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Idyllic Islands: Maldives

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Located along the equator in the Indian Ocean lies the beautiful island country of Maldives.  This archipelago is made up of 1,120 low lying coral islands southwest of Sri Lanka.

Conrad-Maldives-Underwater-Restaurant

 

Photo: Underwater restaurant at Conrad Maldives

You’ll find some truly breathtaking resorts in the Maldives offering over-water and beachfront bungalows.  Resorts range from moderate up to the most extravagant (and celebrated) of luxury beach resorts.  Prices for flights from the US and accommodations for 7 nights with breakfast will start at around $10,000 for two in a four star resort.

The Maldives is a haven for water sports enthusiasts who enjoy scuba, snorkeling, windsurfing, sailing, and fishing.  The idyllic setting is perfect for a honeymoon or anniversary celebration.

The trip will take you on the other side of the globe, so travel time is long.  Plan on a minimum of 10 nights away from home (for a one week stay).  For a longer stay, you can island hop to experience two (or more) island stays.  You can break up the travel time with an overnight or two en route.  Depending on your route and airline, that could be in Abu Dhabi, Frankfurt, or London for example.  And, if you have more time to spare you can consider extending your stay to another nearby country such as Thailand, India or Sri Lanka.

Maldives-aerial1

While Maldives is a year round tropical destination, rainy season occurs May through August.

Contact us at Expert Family Travel at 972-625-6200 to get the planning started on your Maldives vacation.  Or you can fill out a travel request form.

Maldives-Centara-Island

Photo: Centara Island Resort & Spa

~~Happy Travels! ~~ Cindy Grant, travel consultant at Expert Family Travel.

Europe: what’s your travel style?

Summer is just around the corner, and Europe is proving to be a popular destination this year. There’s more than one way to experience Europe based on your energy level, interests, budget, and length of stay.  Here’s an easy way to break down your options.

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  • City Stay – Stay in one hotel, one city for the duration of your stay.  If you are ambitious you can book several day tours to see sites, museums, and culture.  Or, skip the pre-booked tours and just grab a guidebook for a more spontaneous style.  A City Stay is generally the best option for a shorter trip, tighter budget, or if you are traveling with young children.
  • Escorted Tour – Maximize your time and experience the most.  On an escorted tour, you are traveling with a group with a guide and a driver on a coach bus.  This leaves the driving and details to the pros and you can enjoy more while worrying less.  The pace varies based on the tour, and accommodations range from 3 star to 5 star depending on the tour company.  Most have minimum ages and are not suitable for younger children, but some (such as Adventures by Disney) specialize in families.
  • Itinerary by Rail – Travel independently and stay in multiple cities, connected by rail to get from point to point.  Some itineraries are ideal for rail, such as Italy’s Rome – Florence – Venice, or Switzerland’s Zurich – Lucerne – Geneva.
  • Self Drive – A multi-stop itinerary combined with a car rental.  This is great for certain destinations such as Ireland, Scotland, or Southern Spain.
  • River Cruise – Combines cultural immersion, simple “unpack once” style of travel, and an ever-changing landscape.  River cruises get to those hard-to-reach places that large cruise ships can’t touch. Not well suited for children.
  • Mediterranean Cruise – A mainstream cruise line itinerary hitting several popular ports of call. Some mid-size cruise lines have more intense itineraries for a cultural or culinary focus.  Depending on the cruise line selected, this can be ideal for families, and is always ideal for couples and small adult groups. Arrive into your departure port at least a day early to avoid disappointment if your flight is delayed.
  • Island Hopper – The best way to experience Greece.  Combine one, two, three or more islands with a stay in Athens, with flights or ferries connecting the dots.  Summer is high season in Greece, so book early or prepare to be a bit flexible on dates or resort choices.

Ready to get started on your Europe travel plans?  Call the experts at Expert Family Travel for more information at 972-625-6200.  Or email cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

What’s hot in Riviera Maya 2018

Riviera Maya, located south of Cancun along Mexico’s Caribbean coast just keeps getting better and better.  Existing resorts have been making enhancements and actively refurbishing their buildings.  And new properties have recently opened or are opening later this year.  This means more options are available than ever before, with some specializing in families and family groups while others are exclusively adults-only.

Photo:  Hotel Xcaret Mexico

Here are the highlights of what’s hot in Riviera Maya today…

  • Active travelers, rejoice.  Brand new Hotel Xcaret Mexico  opened this past Christmas and is already receiving rave reviews.  This 900 room resort is located next to beautiful Xcaret Park, and is a 4+ star all-inclusive for all ages.  Entrance and transportation is included to the “X” Parks Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xoximilco, Xenses, Xplor, Xplor Fuego and Xichen, as part of the complete ALL-FUN INCLUSIVE program.  There are plenty of dining options, and the property exudes charm and style.
  • Luxury adults only resort Unico 20 87 Riviera Maya has been open for just about a year, and already it is trending as the new favorite among adult couples and adult friend groups.  All-inclusive dining is elevated to a new level, and several tours and spa treatments are included in your stay (“almost free” with a 20% service fee).
  •  Palace Resorts has reopened its Playacar Palace following an extensive $14 million renovation.  Enhancements can be seen in the guestrooms, lobby, restaurants, and bars.  This 201 room property sits on the beach in downtown Playa del Carmen and is a vacation favorite among returning clients.
  • Azul Fives by Karisma has just opened an adults-only building with 53 units (one- two- and three-bedroom residences).  This all-inclusive property is just north of downtown Playa del Carmen and is popular with extended families and for destination weddings.

Photo:  Azul Five Resort’s new adults only tower.

Now, I got to tell you, there’s no shortage of hotel rooms in the Riviera Maya area (well, except maybe during Christmas Week but that’s another story).  However, not all resorts are created equal.  To help navigate through all the choices so that you are sure to stay at a resort that fits YOU be sure to contact the friendly folks at Expert Family Travel to plan your next vacation.

Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200.

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.  

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.

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.

A Note about Nutella


It was 1983, the summer before my junior year in high school, and I was participating in an exchange program in Germany.  It was my first taste of real travel, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

It was also my first taste of Nutella.  The German kids were eating Nutella spread on toast as a breakfast staple, and I was soon seriously addicted.  When I came back from my exciting summer in Germany, I had lively stories of biking in the Black Forest, riding the train to get to school, meeting some interesting and amazing people, and of course enjoying this delightful chocolate spread that I couldn’t seem to find at any specialty store in the US.

Yesterday, on a weekend in 2013, I ran into the corner Dollar General for a couple of things.  Lo and behold, they were selling Nutella.  Right there sandwiched between the peanut butter and jelly!  You see, it’s taken 30 years, but Nutella’s become the American kid addiction today like it was in Germany when I was there so long ago.  It’s been in the grocery stores and even Walmart for a few years, but it’s now sitting on the shelf in a basic-items store like Dollar General.  Amazing.

This calorie-laden jar, though, reminds me not of satisfying a sweet tooth (we’ll take that as a given).  It reminds me instead of exploring and discovering a world for myself.  Of experiences and sights, smells and tastes that make each trip unique.  It reminds me of a passion for travel that, once caught is very hard to shake.  And also, that the world is changing.  In 1983 Germany was the land of division (remember Berlin Wall) and of such mysterious concoctions as gummi bears and Nutella.

It reminds me that kids are not really too young to travel.  And adults are definitely not too old.  We are shaped by our journeys, and our world is as large as we allow it.  I’m a travel consultant because, really, the end result is a very wonderful and exciting thing.  Happy travels!

Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel/Reconnect Travel located in the Dallas Texas area near Frisco, Little Elm, Irving, Plano, Carrollton, Fort Worth.  Contact 972-625-6200

Secrets Resorts comes to Cozumel

Exciting news!  Secrets Resorts, the adults only resort chain managed by AMResorts, is coming to Cozumel!  Secrets Aura Cozumel’s official opening date is December 15 2013, but the resort is taking reservations earlier than their official opening date.  This is a rennovation and rebranding of an existing resort (Aura Cozumel).

This is the only adults only all-inclusive resort option on the island of Cozumel, which is especially popular with diving enthusiasts.  Secrets Resorts has a solid reputation for great food, service, and comfy beds and no doubt they will be bringing their quality into this resort.  What this means is that Cozumel FINALLY has an option for honeymooners and romance travelers (as well as adult friends traveling together) who expect a certain quality standard.

Each of Secrets Aura’s 168 suites is graciously appointed with luxurious amenities and contemporary, stylish décor. Unwind in your one or two bedroom suite or swim-up suite, each with a terrace or private balcony and beautiful views.

Cozumel is located off the coast of the Yucatan, opposite from Playa del Carmen, Mexico’s Caribbean.