Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting out of your Comfort Zone

And boy are we ever.  I recently talked about our splurge on a Liveaboard on a previous post for the Great Barrier Reef diving we'll be doing.  A few changes have been made and along with a new boat, we have a new itinerary.  And one that includes something I swore I would never, EVER do. 

Actual photo taken from the dive we're doing.

  A shark feeding.  Yep, me, the girl who was scared to get in the ocean at one time because a fish could bite me will be watching from a distance of this picture of a full on shark feed.

  Ok, I haven't lost my marbles.  For one, there are many, MANY different types of feeds and this one involves us dropping down the bottom of the sea floor in a specific location and then the boat lowering a trash can full of food.  No one is actually physically feeding the sharks (an excellent way to donate a finger, hand or side of your body to Poseidon) but we are in the vicinity of sharks in full on feeding mode.  That somewhat eased my mind. 

  Second, the liveaboard we'll now be doing is a day longer, includes more dives but automatically does this as one of them.  It's roughly 20 minutes of your hour or so dive but those who have done it say it's something not to be missed.  When we were first looking at liveaboards, part of the reason we chose Taka was because they DIDN'T do this dive in their package.  However, after research and lots of talking, we decided it was worth it to have an extra day at sea, more dives and go with a boat that has a bit more experience than Taka. 

  Enter Spirit of Freedom.

   It's ranked very high in the liveaboard world and every person on our favorite Scuba forum swears by it.  (the other one we really wanted was full, Mike Ball, except for the $4500 pp Ocean View Stateroom.  No thanks Mike, we'd like to pay our mortgage.  For a year)  The boat is very professional, specializes in longer trips to sea and is willing to stop for Minke whales if we see any, more so than others.  Because it's only a day longer but it's going literally out to sea, this trip includes what's called a low-level flight from Cairns to a small island where we'll board. 

  So back to the sharks.  We're not spending the cash on a liveaboard to sit out any dives so we're biting the bullet and facing our fears.  I was always so afraid of these because a) most shark attacks happen when they're being fed.  Not a fun statistic to know when 3 months from now I will be sitting on the sea floor watching this. b) I feel like it could have a detrimental impact on the sharks because well, they're being fed and not looking for food.

 Some fears were calmed by watching videos of this exact dive posted by many, many divers.  Yes, the sharks are very close but why would they want us?  We're not yummy and delicious chum, that's available in the trashcan.  Note to self, do NOT dress up like a trashcan and go diving on Osprey Reef.  And I said some fears, not all.  I'm still terrified.

   As for the environmental impact, the vessels are set on a strict schedule so that no two boats are out there during the same week.  So at most, assuming weather is nice, we're looking at a feeding a week.  Throw in a few weeks of no bookings, bad weather or holidays and you're talking 30 feeds a year.  That made me feel a lot better since the same sharks may not be visiting during that time. 

  So, after watching countless videos, determining the best liveaboard for us and researching how long it takes to get a shark bite victim to shore before they're a goner, we're diving in head first.  :) 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Home Depot Slyness

So, as many of you have noticed, it's Spring.  (finally!  I'm not a winter girl) With spring comes the time when homeowners everywhere spend WAY too much trying to get their yards/house in order so they have pretty things to enjoy in just a few weeks/months.  We are in this category. 

What does this have to do with travel?  Well, we found a way to "capitalize" on the system.  See, we're frequent Home Depot visitors.  So much that every time we go in, a good 20 mins is spent just saying hi to all of the people we know there.  Just earning miles on our Aadvantage credit card wasn't enough to appease my dear hubby.  Nope, we found a way to earn even more miles.

Home Depot is an AA Shopping place where you can shop online for items and earn additional miles through the website.  So, if you go to and find Home Depot, you can earn 3 miles for every dollar spent by ordering through that URL.  Use your Starwood card (that earns you 1.25 miles per dollar) and you're looking at 4.25 miles per dollar spent.  Sweet!

And here's where we take it a step further, as we usually do.  You can order gift cards through this website and earn your 3 miles per dollar on those, paying for it with your Starwood card for 4.25 miles per dollar.  THEN, once you get the card in the mail (which is fast, like 4 days tops) you can turn around and order the items you want through the Aadvantage shopping site, paying for it with your gift card for another 3 miles.  Make sense?  The miles are earned for simply using the site, not a card, so you get miles twice over by using a gift card purchased earlier.  Voila, you now just earned 7.25 miles.

Example:  you priced out a fan you like at Home Depot and it's $100.  You have 2 options:

1) Pay for this fan at your local store and earn 125 miles using your Starwood card.

2) Order a Home Depot gift card online through Aadvantage shopping for $100 using your Starwood card.  Earn 325 miles.  Buy the fan online through Aadvantage shopping, pay for it using your new gift card and select in-store pickup to save on shipping.  Earn an additional 300 miles.  Total= 625 miles

One requires a tad more work than the other, although mostly patience, but the results do not lie.  Order gift cards in larger numbers at one time and you'll always find a way to use them if you're doing home projects!  So if you order a $500 gift card from HD and shop online, you're looking at 3,125 miles. 

Yet another simple way to max out your mileage earning potential. :D

When to Splurge

  I know I've talked a lot about how to save money over and over again by taking advantage of company reward programs but every now and then, there comes a time to splurge.  Whether that's on a special trip, a ridiculously nice meal out or an over the top pair of expensive shoes, it's ok to indulge from time to time.

  Curtis and I talked a lot about where we would splurge on our big trip this year.  To me, the trip itself is a splurge; something I am so lucky to be able to do and grateful to stay in a hostel, much less a nice hotel.  To us, the main highlight of this trip is diving the Great Barrier Reef since it's one of the top places people say you must see/do in your lifetime and we love to dive.  After looking into the locations of the best dive spots, the "splurge" portion of our trip kind of fell in our laps.

  We're going to do a Liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef.

Taka Dive GBR Liveaboard

  Some of the best diving spots on the Reef are located too far out for a day trip, unless you plan to charter a plane to a private island and then take a boat to the bigger boats already there.  Yeah...too much of a splurge!  The main sites we wanted to visit were the Cod Hole and the Ribbon Reefs, two sites that include many diving sites within and tons to see.

  We haven't booked anything yet but I think we've decided on the Taka Liveaboard for 4 days and 3 nights including 10+ dives.  The entire purpose of the boat is to dive so it will be nice to be around divers, marine biologists (who tag along to do research) and people genuinely interested in ocean life.  I'm a little nervous (my worst case scenario mind does that to me) but excited at the idea of living at sea for a few days!

  The itinerary includes:
(click on each name that's underlined to see a picture of the animal)

-Leave Tuesday night to embark on an overnight trip to the Cod Hole

-Cod Hole dive 1- likely sightings include the Giant Potato Cod, Moray Eel, Reef Sharks & Maori Wrasse
-Cod Hole dive 2- Cod Feed; close encounters with the Famous Potato Cod!
Potato Cod

-Pixie's Pinacle/Reef/Wall or Challenger Bay dive 3- likely sightings include Lion Fish, Nudibranchs, Garden Eels & Barracuda

-Night Dive at Challenger Bay dive 4- likely sightings include Cuttle Fish, Seat Turtles, Reef Sharks & Manta Rays

-Clam Gardens dive 5- likely sightings include Giant Clams (200+ years old) anenome

-Steve's Bommie dive 6- sightings include Red Flame File Shell, Stone Fish, Wobeegong Sharks, Turtles & Thousands of schooling Anthias

-Temple of Doom dive 7- sightings include Flatworms & Clownfish

-Night Dive, Beer Gardens dive 8- sightings include sleepy Turtles & Parrot Fish

-Hogs Breath dive 9- sightings include Blue Spot Lagoon Ray & Clown Fish

-Split Bommie dive 10- sightings include Octopus & various Butterfly Fish

This itinerary is their desired dive plan but it can change depending on currents, weather and even time of the year.  We will probably end up skipping a few sites due to the latter.  Why?  As if this dive trip couldn't get any better, we're there during Minke Whale season!

  These whales migrate to Australia every year between May-July and up to 100 may be seen at one time.  There are strict rules in place (as there should be) to prevent harm to these animals but they're very friendly and are likely to approach snorkelers near boats.  They are the Dwarf Minke Whales but don't be fooled!  They run about 8 meters long and weigh up to 5 tons!


WOW!  How many times in your life can you say you swam with whales?!  There, of course, is no guarantee we'll see any but because we're with a dive group solely for 3 days, the boat will stop (by law) and cut the engines so we can jump in the water with them.  Yet another advantage to being on a liveaboard that you just don't get with day trips!

  The experience will be well worth the money and we're thrilled to get the opportunity to see some parts of the ocean most have never seen before.

Have you splurged on travel before?  In hindsight, was it worth it?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eat. Pray. Love. Go.

  One stop I am looking forward to SO much on our trip is Bali.  Everything about this island seems picturesque!  The backdrop of many, many movies, it's the place to go when you want to unwind, relax and get to know yourself all over again.  Yoga is a big part of the way of life in Bali with many resorts offering it as part of the rooms.  Bali was also featured as the last stop by Julia Roberts in "Eat. Pray. Love." and from what we've read, the scenes from that movie barely touch on the beauty of this place!

He's real! His name is Pak Ketut Leyar and if he's feeling ok, we plan to make a stop and see what the future has in store for us.

   This is a place I have always wanted to visit and I can't believe we're going in just 3 short months! We're still trying to pick hotels to stay at (there are a LOT to choose from!) but here are a few of the sights we'll be visiting. Yes, a little Bali eye candy. :)
Pura Danau Batur
Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Uluwatu Temple

Rice Field, Ubud

Unbelievable beauty that I know pictures will not do justice!  We plan to stay on the coast for a few days to dive and then move inland to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali.  The diving in Bali?  Considering the fact that it's relatively close to Fiji, where diving was out of the world, we're looking forward to seeing some wild marine life!

Mola Mola
Garden Eels:  Looks like grass but they're really eels!

Interesting Coral

  So many things to see and do!  We're there for a week and since it's in the middle of our trip, it will be a nice chance to relax between the bustle of Hong Kong and the thrill of Australia!  :)

  One part I'm REALLY looking forward to?  The Balinese massage.  At a top notch spa, massages will run anywhere between $15-20 for 2 hours and 2 people massaging you at once.  For once a spa that I can actually relax at instead of worrying about how much its going to set me back!! Ahhh....

Does it get any better than this?
 I'll blog more on Bali once we nail down our hotels but for now, I'm having fun researching all the things to do around the island!  Anyone or anyone you know been to Bali?  I'd love to hear from you if so!