Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spotlight on: El Dorado Maroma

El Dorado Maroma is an adults-only all-inclusive resorts at on the beautiful Maroma Beach south of Cancun, Mexico. It's vibe is laid-back and quiet. This is a great resort if you are looking for a gorgeous Beach with fantastic suite options.
Maroma Beach

Monday, August 29, 2016

Did You Know? Special events at vacation locations

One question I often hear is "When is the best time to go?"

"Best" can many definitions here:
- Best weather
- Best value

Or what we talking about today: best special events!

Cruises, all-inclusive resorts and vacation locations have all types of special events that can add so much fun to your vacation.

The El Dorado Royale adults-only all-inclusive resort in Mexico has a Jackson Family Wine Series the first week of every month and a Canadian Beef series the second week of each month. The series includes special wine and food events.

Beach Barbeque as part of Canadian Beef Series at El Dorado Royale

The Hard Rock and Palace all-inclusive resorts have events that include music artists or special shows. For example, Moon Palace will host a new Cirque du Soleil show from December 22nd to January 3rd.

Carnival Cruise Line launched its Carnival Live! series where musicians and comedians come aboard special sailings. You could see Jeff Foxworthy, Little Big Town, Tim McGraw, Sam Hunt, or Jay Leno plus many more.

The city you are visiting may also have a big even you'd enjoy: food festivals, sporting events, craft beer festivals, or special themed cruise sailings.

Based on your hobbies, we can find a great vacation option.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Spotlight on: El Dorado Seaside Suites

El Dorado Seaside Suites is a small adults-only all-inclusive resort 90 minutes south of the Cancun airport in between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. This resort is great for couples who love a swim up suite with a great view that want to be close to all the activities Playa del Carmen and Tulum have to offer.

The resort has a hundred and ninety-two Suites that face the ocean. Because this resort shares restaurants and amenities with the resort next door, it feels more spread out. Of the restaurants available, only one requires reservations.

Klay Talay - Wok Cuisine
Seaside Market - World Cuisine
Driftwood Gourmet and BBQ Corner - This is the restaurant under the pool close to the beach and the pool

Mi Casa - Italian Cuisine

The resort is set up so every room is a swim-up suite. You either have an infinity pool balcony or a swim up suite that enters into the main pool. Butler Service is available on the beach and bali beds are  first come first serve.

The resort houses the largest spa of any of the Karisma resorts.

It has a hydrotherapy pool, hot and cold pools, a mud room and an ice room. You get access to the water area of the spa included with any treatment or you can purchase a day pass for $25.

As for activities, kayaks and a snorkel tours are available from the adjoining resort.  You can also reserve time on the tennis court. A disco with the live music is open until 2 a.m.

The resort is geared towards couples. If you were traveling with a group,  three sets of three connecting rooms are available on the fourth floor. It's by request only and is not guaranteed.  There's also one room with two double beds per floor.

Mezcal is the signature drink.

It's a tequila that has been cooked underground for 2 to 3 days with a very smoky taste.

If you think El Dorado Seaside Suites may be a good fit for your vacation, email me or set up a time to chat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tips for a Disney Cruise

Check in online for the cruise and sign up for the Youth Club through www.disneycruiseline.com. The sign up for the Youth Club is on the Reservations page under details. Be sure to print and bring your boarding pass.

Once you have completed your cruise check in, you can sign up for shore excursions and other on board activities according to the following schedule if you are paid in full:
  • 125 days in advance: Concierge Guests
  • 120 days in advance: Platinum level in Castaway Club (At least 11 cruises)
  • 105 days in advance: Gold level in Castaway Club  (6th - 10th cruise)
  • 90 days in advance:   Silver Level in Castaway Club (2nd - 5th cruise)
  • 75 days in advance:   First time cruises

Complete the Health Questionnaire - one per cabin..

Download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator App to your smart phone. . The Disney Cruise Line Navigator App will give you access to the schedules once onboard.

Complete the attached Health Questionnaire - one per cabin. The attached document is the updated version as of May 2015. They may be using a different version now, but I think it doesn't hurt to have it completed and printed.

If you are traveling with minor without his/her legal guardians, you will need additional minor authorization forms.

Packing ideas:
  • Pirate Night Attire. You will have one pirate themed night on the cruise.
  • Cruise Casual Attire for dinner: No swimsuits or tank tops
  • Dress Up Attire for dinner: Jacket for Men and Dress/Pantsuit for Women
  • If dining at Palo, men must wear a collared shirt and dress pants. Dress/Pantsuit for Women
  • If dining at Remy, men must wear a collared shirt, dress pants, and a jacket. Dress/Pantsuit for Women
  • Lanyard to carry your card
For packing lists by destination, click here.

Boarding the Ship

You can line up for boarding as early as 11:00 am. Once you pass through security at the cruise terminal, you can head to up the escalator where you will be directed to a counter to check in. You will board the ship according to the port arrival time you choose when you checked in. For example, if you chose a port arrival time of 2 pm and you arrive at 11:00 am, you should be prepared to wait until 2 pm to board.
Disney Cruise Line Guests 21 years and older may bring a maximum of 2 bottles of unopened wine or champagne (no larger than 750 ml) or 6 beers (no larger than 12 ounces) on board at the beginning of the voyage and at each port-of-call. The alcohol must be brought on in the carry-on.

Guests wishing to consume wine or champagne that they have brought on board in one of the dining rooms will be charged a corking fee of $25.00 per bottle.

After checking in, head across the terminal to the Youth Club check in. You still need to check in here even if you sign up online. You will complete the final paperwork and get a Magic Band. This Magic Band has to be returned at the end of the cruise or you will be charged for it.

Once On Board

You can head to the buffet or one of the open restaurants for lunch. You may want to head directly to Guest Services to secure tickets for the princess meet and greets.

Additional things to check out:
  • Any specialty dining reservations. I can also arrange these for you in advance.
  • Rainforest Room Passes - This is a special adults only section of the spa with steam rooms, Jacuzzis, and heated loungers.
  • Visit the Kids’ Club Open House. This will be the only chance for the adults to walk through the club.
  • You can buy souvenir cups for the drink of the day or beer. This gives you the larger size refill at the regular price.
  • Pay attention to the cruise navigator for show times, character meet and greets, and important port information.

Keeping In Touch While On Board
Inside your cabin, you’ll find WAVE phones. These will work like cell phones while you are on the ship.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spotlight on: Azul Sensatori

Azul Sensatori is a large all-inclusive family resort about 20 minutes from the Cancun Airport. It has 435 suites divided into four sections: Family, Luxury, Premium, and Adults Only.  It's a great option for family groups with different budgets and priorities. It has lots of family friendly activities and gourmet food.

The beach is nice and not too rocky. Food and drinks are close to the beach in the family section. Beach service is very spotty in all the sections except for Premium. Bali beds are first-come first-served except for the Premium section where they can be reserved one day in advance.

The resort has six restaurants plus a special restaurant called the Le Chique which features Molecular Gastronomy Cuisine. The restaurant offers a  $25 per person abbreviated  menu for resort guests or the full 20 to 25 course menu available for $110 per person. 

Le Chique

The resort also offers a character breakfast for $29 per adult or $17 per child with Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A la carte breakfast, lunch, and dinner is available.

The signature bar and drink is mojito/  I tried to a strawberry mojito and it was delicious.

Kids' Activities

Under 4 years old can access the kids club between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. with an adult or nanny. Nanny services are available for $20 per hour for up to two kids.

The kids club for 4 - 12 year olds is available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. There's also a Teens Club 13 to 17 year olds. The kids club has a toy lending program if you want to have toys in your room.

In the evenings, the lobby has live music and an open-air theater has an evening show.

One of the most popular is the Nickelodeon orange carpet.

Mojito's turns into a disco late at night.

For other activities,  you can play tennis or try archery. The spa offers the Water Journeys included with treatment or $35for a  day pass.

The spa have a large room were three to four friends can access spa services at the same time.

If you think this resort may be a good fit for your family, email me or set up a time to chat.

Remember - my vacation planning services are free if you book your vacation through me. I can save you time and money as I find the best options for your family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Generations Riviera Maya Resort Tour

I just returned from a 4 night stay at Generations Riviera Maya about 35 south of the Cancun, Mexico airport. Join me on my extensive 30 minute tour of the resort.

Check out this full resort tour:

A few things stood out to me about this resort: 

  • The Swim Up Suites are fantastic. If you are on the ground floor, you swim out right into the main pool. If you are on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th floor, you have access to an infinity that stretches the length of the balcony.
  • It's great for large family groups or groups of friends. It offers a three bedroom suite options that is a one bedroom suite connected to a room with 2 double beds next to a room with a king bed. All three rooms have a sleeper sofa that could fit three children under 12. It's rate at an all-inclusive resort to get rooms that guaranteed to be together.
  • It's a great options for friends who don't all have kids. The resort is next to two adults only resorts. The Kids' Club is open until 11 pm so the adults can enjoy the restaurants and bars over there. This provides a great compromise for parents who want to bring their kids, but also want some grown up time.
  • The food is gourmet. They do have kids' options, but this resort's focus is on gourmet food. The plates are small. You can always order more, but you won't find a large steak anywhere on the property.
  • It's loud and quiet. Because the resort is to compact you can hear a lot of what happens at the pool in your room - especially in buildings 18 and 19. You can also hear the evening show since it takes place right by the pool. The good news is that things tend to wind down by 10 or 11 pm so it's very quiet at the resort after the evening show.
  • The beach is a little rocky and narrow. There are large concrete blocks in the water to break the surf. These will eventually sink to become an artificial reef. I really like the sound of the waves crashing from my room.
If you think this may be a good fit for your family, email me. 

Currently, there's a promotion for a free Dolphin Experience. Plus you'll get a free private transfer if you book with me by August 31st.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Spotlight on Azul Beach

Azul Beach is an all-inclusive family-friendly resort 15 to 20 minutes from the Cancun Airport.  The resort houses 148 suites in low rise buildings.  I'll describe the vibe as Mexican modern boutique and it tends to be quiet at night.

I think this resort is a great fit for families with small children because
  • The resort provides all the baby amenities: high chairs, strollers, cribs, changing tables, baby bathtubs, and  Gerber baby food.
  • The resort is easier to maneuver as most of the rooms are close to the beach and the pool.
  • It's a quiet resort - especially after 9 pm.

The Beach and Pools

Toddler size chaises

The beach is nice and not too rocky. It offers cabanas that can you reserve the day before with the beach butler. The beach butlers provide beach picnics and drinks to the beach area. Shade on the beach could be a little bit of an issue since the cabanas are the only seating options that are covered.

The resort has 8 swimming pools, a swim up bar and swim up suites. Daily activities at the pool can include a Nickelodeon - themed sliming twice a week and meet and greets with Dora The Explorer, Sponge Bob and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The resort has five restaurants.

Latino features northern Mexican cuisine for dinner. Be sure to check out the sangria menu.

Chill offers a la carte lunch near the beach and pool.

The Scoop is a great little ice cream shop.

Blue offers a la carte dining all day and a buffet for breakfast and lunch.

Tainan is an  a la carte Asian restaurant open for dinner.  The restaurant has a sushi bar that the chef places the sushi on a conveyor belt and you can pick off what you'd like to eat.

Roma is an Italian a la carte restaurant open for dinner.

Some special dining options are the character meals and a multi-course adults only dinner. Both of those have an extra charge. Nine house wines are included.


The kids' club is for ages 4 to 12. It operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Children under 4 can attend activities with an adult -family member or nanny.  Nanny service is available for $25 per child per hour and there's an additional $25 fee after 9 p.m.

One nice feature for families with children under 4 is that all of the baby amenities are included.

You can pre-order cribs bathtubs, strollers, and all the restaurants have high chairs and Gerber baby food available.

In terms of water activities, Azul Beach offers kayaks and paddleboards. Most of the evening activities finish around 9 p.m. because this is a resort that really caters to families with younger kids.

The largest room category provides accommodations for 2 adults and 3 children.

Connecting rooms can be requested, but not guaranteed. As always, I work with the resort to give you the best chance for getting a connecting room. The resort also has beautiful suites designed for couples since many adults like the quiet, boutique feel. A special tip for trying to pick a good room category is that building 9 is the building right in front of the swim up bar.

If you have any questions or think Azul Beach may be best for your family, I am offering free private transfers for any bookings deposited by August 31, 2016. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Five tips for Holland America's Koningsdam

Top 5 Tips for Holland America Koningsdam

1. Be sure to book a dinner at the Culinary Arts Center. Ask a lot of questions. This is a great event. You watch the chefs prepare your email. Instead of a traditional demonstration style class, the chefs cook and you can wander up and ask questions. The food was great and we loved all the interactions with the chef.

Culinary Arts Center

2. Add the Laundry Package – Holland America offers unlimited laundry for $7 per day. It’s worth every penny and more. We came home with clean clothes.

3. Get a set dining time – The main restaurant had some challenges handling set dining times and reservations. This is a cruise where you want a set dining time.

4. Avoid the buffet – Okay, this is more of my personal preference. The buffet here felt small and crowded. The food was very good, but I didn’t like the experience of getting it. We found some great alternatives: Dive In Burger, Dutch Café, New York Pizza and Deli. Dive In Burger and New York Pizza and Deli give you a pager so you know when your food is ready. Dutch Café gives you a number. At New York Pizza and Deli, they serve the salad right when you order.

Dutch Café

5. Try the Sushi – The buffet has included sushi available. Tamarind has a sushi bar with a la carte pricing.

Sushi Bar in Taramind

A few  bonus tips:

If you are a foodie, find out when the Pop Up restaurant will take over the Pinnacle Grill and book reservations. It’s amazing.

If you like bourbon or whiskey, be sure to try the Notes experience. It’s a wonderful tasting opportunity.

If you are looking for a special experience for an anniversary, the renewal of vows package is lovely.

If you have any questions or want more information, please email me or set up a time to chat.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Want to live like a pirate or a princess? Check out the themed rooms at Walt Disney World

Every Disney resort has a theme or a geographic location they are trying to recreate. For this week's #travelthursday, we explored the Disney resorts that go above and beyond with more immersive themes in some rooms.

Art of Animation is one of Disney's newest resorts. I personally think it has the most immersive themes for the pool areas - especially for Cars. It really feels like you are walking right into the movie. 

Here's full tour of the resort and the Lion King family suites so you can see what I mean:

In addition to the Lion King Family Suite, Art of Animation has:

Little Mermaid Standard Rooms  
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Travel Company

Finding Nemo Family Suite
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Travel Company

Cars Family Suite
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Travel Company
If your family is more into pirates and princesses, don't worry. Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans Riverside have great themed rooms for you.

Caribbean Beach Pirate Themed Room
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

Port Orleans Riverside Royal Guest Room

Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

If you have any questions or want to explore a vacation in one of these great rooms, email me or set up a time to chat.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mediterranean Cruising- 10 Things You Need to Know

In July 2016, I traveled to Messina, Sicily, Naples (Capri/Pompeii), Italy, Rome(Civitavecchia), Italy, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy, Marseilles (Provence), France, and Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Cruising the Mediterranean is much different that cruising the Caribbean. The sites are just incredible. I had so many bucket list moments on that cruise.

Greek Theatre, Taormina, Sicily

Nerano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Vatican, Italy

Here's what you need to know:

1. You have to do research in advance. If you are on a large cruise ship, you will dock at large industrial ports that are far from the city. Livorno and Rome(Civitavecchia) are two great examples of this. Rome is 90 minutes by bus from the port. Florence, Pisa and Tuscany are also quite far from the port. The Livorno port is enormous. It took us 10 minutes just to get out of the port. I recommend using a travel agent (like me) to help you figure out the best tour options for what you want to see and experience.

2. Skip the Line is worth it. Many of the museums or attractions will have skip the line tickets. It's important you figure out if the tour you are taking includes those tickets. If you are doing it yourself, it's worth purchasing the skip the line tickets in advance to save yourself hours when you get to the site.

3. Consider cruising in May or September. We cruised in July and it was HOT! HOT! HOT! May and September will still have nice weather, but you won't melt.

4. You may have to surrender your passport on the ship. Our itinerary included ports all in the European Union. If you are going on an itinerary that includes a country outside the European Union, you may have to turn your passport in to the cruise ship while on board. This is a customary practice. It's also why I travel with a physical copy of my passport and I take a picture of it and store it in my phone.

5. Download Google Translate to your smart phone. Set it up to have offline access to the languages you will need. Everywhere we went, we were able to get our message across in English. It was still nice to have access to a translation app to decode menus, signs and for those few times charades wasn't cutting it.

6. Exchange currency in advance. It is so convenient to land in a country with Euros in your pocket. Sure, you can seek out an ATM or currency exchange when you get there, but why? Most banks will order currency for you in advance.

7. Make sure your credit card has a chip. Most European merchants require a chip in the card to process it.

8. VAT Tax - Even on a cruise, VAT tax is added to all your purchases. In our case, it was about 20%. If you buy a physical good that will go back to the USA with you, you can apply for a VAT tax reimbursement. However, in order for the merchant to give the receipt you need, there is a minimum purchase requirement. Be sure you understand those details.

9. Sometimes a private tour just isn't worth it.  We took a mix of ship sponsored excursions and private excursions for our group. We noticed that the private tour of Rome would not have been worth the increase in cost since the Colosseum and the Vatican were so crowded. Our excursion in Sicily had a good amount of free time. The private tours to Capri and Tuscany were worth every penny.

10. Arrive at least one day before. Many of the flights from the USA to Europe are overnight flights so it would seem like you could just fly in the day of. If we would have done that, we would have lost our minds. Our flight was delayed by 40 minutes and then we had a 2 1/2 hour wait clearing immigration in Barcelona. We would have cut it way too close. The upside is that this was the easiest transition to a new time zone that we have ever had so we were able to get in some quality tour time in Barcelona before boarding the ship.

If you have any questions or what to explore taking a Mediterranean cruise, email me or set up a time to chat.