In a previous post, I said that I had wanted to visit Spain, specifically the Alhambra in Granada, since I was a teenager. While I always wanted to go to Spain, I always knew we would visit Ireland. My mother in law was born and raised there and many of her family still live there. We finally took the bull by the horns (nod to the post on Spain) and planned a ten day trip.
I have a guideline/rule that I do not like to spend more than $100/day to be in a location. For example, if the airline ticket costs $500 then I want to stay 5 days. We chose to fly out of Orlando, Florida so that we could take a direct flight. The drive from our home to the airport in Orlando is about 90 minutes and seemed well worth the effort. We flew Aer Lingus both because they had the direct flight and because our family had told us it was definitely the way to go. We purchased tickets for a little less than $700 each. We booked the Smart fare, the second least expensive, because it allowed us to choose our seats. Business fare was a little more than twice that much.
And then, the luck of the Irish began. Shortly after booking our flight, we received an email from Aer Lingus asking if we would like to bid on an upgrade. The email had a sliding scale and as you increased your bid it told you how likely you were to get the upgrade. You may have also noticed several posts on this site about Las Vegas so this appealed to the gambler in us. We bid the lowest bid with a good likelihood of being accepted. It was $350 per ticket, less than half the price of purchasing business class at the start. You don’t find out if your bid was accepted or not until 24 hours before your flight. The day before the trip I didn’t think I could possibly be more excited but I was wrong! We got business class for our flight over!
What an experience that was. We received complimentary champagne, wine with dinner, a comfort package (tooth brush, socks, mouth wash…) and lovely hot towels to clean our hands before meals. The seats reclined into a bed and I had more than enough room to stretch and move around. Even my husband, who finds most airline seats challenging (read, he spills over into mine) was comfortable. The flight over left Orlando about 8:30pm and arrived in Dublin about 10:00am the next day. These seats made it possible for us to be ready to go upon arrival. I am pretty cheap about luxury. That is why I travel with points and timeshares but I do like my comfort. I am not sure I would outright purchase a business class fare but I would definitely bid on one EVERY TIME! Sadly we did not get an upgrade on the way home but we had chosen the exit row seats for a modest additional charge. It was a day time flight, 3:00pm to 7:30pm so it worked out fine.
Just like on our visit to Spain, Hilton does not have a vacation club in Ireland, but they do have an affiliate program called Holiday Cottages that allows you, once you have reached the level of Elite or higher, to exchange points for a weeklong stay in many locations in Europe. Like RCI and other more traditional time shares this stay begins and ends on a Saturday. Cottages can accommodate groups of different sizes. Many of them sleep 6 or more. Our cottage slept 5 and was 14,000 points. For comparison, a weeks stay at Kingsland on the Big Island of Hawaii is 12,600 points for a 2 bedroom.
It takes a bit of planning to use this program. It is not directly associated with Hilton and while our Elite counselor helped facilitate the exchange, she did not have first hand knowledge of the properties. My first job was to decide which region of Ireland we were interested in visiting. After speaking with family members both in Ireland and those in the states that had visited Ireland, we decided on County Clare on the western coast. If you follow my posts, it will not come as a surprise to you that we LOVE music. Doolin is to Ireland what Nashville is to the US. This location allowed us an easy day trip to the Cliffs of Maher and the Aran Islands and another day was spent investigating Counties Mayo and Galway. To do this trip justice will require more than just one post. This first post will detail travel and accommodations. The magnificent sights and experiences will quickly follow.
Our cottage was located in New Quay Ireland. It is called Flaggy Shores Cottage. New Quay is located on Galway Bay and is about 12 kilometers from Kinvarra. The cottage has 3 bedrooms and a bath and a half. It was an idyllic location. We had the bay out our front windows and the burren out the back. I will try to exercise some restraint here and focus on the cottage itself. Here are a few pictures to set the tone.
The owner of the cottage met us to show us around. She showed us how to turn on the immersion (hot water heater) before showering, turn on the cooker (the oven), where the fuel for the stove/fireplace, and where the oil we used for heat was measured. When we were done with the tour, we asked where the nearest grocery was located. I was intimidated when she said it was back in Kinvarra 12 kilometers or 7.5 miles away, but husband, ever the trooper, back in the car and away we went.
There are more challenges to driving in Ireland than just the “wrong side” of the road issue. You should be aware that unless you specifically ask for an automatic transmission, you WILL get a manual. As if the lane did not require enough brain power, imagine shifting with your left hand and the gears etc being the reverse (pun intended) of American cars. Also, we never buy additional insurance when we rent a car. If you pay for the rental on your American Express card, you are insured….. UNLESS YOU ARE IN IRELAND! It is well worth the money for the insurance. This is said from experience. We may have had a mild encounter with a stone fence.
We had a wonderful week and hated to leave our cozy little cottage. For us, the location was perfect. We spent three days exploring the area and another three walking through the beautiful countryside around the cottage. I hope that you will read the upcoming posts on our sights and adventures. I know that writing this one has made me eager to go back!