Friday, September 29, 2017

Want my list of Top 3 Quiet All Inclusive Resorts?

I've visited a lot of resorts this year.

Click here to get my email highlighting the Top 3 All Inclusive Resorts.

Here's a sneak peek at one of them:

Breathless Riviera Cancun Review 2017

I have to admit it. I was a little intimidated to visit this resort. I had heard about the topless foam parties and sexy vibe. Not my typical Friday night. Then I stayed for three days.

Honestly? This resort knocked my socks off, but not my top. Don't worry, Mom.

The resort has three sections: Xcelerate, Allure and Xhale.

Xhale Section


Friday, September 22, 2017

Viking River Cruise Grand European Tour

I recently finished my training as a Viking Cruise Danube River Cruise Specialist. The Danube offers an amazing trip through Eastern Europe.  One itinerary that caught my eye was the Grand European tour. You can see from the map that it visits 4 countries over 15 days. 


You can explore:
  • Windmills of The Netherlands,  
  • World War II history in Germany,
  • Medieval castles, Austrian wines,
  • Classical music of Vienna, and
  • Beautiful architecture and culture of Budapest.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Travel Tip: Oils can ease the pain of traveling

My friend Amy introduced me to natural oils to help deal with some of the not-so-fun side effects of travel. I asked her to share with you her top oils for travel since they have been so helpful to me. 





I love to travel. Let me rephrase: I LOVE to visit people and see new places, all while making awesome memories with family and friends, but don't necessarily enjoy the plane, train and automobile frenzy of getting there, and the realization that I've left all my comforts of home, well, at home. 

Then I discovered essential oils. And? My travel woes have waned. Tummy troubles? There's an oil for that. Car sickness? There's an oil for that. Feeling maxed out after day three at the in-laws' house? There's (more than one) oil for that. Below is my top list of doTERRA essential oils that I carry with me when I travel and how they have helped:

DigestZen - This digestive blend brings relief for motion sickness, feeling over-full from a fabulous dinner, heartburn, and any other digestive issue you may encounter away from home.

Breathe - Do you get a stuffy head after being on a plane for hours? This respiratory blend can improve airways during and after airplane travel, and helps SO MUCH with snoring roommates.

OnGuard - This protective blend is great for boosting immunity and protecting yourself while traveling. I rub a drop on my palms throughout the day as I am exposed to other travelers and excessive environmental threats. 

Serenity - This restful blend is essential for getting good sleep away from home. Rubbed on the palms, chest or bottoms of feet, it aids in calming and relaxing.

Lemon - I travel with a stainless water bottle and add a couple drops of lemon oil to my water. Lemon is great for uplifting mood, energizing and purifying the body from the inside out.

Balance - This grounding blend is great for jet lag, balancing emotions from travel stress and keeping you tranquil even if you have three MORE days at the in-laws' house.

Additional questions or want to learn more how essential oils can help with your particular pains of travel? Please comment below! 

Holland America Koningsdam Review

Holland America Line (HAL) Koningsdam Review by Glenn Sparks


To understand the Koningsdam, you need to understand a little bit of the HAL history.   HAL has always been a cruise line that attracted an older clientele and as such their ships were oriented around this group. Their ships kept up the style of the ocean liners from the 1940’s and 1950’s.  When cruising became more mainstream in the 1970’s and 1980’s, HAL kept building ships in the same way.  And they were successful at doing it, building a fleet of 10+ ships that were very popular.   HAL was the very first mainstream cruise line to go to Alaska and that continues to be one of their most popular destinations as they have up to five ships sailing in that area seasonally.

HAL realized that to continue to be relevant in the cruise industry they would need to be able to offer something different and the they needed to attract a demographic.   The Koningsdam was a ship that would be the first ship in what HAL defined as the Pinnacle class.  The ship has a modern look, lots of glass and steel. Nothing illustrates this better than the three-deck steel sculpture that fills the atrium and is one of the first things you will see upon embarkation.  It is pretty spectacular to see, especially at night time as the lighting glistens off the shiny steel.     The ship also has the largest passenger capacity of any ship HAL has ever built.




I sailed on this ship during it’s inaugural season in Europe in July of 2016.  The ship had newly launched in April of this same year so everything was brand new.   The highlight of this ship is the specialty dining.  If you are an adventurous diner, then there are so many places to try out.  While the ship had a few low points (I’ll get to those later), specialty dining is not one of them.  I had meals that were some of the best meals I have ever had - on land or sea.  Some of the highlights are below.

De Librije - This was a pop-up restaurant experience that had a supplemental charge per person.  The Pinnacle Grill, which is a staple restaurants on all HAL ships, turned into a special tasting menu restaurant.  De Librije is a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Zwolle Netherlands and that ties in nicely with HAL’s heritage.  This was in the top three meals I have had in my life.    The Sweetbreads and Pork Belly were my favorite entrees.    Wonderful wine pairings.

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Sel De Mer - This is an ala carte restaurant serving mostly seafood.  The highlight here was the Salt-crusted Branzino.  A mild fish brought to life by the salty crust. The escargot were also delicious - served the way they come from the sea in their shells.

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Cooking  Theater (soon to be renamed America’s Test Kitchen) - This was an experience where you got to watch the chef prepare the four course meal.  

Dutch Cafe - The food here is included in your cruise fare.  They had great split pea soup here. Also their frites (or fries) were tasty.  This is also the coffee shop for your speciality lattes and cappuccinos.  

One of the low points on the ship is the main dining room.  We had arranged for anytime dining and when we showed up, it was going to be almost an hour wait for a table.  When I sailed it seemed as if the dining room was not prepared for the number of guests that were sailing.  We ended up leaving and getting a table at the Pinnacle Grill instead.  We ate at all specialty restaurants for dinner the rest of the 7-night cruise.  Recent reviews suggest that the dining room has gotten better.  But when the ship has all the great specialty dining available, that is hard to pass up if you like interesting entrees.  The service in each of the specialty restaurants was also attentive and friendly.  For me, these restaurants alone would make me want to sail on Koningsdam again.

Cabins on the ship are stylish but not showy.  We were in a Neptune Suite which was very nicely appointed.  Huge bathroom with double sinks and larger shower. 

 You also have access to the Neptune Lounge which has snacks during the day, coffee and soft drinks.  There is also an honor bar where you can make your own drinks and have them charged to the room.  The alcoholic drinks aren't covered by any beverage package you may have purchased.   I saw pictures of other suites and they were very nicely decorated in neutral tones.

The entertainment onboard is mixed,   There is a great BB King Blues Club where each night they had a rocking band that had the dance floor filled.  There was always nightly trivia.  There was also a dueling piano bar concept called Billboard where each night which got everyone singing.  This was also an area where they had light snacks being served during the entertainment Two of the entertainment venues weren’t my style and were a low point for the cruise.   Koningsdam designed a very different concept for the main show room called the World Stage.  It is a theater in the round instead of a traditional, elevated curtained stage.  The seats are set about 240 degrees around the stage.  

While the shows utilized the space, they weren’t very interesting.  There were some spectacular uses of lasers and lights during one performance.  The other venue I didn’t care for was the Lincoln Center Stage.  This featured violinists, and cellists in a chamber music setting.  I have nothing against this type of music and probably would have enjoyed it in a different setting.  My issue was it was in an open area that was a common area to pass through to get to other venues.  If you made even the quietest of noises, you could get a glance (or stare) from one of the other passengers watching the performance.  So it is great that HAL has some different entertainment, just seems  like it would be better in a different space.  I also saw this as something they needed to attract some of their long-term guests on this new ship.

We has purchased a beverage package so were able to have mixed drinks and wines included for the week.  We found service was excellent at most bars. My favorite was the Ocean Bar which is near the lobby.

Highly recommend the behind the scenes tour if you have time. It is done over two days (about six hours total) and was the most extensive tour I have done.  We were able to go down several decks in the engine rooms and also had a long discussion with the hotel manager.  Always so interesting to talk to these dedicated crew who have built their careers at sea.

The summary of this ship is to book it if you want the most interesting dining experiences at sea.  Don’t go if you want 24 x 7 entertainment as there still isn’t much happening after 10PM on most nights.    There are better ships such as Norwegian for that type of entertainment. 

If you want to explore if the Koningsdam is right for you, email us today. 


Pre-Cruise ideas for Seattle

Seattle  

If you choose a cruise out of Seattle, you are most likely going to arrive at least the day before your cruise.  If you have the time, give yourself a few days since there are many things to do.  Here are some top tips for this city.



Hotels

When choosing a hotel, be mindful that the closer you are to the piers, there will be more hills to walk.  Most of the streets that head down to the Pike Place Market and Pier area are as steep as some of the streets in San Francisco.  This is not surprising when you learn about Seattle’s history after the great fire of 1889.  The rebuilding effort literally built on top of what remained after the fire creating the topography we see today.

Transportation

Lyft and Uber ride sharing are available in the city and quite handy especially if any of the typical Seattle rain is part of your day.  Seattle also has Light Rail and streetcar for as part of their public transportation system.    If you have a more leisurely schedule, this will be a good option and they do offer a visitor pass for a small charge which gives you unlimited travel for a single day on the light rail and streetcar system.  Seattle is also known for their ferry system which can take you to some of the nearby islands or just out on an evening dinner or cocktail cruise.

If you only arrive one day before your cruise:

Book a dinner reservation before you arrive for your first night.  Seafood is king in Seattle and there are many great places, but they can book up fast.  One recommendation is Elliott’s Oyster House on Pier 56.  The oyster menu is an entire page and includes recommended wine pairings.  Don’t be intimidated by all the choices.  Ask your server for the oyster bar to pick a few different ones.  When I went, we ordered two dozen and had 8 different kinds and many that I would have never tried.



If you arrive early enough in the day and enjoy interesting museums, check out the Pop Culture Museum.   They have many special areas including a large collection of famous guitars and an exhibit showcasing many sets and props from science fiction movies and television.  They also have the best Star Trek exhibit I have ever seen with representation from all the television series.  

When I went there was also a special separately priced exhibit for the Muppets.  These special exhibits rotate during the year.

The morning of your embarkation, check out the Pike Place Market.  You can choose to visit a couple of different ways.    If you want a more leisurely approach, take a walk to the market and start at the Gum Wall.  From there you can walk in many different directions finding indoor and outdoor vendors.  Indoors is where you’ll find the famous Pike Place Fish which you have probably seen on television.

Outdoors you can find vendors of all sorts selling fish, produce and other goods.  If you want something more structured and to learn more about how the market works and operates on a daily basis, take one of the many tours that are offered.   I recommend Savor Seattle and the VIP tour they offer.   It is a smaller group and you will get into the market area before the official opening to the public avoiding some of the crowds.   After the tour, head back to your hotel to get your bags and head to the cruise port for your sailing.

If you arrive two or three days before you cruise, here are some add-ons

The Space Needle is a 600 foot structure with an observation deck 520 feet up in the air.  It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and has remained ever since.    It also has a rotating restaurant.  It is a must for anyone who wants to get a great view of the city, Mount Rainier and the surrounding area.  Keep in mind that on cloudy and rainy days, your views won’t be as good.  

Bainbridge Island is one of the islands you can get to by using the Seattle ferry system.  It is about a 40 minute ferry ride where you may be able to see Mount Rainier on you way.  Once you get there, there is an area close to the terminal where you can rent bikes if you want to ride around the island.  It is a very bike-friendly place.  You can also walk into the main town in about 20 minutes.  

The Underground Tour is available if you want to know more about how Seattle rebuilt after the fire in 1889.  You get to actually walk under the existing city streets and see what buildings and structures are still there - just underneath the new Seattle.  It is very much like walking through a time capsule.

If you want to explore a another fun city, Portland Oregon is only a 4 hour Amtrak train ride.  You would definitely want to be able to stay overnight to really get a taste of what the city has to offer.  There are some great restaurants and breweries.  Highly recommend taking a ride share to Alberta Street.  This street has several blocks of interesting eateries and makes for a fantastic pub and food crawl.

This article was written by Glenn Sparks, our cruise reviewer here at Trips with Angie. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. 






Thursday, September 14, 2017

Le Blanc Spa and Resort Review

Le Blanc Spa and Resort is an adults only all inclusive resort in the hotel zone of Cancun, Mexico.

This is a fantastic resort. This is a good fit if you are looking for a relaxing vibe, great food, great service and a great beach.

It's important to know that a lot of the rooms do not have balconies and most views are over the pool or next door hotel unless you are in the higher level suites.


For pricing and availability, email me.