Monday, April 24, 2017

Bucket List: Galapagos

The Galapagos islands are a popular location on many people’s bucket lists.

What’s the draw? It’s the animals.  These animals have no natural predators so they are friendly. You can get close to sea lions and giant seat turtles.

Where is it? This grouping of 19 islands and many smaller islets is 620 miles off Ecuador’s coast in the Pacific Ocean. Each island boasts its own unique landscape, ranging from barren black, volcanic rocks to swaths of white sand beaches with blue waters.

When is a good time to go?  The hot, rainy season is December – May.  Temperatures average in the 80s. The ocean is the calm, but you can expect rain daily.  The cooler, dryer season is June through November. The Humboldt Current which brings chilly water and cooler temperatures (in the 70s).  This is said to be a better time for diving because the cold attracts more marine life – like hammerhead sharks. (I’ll be viewing those from very…very…very… far away.) The seas will be rougher.  You’ll also have a better chance of spotting  whale sharks at Wolf and Darwin islands.

To get between the islands, you’ll need access to a boat. You can chose a tour where you sleep on an island in the Galapagos and then take day trips. Or you can cruise through the Galapagos. Boat sizes range from the 100 person Celebrity Xpedition to boats with only a few cabins like the Celebrity Xploration. The benefit of a larger cruise ship is a larger cabin and more amenities on board. Because 100 people would overwhelm some of the islands, guests take turns touring. The benefit of the smaller yacht is more access.

Popular add-ons to a visit to the Galapagos are tours of the Ecuadorian Amazon or Macchu Picchu in Peru.  

What do you think? Is this location going on your bucket list? Email me for mini e-brochure of different itineraries to start dreaming!  When you are ready to start planning, let's chat.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What is the difference between Value and Luxury All-Inclusive resorts?

One problem a travel agent can solve for you is helping you understand the difference between resorts and assess if the upgrade in price is worth it.

For example, Iberostar Paraiso del Mar, Iberostar Paraiso Beach, Iberostar Paraiso Lindo, Iberostar Paraiso Maya, and Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso all sit next to each other on the same beach.

So, what's the difference?

Iberostar Paraiso del Mar and Iberostar Paraiso Beach share the same beach area, pools, entertainment and beach area.

Del Mar and Beach guest amenities:
  • 11 am - 11 pm Room Service
  • Only 3 a la care restaurants reservations per week. Other dinners are in the buffet.
  • Concierge in lobby only
  • Restaurants are open air.

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo and Iberostar Paraiso Maya share the same beach area, pools, entertainment and kid's clubs.

Lindo and Maya amenities
  • 24 hour rooms service
  • Unlimited a la restaurant reservations
  • Most restaurants are air-conditioned
  • Concierge in each building
  • Wave Pool and Lazy River

The Maya guests can make reservations at the Lindo ra la carte restaurants. The Lindo guest cannot make reservations at the Maya a la carte restaurants. The other big difference is the rooms. The Maya has all junior suites.

The differences between the Grand Hotel and the Maya and Lindo are more substantial:
  • The Grand is adults only.
  • Grand guests can make unlimited a la carte reservations at any restaurant in the complex.
  • 24 hour room service
  • The food offerings are upgraded. For instance, the grill at the Maya and Lindo offers chicken, burgers and hot dogs. The grill at the Grand offers steak, tuna, salmon, or chicken grilled to your specifications.
  • The chairs are more luxurious at the Grand and the service is faster.

This video will show you the differences in the entry level room categories:

If you have any questions or would like my help choosing which resort is right for your vacation, email me or schedule a time to chat.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Small cruise ships versus Big cruise ships

Most people know about the large cruise ships: Norwegian, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, etc. A little less known are the small ships sailing around the world. Where the largest ships hold up to 6,300 passengers, the small ships generally have less than a thousand passengers

So, what’s the difference?

Itinerary - Small ships can get places that large ships can’t navigate or islands where an influx of over 3,000 people would overwhelm the location. For instance, on our Azamara Quest itinerary we stopped in Saint Barths. A large ship isn't able to get into St. Barth's to have a stop there.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Client Review: Regal Princess Caribbean Cruise

I love getting emails from happy clients!

Here Lizzy comments on her Regal Princess Caribbean Cruise:

"Hi Angie,
The cruise was absolutely AMAZING!!! It was the most luxurious and relaxing trip I could have ever hoped for :) As you had anticipated, it was definitely a much older crowd (majority of passengers were 50-80), but we were there to relax more than socialize, however, we did meet a lot of wonderful people our parents' age! We also were inspired by the amount of elderly passengers as they didn't let their age phase them from continuing to travel or having a great time!  Aside from how relaxing the cruise was, we loved that every day was something different vs. falling into the same routine like you usually do at an all inclusive/resort. Some of my favorite things were the below:
**Pool- the entire pool area was much larger than I had thought it would be for a cruise. It never felt overcrowded or cramped! We stayed around the main pool everyday, however, it was nice they had quite a few pool options.
**Live music - The band on board was awesome! they would play for a few hours at the pool everyday and then in the piazza every night. they played a wide variety that everyone could relate to.
**Afternoon movie at the pool  - This was great! we would grab a drink and sit in the pool and watch a movie on the big screen!
**SPA  - Most luxurious spa I have ever been to. They had a great promo that was book 3 services and get 10%, 20% & 30% off. They took the highest percentage off your most expensive service.
**Crown Grille Steakhouse- This was a $29 surcharge per person, but well worth it as the quality was excellent and it was nice to do something different than the anytime dining.
**Fiera!  - This play was amazing. The performers were wonderful and the set was unbelievable. Although it was short, it was one of my favorite plays I have ever seen due to the music, set and awesome costumes!

**Amber Cove- least favorite as it was very artificial and it just doesn't compare to St. Thomas/St. Maarten, however, we still had a great time. We went to the Sky Bar at the very top, which had great views
**St. Thomas- Loved!!! Took the gondola to the top of St. Thomas where they had the most gorgeous views and a great restaurant. Then took a taxi to Coki Beach, which was a blast! Small, but lots of action and the water is beautiful.
**St. Maarten- Front Street shopping was wonderful. Lots of hecklers, but the cute shops make it all worth it. Also went to the Airport Beach and ate at the Sunset Café, which was a fun lively atmosphere. Overall, a very fun experience, but pretty far from the port. About a 30 min cab ride.

Those are the highlights, but thank you again for all of your help. This trip was exactly what we needed!!!!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spotlight on: Azamara Quest

In December 2016,  we took a cruise on the Azamara Quest. This is a small ship with only five 700 guests.

Cabin:  The cabins were small and the shower was tiny. I was grateful that our cruise was only eight nights because I couldn't have imagined going on a longer cruise with that small of a shower. To give some perspective,  the Azamara balcony cabins were about the size of a Carnival interior cabin. They did make good use of the space. We liked the patio furniture on the balcony because it allowed to have a comfortable meal outdoors. We love our room service breakfast.

Staff: We really got to know staff very well because each staff member usually has multiple roles,  especially the bar waiters. This made the service a lot more personalized. We enjoyed the special touches like chilled towels and ice water as we sat by the pool.

Dining - The food overall was good. It wasn’t the best cruise food we’ve ever had. Email me and I'll tell you who that honor goes to.  The menus were good and we liked the grill by the pool – especially the wings. We still the same problems with the buffet being crowded, but the service was better than we have experienced on any other ship. We had some struggle with the dining room service at dinner time. We did not have a consistent experience across the different tables where we were seated. It’s all open dining.  The means you cannot get dining time like you can on the large ships. In general, we prefer having a set time at the same table with the same staff for each dinner. We find this usually ends up with better service since the dining staff get to know us better.

Activities – We missed having a comedian onboard. The nightly shows were pretty good.  I really enjoyed the Broadway review. Trivia was taken very seriously and played in teams. We were surprised at the number of live musicians across the ship in the evening.

Itinerary -  Azamara tries to differentiate itself by having the more time in port.  In almost every port, we didn't leave until 10 or 11 o'clock at night. This made a huge difference in what we were able to do. It took so much pressure off of feeling like you had to rush back or you might miss the ship.

AzAmazing Evening – The other very special part of cruising Azamara is the AzAmazing evening. The team organizes a special event on land for the whole ship. Ours was a party at the governor's mansion in Antigua.  It was unbelievable. They had terrific local bands with the longest firework show I have ever seen. We had police escorts from the cruise ship to the event.  Coming back all of the staff from Azamara was outside with trays of drinks welcoming us back to the ship with the orchestra playing.

Overall Vibe -  We read more than we have any other cruising been on. We met some wonderful people. People seem to be more friendly and more open to getting to know you again because there were so much fewer of you. Overall,  we were surprised that the service didn't exceed our expectations. I think that's a sign that we have just been on a lot of fabulous large ship cruises. For those who don’t cruise as often as we do,  I think you'll have a more consistent experience on a small ship versus the varied experiences we've had on a large ships. Though, the small size of the cabin that would be a deal-breaker from many people.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Groups with Different Budgets

 Traveling with friends and family is a lot of fun, but one issue that comes up is when everyone does not have the same budget for the trip.

One of the ways I help my client is to look at different options that could accommodate different budgets. Two examples of this are all inclusive resorts and cruises because they have a variety of room/cabin options at different price points.

For example, the Iberostar Paraiso complex south of Cancun,  Mexico has five resorts along the same beach. You have access to  different levels of amenities depending on which of the resorts you stay in.

You can choose:

 Grand Hotel  - An adults only luxury all inclusive resort with unlimited a la carte restaurant options and exchange privileges  at all five resorts 

Maya or Lindo – A family all inclusive resort with unlimited all – inclusive a la carte restaurant options at your resort and the Del Mar or Beach. You also have exchange privileges at Del Mar and Beach.  If you stay at Maya, you can access Lindo restaurants. Maya guests cannot access Lindo restaurants. The Maya and Lindo share the pool and beach area. The Maya resort has all junior suite. The Lindo has standard rooms.

Del Mar or Beach – A family all inclusive resort. You have restrictions on the number of nights you can eat at an a la carte restaurant. No room service.   

Your group could still meet on the beach together, enjoy the pools together or get reservations at the a la carte restaurant at the lowest level resort.  The downside to this is that the people who paid for the Grand Hotel probably wouldn't use them as much if  the rest of their group was at the Del Mar  or Beach Resort.  This came up recently at a 40th birthday party at an adults only all inclusive resort that offers a privileged club. Some of the group paid for their preferred Club rooms, but the rest of the group opted for a regular room. Those who paid for the preferred Club said that they didn't really use the amenities because they were spending time with their friends.

Another option is to explore different lengths of trip. The lower budget crew stays 3 nights and those with a higher budget threshold stay longer and/or upgrade their room category for the second half of the trip.

In a similar way, cruises offer a good opportunity for people with different budgets. You have a range of cabins choices from cabins with no windows up to suites. When picking a cruise, it's important to make sure that you can all be together for dining. For instance, Celebrity, Cunard, and the Norwegian Haven have separate dining rooms depending on the cabin you book.  Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean or the general Norwegian room may be a better fit to ensure you share the same dining options.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Choosing a Fast Pass for Disney World

Fast Passes are reservations for rides, attractions, shows, or parades at Disney World. You can make up to 3 per day for one Park in advance.  This requires that you have a My Disney Experience account set up and linked to your reservation. 

If you'd like a copy of this in a PDF, email me.

If you are staying at a Walt Disney World resort, your Fast Pass reservations will open at 7:00 am 60 days prior to your date of arrival.  You will be able to make reservations for your entire stay.  

If you are not staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can make a Fast Pass reservation thirty days in advance. 
You will not be able to make the reservation for your whole stay.

Once you have used your first three pre-scheduled Fast Pass reservations, you are able to reserve more Fast Passes one at a time.  After you scan your third Fast Pass, I recommend opening the App while you are waiting in line and securing an additional Fast Pass then. You can make a Fast Pass for a different Park if you have a Park Hopper ticket. After you use that Fast Pass, you will be able to reserve another Fast Pass. This works best at Magic Kingdom since so many attractions are available for Fast Pass.

Here's a step by step tutorial on how to make a Fast Pass reservation on My Disney Experience. 

Once you use your three Fast Pass reservations, you can go to a kiosk in the Park or use the My Disney Experience App and request additional Fast Passes one at a time. 

My general recommendations for the Fast Passes are: 

1. Not every ride needs a Fast Pass. Below I've listed the rides that tend to have long lines. Star Tours, Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are three of the most popular rides in Disney World. 

2. If you are having trouble finding a Fast Pass for a Park, schedule a character meet and greet or a movie. These are air-conditioned areas that offer a break from the heat or the rain. 

For Magic Kingdom, you can pick three of the following attractions. I've listed the attractions that tend to have long lines and  I've sorted them by height restriction.  

Any Height
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin 
Jungle Cruise
Peter Pan’s Flight 
Pirates of the Caribbean 
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Rides with Height Restrictions
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - 38 inches or taller 
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - 40 inches or taller 
Splash Mountain ® - 40 inches or taller 
Space Mountain®  - 44 inches or taller 

Character Meet and Greet
Cinderella and Eleana
Tiana and Rapunzel
Mickey Mouse
Tinker Bell 

For Epcot, the attractions are split into two groups.

First Group - You can pick one: 
Soarin’ - 40 inches or taller  - This is my favorite ride, but kids usually find Test Track more exciting because you race around a track at 60 miles an hour.
Test Track - 40 inches or taller 
Frozen - Any Height - Take a slow moving boat ride with some darkness and drops through the movie.
IllumiNations Reflections - This is a special viewing area.

Second Group - You can pick two  attractions: 
Character Meet and Greet: Meet Disney Pals at the Epcot Character Spot
Mission SPACE® - 44 inches or taller  - This is very intense and can be claustrophobic for folks. 
Spaceship Earth - Any Height
The Seas with Nemo and Friends - Any Height
Show: Turtle Talk with Crush - Any Height 
Living with the Land - Any Height

Journey into the Imagination and the Pixar Film Festival generally do not have long lines.

For Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the attractions are split into two groups: 

First Group - You can pick one of these attractions: 
My recommendation in this group is Toy Story Mania - Any Height. The other options are Fantasmic, Beauty and the Beast on Stage, The Great Movie Ride,  and Rock N Roller Coaster. 

Second Group - You can pick two of these attractions: 
Show: Disney Junior - Live on Stage - This show you sit on the floor so it is nice to get in first and be closer to the front. It's a puppet show. 
Star Tours ® - The Adventures Continue - 40 inches or taller - Great use of a Fast Pass.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - 40 inches or taller - Large drop

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid tend to have shorter lines because they are a all shows in a large theater.

For Animal Kingdom, you can pick three attractions: 
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain ® - 44 inches or taller 
Show: Festival of the Lion King
Kilimanjaro Safaris ® - Any Height 
Dinosaur - 40 inches or taller
Rivers of Light Preferred Seating
Primeval Whirl - 48 inches or taller
Kali River Rapids - 38 inches or taller

Character Meet and Greet - Meet Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost , Finding Nemo, and  It's Tough to Be a Bug tend to have shorter lines.

**Updated March 2017**