Tag Archives: vacation

Hotel Review: Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso (Riviera Maya Mexico)

I recently returned from a relaxing 3 night stay at the luxury, adults only all-inclusive resort Iberostar Gran Hotel Paraiso, which is located in the Riviera Maya area, just north of downtown Playa del Carmen.

The Iberostar Paraiso complex is a series of 5 resorts that share a shopping center, golf course, and conference facility (all located on the side of the complex that is interior/away from the beach).  Iberostar Grand Paraiso is the top of the five, and is the only resort that is adults only.  And while guests of the Grand can use the facilities at the other resorts, why would you?  Just about everything you want is right here.  And, in case you are wondering, the guests of the other Iberostar Resorts cannot use the facilities of the Iberostar Grand.

The property is made up of creme colored buildings, with muted sherbet tones and an occasional shock of color.  It is a classy version of “Art Deco Meets Sistene Chapel,” eclectic yet tasteful.  The first thing you’ll notice when you check in is the service level.  You’ll be escorted to your room with a tour, and shortly thereafter the butler will introduce himself and go over the features of your room and the services that the concierge desk (in conjunction with your butler staff) will provide for you.  The rooms are oversized and well equipped, and the beds comfortable.  Room service, pillow menus, shoe shine service (complimentary), and easy dining reservations make this property stand out above most others.

The food here ranges from very good to excellent.  Tony’s Turf and Surf for dinner is a gem.  Order ribeye and lobster, yum!  You can also find lobster on the breakfast and lunch menus.  The buffet restaurants have an a la carte menu, which I found to be better quality than the food on the buffet line.  Room service menu is 24 hours and takes about 30 minutes to be delivered (longer during peak times).

There are two outdoor pools.  The Main Pool is salt water with several warm tubs (not hot), and has a swim up bar and activities during the afternoon.  The activities serve to pull the guests together, and aren’t overbearing or obnoxious.  The guests were typically couples in their mid 30′s to mid 60′s, and everyone was relaxed and having a great time (always a good sign).  Friendly staff and friendly clients.

There is also a Tranquility Pool and does not have a swim up bar and no staff or activities.  The individuals and couples here were enjoying the solitude with a good book or sun nap, and it was very peaceful in this area.  The spa has an indoor pool, which also had a peaceful, introspective atmosphere.

The resort had a show or entertainment every night, and the place comes alive in the evening without any noise trickling into the guest room areas.  So, you can go to bed early or stay up late as you like.

I especially liked that the minibar could be restocked as you requested, instead of waiting the requisite alternate day (like you’ll find in many 4 star all-inclusives).  Service levels were focused on making the guest happy, which is refreshing.

And while this resort is a great choice for the honeymoon or anniversary couple, it’s equally suited for the couple (or several couples traveling together) looking for a  top quality vacation for the grown ups.

18 Ways to Upgrade your Walt Disney Vacation

Planning a special trip to Walt Disney World? Disney offers a wealth of services, many of which you might not be aware. You’ll definitely want to stay onsite at one of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts for maximum convenience and park access. Your Disney experience is limited only by your imagination (and budget).

Consider these ways to upgrade your vacation.

1. Surprise your spouse with flowers or a special gift delivered to the room by Disney Floral & Gifts.
2. Upgrade to private transfers by towncar or limousine.
3. Enjoy a massage, facial, or body treatment at the spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Saratoga Springs Resort, or Wilderness Lodge.
4. Have a romantic dinner at one of Disney’s signature restaurants such as California Grill (Contemporary), Jiko’s (Animal Kingdom Lodge), Citrico’s (Grand Floridian), and Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridian). Call 407-WDW-DINE.
5. Play a round of golf at one of Disney’s five golf courses (Palm, Magnolia, Osprey Ridge, Oak Trail, and Lake Buena Vista). Call 407-WDW-GOLF.
6. Sign up for a behind the scenes tour at one of the Disney Parks. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.
7. Upgrade your room to concierge level (available at Disney’s Deluxe Resorts). Reserve at time of booking.
8. Order room service for breakfast, and take that extra time to sleep in (available at Disney’s Deluxe Resorts).
9. Charter the Grand 1 Yacht, a 52-foot Sea Ray, for your own private cruise ($450 per hour, up to 18 guests, departs from Grand Floridian).
10. Go fish with a guided bass catch-and-release fishing excursion (available at select Disney Resort marinas). Call 407-WDW-BASS.
11. Ride a horse through a 45-60 minute guided trail ride at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. Call 407-WDW-PLAY.
12. Or, sign up instead for the 2 hour segway Wilderness Back Trail Adventure at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.
13. Get your Disney Villa fridge fully stocked by preordering through GardenGrocer.com
14. Race your own stock car at Richard Petty Driving Experience. Reservations: www.1800bepetty.com.
15. Rent a pedal boat, canoe, pontoon boat, sail boat, or catamaran for an hour along one of Disney’s lagoons or lakes.
16. Watch Cirque du Soliel’s show LaNouba, located in Downtown Disney. Reserve at time of booking.
17. Enjoy a luau at Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show located at the Polynesian Resort. Call 407-WDW-DINE.
18. Experience a safari at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Call 407-WDW-TOUR.

Review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World Orlando

Pulling up to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, I initially thought the building looked odd. A massive building with a thatch roofed appearance, totally out of place in Florida. My first impression melted to awe when I walked into the lobby. Holy smokes, I had never seen anything like this! I had been transported to a strange and delicious world, and I didn’t want to leave. Not one bit. There were artifacts, African themes taken to astronomical proportions, exotic animals in the distance.

The service at the desk was on par with the best luxury resorts. All my questions were answered, we got maps of the resort layout (a definite necessity), and lots of other goodies to go into our memory book.

The room was fabulous. The African theme was on everything…down to the light fixtures and tiles. I immediately conjured up visions of an African theme in my own house.

The best part of the room was the balcony. Two chairs, one table, and a SAFARI just feet away. It was the most exotic suspense of reality I could conceive.

We had reservations at the upscale restaurant Jiko’s. The meal was AMAZING, definitely French cuisine with African inspiration. We had the steak and the monkfish, and appetizers emblazoned on my tastebuds (a bread-curry-yogurt dish). The service was outstanding. It quickly became my favorite Disney Resort restaurant.

Next door, Boma’s boasts an exotic but less intimate buffet experience. They have an open kitchen here with a wood-fire rotisserie grill (that smells fantastic). We tried the breakfast buffet one morning, and there were some unusual and tasty choices. I was stuffed! They also offer a dinner buffet with some African cuisine touches.

Nearby is Mara’s a food court with Disney/resort priced meals. This is the cheapest way to eat at AKL (that’s not saying much, it’s a resort after all). There were some unusual snacks here, and the service was friendly.

The pool was beautiful and creative, and you’ll want to allow enough time to really enjoy it. Of course, the animals on the resort “savannah” are the highlight. There’s an observation deck, and you can see zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and all sorts of critters out there. There are higher observation decks and a fantastic outdoor bonfire spot where you can grab a rocker and decompress.

The first morning I woke up extra early to watch the sun. I had ordered room service. The experience of room service breakfast, coffee, newspaper, and giraffes on the balcony was such a stress reducer. For the first time, I didn’t want to go to EPCOT! Our stay was much too short — only two nights. And ever since then, I imagine going back real soon.

Since our visit, Disney has added villas to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for even more options!

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

Waldorf Astoria – a Luxury Retreat for an Orlando Escape

Waldorf Astoria Orlando, the newest luxury resort in the Disney-Lake Buena Vista area, which opened in October 2009. Part of the emerging 482 acre Bonnet Creek Complex, this property offers all the luxury amenities and services you’d expect from the Waldorf Astoria Collection, as well as the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and easy access to Walt Disney World.

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando offers 497 rooms a 24,000 square foot spa and 4,000 square foot fitness center, as well as signature restaurants similar to those in the Waldorf Astoria New York (Peacock Alley, Bull & Bear Steakhouse, Oscar’s, Sir Harry’s Lounge and Aquamarine). The Bonnet Creek development also includes the 1000 room Hilton Bonnet Creek, as well as 160,000 square feet of meeting space.

The clientelle at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando will be mostly business travelers and attendees of meetings and conventions at Bonnet Creek. However, with Walt Disney World so close by, this is great for a special romantic weekend getaway for two.

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

Winter paradise in trendy St. Moritz, Switzerland

Picture-perfect Alpian wonderland St. Moritz has long been a favorite winter destination for the well-heeled. This Swiss resort town offers sun, snow, and clear blue skies, luxury resorts, fine dining, and a wide array of winter sports to keep you busy. And there’s also a stylish casino located in the Kempinski Grand Hotel.

There’s no shortage of winter activities in St. Moritz. Chose from skiing, cross country skiing, ski and snowboard schoools, the Olympic Bob Run, Curling Center, Cresta Run, horseback riding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, an indoor pool, sledging, paragliding, hang-gliding, and golf.

St. Moritz has five luxury hotels, all of which offer exceptional service, accommodations, and scenery:

  • Badrutt’s Palace Hotel
  • Carlton Hotel
  • Kempinski Grand Hotel des Baines
  • Kulm Hotel
  • Suvretta House

There are also four star upscale and three star moderate hotels available.

To get to St. Moritz from the US, fly in to Zurich or Milan and take a train in to St. Moritz. Or, if you’d like a multiple destination itinerary consider taking one of the Swiss scenic trains that services St. Moritz. Glacier Express goes from St. Moritz to Zermatt (and reverse), while Bernina Express goes from Chur through St. Moritz to Lugano (and reverse). Scenic trains require advance reservations.

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