All posts by cinlouhoo2

Spotlight on Hawaii’s Big Island

One of the six major islands in the chain, the island of Hawaii is nicknamed “Big Island” for good reason.  It is formed from five separate shield volcanoes, three of which are still active.   And at twice the size of all other Hawaiian islands combined, there’s no shortage of things to do.  It is here that you’ll find rainforest, snow-capped mountain tops, black and green sand beaches, orchid farms, a world-class telescope atop Mauna Kea, and an enduring Aloha Spirit.

 Most flights arrive in Kona, which is also where most of the resorts and hotels are located.  You’ll definitely want a car rental for the duration of your stay, and exploring on your own is easy and rewarding.  Must-sees include a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, and a recommended splurge is a tour by helicopter.  In the winter months, you can also whale watch.
Big Island is a great destination for couples as well as families, and for outdoor adventure seekers who are looking for a variety of activities.
Where to Stay
The majority of the resorts and condo properties are located in Kailua-Kona or nearby Kohala Coast.  There are a few accommodations in the Hilo area which is closer to the Volcanoes National Park but also on the side of the island that receives more rainfall.  Here are my two top picks:

 

Hilton Waikoloa Village - this resort is a destination unto itself.  Three unique towers set on beautiful Kohala Coast.  Lots of activities onsite, including golf, a lagoon perfect for kayaking, tennis, and the only interactive dolphin program on the island.  Rated 4 1/2 stars.

The Fairmont Orchid Resort – A luxury oceanfront retreat set on 32 acres along the Kohala Coast. Beautiful private lagoon beach and pampering treatments at the Spa Without Walls.  Hike through the largest petroglyph field in the Pacific.  The perfect setting for a honeymoon.  Rated 5 stars.

NEW!  American offers nonstop service from DFW to Kona for a limited time through summer 2017, so now is a great time to head to the Big Island.

Happy travels! ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving the Dallas Texas metro area & clients across the US/Canada.

Spotlight on St. Martin

Photo courtesy St. Maarten Tourism

St. Maartin/St. Martin is a lively 37-square mile island east of the Virgin Islands which is governed by two nations, Netherlands and France.  There are 37 beautiful beaches (one for every square mile, apparently), plenty of shops and restaurants, and a laid-back Caribbean ambiance.

The main center on the Dutch side is Philipsburg, and here you’ll find some casinos and more nightlife.  On the French side you’ll find some amazing culinary delights as well as the city center of Marigot and the famous clothing-optional beach of Orient Bay.
You can rent a car for the day from the hotel concierge to explore on your own, or get around easily by taxi.  Spend your days on the beach, snorkeling, diving, fishing, shopping, and (on the Dutch side) horseback riding.
Where to Stay

Riu Palace St. Martin – an all-inclusive, family friendly resort located on 18 acres on the French side of the island. A beautiful cove beach and pool area.  Great for a small group with plenty to do onsite to keep you busy.

 

Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort – large resort located on the beach, hillside, on the Dutch side.  There is a casino onsite.  Great for couples and families.  No meals included.

 

Alamanda Resort – a small boutique hotel located right on Orient Bay.  This is a great choice if you want to explore the island and restaurants within easy striking distance.

The cruise port is on the Dutch side, and can get quite busy so you’ll want to save your shopping for the days the port is relatively empty.

Direct flights to St. Martin from Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Boston, and San Juan, or with connections in these airports from your departure city.

Happy travels! ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving the Dallas metro area & clients across the US/Canada.

Spotlight on Barbados

Barbados is the easternmost island of the West Indes where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean.  The coastline is a mix of pink or powdery white sand beaches and scenic seaside cliffs.  Barbados has a friendly, laid back vibe with a decidedly British flair.  Bridgetown is worth poking around for shopping and people watching and be sure to Mount Gay Rum Distillery.  You’ll find great watersports opportunities here as well.

 Where to Stay

Sandy Lane – five star luxury resort that is family friendly yet retains a romantic atmosphere.  There’s an amazing golf course onsite, and the beaches here are a beautiful white sand.  112 rooms and suites.

The Crane Resort – this four star resort is located cliff-side with a pink sand beach.  Rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed with mahogany four poster beds.  This is a great choice for a honeymoon or destination wedding.

Sandals Barbados – a true gem for couples, this adults-only all-inclusive opened in January 2015 after a $65 million dollar renovation.  The 280 rooms and 11 restaurants are spread across eight acres in three distinctly themed villages.  An ideal location for a honeymoon or anniversary. Top tier suites include butler service.

High season is from mid December through mid April.  Weather is lovely year round with rainy season running June through November and is just outside the principle hurricane zone.  Direct flights to Barbados from Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, JFK, Boston, Tampa, and San Juan, or with connections in these airports from your departure city.

Happy travels! ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to start planning your next vacation.  Serving the Dallas Texas metro area & clients across the US/Canada.

Tahiti Travel Basics

There’s no other place in this world that evokes the imagery and senses like Tahiti. This is the land of Polynesian beauty, immortalized by Gaughan and revised by Hollywood. Air perfumed by vanilla trees and tropical flowers. This is paradise.

The island of Tahiti is the largest of 118 islands and atolls of French Polynesia. These islands are divided into five island groups. Tahiti belongs to the Society Islands, which also includes nearby Moorea and Bora Bora.

 Tahiti receives only a tiny fraction of tourism as compared to Hawaii, leaving this chain of islands unspoiled and secluded. Relaxation is an important element in your vacation to Tahiti, and you’ll find plenty to experience as well. There are great diving and snorkeling opportunities, and a variety of activities such as bike rentals to explore the island for a day. Tahitian culture is intoxicating, and you’ll find yourself at home on these islands. Tahiti is only 8 hours away from Los Angeles and is located in the South Pacific (find Hawaii on the globe then take a straight line south past the Equator).

 While French and Tahitian are the official languages, you’ll find English spoken at all the resorts and tourist locations. Weather is perfect year-round, though rain occurs more frequently in the January – March timeframe.
The most distinctive accommodations in Tahiti are overwater bungalows. You can opt for a special canoe breakfast delivery, lounge about enjoying the rhythmic sounds of the ocean, and delight at the views of fish from your glass floor. Bungalows are thatch-roofed, and feature traditional Polynesian details. Less expensive accommodations include categories such as Beach or Garden Bunglaows, Lagoonview Rooms, and Gardenview Rooms.
It is tough to pick just one island to visit which makes the honeymoon style of “island hopping” so attractive. Two island itinerary combinations are great for 7 night stays, and three island itineraries are popular for 10 or more nights. Of course, you can see many more islands cruising!
Cruising is an excellent way to see and experience the islands. There are several cruise options from which to choose. Paul Gauguin and Windstar offer elegant, small ship sailing options. The Aranui 3 freighter provides an adventure on a working ship, with with two week itineraries visiting the remote Marquesas Islands. Private and shared yachts are for hire out of Raitea, for 3 to 7 day itineraries. ?And mainstream cruise lines will feature, from time to time, a cruise itinerary that stops en route in the South Pacific.

Want to learn more?  Visit our sister site at TahitiJourney.com 

Happy travels!  ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving Dallas Texas metro area plus clients across the US/Canada.

Spotlight on Panama

 
More than just a canal, Panama is a compact country about the size of South Carolina offering a variety of flora and fauna along with beautiful beaches.  Consider hiking or nature watching among the 14 parks, 12 forest reserves and 10 wildlife refuges.  Or kick back and relax for a few days along a golden sand beach.
There are two distinct ways to experience Panama.  The first is with a tour or rainforest stay, with more of a focus on wildlife and adventure.  The second is a beach resort stay, with optional day excursions.  There are beaches on both sides of the isthmus, though there are more resort options on the Pacific coast line.  And, cap off your visit to Panama with a night or two in Panama City, where you can experience the cuisine and culture of this charming country.
Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa
Panama’s tourism is “up and coming” with new resorts being developed in the beach areas.  The newly opened Secrets Playa Bonita Panama Resort & Spa is the first luxury adults only all-inclusive in the country.  Other great resort choices include the five star JW Marriott Panama Golf and Beach Resort; the Westin Playa Bonita Panama which is family friendly and offers an all-inclusive option; and two upscale all-inclusive, family friendly resorts – Riu Playa Blanca and Sheraton Bijao Resort.  If your focus is on nature, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a client favorite.  And for your stay in Panama City, the Le Meridien Panama is a great four star recommendation.
And for you nature/adventure lovers a sample guided tour itinerary would be the “Panama Explorer” which includes 2 nights in Panama City, two nights in the Gamboa Rainforest, 2 nights in Anton Valley, and 2 nights on the beach in Playa Blanco.
Flights to Panama City operate out of many major US hubs, including Dallas.  The “green” or rainy season is roughly from mid April to mid December, while the high season runs from mid December to mid April.  While the green season sees more rain, travel to this tropical country can be enjoyed year round.
Happy travels!  ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving Dallas Texas metro area plus clients across the US/Canada.

Top Five All-Inclusive Resorts in Puerto Vallarta

Nestled between beautiful Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madra mountains of Mexico is the charming city of Puerto Vallarta and its neighboring beach community called Riviera Nayarit.  This is a Pacific coast area, but the waters are calm due to the bay.  The weather here is lovely year-round, though it can get hot in late summer.  There is plenty to do during the day, including zip-lining in the mountains or whale watching in the winter.  Here’s my top five picks for all-inclusive resorts in the area.    

1.  Gran Velas Riviera Nayarit
Hands down, the best all-inclusive resort in the area.  Food is fantastic, and the sunsets are divine.  The resort has a spa-like ambiance, though is still family friendly with a very good Kids Club.  Perfect for an anniversary trip, or for a relaxing escape from the hectic pace.  AAA Five Diamond award.  

2.  Secrets Vallarta Bay, Puerto Vallarta

This adults-only all-inclusive is walking distance to the nightlife and shops, and is perfect for a friends’ group that wants some spa time but still have a resort with some energy.  Use of Now Larimar facilities next door.  Rooms here are gorgeous.  

3.  Hyatt Ziva Resort Puerto Vallarta

After a $20 million redesign, this property recently reopened as the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta.  Situated between the mountains and the Bay south of downtown, this resort is ideal for families and couples alike.  All rooms were completely rennovated and have oceanviews, and the public spaces are fresh and new.  A great pick for a destination wedding or corporate retreat.

4.  Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta

Located at the start of the Riviera Nayarit area with a beautiful beach and yet an easy taxi to the Malecon shops downtown.  Junior Suites are well appointed (including a hot tub) with 24 hour room service, and is offering a very generous Resort Credit with your stay. Resort is full service yet not too large.
5.  Iberostar Playa Mita
This resort opened about two years ago, and sits on the very northern tip of Banderas Bay.  Nearby is the quirky surfer town of Sayulita as well as some fantastic golf opportunities.  The property is spacious and is lovely for all ages.  I especially like the public grounds.  

Krazy about Kauai

This summer (or fall), discover the captivating Hawaiian island of Kaua’i.  This is a great destination to explore nature’s wonders:  hike a waterfall, kayak along the Napali coast, take in the majesty of the soaring cliffs and valleys accessible only by helicopter tour.  Nature here is truly a departure from your “Every Day”!

 

If you are not quite the adventure aficionado, no worries.  This slice of paradise location is also perfectly suited for lazy days around the pool, exploring the quaint shops in town, or enjoying a shaved ice while people watching.

 

Allow at least 6 days for your Kauai vacation (with a redeye flight on the return).  Have over 9 days for your vacation?  Kaua’i combines well with a stay on Maui, Oahu, or the Big Island.  Kauai is great for a honeymoon or family reunion.

 

Where to stay

  • Grand Hyatt Kaua’i Resort – recent renovations have made this great resort even better.  The best pool on the island.  Ideal for couples and families.
  • St. Regis Princeville Resort – a refined resort with amazing vistas.  Perfect for the honeymoon or Dream Trip.
  • Koa Kea Hotel & Resort – a quiet, upscale boutique hotel for those looking to escape.
  • Aqua Kaua’i Beach Resort – a light, bright choice that’s easy on the wallet.

What to do

  • Snorkel catamaran cruise
  • Helicopter tour Napali Coast (a must-see)
  • Kayak (river or ocean)
  • Zip line (8 companies to choose from)
  • Scuba dive (beginner to advanced)
  • Waterfall hike (on your own or with a guide)
  • Spa treatments (ahhhhh)
  • Luau (cliché, but darned good fun!)
  • Golf (like a champ)

Poipu Bay Championship Golf Course

 

Not to miss

Roy Yamaguchi (of the infamous Roy’s Restaurant) has recently opened Eating House 1849 on Kauai’s south shore.  If you are a foodie this Hawaiian Fusion is a must.

A week in the tropics

If you are entertaining the idea of getting away for a week (or even a weekend), here are some suggestions:

  • Cancun Mexico – offering all-inclusive resorts in the moderate to luxury range.  This destination is more suited for adults, but there are still some family friendly options in the Hotel Zone for all price points.  If you haven’t been to Cancun in the last decade, the biggest changes are the addition of some top-of-the-line luxury resorts.
  • Riviera Maya Mexico – still reigns top destination in terms of the quality of the resorts and the best “bang for the buck” in the upscale and luxury all-inclusive market.  There are resorts here that range in size from tiny boutique to huge mega-campus.  Plus, you can’t beat the short  and frequent flights from the US.

US Virgin Islands – pristine beaches

  • US Virgin Islands – a delightful tropical choice if you don’t have time time or energy to get your passports before heading south.  Resorts here range from 3 to 5 stars, mostly without meal plans.  Anticipate needing one connection with your flights each way, so a longer (4 nights or more) stay is best suited.
  • Tahiti – this is actually Tahiti’s low season and their summer.  So if Bora Bora is on your bucket list, maybe this is the year you get to go!  If you are looking to travel within the next 3 months, having some flexibility on travel dates, island, and resort will help (since space does book up early, especially with the overwater bungalows in the 5 star resorts).  This is an ideal second honeymoon suggestion.
  • Hawaii – A nice mix of luau, plumeria in the air, and beachfront walks can do wonders to alleviate the winter doldrums.  Maui is a favorite “first visit” island but you’ll need a car rental.  If you want to avoid driving, Oahu is best.  Kauai is a little more adventurous (and by that, I mean more outdoorsy stuff to do).  Big Island is where you get to see the active volcano.   Stick to one island unless you have at least 8 days’ vacation.
  • Cabo, Mexico – Cabo is quite popular in the winter.  The weather is milder (in the summer, it can get hot), and is the season for whale watching.  Cabo is also known for golfing and nightlife.   New on the scene are some exceptional 4 and 5 star all-inclusive resorts, including the new adults-only Breathless Cabo San Lucas Resort.  A great choice for adults wanting a little luxury and  to replenishment, and there are also some good family friendly choices too.
  • Caribbean Cruise – opt for shorter 3-5 day cruises to Bahamas (or to Mexico from Galveston) or a 7 day cruise to multiple Caribbean islands.  And if you have the time, there are longer (10-14 day) cruise choices too.  Sail from Florida (Port Canaveral, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa), Galveston Texas, New Orleans, and San Juan Puerto Rico.  And there are some great last minute deals if your dates are flexible.

US Virgin Islands – diving

Spotlight: Anguilla

Tucked away in the Eastern Caribbean, Anguilla is the most northern island in the Leeward Island chain, less than ten miles north of St. Martin and 200 miles east of Puerto Rico, two of their major gateways.  This island is idyllic with white sandy beaches, and stunningly blue waters, and a laid back attitude.  Anguilla is safe and friendly, and there are some wonderful restaurants to be found.  

CAP JULUCA RESORT
The style in Anguilla is a sort of Santorini & Morocco meet the Caribbean.  Many of the luxury resorts and villas are true visual gems.  Getting around this 35 square mile island is relatively easy.  Taxis are plentiful.  Staying in a villa you might want to rent a car (driving on the left side of the road); you can even get around by bike (the island is pretty flat).
Being just off the beaten path means a bit more effort in logistics.  There are two ways to get to Anguilla.  First is to fly into St. Martin and then take the easy 35 minute ferry over to Anguilla.  Or, fly into San Juan and then take an island flight to Anguilla.  Booked through Expert Family Travel, these would be prearranged along with transfers.
Anguilla is ideal for a romantic vacation of 5-9 nights (or more).  There are some amazing 5 star resorts including Cap Juluca, Cuisinart Golf Resort & Spa, Viceroy Anguilla, and the newly renovated Malliouhana.  We can also book luxury villas complete with your own private chef (perfect for the extended family vacation with up to 7 bedrooms).  As well, we can book 4 star upscale boutique properties and villa rentals.  Destination weddings are possible, with beautiful beach settings and relatively easy legal requirements.
What you won’t see in Anguilla are all-inclusive resorts or mega sized properties.  And while the resorts are family friendly, you won’t find extensive kids programs.
Anguilla is a beautiful destination year round.  It is busiest during Christmas break and the winter months.
Contact me for more information if you’d like to arrange your next trip to Anguilla.

Couples Sans Souci Resort, Ocho Rios Jamaica

Looking for a romantic getaway or a second honeymoon?  Couples Sans Souci Resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica might be the answer for you.  This adults only, couples only all-inclusive four star resort continues to excel as a leading spa resort in the Caribbean.  The property’s currently undergoing rennovations, with the newly remodeled Palazzine Restaruant and the One Bedroom Beachfront Suites to reopen at the end of October (2015). 

I love this place. There’s enough of a mix of serenity and entertainment that a stay here is both relaxing and invigorating (not to mention the stairs to burn off those extra calories). The main lobby building houses a small Italian restaurant, a scenic patio area, a paino bar, and an open air sitting area. Down the cliff and toward the sea are clusters of buildings that make up the spa facility. There are also some of the accommodation buildings here which feel almost like a small Italian village. Part of the resort sits on a cliff, and there’s plenty of stairs, so this is not the place for anyone who has physical limitations.

Take the main stairs down, and you’re at sea level. There are two or three more buildings housing ocean view accommodations. There’s a main lawn, the main pool, a beachside bar, whirlpool, and the watersports facility. Walk a bit more, beyond the last set of buildings, and you’ve come to the clothing optional beach (tucked away from the resort enough so that you’ll only get there if you intended).

Most, but not all, of the units here have balconies or patios. Some are set up as suites, and some have elongated Jacuzzis in the bathrooms.

The service here is friendly, professional, and punctual. The entertainment is outstanding, and you’ll stay up later than you intended because the musicians are just so darned good! On Friday nights they set up a Starlight Extravaganza on the main lawn. The food is elegant buffet complete with sushi, a pasta station, and a carving station (among others). With twinkle lights and incredible bands, you’ll think you’re a guest at a top notch wedding reception. The Italian restaurant is also wonderful, and rumor has it the alternate dinner venue (French-Continental) is equally delicious.

This place is adults only. There is a mix of young and old, and there were several folks traveling together. Couples socialized with each other easily, and it was overall very convivial and welcoming from all angles. I saw three brides while here, and the setup on the beach seemed the most romantic. A basic wedding package here is complimentary with a 6 night stay, and they have very affordable wedding packages if you are looking for something more elaborate.

The spa is rated highly by Conde Nast. When I visited I was treated to a short, 30-minute massage, and found the massage talents in line with other resorts (so, nothing outstanding). However, the setting was what was unique. Massages take place in palapas overhanging the cliffs, and you’ll experience the sounds of the waves as you’re receiving treatments. The spa menu is extensive.

There are several pools scattered around, including a mineral pool (fed by their mineral springs, which is their original claim to fame). There’s no fancy waterslide, and no blaring reggae music. Instead, you’ll enjoy understated talent by day (such as the flutist playing softly during breakfast) and great bands by night. Oh, and the grounds here are gorgeous, with blooming tropical flowers everywhere.