Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: All inclusive resorts

You know I visit a lot of resorts each year. This year, I took trips to Mexico, Aruba, Punta Cana, and Jamaica. Here's the resorts that surprised me the most on each trip.

Cancun/Riviera Maya  - Now Jade 

now Jade is family resort in Riviera Maya, just south of the Cancun airport. I was impressed with the modern design, the Preferred Club adults only pool, the kids' activities, and the no reservation dining. My client Allison also loved it for her family. Click here for Allison's review.

Jamaica - Zoetry Montego Bay

I wasn't too sure about this resort since it only has 49 suites, but I loved it. The staff was so friendly. The food was great. Fun activities filled the afternoon. And, you can't beat a jerk chicken shack right on the beach.  
Click here for my review. 

Punta Cana  - Nickelodeon Punta Cana   

This resort surprised me. I expected over-the-top Nickelodon every where. I was pleasantly surprised that the main resort felt upscale with some Nickelodeon touches. The water park and main kids' areas are located across the street - accessed by a golf cart path. Click here for my review.

Aruba  - Manchebo Beach Resort  

Going to Aruba, I knew I'd like Bucuti and Tara. I was surprised to also fall in love with Manchebo Beach resort right next door. It shares the gorgeous beach. I loved the yoga programs, quiet vibe and great restaurants.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Bucuti and Tara Suites, Aruba

Thanks to Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my trip to Aruba and this site inspection.

Bucuti and Tara Suites is a romantic, adults only resort geared towards couples. Most of the suites have been renovated in the last two years. It's small - only 104 rooms. It has a tranquil vibe. Music is available at happy hour. The Tara suites are all oceanfront. Penthouse suites include a reserved cabana. The hotel is committed to wellness. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free menus are available. Breakfast is included. 

Take a quick peek around:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Best of 2017: Cruises

I get asked a lot for my favorites: my favorite cruise or my favorite all inclusive resorts. I usually say something like, "My favorites may not be your favorites."

But today, I threw caution to the wind and decided to share my favorites. This week, I'll share my favorite cruise moments from 2017. Next week, you'll get my favorite all-inclusive resorts.

Here we go!

Overall Cruise Experience: Viking Sea

My husband and I agree that our cruise aboard the Viking Sea was one of the best cruises we have ever sailed. The ship is gorgeous. The food and service was excellent. The cabin was huge. We loved the small ship and how much was included.Click here for my full review.

Best Cruise Activity:  AzAmazing Evening

Azamara Cruises includes an AzAmazing Evening on each sailing. It's an event on land that is truly VIP. We attended a wonderful party at the Governor's Mansion in Antigua complete with a live band and the best fireworks show I've ever seen.  Click here for the full review. 

Best new Cruise Restaurant:  Tiana's on the Disney Wonder 

Disney Wonder reinvented one of their restaurants into Tiana's Place. I think it's a hit! The food is great. The atmosphere is fantastic with live music and a table side visit from Tiana.Given how great this restaurant turned out, I'm excited to see Rapunzel's Royal Table open on the Disney Magic next year. 

I hope you enjoy this peek into my personal favorites. 

Viking Sea Review and Ship Tour 2017

I had high expectations setting sail on the Viking Sea. This ship delivers a relaxing, delicious experience.

Join me on a ship tour: 

Viking Sea is gorgeous. My favorite aspect was the amount of spaces to get away. Since the ship does not have a casino, that space is allocated to cozy lounges to meet new friends or relax quietly.

Winter Garden

The cabins are fantastic. The Penthouse Junior Suite feels like a high end hotel room. The shower is large. The bed is comfortable.  

The food overall was very good. Beer and wine are included with lunch and dinner. Viking also offers a beverage package that includes upgraded wine and cocktails. Specialty Dining is included and we took full advantage. We ate 5 out of 10 nights at Manfredis, the Italian restaurant. Our favorite dishes were the octopus carpaccio, beef tartare, and the ribeye steak.
Octopus Carpaccio

Three nights, we ate at the buffet. I am usually not a buffet person, but we were really impressed. One night, we tried Chef’s Table. We found the food pretty good, but the set menu was too limiting.

One of the highlights of the cruise was the staff. Every one was happy and friendly. Sailing on a ship of only 900 people means that the staff really gets to know you and what you like.

One concern we had about sailing Viking was the entertainment and activities. We worried there wouldn’t be enough to do in the evenings. We were pleasantly surprised. The ship has a band, a classical trio, guitar player, piano player, and a production team of singers and dancers. In the early evening, two lounges had live music plus each evening the production team put on a musical revue.

Later at night, the two lounges still continued with music and the band played dance favorites in the night club.

During the day, one of the three lecturers offered at least one presentation. On Sea Days, trivia filled the Reflection Lounge. We also attended two cooking demonstrations. The wet areas of the Spa were included: steam room, snow room, and a thalassotherapy pool. Viking also includes one excursion per port. These are usually walking tour or bus tours.  

This is one of the best cruises we have ever taken. We loved how much was included.  The more we think about the cruise, the more we are ready to book our next sailing.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Barcelo Aruba All Inclusive Resort Tour

Thank you for the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my trip to Aruba and this site inspection. 

Barceló Aruba is a 373 room all inclusive family resort. 

A few things to know about this resort: 
  • Swim up Bar 
  • Reservations are required for the a la carte restaurants. You are guaranteed reservations for four nights out of a seven night stay. The other three nights are based upon availability.
  • The resort has nightly entertainment including live music and shows in an indoor theater. 
  • Tennis courts and beach vollyball are available. 
  • Royal Level has a special area of the beach that includes a bar with beach waiter service. Non-Royal guests do not have waiter service on the beach and have to get drinks at the swim up bar. 
  • Royal Level has access to one additional restaurant. 
  • Wifi has a charge unless you've booked a Royal Level Room 
  • Room service has a charge unless you've booked a Royal Level room. 

After that list, can you see why I highly recommend booking a Royal Level room at this resort? 

Take a quick peek:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Aruba All Inclusive Resort: Manchebo Beach Resort

Manchebo Beach resort is a quiet, small resort on what I consider to be the best part of Palm Beach in Aruba. It offers yoga and Pilates daily. The resort allows children, but doesn't have kids' club.

The resort offers an all-inclusive add-on. The four on-site restaurants and premium alcohol are included. After the 4th night, you get a coupon to go to a participating offsite restaurant.

The resort does not have any elevators. 

Thanks to Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my trip and this site inspection. 

Take a peek: 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hyatt Aruba

Thank you to the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my trip to Aruba and this site inspection.

Hyatt Aruba is a family resort on Palm Beach in Aruba. It is not all-inclusive. 

A few things to know about this resort: 

Kids' Activities 
  • It has a water slide. 
  • Babysitting is available
  • Camp Hyatt has 3 sessions per day Pricing changes by season . Morning and afternoon sessions include lunch. the kids must be potty trained
  • Steam room is available in the men's or women's locker rooms 
  • You can reserve a beach palapa at It is included if you reserve it for the next day or you pay in advance to secure the same chair for the whole stay. 
  • Swim Up Bar 
  • Live entertainment each evening starting at 5 pm. 
  • 2 courts. Racquets and tennis balls are included. 
  • Free Wifi 
These resort has a lot of stairs as the pool area is tiered as it heads down to the beach. King rooms have a walk in shower. Rooms with two queen beds have a bath tub. Suites have full oceanfront balconies. Island view rooms only have windows that open - no walk out balconies. Take a quick peek:

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tamarijn All Inclusive Resort Aruba

Tamarijn is an all inclusive family resort is located on Divi beach in Aruba. A big thank you to the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my visit to Aruba and this site tour. 

What makes this resort special: 
  • All oceanfront rooms 
  • Free bikes 
  • All inclusive 
  • Great value
  • Kids Club
  • Access to Divi Aruba 
A few things to know: 
  • No room service 
  • No waiter service at beach or pool 
  • Mini fridge in the room, but it's not stocked. 
To me, this is a great option for Aruba. You can have the benefit of an all-inclusive for breakfast, lunch and cocktails, but it's at a price point that makes it feasible to go out for dinner to some of Aruba's great restaurants. It's also great to have a beachfront rooms at this price point. Check out how close the rooms are to the beach. 

Join me on a walk around: 

Friday, December 1, 2017

What cruise ship is best for Alaska?

In the video below, I answered two frequently asked questions:
  • What's the best itinerary?
  • What's the difference between cruise ships?

This is a Facebook Live I did. If you want to join these types of presentations live, be sure to LIKE and FOLLOW the Trips with Angie Facebook page

Best Itinerary

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ritz Carlton Aruba

A big thank you to the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my visit to Aruba and the site inspection at this resort. A big thank you to the Ritz Carlton for providing breakfast. 

The Ritz Carlton is located on Palm Beach in Aruba. It's a gorgeous property. The resort kept the mangroves and it's located near the end of Palm Beach so beach goers have a little more privacy than at other Palm beach resorts. This pet friendly resort has 321 rooms with 55 suites. 

Amenities include: 
  • Non motorized  water sports including Paddle boards
  • Spa wet areas included
  • Adult only pool
  • Family pool near Ritz kids club
  • Casino
  • You can go fishing and have it cooked by the chef. 
  • Beach service by Segway - This means your food is hot and your drinks are cold when delivered. 

For a more inclusive and special experience, consider reserving a room on the Club level. The lounge has  5 food presentations a day with beer and wine included. The lounge will also sponsor art and wine events.

Here's a quick peek. 

Email me for more information and pricing and availability. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino

A big thank you to the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my site inspection of this resort. 

Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino is located on Palm Beach in Aruba.

The resort has a lot of great amenities: 
  • Swim Up Bar 
  • All rooms have balconies and two sinks 
  • King rooms have a renovated walk in shower 
  • Adults Only pool 

Adults Only Pool

Wifi is free in the lobby. Otherwise, it is an additional fee unless you are Platinum or Gold Marriott member. Beach palapas are available for $30. Pool cabanas are available for $75, but you get a $50 resort credit. Here's a photo of the adult pool with pool cabanas.

If you are looking for a kid-free experience, the 8th floor is the club floor and it is adults only. Full breakfast, lunch and heavy appetizers are available in the lounger on the first floor. 

If you are traveling with your kids, the Atrium Tower has all connecting rooms. 

I can also work with the resort to put together an all-inclusive package if you have at least ten rooms traveling together. 

Join me on a tour: 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hilton Aruba

A big thank you to the Aruba Tourism Authority for sponsoring my visit to Aruba and my stay at the Hilton Aruba. 

Aruba is known for beautiful beaches and great food. As you know, I usually review all inclusive resorts, but you'd be missing out if you didn't experience some of the country's great restaurants. To encourage this, the Aruba Gastronomic Association offers a Dine Around program. You pre-purchase vouchers to use for multi-course meals at participating restaurants. 

The Hilton is in a great location right by the De Palma pier used for excursions and across the street from shops and restaurants. 

The resort has three towers: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Aruba towers rooms are a little larger. The concierge level is the 8th floor in the Aruba tower. 

The resort has a more active pool by the pool bar and a quiet pool closer to the Bonaire and Curacao towers. Pool cabanas are available for $75 per day and include a $25 resort credit. Palapas are available on the beach and included in your stay. You can reserve them after 4 pm by going to the towel hut or using the online system. If you'd like the same palapa for the whole week, you can reserve it for a fee. 

Beach palapas are on the right 

For activities, the resort has a kids club for guests aged 4 - 12 years old. The first two hours are free. Bikes are also available for free. The beach is public with a boardwalk that goes along the length of the beach. Wifi is free. 

Join me on a tour: 

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.

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.


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


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.


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.


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.