Tag Archives: resort

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.

 

Spotlight on Hawaii’s Big Island

One of the six major islands in the chain, the island of Hawaii is nicknamed “Big Island” for good reason.  It is formed from five separate shield volcanoes, three of which are still active.   And at twice the size of all other Hawaiian islands combined, there’s no shortage of things to do.  It is here that you’ll find rainforest, snow-capped mountain tops, black and green sand beaches, orchid farms, a world-class telescope atop Mauna Kea, and an enduring Aloha Spirit.

 Most flights arrive in Kona, which is also where most of the resorts and hotels are located.  You’ll definitely want a car rental for the duration of your stay, and exploring on your own is easy and rewarding.  Must-sees include a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, and a recommended splurge is a tour by helicopter.  In the winter months, you can also whale watch.
Big Island is a great destination for couples as well as families, and for outdoor adventure seekers who are looking for a variety of activities.
Where to Stay
The majority of the resorts and condo properties are located in Kailua-Kona or nearby Kohala Coast.  There are a few accommodations in the Hilo area which is closer to the Volcanoes National Park but also on the side of the island that receives more rainfall.  Here are my two top picks:

 

Hilton Waikoloa Village - this resort is a destination unto itself.  Three unique towers set on beautiful Kohala Coast.  Lots of activities onsite, including golf, a lagoon perfect for kayaking, tennis, and the only interactive dolphin program on the island.  Rated 4 1/2 stars.

The Fairmont Orchid Resort – A luxury oceanfront retreat set on 32 acres along the Kohala Coast. Beautiful private lagoon beach and pampering treatments at the Spa Without Walls.  Hike through the largest petroglyph field in the Pacific.  The perfect setting for a honeymoon.  Rated 5 stars.

NEW!  American offers nonstop service from DFW to Kona for a limited time through summer 2017, so now is a great time to head to the Big Island.

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

The basics on Hawaii

If you are thinking of a beachy destination that’s perfect year-round complete with swaying palm trees, friendly locals, and the scent of plumeria in the air, let me suggest one of the islands of Hawaii. The hard part, of course, is deciding which island to visit.

  • Oahu is the island where you’ll find the majority of Hawaii’s population (in Honolulu), world famous Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.  This island is a great choice for folks looking for nightlife and shopping, and for those who prefer not to need a car rental on their trip.  There are some great hotels and resorts in all quality categories, so this can be a great choice, too, for those on a budget.
  • Maui embodies all things “Hawaiian” and is my top pick for first time couples and families to Hawaii.  Hotels, resorts, and condo properties run the range from economy to luxury.  You’ll want a car rental here.
  • Kauai is a bit more rugged and sleepy than Maui.  This is a good choice for active couples, active families with teens, and also for couples who really just want to relax the entire time of their trip.  Accommodations range from economy to luxury (hotel and condo).  Car rental strongly recommended.
  • Hawaii (aka “Big Island”) is home of the active volcano, and Volcano National Park.  It is also the largest island, with a diverse range of climates.  Because the island is so large and the active volcano is on the other side of the island from the hotel area, a car rental is a must.  Hotels and condos range from economy to luxury, with the best resort beaches located at the luxury resorts.
  • Lanai – a very sleepy, quiet island.  Great for the couple who really just want to get away, and for the couple who have travelled to Hawaii before.  Luxury accommodations only.
  • Multiple islands – if you have at least 8 nights to spend in Hawaii, you can consider a two island hopper stay.  Or, perhaps a 7 night Hawaii cruise (you’ll want to arrive the night before for ease of travel and comfort).  And there are escorted tour options for those of you who would like to maximize their time, with 3 and 4 island itineraries.

The Hawaiian Islands are about 5 hours’ flight from Los Angeles, and do not require a passport.  Driving is easy enough, and all islands lend themselves to lots of exploring and things to do.  Hawaii is perfect for honeymoon couples, young families, and extended groups in a range of sizes and ages.  There are no all-inclusive resorts in Hawaii, though sometimes the hotels are offering a breakfast-included rate.  Just be sure and ask about your options when booking your Hawaii package.

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.

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.

 

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.

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!

New: Now Amber & Secrets Vallarta Bay Resorts, Puerto Vallarta

Two hot resorts have hit the scene in Puerto Vallarta — Now Amber Puerto Vallarta (for all ages) and Secrets Vallarta Bay (for adults only).

Opening April 1, these two brand new AM Resorts are located on Banderas Bay, close to downtown Puerto Vallarta and only 15 minutes from the airport.

Now Amber is an upscale resort perfect for families, singles, and couples.

Secrets Vallarta Bay is an upscale-luxury all-suites resort for adults only.  Both resorts offer reservation-free dining, exceptional service, and beautiful rooms.

I am especially excited to see a new adults only all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta, since the options up to this point have been limited.

I will update the blog with a review at some point when I’ve been able to personally inspect these resorts.  But for now, consider both resorts for your next beach vacation!

Now Amber Vallarta Bay Resort:  327 oceanfront suites – three pools – four a la carte restaurants, one buffet and one cafe – 24 hour room service – kids club – pool and beach wait service – Spa by Pevonia – golf range – fitness center – land and water activities – preferred club available.

Secrets Vallarta Bay:  271 oceanfront suites – three pools – four a la carte restaurants, one buffet and one cafe – 24 hour room service – pool and beach wait service – Secrets Spa by Pevonia – fitness center – pool and beach wait service – preferred club available.

Happy travels ~ Cindy Grant, Travel Consultant.  Reconnect Travel/Expert Family Travel.  Dallas-Fort Worth metro area (serving clients nationwide).  972-625-6200.