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2014 Wrap Up

Latitude 34 Year End Wrap Up 2014

Now that it is 2015, we wanted to take a look back at this past year. In just 365 days we traveled to over 30 countries on four continents. Jeff and I also both moved from Thailand. In June I moved back home to California, while Jeff took a new job and relocated to Dubai.

2014 was an amazing year! We got to Climb to the top of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, I started my chalkboard photo series, we went off-roading in the Arabian Desert, we visited the Great Pyramids in Egypt, we went to the Maldives on a budget and got to ride in a sea plane, and we took a husky safari in Lapland, Finland!

We traveled over 32,281 miles around the world and had the time of our lives!

 

2014 Wrap Up

 

 

Bio Photo Marina 150x150 UPDATED: Taking A Chalkboard Around The World (PHOTOS)Marina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her best friend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

Hotel Review: Phuket Arcadia Hilton

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There are many beautiful places around the world and after visiting many of them, Phuket, Thailand will always be one of my favorites. Nothing beats the beautiful ocean and island lifestyle you can find in Phuket, not to mention the amazing Thai food, one of Jeff and my favorites. And just because we lived in Phuket, doesn’t mean we didn’t also enjoy some of the best hotels the island had to offer. I will always treasure the days that we would spend poolside at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton.

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The Spa treatment Villa

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If you’re looking for a 5 star resort experience, look no further. The Phuket Arcadia Hilton is located in the beautiful town of Karon Beach in Phuket. Karon is a great family city in Phuket full of shopping, great restaurants and a gorgeous beach. It is very centrally located to many of the other popular beaches so you can just jump on a motorbike and drive down to Kata or Rawai in the south or head north for a nigh out on the town in Patong.

My favorite part of the Phuket Arcadia Hilton is the Ocean Beach Club Pool, which has the beautiful Andaman Sea as a backdrop. While you’re laying poolside drinking a Piña Colada you can oversea the beautiful ocean in Karon Beach. The pool chairs are extremely comfortable and there are umbrellas just in case it gets too hot. Some of the pool chairs are even in the sand or you can relax in a private cabana and watch the sun set. They play lots of fun music and it’s a perfect place to relax or get ready for a night out!

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King Deluxe Plus Garden

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If you’re looking for something more family oriented, don’t worry the Phuket Arcadia Hilton has something for everyone! They have three pools all together and the Garden Pool is perfect for families to have some fun and even has a great water slide! The third pool is the Seafarer Pool, which is a calmer pool for those looking to just sit back and relax. You can order food or drinks at any of the three pools.

If you’re looking for something else don’t worry there is plenty to do at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton! There is a golf course, a great fitness center, a spa, a jogging track, playground and plenty of activates you can join in on.

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Marquee Lawn

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After a long day of events and swimming, your guest room or suite will not leave you disappointed. Each room has either a ocean view or garden view and have everything you would need for your home away from home. They even have laundry services, childcare and cribs available for the little ones.

Phuket is a great place to visit and after living there for the past two years I have fallen in love with this little tropical island. Phuket is very diverse and really does have something for everyone and staying at the Phuket Arcadia Hilton will only make your experience better. The hotel has everything you would ever need and is located in the great little town of Karon, our home away from home.

Book your room now, as there are currently great rates across Asia Pacific with Hilton Hotels from as low as £28!

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Dinner at Ocean Beach Club

 

 

Review: Survivors Multi Tool

Review: Survival Creek Multi-Tool

 

When traveling there are always tools that can help save you or just make your life a little easier. Jeff and I always try to pack light, so finding a tool that is compact and anything multipurpose is always a plus. We recently tried out the Survival Creek Multi-Tool and thought we’d share what it was like.

Review: Survivors Multi ToolThe Survival Creek Multi-Tool has a needle nose pliers, a file, a large and small flathead screwdriver, an awl, a Phillips head screwdriver, a knife, a saw and even a can and bottle opener.

It was great for us when we needed to do anything from adjusting camping supplies to cutting off the pesky luggage tags you get after a flight, a personal pet peeve of mine.

The size of the tool is great and is small enough to carry with you. It is not too heavy weighing in at only 8.8oz, which is always important when traveling light, and is small enough to fit in your pocket or purse. It even has a perfect little case that can clip onto a belt or a backpack to keep it right where you need it.

Review: Survivors Multi ToolThe needle nose pliers work great for me if any of my jewelry breaks, especially while traveling. It is easy to fix and since I don’t travel with much jewelry, it is perfect to be able to fix what you have! Jeff really enjoyed it to be able to fix our camera gear if anything broke. On the beach in California, my tripod came loose and I was able to pull out the Survival Creek Multi-Tool and tighten it right up!

 

 

The Survival Creek Multi-Tool has the following features:

 

–       Aluminum Anodized Handle

–       Tools are in black oxide

–       Nylon pouch with belt loop included

–       Push button locking/release mechanism

–       Weight: 8.8oz

–       Length (closed) 10.6cm

 

I am happy that I added the Survival Creek Multi-Tool to my backpack of travel essentials. It is the perfect fit and is really handy to have when you need it. Now, I can’t imagine traveling without it!

 

 

Bio Photo Marina 150x150 Is Flying Safe? A Look Into Safety and the Recent Plane CrashesMarina Dominguez is the co-founder of Latitude 34 Travel Blog as well as a photographer and documentary film maker.

As a maturing women, Marina has dedicated her life to travel and new experiences. After working a 9-5 cubical lifestyle, Marina sold everything she owned, left her job and begun a new life with her boyfriend and travel companion, Jeff Johns. Together they relocated to Phuket, Thailand and founded Latitude 34 in which they seek to share their alternative lifestyle with the world. 

Marina is a Visual Journalism graduate of Brooks Institute of Photography where she studied photography, videography and ultimately caught the travel bug. Through creating several international documentaries, Marina realized there was more to the world than work and wanted something more. 

Hotel Review: Four Seasons Singapore

Hotel Review: Four Seasons Singapore

Singapore is one of the most unique and fascinating cities in the entire world. If you are ever traveling through South East Asia and find yourself anywhere close to the city, you really cannot miss a visit. Chances are you will be in nearby Thailand or Malaysia, but very close geographically although they could not be more different culturally and socially. Singapore is a gigantic city with gorgeous skyscrapers, speeding trains and shining, magnificent hotels.

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“Walking through the lobby and main areas it is easy to forget you are in a hotel at all and not a beautiful mideival castle, a strange feeling knowing you are in the middle of a bustling city…”

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We sadly only had 1 night on this trip but spent it wisely at the Four Seasons Singapore, just about as good as you can get in hotel accommodation and we were not disappointed. Four Seasons has long been world renowned as one of the best luxury chains in the world but they don’t settle for just having the reputation of the best, the continue to boldly march into the future, a trend we were frankly surprised to see from such an old school luxury hotel chain, a fact that made us very happy.

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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Singapore

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Free wifi is available to every guest, and extra fast wifi available for an extra charge. We are still surprised at all the luxury hotels which charge for internet, and while the Four Seasons Singapore only offers each rooms complimentary access for two devices, we applaud them for offering a free option to all their guests, a service others in their class still charge for.

Hotel Review: Four Seasons SingaporeWalking through the lobby and main areas, it is easy to forget you are in a hotel at all and not a beautiful mideival castle, a strange feeling knowing you are in the middle of a bustling city, a feat they have somehow pulled off with rare Asian artifacts adorning the walls and an impressive Titanic-esque staircase, leading to the second floor which houses and unbelievably impressive and somewhat hidden feeling Chinese restaurant as well as their conference rooms, and one floor further up an equally impressive indoor lounge and gym and access to one of their two pools.

Back to the ground floor, both their signature restaurant, One-Ninety: Wood Fired Steaks and Seafood and their world famous bar, One-Ninety Bar by Javier de las Muelas are tucked into the layout while remaining inviting yet private at the same time. The restaurant serves up some absolutely delicious steaks and burgers, which we both devoured but the real surprise came at the restaurants breakfast, easily the most complete and stunning spread we have ever seen. With entire sections for different cuisines, different hot and cold areas there was simply nothing you could want for, something rare in a hotel breakfast.

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The One Ninety bar is really more than a bar, its an experience. Carefully and thoughtfully crafted Javier de las Muelas has designed the experience of the bar all around the Dry Martini and the experience of having one made expertly in front of you, it really is a unique and stunning bar experience.

Located close to the airport and walking distance to the Orchid metro stop, the location of Four Seasons Singapore is surprisingly secluded and convenient in the midst of one of Asia’s most impressive cities, and all while maintaining the quality, luxury and expectations you would expect from a Four Seasons hotel, while providing the modern touches you can’t live you life without these days.

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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Singapore

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Airline Review: Finnair

Airline Review: Finnair

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For anyone who knows us or who has read the blog recently, you’ll know how in love we are with Finland and why we think it truly is Europe’s best kept secret – so who said coming and going can’t be just as fun?

Rarely we do have very positive experiences with an airline, and I mean rarely. Thats not to say that every flight we take is a nightmare, but the vast majority of flights do their job in moving us from point A to point B in one piece, or worse case, there is a delay, luggage issue or some other unforeseen problem. Flying from Helsinki to Prague earlier this year we headed to the Helsinki Airport early one morning anticipating an average flight experience, however from the second we entered the airport we knew something about Finnair was different.

FYI: Finnair operates daily shuttles from right outside the Helsinki Central Railway Station that will drop you off right at your terminal. For only a few euros it was a perfect option for us and easier than we imagined.

To start off everyone was exceedingly friendly, and not in a forced way and not overly polite, just downright friendly, and this lasted from the moment we checked in, to the counter staff, Finnair lounge staff, flight crew and stewards, everyone was nothing but helpful, bright and a joy to be around – quite unseen in aviation today.

We ended up arriving to the airport early enough to justify visiting the Finnair lounge for a couple hours before our flight, which ended up being an excellent choice. Complete with free, fast wifi, a complete and impressive breakfast spread, chairs, couches and tables of every size, and most importantly peace and quiet. The lounge is topped off with its own flight schedule with up to the minute flight details, which kept our stress level down and allowed us to relax in the lounge until right before we walked onto the plane.

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“…they have truly found a loyal customer for life and we will always look for Finnair as our first option, we just hope it means we are flying back to Finland.”

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Walking down the walkway to enter the plane we were honestly not expecting much, as we were simply on a short haul flight from Helsinki to Prague. We were lucky enough to have been kindly moved from economy seating to business class, which was totally unnecessary, but again, the kindness of the staff was everywhere. We were close to the first ones on the plane and thrilled with the seemingly extra leg room and comfortable chairs. The business class wasn’t over the top like on some airlines, after all it was a small plane, but to say we were uncomfortable would be a complete lie, it was actually the most comfortable and roomy I had ever been on a flight.

Our flight was on time leaving, arrived early and it was without a doubt the smoothest flight experience we have ever had. No luggage issues, we carried on our bags no issue, no delays, hiccups or anything else to speak of.

Ironically, a few weeks later we needed to fly again and after such a wonderful experience on Finnair the first time we chose it again. This time we did not sit in first class and were shocked to find the economy seats JUST as spacious and comfortable as those in first. I have never been on a flight on any airline (and we’ve flown on 27 already in 2014!) that had as comfortable an economy seating as Finnair did, they have truly found a loyal customer for life and we will always look for Finnair as our first option, and we can only hope we are flying back to Finland – the kindness and hospitality are truly endless.

But don’t take our work for it! Check out this awesome video that Finnair shot recently when they launched their new route from Helsinki to China, I think it helps to illustrate how exactly they go the extra mile in their service and their smiles. With all the stress of travel, when you board an airplane it really is all the little things that make the difference in your flying experience, and step after step Finnair seemed to be right there, with an easy, friendly or fun way to make our journey a little brighter.

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Photo provided via Flickr by takoyaki 77

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jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Hotel Review: Radisson Royal Dubai

Hotel Review: Radisson Royal Dubai

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Having a clean and comfortable place to lay your head is the most important thing when traveling, but sometimes you need more than that to be comfortable, and we don’t blame you. Sure, a simply bed and bathroom is enough to survive, but especially after many months of traveling like we have been doing, feeling like we are at home is our biggest challenge, one that our stay at the Radisson Royal more than accomplished.

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 “…feeling like we are at home is our biggest challenge, one that our stay at the Radisson Royal more than accomplished…”

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Located walking distance from the World Trade Tower metro stop, the outside of the building is honestly quite unassuming – no grand entrance, lavish fountains or golden statues as you might think of in Dubai, but believe us when we say they saved all the beauty and comfort for the inside. However, if you view the two towers from a distance, they are some of the more iconic buildings as far as design goes that make up the Dubai skyline and you can get an especially good view from their amazing pool, more on that later. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was the amazing conference center attached to the lobby. To say it was a conference room would be an understatement, as it was more of a piece of modern art.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 3.48.32 PMThe Origami Meeting Rooms actually made me want to go to a meeting, but lucky for me, the rooms convert into a night club in the evenings o guest can still experience these awesome structures without having to be watching a power point presentation (however, is there a cooler place to watch one?).

The twin towers which comprise the Radisson Royal are laid out to accommodate a perfect mixture of business centers, restaurants, an amazing space, breathtaking pool and gym and while in the hotel you really feel like you are more in a resort than a high rise. I have to be honest and say that during our stay we never once left the hotel in almost three days, there simply wasn’t a single thing we needed outside of its walls, which isn’t to say there isn’t plenty to do in Dubai, but we were so comfortable and relaxed we had no desire to leave.

As we have mentioned in some other reviews, hotel restaurants are never high on our list of must visit places when we visit a new city, but as is the case with much in this city, Dubai does dining differently, and the Radisson Royal was no different. While they have a complete list of restaurants fit for any mood, there is hands down no better Asian restaurant we have eaten at which beats ICHO, their Japanese Sushi and Teppenyaki restaurant which sits perked on their 49-51st floors, high above the city skyline. One of the best restaurant we have ever dined at, the food is breathtaking, the service impeccable and the views as stunning as the meal, a true dining experience like no other and one we will remember for a long time.

So what is the most important part of a hotel stay? The rooms of course, and more specifically the beds! The Radisson Royal have room options for every budget and we chose to splurge a bit and get one of their suites, which felt more like an apartment to us and less like a traditional hotel experience, which was much needed after almost 150 days on the road. The bathroom with its floor to ceiling glass windows, window shades at the click of a button, spacious office space, comfy couch and cloud like bed all made for the homiest hotel stay we have had so far in 2014, and now you understand why we never wanted to leave.

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As for the amenities, good, strong, free WIFI is available throughout the hotel, no nonsense, just a password and you’re set to go. Breakfast is delicious and impressive, whether you eat in the business lounge, in your room or at their variety of restaurants. The pool is gorgeous with an attached bar which serves food. The spa is unworldly and the layout is flawless and the gym is more than impressive for a hotel, complete with complimentary cucumber/lime water, it really is the little things huh?

Radisson Royal is one of the most progressive hotels we have ever stayed at when it comes to adapting with the times and integrating social media into the experience of their hotel. Easily accessible information in the elevators and rooms make it super easy to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as how to share your photos for a chance to win various prizes including discounted meals at ICHO!

Their might only be a handful of Radisson Royal locations in the world but if you ever come close to a city with one (Quito, Moscow, Dubai), make sure to stop in for at least a night to recharge those batteries and relax, we know we will.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

The Complete Guide to Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Last year over 10 million tourists flocked to Phuket, Thailand in search of the perfect beach, delicious food and the perfect exotic vacation. And while Phuket has the beaches, the food and the feel of paradise, it has also developed tremendously fast in the past few years and is struggling the keep up with the constant horde of visitors it receives.

Only a two hour ferry ride off the east coast of Phuket lays the Phi Phi Islands. Made up of Phi Phi Don (the main island) and Phi Phi Lay (a smaller national park), they boast some of the more iconic Thai scenes anyone could imagine. Littered with gorgeous white sand beaches, the water is always that extra bright shade of blue and the snorkeling; diving and water activities are top notch.

In our “Complete Guide to Phi Phi Island” we will give you all the information you need for a complete trip to the islands  and all you need to know to maximize your time in paradise.

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The Complete Guide to Phi Phi Island, Thailand

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How to Get There:

First things first you will need to get transportation from Phuket or Krabi out to Phi Phi Don. Boats leave daily from Phuket, most days at 9am and 2:30pm. A one way ticket will cost you just 250 baht, which a round trip ticket costing 400baht (around $13USD). Tickets are sold on almost every single corner in Phuket and you will have no problem purchasing one. Any hotel will be able to get you one, or any street stand selling tourist activities, as trips to Phi Phi are among the most desired. Your ticket will include a transfer via mini bus from your hotel to the Rassada Pier.

Make sure to buy your ferry tickets BEFORE you arrive at the ferry. If you wait until you arrive at the pier to buy your ticket, you will pay 1,000 baht round trip, almost double what it would cost to get a round trip ticket and transfer to and from your hotel. We got burned by this once, it stings.

The ferry ride itself can vary from day to day as there are about 10 ferries of differing shapes and sizes that sail daily. Some have complete mini bars, comfortable inside seats and generally comfortable accommodations. Others are more bare bones and while they will still get you there, offer less inside seating, no chairs on the deck and less than desirable toilets.  But not to worry, the ride is only about 2 hours and then you are there.

TIP: Stop by one of the many pharmacies around Phuket and ask for Dramamine, or any other pill for motion sickness. A blister pack of 10 pills will cost you around 150B and often really help with the varying degrees of rough seas. Remember to ask for the non-drowsy kind, learn from our mistakes! 

Once you have landed at the pier in Phi Phi Don you will be required to pay a 20baht island tax. This money is collected by the local government to keep Phi Phi clean and beautiful and is hardly a hassle to keep the islands looking as beautiful as they do. Does the money actually go to keeping the islands beautiful – who knows.

The latitude 34 complete guide to phi phi, thailand

Where to Stay:

As you walk down the pier you will undoubtedly be bombarded by Thai locals displaying laminated signs showing pictures of every type of accommodation from high scale resorts (there are only a few) to simple island bungalows (there are tons). A simple fan room can go for as little as 400baht with a private double room with AC for around 900baht. If traveling with a group of friends, try finding a dorm room option. These rooms generally offer between 4-8 beds and can cost as little as 250baht per person (around $10USD).  If you are searching for a nicer hotel, you can find a handful of “luxury options” on the island complete with swimming pools, room service and a gym.

TIP: There are no roads or cars on the Phi Phi Islands so wherever you stay just remember you will have to walk there. The lack of cars make the island experience much more enjoyable and bicycles are available everywhere. However, Phi Phi is small enough to walk anywhere, just remember you will have to carry your luggage or stay in a place that will wheel it around for you. 

For budget accommodations Latitude 34 suggests either Marine House or Ban Thai Guest House.  Both can be easily found off of the main walkway when you enter the island.

Marine House offers a quiet environment with private rooms and dorm rooms available. The kindly provide beach towels, which is super helpful when you forget yours and don’t want to spend the 300baht to buy one on the island. The staff is friendly, helpful and can do your laundry overnight if dropped off by 11am. Just remember to ask for bug spray for your room, sometimes a mosquito or two will find their way in.

Ban Thai is a very popular backpacker guest house run by Miss Lee, an energetic woman who will remember your name from the second you meet her until the minute you leave. Offering more rooms than Marine House, Miss Lee’s Ban Thai Guesthouse is a great place to stay with a group of friends as she has an abundance of twin rooms and is quite used to groups of young friends staying with here. Miss Lee has a row of computers available for those traveling light and without internet connection from day to day. 1 baht per minute.

Miss Lee is also very knowledgeable about all the local tours that are offered around the island. Whether you are looking to visit Maya Bay on Phi Phi Lay (the same beach made famous in the movie “The Beach”), take a day snorkeling trip on a long tail boat, an overnight scuba trip or a day long fishing trip, Miss Lee can set it up, reserve you a spot and make the planning effortless.

Our Recommendation: Both Phi Phi Charlie and Phi Phi Princess are owned by the same people and offer the perfect mix of location, comfort and amenities. While nothing fancy, their rooms are comfortable, have free wifi and aircon. An average double room will cost about $50 a night and adding an extra bed will cost you around $15. They also offer a family room which can sleep 4 people comfortably. Easily the best bonus to staying here is their amazing infinity pool looking out over the amazing Tonsai bay. Many chose to spend their hungover mornings and rowdy afternoons in the pool by the swim up bar, easily the best pool on the island and a great place to mingle with other travelers. The cost of the room includes a great breakfast buffet, thai and western food and both sets of rooms (Charlie and Princess) are a short 1 minute walk down the beach from Slinky Bar and Woodies, where you will most likely be ending you night.

TIP: Unless you are staying at a high-end hotel make sure to bring soap and shampoo with you, as many of the budget options do not provide them.

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Thanksgiving in Thailand, What We Are Thankful For

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What to Do:

As for activities and things to do on Phi Phi Don in the sun, the list is pretty endless. There are gorgeous beaches all over the place and its up to you how far you want to walk to find your perfect spot in the sand.  The twin beaches at the heart of Phi Phi Don are pretty spectacular but are always crowded with tourists from sun up to sun down. We suggest paying 100baht for a short 5 minute trip on a local long tail boat to drop you off at Long Beach, one of our favorite beaches on the world. Just as beautiful as the rest, Long Beach boasts way less tourists than many of the other beaches and is well worth the time to get there. You can walk to Long Beach from the main drag, but it will take about 20 minutes and is very hilly.

TIP: If you go to Long Beach visit the small restaurant on the sand and try their Penang Curry sandwich, its delicious!

The majority of visitors to Phi Phi are young backpackers and many are inspired to visit Phi Phi to visit Maya Bay and say they have been to “The Beach”. Speedboats and longtails make the trip all day long and you can rent them by the hour. The longtail boats seat about 6 comfortably and can be had for 1,000Baht an hour. The speed boats vary in size and how many people the can hold, and can go for up to 5,000baht an hour.

TIP: Bring snacks with you on any day trip to Phi Phi Lay. Remember, it is a national park and almost completely undeveloped. There is nothing more than a small set of bathrooms and a shack that sells overpriced canned beer and potato chips. Stop in one of the many mini marts before you leave and grab a back of goodies for the day.

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The Complete Guide to Phi Phi Island, Thailand

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If you want to maximize your time, or only have an afternoon to fit in all you can, we suggest taking an afternoon trip which will include a boat out to Phi Phi Lay for afternoon snorkeling (fins and masks included), a trip past the famous Viking Caves, a sunset trip to Maya Bay (so much nicer once all the tourists have left), a complete Thai meal on the boat and some include night snorkeling with phosphorescent plankton.  We recommend making sure it is NOT a full moon if you want to do the plankton snorkeling as the light, even at night, makes them almost impossible to see.

Many half and full day trips like this are available all over the island and range in price from 400b for a half day to 1,2000b for the plankton version.

Once the sun sets on the island, everything gets a bit more exciting. The volume gets turned up, and the main area of the island becomes the ultimate party playground. But before you go too crazy you’ve got to eat, and we have a couple places we would suggest to fill your stomach before you enjoy too many buckets on the beach.

Where to Eat:

Consistently rated number one is a small restaurant called Anna’s. It is located up the first side street off the main drag you find yourself on when you walk off the pier. Anyone who has been on the island more than 10 minutes will be able to show you the way. Despite its popularity, it is a small place, maybe 10 tables or so, and remains authentic, friendly and offers delicious western and Thai food. Free internet, delicious shakes and a wonderfully knowledgeable staff make this a great place for a quick bite to eat or a place to hang out for hours and relax.

The latitude 34 complete guide to phi phi, thailand

Breakers is as close as you are going to get to a true sports pub. Located next to the world famous Reggae Bar (which we’ll talk about next), they offer large comfortable wooden tables, an open atmosphere for anyone walking up off the street and have a wide selection of beers on tap. Their food is both delicious and fairly priced and an excellent place to meet friends, hang out and people watch or catch a game on TV.

TIP: Along with the sit down restaurants are endless rows of stalls selling all varieties of street food and no trip to Thailand would be complete without trying a few random things.  Meat on sticks is a great way to go, whether you are trying fried fish balls, spicy beef, chicken, pork, who knows, but it all tastes delicious. The kebabs and samosas are amazing as are the banana pancakes. Trust us, after a couple drinks you will try some street food, no matter how much of a stomach ache you think it will give you.

At this point we have covered getting to Phi Phi, where to stay, what to do in the sun and where to eat, so now comes the most exciting part… what to do at night!

 

Night Life:

Phi Phi is a constant party when the sun goes down, 7 days a week 365 days a year, and even if you are not a big partier, some things are not to be missed.

Most people coming to Phi Phi have come from Phuket, where the idea of going to a bar swarming with bar girls and lady boys has lost its charm (if it ever had any).  Phi Phi provides a much needed relief as there are no lady bars, bar girls or stripper poles in sight while offering some awesomely entertaining events in their place.

Before you head down to the beach for the real fun, make sure you stop into Reggae Bar, located right next door to Breakers. Offering anyone who wants to the chance to Muay Thai fight, you are sign up to fight a friend, your grandpa (yes, we’ve seen this), or a complete stranger. If you put your life on the line and enter the ring you are given the necessary safety equipment (headwear, gloves, shorts) and you will be given a free bucket of booze upon the completion of your 3 rounds in the ring. Buckets at Reggae Bar are 2 for 1, and are 400b each.

TIP: Buckets are popular all over Thailand as the fun and exciting way to drink your alcohol. The literally take a bucket, the kind you built sandcastles with on the beach when you were a kid, and load them up with an abundance of the alcohol and mixers of your choosing. Complete with multiple straws, it’s a fun way to share a drink with friends, but be warned, they are strong, you are drinking a literal bucket of alcohol after all.

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The latitude 34 complete guide to phi phi, thailand

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It’s wildly entertaining to watch two liquored up backpackers go at it in the ring, with rarely any idea what they are doing between them. Every 5 fights or so real muay thai fighters enter the ring and show off some amazing moves. Part acting and part real boxing it is some of the most entertaining muay thai we have seen as it is as hard hitting as the real thing with added excitement. We have seen muay thai fighters get thrown out of the ring as well as the poor ref getting a swift kick to the nuts.

When you have seen all there is to see at Reggae Bar, follow the crowds down to the beach and find yourself a seat on the sand in front of one of the many, many beach lined bars, each displaying their own fire show. “Poi” reigns king of late night activities and it is never boring to watch people play with fire. We recommend “Slinky Bar”, directly to your left as you walk on to the beach. Music pounding from all the bars, the stakes are quite high as performers juggle flaming torches, spin sparkling spools soaked in petrol and even balance on wires balancing flaming wheels on their heads. The shows start each night, 7 days a week, around 8:30pm and last late, late into the night.

If watching the performers isn’t entertaining enough for you, just wait until they bust out the flaming jump rope and flaming limbo pole, both designed for crowd participation. Those brave enough are welcome to try their hand at jumping a flaming jump rope and the super brave can even try the double flaming jump rope, or try going doubles with another brave friend.

The latitude 34 complete guide to phi phi, thailand

After the crowd has gotten their thrills from the jump rope of death, they will bring out the flaming hoop and flaming limbo pole. If you are sensing a theme here, its high stakes drinking.

Egged on by friends and a free shot for attempting either, sit back and relax watching dozens and dozens of wobbling kids jump, swerve, stumble, fall and fling themselves through the burning obstacles and dance the night away.

TIP: Once the tide goes out, it goes OUT. When you arrive at the beach past dark you will not be able to see the water at all as it has gone out sometimes up to 100 yards. (if you aren’t American and speak in meters, that’s the length of a football field… real football, American football.) Take a stroll out as far as you can walk, enjoy the striated beach below your feet and watch the pulsing lights and listen to the conflagration of music from way out in the wet sand, it’s a very cool experience.

So that’s it! You’ve got all you need to know for a complete trip to Phi Phi. You know how to get there, where to stay, places to eat and how best to enjoy yourself. If you find yourself in Phuket or are planning a trip to Thailand in the future, we highly suggest taking a trip to Phi Phi and enjoying one of the coolest beach communities we have come across. Whether you want to party til the sun comes up, relax at a quiet beach or finally conquer your fear of scuba diving, Phi Phi offers it all, all while preserving that perfect image of paradise you’ve had in your head for years.

So have fun, be safe, bring your sunscreen and take the leap!

Cheers!


Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

Why Finland is Europe’s Best Kept Secret

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In September of last year, Marina and I happened to meet a friendly older couple at our friends pub in Phuket, Thailand where we were were living. Upon finding out they lived in Finland, we were immediately fascinated by the country and their excitement and love for Finland rubbed right off on us. Within six months we had planned a winter holiday to both the north and the south of the country, a trip that would take us to the far northern city of Salla in Lapland and down to the metropolitan capital of Helsinki in the south. After a year in Thailand, we were thrilled to explore the wintery adventures that Finland had in store for us and by mid March of this year we were on a plane to Helsinki where we would soon found out why Finland is Europe’s best kept secret.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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Over the next few months we will be introducing our new series “Finland Fridays” which will feature a new article, review, video or photo gallery each week highlighting a different part of our amazing Finland experience. From a husky safari to reindeer racing, the vibrant design district of Helsinki, walking tours of Suomenlinna, to world class restaurants, ice swimming above the Arctic Circle and taking snowmobiles to the Russian border, Finland Fridays will showoff the best of Finland through our eyes and show you why we believe Finland is Europe’s best kept secret and a country we are now completely in love with.

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“We immediately felt like we were in a dream, placed in a snow globe, living in a postcard…”

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Now, I have to be honest and say that not only did I not have Finland on my must visit list, I didn’t even know a single person who had ever visited the country when we started planning our trip. All of Scandinavia was a mystery to me and we were excited to explore the country, we really had no idea what to expect. We started our trip by flying directly to Kuusamo, Finland, just below the Arctic Circle and then driving north two more hours to the absolutely stunning little town of Salla, with a population of just over 4,000 people – and more than 15,000 reindeer. We immediately felt like we were in a dream, placed in a snow globe, living in a postcard.

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From the moment we arrived at the Sallatunturin Tuvat hotel, we were met by the warmest staff and an unbelievable Lappish meal at their cozy restaurant. We chose to stay in one of their cabins, which truly redefined our image of a cabin in the woods, complete with all the amenities of home, plus a traditional Finnish sauna of course. Finland offered us all that we love about Europe, the amazing architecture, phenomenal food, fascinating history and local charm while avoiding the typical downfalls of bigger European and remaining one of the cleanest, safest and most beautiful countries we have ever visited. By far the best part about Finland are the people, whom are the most welcoming, polite, cheerful and passionate people we have ever met.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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During the next ten days we took a husky safari, rode snowmobiles, went ice fishing, got our reindeer drivers license, took an overnight train to Helsinki, explored the design district, ate some of the most amazing food we have found yet and absolutely fell in love with a country and people we knew nothing about. Traveling is about exploring, learning, experiencing and getting to know the world around you, the places you only hear about and meeting people you will never forget.

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So sit back and join us for the next few months as we introduce you to our new favorite country and let us show you why Finland is Europe’s best kept secret. Check back each and every week for Finland Friday’s, follow us on twitter at @lat34travel and hashtag any comments or questions with #finlandfridays34, we can’t wait to show you all that Finland has to offer and cannot wait to visit Finland in the summer months to see the other side of this amazing country.

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Why Finland is Europe's Best Kept Secret

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Radisson Blu Alcron

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Alcron, Prague

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Prague is one of the most picturesque cities in all of Europe and a city which manages to attract loads of tourists a year while still maintaining a certain charm and undiscovered vibe. We recently spent a weekend in Prague and wanted to experience some of that same classic era atmosphere where we stayed, and the Radisson Blu Alcron was a fantastic pick. Located a stones throw from the Mustik metro stop right off of Wenceslas Square right in the middle of town.

Radisson Blu AlcronWalking in the front door we were immediately greeted by a warm bellman, happy to help us with our bags without being overbearing and making us uncomfortable, a fine line if you ask me. The hotel entrance opens to a beautiful lobby designed in the art deco motif with modern touches throughout. The Alcron boats a Michelin star-rated restaurant as well as a gorgeous and inviting coffee shop and bar.

The building itself is as old as it is classy, with age old touches throughout the hotel. The rooms are spacious, and offer all the modern amenities you could ask for while maintaining the classic feeling of an old, grand hotel. The furniture is comfortable, beds as well and the large bathrooms provide more than enough space and privacy for a couple or a family.

The internet is of course free, as it is at all Radisson Blu locations, however, the wifi in our room was awful and as soon as we took more and a couple steps into our room, it cut out. Ironically, the only place we could grab the wifi signal while in the room was if we were sitting on the toilet. Everywhere else in the hotel the wifi worked fine, so just make sure to check when you get into your room if being always connected is of importance to you during your stay. As with many old buildings, sometimes the wifi signal gets a bit confused and cut off in certain areas. The only complaint that we had at the Alcron was the extra charge if we wanted to use the Nespresso coffee machine in the room. In previous Radisson Blu locations the use of the Nespresso machine has been complimentary, which we of course prefer.

Of course we couldn’t review a hotel without talking about the breakfast. For anyone who has read this blog, you might have come across Marina’s post Hotel Breakfast is all about the Eggs. Interestingly, she wrote that post just a couple days before we checked into the Alcron Hotel, where, after three months of travel, she finally found her holy grail of eggs… the chef manned, cooked-to-order egg station.  Breakfast includes gourmet coffee of your choice, a VAST array of breakfast foods (including individual Nutella packets!). My favorite breakfast buffet item is the fresh squeezed orange juice machine, something we have only seen at three hotels this year. The made to order omelets were amazing, its surprising how much a little taste of homemade food can brighten your day when you travel.

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Radisson Blu Alcron

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We would happily stay at the Radisson Blu Alcron again when we are in Prague next and can’t think of a more classy, comfortable and centrally located hotel close enough to the center of town to see it all but set off enough to enjoy a quiet stay.

Rooms start at $150 and include free internet.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Radisson Blu Sky Hotel

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu Sky Tallinn, Estonia

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I have to be honest that Estonia was not on our original list of cities to visit during our whirlwind trip through Europe. After we found ourselves in Helsinki and learned how easily we could jump on a ferry to Tallinn, the quant capital city of Estonia, we leaped at the chance. The Tallink Silja ferry takes only two hours from nearby Helsinki and drops you off right close to downtown. We were instantly delighted by the charm of Tallinn and, although we only had 24 hours to explore, we had tons on our to do list, and there was no better place to stay the night than the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel. Although we tend to book smaller, boutique hotels, the Radisson Blu line has developed an amazing line of locations which provide all of the benefits of a larger hotel chain with the added comforts of the smaller boutique hotels that we love.

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“We were greeted by one of the most impressive breakfast spreads we have come across yet, complete with everything you could ever dream for, and then some…”

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Newly renovated in May 2013, the lobby instantly feels more like a design hotel than a chain. Individual check in counters are staffed by polite staff, and across the lobby is a super hip, sprawling bar, complete with deep purples and unique design elements. Walking into the lobby made us excited for our stay, not the usual at many hotels we walk into.

Our room was on the 22nd floor, which gave us amazing views over all of Tallinn, highly recommended as the skyline of old Tallinn truly looks ancient and is full of picturesque church spires. As soon as we walked in we were met with the views, the most comfortable looking beds and a light, airy interior which felt nothing like a traditional hotel room.  Seeing as most hotel rooms are similar in nature, as we always say, its the little things which make all the difference. The Nespresso coffee maker, individual slippers and bathrobes and plush, comfy chairs make for a luxurious homely feel as soon as you walk in.

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The hotel features an amazing Spa on the 24th floor, a full gym and what they call “Super Breakfast”. If you travel frequently this one should excite you, and it lives up to its name. We were greeted by one of the most impressive breakfast displays we have come across yet, complete with everything you could ever dream for, and then some. Hotel breakfasts are about two things, quantity and quality, and the super breakfast at Radisson Blu Sky exceeded in both categories.

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Internet is free, as it is at all Radisson Blu locations, and is not only fast but easy, no passcode username nonsense. Late check out is available pretty much as late as you want, and with Radisson Blu’s “one touch” system you can simply pick up the phone and have any question or concern you can think of handled simply at the touch of a button.

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Radisson Blu Sky Hotel

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It was a shame we were only able to spend one night in Tallinn and absolutely loved our stay although it was short. Tallinn is definitely on our list of must visit places whenever we return to Europe and we cannot wait to explore the old city again and we know exactly where we will be staying.

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Airline Review: Wizzair

Airline Review: Wizz Air

Budapest had been on our list of cities in Europe to visit, but it wasn’t until this year that we found ourselves close enough to pay the city a visit. And while we have flown on some of the most popular budget airlines in Europe this year, we also hadn’t heard of Hungarian’s most popular budget airline, Wizz Air, until this year either. Easily the cheapest option to and from Budapest from countless cities, we chose to book our outbound travel from Budapest to Istanbul with Wizz Air.

We found a super cheap one way flight, however we made the mistake of waiting to purchase the seats and although they went up in price a bit they were still the cheapest option. As with any budget airline, the single most important thing to a problem free journey is making sure you sign up for every available add on you will need on your flight. We always travel light so we opted to check one small suitcase each as well as each paying a little extra for a large in-cabin backpack.

Unfortunately, we make the mistake of thinking Marina’s purse wouldn’t count as a cabin bag, and even though one small cabin bag is free, if you bring two, you’ll pay for both. Important note to remember, ALWAYS make sure to include your add ons when you purchase your ticket instead of showing up to the airport with an extra bag. Marina’s purse was going to cost an additional 70 euros, more than the flight itself, so we had to make room in our checked bag for it before completing the check in process. Note that the 70 euro price is a penalty price for adding a bag last minute, and not the normal rate if booked ahead of time.

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“We were happily surprised to find that Wizzair allows the most weight for checked bags of any budget airline…”

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TIP: If you are flying into Turkey as we were, remember to apply for and pay for your Turkish visa online before arrival. Starting April 1, you must buy your visa online prior to arrival. $20 US per person.

Speaking of checked bags, we have to admit that while the 70 euro additional fee price tag shocked us, we were happily surprised to find that Wizz Air allows the most weight for checked bags of any budget airline. Where RyanAir and easyJet only allow 15 and 20kg per checked bag, Wizz Air allows a massive feeling 32kg, which was more than enough for us, even after adding Marina’s purse.

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Airline Review: Wizzair

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Now, while we are not big fans of all the extra comfort charges budget airlines charge, the extra 4 euros for priority boarding is probably the one we would chose the most. Seeing as all flights have open seating, being the first one on and off is a huge plus and while worth the small fee. In addition, Wizz Air now offers their “Wizz Privilege Pass”, a concept which we have been wanting to see in the airline industry for a long time. The Wizz Pass offers frequent flyers a membership which allows one free cabin bag and priority boarding for only 99 euros a year, which can pay off very quickly, and while Wizz Air is based in Hungary, they offer a large variety of flights to many popular European destinations.

To our surprise Wizz Air boasts one of the best on time records in Europe and routinely scores higher than not only other budget airlines, but the big boys as well. Our flight as on time, the seats comfortable, the planes bright purple and impossible to miss and the in flight crew was helpful and accommodating.

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Airline Review: Wizzair

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

Hotel Review: Pullman Brussels Midi

Hotel Review: Pullman Brussels Midi

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For many travelers making their way around Europe, the majority unfortunately jump straight from Paris to Amsterdam without making a stop in Belgium. While Brussels might not have the world famous monuments or attractions of some of Europe’s larger cities, Belgium is a gem of city with a vibrant feel and is not to be missed.

While we also planned to go from Paris to Amsterdam, we made it an absolute point to visit Brussels and we had not only one of our best meals, but also one of our most comfortable hotel stays in the last two months of travel at the Pullman Brussels Midi. Located directly adjacent to the train and bus station, the Pullman Brussels is a newly opened 4 star hotel right in the heart of the city an easy walk to some amazing neighborhoods with wonderful restaurants and bars.

Pullman Brussels Midi has taken what could easily be a very bland location with a traditional hotel and turned their location into a true testament to design and integrating their space, into a beautiful hotel space which not only offers above expected amenities but a beyond comfortable stay in the heart of Brussels.

Hotel Review: Pullman Brussels MidiThe lobby is as much a hotel reception area as a modern work of art, combining comfortable spaces, a unique hotel check in area and design elements integrated flawlessly together. The first thing we noticed as we excited the elevator to our floor was how wide the hallways were. No crammed, dark hallways. Our room was bright, airy and beautifully designed. As in the lobby, elements of beautiful European design made us feel as we were staying in a designer store with a bed.

With so many hotels sharing similar features, it really is the little things that make all the difference, whether you are staying for one night or several. The Pullman Brussels Midi not only has a fresh and beautiful interior but also features a couple unique things that made our stay just that much better. Each room offers a gigantic shower fit for a king, but even better yet, the toilet itself is in a separate room as to keep the two apart. Not traditional, but a great layout choice in our opinion. And our favorite perk was the over 150 movies for FREE offered on the in room TV entertainment system. Its about time that hotels adopt the strategy that many airlines do in offering a large number of on demand movies. Long gone are the days of paying $5.99 to watch a movie in a dingy hotel room, and we for one are thrilled to change with the times, never in a million years did we think we would be able to curl up in a comfy bed in Brussels that felt like home and watch Jurassic Park.

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“The Pullman Brussels Midi simply offers one of the most comfortable hotel stays we have enjoyed in all of Europe…”

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The hotel additionally offers an amazing gym and spa, classy bar and wonderful restaurant. If you stay the night, spend the extra money for the breakfast, it is well worth it. Not the normal options of just yogurt, bread and apple juice. The Pullman Brussels Midi offers an impressive spread full of fresh fruit, made to order coffee, a fresh squeezed orange juice machine, hot breakfast dishes, sweet breads, aged meats and cheeses and of course all the fixings. Again, a step above the rest and a great way to start your day exploring Brussels.

The Accor brand offers some of the best hotel choices in the world and has hotel brand options for just about any budget, and they have hit a home fun with their new Pullman Brussels Midi location. We absolutely loved our stay and while brief, we intend to seek out other Pullman locations in the future.

So while Brussels might not be on your list between Paris and Amsterdam, we’ve found one more reason to plan another trip back to explore the city and we know exactly where we will be staying.

Prices start at 99 euros and include free hi speed internet, 150 free on-demand movies and complimentary in room bottled water.

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Hotel Review: Pullman Brussels Midi

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.H . jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!

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