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Review: Azul Sensatori Riviera Maya Mexico

My 12 year old daughter and I recently returned from an excellent vacation at Azul Sensatori Resort in the Playa del Carmen area.  This is a 4 ½ to 5 star luxury all-inclusive that’s family friendly.  This was my first stay as a guest at this resort, and I must say – my expectations were definitely exceeded!  The room was perfect (I want those pillows!).  The service friendly and personable (even the maid was cheerful, imagine that!)  And the food.  Oh the food! It would have been very silly to try and diet last week.

We stayed in the upgraded Premium section, in a Premium Oceanview Jacuzzi Suite.  The rooms were well appointed, and the upgrade to the Premium section includes enough added amenities to make the additional cost well worth it.

The food here is about as good as it gets in an all-inclusive that’s not adults-only.  The Eggs Benedict for breakfast in Zavaz was especially good, and the gourmet burger menu (also at Zavaz) will get you coming back for another burger creation the next day.  My favorite restaurant was Tapaz.  Appetizer-sized tapas bites are served in a 6 course dinner.  You get to try exceptional foods, and it’s an all-inclusive so you’re not worried about the bill at the end!  House wines were palatable enough to enjoy with dinner, but there’s a fairly decent wine list (for purchase) if you prefer a better grape.

The spa is located on the top floor of the main building (over the lobby), and it is expansive and well equipped.  I treated myself to a man-pedi-facial and while the services were very good, the prices were about twice what I pay for comparable services back home (in the Dallas area).  This is no surprise though – the days of bargain priced spa treatments in Riviera Maya are long gone!

The two negatives about this resort – and they may be deal breakers for you – is the quality of the beach and the number of small children at the resort.

The beach is typical of many you find in the Puerto Morelos area in that there’s quite a bit of sea grass growing just off the shoreline.  This is great for the fish, but it makes for grass bits washed up on the shore (which is raked with regular frequency), and the water here isn’t as “baby blue” as you might find in front of other resorts.  The best cure for this little ailment is to prebook an activity at nearby Maroma Beach.  The sand is powdery white, the water is crystalline, and there’s lots to do.  One afternoon here and you can get your beach fix.

Azul Sensatori touts itself as family friendly, and families you’ll definitely find here.  There is an adults only section of rooms and an adults only pool.  Also, the premium rooms have their own premium pool area, which is a bit less rowdy with the kids.  And there is an adults only restaurant.  Still, there’s no way to avoid them eventually, there are little kids at this resort!  If you have little ones, you’ll fit right in.  If you break out in a rash whenever a 3 year old stares at you, might I recommend staying at El Dorado Royale instead.

All in all, though, Azul Sensatori gets a “thumbs up” from both me and my daughter.  We will definitely return.

 

Two resorts to close their doors in French Polynesia this fall

Last week brought the announcements of two resort closures in Tahiti (French Polynesia) during Fall 2012.

Sofitel Tahiti Resort, a 3 1/2 star beachfront resort hotel in Papeete Tahiti is scheduled to close on November 30.  Their sister properties in Moorea and Bora Bora will remain open.

Also announced is the closing of Manihi Pearl Resort, a 3 1/2 star resort located on the atoll island of Manihi on September 15.  Their sister properties Bora Bora Pearl Resort, Moorea Pearl Resort, Tikihau Pearl Resort, and Manava Suites Resort will remain open.

Manihi Pearl Resort set to close Sep 2012

I’m especially sad to hear about Manihi Pearl Resort closing.  I never got a chance to visit it (though I have visited all other sister properties).  Its closing effectively means no decent lodging options on the remote island of Manihi.  However, if you are looking for the atoll island experience (which is a ring island with a lagoon but no extinct volcanic island in the middle) there’s still Tikehau Pearl Resort (on Tikehau) and Kia Ora Resort (on Rangiroa).

–Happy Travels

Cindy Grant, CTA, Travel Consultant at Reconnect Travel 972.625.6200.  Located in the Dallas metro area serving clients across the US.

 

Add an Adventure

Looking for a day tour or two to spice up your next vacation?  Here are some adventures that are sure to get your adrenaline up and running!

  1. Night kayak the bio-lumenescent bay, Puerto Rico
  2. Camel ride on the beach, Rivera Maya Mexico
  3. Swim with the sharks, Bora Bora
  4. Bike Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii’s Big Island
  5. Charter a sailboat or yacht for a day, St. Thomas USVI
  6. Drift dive (or snorkel) the Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa Tahiti
  7. Jungle River Cruise, Costa Rica
  8. Sea Lion Discovery, Puerto Vallarta & Nassau Bahamas & St. Thomas USVI
  9. A Day at the Whale Sanctuary & the birthplace of gray whales, Cabo (Jan – March)
  10. Zip it!  Ride the zip line canopy tour, Hawaii & Jamaica & Punta Cana & Mexico & Costa Rica

Most of these tours can be prebooked for your convenience.  Just ask!

~Happy travels, Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant at Reconnect Travel & Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  Serving clients in US and Canada.  972-625-6200.  cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

In search of the overwater bungalow

So, maybe you are wondering — where in the world can you find overwater bungalow accommodations?

The “True” Overwater Bungalow

French Polynesia (Tahiti) is perhaps the most famous destination offering overwater bungalows, and of these islands Bora Bora tops the list.  Here you’ll find pontoons with multiple thatched-roof bungalows sitting on crystal clear, super-calm lagoon waters.  The Tahitian islands offering overwater bungalows include:

  • Bora Bora
  • Moorea
  • Tahiti (including the capital city of Papeete)
  • Huahine
  • Taha’a
  • Tikehau
  • Manihi
  • Rangiroa
  • Raiatea

Fiji has one property — the Likuliku Lagoon Resort — offering 10 overwater bungalows (called “bures”).

Cook Islands in the South Pacific has a deluxe resort featuring seven overwater bungalows.

Upolu, one of the Samoan Islands (also located in the South Pacific) has one resort that offers a couple of overwater bungalows (“fales”) along the shoreline.

The Maldives has more of the classic overwater bungalows than any other destination.  Located in the Indian Ocean and with few flight options from the US, the Maldives is an impossible destination for most Americans due to the flight costs and travel time.  There are more than 75 resorts in the Maldives offering overwater accommodations from budget to luxury.

The Overwater Accommodation

These properties aren’t quite what you envision when you think of an overwater bungalow.  Perhaps they offer over-the-water building, or hang over the shore’s edge in some way.  Or, maybe the water isn’t the clear, calm lagoon that invites an easy dip.

The Caribbean

Panama has three very small, very budget, no-frills resorts that have overwater hut-type accommodations.  These properties don’t have the upscale or luxury touches to make them good choices for the honeymoon couple, however.

Roatan Honduras has three properties that have bungalow-type accommodations that sit perched over the water’s edge.  The water isn’t going to be crystal clear or calm, and you won’t find upscale or luxury touches here either.

Belize has four small properties ranging from budget to luxury, offering a few overwater type bungalows.  While not on the quality you’ll find in the South Pacific or the Maldives, this is the closest you’ll find in the Caribbean to an overwater bungalow experience.

Sandals Grande St. Lucia anticipates opening it’s overwater bungalow category beginning early 2013.  Expect sell-out status and a high price tag.

Underwater resort in Fiji never surfaced

Being a travel specialist for dream beach destinations, I occasionally get an email from a client with a gorgeous postcard quality image (of a beach or resort) followed by the question of “where is this place?”  It’s a sort of Where’s Waldo for the bucket list.

Well, this picture has been in circulation online as one of the coolest resorts out there:

The underwater resort that doesn't exist

Problem is that this resort (the Poseidon Undersea Resort in Fiji) which was to cost $30,000 per couple for a 6 night all-inclusive stay (4 nights in a beach bure and 2 nights underwater in this suite in the image) NEVER MATERIALIZED!  Yes, that’s right.  The resort never opened.  In fact, this picture is a drawing and not an actual underwater suite.

It sounds like it was more of a sham rather than delayed construction efforts because the actual island location was kept a secret (how handy), and no one in Fiji knows of construction going on.

Bummer, right?  So for now at least, you’ll have to -settle- for overwater accommodations instead of underwater accommodations!  And this is officially one resort you can scratch off that bucket list.

~Happy travels, Cindy Grant Travel Consultant at Reconnect Travel/Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200 cindy@expertfamilytravel.com  Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (in Texas) serving clients in the US and Canada.

 

8 Reasons to use Expert Family Travel for your destination wedding arrangements

1.  NOT ALL RESORTS ARE CREATED EQUAL.

Just because a resort offers destination weddings and is all-inclusive does not mean you want to have your destination wedding there.  Not all resorts are created equal, and certainly not all of them have acceptable service levels, public space quality, and decent wedding departments.   The resorts we use have met our standards.  If you book your own destination wedding, you’ll spend hours researching online to compare results, and you’re never quite sure the validity of the material you read online.  Is it worth the risk?

2.  OUR DESTINATION WEDDING SERVICES ARE FREE, AND WILL SAVE YOU HOURS OF WORK ALONG THE WAY

There’s a deposit to set up your destination wedding, and is applied towards the bride and groom’s initial deposit.  There are no additional fees that you will incur by Expert Family Travel for arranging your travel, your guests’ travel, or in setting up your wedding ceremony.  Of course, the resort and wedding vendors will charge for their packages and services, as applicable.

3.  NO DESTINATION WEDDING IS TOO SMALL OR TOO BIG

We can arrange destination weddings for 2 to 200 (and more).

4.  AVOID BEING FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR MEETING GUEST QUOTAS

While we can arrange your destination wedding to be a group with minimum head count, it is more likely that multiple individual reservations booked into your wedding portfolio is a better way to go.  Your guests are then free to leave from their departure city airport, and there is flexibility in travel dates.  The best news is that the guest (and not the bride/groom) is responsible for their travel costs, and you can avoid the financial risk that comes with negotiating guest room space directly with the hotels.

5.  HAVING THE GUESTS CONTACT US (YOUR TRAVEL AGENT) FOR THEIR TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS FREES YOU UP

Sure you can coordinate your friends and family’s travel, but why should you?  Simply give your guests the contact information for your travel agent, and let them arrange details directly.

6.  BRIDE AND GROOM RECEIVE A CREDIT BACK FOR EVERY ROOM BOOKED

In addition to competitively priced rates, the bride and groom can receive $25 per room credit back for all guests who attend the wedding (restricted to certain destinations and resorts).

7.  HAVE AN EXPERT ON YOUR SIDE

Working with Expert Family Travel means you have an expert on your side who can advise you on some of the pitfalls of travel, has established working relationships with resorts and wedding coordinators, and can assist you in a crisis.

8.  THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ONE SIZE-FITS-ALL

On your own, it’s tough to pick just the right resort.  So many factors go into the decision — budget, dates, how many guests, are kids traveling, guests’ budget, wedding ceremony and reception requirements, etc.  We are very familiar with the resorts, and will guide you to the right choices to fit your individual needs. Continue reading 8 Reasons to use Expert Family Travel for your destination wedding arrangements

Paul Gauguin Tahiti Cruise Sale ends May 19

This is deal is too good to pass up!  Paul Gauguin is a great way to see multiple islands in Tahiti.  I recommend adding one night in Papeete prior to the cruise.

Limited-Time Offer Savings:
• 50% off 2012 and 2013 Paul Gauguin Tahiti Cruises
• FREE airfare from Los Angeles

Oceanview Stateroom
2012 Departures.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FROM $3611
2013 Departures.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . FROM $3686

  • Spacious, oceanview stateroom accommodations onboard newly renovated vessel
  • Private island experience in Taha’a
  • Private beach experience in Bora Bora
  • All onboard meals
  • Complimentary beverages including soft drinks, hot beverages and select wines
  • 24-hour room service
  • On board watersports marina for complimentary kayaking, windsurfing, and waterskiing
  • Onboard entertainment
  • All shipboard gratuities
**********

Dallas to Cayman flights, summer 2012

Just announced last week, Cayman Airways will be offering weekly nonstop service between DFW and Cayman, beginning June 23 and ending Sep 2.  Prices begin at $398.05 per person, round-trip — an incredible price!

Flights from DFW to Cayman will operate on Sunday, and Cayman to DFW return flights will operate on Saturday.  This offers 6 night stay options for the summer vacation season for North Texas residents.

Grand Cayman is located in the Caribbean and has excellent scuba and snorkeling, gorgeous powder white sand beaches, and an array of accommodations from 2 star moderate to 5 star luxury.

Not sure where to stay?  I can recommend:

  • The Reef Resort.  A 3 1/2 star resort offering an all-inclusive option.  Makes your trip affordabe!
  • Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Resort.  Upscale 4 star resort.
  • Grand Cayman Beach Suites.  Upscale-luxury 4 1/2 star resort, with roomy suites for families and couples.
  • Westin Casuarina Resort and Spa.  Upscale-luxury 4 1/2 star resort with a gorgeous beach and extra comfy beds.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman Resort.  Luxury 5 star resort.  The top-of-the-line accommodations in Grand Cayman.

Contact me today to price your summer getaway to Grand Caymans.

~Happy Travels!  Cindy Grant, CTA Travel Consultant at Reconnect Travel/Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200.  Located in the Dallas metro area, near Plano, Little Elm, Frisco, Lewisville, Carrollton, Irving, and Fort Worth.  Clients located across the US.

 

Costa Rica Guided Vacations

The best way to see Costa Rica is with a guided vacation.  Choose from the following two guaranteed departures. No minimum number of travelers.  Max is 20.

Tour #1:  Marvels of Costa Rica (8 nights and 18 meals)

Choice of Superior or Deluxe Hotels.  Includes 1 night San Jose, 2 nights Arenal, 2 nights Monteverde, 3 nights Guanacaste with local licensed and certified tour guide and driver throughout.  Multiple guided tours included; optional tours and activities are available at additional cost.  Departures every other Saturday. Continue reading Costa Rica Guided Vacations

Just back from Tahiti

Hi everyone!  Well, I just returned home last night from Tahiti, visiting Papeete (Tahiti), Moorea, Bora Bora and Tikehau.  And while I’m going to be adding some hotel reviews from my recent trip in the next few days I thought I’d share some of the more “casual and fun” shots first.

Lunch at the Hilton Moorea Resort by chef Eric Scuiller was spectacular:

 

Even if you’re not staying at the Hilton Moorea, a dinner there is definitely a culinary highlight.

I highly recommend the Jeep Safari Tour of Moorea, it’s the easiest way to see the island.  This is me from one of the spectacular views overlooking Moorea’s lagoon.

Continue reading Just back from Tahiti