Aloha to Oahu – Review of Private Driver Services with Oahu Spot Tours

A rented car, a family filled with nervous drivers and the majesty of the Hawaiian Islands … Which of these three things do not belong?  It was the first two of those items that led us to sign up with Ron at Oahu Spot Tours for our family’s trip to Hawaii this past May.

I booked the services of Ron’s company after reading the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Oahu Spot Tours on TripAdvisor.  Ron was quick to respond to my emails and offered up some very helpful suggestions for structuring our trip. Since this was our first time in Hawaii, we opted for a full day private tour of Oahu.

Ron picked us up at our hotel (see my earlier review of the Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk for more details on our accommodations) at 7:30 am to begin our excursion. Our mode of transportation for the day was Ron’s comfortable nine-passenger Mercedes-Benz minibus. In addition to a friendly smile, Ron greeted us with box of warm malasadas – Portuguese doughnuts which are a popular breakfast treat in Hawaii.

Our first stop of the day was a scenic overlook that gave us some wonderful panoramic views of Honolulu with Diamond Head off in the distance.

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View of Waikiki

Ron then drove us around the Island to take in several other scenic spots.

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View 2

Oahu Spot Tours Scenic View 1

For lunch, we made a stop at a traditional shrimp stand.

Oahu Spot Tours Fumis Shrimp Truck

Despite the fact that we were purchasing seafood, off the back of a truck, on a warm Spring day, even my usually overly-cautious, food-squeamish Partner F enjoyed the delicious garlic shrimp scampi.

Oahu Spot Tours Shrimp Truck Lunch

Right next door was a shop, run by a friend of Ron’s where we purchased a hand carved tiki statue …

Oahu Spot Tours Carved Tiki Shop

… that we had personalized with our names.

Oahu Spot Tours Handcarved Tiki Shop

Don’t worry, we made sure we bought an “un-cursed” one.

Over the course of the day, we also made stops at the Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm (free samples galore!) and the Dole Plantation.

We then headed up to the North Shore of Oahu where we took in a little sea turtle viewing from a respectable distance …

Oahu Spot Tours Sea Turtle

…. before Ron drove us back to our hotel and bid our little group farewell with a nice gift of kukui nut leis.

Oahu Spot Tours Ron

In addition to our day-long tour of Oahu, Ron handled our transfers to and from the airport and drove us out to Pearl Harbor where we visited the USS Arizona Memorial and other naval exhibits.

Our Oahu itinerary included many of the same stops that are featured on the numerous “circle island” group tours.  That said, Ron was great at keeping “one step ahead” of the big tour buses. The advantage of working with Oahu Spot Tours was that Ron was able to tailor the excursion to our preferences and allow us to enjoy the day at our own speed. However, what really made the day special was that during our 7+ hours on the road with him, Ron made us all feel like members of his extended family.  Ron and his company Oahu Spot Tours truly embody the “Aloha Spirit” of Hawaii.

Have you ever visited Oahu? What were your impressions of the island?


The Big Three Points Currencies – Hedging Against Future Devaluations

Periodic devaluations of miles and points programs are a fact of life (check out my Burn Points Baby Burn post for a further discussion of this topic).  If you’re going to play the Pointing “game,” you should be aware that one day you can wake up and find one of your “anchor” loyalty programs will suddenly be worth a whole lot less (as happened to me with the recent United Devaluation).  However, there are ways you can blunt the impact of these occurrences.

Big Three Points Currencies

Specifically, you can participate in a loyalty program that doesn’t lock you into a single airline or hotel brand.  As I try to hedge against future potential devaluations, I’ve found it useful to direct my spending towards accumulating the following “Points Currencies.”

Chase Ultimate Rewards

Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred on a 1:1 basis into the following airline and hotel loyalty programs:

Ultimate Rewards Travel PartnersIn addition, you can choose to transfer your points to yourself, spouse or domestic partner.

Starwood Preferred Guest

The great thing about the Starwood Preferred Guest program is that you can redeem Starpoints at over 1,100 hotels & resorts in nearly 100 countries worldwide. Starwood has a broad geographic footprint and brand diversity. The major Starwood Brands include Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, Le Meridien, St. Regis, Four Points and several others.

You can also transfer your Starpoints (in the majority of cases on a 1:1 basis) into the frequent flyer programs of the following airlines:

Starwood Airline Transfer Partners

Plus, for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer you receive a Bonus of an additional 5,000 points!  In addition, the Starwood Preferred Guest program offers a Member-to-Member Transfer feature.  This allows a member of the same household to move Starpoints between accounts.  The terms for such a transfer state “Both accounts must have been active with the same address on each for at least 30 days.”

American Express Membership Rewards

Finally, the American Express Membership Rewards program further expands your options for both airline …

Membership Rewards Airline Transfer Partners

… and hotel transfer partners.

Membership Rewards Hotel Transfer Partners

As you can see, by collecting one or a combination of these Points Currencies you not only expand your redemption options but also protect yourself by spreading the risk across different programs.  That way, a major devaluation doesn’t have to be a miles & points “extinction level event.”

But how do you collect these “Points Currencies”?  Stayed tuned for a couple of my future posts where I provide you with some options and ways to maximize your Pointing opportunities.

How about you? Do you accumulate any of the Big Three Points Currencies? What do you think of the programs?


Hotel Marincanto Positano Review – Hercule Poirot Should Have Slept Here

Agatha Christie does a great job of situating Hercule Poirot in some pretty luxurious locations. Whether its’s a carriage on the Orient Express, a Nile steamer or a secluded Black Sea resort, if you’re going to have a murder you might as well have someplace comfortable for the great French … sorry Belgian … detective to interrogate the suspects.

It’s that combination of 1920’s glamour in a spectacular setting that characterized our stay at the Hotel Marincanto in Positano this past July.  Minus, of course, a dagger embellished body lying face down in the lobby.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Lobby View to Breakfast Room

Our driver Salvatore “Junior” (check out my earlier post on Driving Mr. Daisy for more details on our tour of the Amalfi Coast the day before) dropped us off at the hotel and we made our way from the street level entrance into a small glass-walled elevator that brought us down to the main reception area.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Lobby Reception Desk

Our check-in experience began with a warm welcome from Enza who was manning the front desk that afternoon.  Enza was bright, enthusiastic and promised that she would make our stay very special as we were there to celebrate a “Signature Birthday” for my Partner F. As we arrived, another guest was saying good-bye and declaring that this was her third time staying at the the hotel and that her stay was absolutely perfect … a very promising sign! Note: This was in contrast to our previous check-in at the Hilton Sorrento Palace (See my Staging Hotel post for more details.).

We arrived around noon and Enza informed us that our room would not be ready for about about an hour.  We stored our bags and took the opportunity to start familiarizing ourself with our surroundings and decided to enjoy the sun on one of the hotel’s numerous outdoor terraces.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace First Impressions

As soon as we walked outside the spectacular views confirmed that we picked the right hotel for our stay in Positano. We had to wait about 1.5 hours until our room was ready.  However, we had arrived early and I can think of worse places to cool our heels.

We reserved a Junior Suite and were assigned Room 212.  Shortly after settling in, Enza sent a small welcome gift to our room …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Welcome Prosecco Before

… which after consumption sparked the need for an afternoon nap.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Welcome Prosecco After

It’s a good thing that our room was comfortable! Our Junior Suite included a small table and two chairs and an antique chest of drawers,which along with a hallway closet, provided ample storage space.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Room View

The room also featured two generously scaled arm chairs …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Seating Area

… a flat-screen television, DVD player and refrigerator.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Room View with Chairs and Tables

Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.  However, I found that signal strength and speed was a bit spotty (though still functional) in our room.

The bathroom was spacious and had a picture window that opened onto the room’s terrace.  This ensuite doesn’t have a tub. However, the water pressure in the shower was strong and the towels and bathrobes passed the “generous, white and fluffy” test.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite Bathroom

Although I found the facilities to be very clean, I do have to admit that the shower stall could have stood with a bit of “freshening up” … perhaps some new grout and a new shower head would do the trick.

The queen sized bed was comfortable.  However, you should be forewarned that the bed is unusually short (e.g., my Partner F and I are far from being long-legged and we found that we each “just fit” lenghthwise on the mattress.).

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Bed

Along with the rest of the hotel, the room featured vaulted, high ceilings, tile floors and bright white-washed walls that wonderfully framed the blue ocean visible from the Juliet balcony at the foot of the bed.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Balcony View Morning

At night we would leave the window open and go to sleep listening to the sounds of the waves washing up on the shoreline below.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Balcony View Afternoon

In addition to the Juliet balcony, we enjoyed the room’s small private terrace …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 View from Exterior

That included a table and two chairs …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Junior Suite 212 Private Balcony

Note: There’s a small walking path right below the terrace which somewhat reduces the privacy and seclusion of the room.  However, there isn’t a lot of foot traffic on the path.  In addition the view you get from the terrace greatly compensates for this minor issue …

Hotel Marincanto Positano View from Junior Suite 212 Balcony

… now there’s a vista that’s truly toast-worthy!

Hotel Marincanto Positano View from Balcony Prosecco Toast

The terrace was also where I enjoyed my daily limoncello nightcap.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Evening Limoncello Nightcap on Balcony

Of course, following an evening filled with wine, prosecco and limoncello, it was nice to know that a buffet breakfast was included in our room rate.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast in Sunglasses

Along with my morning cappuccino, I was able to fill up on fruit and cereal …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Fruit and Cereal

… cheese and a wide variety of Italian cured meats …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Meat and Cheese

… and pastries!

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Buffet Pastries

On a rainy day, we could have eaten indoors.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Breakfast Room

However, we were fortunate that the perfect July weather allowed up to enjoy our morning meal alfresco everyday on the Marincanto’s dining terrace.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace for Breakfast

The hotel’s other outdoor features include an infinity pool and private sun deck.  However, we skipped those amenities on this trip and made the LONG TREK DOWNSTAIRS …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Stairs down to Beach

To the pebble beach at the base of the cliffs below the hotel.  The facilities “downstairs” include a beach club which provided toilets and changing rooms, rented beach chairs and featured a restaurant …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Beach Club

Where we enjoyed some great oceanside lunches …

Hotel Marincanto Positano Beach Club Lunch

Hotel Marincanto Beach Club Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

… and spent a couple of lazy days drinking Campari and sodas as we watched the yachts bobbing in the water.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Drinks on the Beach

We really enjoyed our stay and will likely make the Hotel Marincanto our “go to” choice for lodging on future trips to Positano.  The Marincanto is conveniently located just down the street from some interesting shops and only a five minute walk to the center of town.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Exterior View

There are certainly more exclusive and famous options for hotels in Positano.  However, the Hotel Marincanto offers distinct character, Mediterranean charm, spectacular views and upscale amenities at a price point that, while not inexpensive, puts it in the category of “attainable luxury.”  More importantly, the Marincanto’s entire staff creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere for all of its guests.

That said, I was somewhat “disappointed” that our stay at the Hotel Marincanto was noticeably free from Agatha Christie-style drama.

Hotel Marincanto Positano Outdoor Terrace Flowers

I guess, we’ll just have to save the murder, intrigue and international espionage for our next visit …

How about you? Have you ever stayed at a hotel where your “room with a view” simply took your breath away?