Category Archives: Weddings and Honeymoons

Hotel Review: Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso (Riviera Maya Mexico)

I recently returned from a relaxing 3 night stay at the luxury, adults only all-inclusive resort Iberostar Gran Hotel Paraiso, which is located in the Riviera Maya area, just north of downtown Playa del Carmen.

The Iberostar Paraiso complex is a series of 5 resorts that share a shopping center, golf course, and conference facility (all located on the side of the complex that is interior/away from the beach).  Iberostar Grand Paraiso is the top of the five, and is the only resort that is adults only.  And while guests of the Grand can use the facilities at the other resorts, why would you?  Just about everything you want is right here.  And, in case you are wondering, the guests of the other Iberostar Resorts cannot use the facilities of the Iberostar Grand.

The property is made up of creme colored buildings, with muted sherbet tones and an occasional shock of color.  It is a classy version of “Art Deco Meets Sistene Chapel,” eclectic yet tasteful.  The first thing you’ll notice when you check in is the service level.  You’ll be escorted to your room with a tour, and shortly thereafter the butler will introduce himself and go over the features of your room and the services that the concierge desk (in conjunction with your butler staff) will provide for you.  The rooms are oversized and well equipped, and the beds comfortable.  Room service, pillow menus, shoe shine service (complimentary), and easy dining reservations make this property stand out above most others.

The food here ranges from very good to excellent.  Tony’s Turf and Surf for dinner is a gem.  Order ribeye and lobster, yum!  You can also find lobster on the breakfast and lunch menus.  The buffet restaurants have an a la carte menu, which I found to be better quality than the food on the buffet line.  Room service menu is 24 hours and takes about 30 minutes to be delivered (longer during peak times).

There are two outdoor pools.  The Main Pool is salt water with several warm tubs (not hot), and has a swim up bar and activities during the afternoon.  The activities serve to pull the guests together, and aren’t overbearing or obnoxious.  The guests were typically couples in their mid 30′s to mid 60′s, and everyone was relaxed and having a great time (always a good sign).  Friendly staff and friendly clients.

There is also a Tranquility Pool and does not have a swim up bar and no staff or activities.  The individuals and couples here were enjoying the solitude with a good book or sun nap, and it was very peaceful in this area.  The spa has an indoor pool, which also had a peaceful, introspective atmosphere.

The resort had a show or entertainment every night, and the place comes alive in the evening without any noise trickling into the guest room areas.  So, you can go to bed early or stay up late as you like.

I especially liked that the minibar could be restocked as you requested, instead of waiting the requisite alternate day (like you’ll find in many 4 star all-inclusives).  Service levels were focused on making the guest happy, which is refreshing.

And while this resort is a great choice for the honeymoon or anniversary couple, it’s equally suited for the couple (or several couples traveling together) looking for a  top quality vacation for the grown ups.

Keeping busy in St. Lucia

With lush mountains and baby blue waters, St. Lucia is one of my favorite Caribbean destinations for couples looking for a romantic week away.  The occasional concern with my clients, though, is that there’s not enough to do in St. Lucia.  The truth is that there is so much to do, chances are you won’t get to everything in just a week.

Top resorts picks in St. Lucia are the adults only, couples-oriented all-inclusive resorts Sandals Grande St. Lucian and Sandals La Toc Resort.  Sandals offers so much at their resorts, including water sports and scuba.  Plus there’s exchange privileges (stay at one and play at three) and golf fees are included at the 9 hole La Toc Golf Course.

The iconic Pitons stand proud in St. Lucia

It is always fun, though, to explore the island a bit.  Here are our top picks for excursions and tours away from your resort:

  • Tropical Jeep Safari – $90
  • Waterfall Cycling Adventure – $70
  • Hiking the Pitons – $155
  • Zipline – $110
  • Horseback riding – $75
  • ATV adventure – $135
  • Volcano highlight – $90
  • Whale and dolphin watching – $100
  • Piton sunset cruise – $95

Or, for the ultimate in exploring, visit a nearby island (flight is included)

  • Grenada for a day – $475
  • Dominica for a day – $490

These tours are operated by Island Routes, and are open to families and couples who are staying in St. Lucia.  Age and physical restrictions apply to some tours.

~Happy travels, Cindy Grant travel consultant with Reconnect Travel / Expert Family Travel.  Located in The Colony/Frisco (Dallas-Ft Worth metro area) with clients across the US.  Contact information:  972-625-6200  or cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

LeMeridien Bora Bora – pack your bags!

LeMeridien Bora Bora is a wonderful, 4 1/2 to 5 star resort set on a motu island and facing back to Mount Otemanu and Bora Bora’s famous lagoon.  This resort is best known for their sea turtles onsite (you can swim with them).   This resort recently (late 2010/early 2011) had underwent renovations.

LeMeridien Resort Bora Bora Video

Well, thank you Thomas Reynoird, Groups Manager at LeMeridien Bora Bora, for sharing the latest resort video.  It’s only 3 minutes long, but it certainly imparts a huge WOW factor — including the new interior of the bungalows, grand sweeping views of the resort, and great shots of real people (employees and guests).  I am left with a feeling like I just returned to the LeMeridien!  If you are considering this resort, you MUST watch this video.

And certainly, ask for a quote for your travel dates and I will be happy to put a quote together for you.  Bora Bora is located in Tahiti (French Polynesia), and is about 8 hours’ flight from LAX.  Bora Bora is an exceptional island experience on its own, and can pair well with another island for a 2 island itinerary for your honeymoon or anniversary.

~Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, CTA, travel consultant at Reconnect Travel & Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas metro area (Plano, Little Elm, Frisco, Fort Worth, Texas area) with clients across the US.  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.

Valentine’s – gift a trip for your special someone!

Looking for a last minute gift suggestion for Valentine’s?  How about booking a romantic getaway for a weekend in the Spring to a gorgeous beachfront all-inclusive resort.

Then, here’s the fun part.  Print off a picture of the resort you booked, such as:

The lovely Ladera Resort in St. Lucia (Hilltop Dream Suite)

Wrap it up elegantly complete with box and ribbon, and voila!  You’ve got one memorable gift.

To get started, call or email with your travel dates, the destination (or type of destination such as Caribbean luxury resort), departure city, and approximate budget.  We can get your booking confirmed that day.

~Happy Travels.  Cindy Grant, Reconnect Travel/Expert Family Travel  972-625-6200.  Located in the DFW metro area serving clients across the US and Canada.  Near Frisco, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Carrollton, Plano, Irving, Richardson Texas.

 

Iberostar Grand Bavaro, Punta Cana – Can I stay a bit longer?

For my clients who love the convenience of an all-inclusive and the indulgence of a luxury resort, I’ve got great news.  The Iberostar Grand Bavaro, located in Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana, just may exceed your expectations.

Built in 2008, this luxury adults only resort is set on a beautiful beach within the Iberostar Bavaro complex of resorts.

This is an excellent resort for a group of adult friends who want to travel together and have high standards in terms of dining, room quality, and service levels.  And of course, it’s a great choice for a honeymoon or anniversary celebration. There’s the 18-hole Iberostar Bavaro  Golf Club onsite (complimentary round included in your stay with a minimum night requirement) as well as an excellent Spa, along with a host of activities onsite (and offsite for an additional fee).

Accommodations here are sumptuous suites with incredible bathrooms, and 24 hour room service is available to satisfy the midnight munchies.  Suites are decorated in muted whites and beiges, and convey a tranquil setting.  Limited butler as well as concierge services are available for all room categories, and the Oceanfront Grand Suites has enhanced butler services along with some additional perks.

There are four specialty restaurants, some great bars onsite (making that group get together that much more fun), and a free flowing design lagoon pool, complete with a Spanish galleon replica planted in the middle of it.

Now, the part you don’t want to hear: this is on the high end of pricing for Punta Cana (prices more or less in line with Hard Rock Hotel and The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real).  But, it’s definitely the tops in Punta Cana when it comes to all-inclusive luxury.

Accommodations – 272 suites, 12 oceanfront grand suites.

Resort Review: Secrets Maroma Beach

Elegant.  Adults only.  Exceptional beach.  Oversized rooms.  Fantastic food.  No wonder everyone looks happy at Secrets Maroma Beach, a luxury resort situated on the beautiful Maroma Beach near Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

This resort evokes images of Morocco-meets-Mexico.  And did I mention everyone here is happy?  The guests on the beach, in the pool, in the lobby — the joy here is infectious.  Plus, the staff is awfully chirpy too.  This is an adults only resort, but it’s a nice mix of young and old, couples and honeymooners, and adult friends who enjoy traveling together as a group.

Most rooms here are over-sized Junior Suites with king sized, four poster beds.  There are a few rooms with two double beds in the rooms, and mattresses are “just-right” pillow top.  Upgraded rooms include honeymoon and Presidential suites.  And you can upgrade to the Preferred Club to get free in-room internet access and entry to the Preferred Lounge where you find a bar with top shelf labels, a pillow menu, concierge services, and continental breakfast and hors d oeuvres served during the day.  The Swim-out Junior Suites step into a river pool.

There are seven restaurants, a grill, a cafe, and 24 hour room service.  Six bars are scattered throughout the property, including a swim-up bar in the pool (a requirement for some of my clients!)  Plus for you Starbucks-addicts, enjoy a delicious coffee beverage from CoCo Cafe.

All meals and drinks are included in your stay, with the exception of wine by the bottle.

One step into the spa, and you’ll say “ahhhh.”  The sensuous fragrance of passion fruit and the beauty of this 13,000 square foot spa will surely get you to a happy place.  Spa prices are MORE than what I’m used to paying in Dallas, but it’s certainly worth the treat.

It’s no wonder that this resort frequently sells out, so book early to avoid disappointment.   It’s a great resort choice for a destination wedding, but then again you’ll want to book early!

~Happy travels, Cindy Grant travel consultant, Reconnect Travel DFW area 972-625-6200

“I Do” redux – renewing your vows

I hear it a lot: “If I had it to do over again, I’d have a destination wedding on a gorgeous beach.”  And for those who’ve been married for 10 – 15 years or more, they remember that the destination wedding concept hadn’t caught on “back in the day.”

Destination weddings have become an acceptable and popular option for nuptuals, and the sophistication, options, and venues only increase every year.  And while the beach ceremony is still hot, other locations such as gardens, gazebos, waterfalls, rainforests, and beachfront chapels are possibilities.

Good news is that you don’t have to trade in your spouse for the wedding of your dreams.  Renew your vows instead!  You can renew vows for a ceremony, just the two of you.  Or, include your friends and family for a wonderful twist on the vacation reunion.

~Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant Reconnect Travel.  DFW metro area 972-625-6200

 

Why you should use a travel agent to book Sandals Resorts

I was recently marveling — to myself — at how much variation there is among the Sandals and Beaches Resorts, located in the Caribbean.  I can count 8 of the Sandals/Beaches Resorts I’ve personally stayed at or inspected, and I can certainly remember each one distinctly.

Each one also has its own uniqueness…the energy level, the menus (though I never had a bad meal at any of them), the charm of the resort overall.  The only thing they really had in common was with the logo located in the pool!

I’d never send a luxury, mid-forties couple to Sandals Montego Bay.  And I’d never send an energetic, nightlife-loving young couple to Sandals Grande Emerald Bay.  Beaches Boscobel is disappointing at best, while Beaches Turks and Caicos will blow your socks off (provided of course you are in the right section of the resort).

And yet, I hear people from time to time treating Sandals/Beaches like they are interchangeable.  ”Oh I don’t want to go to any Sandals in St. Lucia.  My sister went to one in Jamaica and she said it was too loud.”  Or, “We loved how much there was to do at Beaches Turks/Caicos last year, so this year Jim and I want to stay at Sandals Carlyle Inn.”

This is where the experience and knowledge of your travel agent really pays off.  See, these resorts are NOT interchangeable.  To make things more confusing, Sandals/Resorts do not allow their wholesalers to RANK the resorts, so you don’t know if you’re talking 3 stars, 4 stars, or 5 stars (which is truly the range that they cover).  Travel review sites aren’t really that helpful, because the reviews are generally written by folks with LIMITED experience of the Sandals brand as a whole.  Sandals/Beaches has more room categories than Subway has sandwich combinations. And they are forever changing the room names too, I think just for fun.

So, what’s my point?  Use a travel agent!  So, off my soap box…