Friday, May 27, 2016

Spotlight on Generations Riviera Maya - A Family All-Inclusive Resort

Generations Riviera Maya is located next to El Dorado Royale and El Dorado Casitas just south of the Cancun, Mexico airport. This family all-inclusive resort has 144 suites.

The one thing I immediately noticed was that each floor has swim up suites.


The beach has day beds and loungers available. The water is not clear blue. This area of the coast needs large concrete barriers in the water to help break the surf. Some find that to be an eyesore.  The upside of that strong current is that there is generally a breeze.

 One key feature of the resort is a pool that stretches the length of the property.

The other pro is the suite configurations. It's a great option for larger families who need larger suites. The resort offers one to three bedroom suites. The connecting swim up pools are really fun for extended families.

Five restaurants offer "gourmet inclusive dining". This is a signature of Karisma resorts. The portions will be smaller and the offerings are a little fancy. Chef Market serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Haab offers Mediterranean fare for dinner. Jade is an Asian restaurant open for dinner. Wine Kitchen is also an option for dinner. I dined at Wine Kitchen during my stay at El Dorado Casitas and the food was fantastic. Lunch is also available at Palms Gourmet Terrace on the terrace by the pool.

Generations offers kids' programming and baby amenities including cribs, strollers, pack and play, baby bottle warmers, baby bottle sterilizers, baby food, baby monitors, baby changing tables with bathtubs, and baby bath robes.

If you are interested in exploring a family all-inclusive vacation for your family, email me or set up a time to chat.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Are Last Minute Deals real?

Ahh......the myth of the last minute deal. So many urban myths of people who traveled almost for free because they waited until the last minute to book their trip.



Let's break it down:

The Flights / Hotels

Major airlines assume that last minute flyers are business travelers. This means the airlines charge a premium for a last minute ticket because they know a business traveler will pay it because the job depends on it. Plus - airlines have cut back on a lot of routes so planes are flying full. That nonstop route will sell out leaving you with a terrible connection if you don't book early.

Exception: Travel operators like Funjet Vacations have charter flights from select cities to create nonstop routes to the Caribbean. These tour operators may discount last minute Caribbean flight and hotel packages to sell unsold seats on the charter. So if you live in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, San Antonio, or St Louis - a last minute Caribbean resort package may be an option for you.



The Cruises

In the last year, Royal Caribbean announced it would no longer be offering last minute deals. they want to train consumers that the best rates are the early rates. That has been my personal experience on both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. I locked in a group rate for a group of three couples about a year and a half before sailing. I monitored the pricing the entire time. They ended up saving hundreds of dollars over what they would have paid if they even booked six months later. Cruise lines have realized that offering $99 last minute cruises hurts their brand. Many cruise lines are moving toward added incentives like free drinks packages, extra on board credit or free gratuities to promote sailings versus a price break. The benefit of using me to book your cruise is that I track the pricing and the promotion up until final payment to make sure you are getting the best deal.

I'm curious - What has been your experience with a last minute deal?  Has it changed over time?

What to do if you can't get dining reservations at Disney World

A few weeks ago, I posted a video about how important it is to pre-plan your dining at Disney World.

If you aren't able to pre-plan or you don't get the reservations you wanted, what options do you have?

Here's my three tips for what to do if you can't get dining reservations at Disney World:

1. Keep Trying - Disney has a 24 hour cancellation policy. Guests will be charged a cancellation fee if they don't cancel their reservations 24 hours in advance so it's worth it to keep checking back via the My Disney Experience App to see if any reservations have opened up. If that still doesn't work, try the restaurants at Disney Springs, Swan and Dolphin, Four Seasons or the Waldorf Astoria. These restaurants work outside the Disney dining system. You can call the restaurant directly to see what's available.

2. Walk Up - The Disney dining system is not set up for Walk-Ups. Most of the time if you walk up, they will tell you they are not accepting walk-ups. So the trick I learned is to ask, "When is the next available reservation?"Personally, I have been able to get a reservation within 45 minutes of when I walked up by asking that question. You may just get lucky.  Exception: The restaurants at Disney Springs. These restaurants usually do have availability for walk-up seating. You may have to wait a couple hours on a really busy night, but they can usually fit you in.

3. Try a Signature Restaurant's Lounge or Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen

Inside Skipper Canteen


Skipper's Canteen in the Magic Kingdom has same day reservations. The menu is heavily inspired by Africa and Asia so it may not be for everyone.

The Signature Restaurants like California Grill, narcoosee's, Jiko's, Brown Derby, have bars with lounges just outside the restaurant. These areas do not accept reservations. Some like California Grill offer a full menu and others like Brown Derby and Tiffins have a more limited menu.

The Lounge at Jiko's



Let me help you plan your Disney adventure! Get my free guide to avoiding the crowds at Disney by clicking here.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Getting Married at Sandals Regency La Toc, St Lucia

I was privileged to help Denise and Jeff plan their wedding at Sandals Regency La Toc. When they returned home, I asked for their feedback. Here's what they had to say:


"Oh Angie, I wouldn't know where to begin......it was the most amazing week of our lives! Sandals is very organized, which we loved!  When we arrived in St. Lucia, they put you in a special Sandals room where they give you snacks and drinks while you await for the vans to arrive to take you to the appropriate resort.  While we were waiting we had the opportunity to meet some of the other couples, which was very nice.  The ride to the resort is long but who cared?!  Our driver was also a tour guide, filling us in on the wonders of St. Lucia.  When we arrived, we were taken to a special check in point because we had butler service, our bags where unloaded, we were given drinks, allowed to relax and then meet our Butlers.

That is the way to go!  The Butler service is outstanding and we tried to convince them to come home with us, not because they did everything for us, but because they were such wonderful human beings, kind and considerate and very personable!  
A little Butler magic


The Butler brought breakfast in bed

When we entered our room, and saw the view, the patio, our private pool, etc. we were in awe. 

View from the Room


We had spectacular sunsets every night while we were there!  I wish I could show you all our honeymoon pictures!





The service was outstanding!  Our wedding coordinator Alison became  a family member, she was so sweet, beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.  We had a wedding cake  tasting that was wonderful, she went over every single detail, everyone was so wonderful and treated us so special.  The day of the wedding went off without a hitch.  They make sure everything is to your liking.  We had the special dinner on the beach......OMG!  it was spectacular and would tell everyone they MUST do it!  It was like a fantasy, five courses which you get to chose yourself, white glove service, they give you a rose and the food was AMAZING!  

Another night they had a street fair right on the grounds of La Toc, and it was truly incredible!  More food than I think I have ever seen!  The performers were spectacular!  We had such a great time! 

 One of our tours was the Best of St. Lucia and Larry was our guide.  Well we fell in love with him! He was no nice and so very knowledgeable.  We went to a plantation/farm where we saw casaba bread made, saw all the fruit trees they had, saw how they work with what we would probably consider primitive tools.   We danced Creole dances with them, ate casaba bread with my new love - banana ketchup!   Had passion fruit drinks! 

 The cruises were wonderful as well!   There was something for everyone at La Toc, one of the most romantic places I have ever seen.  You could eat dinner in air conditioning or outside with one of the spectacular views.

 You asked for hiccups, the only few things I could say is that we couldn't eat in the Japanese restaurant, even though it was air conditioned it was way too hot for us and we had to leave or pass out.  LOL Also when we went on our Best of St. Lucia trip, we  stopped at some wonderful duty free shops, but we had not been told to bring passports, so we could not buy anything there which was a real bummer, and that was on the staff, they told us to just bring cash and never mentioned that we needed our passports.  We also thought we would be going home with our marriage license,and were told it would take 6-8 weeks unless of course you pay the additional fee to have it expedited in two weeks.  I wish I had known that.  We did pay the fee so we will see how long it actually takes.  And the only annoying part of the week at Sandals was the Spa people who harassed you constantly about using their services.   But these were all minor things compared to the fun and fantastic  memories of this wonderful weddingmoon!   Thank you, thank you! 



All our love and gratitude,




Denise and Jeff Kohler"

I am over the moon that they had such a wonderful experience. I hope this gives you some insight into Sandals Regency La Toc. If you are considering St Lucia or an all-inclusive vacation, let me help. Remember my planning services are free when you book with me. Click here to request a free 20 minute chat.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Latest Udpates from Disney World




Frozen Ever After Attraction & Royal Sommerhus To Open June 21 at Epcot

Today we’re sharing some very exciting news from Epcot® at Walt Disney World® Resort. Two new “Frozen” experiences – the Frozen Ever After attraction and the adjacent Royal Sommerhus – will officially open their doors June 21, 2016.


Located in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, Frozen Ever After allows you to set off on an adventurous boat tour through the kingdom of Arendelle. First, you’ll be transported to the “Winter in Summer” Celebration where Queen Elsa embraces her magical powers to create a beautiful “winter-in-summer” day for the entire kingdom. Next, you will pass Troll Valley on your way up to the icy North Mountain to Queen Elsa’s Ice Palace before your return trip to the Bay of Arendelle.

 You can begin booking FastPass+ for Frozen Ever on Saturday, May 21, 2016.

And, over at the nearby Royal Summerhus, Anna and Elsa’s summer home, the royal sisters will be available for will for greeting opportunities. The Norway Pavilion will open at 9 a.m., along with the Future World area of Epcot.

Don’t forget, you can also spot Anna and Elsa over at Magic Kingdom® Park in the “Festival of Fantasy Parade” and the new “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” show coming to Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage. Be sure to check the My Disney Experience app for the latest locations and times for any Disney Character.

First-Ever Night Experiences at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Begin May 27

Beginning May 27, 2016, you will be able to experience the magic of nature on display at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park at night - for the first time ever.  The park will awaken at night with new rich experiences under the stars and, on May 28, The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic live show will debut at the park.

Beginning May 27, animal spirits will be brought to life each night by magical fireflies that reveal colorful stories of wonder and enchantment along with other amazing sights at the tree.



After the sun sets, you also will be able to explore Kilimanjaro Safaris and see the nighttime behavior of the wildlife and better tune in to the unique vocalization of the animals like never before.  Among the new experiences, the village of Harambe in Africa will become the place to enjoy “Wildlife Parti” and the spirited community of Discovery Island will come together to celebrate their love of the natural world with the Discover Island Carnivale.


And the park’s Discovery River will awaken at night and become a stunning stage for performances of the limited-engagement show The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, inspired by the hit live-action film Disney’s The Jungle Book.  Shows will feature memorable moments from the film, including the iconic Shere Khan, and will be filled with music and special effects that celebrate the movie and classic songs, infused with an Indian influence.

FastPass+ and dining packages for Disney’s Animal Kingdom night experiences will become available beginning tomorrow, May 21.


Last Chance to Experience the Classic Soarin’ at Epcot and Disney California Adventure Before Soarin’ Around the World Debuts on June 17

You can enjoy your last chance to hang-glide across the snow-capped mountains, above towering redwoods, and along the rocky shorelines of the Golden State.

Epcot® Guests will enjoy farewell flights when the classic Soarin’ returns to The Land pavilion in Future World starting May 27, 2016. The attraction reopens at Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort before the new film, Soarin’ Around the World, debuts next month Disney parks in Shanghai, California and Florida. 


 Disney FastPass+ service will be available starting May 21 for this limited opportunity to enjoy the classic Soarin’ experience at Epcot.

The new film, Soarin’ Around the World, debuts June 17 at Disney California Adventure Park at Disneyland® Resort and Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort the day after its world premiere at Shanghai Disneyland and highlights landmarks from across the globe.


‘Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire’ Begins June 17 at Magic Kingdom Park

Recently, we shared some details about “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire,” coming to the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage at Magic Kingdom® Park at Walt Disney World® Resort, and today we’re pleased to tell you this fantastically fun new show will make its debut on June 17, 2016!





“Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” brings to life beloved Disney stories both classic and contemporary in a spectacular performance featuring an original song, memorable music, lively dancing, delightful costumes and special effects magic. Mickey and his troupe of Merry Makers have invited friends from other lands to join them in a grand celebration. So in addition to favorites like Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Goofy, the show also brings together a wonderful cast of characters from some of Disney’s newest classics: “Frozen,” “Tangled” and “The Princess and the Frog.”

“Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” celebrates the unique stories of the citizens who make up this magical kingdom and the wonderful things that can happen when we try new things, go to new places and get to know new friends.



New ‘Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular’ Fireworks To Debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Starting June 17

Several new Star Wars experiences have debuted at Disney’s Hollywood Studios® at Walt Disney World® Resort over the past year, from the opening of Star Wars Launch Bay in December to the most recent additions of the Star Wars stage show “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” and the daily march of Captain Phasma and her fleet of Stormtroopers earlier this spring. Today we’re happy to share an update on the next exciting Star Wars experience that’s set to delight fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – the new Star Wars fireworks show, “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.”

This new nighttime show, which will be the most elaborate fireworks display in this park’s history, will begin nightly performances on June 17, 2016. This elaborate show will combine fireworks, pyrotechnics, special effects and video projections that will turn the park’s Chinese Theater and other buildings into the twin suns of Tatooine, a field of battle droids, the trench of the Death Star, Starkiller Base and other Star Wars destinations. And the show, which will feature music from throughout the film franchise, will be punctuated with a tower of fire and spotlight beams, creating a massive lightsaber in the sky.


Tiffins Restaurant and Nomad Lounge Opening May 27 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Countdown to the opening of the newest Disney signature restaurant at Walt Disney World® Resort – Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, featuring cuisine and beverages from places that inspired the creation of the Park.

Open for both lunch and dinner, Tiffins is situated near Pizzafari on Discovery Island, near what will be the entrance to Pandora – The World of AVATAR, when it opens in 2017. (“Tiffin” is an Indian English word for a midday meal or a type of container used to carry food while traveling). Adjacent to Tiffins, Nomad Lounge features waterfront views in addition to hand-crafted cocktails with African, Asian and South American flavors; beers, and sustainable wines from those regions, plus specialty non-alcoholic beverages and small bites.

Here’s a look at the menu for both Tiffins and Nomad Lounge.


The park’s culinary team is working on special dining packages which will begin May 28 at Tiffins and Tusker House Restaurant for the new limited-engagement nighttime show, The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic.


Similar to the popular Fantasmic! Dining Packages at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®, the Dining Package includes reserved seating for the nighttime show. At all-you-care-to-eat Tusker House Restaurant, you can choose the breakfast, lunch or dinner buffet on the day of the show (but they have to dine at least 2 1/2 hours before the show). Breakfast is $37, $23 ages 3-9, plus tax and gratuity; lunch and dinner, $49, $30 ages 3-9, plus tax and gratuity. Tusker House Restaurant is on the Disney Dining Plan and counts as one table-service meal.

At Tiffins, the package includes the choice of appetizer, entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage at either lunch or dinner. The Dining Package is $67 for adults, $32 ages 3-9, plus tax and gratuity. Tiffins is on the Disney Dining Plan and counts as two table-service meal credits.

Reservations will open tomorrow, May 21, 2016 for Tiffins restaurant as well as Dining Packages for The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic nighttime show, and can be made by visiting DisneyWorld.com/dine or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.

If you have any questions about these new attractions, join my LIVE Disney World Q&A Sunday at 8:00 pm. Click here for more information. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Spotlight on: Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort and Spa


The Grand Palladium Vallarta Resort and Spa is located in Riviera Nayarit about 45 minutes north of the Puerto Vallarta airport. It is a family friendly resort with 419 rooms.   The demographic mix is primarily Mexican tourists with some Canadians, Europeans and a few Americans. All the staff spoke some level of English. Most of the activities were fully translated into English. We never felt like we couldn’t communicate.

Highlights
  • Great Value
  • Botanical gardens and lush landscaping
  • A la carte dining that does not require reservations
  • Adults only infinity pool
  • Free WiFi
  • Included Kids’ Club
Need to Know
  • Resort has a lot of stairs and inclines.
  • Main demographics are Mexicans and Canadians.
  • Kids’ programming is best suited to kids under eight.
Join me on a resort tour:




Pools

The resort has three pools: adults only infinity pool, a sports pool, and a pool with a swim up bar. All three pools have lounge chairs available with umbrellas. The sports pool and swim up bar pool are very active teetering on rowdy. Bar waiters do circle all three pools.  Activities start about every 30 minutes: water aerobics, water basketball, yoga, trivia, etc. The sports pool is next to the Splash Park with two slides for kids.
Beach

The beach is rocky with large enough waves for surfing. Boogie boards, stand up paddle boards, snorkeling equipment, and surf boards are available. The water goes to about waist deep in the swimming areas. Umbrellas are available for shade. A beach bar has cocktails, but we didn’t see any bar waiters.  The beach has an area for vendors to set up. We did see those vendors walk along the beach once or twice, but they were not harassing people.

Restaurants

The resort has five restaurants:
·       El Bosque – The main buffet restaurant. This is a great buffet. I was very impressed with the breakfast and lunch offerings. Both meals featured made-to-order food stations. You’ll see in the video tour all the different breakfast options. The restaurant offers both air-conditioned and open-air seating. The open-air seating is screened in.
·       Las Terrazas – A smaller buffet near the pool. This is primarily lunch and snack type options – hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, a salad bar, fried chicken, etc. This is screened in open air seating.
·       Restaurante Portofino –Italian a la carte restaurant. This had the best salad bar of the restaurants we tried. This restaurant is air-conditioned.
·       Bambu – Asian a la carte restaurant. The sushi was similar to what you’d find a grocery store. We were impressed that the waiter said almost all the dishes could be customized. The Bamboo noodles were very good. This restaurant is air-conditioned.
·       Viva Mexico – Mexican a la carte restaurant. I didn’t have a chance to try this one during our state. It offer indoor and outdoor seating. The terrace offers the best view of sunset at the resort since the sun does not set directly over the water.
·       Ribs & More – American a la carte restaurant. This is in the same space as Las Terrazas. The menu is beef and ribs.

In addition to these restaurants, food is also available:
·       Sports Bar serves a bar food menu of tacos, quesadillas, pizza, burgers in the evening.
·       Bar Hemingway has little desserts and tea sandwiches in the evening
·       Room Service is available after 11 am
·       Hot dog cart by the pool
·       Midday barbeque by the pool. It has different themes. When we were there we had tacos and paella.

Overall, we though the food was good – not amazing. The service could drag a little since there’s only one waiter for the a la carte restaurants. Reservations are not required, but some room categories can make them. Special diets can be accommodated. We were asked at every meal if we had diet restrictions. We saw a gluten free menu and a vegetarian menu.

Bars




The resort has seven bars.
·       La Pacita Lobby bar – This is bar right by the theater and the evening activities. It’s open in the evenings. It’s open air.
·       Bar Hemingway – An adults only air conditioned bar that opens at 6:00 pm. This bar has premium alcohol.
·       Beach Bar – A bar right on the beach near the water sports activities center.
·       Sports Bar – An air conditioned bar with a large screen tv and four smaller tvs plus a pool table. In the evening, it also serves snacks.
·       Swim Up Bar / Pool Bar – The main pool has a swim up bar and a regular bar for those in the main pool area.
·       Adults Only Infinity Pool Bar – This bar hosts the manager’s receptions on Thursday nights when the terrace isn’t available. It’s located right outside Viva Mexico restaurant.

The bars have at least one bar on tap. The brands of alcohol we saw were: Bacardi, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Beefeater, Jose Cuervo. One drink I loved was the Palermo – tequila with grapefruit juice and Fresca. We also like Icebergs – draft beer topped with frozen margarita.

Activities


The resort provides included activities for ages 1 – 17. The baby club is for kids 1 – 3 and the Mini-Club is ages 4 – 12. This supervised club is open daily from 9 am – 1 pm and then 2 pm – 5 pm. These clubs also offer activities at the Splash Zone and a special show for kids at 8 pm each night. My observation is that the activities were best suited for kids up to age 8. We met a family with a 6 year old and a 7 year old and they spoke very highly of the kids’ club activities.


The Black and White Club is available for ages 13 – 17. It’s basically a clubhouse for the older kids to hang out. They offer 2 – 3 special activities like a disco. For after hours, babysitting services are available for an extra fee.


Other activities include:
  • Water Sports: Hobie Cat Sailboat, SUP paddle boarding, surf boards, boogie boards, snorkeling
  • Poolside Activities - water aerobics, yoga, in pool spin class, tequila tasting, trivia, pool basketball
  • Live music in the courtyard in the evenings
  • Tennis and archery - sign up at towel hut
  • Fitness center with lots of weights but not a lot of cardiovascular equipment
  • Spa – We were very impressed with the spa. It has a great wet area that is included in some travel packages or available for $10 per person per day.


Rooms




All  of the rooms will be non-smoking by August 1st. The entry level room category is a deluxe room. You can see a quick video tour below.



The resort also offers a junior suite with a sofa bed.  Take a peek:



They do have a category of rooms called Family Suite that is two guaranteed connecting rooms.


The room includes a mini bar with beer, water, juice and sodas. Free WiFi is available throughout the resort.

If you have any questions or want to see if this resort is right for your family,  send me an email.