September 30, 2014

Top 10: Things I Love About Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport is one of the best airports I've been to.  Here are the top 10 things I love about the YVR airport:

Play space
  1. Kid-friendly: Play spaces and play stations are a great way to keep kids busy while waiting for a flight.
  2. On-site car rental facilities: Most of the major car rental companies are just steps away from the terminal - right across the street!  No need to lug all your baggage onto a shuttle to get to a rental car facility. 
  3. Pre-clearance: YVR is a pre-clearance airport for most airlines flying to the US, which means no need to stand in long lines for clearance in the US (especially useful for travelers who need to make connecting flights).
  4. Free charging stations:  It's great that YVR had many charging stations throughout the terminal, ensuring our smartphones were always fully-charged.
  5. Lots of great dining options: I've been to some airports with little (or no) dining options, and YVR had several great restaurants.
  6. YVR Carry On Food: If you prefer to purchase something from a restaurant to eat on a plane, take advantage of YVR Carry On Food, where your meal is specially packed to take onboard. 
  7. Free Wi-Fi:  Who doesn't love free Wi-Fi?
  8. Art:  So much beautiful art on display at YVR!
  9. Plentiful shopping:  YVR has your typical stores selling snacks, magazines, and drinks, but they also have stores specializing in kitchenware, kids toys, and more! 
  10. Services: Do you need a massage?  How about a shoe shine?  YVR offers these and other services right at the terminal!


Free Wi-Fi!


September 29, 2014

A Day of Entertainment and Education at Sea Life Park Hawaii

I have fond memories of Sea Life Park Hawaii.  As a kid I'd often go there on school field trips or with family, and I was eager to take my kids there so they could create some fond memories of their own.

Highlights of Our Hosted Visit 
The Hawaiian Shark Tank is one of the newer attractions at Sea Life Park.  The 300,000-gallon tank houses several sharks, and my kids always got excited whenever the Hammerhead Shark swam by. 

Hawaiian Shark Tank
My kids really enjoyed the Aloha Touch Pool, where they got to pet a baby honu (sea turtle).  Unlike other touch pools they've been to, there weren't too many sea creatures they could touch, but they were very excited that they were able to pet a turtle - something they haven't done before at any other touch pool.
Touching a baby honu (sea turtle)
Another newer attraction is the Hale Manu (Bird Aviary).  There are a lot of birds in the aviary that visitors can feed with provided bird feed.  My middle son got really excited whenever birds would eat from his stick full of seeds.
Feeding a bird in the Hale Manu
The Adventure Kids Play Zone was a favorite spot.  It consists of a playground and a Pirate Ship (which used to have a lot more equipment). 

Adventure Kids Play Zone
The Kolohe Kai Sea Lion Show showcased two sea lions who were competing in a pageant.  It was entertaining to the sea lions perform in the different pageant segments.
Kolohe Kai Sea Lion Show
The Dolphin Cove Show was especially fun.  Seeing the different types of dolphins, including the world's only Wholphin in captivity, Kekaimalu, elicited a lot of "Wows" from the crowd.
Dolphin Cove Show
The Hawaii Ocean Theatre was another highlight, as we got to see even more dolphins do neat tricks, and we also saw a couple of cute penguins.
Hawaii Ocean Theatre
We also had a chance to check out the new 3D Sea Interactive Marine Life Experience (it's so new that all of the seating didn't arrive yet when we visited).

The experience was about 10-15 minutes long, and it showcased 3 varieties of marine animals.  The host was able to interact with the sea creatures (feed them, etc.) and guests could find out more about each animal.

Learning about orcas in the 3D Sea Interactive Marine Life Experience


Dining
On-site is the Sea Lion Cafe, a Snack Bar (where we bought some Fries & Popcorn Chicken), and Tiki Treats (where we indulged in a Root Beer Float and some Breyers Ice Cream).

French Fries from the Snack Bar
Popcorn Chicken from the Snack Bar
Root Beer Float from Tiki Treats
Chocolate Ice Cream
Our Experience Visiting as a Special-Needs Family
My oldest son has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and although I know kids on the spectrum all behave and react differently in various environments, I always try to share our personal experience when visiting attractions.

Prior to arriving we made sure to tell my son what he'd expect to see and do at Sea Life Park.  Having been to numerous other attractions featuring marine life, he already had an idea of what kinds of animals he'd see.

Upon receiving our wristbands for admission, we made sure to get a park map for my son since he really enjoys maps.  

My son's favorite part of Sea Life Park was the Hawaiian Shark Tank.  Not only could he look for sharks in the shark tank, but he loved walking through the "tunnel" (he loves tunnels and kept on asking to go through the tunnel). He also really enjoyed the touch pool and the playground.

Usually he does not care to sit and watch shows, but he did very well watching the shows at Sea Life Park, and was very enthusiastic when seeing the dolphins flip and jump in the air.  It was great that the shows were not too long (averaging about 15-20 minutes each), which prevented my son (as well as my other kids) from getting too fidgety and losing interest.

There were several places to sit if rest breaks were needed, as well as some places to run around if energy needed to be released.  The Hawaii Ocean Theatre, when not running a show, was a shady and quiet spot to sit if my son became overstimulated. 

Even though there were areas of shade, it was still very hot.  If the heat got too unbearable, we simply went into the gift shop where it was nice and cool (we also would have retreated there if it started to rain since my son has sensory issues with rain).

The park itself is not too large, and although it was quite crowded, my son did not get overwhelmed with the number of people visiting.

Those on a GFCF or other restricted diet can bring their own food into the park.

Final Thoughts
Sea Life Park has gone through a lot of positive changes over the years, and I can see the potential for more improvements to make the park even better (e.g. renovating/upgrading existing exhibits/tanks/facilities, etc.).

Although the number of exhibits is small, the variety of shows and activities they offer provides a lot of entertainment and education value for the entire family.

There are also numerous programs that visitors can participate in (for additional charge), allowing them to get up close and personal with various marine animals while learning even more about them.

Through its exhibits and programs, Sea Life Park really stresses conservation and how important it is to protect our environment and the habitats of precious sea life.

A day at Sea Life Park was filled with wonder and entertainment for our family.

We left the park exhausted, but we also left more educated and with a better appreciation for the Earth's beautiful sea creatures.


Sea Life Park Hawaii
41-202 Kalanianaole Hwy #7
Waimanalo, HI 96795
(808) 259-2500

Click here for admission information.  Parking fee is $5.

Thank you to Sea Life Park Hawaii for hosting our visiting.  All opinions are my own.

September 28, 2014

Just Desserts at The Alley Restaurant

When I think of The Alley Restaurant, two things come to mind - Tasty Chicken, and Lemon Crunch Cake.

Since I visited with friends after eating dinner, we ordered just desserts at The Alley, and I couldn't resist the Lemon Crunch Cake!
Strawberry Crunch Cake

Carrot Cake

Chocolate-n-Marshmallow Blondie

Pumpkin Crunch

Lemon Crunch Cake

The Lemon Crunch Cake consists of 3 layers of decadence. The lemon curd and cream create a nice contrast of tartness and sweetness, and the toffee topping adds a nice sweet crunch.

I had a taste of the other desserts, and everything was just as delicious.

If you're near or in the Aiea area and craving something sweet, definitely visit The Alley!


The Alley Restaurant
99-115 Aiea Heights Dr.
Aiea, HI 96701
(808) 488-6854

September 27, 2014

Poke Bowls and More at Pa`ina Cafe

Pa`ina Cafe is a popular spot for those looking for a quick, convenient, and tasty lunch.
Dee's BLT+T (bacon, lettuce, tomato, turkey)
Small Crunchy Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl with Brown Rice

Pa`ina Cafe is known for their poke bowls, but I had the sandwich, which was very filling. I couldn't even finish it.

Pa`ina Cafe is a great spot to grab a casual, satisfying lunch.

Pa`ina Cafe
1200 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 356-2829

September 26, 2014

Traveling Internationally with a Smartphone

You may have read the horror stories about travelers getting hit with enormous wireless bills (thousands and thousands of dollars worth) for using their smartphones while in another country. Whether it's because they didn't realize certain apps kept using data, or perhaps they bought a data package and were charged overages because of excessive use - whatever the reason, it made me worry a lot about using a smartphone while I was on my trip to Canada.

I did lots and lots of research on using unlocked phones and buying a local SIM card, buying a prepaid international SIM card, and even buying international data packages through our current carrier (AT&T).

Thankfully, after posing the question on Twitter, @dkMOMUS replied with a lot of helpful information.  He told me about One Sim Card, XCom Global, and T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan.

After doing even more research, I decided to get a phone and plan with T-Mobile, because I really didn't want to have to worry about running up huge charges.  Since I would be working via my smartphone, it meant using up a lot of data, and T-Mobile's Simple Choice Plan offers unlimited data and texting, and calls at 20 cents/minute in over 100 countries.  And since I plan on traveling internationally more, I figured it was worth it to get a new phone.

And just as a back-up, I decided to buy a data global add-on package with AT&T on my husband's plan.

Although coverage was somewhat spotty on T-Mobile at times, for the most part, I had no issues whatsoever using my phone internationally.  I posted a lot on social media for all of my media visits, I checked and answered a lot of email messages, used Google Maps a lot...

The free texting came in handy since not only did I keep getting texts from home, but I also had to text friends in Canada about our travel plans.

And I didn't think I'd need to make any phone calls while in Canada, but I ended up having to make an urgent call, which would've cost me over $20 had I made it on my regular phone.

When I got my bill, there were no additional charges with the exclusion of the international call I made.

Whew!

I didn't have to use the AT&T data add-on at all, and I was credited back a portion of the monthly charge for the data global add-on package since I canceled it as soon as I returned to the US.

Yes - there are numerous steps you can take to ensure you don't use or overuse cellular data (e.g. turning off cellular; use Wi-Fi only; use Google Voice for calls, etc.), but T-Mobile's Simple Choice Plan made it so simple to travel internationally with a smartphone.



September 25, 2014

Fresh and Healthy Fare at Heavenly Island Lifestyle

I recently had the opportunity to attend a special media dinner at Heavenly Island Lifestyle, located at the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki, a Joie de Vivre Hotel.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Heavenly offers locals and visitors alike a place to dine on fresh and healthy fare.

The emphasis on using fresh, local, and organic ingredients whenever possible was evident in each dish of the media dinner.  Hawaii-produced meats, vegetables, and cheeses were plentiful throughout the 13-course meal.

Mimosas - Organic Acai, Pineapple, Mango, Guava


Local Avocado Guacamole - made from local avocados and served with Molokai sweet potato chips, this was very delicious
Hamakua Mushroom Marinade - I love mushrooms, so I really enjoyed this dish.

Bagna Cauda - the house made miso bagna cauda was actually served cold versus hot, but it was still a nice, flavorful dip for the veggies.
 Big Island Ginger Ahi Poke - served with a local kale salad, this was one of the most popular dishes of the evening.
 Kona Kanpachi Coconut Ceviche - served with hearts of palm, this was another crowd-pleaser.


Green Cobb Salad - very delightful with avocado, kale, tomato, quinoa, and more
Shinsato Pork Big Island Ginger Saute - the pork, combined with mushrooms and onions, were sauteed in a very tasty ginger sauce.

Kauai Makaweli Ranch Ribeye Steak - served with a Naked Cow truffle sauce, was accompanied by a variety of locally-farmed veggies.
Heavenly's Organic Veggie & Beans Loco Moco - served with a ginger soy glaze instead of heavy gravy, it was a nice twist on the standard loco moco.
Kahuku Shrimp Ravioli Nalo Herb Cream Sauce - the sauce was not only pretty, but it was very good. 
Pina Colada - Maui Gold Pineapple & Coconut Sorbet - very refreshing!


House Made Kona Coffee Tiramisu - light, yet indulgent



Hawaiian Ginger Creme Brulee - my favorite dessert - the hint of ginger was very pleasant.


Executive Chef Keigo Yoshimoto; Manager Makoto "Mild" Hasegawa

Each dish truly reflected Heavenly's focus on using local and organic foods whenever possible.

The decor of the restaurant is charming and inviting, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Charming decor
Love the vibe!
Whether you are staying at the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki or just visiting the area, Heavenly Island Lifestyle is a great spot for those who wish to support local businesses while enjoying meals that are fresh and healthy.

Heavenly Island Lifestyle
Shoreline Hotel Waikiki 1F
342 Seaside Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
808-923-1100

September 24, 2014

Satisfy Your Gelato Cravings at Via Gelato

Via Gelato is a very popular spot for those who need to satisfy their gelato craving.
So many great flavors to choose from!

Cookies n Cream and Nutter Butter

Black Sesame Coconut and Italian Christmas Cookie

Fierce Chocolate

Strawberry Soda
I had the Cookies n Cream and Nutter Butter, and they were both good, but I ended up eating my husband's Italian Christmas Cookie gelato - it was THAT GOOD!

My kids enjoyed the Fierce Chocolate and Strawberry Soda, and my husband loved the Nutter Butter.

Via Gelato also serves sandwiches and soups, which I hope to try, along with new flavors, the next time I go.

Via Gelato
1142 12th Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-2800 

 
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