Tag Archives: Caribbean

Places to go, Mexico

So many places, so little time!  Not sure where to vacation this summer?  Here are some ideas to get you thinking about your next trip.

Tropical Hot Spots
Tried and true, add these locations to your bucket list. There’s a wide range of resort sizes and styles to fit you perfectly.  Nonstop flights from major US cities
  • Cancun - With its sandy white beaches and turquoise blue water, the Hotel Zone is as popular as ever with resorts that just keep getting better.  Frequent flights and short ride from the airport makes this a super-convenient beach destination.
  • Riviera Maya/Playa del Carmen - located just south of Cancun, this resort area offers many resorts in all sizes and price points.  Great choices here for families, groups, and couples.
  • Playa Mujeres - located just north of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, this area offers the region’s newest resort developments.  Resorts here are in the 4 to 5 star range.  Or, take the ferry to Isla Mujeres where you’ll find a handful of boutique-sized resorts for couples and adult friend groups.
  • Cozumel - an island destination known primarily for great diving and snorkeling spots.  Located off the coast of Playa del Carmen with its own airport.
  • Puerto Vallarta - on Mexico’s Pacific side, Puerto Vallarta and neighboring Riviera Nayarit sit on the calm, scenic Banderas Bay.  The city is charming and worth an afternoon stroll or two, and there are great zip line opportunities too.
  • Los Cabos - on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean.  This is scenic and desert (imagine Tuscon with a beach).  Famous for the golf but I go for the margaritas.
Hidden Gems
Looking for something a little different?  These destinations may require more travel time but the end result is worth it.
  • Ixtapa - this is a Pacific resort area set along a 16 mile stretch of sandy beaches and inlets.  Nearby is the charming fishing village of Zihuatanejo with a handful of boutique beachfront hotels.
  • Mazatlan - lively resort area with nightlife along Mexico’s Pacific coast.
  • Manzanillo - a small Pacific coast resort with colonial charm and a laid back pace.
  • Chetumal - for the adventure seeker looking for an unspoiled destination.  On the Yucatan Peninsula, further south than Riviera Maya or Tulum.  Getting here requires a connecting flight.

 

City Getaway

Looking for a long weekend getaway?  Mexico City is a fun possibility.  Popular “must see” attractions include the Frida Kahlo Museum, the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan (you can experience this by hot air balloon if you are daring), National Museum of Anthropology and the city historic center.  Stay in a nice 5 star hotel, and enjoy the city’s fine dining options.

Spotlight on St. Martin

Photo courtesy St. Maarten Tourism

St. Maartin/St. Martin is a lively 37-square mile island east of the Virgin Islands which is governed by two nations, Netherlands and France.  There are 37 beautiful beaches (one for every square mile, apparently), plenty of shops and restaurants, and a laid-back Caribbean ambiance.

The main center on the Dutch side is Philipsburg, and here you’ll find some casinos and more nightlife.  On the French side you’ll find some amazing culinary delights as well as the city center of Marigot and the famous clothing-optional beach of Orient Bay.
You can rent a car for the day from the hotel concierge to explore on your own, or get around easily by taxi.  Spend your days on the beach, snorkeling, diving, fishing, shopping, and (on the Dutch side) horseback riding.
Where to Stay

Riu Palace St. Martin – an all-inclusive, family friendly resort located on 18 acres on the French side of the island. A beautiful cove beach and pool area.  Great for a small group with plenty to do onsite to keep you busy.

 

Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort – large resort located on the beach, hillside, on the Dutch side.  There is a casino onsite.  Great for couples and families.  No meals included.

 

Alamanda Resort – a small boutique hotel located right on Orient Bay.  This is a great choice if you want to explore the island and restaurants within easy striking distance.

The cruise port is on the Dutch side, and can get quite busy so you’ll want to save your shopping for the days the port is relatively empty.

Direct flights to St. Martin from Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, New York, Boston, and San Juan, or with connections in these airports from your departure city.

Happy travels! ~Cindy Grant, Expert Family Travel.  Contact us at 972-625-6200 to plan your next vacation.  Serving the Dallas metro area & clients across the US/Canada.

If scuba is on your bucket list…

Whether you are a seasoned, advanced scuba diver or a newbie looking to try it out for the first time, a dive vacation can be a great option for your next getaway.

  • Cozumel – located just off Mexico’s Yucatan coast, the island of Cozumel lets you experience world famous Palancar Reef with drift dives of all experience levels.  Graet snorkeling opportunities as well.  Accommodations range from economy to upscale, but with no true luxury resorts on the island.  All-inclusive options available.
  • Grand Caymans – located in the Caribbean, and easy striking distance from the US.  Known for great wall diving as well as wreck dives.  A total of 365 dive sites covering all experience levels.  Incredible visibility and beach quality, too.  Accommodations from economy to luxury.  A few all-inclusive options, but most hotels & resorts with no or limited meal plans.
  • Bonaire – if you are an advanced diver and are going with a dive buddy, this is a great choice.  Located in the Caribbean and part of the ABC Islands (south, close to Venezuela).  Simple two and three star accommodations along with a pickup truck rental and you are good to go.  Many DIY beach dives for the independent-minded.
  • Belize – Famous for Ambergris Cay and the Great Blue Hole.  Dive options more suited for the intermediate and advanced diver.  Try “Shark Ray Alley” for a highlight of your trip.  Fly into Belize City, with regional flight service to San Pedro.  Accommodations range from simple, 2 stars to upscale.  Nothing here is all-inclusive.
  • Galapagos – for the true dive enthusiast, a Galapagos live onboard dive ship experience to see whales, sharks, and other marine wildlife.  Strong currents in the area means you should be a good swimmer and advanced diver.
  • Fiji – dive a little, dive a lot.  Fiji is gorgeous above the water as well as below.  This destination is perfect for honeymooners and families.  Those in the travel party who are not divers can find plenty to keep them content back at the resort.  Dive opportunities for all levels.  Accommodations range from 3 star moderate to 5 star luxury.  Meal plans available.
  • Australia – Great Barrier Reef is the ultimate in diving experience.  Allow a minimum of 2 weeks to enjoy your diving, plus add some land sightseeing to round out your stay.  Live onboard ships or dive-centric resorts.  Accommodations range from 2 star economy to 5 star luxury.
  • Rangiroa, French Polynesia – this atoll island is known for their huge lagoon teeming with tropical fish and clear waters.  The most awesome experience here, though is “shooting the pass.”  Ride the tide at Tiputa or Avatoru Pass, and see rays, reef sharks, tuna, barracuda, and maybe even hammerhead sharks.  You can experience this either by diving or by snorkeling.  Stay at Kia Ora Resort, which is upscale to luxury.  Breakfast & dinner meal plan included.

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.

Where to go next!

This month I thought I’d give you a nice, glossy overview of my top vacation destinations.

 

Dive Fiji for your next vacation

Mexico

For the best bang for the buck, Mexico reigns supreme.  You can opt for an all-inclusive resort, with your meals and drinks included.  Great pools, beach, and onsite activities to keep you well entertained, along with off-site day excursions.  On the go or relaxed, it’s your choice!

  • Cancun – Hotel Zone is lively and active.  This is a great choice for adult friend trips and for couples who love night life.
  • Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen).  A great mix of adult only and family friendly all-inclusives.  And the range of moderate to luxury resorts means a resort that fits your style and budget.
  • Los Cabos.  Set on the tip of the Baja Peninsula on the Pacific side, where the desert meets the sea.  Great for couples, families, and friend getaways.
  • Puerto Vallarta.  On beautiful Banderas Bay.  Combine some resort time with exploring downtown and some excursions such as zip line and you’ve got yourself a great vacation.​

Caribbean

A wide range of island experiences with gorgeous beaches and fun cultural explorations​.

  • Jamaica.  Home of the popular all-inclusive Sandals, Couples, and Beaches Resorts.  You’ll also find other all-inclusive resorts here as well as some boutique resorts.
  • Punta Cana.  This growing resort destination is located on Dominican Republic, and has become a primary player in the all-inclusive market.  Family friendly and adults only options, in a wide range of style and budgets
  • Other islands.  Not everyone is looking for the mega resort.  If you prefer a quiet, small resort maybe Barbados or Turks and Caicos is your style.

Tahiti

Okay, so who doesn’t have Bora Bora on their bucket list?  This can be your once-in-a-lifetime milestone trip.  I do have clients who make Tahiti a regular vacation destination.  It is such a treat!  Imagine an overwater bungalow with pristine blue waters.  The epitome of relaxation.  Suited best for couples, but families enjoy this destination too.

Fiji

Beautiful.  Exotic.  Friendly.  If you’ve got at least a week, Fiji might just be the fit for you.  This is a great location for scuba and snorkeling.

 

Hawaii

I recommend a minimum stay of 5 nights in Hawaii, though 7 nights is better.  Pick from Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island.  Or, if you have more time for your vacation, a two island combination might work best for you.  Polynesian paradise without the need for a passport.  On Oahu you don’t need a rental car.  On the other islands, renting a car is recommended, but driving on the islands is very easy and stress free.  Hotels range from economy to luxury.  And it is easy to explore on your own.

 

Walt Disney World (Orlando)

A “must see” for families, but Walt Disney World can also be a great vacation for adults.  A few days in a Disney Deluxe Resort, top notch dining reservations, and some awesome park time can make for a fun, romantic getaway. I recommend staying in one of Disney’s Resorts, and these range from the Value to Moderate to Deluxe properties.  Or, opt for a cabin for your family, complete with kitchens.

 

 

 

 

Western Europe

Trade in your flip flops for some good walking shoes for your next vacation to Europe.  These vacations are divided into two categories:

  • Escorted Tours.  The easiest way to see your favorite country, or multiple countries.  You are traveling in a group with a guide, and all the driving and planning is taken care of for you.
  • Independent Tours.  For the free spirited who prefer to go on their own.  We can put together a single city package, a rail package, or a self drive — all depending on your itinerary and personal preferences

Costa Rica

Recent resort growth in Costa Rica has been in the all-inclusive market, along the Guanacaste area on the Pacific coast.  There are now several moderate, upscale, and luxury options for families and couples.  Or, if you prefer a more adventurous itinerary, we can set up a multiple itinerary tour (either with a group or independent) for some volcano, rainforest, and beach time.

 

Cruises

We offer cruises in many regions across the globe in categories from moderate to luxury.  Cruising can offer an easy itinerary option if you want to see multiple countries without having to move from hotel room to hotel room.  Plus the ship is sometimes a destination in itself.  Cruising is also a great option for family reunions and large friend groups.

Month of Romance: Plan a special vow renewal trip with your spouse

February is Romance Month, with Valentine’s Day sitting prominently in the middle! of the calendar!  This year, consider planning a special vow renewal vacation for you and your spouse.  Make the trip for just the two of you, or extend the love by inviting friends and family.

My favorite locations for vow renewals are

  • Bora Bora (Tahiti) at Bora Bora Pearl Resort or Hilton Bora Bora Nui
  • Riviera Maya at the Dreams, Now, Secrets, and El Dorado Resorts
  • Cabo at Secrets Marquis and Riu Palace Resorts
  • Jamaica at one of the four Couples Resorts
  • Moorea (Tahiti) at the Moorea Pearl Resort
  • Maui at one of the gorgeous beach locations
  • Cancun at the vibrant, luxurious Live Aqua Cancun Resort

If you are interested in planning your own vow renewal vacation, or even have plans in the near future for your own destination wedding, just let me know and we can look at the options that will best fit you.

Happy travels!  Cindy Grant, CTA Expert Family Travel.  Located in The Colony/Frisco Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth metro area)  972.625.6200

 

 

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

When to travel where…

Europe:

  • Price/Seasonality:  High season goes from June to mid September, when trans-Atlantic air is at a premium.  Low season is during the winter.  Mid season is fall and winter.
  • Weather:  Weather is best from mid Spring to mid Fall.
  • Best time to travel:  Mid September to mid-October is best in terms of pricing and weather.
Hawaii:
  • Price/Seasonality:  High season is June thru April, then Christmas/New Years Weeks, and the two weeks around Easter.  The remainder of the year is Mid season.  Hawaii has no true Low season.
  • Weather:  Gorgeous year round.
  • Best time to travel:  Any time in the fall to mid December and late Spring (after Easter).
Tahiti:
  • Price/Seasonality:  High season is June thru October, and then Christmas/New Years Weeks.  The remainder of the year is Mid season, with no true Low season.
  • Weather:  Rainy season is December thru February.  Weather is lovely year round.  Because they are in the South Pacific, our winter is their summer and is slightly warmer than the other half of the year (we’re not talking a big temperature difference).
  • Best time to travel:  November, then March thru May.
Caribbean and Mexico:
  • Price/Seasonality:  High season kicks off for Christmas holidays and continues thru Winter Break, Spring Break, and Easter.  The remainder of the year is Mid season.
  • Weather:  While year ’round tropical weather is in order, hurricane season is from June thru October.
  • Best time to travel:  May and November will give you the best prices out of hurricane season.  Hurricanes can happen on the Pacific coast of Mexico, too.
Walt Disney World/Orlando:
  • Price/seasonality:  Any time schools are out, attendance is up at the Disney Parks.  High season is during Spring Break thru Easter, Memorial Day to Labor Day (summer break), and Thanksgiving.  Peak season is over Christmas/New Years weeks.
  • Weather:  Summer is hot.  Spring and Fall is glorious.  Winter can be mild to downright cold.
  • Best time to travel:  September, October, and May.

Irene damage results in resort closures

Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, located in Nassau Bahamas will reopen Sep 28.  This is an adults only, couples only luxury resort with its own private island.

Breezes Bahamas Resort, located in Nassau Bahamas will reopen Nov 1.  This is an adults only moderate all-inclusive resort that is ideal for singles traveling together or a couple looking for an economical, all-inclusive getaway.

Beaches Turks and Caicos, located in Turks/Caicos will reopen Oct 6.  This is a resort for families, couples, and singles, is all-inclusive, and has an exceptional diving and snorkeling program.

Sandals Great Exuma Bay Resort survived Irene with no damage, and continues to be open (with some great recent upgrades to their restaurants and additional suites, I might add!)  This is a luxury, adults-only couples-only all-inclusive resort.  All accommodations are suites with butler service, with excellent diving and water sports available.

Puerto Rico/South: Resort picks

Puerto Rico lends itself to a multi-destination itinerary with a rental car.  Start your stay in San Juan or the beachy Northeastern area, then drive southwest towards Ponce for a few days’ stay there.

There are two resorts I recommend in South Puerto Rico, both of which are four star upscale and beachfront.

Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort (253 rooms)


Here’s a four star upscale resort situated on Puerto Rico’s south side perfect for golf enthusiasts and families. The lobby is quite large and is open air. There’s a restaurant in the lobby facing the pool that’s open air, and offers breakfast and an exciting assortment of themed buffets throughout the week. Overall, there’s a sense that you get plenty of elbowroom.

Just built is a new Executive Tower. Here you’ll find Deluxe Rooms with full ocean views, as well as Executive Rooms with access to the exclusive Executive Lounge. All rooms have balconies. Deluxe Rooms offer pull out beds, perfect for families. In this tower, the rooms have a more contemporary feel, while the rooms in the older towers are more Caribbean in style.

The main pool is situated under lots of palm trees. The beach is nice, but the sand is dark. In the evenings, the hotel restricts the guests’ access to the beach. The view is lovely, and you can see “Coffin Island” offshore.

There’s 27 holes of golf here, and the club house is quite nice. For those seeking a bit more privacy than the main pool offers, the club house pool is available for hotel guests.

This resort is perfect for golf enthusiasts and destination weddings. This is also suited for honeymooners and families who prefer a Hilton atmosphere over something more “regionally authentic.”

Copamarina Resort
About 2 hours’ drive south of San Juan airport and over the mountains sits the Copamaria Resort, on the southern Caribbean coast of Puerto Rico in Guanica. This charming, moderate quality resort is a nature lover’s dream, and offers quite a bit for those wanting to relax or perhaps dive and snorkel as well. Surrounding the Copamarina Resort is the Dry Forest National Park.

Rooms here are spacious and quite charming. The floors are tiled, and the furnishings are in simple woods. All rooms feature patios or balconies, with wood shutters and a ceiling fan on the patio/balcony. Bathrooms are nice, with oversized walk-in showers (no tubs).

The property stretches over a generous chunk of beachfront. There are a couple of pools laid between the rooms and the beach. The grounds are pretty and there are plenty of tropical plants in bloom.

The open-air lobby area, outdoor café, and indoor dinner restaurant sit on one side of the resort. While the food here is quite good, the service during dinner can be slow. Breakfast is buffet style, and lunch is quick and efficient.

The diving center here is PADI Gold and is excellent. There are several diving and snorkeling options, and Irving in the dive center organizes activities for families and adventure seekers. The beach is a little mucky.

This resort is excellent for families and couples looking to get away from it all. There are some meal plan options, as well as dive packages available. With a car rental, nearby Ponce can easily be explored during the day. Without a car, you’ll be limiting your experience of the region.

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

San Juan PR: Resort picks

Here are four great oceanfront hotels in the San Juan area for your next trip to Puerto Rico.

Ritz Carlton San Juan (416 rooms and suites)
The top shelf resort in San Juan is the 5 star luxury Ritz Carlton San Juan.  It is located close to the airport on beautiful Isla Verde beach, and is convenient to Old San Juan by taxi.  Rooms are tastefully decorated in creams, greens, and oranges, and include Bulgari toiletries.  Room service is available 24 hours a day.  The resort has four restaurant venues plus an informal grill, and there’s some great restaurants nearbty.

The spa here is wonderful, so be sure to get in at least one treatment during your stay.  There’s a casino onsite as well as a beachfront pool.

Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza (570 rooms)
This active 4 star resort offers a great swimming pool, excellent location, and airy casino for a great choice for folks wanting to stay on the beach in the San Juan area. The main pool is open 24 hours, and there’s a salt-water pool and Jacuzzi. The Lagoon Tower offers a quiet lap pool for those seeking a bit more solace. The beach is just off the main pool area, and offers a protected swimming area (otherwise, the waves are rough). For the area, this is an exceptional beach. The lobby is large and welcoming, with the casino located on the second floor. By Puerto Rico standards, this is a large casino, and the place feels pretty energetic.

Room décor is a “tropical contemporary” in orange and black. All rooms have balconies, except some suites on the tenth floor.

This resort is located very close to the convention center. I would recommend this hotel for folks looking for an overall resort feel, with nightlife nearby. This is suitable for families, groups, singles, and honeymooners – in general a good mix of folks. For something a bit more upscale, you can try nearby Ritz Carlton. Or, for even more of a resort feel, try the Wyndham El Conquistador. The Caribe Hilton is comparable to this resort, but with a more laid back & tranquil feel to it.

Caribe Hilton (812 rooms)
Here’s a four star upscale resort that’s got a nice beach, a great pool, a great location, and the right ambiance for folks looking to experience both San Juan and a beachfront resort. There’s a healthy mix of families, couples, and singles, as well as a few business travelers. The lobby is open air and has a Starbucks, a trendy little bar, and lots of fun little shops. The pool is actually a series of pools, curving around the grounds.

The beach here is great for the area, but still not as nice as some Caribbean destinations you might have visited before. The water is Atlantic (the case in all San Juan area resorts), but there’s a breaker wall that forms a very protected cove that’s virtually waveless and safe for swimmers of all ages. Within the cove you’ll even find a slide to climb on. Sand is golden brown.

San Juan is an easy taxi ride away, and the airport is just a few minutes in the other direction. There’s not much to walk to in the immediate vicinity (the Normandie Hotel is next door), but a short taxi ride or a long walk will get you to several restaurants and shops.

There’s a casino on the upper level, which is not as spacious or airy as the one at nearby Wyndham Condado.

The Normandie Hotel (170 Rooms)
This art deco boutique hotel was built in the ‘30s and was designed to be reminiscent of a famous transatlantic ocean liner. Just recently renovated, this cute moderate hotel is a fun alternative for folks looking to stay near San Juan or the airport, and don’t mind forgoing a good beach or pool.

The new color scheme is in baby blue, gray, and pale green, and furnishings and touches are in a clever art deco style. Most of the rooms are situated like suites, with a separate desk area, a bedroom, a sitting area, and a standard quality bathroom. New in-room amenities include CD players, flat panel televisions, and mini fridges. Mattresses are ultra comfy, and are topped with duvets.

There’s only one restaurant, but the food is great. There’s a small trendy bar on the second floor, and offers tropical jazz music and a welcoming ambiance. There’s also a small spa onsite. The architecture is very unique, and the staff efficient.

The beach is nothing to brag about, though there’s a public beach within walking distance with a lifeguard on duty and is clean (rated as a blue flag beach). There’s a small pool onsite.

The hotel has a few misses. The renovation seemed to miss some touchups, and the hotel never exceeds a 3 star rating overall. The clientele here is mainly conference attendees, business travelers, and quiet folks. While the setting is relaxing, it doesn’t feel like a vacation resort.