These suggestions can also be used by visitors to Southern California

Summer is past, and school is back in session.  You deserve a break, but it is still hard to find a lot of recreational time.  Why not give yourself a day off with a Southern California Daycation?  No other place offers all the possibilities for a full day of fun and relaxation as the Golden State.  Within easy reach of your home is a variety of restaurants, theme parks, museums, shopping, beaches, desert fun–the choices are virtually endless.  One excellent day’s getaway is the beach area around Los Angeles.  If you can get a friend or two to join you, the day will be even more enjoyable.

A first-class way to start your day is by slipping over to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant in Buena Park for a breakfast that will carry you through the morning and well into lunch.  An especially good choice is a piece of Knott’s signature fried chicken, O’Brien potatoes, biscuits, coffee, and juice.

If, however, you want to make an early start and feel like putting off breakfast for an hour, follow I-5 up to Los Angeles and then take the westbound Santa Monica freeway to Santa Monica.  If traffic is slow, just use that time to anticipate your day’s adventure.  Take the freeway all the way to its end (any further, and you’ll drive into the Pacific Ocean) and find a convenient parking space.  The parking garage at Second and Arizona gives two hours of free parking and is close to a great restaurant, Ye Olde King’s Head British Pub.  At $9.95, the “Queen Size” is hard to beat.  It comes with your choice of fried bread or toast, two eggs, a strip of bacon, one banger (sausage), English baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and breakfast potatoes.  Add a pot of tea, and you will swear you have spent your morning in the English countryside.

After such a filling introduction to your day, get ready to burn some calories.  With the ocean so close by, that’s the natural place to go.  Catch Ocean Blvd. and take the ramp down to PCH1.  Park your car, and you’ll be set.  You can either visit the Santa Monica Pier and enjoy its world famous Ferris wheel, cross the beach to the oceanside and spend the morning tanning and splashing in the surf, or strap on some skates and follow the bike path up to Malibu or down to Venice.  If skating is not your thing, rent a bike or just take a casual stroll.

As midday nears, you might want to go shopping, at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade with its wide variety of stores and restaurants.  Usually, street performers add some entertainment to your day.  If Third Street does not meet all your shopping needs, close by is Santa Monica Place, recently remodeled.  Either way, you will have a pleasant afternoon and likely find some new treasures to help you remember your day.  Incidentally, if you make your day’s getaway on Wednesday in spring through fall, Third Street Promenade hosts a really nice farmers’ market.

If time permits, and you would like to add some culture to your day, drive up the 405 to the Getty Center.  You can spend a couple hours there marveling at their classical, permanent collection, or catch one of their special exhibits.  The Getty Center is quite a beautiful, relaxing spot. It is only accessible from their parking lot by taking a short, yet enjoyable tram ride.  Be sure to bring a camera.  The grounds are picturesque, and you will especially enjoy viewing the Pacific Ocean to your west and Los Angeles to your east.

Finally, it’s time to go home.  But your Daycation will not be complete without one last splurge.  Drive a few miles up Santa Monica Blvd. to the Century City Shopping Center (10250 Santa Monica Blvd.) and drop into Gulfstream for an end-of-day treat.  They serve the best lemon meringue pie you are ever likely to have.  Enjoy it with a cup of coffee or tea, and you will decide that you have to make this a regular part of your itinerary.

As your day approaches its end, take the drive back to Orange County and share your experience with your friends and family.  Your next getaway might take you in a different direction.  You may even decide to stay close to home.  But your day of adventure will remind you why you decided to live in Southern California in the first place.  Where else can you fill your day with such a diversity of recreation, shopping, and dining?  Southern California–there is simply no other place like it.