Category Archives: General

Planning a successful group vacation

If you have a core group of friends or family a vacation is a great way to get spend some time together. And if your family is large and spread across the country, meeting at a vacation location can make things easy and stress free (not to mention fun and adventurous). All-inclusive beach resorts and cruises in Mexico or the Caribbean are the most common reunion groups I see. But you can also consider escorted tour-type itineraries with your group. Or maybe for friends with a common interest something along the lines of an Irish Pub Crawl Tour, an Eco-Tour in Costa Rica, or even a chartered yacht in Tahiti.


So, how to get the ball rolling. You’ll definitely want to work with a travel agent since coordinating everyone’s flights and accommodations can be daunting. But first, get together with everyone involved to discuss the basics.

  • What time of the year would you be traveling? It is best to plan your trip 6 to 10 months in advance.
  • Are there any date restrictions to consider?
  • What type of trip would you like? Beach, historical sightseeing, Disney parks, cruise, once-in-a-lifetime dream trip, high energy adventure, etc.
  • Will everyone have passports in time for travel (if applicable)?
  • Are there any special considerations? For example, Aunt Libby has mobility issues and Cousin Maxwell has a sun allergy.

Appoint one person as Group Leader to be the primary point of contact with the travel agent. The Group Leader will want to have a good idea of headcount when talking to the travel agent, along with ages of kids at time of travel.

Your travel agent and Group Leader together will narrow down the best options for the group, and then once the destination and resort are selected the different families can contact your travel agent to provide their details and payment.

After travel arrangements are made, you can decide on any preplanned activities for your group. You’ll want to strike a balance between structured time together and free time. For example, plan a group hike excursion in Kauai (Hawaii). Or pre-book a snorkel catamaran tour in Cozumel while on your group cruise.

If the trip is for a special celebration, such as a milestone birthday or maybe your Grandparent’s 50th anniversary, your travel agent can assist you in arranging an event.

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

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.

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.

Surf and Turf: trip ideas when you are looking for more than just a beach

I hear it a lot:  clients wanting some beach time, but are afraid that an all-inclusive beach vacation is going to bore them to tears.  So here are some suggestions for your next vacation when you’d like to split your time between the beach (and resort pool) and stuff to do that doesn’t involve a bathing suit.  Here goes…

Closer to home

  • Costa Rica – jungle and soft adventure are awaiting you in Costa Rica!  You can opt to stay at a beachfront all-inclusive, and then just take day excursions to explore as much as you’d like.  Or, maybe a tour itinerary with a couple of beach days at the end to rest up before heading back to reality. The beaches here are not up to par with the Caribbean, but are still very pretty.​

  • Puerto Rico – it’s easy to get around by car in Puerto Rico, and there’s lots to do and see on your own.  El Yunque is a rain forest within easy striking distance from the resorts on the northeast side of the island.  Explore Old San Juan one day.  Play a round or two of golf.  Take up surfing or explore a cave.  There are no resorts here that are all-inclusive.
  • Hawaii – visiting Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island?  Include a car rental in your package, and explore on your own.  Maui has the most diverse activities of the three listed.  There’s plenty to do and see in a week’s stay.  If you plan on being on vacation for at least 8 nights, you might want to consider a 2 island vacation.  Or, visit Oahu, where a car isn’t necessary if you are staying in Waikiki.  Hike waterfalls, go shopping, enjoy the natural beauty and the culture, go ziplining or take a helicopter tour.  No shortage of things to do!

Crossing an ocean

  • Thailand – combine a Thailand cultural tour (Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle) with a few days at the end on one of their beautiful beaches (such as Phuket, Krabi, or Samui).

  • Vietnam – enjoy a Vietnam independent or escorted tour with a night or two of beach on your itinerary.  Have more time?  Combine Vietnam and Cambodia.
  • Greece & Her Islands – fly into Athens and then island hop…from one to three islands, depending on time and budget.  You’ll be busy exploring the rich history of the islands with a beachfront resort to enjoy a little down time too.
  • Australia – combine the ultimate dive destination, the Great Barrier Reef, with an independent or escorted tour of the country (or at least the major cities if you are short on time).
  • Tahiti – admittedly, Tahiti is pretty “water focused.”  But if you are not much of a dive or snorkel enthusiast, the best way to experience these beautiful islands are by Paul Gauguin Cruises.

  • Bali – beautiful beaches and exotic culture.  Allow time to explore the area on your own, or book an itinerary that includes some tours.  Or, combine Bali with Indonesia (or with Hong Kong).

~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.

Strong US Dollar Set to Boost Travel

If you have been putting off that trip to Europe, 2015 might be the year for you.  Right now the US dollar is the strongest it’s been against the euro in four years, and it is gaining on other foreign currencies as well.

In Europe you will save on hotel, tour, rail, and food costs due to the stronger dollar.   However, air pricing to Europe has not fallen with any significance, especially considering the lower fuel prices.  

To save even more, consider traveling just before high season, or late April through May.

This is also a great year to travel to Japan, since the dollar is gaining strength over the yen.

Ah, but Switzerland seems to be the exception (aren’t they always) as the Swiss Franc has been increasing in value lately.  So, in 2015 Switzerland is going to remain a wonderful — but pricey destination.

Low Airfares to Hawaii

Good news, Hawaii airfare has just dropped, especially for travel during the shoulder season (mid April to May).  Prices go up during the busy summer season, but still is pricing less in 2015 than it was in 2014.  I’m not sure how long this will last, but let me know if you might be interested in taking advantage of these lower rates.

What’s Hot:  Cambodia and Vietnam  

With developing tourism infrastructures and an increase in travel demand, Cambodia and Vietnam look to be this year’s up and coming destination combination.  River cruises, such as AmaWaterways’ 16 day “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong,” Sita’s escorted tour “Mystic Marvels of Indochina,” or G Adventures’ “Cambodia and Vietnam on a Shoestring” give options to cover all budgets and travel styles.  

Are you so “been there, done that” with Cambodia and Vietnam?  Then perhaps the lesser-travelled Laos and Myanmar are a better fit for you.

~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 for 2015

In the spirit of New Years, this month I’m going to highlight some a few resort openings across the Caribbean and Central America.

Baha Mar, Bahamas

This is a massive, $3.5 billion dollar resort development adding over 2000 luxury rooms to the Cable Beach area, and about to give The Atlantis a run for the money.  The development will include the 1000-room Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the 707-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, and smaller hotels by Rosewood and SLS Lux.  The beach here will be fantastic.  Slated to open May 1 2015.

Sandals LaSource, Grenada

Opening about a year ago is Sandals’ newest property on the island of Grenada.  This 231-room couples-only all-inclusive resort is a haven for honeymooners and anniversary couples.  The greatest challenge is with air flights, but the good news is that Delta will be adding an Altanta – Grenada flight in upcoming months.

Secrets Playa Mujeres, Mexico (north of Cancun)

Grand opening in November, this adults only property sits just north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone in the-up-and-coming area of Playa Mujeres.  Luxury and all-inclusive with 424 elegantly appointed suites.  Nearby are two other new gems — Finest Playa Mujeres and Beloved Playa Mujeres.

Dreams Sugar Bay Resort, US Virgin Islands

This property reopened last month as an all-inclusive Dreams Resort.  Renovations have taken this property into the 4 star category.  Most importantly, US Virgin Islands now has a decent all-inclusive resort.  Be aware that this property sits on a rocky hill with elevator/step access to the beach.  A total of 294 rooms.

Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort, Jamaica

Scheduled to open in late Spring in Ocho Rios is the 700-suite Moon Palace Jamaica Grande Resort.  This is an extensive renovation of an existing resort Sunset Jamaica Grande.  Considering the quality of the Palace Resorts, this is an excellent choice for upscale families looking to enjoy Jamaica.  A very generous resort credit program will be in place here as well.

Dreams Las Mareas, Costa Rica

Located in the fast-growing Guanacaste area along Costa Rica’s Pacifc coast, this resort just opened November 1.  This is a 4 to 4 1/2 star, family friendly all-inclusive resort with 447 suites.  Looks gorgeous and I can’t wait to see it in person.  Fly into Liberia airport for a beach vacation, or combine with a more adventurous multi-stop itinerary.

~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.

A South Pacific Primer

Can’t decide where to go this year?  Should you return to one of your favorite resorts or is it time to check a new destination off your bucket list?  Here’s a short list of South Pacific destinations to generate some new ideas.

  • Hawaii - generally experienced one island at a time, staying 5 to 8 nights.  If you have 8 or more nights, a two island hopper might work for you.  Staying in Waikiki (Oahu) means you can skip a car rental.  But staying on Oahu’s North Shore or on the other islands (Maui, Big Island, Kauai) a car rental is definitely recommended.  No passport is required, driving is easy, and the islands lend themselves to exploring on your own.  Ideal for couples, families, reunions, and small groups. A little over 5 hours from LAX to Oahu.
  • Tahiti/French Polynesia -  everyone should visit Tahiti (and especially Bora Bora) at least once in a lifetime.  There is nothing quite like an overwater bungalow in the lagoon facing Mt. Otemanu.  High season goes from June through October, pricing higher than Low season November through May.  You may need to stay your first night in Papeete before continuing on to your island destination.  Typically experienced as a 1 to 3-island itinerary, staying 5 to 10 nights.  Moorea is a less expensive alternative, or can pair nicely with Bora Bora for a 2-island itinerary.  Lesser-known islands make for a great first escape or for a return visit.  While families are welcomed in many resorts, most travellers are honeymooners, couples, and adult divers. Flight time from Papeete is 8 1/2 hours.
  • Fiji - known for friendly faces and beautiful beaches.  A 10 hour flight from LAX.  Typical itinerary is for 7 nights for one island, or 9 to 12 nights for two islands.  Depending on air schedule, an overnight in Nadi may be necessary.  This is a divers paradise as well as a perfect spot for a honeymoon.  Fiji is also family friendly.  Only one resort offers overwater bungalows, and they are expensive and sell out quickly.  Typical accommodations are beachfront bures (bungalows).
  • Australia – best experienced as part of an escorted tour, or an independent multi destination itinerary. Allow 2 weeks minimum. Don’t forget, seasons are reversed.
  • New Zealand – Visit either North Island or South Island if you have less than 2 weeks for travel. Or combine both islands if you can go 2-3 weeks or longer. An escorted tour makes things easy and efficient, or try a self-drive itinerary if you are independent.
  • Cook Islands – for the “been there, done that” crowd. Cook Islands offer a sleepy, laid back version of Tahiti and Fiji. No luxury-level hotels and flight schedules are a bit more challenging (compared to other destinations).
  • Cruise – rather experience the South Pacific by ship? NCL offers a one-week Hawaii cruise. Paul Gauguin offers 7 day and longer French Polynesia cruises. And multiple cruise lines offer the South Pacific on special itineraries on select days. Just ask!

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

 

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.