Travel apps: Cheap rooms with Roomer and good food reviews with Zomato

Roomer: Buy a cheap room, or sell your hotel room!
Picture the scene: you’ve booked a hotel, and then something comes up and you can’t travel on the day you expected to. For most people, this would likely mean paying at least a cancellation fee, or at worst losing your whole deposit on a nonrefundable booking.

Issues like that can often dissuade people from making plans too far in advance, despite the cost savings of booking in advance.

We have good news for you if this is one of the conundrums you have faced or are concerned about.

Roomer is a travel app that gives you the opportunity to sell your booking, or buy someone else’s booking, at close to half the cost.

There are two important caveats on hotel reservation sales: you can only sell your reservation if it is non-refundable and prepaid.

If you’re looking to purchase a hotel reservation at a lower cost than a standard booking you will be happy to learn that Roomer recommends sellers mark their selling price at least 50 percent lower than the original price.

Essentially Roomer creates a win, win, win, situation, providing the buyer with a great price, the seller with at least half their funds back, and the hotel with a filled room. Just be forewarned that Roomer verifies and approves each posting, which can take a little over 24 hours.

Download Roomer for iPhone
Download Roomer for Android

Food reviews with Zomato
Travelling can be extremely expensive, and one of the biggest expenses is eating costs, if you’re not a street-foodie of course.

Have you noticed that more and more restaurants are opting to put their menus on their websites without pricing? This is frustrating when you’re trying to make plans in a new city.

Of course, when you’re in a new city and checking out new authentic places, it’s not just about the pricing, it’s about food taste and the ambience of the place. And we all know that the photographs on a restaurant website are shot by professionals, edited to perfection, and are about as believable as those shots belonging to a fast-food joint.

Now, thanks to a handy app called Zomato, you can check out menus, prices, diner reviews and photos shot by diners too. You can also see actual photographs of the menu that diners have taken and posted to Zomato.

You can read the reviews and get an overall idea of the positives and negatives of dining in a place, as well as recommendations on what to eat.

The app will also give you suggestions for restaurants that are similar to the one you’re looking at.

Essentially Zomato is like your personal restaurant reviewer, so if you’re looking for an alternative point of view to that provided by TripAdvisor, take a look at Zomato.

Download Zomato for iPhone
Download Zomato for Android

Cruises: Making the most of a day in port

A day in port makes for a pleasant change to the regular shipboard routine. Crowds of passengers disembark and pile into coaches for excursions to some or other top attraction.

But with only five or six hours available, how do you squeeze in as much as possible without things getting hectic?

Researching and planning the day
A bit of up-front planning can make all the difference to your holiday.

You could form a small group of two or three other people, as you are far less likely to be bothered by street vendors, and you have people with you whom you know.

In this case, an itinerary becomes essential, so you more or less agree on what you want to do. Some research beforehand is paramount. You can even start planning your days in port while you are still at home, before you set off for your cruise.

Take a look at the ship’s library, since they make a point of stocking resources relating to their current schedule. Published travel guides are often well-researched. By contrast, articles on the internet can be excellent, but many simply rehash what others have said.

A good place to look online is the town’s official website, since it is run by people who live in the place and know it well. They cannot afford a bad report by a visitor. Their motivation is to create passionate enthusiasts for their town who praise them on social media. They also do not have a direct financial interest in directing visitors to a particular restaurant or attraction.

Choosing a few things to see and do
Since you cannot do more than scratch the surface in a single day, it makes no sense to try to do everything. Agree a basic plan with the group before starting research. Are you going to have breakfast on board first, or head out early to somewhere authentic where the locals dine?

You will probably want a top-up midday snack, so make sure to be seated and eating before the lunchtime crowds arrive. If you are having dinner back on board in the evening, you might choose just to get lunch quickly, unless there is a particular restaurant you wish to visit. If you can get a big breakfast on board, you might not need lunch at all, which will give you more time to look around.

This leaves morning and afternoon spaces of a few hours each to do something different. Consider staying away from hackneyed destinations like famous palaces and churches unless you like crowds!

Your stay in port comes alive on the day
A day in port comes alive when you visit lesser-known points of interest that tour buses avoid. This could be because parking is difficult, or the driver does not get a kickback. They may even be so peaceful you get the feeling you discovered them, as you potter through soaking up the local atmosphere.

If you plan in advance, your day will flow smoothly because you have time to relax. You may not even see your fellow passengers for a couple of hours; spare a thought for them in buses chasing tight deadlines! You will have a different story to share over supper.

Malaga city: more than meets the eye

Malaga is a Spanish city underestimated by many travellers, who just see it as the place their plane lands before they head for the coast! However, with history, culture, real Spain, great shops and wonderful food, it is growing in popularity.

We asked Tracy Morgan, who lived in Malaga and knows it well, to give us an insider’s view.

Malaga city offers a wealth of culture, nightlife, sightseeing, and beaches. There is something for everyone in this trendy and vibrant city. Malaga Airport is very well located, just a short train or bus ride away, but offers everything you would expect from an international airport, including car hire.

Climate
During winter, Malaga reaches a pleasant 17C (63F). Springtime temperatures rise to 21C (70F) and the summer months are on average as high as 30C (86F).

City sightseeing
Architecture is a huge part of Malaga’s history. Visit the cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación, known as “La Manquita” (“the one-armed lady”.) The cathedral took 250 years to build, and is one of the highlights of Malaga.

The Alcazaba is a Moorish fortress, built in the 11th century. City tourist buses offer reasonably-priced 24-hour tours, which take you to the top of the Alcazaba, where you can use the hop on/off facility to relax and take in the 360-degree views across the city.

Remains of an ancient Roman theatre lie below the Alcazaba, dating back to 1st century BC. Unearthed by construction workers in 1951, it took many years of restoration to fully reveal this stunning piece of history, and it is well worth a visit at night when it gets lit up majestically.

Beaches
Malaga has over 14 kilometres (8.5 miles) of stunning Mediterranean coastline. Stroll along the promenade to discover inviting “chiringuitos” (beach bars) offering fresh, local cuisine. Many rent out sun loungers and umbrellas, a perfect way to spend the day. Malaga beaches are very clean and have great facilities including showers, toilets and play areas for children.

Shopping
Walk around the vibrant and colourful Calle Larios, a broad pedestrian avenue with street entertainment including mime artists and flamenco. Take a detour and explore the narrow side streets to find artisan boutique shops and bars.

When you have shopped enough, mingle amongst the trendy Malagueños, and enjoy a cold drink or a tapa.

The Malaga Marina has a great deal to offer, with green parks and the Muelle Uno shopping complex with its trendy shops and restaurants.

Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, Malaga is a vibrant city all year round, and in the summer months most people don’t venture outdoors until after dark. This is when Malaga comes into its own, when the streets and squares are filled with families having fun.

Malaga has many restaurants, bars and bodegas (wine bars), from smart and modern lounges, flamenco bars, to the traditional “spit and sawdust” bars.

The must-visit places are the amazing Antigua Casa de Guardia, the oldest bar in Malaga, and El Pimpi where you can mingle amongst the ancient barrels, sip the famous sweet fortified wine, and gaze upon the interesting old photographs that adorn the walls.

Culture
Apart from the very popular Picasso Museum and birthplace, there are over 100 art galleries and museums in the city, with something on offer to satisfy everyone.

Malaga is a truly wonderful city – you should give it a try!

Disneyland Paris – not just for kids!

Much closer to home than its big brother in the USA, much easier to reach, and so much more affordable too, Disneyland Paris really isn’t just for the kids.

While it’s true that Disneyland is a magical haven filled with fun and wonder for young children, there is also plenty to keep an adult couple – or a group of adults – entertained too.

Of course, if you have children or grandchildren to take along with you, you’ll get so much pleasure from seeing their little faces light up at the sight of all their favourite Disney characters coming to life through the various rides, shows and other attractions the park has to offer, but even if you are travelling without children, your own inner-child is sure to find plenty to captivate it!

Two parks: which will you choose?
The Disneyland Paris site is made up of a selection of themed hotels, the Disney Village which hosts numerous shops and restaurants, and two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.

If you are travelling without children, and certainly if you are limited to only a day or two, Walt Disney Studios Park will be the park for you to make your way to first.

Disneyland Park caters very much for young children – think rides for toddlers and over-excited Disney characters appearing for photo opportunities around every corner! However, Walt Disney Studios Park is much more suitable for adults, with its theme focused on the history of “the movies”, with adult-friendly shows and more intense rides (for those that are brave enough!).

If you’re interested in the history of Disney and how it all began, including how Walt made his movies and revolutionised the animated film industry, the Art of Disney Animation attraction within the Toon Studio area of the park should be your first stop. Here you’ll find lots of interesting information, presented in a genuinely fun-for-all-ages format of cinema presentations, lively demonstrations and fascinating exhibits. There is even the opportunity for some interactive experiences if you fancy getting involved yourself!

Attractions
Petrol heads (or anyone who appreciates a good stunt show, and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) should head on over to the Backlot area of the park to see the Moteurs…Action! Stunt Show Spectacular as this is definitely one not to be missed by the adults! A thrilling 45-minute long live show of fast cars swerving, sliding, and even jumping through fire as they race around in hot pursuit of each other, this is a real jaw-dropping show which never fails to impress even its repeat visitors.

As for rides, these include to name a few, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, themed around a spooky abandoned hotel; the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith for those that like a bit of rock music while they are traveling at 62mph along a track of hairpin turns, steep drops and loops (not for the faint-hearted!); or the slightly more subdued, although still considered a thrill ride by most, Crush’s Coaster where you ride on the back of the friendly turtle from the Finding Nemo movie.

Avoid queues with FASTPASS
All three of the above rides are eligible for FASTPASS. This is a free service offered by Disney where you can get a ticket from a booth outside the ride entrance of certain attractions which regularly have long queues.

This gives you a time to return and enter through the special FASTPASS entrance and either walk straight on the ride, or only queue for a few minutes, depending on how busy the park is when you visit.

Unbelievably, many visitors to Disneyland don’t take advantage of this time-saving FASTPASS service, either because they simply do not know about it, or because they mistakenly believe you have to pay for it. That’s a shame, because guests who are not in-the-know waste valuable time queueing for rides when they don’t need to.

The park is open year-round and if you are travelling without children you have the luxury of being able to visit outside of school holidays, which will help you avoid the worst of the crowds.

Where to eat
And of course, no discussion of Disneyland Paris would be complete without mention of the mouth-watering dining options available throughout the resort. Within Walt Disney Studios Park itself you will find “Bistrot Chez Rémy” an excellent Parisian bistro serving mouth-watering French cuisine in the themed surroundings of Disney’s “Ratatouille” movie.

Over in the Disney Village, situated conveniently between the two theme parks and the various resort hotels, you will find an abundance of tempting dining options. These include The Steakhouse where you can tuck into steak and chips in a Chicago themed setting; Annette’s Diner a 1950’s themed eatery where your servers whizz around on roller-skates; or for something extra special there is Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where you can watch a live action-packed Cowboys and Indians show whilst chowing down on some hearty Texan fare!

Reservations can be made up to two months in advance, and money-saving Disney Meal Plan pre-paid vouchers are also available for purchase.

How to get there
The nearest airport is Paris Charles De Gaulle, which is approximately 45 minutes away and is well-served by easyJet. Disneyland Paris offers a complimentary shuttle servicefrom the airport to most of its hotels, of which it boasts several, suiting most budgets.

There are also various park entrance ticket options depending on which parks you wish to visit and for how long you wish to stay, but prices start from £38 for an adult and £32 for a child. You can start planning your trip by looking at Disney’s own Disneyland Paris offers.

Bon Voyage!

Island of Brac: the hidden gem of Croatia

You know we like to get a local’s view of the places we write about, so we asked Valentino Jaksic to tell us more about Croatia. He was born on a Dalmatian island in a tourism-oriented town, and lived there for 18 years before moving to Zagreb.

The Croatian Adriatic coast has become a popular holiday destination for British tourists in recent years. However, there are still some undiscovered parts, since most tourists usually only visit Split, Dubrovnik and Hvar. The real gem lies between Split and Hvar: the island of Brac.

Location
The island of Brac is the largest island in Croatian region of Dalmatia. It is easily reachable by a pleasant 50-minute ferry boat ride from Split or via Brac Airport. Even though Brac is the closest island to the Croatian mainland, it remains relatively uncrowded.

History
The island lies at the crossroads of important trade routes between the Croatian mainland and Italy. The abundance of olives and pine trees, and distinctive white stone used for building, ensured early human settlement. This led to the Greek and Roman colonisation of the island.

The Roman colonisation laid the foundation for the tradition of stone excavation on the island. Numerous quarries on the island produce stone of the highest quality: the quality of Brac building stone is famous all around the world.

Interesting fact: Brac quarries provided the stone for the construction of the White House in Washington and Diocletian’s palace in Split.

Climate
The island’s mild climate means that the average temperature on the island is around 25C (77F) during summer, although it often approaches 30C (86F). Sea temperatures reach 24C (75F) and allow swimming in the Adriatic Sea from May to September.

The mild climate has resulted in an easy-going lifestyle and unique cuisine. Cooler evenings are perfect for exploring the towns. Besides various festivals and rich nightlife, strolls along the waterfront are the most popular activity. Restaurants, cafes and bars typically stay open until 2 am.

One of the most popular destinations on the island is the Vidova Gora peak, the highest island point in the Adriatic Sea (780m). Due to its height, the temperature is usually a few degrees lower than on coastline. The highlight of the peak is its incredible panoramic view of the islands of Hvar, Korcula and Vis. The peak is accessible by car or via hiking trails.

Beaches
With a coastline of 175 km (110 miles), the island offers a vast number of different beaches, both public and in private camps. All public beaches offer a wide variety of activities such as boating and surfing.

Zlatni Rat beach is one of the most beautiful pebbled beaches in Europe. It is a highly popular beach located on the southern side of the island.

However, if you value privacy, there are numerous isolated beaches along the road all around the island. A great example is Lovrecina, a sandy beach near the town of Postira.

Summer festivals
Nearly all towns on the island take pride in their culture-oriented summer festivals. Usual events include exhibitions, theatrical performances and folklore evenings. Coastal towns organise Fisherman Feasts every week. During those feasts, local fishermen serve organic fish while singing traditional a cappella klapa music.

The city of Supetar’s summer festival also includes the traditional Brac Film Festival and an urban music festival called Voi’Sa.

Special events in Europe during February and March 2018

During winter, the summer holidays can feel like a million years away. As you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably daydreaming of beaches, sunloungers and sangria, but let me interrupt you for just one second!

Maybe the remedy for the dark nights isn’t a time machine to transport you to summer. Maybe, it’s right on your doorstep…

These ten European festivals are just a short flight away, and will get you over your winter blues in no time!

Carnival of Binche 
Binche, Belgium, 11th to 13th February 2018
The tiny Belgian town of Binche comes alive on the days leading up to Lent, for the Carnival of Binche. During this time, Gilles take to the streets dressed up in elaborate costumes and take part in a variety of events including a confetti battle and orange throwing. The festival dates back to the 14th century and has been declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin
Berlin, Germany, 15th to 25th February 2018
Berlin has long been regarded as one of the most important cultural cities in Europe. It should come as no surprise, then, that their International Film Festival is held in high regard all around the world.

Carnival in Bern 
Bern, Switzerland, 15th February to 9th March 2018
Bern Carnival is one of Switzerland’s most famous festivals, dating back to the 15th century. The city is filled with jesters and performers who take to the street with one particular aim: to awaken the imprisoned bears from their 11-day long winter sleep!

Taste Florence Food Festival
Florence, Italy, 10th to 12th March 2018
Let’s be honest: no trip to Italy is complete without sampling some of the country’s famous cuisine. So why not make it the focal point of your trip? The Taste Florence Food Festival features some of the region’s most famous chefs and producers and is a fantastic place to explore the city’s culinary traditions.

Carnival of San Remo
San Remo, Italy, 11th March 2018
The Mediterranean city of San Remo comes awash with colour during the annual Carnival. This is one of Italy’s most popular yearly events, with TV viewers in their millions tuning in to catch some of the action. The highlight of the celebration is the exquisite flower parade, which features imaginative floats made entirely from flowers.

Medieval Discovery Fair
Palos de Frontera, Spain, 11th to 12th March 2018
Palos de Frontera is a historical town in Andalusia with a rich maritime culture. The Medieval Discovery Fair celebrates the town’s involvement in the discovery of America and the life of Christopher Columbus. Visitors looking for full immersion can take to the cobbled streets fully clad in traditional clothing. It’s just like being taken back to the 15th century!

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival 
Dublin, Ireland, 15th to 19th March 2018
It seems like three-quarters of the world is half-Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, so why not join them? Dublin is, undoubtedly, the heart of the world’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Expect parades, dancing, and of course plenty of pubs. Don’t forget to pack your green hat!

Las Fallas 
Valencia, Spain, 15th to 19th March 2018
Every March, Valencia goes up in flames for Las Fallas Festival. Visitors can watch as huge, intricate dolls take to the streets before being burned on the bonfire. Traditionally, the local people believe that everything bad is then burnt and can be reborn from the ashes.

Barcelona Beer Festival
Barcelona, Spain, 16th to 18th March
“Una Cerveza por favour!” (a beer please!) is a favourite phrase of most holidaymakers in Spain. To put it to good use, pay a visit to the Barcelona Beer Festival. The festival has more than 300 beers to choose from, coming from all around the world. Guests can also enjoy live music and a huge array of street food to line their stomachs!

Keukenhof Tulip Festival
Lisse, The Netherlands, 23rd March to May 2018
Spring is the perfect time to see Holland’s famous tulips in full bloom. During Keukenhof, visitors can enjoy 79 acres of vibrant and colourful flowers, making it one of the largest flower gardens in the world!