Category Archives: Caribbean

Spotlight on Jamaica

Today I thought I’d share a little “Jamaica Mon” with you.

Photo courtesy Jamaica Tourist Board

This beautiful Caribbean island offers lush green mountain landscapes, white sand beaches, crystal blue water, and a setting for romance and relaxation.  Here’s the home of reggae music and delicious jerk chicken.  Jamaica has several resort areas within easy distance from the Montego Bay airport with accommodations ranging from basic to ultra luxury.  And most resorts, whether family friendly or adults only, are all-inclusive.

Resort areas

  • Montego Bay - Convenient to the airport, this beachy-urban area has five golf courses and multiple resorts perfect for your short getaway.
  • Negril - charming resort area set on a world famous beach.  Enjoy the stunning sunsets and ambiance.
  • Ocho Rios - near waterfalls, mountains, and fern gullies.  Ocho Rios sits east of Montego Bay.
  • Braco & Falmouth - areas just east of Montego Bay offering more remote resort settings but still easy striking distance from the airport

What’s new

  • Zoetry Montego Bay - luxury boutique all-inclusive.  Perfect for the annversary couple looking for privacy and pampering.

  • Royalton Negril Resort - family friendly resort in gorgeous Negril offering something for everyone.  This resort is ideal for a family reunion or destination wedding.

Nonstop flights to Montego Bay from many US gateways including DFW, Miami, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta.

Ask about ClubMoBay service to shorten your Immigration/Customs arrival processing time.

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

Destination Spotlight: Aruba

Part of the ABC islands, you’ll find Aruba just off the coast of Venezuela.  The beaches here are soft, powdery white sand and crystal clear Caribbean waters.  The resort area along Palm Beach is especially pedestrian-friendly, with shops, restaurants, and casinos an easy stroll distance from your resort.  This is one of those destinations where you are fine without an all-inclusive resort, since restaurants are so close and the food quality standards are very high.

A car rental isn’t necessary and you can get around by either walking or taking a taxi.  I recommend an island tour while visiting so that you can see the other, more rugged side of the island — wow, such drastic difference from the calm, sandy side!

 


Palm Beach, Aruba 

 

This is a great destination for families as well as couples and adult friends traveling together.  And being outside the hurricane belt, it is a good destination for travel in late summer and fall, when the tropical storms kick up.  

 

Top resort picks
Radisson Aruba - the first resort built, and lovingly maintained with beautiful grounds and the best location.  For families and adults alike, you can’t go wrong with this 4+ star choice.

The Ritz Carlton Aruba - relatively new, and oh-so-gorgeous.  This is the first true 5 star resort on island.  The food, rooms, service, and ambiance have definite wow factor.  This is the last resort along Palm Beach, so the shops and reataurants nearby aren’t as close for walking.  An amazing destination wedding staff.

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort - a small, adults only resort rated 4 star but with 5 star service and food.  Perfect for an anniversary or honeymoon couple, and I bet you’ll want to come back next year!  The owner has a real knack for understanding the client (and that goes a long way).

Riu Palace Antilles - a newly rennovated/rebranded property, this adults only all-inclusive is in a great location and a great choice for friend groups, weddings, and getaways.  The neighboring “all ages” Riu Palace Aruba has just closed for rennovations and will reopen mid July.

Divi Aruba All-Inclusive - located on Druif Beach is Divi Aruba, part of a 4 resort complex by Divi Resorts.  There’s a golf course here, and the beach is lovely.  Also, the property has been undergoing some recent rennovations and enhancements and while it’s rated a 3 1/2 star, I’d rate it closer to 4 stars.  Very family friendly, and great for couples as well.

Holiday Inn Resort Aruba - an exceptionally friendly staff. This is an older property that has undergone some major rennovations in some (but not all) areas, so expect overall 3 1/2 stars until everything has been updated.  Still, a great property for the price.  There is an all-inclusive option, but the “no meals” plan is always the best bang for the buck.

Living luxury in Turks & Caicos

Turks & Caicos are located in the Caribbean, just southeast of the Bahamas.  These islands are characterized by relatively high living standards, the US dollar, friendly English-speaking locals, clean water, and have a low crime rate.  The beaches here have some of the prettiest, powdery white sand you’ll ever see.  The waters are crystal clear and blue, and Grace Bay has calm waters that makes for great snorkeling.  Turks have some of the best diving opportunities, with extensive coral reef and also a 7,000 foot wall drop off.

The downside is that nothing here is cheap.  Food is flown in from Miami, and is about twice what you’d expect to pay.  Resorts are priced better in the low season which runs from May through mid December.    

Beaches Turks & Caicos

The only upscale all-inclusive resort on the island, and definitely the nicest of all the Beaches Resorts (the others are located in Jamaica), Beaches Turks & Caicos (located on Grace Bay) continues to delight families.  There are four villages in all, and the most popular among my family clients is the Italian Village featuring spacious family suites and a great pool.  For families with older kids, Key West Village is more laid back and quiet.  The water park is a hit with the kiddos, and the Kids Club takes babies.  Food here is very good for an all-inclusive, and diving is exceptional.

For those traveling without the kids, the best promotions are after Labor Day but before Christmas Break, except for Thanksgiving Week.

Amanyara Resorts

Worlds away from Grace Bay, this uber-luxury resort is a destination on its own.  Accommodations are located in bungalow-style “pavillions” and are set on picturesque ponds, oceanside, or have private gardens with their own plunge pools.

The service levels and food quality are about as good as it gets and will exceed your expectations.  The spa is fantastic.  Overall, the property has a very zen-yoga vibe to it.  Families are welcome, but it’s a pretty low key property and more suited to adults.

Regent Palms Turks & Caicos Resort

A luxury, full service condo-style resort set on Grace Bay.  The property is plantation-elegant without being pretentious.  The spa is considered the best in the Caribbean.  A great honeymoon/anniversary location or a luxury spa retreat. Junior Suites are gardenview; suites are 1-3 bedrooms and are oceanfront.

 

Grace Bay Club

“The” luxury resort in Provo, made famous among the jetsetters.  All suites are oceanfront, and nothing is less than 600 square feet.  Gorgeous beach, great food, luxuriously appointed rooms.  A great choice for couples, families, and small groups.

Gansevoort Resort

Trendy South Beach style upscale resort for the young at heart.  Perfect for a romantic extended weekend or for a girlfriends getaway.  Important to note is that the bathrooms are a little “less than modest” (open to the bedroom area and with glass enclosures) so I wouldn’t recommend for families.  Hip but not overly energetic.

Somerset Resort

A boutique style, luxury condo property with units ranging from 1 to 5 bedrooms. This is a great choice for the extended family that’s thinking of renting a beach-house.

~Happy Travels! Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area (Texas) Near Frisco, Plano, Little Elm, and The Colony.  972-625-6200.

Get your Group Going

Are you thinking about having your next family reunion at a beautiful tropical beach setting?  Maybe want to round up your circle of friends for an extended weekend getaway?  Or maybe you have a Happy Hour group that’s long been talking about heading to Italy together.  This is the best time of the year to put together your group for Summer and Fall 2015.  

Beaches Turks/Caicos for your family reunion or dive group

 

Here are some suggestions for your next group trip:

  • All-inclusive resort (Mexico or the Caribbean)
  • Escorted tour of Europe, Australia, or Asia
  • Luxury spa/golf/fishing resort (Caribbean, Tahiti, Mexico)
  • River cruises (Europe and Asia)
  • Soft adventure trip (Costa Rica, Machu Pichu, skiing, diving)
  • Walt Disney World Orlando for family reunions

To plan a group trip, decide among the participants who shall be Group Leader and then discuss travel dates, headcount, destination (or type of trip), any special needs to consider, and budget.  Then call me and we can discuss your options in detail.  Since groups take a bit more coordination, effort, and availability you will want to allow more time for planning than you would an ordinary (individual) trip.

~Happy Travels! Cindy Grant, travel consultant with Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas Fort Worth metro area (Texas) Near Frisco, Plano, Little Elm, and The Colony.  972-625-6200.

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.

If scuba is on your bucket list…

Whether you are a seasoned, advanced scuba diver or a newbie looking to try it out for the first time, a dive vacation can be a great option for your next getaway.

  • Cozumel – located just off Mexico’s Yucatan coast, the island of Cozumel lets you experience world famous Palancar Reef with drift dives of all experience levels.  Graet snorkeling opportunities as well.  Accommodations range from economy to upscale, but with no true luxury resorts on the island.  All-inclusive options available.
  • Grand Caymans – located in the Caribbean, and easy striking distance from the US.  Known for great wall diving as well as wreck dives.  A total of 365 dive sites covering all experience levels.  Incredible visibility and beach quality, too.  Accommodations from economy to luxury.  A few all-inclusive options, but most hotels & resorts with no or limited meal plans.
  • Bonaire – if you are an advanced diver and are going with a dive buddy, this is a great choice.  Located in the Caribbean and part of the ABC Islands (south, close to Venezuela).  Simple two and three star accommodations along with a pickup truck rental and you are good to go.  Many DIY beach dives for the independent-minded.
  • Belize – Famous for Ambergris Cay and the Great Blue Hole.  Dive options more suited for the intermediate and advanced diver.  Try “Shark Ray Alley” for a highlight of your trip.  Fly into Belize City, with regional flight service to San Pedro.  Accommodations range from simple, 2 stars to upscale.  Nothing here is all-inclusive.
  • Galapagos – for the true dive enthusiast, a Galapagos live onboard dive ship experience to see whales, sharks, and other marine wildlife.  Strong currents in the area means you should be a good swimmer and advanced diver.
  • Fiji – dive a little, dive a lot.  Fiji is gorgeous above the water as well as below.  This destination is perfect for honeymooners and families.  Those in the travel party who are not divers can find plenty to keep them content back at the resort.  Dive opportunities for all levels.  Accommodations range from 3 star moderate to 5 star luxury.  Meal plans available.
  • Australia – Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate in diving experience.  Allow a minimum of 2 weeks to enjoy your diving, plus add some land sightseeing to round out your stay.  Live onboard ships or dive-centric resorts.  Accommodations range from 2 star economy to 5 star luxury.
  • Rangiroa, French Polynesia – this atoll island is known for their huge lagoon teeming with tropical fish and clear waters.  The most awesome experience here, though is “shooting the pass.”  Ride the tide at Tiputa or Avatoru Pass, and see rays, reef sharks, tuna, barracuda, and maybe even hammerhead sharks.  You can experience this either by diving or by snorkeling.  Stay at Kia Ora Resort, which is upscale to luxury.  Breakfast & dinner meal plan included.

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!