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.
2. Secrets Vallarta Bay, Puerto Vallarta
3. Hyatt Ziva Resort Puerto Vallarta
4. Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta
This summer (or fall), discover the captivating Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. This is a great destination to explore nature’s wonders: hike a waterfall, kayak along the Napali coast, take in the majesty of the soaring cliffs and valleys accessible only by helicopter tour. Nature here is truly a departure from your “Every Day”!
If you are not quite the adventure aficionado, no worries. This slice of paradise location is also perfectly suited for lazy days around the pool, exploring the quaint shops in town, or enjoying a shaved ice while people watching.
Allow at least 6 days for your Kauai vacation (with a redeye flight on the return). Have over 9 days for your vacation? Kaua’i combines well with a stay on Maui, Oahu, or the Big Island. Kauai is great for a honeymoon or family reunion.
Where to stay
What to do
Poipu Bay Championship Golf Course
Not to miss
Roy Yamaguchi (of the infamous Roy’s Restaurant) has recently opened Eating House 1849 on Kauai’s south shore. If you are a foodie this Hawaiian Fusion is a must.
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
|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.
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.
Mexico remains the top vacation destination for Expert Family Travel and for good reason: easy striking distance, many flight options, a wide variety of beachfront resorts, and a great bang for the buck. Here are the Mexico resorts areas we currently offer:
Located just south of Cancun along the Yucatan peninsula’s Caribbean coast. This area is 112 miles of coast and includes Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, and Tulum. Most resorts are all-inclusive, with a variety of family friendly, adults only, mega-sized, and boutique-sized for all budgets.
A barrier island in the shape of a “7″ this 14-mile resort area is on the Yucatan’s Caribbean coast. Plenty of flights from major US airports daily. Resorts are mostly all-inclusive. While there are some wonderful family-friendly resorts in Cancun, the area is better known for the nightlife & shopping appealing to adults.
Finest Playa Mujeres Resort
Playa Mujeres & Isla Mujeres
“The Island of Women” and its associated mainland beach (to catch the ferry), this area is just north of Cancun Island. Playa Mujeres has enjoyed recent development with new upscale to luxury all-inclusive resorts. Isla Mujeres remains a sleepy getaway island with a few choice boutique-sized all-inclusives.
A Caribbean island just off Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is best known for exceptional diving. The resorts here are smaller and more in the 3 to 4 star range. Nonstop year-round flights from DFW, Houston, and Atlanta.
Shifting gears and heading to the Pacific coast, Puerto Vallarta sits on beautiful Banderas Bay. There are three distinct resort areas: Puerto Vallarta city area, the stretch of beach called Riviera Nayarit, and the relatively new development of Punta Mita. Resorts here are all-inclusive or European Plan, from boutique to large in size. The resorts are an exceptional “bang for the buck” though air can sometimes be pricey. Whale watching is a popular activity in the winter months, and the Sierra Madre Mountains offer fun activities such as zip lining.
A beautiful destination on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, this is where the desert meets the sea. The area was hit by a hurricane a year ago (Sep 14, 2014) but has recovered fully at this point. Cabos has the roughest currents of the destinations listed here, so is not the best choice if you are looking for calm water at your resort but the scenery is gorgeous. Great golfing and nightlife.
Located on the Pacific side, this is great if you are looking for a quiet escape, or just to try something different. Most US departure cities will require a connecting flight. My favorite accommodations in the area are small and romantic though there are some mid-size family friendly options as well. Most resorts are not all-inclusive.
Ah, my favorite destination of all…Tahiti. Officially known as French Polynesia, this broad collection of South Pacific islands is about 2 hours due south of Hawaii. With pristine, calm lagoons, beautiful views, ideal weather, gentle people, and tropical flowers perfuming the air this destination embodies the perfect beach destination.
If this is your one and only trip to Tahiti, I would recommend a combination itinerary of Moorea and Bora Bora, staying about a week. Plus, you will either fly on a red-eye to get to Papeete the next morning (continuing on to Moorea) or you’ll need to stay one night in Papeete upon arrival. If you have more time than a week, or if this is your second trip to Tahiti (lucky YOU!), I would recommend visiting one of the lesser known islands on your multi-island itinerary, such as Taha’a or Tikehau.
Tahiti is best known as a honeymoon haven; certainly, an overwater bungalow on a crystalline lagoon is romantic. But Tahiti is also ideally suited for scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts. And several resorts are family friendly. Promotions can take the sting out of the price-points for a family traveling to Tahiti, but it will always be more expensive than destinations such as Mexico or Hawaii.
There are two negatives for Tahiti as a destination: distance and budget. The flight from LAX is about 8 hours, but is in the same time zone as Hawaii and doesn’t require that you cross the International Date Line. There’s just no way around it: Tahiti is relatively expensive for a vacation, especially when considering the “must do” accommodation — an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. There are a few ways to reign in the costs, and we can certainly talk about your options if you’d like to put together a Tahiti trip. Traveling in November, April, and May are better price-wise and some short-stay air promotions can make a vacation here affordable when budget is key.
I do recommend booking Tahiti 7-9 months in advance because flights and resorts fill up. Last minute packages are best booked with a bit of flexibility in terms of dates and resorts or room categories.
Our packages take the guesswork out of a Tahiti trip, and will include your flights, accommodations, breakfasts, interisland flights and transportation to the resort. We can add travel insurance, dinner plans, and day excursions to fit your needs as well.
Just off the Riviera Maya coast line is the charming island of Cozumel. Ever since Jacques Cousteau filmed from the coral reefs near Cozumel in 1961, this island has been best known for world class diving opportunities on the Playacar Reef which is part of the Meso-American reef system. Most resorts have dive shops onsite, and many are PADI 5-star certified. Diving is typically not included in your resort package, but prices are reasonable. For those not certified, abbreviated resort dive courses are available as well as full certification and advanced diver courses.
Secrets Aura Cozumel (adults only)
If you aren’t looking to scuba dive, the snorkeling is great. In other words, you don’t have to don an air tank and weight belt to be able to enjoy the beauty of the coral reefs. Most resorts have snorkeling right off the beaches. Or, sign up for a catamaran snorkel sail. This is great for couples as well as families (with the kids being good swimmers).
The beaches here don’t have the wide sandy ribbon like you find in Cancun. Resort beaches range between narrow sandy to downright rocky (with a few exceptions, like Secrets Aura Cozumel). However, since the island’s resort side faces back to the mainland, the tide at your resort beach will be gentle.
Cozumel Palace Resort
My favorite resorts in Cozumel by “travel style” are:
- Grand Occidental Cozumel – for families and small groups looking for a quiet beach getaway. This is an easy going 4 star all-inclusive, and prices well (good “bang for the buck.”)
- Iberostar Cozumel – the best pick for divers who are looking for 3 1/2 to 4 star accommodations. The resort is very close to the reef, on the southern end of the island. Diving is at additional cost. The diveshop (Dressel Divers) is very well run
- Cozumel Palace – for those divers who are looking a bit nicer accommodations, this resort has a great dive shop and is a 4 1/2 star all-inclusive. There is no sandy beach here, but just steps that go into the water. Snorkeling is excellen
- Explorean Cozumel – this is a new adults-only resort that includes sports and activities. This is a great choice for the couple or small friends group looking for a little soft adventure. The resort itself has a quiet, boutique feel to it. Access to beach at sister property next door (Fiesta Americana Cozumel).
- Secrets Aura Cozumel – for the adult couple looking for a romantic escape. This is a small 4+ star all-inclusive resort with lots of charm. Plus, the beach here is gorgeous.
Flights from the US to Cozumel operate year-round out of the following cities, with connections possible from your departure airport:
- DFW Dallas
Additionally, there are seasonal (December – April) nonstop flights to Cozumel from Chicago and Minneapolis-St Paul.
Dreaming of a Polynesian escape for your next vacation getaway? Beautiful Fiji Islands in the South Pacific total more than 300 islands in a tropical, white sand paradise. Coral reef diving and snorkeling are exceptional. Over 1,000 species of fish swim the grottoes and lagoons, and colorful birds and tropical flowers are everywhere.
Typical itineraries are for 2 islands for a 7 to 9 day visit, or 3 islands for a 10-14 day vacation. Or, for a shorter stay maybe 1 island and 5-7 nights at destination. Allow two additional nights for travel. Properties offered by Expert Family Travel range from 3 star moderate to 5 star luxury, and include family-friendy or adults only, from small boutique properties on remote islands to mid-sized resorts in Nadi on the main island.
From the US, you ‘ll fly through Los Angeles. There are also flights from Honolulu to Nadi three times a week. This makes for a fun Hawaii-Fiji combo, but is not as cost effective as flights through LA. Flights to Fiji are about 10 hours from LAX airport. If you have plenty of time (say, 3 or 4 weeks), consider combining a Fiji stay with a tour of New Zealand or Australia (being 3 and 4 hours away, respectively).
Featured Specials to Fiji
Koro Sun Resort Package – from $2353 per person
7 nights – Garden View Bure – air from LAX
Includes roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles to Nadi on Fiji Airways, roundtrip airfare from Nadi to Savusavu on Fiji Airways operated by Fiji Link, 7 nights accommodations at the Koro Sun Resort & Rainforest Spa in an Garden view Bure, all meals, airport transfers and meet & greet with shell lei.
Travel dates 10/4/2015 to 11/30/2015 based on availability**
Qamea Resort and Spa – from $3393 per person
Fiji’s #1 resort (Trip Advisor)
7 nights – Beachfront Bure – air from LAX
Includes roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles to Nadi on Fiji Airways, roundtrip airfare from Nadi to Taveuni on Fiji Airways operated by Fiji Link, 7 nights accommodations at Qamea Resort & Spa in a Beachfront Bure, welcome arrival drink, continental breakfast from buffet, afternoon tea, tea & French press plunger coffee and juices at breakfast, daily maid and turndown service, sea canoeing/kayaking, snorkel gear, 3 x weekly scheduled guided snorkel trips, once a week scheduled village tour, Wednesday night Kava Ceremony, Friday night Meke, Sunday church services, Sunday hosted wine tasting, Qamea sports water bottle with free refills of Pure Qamea purified drinking water, and nightly entertainment, meet & greet with shell lei and all applicable transfers.
Travel dates 9/6/2015 to 11/30/2015 based on availability**