Tag Archives: family

Spotlight on Jamaica

Today I thought I’d share a little “Jamaica Mon” with you.

Photo courtesy Jamaica Tourist Board

This beautiful Caribbean island offers lush green mountain landscapes, white sand beaches, crystal blue water, and a setting for romance and relaxation.  Here’s the home of reggae music and delicious jerk chicken.  Jamaica has several resort areas within easy distance from the Montego Bay airport with accommodations ranging from basic to ultra luxury.  And most resorts, whether family friendly or adults only, are all-inclusive.

Resort areas

  • Montego Bay - Convenient to the airport, this beachy-urban area has five golf courses and multiple resorts perfect for your short getaway.
  • Negril - charming resort area set on a world famous beach.  Enjoy the stunning sunsets and ambiance.
  • Ocho Rios - near waterfalls, mountains, and fern gullies.  Ocho Rios sits east of Montego Bay.
  • Braco & Falmouth - areas just east of Montego Bay offering more remote resort settings but still easy striking distance from the airport

What’s new

  • Zoetry Montego Bay - luxury boutique all-inclusive.  Perfect for the annversary couple looking for privacy and pampering.

  • Royalton Negril Resort - family friendly resort in gorgeous Negril offering something for everyone.  This resort is ideal for a family reunion or destination wedding.

Nonstop flights to Montego Bay from many US gateways including DFW, Miami, Charlotte, Houston, Atlanta.

Ask about ClubMoBay service to shorten your Immigration/Customs arrival processing time.

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

 

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.

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!

Resort Review: Hotel Kia Ora, French Polynesia (Tahiti)

On a remote island in the South Pacific’s Tuamotu Archipelago sits a gem of a resort, the Hotel Kia Ora.  This island – Rangiroa – is a coral-sand strand of pearls that makes up the largest lagoon in the South Pacific.  Rangiroa is known by diving enthusiasts, but is otherwise still a well kept secret for most American tourists.

This resort enjoyed a complete facelift in 2011, knocking this property up to the level of a luxury resort. General Manager Jerry Garcia brings charm and laid-back sophistication to this pleasant retreat.  He has expert knowledge of what it takes to keep American and European tourists happy in the middle of nowhere.  It is no fluke that the fruit and seafood are remarkably fresh, the activity board is filled with interesting excursions, and the resort grounds are pristine.

From the deck of your beach bungalow the surf is just  steps away, and a hammock strewn between two palm trees beckoned for a midday nap.  Tahitian neighbors border both sides of the property, and lazy entertainment could be had watching the locals in their fishing boats.

Hotel Kia Ora is recommended for divers and for beach lovers who are looking for the ultimate in South Pacific getaways.  Families are welcome, but anticipate there being no kids’ clubs or lively diversions for your little ones.  Clientele consists of seasoned travelers and a healthy return client base.  This is an excellent choice for anniversary and honeymoon couples, as well as the executive who needs to sink his feet in the sand for a few days to recharge batteries.  Bring along a good book or two and prepare to relax.

The 60 accommodation units include beach and garden bungalows, overwater bungalows, beach and garden bungalow suites, and deluxe beach bungalows.

For divers and snorkelers, Tiputa Pass offers a pass/drift dive toward the ocean with a variety of fish, eels, turtles, and sharks.  Other diving and snorkeling opportunities abound, and the Hotel Kia Ora has reasonably priced off-site activities available during the course of your stay.

Dive center offers PADI instruction. Spa onsite. Snorkel gear and canoes are available for use.

If you ARE looking to cut yourself off from civilization, then you may want to consider as well the remote sister property, the Kia Ora Sauvage.  Just ask GM Garcia about the Sauvage and his eyes will twinkle as he tells of the special magic of this place.  The Sauvage is an hour’s boat ride from the Kia Ora, and has only 5 bungalows.  The property has no electricity, and guests are given lanterns in the evening.  While the Polynesian style accommodations are rustic and not luxurious, guests are still pampered in their own right.  Delicious meals are prepared by the hotel staff, and there are activities planned to keep guests busy if they so desire.  Bungalows have private bathrooms with heated water (hurray!).  Plan on at least two nights at the Sauvage, though it is not uncommon for guests to stay a week or longer.  The Kia Ora Sauvage and Hotel Kia Ora combine well for a varied itinerary.

To reach Rangiroa, you will need to first fly into Papeete, on the island of Tahiti.  From there, you will take an interisland flight.  Because of the flight schedules, anticipate that your itinerary may require a minimum of one night in Papeete upon arrival, and possibly one night returning.  You can also combine Rangiroa with other Tahitian islands  such as Moorea or Bora Bora.

To put your Tahiti package together, contact Cindy Grant, Tahiti Specialist, at Expert Family Travel. 972-625-6200.

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.

Whale watching in Maui

As they do every year, the humpbacks are back in Maui.  These beautiful creatures make their way to the warm waters of Maui from mid October through the end of May for their mating and calving season.

Maui is a great place for you to enjoy a week or so over the winter months.  Add a whale watching day excursion out of Lahaina (the ort city in Maui) for your chance to get up close and personal to these gentle giants.

In Maui, boats are allowed to come up to within 100 yards of the whales.  And oftentimes the curious whales will approach the boats, getting even closer than the 100 yards.  The peak of the whale season is in January, though you have a good chance of seeing them any time during the season.

And of course, Maui is a year-round tropical destination.  So, if you head to Hawaii in winter, you’ll still be able to enjoy bathing-suit-friendly weather, sun, and gorgeous beaches!  All I can say to that is ALOHA!

Interested in planning your next whale watching trip to Maui?  Contact me by phone or email to get the planning process started.

~Happy travels, Cindy Grant Travel Consultant at Reconnect Travel/Expert Family Travel.  972.625.6200.  Located in The Colony Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (near Frisco, Plano, Carrollton, Lewisville).  cindy@expertfamilytravel.com

Tis the Group Season

Holidays mean spending time with family and friends.  This is the season to plan next year’s extended family vacation.  If you want to put together a family (or friend) group trip, here are a few pointers:

  • Decide on a destination.  Those that don’t require passports include Hawaii, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Vegas, and Florida/Disney.  Those that do require passports include Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Punta Cana, Jamaica,Bahamas, Tahiti, Fiji, Costa Rica, Europe, and cruises.
  • Decide on dates.  Will there be kids in the group?  If so, you’ll need an idea of school breaks/holidays (or policy on missing school for vacation).
  • Discuss budget.  You’ll have a variety of income levels and personal preferences, and you’ll want to ensure everyone can afford the trip.
  • Get a headcount.  Who’s ready to book, and who needs to wait?  How long do they need to wait, and how serious are they about joining the group?  Oftentimes, a group will fall apart because one or two participants drag their feet, and then cancel out when it’s deposit time.
  • Contact me for an initial quote.  Are you going to be ready to book in the next couple of weeks?  If so, we’ll need to process deposits.  Otherwise, an initial quote should be used as a general guideline only, since pricing and availability will fluctuate prior to booking.

And, in case you’re wondering, the hottest family group destinations are Oahu (Hawaii), Maui (Hawaii), Disney World(Orlando), Riviera Maya (Mexico), and Cabo (Mexico).