Bali: A Paradise Wedding Destination - United Hub

Bali: A paradise wedding destination

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By San Francisco-based Flight Attendant Dianne Escalona

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Is Bali really like the movie "Eat Pray Love?" This is the first question that ran through my head when my fiancé and I decided on Bali as the top destination option for our wedding. At the time, I had never really known anyone who had been to Bali, so all I had to go off of was the 2010 movie based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir. When I thought of Bali, I thought of a tropical, exotic, middle-of-nowhere island that mainly consisted of beaches and palm trees. Boy, was I wrong.

When choosing a destination for our wedding, we both had a few conditions — we wanted somewhere exotic, far away from California, tropical with the ocean and palm trees, and an added bonus would be exotic drinks. We did a lot of research – I read blogs online and he researched possible wedding venues – but we still needed to see and experience the island for ourselves. When it came time for our trip to Bali, last September, we were more than prepared and had a tentative itinerary planned. Through our research we agreed that having our own villa would be more private than a hotel and give us a taste of the local culture, especially since the place we had chosen to rent had a main house with a host who had also offered to show us around. Thanks to her recommendation we hired a private driver to pick us up from the airport and take us around the island - a great decision.

We began our journey by flying into Singapore from San Francisco. Once in Singapore we decided to spend a night in the city before flying over to Bali. We stayed at the JW Marriott, a must-stay hotel with an infinity pool on the roof, offering the grandest view of the city! It definitely rivals the view at Marina Bay Sands, and is much more affordable. The next day, we hopped on a quick flight to Bali and upon landing, our private driver was already outside waiting for us. I've always wanted someone holding up a sign with my name and greeting me outside arrivals —maybe this is a flight attendant thing. Our driver's name was Komang, and he was very gracious and provided us with helpful tips on various places to go each day that would coincide with our wedding venue visits.

Our host at our villa, Soviana, was eagerly waiting to greet us both upon our arrival and gave us a tour of her exquisite, Buddhist temple-looking villa. Before heading to dinner, we enjoyed homemade watermelon smoothies on the rooftop with a nice view of the ocean. After a long day of traveling, we headed to bed early to prepare for the next few days of sightseeing and wedding venue visits.

The next few days consisted of hotel appointments and making sure to squeeze in some sightseeing all over the island. Between wedding planning and exploring the island, we never had a dull moment that week. Our favorite activities included the Monkey Forest, water temples and waterfall hunting.

The sacred Ubud Monkey Forest lies within the village of Padangtegal and is home to more than 700 monkeys. This experience was near the top of our bucket list. This monkey forest was built around the 14th century, and while here you can watch the monkeys being fed by the locals. Though it is advised for you to refrain from feeding them, as well as to avoid wearing any jewelry, hats or shiny accessories that may attract their attention. Also, it is recommended to avoid looking them in the eye, which I unfortunately learned the hard way – I looked at a young monkey in the eye and it suddenly jumped on my back, trying to open my backpack. For the most part, they're friendly and won't bother you as long as you follow the advice of the village's residents. After this visit we were ready to cool down from all the walking and see some waterfalls.

Amidst wedding planning, we hiked the Banyumala waterfall with the company of our driver – turned great tour guide. The difficulty of this hike is up to interpretation, as the beginning of the hike was on dry dirt and a steady downhill climb until the dirt turned mushy and the climb became more like a slip and slide with the help of a flimsy rope. It's definitely not a hike you'd want to bring a lot of things on and make sure you wear solid shoes. Although I wasn't prepared for a slippery, downhill, muddy hike, it was worth it. When we finally saw the waterfall, I immediately wanted to jump in. It was the most refreshing water and the most fun we had on the trip. I remember floating on my back and staring at the sun peeking through the clouds and seeing the mist from the falls surround me. It was as if I were in a dream.

I also wanted to experience a local ritual. I got my chance at the Tirta Empul water temple. This temple is a Hindu Balinese water temple where the locals go for ritual purification. You must wear a sarong to enter and it's famous for its holy spring water. Komang told us the story behind the temple and said that it dates back to 960 AD, when the Balinese ruler, Mayadenawa created a poisoned spring that killed the god Indra's troops; Indra, in his anger, threw his staff into the ground, which caused the a holy purifying spring to form. The story goes on to say that the troops were brought back to life from this holy water. The ritual is performed by starting at the first water spout and bowing toward it, then splashing the water onto your face three times. Then you submerge your head and body underneath the spout while praying to the Hindu gods. You then continue to each of the 13 spouts. However, the 11th and 12th spouts are skipped since they are only used for funerals. The holy water is meant to rid you of evil spirits and cleanse your soul. After experiencing just a few of these cultural and unique places Bali has to offer, my fiancé and I had no doubt in our minds that we were going to get married on this island.

I went to Bali not knowing anything about the country except what I saw in a movie and read online. I left learning that, not only are there an abundance of unique and interesting things to see and do, but I also learned how friendly and spiritual the locals are. Our Airbnb host, our private drivers Komang and Arsa, and the locals we met that week taught us the importance of cleansing your mind and spirit, meditation, massage and a healthy diet. I have no doubt that this is where our dream destination wedding is meant to be in 2020.

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Marvelous sites to local hideaways: the expert’s guide to Toronto

By Nick Harper

Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.

Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.

Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.

What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.

However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…

City Hall, Toronto City Hall, Toronto

The checklist sites

No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.

The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.

Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.

Ripleys Aquarium Ripleys Aquarium

Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.

In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.

Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.

Art Gallery of Ontario Art Gallery of Ontario

Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.

Casa Loma Casa Loma

Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.

St. Lawrence Market St. Lawrence Market

Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States[9] . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.

Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.

The bucket list

You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.

Explore like a local

Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.

The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.

The essentials

When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.

Toronto skyline view Toronto skyline view

Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.

Toronto Blue Jay stadium Toronto Blue Jay stadium

Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.

Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.

For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).

The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.

How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.

How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.

United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.


Taking action to make a global impact

By The Hub team , January 17, 2020

Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).

Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes

Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.

These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.

Australian wildfire relief efforts

Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.

Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.

These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.

By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives

Help us (and Ellen DeGeneres) support wildfire relief efforts in Australia

By The Hub team , January 08, 2020

Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.

Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund

We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.

Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.

In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.

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