Riviera Maya: Mexico’s Caribbean Jewel

Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Riviera Maya sits on Mexico’s Caribbean coast just south of Cancun.  This resort area has been growing rapidly in the last decade and has become on of Dallas’ favorite beach destinations.  The resort area spans along 60 miles of beautiful white sandy beach, where jungle meets the azure blue sea.

There are resorts here to fit most budgets and expectations.  There are adult-only resorts that appeal to the honeymoon and anniversary clientelle, as well as those that are family friendly.  Most the resorts in the area are all-inclusive, which means that your meals, snacks, and beverages as well as some activities at the resort are included as part of your resort stay.  This makes for a very convenient and hassle-free vacation.  Sand, sea and unlimited frozen drinks.  How can you beat that?

Riviera Maya resorts are more laid back than those in Cancun’s Hotel Zone.  In Riviera Maya the resorts are sitting on acres, compared to the resorts in the Hotel Zone sitting on lots. Plus these resorts have plenty of activities and entertainment to keep you busy.  If you decide to wander, downtown Playa del Carmen is an easy taxi ride, and offers some shopping and a bit of nightlife to boot.

For daytime fun, head over to the archaeological-natural park named Xcaret.  The highlight activity here is  tubing down an underground river (called a cenote).  The caves are awesome, and the water is refreshingly cold!  Allow extra time to wander the park.

For the active client, there are several golf courses in the Riviera Maya area, with reasonable green fees.  Stay onsite at the Iberostar Paraiso Resort complex or the Moon Palace Resort if you’d like to focus on golf.  Scuba and snorkeling in the Riviera Maya area is exceptional.  Consider snorkeling from your resort, or sign up for a boat excursion for snorkeling or diving on the Great Meso-American Barrier Reef.

Getting to Riviera Maya from Dallas is a snap.  The flight from Dallas to Cancun is only about 2 1/2 hours, and American and Sun Country offer several nonstop flight options daily.  Book your package with transfers already included, which will save from the extra hassle and cost of a taxi ride.  From the airport, your resort is ten minutes to eighty minutes’ drive south.  And don’t forget, air travel to Mexico requires a passport.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, ReconnectTravel.com 972-625-6200

Paradores: Intimate charm in Spain

Looking for a unique way to experience Spain?  Paradores are government-operated upscale and luxury accommodations in historic buildings such as convents, castles, and palaces.  Other properties in the collection are modern built but located in special settings.  Paradores also feature the region’s culinary specialties and range in size and property amenities.

There are 93 paradores across Spain with an average size of 63 rooms at each property.  Combine two or three paradores and a car rental to make your own custom itinerary in Spain.  But book early!  The more popular paradores tend to fill up quickly.

Here’s a sampling of the paradores you can visit:

  • Parador de Granada is a 15th century convent located adjacent to the Alhambra.  You’ll enjoy beautiful grounds and building, exceptional vistas and an excellent location.
  • Parador de Alcaniz is an imposing 12th century castle situated on a hill top.  The Castle of the Order of Calatrava also served as a convent and palace in its history.  Gothic murals and furnishings grace the interior, and there’s a lovely garden on the grounds.
  • Parador de Zamora is a 15th century Renaissance palace built over the ruins of a Roman fortress.  Gracing the public areas are tapestries and suits of armor, and rooms are furnished with canopied beds.  There’s also a pool and gardens onsite.
  • Parador de Carmona is in a 14th century Moorish citadel located near Sevilla.  This beautiful building also offers a pool, gardens, a terrace, and a lovely fountain.  The grounds and views are wonderful.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant ReconnectTravel.com 972-625-6200

18 Ways to Upgrade your Walt Disney Vacation

Planning a special trip to Walt Disney World? Disney offers a wealth of services, many of which you might not be aware. You’ll definitely want to stay onsite at one of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts for maximum convenience and park access. Your Disney experience is limited only by your imagination (and budget).

Consider these ways to upgrade your vacation.

1. Surprise your spouse with flowers or a special gift delivered to the room by Disney Floral & Gifts.
2. Upgrade to private transfers by towncar or limousine.
3. Enjoy a massage, facial, or body treatment at the spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Saratoga Springs Resort, or Wilderness Lodge.
4. Have a romantic dinner at one of Disney’s signature restaurants such as California Grill (Contemporary), Jiko’s (Animal Kingdom Lodge), Citrico’s (Grand Floridian), and Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridian). Call 407-WDW-DINE.
5. Play a round of golf at one of Disney’s five golf courses (Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge, Oak Trail, and Lake Buena Vista). Call 407-WDW-GOLF.
6. Sign up for a behind the scenes tour at one of the Disney Parks. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.
7. Upgrade your room to concierge level (available at Disney’s Deluxe Resorts). Reserve at time of booking.
8. Order room service for breakfast, and take that extra time to sleep in (available at Disney’s Deluxe Resorts).
9. Charter the Grand 1 Yacht, a 52-foot Sea Ray, for your own private cruise ($450 per hour, up to 18 guests, departs from Grand Floridian).
10. Go fish with a guided bass catch-and-release fishing excursion (available at select Disney Resort marinas). Call 407-WDW-BASS.
11. Ride a horse through a 45-60 minute guided trail ride at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. Call 407-WDW-PLAY.
12. Or, sign up instead for the 2 hour segway Wilderness Back Trail Adventure at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.
13. Get your Disney Villa fridge fully stocked by preordering through GardenGrocer.com
14. Race your own stock car at Richard Petty Driving Experience. Reservations: www.1800bepetty.com.
15. Rent a pedal boat, canoe, pontoon boat, sail boat, or catamaran for an hour along one of Disney’s lagoons or lakes.
16. Watch Cirque du Soliel’s show LaNouba, located in Downtown Disney. Reserve at time of booking.
17. Enjoy a luau at Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show located at the Polynesian Resort. Call 407-WDW-DINE.
18. Experience a safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.

Review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World Orlando

Pulling up to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, I initially thought the building looked odd. A massive building with a thatch roofed appearance, totally out of place in Florida. My first impression melted to awe when I walked into the lobby. Holy smokes, I had never seen anything like this! I had been transported to a strange and delicious world, and I didn’t want to leave. Not one bit. There were artifacts, African themes taken to astronomical proportions, exotic animals in the distance.

The service at the desk was on par with the best luxury resorts. All my questions were answered, we got maps of the resort layout (a definite necessity), and lots of other goodies to go into our memory book.

The room was fabulous. The African theme was on everything…down to the light fixtures and tiles. I immediately conjured up visions of an African theme in my own house.

The best part of the room was the balcony. Two chairs, one table, and a SAFARI just feet away. It was the most exotic suspense of reality I could conceive.

We had reservations at the upscale restaurant Jiko’s. The meal was AMAZING, definitely French cuisine with African inspiration. We had the steak and the monkfish, and appetizers emblazoned on my tastebuds (a bread-curry-yogurt dish). The service was outstanding. It quickly became my favorite Disney Resort restaurant.

Next door, Boma’s boasts an exotic but less intimate buffet experience. They have an open kitchen here with a wood-fire rotisserie grill (that smells fantastic). We tried the breakfast buffet one morning, and there were some unusual and tasty choices. I was stuffed! They also offer a dinner buffet with some African cuisine touches.

Nearby is Mara’s a food court with Disney/resort priced meals. This is the cheapest way to eat at AKL (that’s not saying much, it’s a resort after all). There were some unusual snacks here, and the service was friendly.

The pool was beautiful and creative, and you’ll want to allow enough time to really enjoy it. Of course, the animals on the resort “savannah” are the highlight. There’s an observation deck, and you can see zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and all sorts of critters out there. There are higher observation decks and a fantastic outdoor bonfire spot where you can grab a rocker and decompress.

The first morning I woke up extra early to watch the sun. I had ordered room service. The experience of room service breakfast, coffee, newspaper, and giraffes on the balcony was such a stress reducer. For the first time, I didn’t want to go to EPCOT! Our stay was much too short — only two nights. And ever since then, I imagine going back real soon.

Since our visit, Disney has added villas to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for even more options!

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, ReconnectTravel.com 972-625-6200

Waldorf Astoria – a Luxury Retreat for an Orlando Escape

Waldorf Astoria Orlando, the newest luxury resort in the Disney-Lake Buena Vista area, which opened in October 2009. Part of the emerging 482 acre Bonnet Creek Complex, this property offers all the luxury amenities and services you’d expect from the Waldorf Astoria Collection, as well as the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and easy access to Walt Disney World.

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando offers 497 rooms a 24,000 square foot spa and 4,000 square foot fitness center, as well as signature restaurants similar to those in the Waldorf Astoria New York (Peacock Alley, Bull & Bear Steakhouse, Oscar’s, Sir Harry’s Lounge and Aquamarine). The Bonnet Creek development also includes the 1000 room Hilton Bonnet Creek, as well as 160,000 square feet of meeting space.

The clientelle at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando will be mostly business travelers and attendees of meetings and conventions at Bonnet Creek. However, with Walt Disney World so close by, this is great for a special romantic weekend getaway for two.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant ReconnectTravel.com 972-625-6200

Winter paradise in trendy St. Moritz, Switzerland

Picture-perfect Alpian wonderland St. Moritz has long been a favorite winter destination for the well-heeled. This Swiss resort town offers sun, snow, and clear blue skies, luxury resorts, fine dining, and a wide array of winter sports to keep you busy. And there’s also a stylish casino located in the Kempinski Grand Hotel.

There’s no shortage of winter activities in St. Moritz. Chose from skiing, cross country skiing, ski and snowboard schoools, the Olympic Bob Run, Curling Center, Cresta Run, horseback riding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, an indoor pool, sledging, paragliding, hang-gliding, and golf.

St. Moritz has five luxury hotels, all of which offer exceptional service, accommodations, and scenery:

  • Badrutt’s Palace Hotel
  • Carlton Hotel
  • Kempinski Grand Hotel des Baines
  • Kulm Hotel
  • Suvretta House

There are also four star upscale and three star moderate hotels available.

To get to St. Moritz from the US, fly in to Zurich or Milan and take a train in to St. Moritz. Or, if you’d like a multiple destination itinerary consider taking one of the Swiss scenic trains that services St. Moritz. Glacier Express goes from St. Moritz to Zermatt (and reverse), while Bernina Express goes from Chur through St. Moritz to Lugano (and reverse). Scenic trains require advance reservations.

~Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant ReconnectTravel.com 972-625-6200

Make your next vacation easy