Deirdre Sweeny of Sunway Holidays is our October winner in the ITTN Budding Travel Writer competition – and hence receives a €100 One4all voucher from Travel Counsellors Ireland, an invitation to the Irish Travel Trade Awards at the DoubleTree by Hilton Dublin on Friday 28th November 2014, and the chance to win the overall prize of €1,000 – and YOU have one last chance to do so too!
If you are a travel agency or tour operator staff member in Ireland (RoI or NI) and have been on a fam or prize trip in the past 22 months (i.e. since 1st January 2013), send your 500-1,000 word report to [email protected] by Monday 10th November 2014 and you could be our November winner. The competition rules can be read at:
Deridre won with her write-up on the Aer Lngus fam trip in April 2014 to San Francisco:
San Francisco: Confessions of a Californian Traveller
Day 1: Dublin – San Francisco
I am so excited! Heading off to San Francisco with a travel mate two days ahead of the Aer Lingus fam trip to see a little of the California coast. I haven’t visited this area of the USA before and I am buzzing with the thrill of the airport, aircraft and Union Square.
We boarded quickly, but unfortunately we had to turn right on the Aer Lingus flight before being seated, fed, watered and left to watch copious amounts of TV with all the latest box-sets and films. We caught the BART (shuttle light rail) to Union Square and the Handlery Hotel – a fab location and a fab hotel.
Distance travelled: 5,031 miles
Hours taken: 11
Movies watched: 3
Alcohol units: 12
Calories: Too many to list!
Words of warning: None
Day 2: San Francisco – Monterey
I awoke early – not knowing if it was the excitement or the time difference. San Francisco is eight hours behind Dublin, so at breakfast I felt I should be ordering dinner.
Off we went to Fisherman’s Wharf by taxi to collect our car for the coastal journey. We had decided that we would do a Thelma and Louise by hiring a red mustang convertible. Sat nav was a must, so my travelling companion was promptly renamed SatNav Sally (as in Mustang Sally). After a couple of wrong turns and the now familiar ‘relocating you’, we set off on the highway. We had wanted to travel the coastal route but Satnav Sally didn’t nav correctly and we ended up on the very busy Highway One. However, the trip was fast and we arrived at Santa Cruz by lunchtime.
Santa Cruz is a small sleepy town, dotted with small boutique type hotels and motels. Situated right on the ocean, the views are stunning – the end of the pier hosted a huge fun fair, which am sure would be rocking at night time.
Lunch was in a little fish restaurant right on the boardwalk with magnificent views of the rolling waves and surfers…just like a scene from a movie. Memories were building at a fast rate. The sun was shining, the roof was down, and the music was rocking as we sped along the costal route to Monterey. We spent a few happy hours exploring this vibrant town taking in the sights, having cocktails in the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the wild ocean, and finished off the evening with dinner in a local tavern. Life was good!
Distance travelled: 43 miles
Hours taken: All day
Alcohol units: 2
Word of warning: Don’t leave your hotel room in your PJs and without your room key – SatNav Sally was not easily awoken on my return from the outside vending machine.
Day 3: Monterey – San Francisco
We left early in the search of the eagerly awaited ’17-mile drive’ – with really no idea of what lay ahead. We cruised along the small side roads and followed a well-signed route to this historic area. “They charge you to see the sea” was the comment from Satnav Sally – $25 per car – but this famous 17-mile drive was one of the prettiest, spectacular and most exciting drives of my lifetime.
We exited at Carmel by the Sea and drove along Clint Eastwood’s small community – a truly special town with lots of little bistros, bars, shops and waterside cafes. This drive is a MUST on any trip to California – simply wonderful!
We headed back to San Francisco to meet the rest of our party for the next six days, returning our car at SFO International Airport – quickly and easily. We then took a shuttle directly to our hotel – again quick and easy with no pre-booking necessary – and checked into the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel. A fun night was had with our 12 new travelling companions!
Distance travelled: 17-mile drive + 127 miles
Hours taken: 5
Alcohol units: 6
Word of warning: Go to bed early
Day 4: San Francisco
We awoke to a cool, misty morning and boarded our private tram for a sightseeing tour of this wonderful city. San Francisco is made up of hills and has so many wonderful historic sights, the Golden Gate Bridge being one of them, but unfortunately we could not see it as it was basking in fog.
We took a leisurely tour and lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, a bustling area of San Francisco with lots of restaurants, tours and shops, then boarded a small cruiser that took in the bay area.
The afternoon was spent shopping, sightseeing and getting back to the hotel by the local tram, an experience that took a little bit of time to figure out, while the evening was spent enjoying a very nice meal in the Wharf area of the city. Rounding it all off was a must-do trip to the local karaoke bar – a good end to a great day.
Distance travelled: Local
Hours taken: All day
Alcohol units: ‘A couple’
Word of warning: Go home early (yes, again)
Day 5: San Francisco – Yosemite
Up and away early to Dollar Car Rental in O’Farrell Street where two words – slow and frustrating – sprang to mind. Be sure you tell your clients to arrive early and to make sure they get what their voucher states.
Vroom, vroom! Off I go, with my 12 new travelling companions and, of course, Satnav Sally. It was teeming rain and the visibility was non-existent. To exit San Francisco we had to drive for over one hour – a nightmare. We had lost Ivan our leader and had to rely again on Satnav Sally to get us there. The journey was long and slow due to the adverse weather conditions, so we arrived at Yosemite a long six hours later.
The local lodge was quaint and full of atmosphere, with rooms overlooking a river, which was just the beginning of the amazing scenery to come. “Beware of the bears / racoons” was clearly written around the property (more of that later). Dinner was a boisterous affair and we all relaxed and enjoyed the surroundings after our very gruelling trip.
At 4.00am we awoke to screams and shouts from one of our rooms – yes, a real live racoon was standing in the middle of room 101! Both girls were standing on their beds screaming while their ‘visitor’ ate calmly from a packet of open pretzels. Eventually, after a lot of coaxing, the animal fled – taking the pretzels with him.
Distance travelled: Too far!
Rain fallen: Too much!
Temperatures: Minus degrees
Alcohol units: Too many to count
Calories consumed: Worked off by all the jumping up and down on the beds at 4.00am
Word of warning: Keep patio doors closed so pretzel-eating racoons cannot enter
Day 6: Yosemite
Breakfast at 8.00am was a lively affair full of racoon recounting stories. Satnav Sally and I were dressed in our finest summer gear, complete with sparkly converse runners, but we were greeted by the locals in snow boots, hats, gloves and full winter attire – it had snowed overnight and temperatures were well below 0°!
Travel into the National Park can be slow, but on this cold snowy morning we were cleared through almost immediately. WOW, WOW, WOW, what a feast for the eyes – it was truly spectacular: snow-covered trees, clear blue sky, frost on our breaths, sparkling rivers, the National Park had it all. I have never seen such beautiful sights.
We were a lively group having lunch al fresco – and my sparkly shoes, being very bright, were the cause of many a smile.
The Yosemite Lodge is centrally located with a bright, open lobby area, where I was greeted by loud screaming as Satnav Sally became hysterical when she mistook a stuffed bear in the hotel reception for a real live one.
Distance travelled: 60 miles
Weather conditions: Freezing snow
Alcohol units: 0
Word of warning: Beware of Irish tourists dressed for summer in spite of there being snow underfoot
Day 7: Yosemite – Sonoma
A beautiful, uneventful drive, with lunch enroute with a picnic in the square, brought us to Sonoma and an afternoon of wine tasting, but not for us DDs though (that’s designated drivers to you happy people). We parked up at the Flamingo Hotel – however, some cars (i.e. mine) were still running, much to the hilarity of Satnav Sally.
The evening was spent in the local town chatting, eating, drinking and having fun with the locals – some more than others!
Distance travelled: 174 miles
Alcohol units: Lots
Bears seen: None
Word of warning: Turn off car engine before exiting
A few laps in the pool (for Michelle) and off we set in convoy to the first of three wine tasting locations, our lead driver constantly checking our whereabouts (yes, Ivan, that would be you).
This was an experience to be remembered. The weather was warm, the grape plentiful and delicious and lots of swirling and tasting filled this day – I was no longer the DD, Mel had taken over the driving and I was in wine heaven!
The afternoon was spent driving back to San Francisco and homeward bound from a very memorable trip with very memorable people. Thanks to Aer Lingus for getting us there and back, the hotels, California Tourism, Yosemite Tourism, and Sonoma Tourism – and special thanks to all my fellow travellers for their laughs, comments and feeding while I was driving.
Things I Learnt
Always fly Aer Lingus
Expect the unexpected
Always take Satnav Sally with you
Have snacks on hand for any stray racoons that may join the party.