Beaches and Sandals

Beaches and Sandals
Beaches All- Inclusive Resorts: My exclusive partners for family destination planning

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Travel Tip: Find out why the price is so low.

Travel - like anything - has tradeoffs. Many people seek the lowest price, but that low price may be there for a reason. It's a good idea to investigate what that reason is. It could be that it is a family resort and they are trying to recruit visitors while kids are in school. A few other indications to check if you find an amazing deal: 

What is the weather like? Prices are very low in Costa Rica during monsoon season, but you'll be in a monsoon. 

Is the resort under construction or is this deal for the "old" section?

For flights, check the connections and layovers. Are you willing to have 2 connections and a long layover to save money? 

What are the dates of travel? Most people want to travel over a weekend so Monday - Friday trips can be available at a discount. 

Is everything open?  Alaska cruise tours have reduced pricing in May because areas of Denali National Park aren't open yet and some excursions may not be available. 

Sometimes you just luck into a great deal. As a travel agent, I can help you navigate the different options and find the best value and the best vacation experience for your price range. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Spotlight on New Orleans

Due to limited vacation time, my husband and I like to do 36 hour trips. We take the first flight out Saturday morning and the last flight back Sunday night and explore a new city. A few weeks ago, we headed to New Orleans.  Here are the highlights:

We landed in New Orleans at 8:40 am. We grabbed a cab ($33 for two from the airport) and headed to the Intercontinental.  The hotel is in a good location - several blocks outside the French Quarter right on the trolley line. 

We were lucky that our room was available and we checked in. Then we hopped on the street car and headed to the Garden District. The Garden District is a historic neighborhood with some of the best-preserved southern mansions in the United States. We had about an hour before our Commander's Palace reservation so we wandered around the Lafayette Cemetery  No. 1 and used a self-guided tour from Fodor's to learn more about some of the houses near the restaurants.

 Then it was brunch time. Commander's Palace has a jazz brunch where a trio of jazz musicians walk around the restaurant planning classic songs and taking requests. Our meal was very good. We sampled the pecan scone appetizer, goat tamales, tasso ham and shrimp, bread pudding souffle and the strawberry shortcake.  

Bread Pudding Souffle

After brunch, we headed toward the French Quarter.  We visited New Orleans classics, a bar that turns, heard French Quarter musicians, discovered Frenchman's street, and found an awesome cocktail bar. 

Then we headed toward Emeril's for our 6 pm reservation at the Food Bar. The Food Bar is a counter overlooking the kitchen. It was so much fun to watch the chefs prepare the meal right in front of us. The highlights of the meal were the fish taco appetizer, the beef wellington, and the smoky kale salad.

Smoky Kale Salad 

Sunday we woke up to the sounds of the marathon. So we got an early start and headed toward Cafe du Monde.  We walked around the French Quarter a little more. I tried (and loved) PJ's King Cake blend coffee. Then we headed toward August - a John Besh restaurant. We got there a little early so passed some time on the slots at Harrah's.  We tried and really enjoyed all the classic dishes: Truffle gnocchi, Trout, Shrimp Etouffle, and deconstructed banana pudding.


After brunch, we boarded the Hop On/ Hop Off bus. I love these buses. I think you get a good overview of the city. It was a beautiful sunny day. We were really interested in the Magazine Street area near the Garden district and definitely want to explore there more on a future visit. 

We decided to hop off at Mardi Gras World. We weren't sure what to expect, but it was so interesting. It's a working warehouse that prepares floats for 22 out of 50 of the Mardi Gras parades.
Mardi Gras World 

We really enjoyed learning more about Mardi Gras and the float preparation. 

We took the bus back towards our hotel, had a great oyster Po'Boy at the Acme Oyster Company,  and had one last fancy cocktail at loa before heading to the airport. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

FAQ: How do you get paid?

I recently got a great question from a new client after I explained that I don't charge fees. 

 "If you don't mind me asking, where is the benefit to you for booking our trip and doing the research if you don't charge a commission?" 

Here's my answer: 

Great question. The resort pays me the commission. Commissions are built into the price for most  cruises, resorts, packages,  tours and Disney. If you use a website like Expedia to book, Expedia gets the commission. If you book directly through a resort's website, the resort keeps the commission as extra profit. If you call a 800 number, the person who answers the phones keeps part of the commission. If I make the booking, I get a commission from resort. 

I have contemplated charging a fee because many people thinks this sounds too good to be true, but it is really how it works.  I hope you'll consider booking with me as you'll get the same prices, but have the benefit of my research and advocacy on your behalf. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Spotlight on: Celebrity Equinox

The Equinox 

 In December 2014, my husband and I took an 11 night cruise on the Celebrity Equinox. 

We had an Aqua class cabin so we eat at a special restaurant called Blu and have access to an area of the spa with a special steam room and shower plus showers and heated lounge chairs.  The first night dinner in Blu was fantastic: corn velouté, ahi tuna, filet mignon, beets and the service was great. 

Activities - We attended trivia, a lecture on the ship's recycling programs, a meringue dance lesson.  This ship also has a live hot glass show that is really interesting to watch. The glass makers sculpt and blow glass into some amazing shapes.

Bars - The Gastropub is brand new and no other ship has it. It's a great beer bar with a solid beer list. 
Santos, the bartender, is fantastic. He enrolled in a very rigorous training program for bartenders called World Class. I don't think we ordered a drink by name. We would just walk up and say something refreshing or something with bourbon. The Molecular Bar is another great bar. The bartenders use foam, liquid nitrogen, and unusual fresh ingredients to make unique cocktails.

Overall, the crew was very friendly. It was the cleanest cruise ship we have ever been on. Our room steward was fantastic and the common areas were kept spotless. 

The Equinox heads to Europe for the summer and fall and I highly recommend it. 

Check out a quick 30 second video of my personal photos: 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Client Review: First time Disney World Trip

"We were thrilled to book with you and I will definitely recommend you to others planning trips to Disney!

And second, thank you for an overall amazing trip to Disney! We had quite the three days and even despite crazy weather (85 and sunny to terrible rains the second day to a high of 48 on our third day!), we enjoyed this time. The biggest regret was to only have 3 days. We did get into a character dining experience at Chef Mickeys which was amazing and so glad we could make that happen. The app is truly incredible to help you navigate the park and maximize your fast passes. We loved the Soarin ride at Epcot and just the characters, magic, and parade of Magic Kingdom. We did not make it to Hollywood Studios. The rain cut our time short at Magic Kingdom so we spend two days there instead which was worth it. For dining, the Wilderness Lodge log cabin was our least favorite dining experience. It may have been too much at the end of a rainy day in the park and it was dark so we couldn't see much on the boat ride. We definitely got some great ideas for our next trip so we will be in touch!

Thank you for helping us make this all happen! You were so incredibly responsive to my questions and just helped this first-timer really plan a trip full of memories."

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spotlight on: The Royal Princess from Princess Cruise Lines

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to tour the Royal Princess from Princess Cruise Lines. This is one of the newest ships from Princess. I was very impressed. 

The atrium and Piazza make a stunning impression as you board the ship. I was impressed at the number of restaurants right there:

International Cafe offers Mexican torta and paninis. 

Alfredo's makes pizzas right in front of you. 

Ocean Terrace Seafood is one of the best raw bar/sushi bars I've seen in 25 cruises. 

Speaking of food, the buffet was incredible: Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, Italian, American homestyle. You can find anything from wings to carved beef to salad. Plus there's a separate pastry shop with all the desserts! 

I was also really impressed with the Spa and deck. The Spa has an incredible couples massage suite with private steam room, tub, couch and massage tables. The deck features two separate upgraded areas: the Retreat and the Sanctuary. 

The Retreat is an adults - only pool with cabanas available for rent. 

The Sanctuary is also adults-only, but even more luxurious. You can purchase a day pass or rent a private VIP cabana. Plus there's Spa Cabanas so you can enjoy your massage right there. 

The Sea View Deck offers a walk way that juts out over the ocean. The floor has glass cut out so you can stare straight down. One thing to note is that on that side of the ship - the cabin balconies are not private. Because the walkway juts out - you can see onto everyone's balcony below. 

Overall, I was very impressed with the ship and highly recommend it. If you are interested in setting sail on Princess, please contact me at 

Please enjoy a one minute and 30 second video featuring my pictures: 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Spotlight on Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando

I recently stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando.  The Hard Rock is located a short 5 - 7 minute walk from Universal Studios Orlando. It has a large pool, fitness center, Spa, and several room categories depending on large your group is. 

We went the weekend of December 12th. The good thing about this weekend was that the Parks were not very busy. When you stay at the Hard Rock - you get an Unlimited Express Pass to both Parks included with your room.  This pass allows you to bypass the regular lines at participating attractions at both Universal Studios Florida AND Islands of Adventure theme parks. The Pass does not work in the Harry Potter worlds, but we were shocked that both of the major Harry Potter attractions had wait lines of less than 45 minutes on Saturday morning.  

The down side of this weekend is that a lot of restaurants are closed for private functions plus the Parks closed at 7 pm each night, but we saw the roller coasters still running so we assumed they closed early for private functions as well. Margaritaville and the Rising Star karaoke venue were both closed. At the Hard Rock, when we checked in Friday afternoon, a corporate Christmas was in full effect in the Hotel lobby. The Velvet Bar was closed both nights for private functions. We were able to get reservations at the Palm and enjoyed a night cap at The Kitchen. Both restaurants do a great job with food and service. We were surprised by a Minion at The Kitchen so that was a lot of fun. 

Accommodations - We had a King Club Level Room. The Club Level provides some additional benefits. The biggest benefit we enjoyed was the Club Lounge. The Lounge offers continental breakfast with mimosas, snacks throughout the day, an evening happy hour and a dessert bar. We took advantage of the breakfast, happy hour and dessert and were impressed. The happy hour includes wine and beer and hot appetizers. Our room was on the same level as the Club Lounge so it was nice to have breakfast without having to wander through the resort. The Lounge was also a nice place for my husband to wait for me to finish getting ready for dinner.  The other benefits of the Club Level are a daily pass to the Fitness Center which has steam rooms and saunas in the locker room (a $10 per person per day value), evening turn down service, reduced rates on the cabanas and access to a special Concierge. 

The Pool - The zero entry pool is large with a water slide and water fountains for the little kids. The chairs are not as comfortable as those at Portofino, but we found the Beach Club restaurant to be nicer. Portions of the pool area have sand so you can relax on a chair "on the beach" or play beach volleyball. 

The Service - We found everyone to be very helpful and attentive from the Front Desk to the restaurants to our housekeeper. 

The Parks - As I said before - we were surprised the Parks were so quiet. We had a lot of fun at the Blue Brothers Christmas Show, the Grinchmas show, and the Macy's parade plus all the balloons around Universal Studios are great!  

If you'd like to explore Universal Studios - please email me at 

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