Tuesday, March 31, 2015

5 Tips for Gluten Free Vacations at All-Inclusive Resorts

1. Seek out resorts with unlimited a la carte dining. Buffets can be difficult.

2. Double check food preparation standards for foods you will eat frequently.  
For example, are French fries fried in separate oil?

3. Seek out resorts with alcohol you can drink.  Not all resorts include wine. 

4. Contact the resort in advance to ensure your reservation is marked with a special dietary need. 

5. Meet with the chef upon arrival at the resort. Express your dietary concerns as a medical necessity. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Family Travel Tips - How to keep parents sane during travel

1. Find a resort or cruise line with a great kids'club. The kids have a great time meeting other kids and enjoying great new activities. Parents enjoy having a little alone time during the vacation. 

2. Agree that each parent will get do one activity alone for a certain amount of time - schedule a massage, take a 3 hour excursion, take out a kayak. 

3. Go with the flow - If everyone is exhausted, sleep in. Yes, it may seem like you are "wasting" vacation by sleeping, but that's better than epic melt downs by both parents and kids. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cruising Gluten Free

Before You Cruise 
1. Be sure your dietary restrictions are noted in the application. 
2. Email the Special Needs Department to reconfirm your dietary needs. 
3. Assigned Dining for dinner - Many people prefer utilizing the assigned dining option so they can have the same table and wait staff each night for dinner.  With anytime dining, you can also request the same wait staff.   On many ships, the main dining room will also be available for breakfast so you’ll only need to navigate the buffet for lunch. 
4. Investigate booking a suite level cabin - On some cruise lines, the suite level accommodations come with their own dining rooms that include a lunch service so you’d be able to avoid the dining rooms. 
5. Pack meal replacement options - While you will have gluten free food available on the ship, you may not have the same options on shore. Many excursions last 6 - 8 hours and the included snack will likely not be gluten free. 

Once On Board 
1. Meet with the Maitre’D to confirm your reservation indicates gluten free. 
2. The first night at dinner make sure to introduce yourself to your servers and educate them about your dietary needs and the seriousness of your condition.  
3. Pre-order food for the next night’s dinner - At the end of dinner, request to see the next night’s dinner menu. The server should review for you what is gluten free. If the server doesn’t seem confident in what is gluten free, ask for the maitre’D to come over. If you can’t find something you like on the menu, pre-order something else.  Stir fry with chicken, steak or grilled chicken with vegetables or a pork chop with mashed potatoes are all great options. 
4. Navigating the buffet - Ask for a manager or chef to come out to walk around the buffet with you.  You may also be able to special order gluten free toast, pizza or pasta from the buffet kitchen. 
5. If you are having trouble getting what you need -  go to guest services and ask to speak with the Hotel Director. She/He oversees the food option and should be able to help you troubleshoot any issues that may come up.  The guest service staff will not be able to answer your dining questions, but they should be able to get a message to the Hotel Director with your concerns. 

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.