Tag Archives: all-inclusive

Destination Spotlight: Cozumel

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
  • Houston
  • Miami
  • Atlanta
  • Charlotte
  • Denver

​​Additionally, there are seasonal (December – April) nonstop flights to Cozumel from Chicago and Minneapolis-St Paul.

Ixtapa: Authentic Mexican Flare

 

Research is rough!

I just returned from a visit to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s Pacific coast.  This beautiful coastal area sits between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco on two scenic bays, surrounded by lush green mountains and coconut plantations.  This is a great destination for folks who have already done the “usual” Mexico destinations and are looking for something different.  Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, two beachside towns on two adjacent bays are both charming, sleepy, and authentic feeling — especially when compared to Cancun & Playa del Carmen.    Ixtapa has the larger hotels, while Zihuatanejo (still a tongue twister) has the best beach, Playa la Ropa.

Beautiful Playa la Ropa

My top picks for hotels in the area:

  • Azul Ixtapa and Azul Ixtapa Grand – these sister properties (4 stars and 4 ½ stars, respectively) are great choices for families, groups, and adults.  All-inclusive, multiple pools and restaurants, tennis courts, a convention center, and a view of Ixtapa Island just off the coast keeps you as busy as you want to be.  Located on the “Hotel Strip” of Ixtapa and near Senor Frogs and shopping.
  • Sunscape Dorado Pacifico – this 3 ½ to 4 star all-inclusive resort is great for families, friend groups, and simple destination weddings.  While this hotel is “nothing fancy” the food is very good and the rooms are pleasant and comfortable.

  • La Casa de Canta – switching gears, this is a breath-taking, small and intimate boutique hotel suited perfectly for a romantic getaway.  Situated in Zihuatanejo and just above La Ropa Beach, you can enjoy views from your own private plunge pool.  Gorgeous!  Five star luxury.  Meals not included.
  • Viceroy Ixtapa Hotel – another 5 star gem.  Located on the best beach (Playa la Ropa), this property is a bit larger than La Casa de Canta though equally as elegant.  Perfect for couples and adult friends travelling together.  Also an excellent choice for a destination wedding.  Families are welcomed, though there’s not too much for kids to do here.  Optional meal plans available.

 

Flights to Zihuatanejo require a connection from most major US cities.  And, don’t forget passports are required.  Weather is tropical year round, with high season occurring December through April.

What’s new in Jamaica

What’s up in Jamaica

At last, families looking to travel to Jamaica will have quality options beyond just the Beaches Resorts!  This is great considering the wonderful (and calm) beaches that Jamaica offers, and the great assortment of day excursions available for the active travelers.

So, here’s what’s new for Jamaica in 2014:

  • Royalton White Sands – just east of Montego Bay (but not as far as Ocho Rios) sits this fantastic property perfect for families and couples.  This resort opened this year after a massive renovation, and is hardly recognizable as the old Trelawny Starfish.  It is medium in size with a great kids club, water park and spa (look for me in the spa).  The resort is relatively compact, so getting around is easy.  The less expensive rooms are on the small side but are smartly appointed.  An excellent resort for reunions and destination weddings.

  • Hyatt Ziva/Zilara Rose Hall – currently underway is a massive renovation project at the former Ritz Carlton Rose Hall.  When complete (late 2014) the property will emerge as two properties – all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara.  One side will be adults only & the other side will be family friendly.  Expansion includes new pools and a dining and shopping area promenade.  I anticipate it rating as a 5 star, and near some excellent golf options.
  • Azul Sensatori Jamaica – hugely successful in the Riviera Maya area, Karisma Resorts has landed in Jamaica.  Azul Sensatori Jamaica is the end result of a gut & rebuild on beautiful Negril Beach.  Recently-opened Azul Sensatori Jamaica gives us a much-needed luxury resort to the Negril area that is perfectly suited for families as well as couples.  An elegant, boutique feel with 136 rooms.

  • Riu Palace Jamaica – located in Montego Bay and just minutes from the airport is the new Riu Palace Jamaica.  This opened earlier this year.  The property has a fresh, South Beach boutique feel to it.  Quiet during the day, but may be loud in the evenings since the property backs up to the Riu Montego Bay.  Perfect for the upscale, nightclub type of adult.  An excellent choice for a friend trip or a romantic getaway.  About 230 rooms.

Happy Travels! ~Cindy Grant, CTA Travel Consultant at Expert Family Travel.  Located in the Dallas metro area Texas (The Colony/Frisco).  972-625-6200.

Puerto Vallarta: Bigger & better

Last month I had the great fortune of enjoying a trip to Puerto Vallarta hosted by Travel Weekly magazine and Mexico Tourism.  Honestly, it has been a couple of years for me, and in the past I had been so busy with hotel site inspections I hadn’t had time to fully experience the destinations’ local offerings.

But on this trip I was in for a treat.  The first day we were whisked away to Las Caletas Beach Hideaway, which included a 45 minute scenic catamaran ride en route.  The beach here is gorgeous and unspoiled, and you can pick your pleasure, whether it is snorkeling, exploring the jungle nature walks or just vegging out in a hammock.  And the food was tasty, mmm!

We also enjoyed a late afternoon stroll along the city’s Malecon, which is a picturesque boardwalk among fun art sculptures and eclectic shops.  This is a great place to watch a sunset, and the dining venues are sophisticated and varied.

 

On day 3 we explored the northern end of Banderas Bay, going into the quirky surfing village of Sayulita.  I skipped the surfing lesson (because I value my life) and opted instead for the zipline, horseback riding, and ATV adventure.  The zipline course was safe and expertly run (two important elements in any zipline operation) and we were all wet and muddy and exhilarated in the end. Fun!

December marks the start of the humpback whale watching season (which ends mid-March), and is a great experience if you happen to be traveling during this time period.

All-inclusive is the way to go here if you are looking for the best bang for the buck, even if you decide to dine downtown on one of your evenings out.  Luxury clients will love the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and the adults-only Secrets Vallarta Bay, both of which are all-inclusive.  Or, for true luxury there’s the Four Seasons and St. Regis in trendy Punta Mita (meals not included).  For my upscale clients, Now Larimar is all-inclusive, family friendly, and with easy access to the downtown area.  Or, in the Riviera Nayarit area there are the Riu and Marival Resorts.  And, the brand new Iberostar Playa Mita opens this week, promising to be a great resort option for those looking to stay on the northern edge of Banderas Bay.

Secrets Vallarta Bay

Something new in the area (since I’ve been there) are casinos. I didn’t visit, but I’m curious to hear reports, since Mexico has traditionally been a “no casino” sort of country.

Flights are offered to Puerto Vallarta year round.  For my Dallas area clients, we have charter service in the summer season, which equals the best pricing out of our market.

Riviera Maya for a stress free escape

No wonder Cancun and Playa del Carmen have become Texas’ favorite beach destinations.  A nonstop flight less than 3 hours will wisk you away to a tropical location set on the Caribbean.  The all-inclusive resorts here range from economy to luxury but for a honeymoon you’ll want to stick with the upscale and luxury resorts.  Resorts also range from small & boutique to large and sprawling to fit your travel style and preferences.

What is an all-inclusive resort?  Your meals, alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, onsite entertainment, and non-motorized watersports are included in your stay.  And with most upscale-luxury and luxury resorts 24 hour room service and beach butlers are included as well.  Airport transfers are provided in your package with Expert Family Travel, and offsite day activities can be arranged prior to your departure.

Many folks are overwhelmed at the choices, and information on the Internet is contradictory and causes more confusion.  Your best bet is to work with a travel agent who knows these resorts first-hand, travels frequently to inspect the resorts, and can recommend the right resort to fit your personal taste and budget. Plus I don’t charge a fee (except for destination weddings).

Riviera Maya and Cancun are popular for friend or family group get-togethers.  All-inclusive resorts provide meals and drinks for everyone during their stay and makes it easy planning.  Flight options from most US airports into Cancun makes travel easy, too for multiple departure cities.

What is there to do in the area?  Zip lines, swim with the dolphins, golfing, nightlife, shopping, scuba, snorkeling, and even camel back riding for starters!  Enjoy some of your days at the resort, where your biggest decision that day is what tropical drink to order from the swim-up bar.

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.

Trip to Punta Cana anyone?

Perfectly Punta Cana

I just returned from a short trip to Punta Cana to visit the AMResorts (Secrets, Dreams, Now, Zoetry).  I’m happy to report that Punta Cana’s better than ever, and is a great destination to consider for your next family vacation, romantic getaway, or family reunion trip.

 

Secrets Royal Beach is wonderful, as always.  This adults only property sits on gorgeous Bavaro Beach, and next to sister property Now Larimar.  Recent updates include an expansion of their Preferred Club Rooms.  Secrets Royal Beach guests continue to enjoy exchange priviledges next door at Now Larimar (though Now Larimar guests do NOT have exchange priviledges at Secrets).

Zoetry Aqua Resort is expanding their room capacity, roughly doubling to about 100 guest suites.  This property is so serene and inviting — a true haven for those looking for luxury and a relaxing escape.  I can’t wait to come back with some of my own free time.

 

 

 

 

Opening in November 2013 is the brand new Breathless Resort.  This adults only property is geared towards adult friends and adult family traveling together, along with honeymoon and anniversary couples who might prefer a bit livelier adults only setting.  Stay tuned for more information on this property.  And it’s available now for advance reservations, if you just can’t wait yourself!

 

Dreams Punta Cana, Dreams Palm Beach, and Dreams La Romanna continue to excel in offering all-inclusive vacations for families, couples, and small groups.  Kids and Teens Clubs looked to be popular on my visits, and smiles abound on the faces of staff and guests alike.

 

Last but not least, Now Larimar was fun and vibrant, with great food and delightful evening entertainment.  Now Larimar is a wonderful choice for small groups, weddings, and families with teens.

For my Texas clients, Dallas has direct flights to Punta Cana, but in the summer season only!

Make your next family get-together super easy

Stumped with a decision for your next extended family reunion?  Maybe you’ve hosted at your house in the past, but the family has grown and you’re just out of extra bedroom and couch space?  Or, you’re looking for something that is going to keep everyone (grandma, grown kids, little ones) happy?

A popular and growing solution is the all-inclusive resort gathering in Mexico or the Caribbean.  An all-inclusive resort makes things so much easier.  Food and drinks are covered, there are lots of ways to stay busy at the resort, and there are optional excursions for the more adventurous in the group.

This is especially good for extended families spread across the US.  Everyone can arrive on flights from their departure cities, meeting at the resort for time to spend together.  The toughest part, then, is deciding upfront the best travel dates and a budget that works for all.

If you are the family coordinator, here is how you get started in the process for planning your all-inclusive resort family gathering:

  • Talk with each family to get a consensus on travel dates.  If one party has limited time, they can always join the group for a portion of the stay (say, the first 3 nights), while everyone else enjoys a longer stay (say, 5 to 7 nights).
  • Get an honest assessment of budget.  Make sure everyone participating has given their input on budget — the lowest budget will generally determine the budget of the group as a whole.
  • Get a headcount of family, by departure city, along with ages of children at time of travel.
  • Does everyone have passports, or will be able to get passports in time for travel?
  • Are their any limited mobility issues in your family?  If so, a smaller resort might be a better fit.
  • Discuss destinations.  Playa del Carmen (south of Cancun) is a favorite, along with Jamaica and Punta Cana.  Some of the other Caribbean islands can be a bit tricky to coordinate flight schedules, but it doesn’t mean they are impossible to coordinate.
  • With this information, contact me by email cindy@expertfamilytravel.com or call at 972-625-6200.  I can then put together package ideas to work with your family’s travel requirements.
  • Review the options with your family members to pick your favorite resort option.
  • Each “head of family” would then contact me directly with final details and to process payment.
  • It’s that easy!

~Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  972-625-6200.  Located in The Colony/Frisco Texas in the Dallas metro area.  We are located near Plano, Little Elm, Lewisville, and Irving.

 

Flip flops in the winter

Christmas and New Years are behind us, the decorations are put away.  Now what the next two or three months will be is cold weather, bleak skies, and slippery walkways.

So, no wonder mid January through mid March is the time to escape the cold weather and head to 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 my favorite 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 the size ranges (from tiny boutique to huge mega-campus).  Plus, you can’t beat the flight times from the US.

-US Virgin Islands — a great 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.

-Disney Cruise Lines — now with four ships instead of two, your options are double!  Winter itineraries depart from Port Canaveral (Orlando), Miami, and Galveston (Texas).   If you can travel during a week that schools are normally in session, pricing is pretty good.  Spring Break and Easter dates are pretty full (and pricey).

-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 little bit of luau, plumeria in the air, and beachfront walks can do wonders to alleviate the winter doldrums.  Maui is a great “first visit” choice, but you’ll need to rent a car.  If you want to avoid driving, Oahu is your best option.  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 to vacation.

Cabo, Mexico — Cabo is quite popular in the winter.  The weather is milder (in the summer, it can get hot), and this is the season for whale watching.  Cabo is also known for golfing and nightlife.   New on the scene are some great 4 and 5 star all-inclusive resorts.  I’m personally staying at the Secrets Marquis Los Cabos later this month — I can’t wait!  A great choice for adults wanting a little luxury and  to replenishment, and there are also some great family friendly choices.

 

US Virgin Islands

Now, these are just a few suggestions.  There are many others…in the Caribbean, South Pacific, Central America…so just ask!

Ocean Coral & Turquesa Resort, Riviera Maya: Easy on the wallet

I just returned from a short stay at the 3 ½ star all-inclusive Ocean Coral and Turquesa Resort, located in Riviera Maya (south of Cancun airport).  I’m happy to report that this resort is a great choice for my clients who are looking for an inexpensive vacation option that is friendly on the budget.

Beach at Ocean Coral and Turquesa Resort

With a renovation of the rooms, this resort could easily become a 4 star upscale property.  However, the rooms currently are a bit “rough around the edges.”  While the rooms are very large (think:  junior suite with a sitting area) and include a separate shower and tub, there are some 3 star quality annoyances you must be willing to forgive.  The tile is a bit scruffy, the shower mechanics are lacking (and you might get the oscillating hot/cold water effect, so be quick on the feet), and the curtains are a bit “bolder” than you would select for your own homestead.  On the plus side, there is a stocked mini-fridge, a safe, and a late-model flat screen with enough channels to find *something* to watch in English.

My room at the Ocean Turquesa Resort

What is really neat about this resort is that there’s always food and drink being served SOMEWHERE onsite.  The poolside bar stays open ‘till late (I think 1 am), and then Route 66 (which is a hamburger joint) serves food and drink in the wee hours of the morning.  Also, this isn’t one of those resorts that require you to stand in line in the morning to make dining reservations that night.  The bartenders are friendly, and I love their coffee specialties.  The waitstaff is a hit-or-miss,  so in the restaurants expect average service.

The beach here is nice and wide, and gets raked in the morning for sea grass (which grows offshore).  The pools are large and clean, and overall the energy at this resort is positive and refreshing.

The specialty steakhouse has way too many food items with surcharges , and free WiFi is located only in the lobby/main building area (and not in the rooms).  However, this resort generally is priced so low, you can overlook the shortcomings.

Hotel Review: Blue Diamond Riviera Maya Resort (Mexico)

If you are looking for an adults only escape from the world, where you are pampered and spoiled, and travel time is short and sweet, let me recommend Blue Diamond Riviera Maya, located just south of the Cancun airport in Mexico.

This 5 star luxury, all-inclusive resort treats guests to excellent food and drinks with unrivaled service levels not typically found in the all-inclusive market.  There are 128 suites total spread out over 36 total acres, set along the coast in a tropical jungle, complete with a cenote and mangroves.

If you are looking for a party scene, this is NOT the place.  Also, you’ll need to be in the mood for some walking (though you can call the front desk and they’ll send a golf cart to shuttle you around).  There are also bicycles for your use to get around the resort, if you are so inclined.

The suites are simply stunning, with views of the cenote, jungle, mangroves, or beach.  And the beach is worth the walk — white powdery sand, great service, and relatively private.  No trip here is complete without a relaxing couples massage, and the spa (at additional cost) is a huge 25,000 square feet.  Room service itself is free, but has a $20 service fee along with a waiter who sets up your en-suite dining table, and stands outside your suite ready to serve your next course at the ring of a bell.  How often do you see that!

Prices here start at about $480 per night per couple all-inclusive, so it’s definitely in the luxury price category.  However, considering the quality of the rooms, service, and food it’s definitely a treat well worth the price tag.  For an escape from the crowds and to replenish the mind, this is my new favorite resort in the Riviera Maya area.

~Happy Travels!  Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant, Expert Family Travel.  972.625.6200 DFW metro area (Texas) serving clients nationwide.