Scootering Around Roma: The best way to see the Eternal City is on two wheels

Last month, my wife and I went on a mini European tour for our honeymoon that comprised of stopovers in London, Paris and Rome. But this story starts a little earlier than that, roughly two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, when I suddenly got the itch to research Vespa tours in Italy. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but for some reason, failed to include in our original plans. Thankfully, after trading a few emails with the wonderful couple that runs Scooteroma Tours, they graciously agreed to take us around Rome to experience what makes seeing the Eternal City from a motorino (that’s “scooter,” in Italian) so extraordinary.

Annie, the self-titled Scooter Maven, was unfortunately unable to join us on the tour due to a bad case of bronchitis (though she stopped by the meeting point to introduce herself anyway), but her husband and business partner Giovanni arrived with one of their many other English-speaking tour guides, all of whom have years of professional experience in the tourism and hospitality industries. As a couple of Yanks with only a phrase book-sized knowledge of Italian, I can’t begin to explain how much of a relief it was to have tour guides who not only spoke English, but spoke it fluently. (Annie herself is American-born, but you can read all about how she came to live in Rome here.)

With the pleasantries and introductions out of the way, it was time to hop on the back of a Vespa and get to scootering. While Giovanni drove a newer Vespa model (red and shiny, and clearly the pride and joy of the Scooteroma family), his cohort Stefano arrived on a gorgeous vintage Vespa in order to give us a taste of what it would be like riding on both. That’s because Scooteroma offers a variety of different tours, as well as different ways to experience them. In addition to their half- and full-day tours, the company also does vintage Vespa and foodie tours, as well as a few other non-scooter variations. You can also either rent a scooter (up to two people per bike) or chose to ride on the back along with a guide, and although driving might sound like a lot of fun, it was actually much more enjoyable just to sit back and soak up the sights as Giovanni and Stefano zipped around the busy streets of Rome.

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10 Tips for Stretching Your Accommodation Budget

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Out of all travelling costs, accommodation is the expense that sucks up most of the budget — particularly for hotel dwellers. Here are 10 insider tips for stretching your accommodation budget without having to sacrifice the quality of your accommodation. This means more money you can spend on activities and travel experiences.

1. Travel off-season. Price hikes generally occur during the tourism season and over holiday periods. In particular, avoid travelling during school and public holidays. Lodging costs for places like Europe can increase exponentially during the height of tourist season, so it’s best to travel either slightly before or slightly after summer — either May or September in the case of Europe. You will still catch the beautiful weather if you time it properly. Chances are, it will be better than the weather you are leaving behind in Australia!

2. Stay mid-week. Hotel prices generally peak on weekends, so if it is possible, time shorter trips for mid-week periods. You might have to weigh up the trade-off of taking the extra time off work or forgo your first choice of accommodation and stay somewhere else over the weekend period.

3. Don’t hotel jump. Most hotels will offer long-term discounts for multiple night stays, so don’t be afraid to ask if this option is available to you.

4. Balance advance planning with last-minute booking. As soon as you know where you are going, start hunting for good accommodation deals, but remember that plenty of discounts are offered at the last minute. If you can deal with the uncertainty of operating like this, organise your stay for at least the first few days and chance it for the rest.

5. Join loyalty clubs. Many hotels have membership and rewards clubs that offer discounts, offers, upgrades and extras to frequent customers. You may also find that your existing memberships to loyalty and rewards clubs already give you discounts for certain hotel chains.

6. Book packages. You can save a lot of money when you combine your flights with your accommodation; sometimes with discounts up to 30 per cent. Be flexible in your attitude as to where you stay, but most package options will be close to tourist attractions regardless.

7. Consider the entire hotel experience, including proximity and inclusions. You may pay more for the extra facilities and location, but this might save you in the long run in transport and entertainment costs. Select an area close to tourist attractions and a hotel package that includes airport transfers. It also helps to be close to some cheaper food options and supermarkets so you aren’t reliant on the hotel restaurant. Ensure you find out exactly what your accommodation package entitles you to. Over the course of a week, one free breakfast per day really adds up.

8. Combine business and pleasure. Some organisations are flexible in allowing their employees to tack their annual leave on to business trips, which could potentially save you a couple of nights’ expenses and perhaps even a portion of your flight expenses. Generally it doesn’t cost the business anything additional for you to bring your partner along.

9. Split costs. Share accommodation with a close friend or family member, particularly if one of you is happy to take a sofa bed or you are open to sleeping in twin beds in the same room. Alternatively, a two-bedroom suite won’t usually cost anywhere near the same amount as two separate hotel rooms. If you are travelling with others, enquire about group discounts.

10. Be open to mixing it up. Weigh the cost of hotels verses motels, and explore alternate accommodation experiences in terms of big-name brands and local, smaller operations.

About the Author: Tammy Wilson is a contributing writer and enthusiastic world traveler. Tammy spends a minimum of four months of every year globetrotting. You name it, she’s been there!

  

The exciting Mandalay Bay transformation is now underway

There is plenty of buzz in Las Vegas around the transformation taking place at Mandalay Bay. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to learn about the many facets of this exciting undertaking from Chuck Bowling, President & COO of Mandalay Bay during our Mlife experience in April.

Yes, Mandalay Bay is currently undergoing its first major property-wide transformation since opening in 1999, from the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson ONE to the debut of the Delano Las Vegas, a new all-suite boutique hotel within the resort. The 120-acre resort is collaborating with brands such as Morgans Hotel Group, Cirque, The Light Group and Four Seasons to create a totally new experience for its guests.

Some of the highlights include:

· Delano Las Vegas – Later this year, Mandalay Bay and Morgans Hotel Group will begin the transformation of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay into Delano Las Vegas, a new all-suite hotel scheduled to open in early 2014 that will embody the soul of Delano South Beach with Vegas flair.

· Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas – Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, located on floors 35-39 of Mandalay Bay, began the year with a complete renovation of all 424 guest rooms and suites inspired in part by the vibrant Art Deco period. This spring, Four Seasons also introduced Press, a new indoor/outdoor lobby bar that creates an energetic social hub that evolves from espressos in the morning to draft beers and wine at night.

· Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil – June 29, the resort will debut Michael Jackson ONE, a permanent Cirque du Soleil production that will bring to life the King of Pop’s music while celebrating his worldwide legacy.

· LIGHT Nightclub – Memorial Day Weekend, Mandalay Bay will unveil LIGHT Nightclub by The Light Group, a venue that combines the imagination and artistry of Cirque du Soleil with a roster of top DJs in the world. Designed to bring a unique, memorable experience each evening, LIGHT will tantalize senses with state-of-the-art production and theatrics.

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Google Glass not welcome in Las Vegas?

Get ready for the Google Glass and camera revolution. We’re entering a new phase of the mobile technology revolution where everything around us or everything we observe can be recorded. We’ve seen how powerful video can be with people pulling out their smart phones when something happens, but with Google Glass and other devices that can constantly record what’s around you we’ve reached a new level.

Not surprisingly, casinos, hotels and other establishments in places like Las Vegas aren’t really thrilled about this prospect and are looking to ban the use of Google Glass. When you consider how this can impact casino gambling and help cheaters you immediately understand their concern. The casino gaming culture has changed somewhat over the years as casinos have proliferated outside of Las Vegas to America’s heartland and with all of the easy online options like www.ladbrokes.com, but certain things like security never change when there’s so much money at stake. Google Glass and similar devices like sunglasses with tiny cameras change all that.

But in Las Vegas it goes even further. Remember the adage that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Well that whole idea is threatened as well as more and more aspects of life in Sin City can be recorded by visitors. In some ways this protects the patrons from themselves. Think about it – do you really want a video out there documenting your drunken weekend with the guys if you’re married or have a girlfriend? You can cause a lot of trouble by breaking out Google Glass during a bachelor or bachelorette party.

This of course extends beyond Las Vegas as well, as these cameras threaten privacy everywhere. Tools like Google Glass will open up huge possibilities for productivity and fun, but like with every great technological leap will also raise tons of questions as society adapts. Expect this to be a huge issue in the coming years.

  

On an Island with a Monster Truck

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After a great vacation to Hawaii five years ago, my wife and I decided to move to the pacific island. We decided there is no better place to be – we loved the warm weather and great views.

After moving to the island we found that there were several things that were different about living in Hawaii than on the mainland. Such differences include choices in clothing, language and family rites of passage. However, my favorite difference; almost everyone in Hawaii owns a truck.

We’re not talking small trucks either. I’m talking huge four-wheel drive monster. Four-wheel drive monsters that can take on anything from pavement to jungle or even climbing the side of a mountain. Consequently, I was so happy to trade in our compact car for a monster four-wheel drive truck that that alone could have sold me on living in Hawaii.

It was one of the best purchases we made living on the island. It enabled us to experience the greatest parts of the island – and these parts are most certainly not accessible by car. The following are just a few reasons why (whether you’re visiting or living in Hawaii) you need a truck.

Rain, rain – go away!

Living on the island was amazing but there was one thing that was very difficult to get used to; the rain! Some of our funniest truck-inspired memories were caused by rain, or more specifically, trying to navigate flooded or muddy roads in the new truck. Hilo, in particular, is the rainiest city in the nation and gets over 120 inches of rain every year.

That presents a problem at times if the only vehicle you have isn’t a truck. There were several times we were in town and had groceries; a birthday present, or even bags in the back of our truck and it started raining. We found out over time the greatest solution to our problems was to get one of those truck bed covers. These covers can be left snapped on or rolled back to leave the truck bed open.

Get to all the great beaches

Some of the greatest beaches on the island are not accessible without a truck. The trails out to the beach would entail a long walk or a four-wheel drive truck to get you to the sandy coast. Having a truck also enables you to drive your cooler and other beach props right to the place you want to set up your site without the arduous task of carrying them down seemingly un-ending jungle paths.

Waipio Valley

This breathtaking valley has one that most only see on postcards or travel shows. The road driving down into the valley however, is impossible to reach unless you have a truck with four-wheel drive. After we made the steep and windy drive down to the valley, it was well worth the trouble. At Waipio valley we were able to set up camp and stay for two nights right there on the beach. There were great adventures to be had once we got down there. Bike trails, hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling or stand up paddle surfing were just a few options we had to choose from.

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa is one of five volcanoes on the island, and this one also happens to be the largest volcano on the planet. At the top of this amazing volcano is an observatory for stargazing at night, or just getting a “feel” for the volcano up close, during the day. Unfortunately, because it is also the tallest volcano, it almost always has snow on the ground. Having a truck to climb the snowy terrain is absolutely necessary to get where you’re going.

As I said before, a four-wheel drive truck isn’t a luxury in Hawaii. If you ever want to be able to take in even a small percentage of what this beautiful land has to offer, you’re going to need a way to get there. Besides, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than cruising the island with the windows down, and my beautiful wife by my side.

  

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