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May 24, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                     Voyages Longitude 131

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One company, Voyages, has made this barren place into an oasis in the Outback. Voyages named it simply Ayers Rock Resort. Almost all their lodging -- 4,500 beds -- are near each other (hereís a map) in what residents call "town." Itís similar to an attractive outdoor mall, with a few shops, hotels and a mini-market. Seven different accommodation options -- from two luxurious 5-star Hotels (Sails In The Desert and Longitude 131), to the 4-star Desert Gardens Hotel and the Emu Walk Apartments, to the 3-star modern Lost Camel Hotel and the 2-star authentic Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge -- meet everyoneís budgets. The cheapest option is to camp, and Voyages operates those grounds as well. Camping rates start at $37AUD ($28 USD) per family.

The most incredible place to stay (and of course the most expensive) is Voyages Longitude 131. I stayed at this resort built on a sand dune. It has won many awards, including The Robb Reportís Top Ten Haute Hotels in the World, and is eco-friendly. Voyages Longitude 131 is regarded not only as the best hotel in Uluru / Ayers Rock, but also one of the top hotels in all of Australia. Itís definitely the most unique. Voyages Longitude 131 is modeled after a luxury Botswana safari camp, and cost $15 million Australian dollars ($11,500,000 USD) to build. The place burned down in 2003 after a bush fire, but it was quickly rebuilt and is now better than ever. There are only 15 luxury "tents" at this adults-only (over 16) palatial retreat. Thirty-three full-time staff members serve a maximum of 30 guests. As you can imagine, the service is excellent. Itís located 10 minutes from Ayers Rock resort, 15 minutes from the airport, and is the closest hotel to Uluru (6 miles -- a 20-minute drive).

All 15 rooms (tents) are named after famous Australian explorers. The rooms have basically the same layout, but contain different artifacts of each explorer. I was in Ernest Gilesí room. He led three major expeditions in central Australia (read more about him). The rooms are so incredible that I had to say "wow" when I opened the door. And when the bellboy said, "Welcome to your tent" I replied, "Now this is my kind of camping!" Each tent has mesmerizing views of Uluru. They can be enjoyed through an enormous glass wall that comes complete with a sliding glass door, and a screen for fresh air. Inside the room I didnít feel like I was in the Outback at all. There were marble floors, a very comfortable king-size bed, a desk, air conditioning, a large shower (with firm water pressure), and a mini-bar that was free for raiding (everything at the hotel is included in the price, except Champagne). Best of all, there were no bugs! Little touches included the bathroom mirrors, which slid to the side so I could stare out at Uluru while shaving or in the shower. And next to the bed, the light switch featured a remote control for the blinds. That meant each morning, when my dawn wake-up call arrived (so I could watch the sunrise), I didnít have to get out of bed. I just flipped the switch, opened the curtains -- and stared in awe.

The main building, the Dune House, is where the front desk is located, along with the dining hall, a 24/7 open bar with a good selection of Australia beer and wine, couches, chairs, and a computer with free but slow internet access (no wireless yet). Just in front of the Dune House is a small pool. Most guests come out to the Red Center for either two or three nights. Voyages Longitude 131 primarily attracts visitors from North America and Europe. However, I met a few Australian couples celebrating a significant birthday or anniversary. Whatís great about Voyages Longitude 131 is that everyone meets each other, because all the guests go on tours together and all three meals are communal. There is no room service.

At breakfast (6:15 to 10 a.m.) and lunch (12 to 2:30 p.m.), the dining room tables are split into threes. At dinner (usually around 8:15 p.m.), the tables are pushed together to make one gigantic seating. Before dinner the staff serves sunset drinks and híors díoeuvres, either outside on the dune top or in the Dune House. If youíre lucky and the weather cooperates one night (it is offered every other night), you can dine at table 131 -- outside under the stars. Unfortunately, the wind kicked up and I ate inside both nights. The food is excellent, and I enjoyed every meal. Thatís saying something, for a finicky eater like me. After dinner, a staff member well-versed in astronomy gives lessons on the Southern night sky.

Visitors can participate in a number of tours and activities. Guests staying at Voyages Longitude 131 donít have to worry about pre-booking or coordinating anything; itís all been arranged, and included in the rate. Everyone is free to participate in all or none of the tours. There are usually two tours a day (morning and afternoon). You donít want to miss them. They are either to Uluru or Kata Tjuta, the two places you came to explore. The guides provide cold water and fly nets (which can also be purchased in town); they also bring snacks and/or serve Champagne). A very cool Aussie couple from Melbourne laughed when I put my fly net over my head. They said theyíd never wear one of those silly-looking things. About two seconds after they stepped out of the van, they went straight to the guide and asked if they could have theirs back. Thatís how bad the flies are. They go straight for the moisture of your mouth and eyes. Your only defense is the Australian Salute (you wave your hand frantically in front of your face), or the fly nets. Fortunately, when the sun goes down itís like someone flipped a switch. The flies disappear.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Dirt Road To Hotel


Voyages Longitude 131


Built On A Sand Dune


My Room




View From Room




Sunset Drinks


Dining Room Table




Julie our Guide


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