Category Archives: All Inclusive

What’s new in Jamaica

What’s up in Jamaica

At last, families looking to travel to Jamaica will have quality options beyond just the Beaches Resorts!  This is great considering the wonderful (and calm) beaches that Jamaica offers, and the great assortment of day excursions available for the active travelers.

So, here’s what’s new for Jamaica in 2014:

  • Royalton White Sands – just east of Montego Bay (but not as far as Ocho Rios) sits this fantastic property perfect for families and couples.  This resort opened this year after a massive renovation, and is hardly recognizable as the old Trelawny Starfish.  It is medium in size with a great kids club, water park and spa (look for me in the spa).  The resort is relatively compact, so getting around is easy.  The less expensive rooms are on the small side but are smartly appointed.  An excellent resort for reunions and destination weddings.

  • Hyatt Ziva/Zilara Rose Hall – currently underway is a massive renovation project at the former Ritz Carlton Rose Hall.  When complete (late 2014) the property will emerge as two properties – all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara.  One side will be adults only & the other side will be family friendly.  Expansion includes new pools and a dining and shopping area promenade.  I anticipate it rating as a 5 star, and near some excellent golf options.
  • Azul Sensatori Jamaica – hugely successful in the Riviera Maya area, Karisma Resorts has landed in Jamaica.  Azul Sensatori Jamaica is the end result of a gut & rebuild on beautiful Negril Beach.  Recently-opened Azul Sensatori Jamaica gives us a much-needed luxury resort to the Negril area that is perfectly suited for families as well as couples.  An elegant, boutique feel with 136 rooms.

  • Riu Palace Jamaica – located in Montego Bay and just minutes from the airport is the new Riu Palace Jamaica.  This opened earlier this year.  The property has a fresh, South Beach boutique feel to it.  Quiet during the day, but may be loud in the evenings since the property backs up to the Riu Montego Bay.  Perfect for the upscale, nightclub type of adult.  An excellent choice for a friend trip or a romantic getaway.  About 230 rooms.

Happy Travels! ~Cindy Grant, CTA Travel Consultant at Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas metro area Texas (The Colony/Frisco).  972-625-6200.

Indian destination weddings now being offered

Great news!  AMResorts (Secrets, Dreams, Now, and Zoetry) and Palace Resorts now offer Indian destination weddings at their all-inclusive resorts, located in the Cancun/Riviera Maya in Mexico.  Onsite wedding staff are onhand to make sure your wedding fits your exact wishes perfectly.  AMResorts and Palace Resorts continue to offer symbolic, religious, interfaith, and legal wedding ceremonies as well as vow renewals.

Expert Family Travel can arrange your destination wedding in your choice of several locations, whether you are a party of 2 or a group of 1,000.  We can coordinate your guests’ flights and travel dates smoothly and professionally, making your dream wedding a reality.  Contact us today to get things started.  Expert Family Travel is located in Frisco/The Colony Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  We have clients located across the US and Canada.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 or email at cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

Puerto Vallarta: Bigger & better

Last month I had the great fortune of enjoying a trip to Puerto Vallarta hosted by Travel Weekly magazine and Mexico Tourism.  Honestly, it has been a couple of years for me, and in the past I had been so busy with hotel site inspections I hadn’t had time to fully experience the destinations’ local offerings.

But on this trip I was in for a treat.  The first day we were whisked away to Las Caletas Beach Hideaway, which included a 45 minute scenic catamaran ride en route.  The beach here is gorgeous and unspoiled, and you can pick your pleasure, whether it is snorkeling, exploring the jungle nature walks or just vegging out in a hammock.  And the food was tasty, mmm!

We also enjoyed a late afternoon stroll along the city’s Malecon, which is a picturesque boardwalk among fun art sculptures and eclectic shops.  This is a great place to watch a sunset, and the dining venues are sophisticated and varied.

 

On day 3 we explored the northern end of Banderas Bay, going into the quirky surfing village of Sayulita.  I skipped the surfing lesson (because I value my life) and opted instead for the zipline, horseback riding, and ATV adventure.  The zipline course was safe and expertly run (two important elements in any zipline operation) and we were all wet and muddy and exhilarated in the end. Fun!

December marks the start of the humpback whale watching season (which ends mid-March), and is a great experience if you happen to be traveling during this time period.

All-inclusive is the way to go here if you are looking for the best bang for the buck, even if you decide to dine downtown on one of your evenings out.  Luxury clients will love the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and the adults-only Secrets Vallarta Bay, both of which are all-inclusive.  Or, for true luxury there’s the Four Seasons and St. Regis in trendy Punta Mita (meals not included).  For my upscale clients, Now Larimar is all-inclusive, family friendly, and with easy access to the downtown area.  Or, in the Riviera Nayarit area there are the Riu and Marival Resorts.  And, the brand new Iberostar Playa Mita opens this week, promising to be a great resort option for those looking to stay on the northern edge of Banderas Bay.

Secrets Vallarta Bay

Something new in the area (since I’ve been there) are casinos. I didn’t visit, but I’m curious to hear reports, since Mexico has traditionally been a “no casino” sort of country.

Flights are offered to Puerto Vallarta year round.  For my Dallas area clients, we have charter service in the summer season, which equals the best pricing out of our market.

Riviera Maya for a stress free escape

No wonder Cancun and Playa del Carmen have become Texas’ favorite beach destinations.  A nonstop flight less than 3 hours will wisk you away to a tropical location set on the Caribbean.  The all-inclusive resorts here range from economy to luxury but for a honeymoon you’ll want to stick with the upscale and luxury resorts.  Resorts also range from small & boutique to large and sprawling to fit your travel style and preferences.

What is an all-inclusive resort?  Your meals, alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, onsite entertainment, and non-motorized watersports are included in your stay.  And with most upscale-luxury and luxury resorts 24 hour room service and beach butlers are included as well.  Airport transfers are provided in your package with Expert Family Travel, and offsite day activities can be arranged prior to your departure.

Many folks are overwhelmed at the choices, and information on the Internet is contradictory and causes more confusion.  Your best bet is to work with a travel agent who knows these resorts first-hand, travels frequently to inspect the resorts, and can recommend the right resort to fit your personal taste and budget. Plus I don’t charge a fee (except for destination weddings).

Riviera Maya and Cancun are popular for friend or family group get-togethers.  All-inclusive resorts provide meals and drinks for everyone during their stay and makes it easy planning.  Flight options from most US airports into Cancun makes travel easy, too for multiple departure cities.

What is there to do in the area?  Zip lines, swim with the dolphins, golfing, nightlife, shopping, scuba, snorkeling, and even camel back riding for starters!  Enjoy some of your days at the resort, where your biggest decision that day is what tropical drink to order from the swim-up bar.

Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel (located in Frisco/The Colony in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, Texas).  Contact at 972-625-6200 or cindy@expertfamilytravel.com.

Where to go next!

This month I thought I’d give you a nice, glossy overview of my top vacation destinations.

 

Dive Fiji for your next vacation

Mexico

For the best bang for the buck, Mexico reigns supreme.  You can opt for an all-inclusive resort, with your meals and drinks included.  Great pools, beach, and onsite activities to keep you well entertained, along with off-site day excursions.  On the go or relaxed, it’s your choice!

  • Cancun – Hotel Zone is lively and active.  This is a great choice for adult friend trips and for couples who love night life.
  • Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen).  A great mix of adult only and family friendly all-inclusives.  And the range of moderate to luxury resorts means a resort that fits your style and budget.
  • Los Cabos.  Set on the tip of the Baja Peninsula on the Pacific side, where the desert meets the sea.  Great for couples, families, and friend getaways.
  • Puerto Vallarta.  On beautiful Banderas Bay.  Combine some resort time with exploring downtown and some excursions such as zip line and you’ve got yourself a great vacation.​

Caribbean

A wide range of island experiences with gorgeous beaches and fun cultural explorations​.

  • Jamaica.  Home of the popular all-inclusive Sandals, Couples, and Beaches Resorts.  You’ll also find other all-inclusive resorts here as well as some boutique resorts.
  • Punta Cana.  This growing resort destination is located on Dominican Republic, and has become a primary player in the all-inclusive market.  Family friendly and adults only options, in a wide range of style and budgets
  • Other islands.  Not everyone is looking for the mega resort.  If you prefer a quiet, small resort maybe Barbados or Turks and Caicos is your style.

Tahiti

Okay, so who doesn’t have Bora Bora on their bucket list?  This can be your once-in-a-lifetime milestone trip.  I do have clients who make Tahiti a regular vacation destination.  It is such a treat!  Imagine an overwater bungalow with pristine blue waters.  The epitome of relaxation.  Suited best for couples, but families enjoy this destination too.

Fiji

Beautiful.  Exotic.  Friendly.  If you’ve got at least a week, Fiji might just be the fit for you.  This is a great location for scuba and snorkeling.

 

Hawaii

I recommend a minimum stay of 5 nights in Hawaii, though 7 nights is better.  Pick from Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island.  Or, if you have more time for your vacation, a two island combination might work best for you.  Polynesian paradise without the need for a passport.  On Oahu you don’t need a rental car.  On the other islands, renting a car is recommended, but driving on the islands is very easy and stress free.  Hotels range from economy to luxury.  And it is easy to explore on your own.

 

Walt Disney World (Orlando)

A “must see” for families, but Walt Disney World can also be a great vacation for adults.  A few days in a Disney Deluxe Resort, top notch dining reservations, and some awesome park time can make for a fun, romantic getaway. I recommend staying in one of Disney’s Resorts, and these range from the Value to Moderate to Deluxe properties.  Or, opt for a cabin for your family, complete with kitchens.

 

 

 

 

Western Europe

Trade in your flip flops for some good walking shoes for your next vacation to Europe.  These vacations are divided into two categories:

  • Escorted Tours.  The easiest way to see your favorite country, or multiple countries.  You are traveling in a group with a guide, and all the driving and planning is taken care of for you.
  • Independent Tours.  For the free spirited who prefer to go on their own.  We can put together a single city package, a rail package, or a self drive — all depending on your itinerary and personal preferences

Costa Rica

Recent resort growth in Costa Rica has been in the all-inclusive market, along the Guanacaste area on the Pacific coast.  There are now several moderate, upscale, and luxury options for families and couples.  Or, if you prefer a more adventurous itinerary, we can set up a multiple itinerary tour (either with a group or independent) for some volcano, rainforest, and beach time.

 

Cruises

We offer cruises in many regions across the globe in categories from moderate to luxury.  Cruising can offer an easy itinerary option if you want to see multiple countries without having to move from hotel room to hotel room.  Plus the ship is sometimes a destination in itself.  Cruising is also a great option for family reunions and large friend groups.

Trip to Punta Cana anyone?

Perfectly Punta Cana

I just returned from a short trip to Punta Cana to visit the AMResorts (Secrets, Dreams, Now, Zoetry).  I’m happy to report that Punta Cana’s better than ever, and is a great destination to consider for your next family vacation, romantic getaway, or family reunion trip.

 

Secrets Royal Beach is wonderful, as always.  This adults only property sits on gorgeous Bavaro Beach, and next to sister property Now Larimar.  Recent updates include an expansion of their Preferred Club Rooms.  Secrets Royal Beach guests continue to enjoy exchange priviledges next door at Now Larimar (though Now Larimar guests do NOT have exchange priviledges at Secrets).

Zoetry Aqua Resort is expanding their room capacity, roughly doubling to about 100 guest suites.  This property is so serene and inviting — a true haven for those looking for luxury and a relaxing escape.  I can’t wait to come back with some of my own free time.

 

 

 

 

Opening in November 2013 is the brand new Breathless Resort.  This adults only property is geared towards adult friends and adult family traveling together, along with honeymoon and anniversary couples who might prefer a bit livelier adults only setting.  Stay tuned for more information on this property.  And it’s available now for advance reservations, if you just can’t wait yourself!

 

Dreams Punta Cana, Dreams Palm Beach, and Dreams La Romanna continue to excel in offering all-inclusive vacations for families, couples, and small groups.  Kids and Teens Clubs looked to be popular on my visits, and smiles abound on the faces of staff and guests alike.

 

Last but not least, Now Larimar was fun and vibrant, with great food and delightful evening entertainment.  Now Larimar is a wonderful choice for small groups, weddings, and families with teens.

For my Texas clients, Dallas has direct flights to Punta Cana, but in the summer season only!

Make your next family get-together super easy

Stumped with a decision for your next extended family reunion?  Maybe you’ve hosted at your house in the past, but the family has grown and you’re just out of extra bedroom and couch space?  Or, you’re looking for something that is going to keep everyone (grandma, grown kids, little ones) happy?

A popular and growing solution is the all-inclusive resort gathering in Mexico or the Caribbean.  An all-inclusive resort makes things so much easier.  Food and drinks are covered, there are lots of ways to stay busy at the resort, and there are optional excursions for the more adventurous in the group.

This is especially good for extended families spread across the US.  Everyone can arrive on flights from their departure cities, meeting at the resort for time to spend together.  The toughest part, then, is deciding upfront the best travel dates and a budget that works for all.

If you are the family coordinator, here is how you get started in the process for planning your all-inclusive resort family gathering:

  • Talk with each family to get a consensus on travel dates.  If one party has limited time, they can always join the group for a portion of the stay (say, the first 3 nights), while everyone else enjoys a longer stay (say, 5 to 7 nights).
  • Get an honest assessment of budget.  Make sure everyone participating has given their input on budget — the lowest budget will generally determine the budget of the group as a whole.
  • Get a headcount of family, by departure city, along with ages of children at time of travel.
  • Does everyone have passports, or will be able to get passports in time for travel?
  • Are their any limited mobility issues in your family?  If so, a smaller resort might be a better fit.
  • Discuss destinations.  Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun) is a favorite, along with Jamaica and Punta Cana.  Some of the other Caribbean islands can be a bit tricky to coordinate flight schedules, but it doesn’t mean they are impossible to coordinate.
  • With this information, contact me by email cindy@expertfamilytravel.com or call at 972-625-6200.  I can then put together package ideas to work with your family’s travel requirements.
  • Review the options with your family members to pick your favorite resort option.
  • Each “head of family” would then contact me directly with final details and to process payment.
  • It’s that easy!

~Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200.  Located in The Colony/Frisco Texas in the Dallas metro area.  We are located near Plano, Little Elm, Lewisville, and Irving.

 

Month of Romance: Plan a special vow renewal trip with your spouse

February is Romance Month, with Valentine’s Day sitting prominently in the middle! of the calendar!  This year, consider planning a special vow renewal vacation for you and your spouse.  Make the trip for just the two of you, or extend the love by inviting friends and family.

My favorite locations for vow renewals are

  • Bora Bora (Tahiti) at Bora Bora Pearl Resort or Hilton Bora Bora Nui
  • Riviera Maya at the Dreams, Now, Secrets, and El Dorado Resorts
  • Cabo at Secrets Marquis and Riu Palace Resorts
  • Jamaica at one of the four Couples Resorts
  • Moorea (Tahiti) at the Moorea Pearl Resort
  • Maui at one of the gorgeous beach locations
  • Cancun at the vibrant, luxurious Live Aqua Cancun Resort

If you are interested in planning your own vow renewal vacation, or even have plans in the near future for your own destination wedding, just let me know and we can look at the options that will best fit you.

Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, CTA Expert Family Travel.  Located in The Colony/Frisco Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth metro area)  972.625.6200

 

 

Flip flops in the winter

Christmas and New Years are behind us, the decorations are put away.  Now what the next two or three months will be is cold weather, bleak skies, and slippery walkways.

So, no wonder mid January through mid March is the time to escape the cold weather and head to 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 my favorite 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 the size ranges (from tiny boutique to huge mega-campus).  Plus, you can’t beat the flight times from the US.

-US Virgin Islands — a great 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.

-Disney Cruise Lines — now with four ships instead of two, your options are double!  Winter itineraries depart from Port Canaveral (Orlando), Miami, and Galveston (Texas).   If you can travel during a week that schools are normally in session, pricing is pretty good.  Spring Break and Easter dates are pretty full (and pricey).

-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 little bit of luau, plumeria in the air, and beachfront walks can do wonders to alleviate the winter doldrums.  Maui is a great “first visit” choice, but you’ll need to rent a car.  If you want to avoid driving, Oahu is your best option.  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 to vacation.

Cabo, Mexico — Cabo is quite popular in the winter.  The weather is milder (in the summer, it can get hot), and this is the season for whale watching.  Cabo is also known for golfing and nightlife.   New on the scene are some great 4 and 5 star all-inclusive resorts.  I’m personally staying at the Secrets Marquis Los Cabos later this month — I can’t wait!  A great choice for adults wanting a little luxury and  to replenishment, and there are also some great family friendly choices.

 

US Virgin Islands

Now, these are just a few suggestions.  There are many others…in the Caribbean, South Pacific, Central America…so just ask!

Ocean Coral & Turquesa Resort, Riviera Maya: Easy on the wallet

I just returned from a short stay at the 3 ½ star all-inclusive Ocean Coral and Turquesa Resort, located in Riviera Maya (south of Cancun airport).  I’m happy to report that this resort is a great choice for my clients who are looking for an inexpensive vacation option that is friendly on the budget.

Beach at Ocean Coral and Turquesa Resort

With a renovation of the rooms, this resort could easily become a 4 star upscale property.  However, the rooms currently are a bit “rough around the edges.”  While the rooms are very large (think:  junior suite with a sitting area) and include a separate shower and tub, there are some 3 star quality annoyances you must be willing to forgive.  The tile is a bit scruffy, the shower mechanics are lacking (and you might get the oscillating hot/cold water effect, so be quick on the feet), and the curtains are a bit “bolder” than you would select for your own homestead.  On the plus side, there is a stocked mini-fridge, a safe, and a late-model flat screen with enough channels to find *something* to watch in English.

My room at the Ocean Turquesa Resort

What is really neat about this resort is that there’s always food and drink being served SOMEWHERE onsite.  The poolside bar stays open ‘till late (I think 1 am), and then Route 66 (which is a hamburger joint) serves food and drink in the wee hours of the morning.  Also, this isn’t one of those resorts that require you to stand in line in the morning to make dining reservations that night.  The bartenders are friendly, and I love their coffee specialties.  The waitstaff is a hit-or-miss,  so in the restaurants expect average service.

The beach here is nice and wide, and gets raked in the morning for sea grass (which grows offshore).  The pools are large and clean, and overall the energy at this resort is positive and refreshing.

The specialty steakhouse has way too many food items with surcharges , and free WiFi is located only in the lobby/main building area (and not in the rooms).  However, this resort generally is priced so low, you can overlook the shortcomings.