Monday, December 30, 2013

Hotel Review - Valentin Maya - Riviera Maya, Mexico

For wise travelers looking for value, the Valentin Maya adults only all inclusive resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico is an outstanding choice. Located on Riviera Maya just south of Cancun the resort is about 35 minutes from the Cancun airport. The property is huge and the rooms are among the largest you'll find at a resort - entry level rooms are junior suites with plenty of room and one of the largest bathrooms we've seen.  The Riviera Maya is not known for outstanding beaches, but the Valentin had a great beach with none of the artificial reefs that look so horrendous off shore. You'll have relaxation and romance here.

The land the resort sits on is very large and secluded.  There are 14 buildings spread throughout the property and most offer seclusion and quiet. There are 524 junior suites with balconies or terraces and 16 suites. Room categories start at Deluxe Junior Suites that are 516 sq. feet with garden views and either a king or two double beds. The Silver Suites are the same size but with a garden or pool view and have king sized beds. Golden Junior Suites are 656 sq. feet, overlook the pool and have balconies. Golden swim up suites are the same size with oversized terraces on the ground floor where you can enter the pool from our room  between buildings 6, 7 and 8. Emerald Suites are 624 square feet and are located on the beach in buildings 9-14. Diamond suites measure 1.032 square feet and have a separate living room, roof terrace and include Privilege amenities (more about that later) and are in buildings 1 - 5 (not on the ocean) . Finally, Imperial suites are the same size as the Diamond suite and are corner rooms located in buildings 2 - 8 and also have roof terraces and Privilege amenities.

Each room has the following amenities included:
  • Private furnished terrace or balcony
  • Full marble bathrooms
  • Separate shower cabin
  • Separate Toilet
  • Vanity mirror
  • Hair dryer & Scale
  • Bathrobes (& Slippers upon request)
  • Phone in bathroom
  • Satellite TV
  • Air Conditioning with in-room climate control & Ceiling fan
  • Radio/Alarm Clock with I-Pod dock
  • Direct dial telephone with voice mail
  • Free Internet connection (Wall)
  • Free electronic in-room safe (up to 15" laptop size)
  • Coffee/tea maker set
  • Mini bar
  • Iron & Ironing board
  • Turn down service available in Silver, Golden, Golden Swim up,
    Emerald, Diamond and Imperial categories
  • Umbrella 

The Valentin Privilege amenities is an interesting concept that you can have even without staying in the Diamond or Imperial suites. As of the time of our visit, anyone could pay $60 per person per day extra and receive the following additional amenities:


  • Private check-in and check-out at the Valentin Privilege Club.
  • Pre Arrival Concierge services at Privilege.vim@valentinmaya.com
  • Early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability).
  • Daily newspaper room delivery
  • Fruit platter & petits fours once per stay
  • In room fresh flowers once per stay
  • Bottle of sparkling wine in room upon arrival
  • Tailored Minibar (Your selection of Premium drinks out of our Privilege Menu)
  • Beach bag
  • Lobster included at Lobster and Seafood Grill (no extra fees).
  • Restaurant reservations through Privilege Lounge Concierge if desired
  • Reserved lounge chairs under guests name at pool OR beach
  • Exclusive access to privilege lounge (7:00am – 11:00pm) with:
    • WiFi service
    • Concierge service
    • Ultra premium bar service
    • Snacks at Privilege Club (5:00 pm – 7:00pm)
There are palapas on the beach and around the pool that will be reserved for your use only. You'll find your name on the palapa so that no one else can use it.  We did not have these extras but we never had a problem finding a lounge chair around the pool or a palapa (if we were up early enough) for the "ordinary folk". The pool is huge, one of the largest in Mexico so lounge chairs weren't an issue when we visited.

The high points of this resort:
- The rooms size. The rooms and bathrooms are huge with plenty of storage space and plenty of room to spread out.
- Cleanliness - rooms and floors were very clean, restaurants were clean, grounds were well maintained.
- Quiet and romantic. No screaming kids or loud partying adults.
- Excellent food. We didn't have a bad meal, in the restaurants or the buffet. Even the coffee was good.
- Friendly staff - always had a smile and a hello.
- Beautiful chapel on property. If you are Catholic and looking for a Destination Wedding, the chapel is just beautiful here.
- Grounds - the grounds are gorgeous. There is much greenery and tropical plants. We loved the privacy of our balcony with our gardenview from building five.
- Many options for activities. There are two scheduled bike rides around the property daily, lots of pool activities (even a water ballet show!) and activities and shows at night. Some were very corny but funny.
- Beautiful beach. Take a walk down the beach and walk to the left - you'll find plenty of lounge chairs on the beach.
- The optional Valentin Privilege package. If you like to be treated like gold, book the package if you aren't staying in one of the room categories that offers it. Nice beach and pool palapas reserved just for those with the package.
- Daily replenishment of the mini bar in your room.
- Extensive room service menu. Probably the biggest menu I've ever seen at a hotel for room service.
- The value for your dollar. You won't find a resort this nice for this price point.


The resort advertises itself as a five star resort. We didn't feel that it warrants a five star rating for several reasons that all point to service. Let me preface this by saying as travel agents, we make note of things that many people would never notice. We have to for our clients so no one comes back unpleasantly surprised  so we are much more critical than an ordinary traveler. And I will also say that we met many guests who are repeat customers and come back to Valentin over and over. These are the issues we found:

- The terry cloth bathrobes were dirty looking, old with obvious wear and so small they didn't fit around either of us.  The resort should junk them and purchase new waffle robes that come in bigger sizes.Towel quality was similar - 5 star resorts offer big fluffy towels. They should all be replaced with new toweling.
- Housekeeping wasn't up to five star standards. We would leave our dirty towels on the floor signaling we wanted them replaced. The towels were removed but not replaced. We had to call twice to have towels replaced. When they finally got it, the bath mats weren't replaced and we had to call again.
- There is a great mini bar with coffee maker but no milk or coffee creamer rendering the coffee maker useless for us.
- Food was excellent but if you arrive at the restaurants after 7 PM the waits were horrific - at least an hour wait regardless of the restaurant.   I attribute it to the fact there is no buffet restaurant open for dinner, only breakfast and lunch.  The largest restaurant on property, Le Marche, is their buffet and these waits could be avoided if they opened the buffet for dinner.  We also didn't always want a big sit down meal every night and would have welcomed the buffet restaurant.
- The property is so large that it is difficult to get around. Our room was in building five and at least a five minute walk to the restaurants. When we checked in, we were told all we had to do was call for the golf cart, but after we were taken to our room, we never saw a golf cart again. One night we waited at the lobby for a ride to our room - we waited a half hour before it arrived.  On the day we were leaving, we called to have a cart pick us and our luggage up for check out. We were asked if we were ready and we told them we were. We waited a half hour and no one ever came for us. We ended up dragging our luggage for a 10 minute walk to check out.
- We had a massage at the spa, which was excellent. When I was given a robe, I noticed the slippers were not new, they were merely washed and they looked dirty. Use disposable slippers or replace them.
- At our favorite restaurant on property, Ginger the Japanese restaurant, the service was terribly slow - almost two hours for dinner. After waiting an hour to get in, we waited 45 minutes between courses.  After the dinner course was brought, it was after 9:30 PM and I didn't want to wait another 45 minutes for ice cream. I asked our server to bring me the ice cream for dessert right away.  After finishing our dinner and waiting a half hour, the dessert still never appeared.  I finally told the waiter to disregard the request for the dessert and his response was "Oh, you wanted it already? You don't want to relax?" There were only two waiters for the entire restaurant. We also found the Restaurant Manager to be very inflexible. There are Hibachi tables that you must make reservations for. We witnessed an incident where one of the tables had four empty seats because whoever reserved them never showed up. A party of four asked if they could take those seats and the Manager refused, saying they didn't have reservations. So the four seats went unused. We didn't see poor or slow service like this at any of the other restaurants.

None of this ruined our stay and I would come back to Valentin Maya in a heartbeat. For the price it is an excellent value.





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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Destination Weddings-What You Need To Know About Legal Requirements

Ah, the romantic notion of a destination wedding in a villa in Italy. Or standing barefoot on a beautiful beach in Mexico, Jamaica or any other Caribbean Island. Maybe you've dreamt of being married while on a cruise.

All these scenarios are possible and can save quite a bit if money versus a wedding in your hometown. With all the planning that goes into a destination wedding, one thing the bride and groom need to keep in mind are the legal requirements for a marriage by non-citizens in foreign countries.

In every location outside the United States or a U.S. territory, a passport is required (and some require a tourist card which you usually get on the airplane), certified birth certificates may be needed, and if the bride or groom have been married before,certified copies of a divorce decree which may need to be translated into the native language of the country you are marrying in or a certified death certificate is one party has a deceased spouse. Other documents can be required as well. And these requirements will add to the cost of your wedding. You will also need witnesses with the number

Mexico's legal requirements are some of the most stringent. In addition to the above, the wedding couple must arrive in Mexico three to four days before their wedding ceremony as there is a waiting period depending in the state you are marrying in. You also may be asked for a certified copy of birth certificates that have also been translated into Spanish. The legal ceremony also must be performed in  a local registrars office in Mexico to be recognized as legal in the U.S.  You will receive a Marriage Certificate that you must paybto have translated into English to bring to your City Hall to have your marriage registered. Mexico also requires a Health Certificate with blood tests that are generally done at your resort with results usually in 24 hours. Again, additional costs for these.

As if this isn't enough, the United States Department of State requires that all weddings performed in Mexico have what is called an Apostille Seal. Most wedding Coordinators on site in these countries can arrange this for you but there are additional costs.

Other Caribbean countries do not have these requirements. In St. Lucia, for instance you must arrive four days before your wedding with passports, birth certificates and divorce decrees or death certificates if married before.

European Countries have their own requirements. In Italy, for instance, the United States Travel.state.gov website states these needs:


1. U.S. passport or, if a member of the Armed Forces, identification card;
2. Birth certificate (certified copy), which shows the names of both parents;
3. Evidence of termination of any previous marriage (final divorce or annulment decree or death certificate);
4. Sworn statement of consent to the marriage by the parents or legal guardian if the American citizen is under 18;
5. A declaration (atto notorio) , sworn to by four (4) witnesses before either an Italian consular officer in the United States or, in Italy, at a Pretura or before a mayor or town clerk, stating that according to the laws to which the citizen is subject in the United States there is no obstacle to his or her marriage. Any American going to Italy to be married is urged to obtain this declaration before leaving the United States as it may be much easier to find four witnesses who know him or her sufficiently well to make such a declaration in the United States rather than in Italy.
6. A declaration, sworn to by the U.S. citizen before a U.S. Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in Italy, stating that according to the laws to which the citizen is subject in the United States there is no obstacle to his or her marriage. Evidence of U.S. citizenship (passport, naturalization certificate, birth certificate showing birth in the United States) must be shown to the U.S. Consular Officer at the time of making this declaration. U.S. military personnel must also present final approval of his/her commanding officer for the marriage. Presentation of this declaration allows Italian authorities to reduce from three weeks to approximately four days the time you must wait before being granted a marriage license.

Confused? This is why a travel agent an be your friend when booking a destination wedding. We can help sort through all the requirements so you understand exactly what you need to get married out of the U.S. We specialize in destination weddings and honeymoons. Call us at 516-608-0568 to book the destination wedding or honeymoon of your dreams.
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Hotel Review - Radisson Aruba Hotel and Spa

Set on beautiful Palm Beach, the Radisson Aruba is a good choice for a stay on the beautiful island of Aruba. A 20 minute ride from the airport, the hotel is located smack in the middle of the high rise hotel zone on Palm Beach.

My check in was quick and I was lucky enough to find a bellman who took my bags to my room, since I was in the Curacao tower, the furthest away from the lobby and down a flight of steps. Some others that were part of my group complained that check in took 25 minutes and that they were merely directed to the general area of the tower and there was no one to assist with luggage.

My room, 3609, was on the 6th floor (highest floor). There were two double beds, a good sized desk, a cabinets with a t.v. and a refrigerator (empty) and an upholstered chair. The bathroom had an ample counter but only one sink, with a tub/shower combination. There were plenty of vanity supplies - shampoo,conditioner, soap, body wash, a vanity kit, shower cap. and shoe buff. The tub was difficult to get in - it was one of those surrounds with a high side to step over.  Thankfully there were grab bars.

There were two bottles of water which were replenished daily at no charge.  There are two pools - both zero entry, one closer to the Barbados Tower and one close to Gilligans restaurant and was the activity pool.  There is a beautiful beach with plenty of lounge chairs but most are directly in the sun - there are very few that have any shade. Bring sunscreen!


There are cabanas by the pool and beach that can be rented by the day. The price range from $15 per day to $25 depending on where the cabana is located, beachside or poolside.  Those who rent get a fruit basket. To rent a cabin, guests must line up daily at 4 PM at the pool cabana where beach towels are handed out.  We saw lines begin about 3:30.  Cabins can be rented for multiple days - the renters names are written on a sign on the front of the cabana each day.


There are several restaurants on property. Gilligan serves lunch and dinner. Sandwich and salads start at about $14, entrees a bit more. The Sunset Grill, rated the best international restaurant on the island, is located here.  Prices are higher than you would find back home (my lunch consisting of a grilled chicken salad and iced tea cost $21 with tax and mandatory gratuity). The next day I realized I could have simply walked across the street and eaten for less than half the price.

There is a nice walkway at the back of the hotel where you can walk all the way down the beach either way with. The hotel is also ideally located right across the street from many shops and restaurants, making it unnecessary to eat at the hotel if you don't want to. There is also lots of shopping across the street as well.


Our room was clean and the beds were comfortable. You cannot turn the air conditioning down less than 65 degrees, and the air goes on and off constantly to maintain the temperature so if you are a light sleep you may hear it at night.

There is a casino on site which opens at 12 noon for slots -table games begin  later in the day.

There is free wi-fi but it is spotty. We had low reception in our room and I often had to go to the front desk area to get a good signal to use the phone. There is a very nice spa on site for a relaxing massage or skin treatment.

There are planned activities during the day and things going on at night. On Tuesdays there is a fire show, which we missed because we were away from the hotel that night.  (Free to those on property, tickets for sale for those not staying on property.)

One of the best features of the hotel is it's location. Right across the street are restaurants, shops and a night time market. There is a shopping mall with a movie theater within walking distance. If you walk along the beachfront, there are a myriad of restaurants, shops  and activities. The best find is a little coffee place called The Bread Basket, located between the Radisson and the Occidental Resort next door.  They serve gourmet coffee, pancakes and breakfast sandwiches on a beachside setting.

Check out in the early morning was a snap.  There were no lines, I just had to stop and pay the taxes (which average 24% for the various island taxes).

The Radisson is a good choice for a moderately priced  hotel in a fabulous location.
There are very few all inclusive hotels in Aruba and honestly - an all inclusive is not a must. There are many well priced restaurants and if you want to have liquor in your room, you can pick up duty free liquor in the airport and keep it in your room. We loved Aruba and wouldn't hesitate to stay at the Radisson again.
2013/05/01/intervista-a-isabella-ricco-autrice-di-erasmus-istruzioni-per-luso, erasmus-istruzioni-uso-consigli-isabella-ricc, 2012/12/14/goodbye-mamma-le-book-per-chi-vuole-andare-all-ester, studiare-allestero-con-intercultura-iscrizioni-entro-il-10-novembre, concorso-su-facebook-per-celebrare-i-25-anni-di-erasmus, andrea-atzori-un-libro-per-raccontare-il-mio-erasmus-in-estonia, concorso-su-facebook-per-celebrare-i-25-anni-di-erasmus, 2011/01/12/universita-degli-studi-di-firenze-la-guida-di-europeme, 2009/03/06/seconda-universita-degli-studi-di-napoli-sun-la-guida-di-europeme, universita-degli-studi-di-cassino-la-guida-di-europeme, agenda, back-for-good, barcellona, bologna, borse-di-studio, concerti, concorsi, consigli-erasmus, cultura, davide-faraldi, erasmus, esn, esperienze-erasmus, eurogeneration, europa, europeme, firenze, generazione-erasmus,

Friday, November 1, 2013

Let Me Tell You About....Aruba




When travelers ask us  where they can travel to that is tropical and safe, my usual answer is Aruba and with good reason.  In our opinion, Aruba is as American as you can get in a tropical island – in fact it is sometimes called “Arizona in the Caribbean”.  English is spoken, driving is on the same side of the road as in the States, the U.S. dollar is freely  accepted, there is very little crime and most of all - the people are lovely. Did you know their unemployment rate is less than 1%?

Outside the hurricane belt, the weather in Aruba is hot with very little rain but can be humid. It makes an ideal location for Destination Weddings.  The beaches are plentiful with soft white sand and azure blue water.  Temperatures average   84  degrees   year round with trade winds all day and night.  (Don't spend too much time getting your hair done!)  Make sure you bring a hat and use sunblock – the sun is very hot and you can easily burn.

But it is an island of beauty. From the most beautiful beaches  on the South and Western sides of the islands to the harshest and rockiest on the north east side, there are plenty of activities for everyone.  Swim in the bluest water with the most amazing sunsets. Snorkel, scuba dive, snuba dive, hike, walk, run a marathon, see the old goldmine and caves, go 4 wheel driving  or hike to the lighthouse (and a wonderful restaurant.)


The island measures approximately 19 miles long by 6 miles wide with, as our bus driver explained , “12 traffic lights with only six working”.  The island is located below the hurricane belt and has a dry climate with very little rain. The south and west part of the island houses the capital, Oranjestad and miles of beautiful beaches.

On the northeast coast, along the windward shore, you’ll see the island’s fofoti trees. The constant trade winds have permanently bent them.

There is little need for an all inclusive resort stay in Aruba. There are more than 200  restaurants in all price ranges and you can purchase duty free liquor in the airport and leave it in your room. From 4 star restaurants to Wendy’s, there is something for everyone.

There are two main hotel zones – besides downtown Orangestad where you can stay near the airport, most hotels are located at either Eagle Beach (low rises) or Palm Beach (high rises). There are more restaurants within walking distance of hotels in the Palm Beach area than in the Eagle Beach area.


Some hotels in the low rise area are Bucuti and Tara Suites, Amsterdam Manor,   several Divi Resorts, and MVC Eagle Beach. In the high rise Palm Beach area, you’ll find Hyatt, Marriott, Radisson, Occidental, Riu and the newest hotel, the Ritz Carlton.

While you may never get tired of swimming at the amazing beaches  there are plenty of activities on the island. Arikok  National Park is a great place to spend a day. In the interior of the island, Arikok is similar to areas in Arizona, a desert like area full of neat rock formations and lots of cacti.  You’ll also find some of Aruba’s most amazing views, as the ocean crashes against the rugged shoreline below and natural bridges and caves can be found.  It is easy to get around by car, has amazing formations  made of lava, quartz diorite and limestone and many animals that are indigenous to the island. There are three caves and while the beaches are too rough to swim, there is a natural pool to take a dip in. You can go horseback riding, ride ATV’s  or motorcycles here as well.


Did you know that gold was once mined in Aruba? You can explore the ruins of two mines and go to Wishing Rock Beach to make your own wishes and rock formations.

For a destination wedding, nothing beats Aruba and you don’t have to do a cookie cutter wedding at a resort. We have several independent wedding planners who can make your dream wedding come true. Imagine a wedding on Eagle Beach and then watching a brilliant sunset with your new spouse and your guests.  Or have a beautiful wedding at one of the popular resorts, where you’ll be able to enjoy fabulous food and drink on the beach. How about a reception on a catamaran at sundown? We can make that happen for you too.  One thing you likely will not have to worry about is getting rained on.  Aruba averages only about 16” of rain per year, mostly in November and December.  If it rains it is usually a very short shower that washes over the island in a few minutes.


Are you ready to go? We are ready to plan the perfect trip for you. Call us and check our Pinterest pictures to see actual hotel pictures. http://www.pinterest.com/promal/boards/
Call us at 516-608-0568.

All photos copyright of Promal Vacations May not be used without express permission.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guided Vacations - Value At It's Best

For years when thinking about visiting Ireland, I imagined renting a car and doing a self drive vacation.  I loved the romantic idea of driving and discovering out of the way places, great restaurants and not having to be at a  certain place at a certain time.

A representative from one of my favorite suppliers of vacations to Ireland suggested taking a short tour and then renting a car for a few days on my own. Her thoughts were that we'd be able to hit the Irish hightlights  on the tour and by the time we picked up our car at the end, we'd have a good idea of how to drive in the country and would have enough time to explore on our own.

The reality? I was sorry we didn't go on a a longer tour. Aside from the fact  we knew we wanted to go to a few places such as Westport and Connemara that tours didn't traditionally go to, driving in Ireland was the most tension filled three days I've spent anywhere in my life.  And we missed Liam, our tour guide, who knew anything and everything about every area we traveled through by bus. Our one true discovery was the lovely town of Ennis, when I needed to get off the highway quickly to find a bathroom and we wandered into this quaint town.

Our next tour in Europe, Asia or anywhere else on another continent will be a guided tour. It is truly a pleasure not to have to worry about how to get from the airport to the hotel, where to eat, what to see and the history behind places we visit.

The value of a guided tour is far better than booking all the components individually. The right tour company takes care of everything - transfers, hotels, meals, museum entrances and guides who tell you the history of the areas you are traveling through.All for one price.  One of the best features -  no dragging your luggage from hotel to hotel. On our tour, we simply put our bags outside the room the day we were moving on to another hotel and the tour company took them to the bus,  delivering them to our room at the next hotel.

On a tour or guided vacation, the organizing and scheduling is done for you - all you need to do is be at the bus, boat, train or meeting place at a scheduled time and you are off on your adventure.  When you are visiting a country where English is not the native language, your tour guide that speaks English also makes traveling a lot easier - we've even had tour guides bargain for us when shopping to get the best value!

On a tour you will likely experience true life adventures that you would not be able to do on your own. On one guided tour to Peru, you'll be taken to the private home of a family in Lima and enjoy a home cooked traditional meal. You might be taken to a school to visit and see how children are taught or you might be taken to a center where you  see artisans at work. In Ireland we were taken to a farm where we saw Sheepdog Trials and learned how the dogs are trained to move sheep from place to place. (I had dreaded this stop but it was one of my favorites on the tour - I was amazed at how smart the dogs are and how they can turn the herd by a simple whistle from the farmer).

Another big plus is that you usually will "skip the line" on many tours - the guides already have your entry tickets and go right to the head of the line into attractions. While visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum in Rome, that eliminates hours of lines.

You'll enjoy the company of travelers with similar tastes. You won't have to worry about how you'll get from place to place - just jump on your bus or train and relax with your guide pointing out the history of every landmark you'll be passing.

Your tour company takes the stress out of finding hotels - they have contracts with many hotels and stick with hotels they receive good feedback on. That translates into lower prices for you, as these tour companies better pricing than you could obtain on your own.

There are guided vacations for almost every type of travel you might want.  Want to see two or three countries one one visit? There are tours for that.  Would you prefer to spend six days in Rome to see all there is? There are tours for that. You also don't have to worry about a frenetic pace - most guided vacations allow you enough free time to explore and enjoy the area on your own, too. In Killarney, we had a tour that brought us back to the hotel at about 2 PM and we were free to explore the rest of the afternoon and evening.


A guided vacation take the guesswork and stress out of your entire trip and will save you money over booking each component by itself.  The biggest issue you'll  face is determining which of the myriad of tours available is the perfect one for you.  We can help! Call us - 516-608-0568.




Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let Me Tell You About.....Antigua

Looking for a place in the Caribbean with beautiful soft sand beaches and great year round weather? The islands of Antigua and Barbuda are the answer. Non stop flights from New York City are about 4 hours and you'll be sunning and relaxing on this beautiful island.

Antigua (pronounced An-tee'ga) and it's sister island  Barbuda are located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, about 17 degrees north of the equator. To the south are the islands of Montserrat and Guadaloupe, and to the north and west are Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, and St. Martin. Antigua is 14 miles long and 11 miles wide and Barbuda, a 68 square miles flat coral island lies 30 miles north of Antigua.

It has nearly perfect year round weather. Temperatures are usually in the mid-seventies in the winter and the mid-eighties in the summer. Annual rainfall averages only 45 inches, making it the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands with very low humidity.

There are more than enough activities available on the island to keep every vacationer busy. From snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving, golf to sailing, eco tours and zip lines there is something for everyone. Due to the trade winds, sailing is one of the most popular activities in Antigua. There are sailing event throughout the year. An Ocean Racing Club starts on Feb. 14, 2014, a Classic Yacht Regatta April 17 -22 and Antigua Sailing Week April 26 - My 2.

There are 365 beaches on Antigua and all are open to the public. Among the most popular are Dickenson and Runaway Bay's, both located on the northwest coat, which is the most developed of the beach areas on Antigua. Hawksbill has several beaches and one is reserved for nudists. The beaches on the southwest part of the island are less developed and much quieter because it is difficult to get to them.

On Barbuda, the beautiful ink sand beaches on the south shore are protected by a barrier reef. The beaches on the eastern shore that face the Atlantic Ocean are rougher than those facing south.

Visitors to Antigua can visit Barbuda by taking a 90 minute ferry to the island that run five days a week. It's a nice day trip.

Because Antigua is so small, it is easy to get around by rental car. A rental car runs about $50 per day and you'll need your drivers license and you will have to obtain an permit to drive in Antigua. Your car rental agency can help with that and the cost is approximately $20. Driving is on the left hand side of the road.

There are many beautiful resorts on Antigua. Sandals has one of my very favorite of their resorts, Sandals Grande Antigua, on this island.  From three star resorts such as Jolly Beach Resort and Spa, Grand Pineapple and Halcyon Cove to four and five star resorts such as Sandals, The Verandah, Galley Bay and Jumby Bay, there is something for everyone.

Many cruise ships also make a stop in Antigua at St. John. Our first introduction to Antigua was on a cruise ship and we've been back to enjoy Sandals and see Grand Pineapple and the famous Miss Mary, who is an Antigua fixture with her outdoor restaurant just outside of the Grand Pineapple resort.  Her ramshackle place with a gorgeous view, called the Outhouse, had some truly delicious chicken and ribs and Miss Mary is the lady who runs it. (Read an article about her here).

If you are looking for an new island to visit, take a look at Antigua and give us a call to book it at 516-608-0568.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How About A Virtual Balcony In That Inside Stateroom?

Just when you think cruise ships have every amenity you can think of, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line has come up with another amazing innovation - the Virtual Balcony.

What is a Virtual Balcony? It is an inside cabin with an 80 inch high definition screen on a wall showing the actual view a balcony stateroom has. The picture will be real time to give guests the feel of a balcony at a greatly discounted price. You'll also be able to hear the sounds of a balcony but have the pleasure of an on/off switch and volume control.

The first ship to feature this new technology will be Navigator of the Seas out of Galveston after it undergoes refurbishment in February, 2014 and then the brand new Quantum of the Seas out of New Jersey when she begins sailing in Fall 2014.

Not every interior cabin on these ships will offer these - Navigator will have 98 cabins with the feature, some of them quad cabins that can hold up to four passengers but the Quantum will offer it in all interior cabins, as reported at press time. (We have a group sailing the Quantum February 13, 2015 -call us for information - 516-608-0568)

We've sailed in interior cabins and for people who like peace and  quiet and sleeping  in a dark room, interior cabins are perfect. My only issue with an interior cabin is not being able to determine what the weather is like in the morning. Is the sun up, is it raining, is it sunny? A Virtual Cabin will certainly end those questions. I can wake up and flip a switch to see what the weather is in real time. Cameras will be mounted on decks of the ship and if the location of the screen in your cabin is on the port side, you'll see the port side view, if the screen is located on the starboard side, you'll have a starboard view.

Now we want YOUR view. Would you book a Virtual Balcony on one of these ships? Talk to us on
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Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Save Money On A Disney World Vacation

Let's face it - family travel isn't cheap. I've gasped when pricing park tickets for a day out with the kids and grandkids. I've purchased tickets online, saved soda cans and taken coupons from McDonalds and Burger King for amusement park savings.

If you've been to Disney World, you know that even Disney can be expensive for families, but we have some tricks to help you save money on your next Disney World Vacation.

#1 - Stay on property. You'll save a lot of time getting from park to park as well as money on parking fees at the parks by staying on property. Even if you stay at a hotel that offers free shuttles, the shuttle hours may not be convenient  when you want to leave and go back to the hotel.  If you have to wait an hour for a hotel shuttle with over tired crying kids, you'll realize that staying on property would have been a better idea.

Disney's new Art of Animation offers great value for families with their larger themed suites which can often cost less than booking adjoining rooms for the kids at a value resort.

Another huge advantage of staying on property is when the kids have their afternoon meltdowns from being over-tired, jump on the bus, tram or boat back to your resort, let everyone nap or chill out and then go back at night.

#2 - Consider how many days you will actually be going to the parks. If you book a 5 night Disney package, Disney automatically sells 6 day park tickets. If you will be leaving the last day, you don't need that sixth day ticket. If you want to go to another park, such as Universal or Sea World, you won't need Disney tickets for those days. And you may have a day when everyone just wants to hand at the pool.  So think hard about the number of days or even if you need a park hopper. You can save a little money with the one day one park pass in stead of the park hopper, where you'll feel like you have to park hop to take advantage of the ticket.

#3 - When staying on property, take advantage of the Extra Hours program. Find out which park will have the extended hours each day and use them - it is especially nice first thing in the morning to hit the most popular rides.

#4 - When you are traveling with kids, consider purchasing the Quick Service dining plan vs. eating in sit down restaurants. Most of the time the kids are so excited they don't want to take time for long meals. Quick service usually is fine for most kids. Splurge on a Character Breakfast one day. It's less expensive than dinner and you can often skip lunch because you'll still be full from the breakfast.

#5 - Hit the toy store before you leave for your vacation and pack gifts Disney themed gifts for the kids.Buying the same things on property is more expensive.

#6 - Bring your own snacks from home and pack them in snack bags and take them to the park. You'll save a ton of money vs. buying them in the park.

#7 - Fastpasses are great for the most popular rides but don't bother using them for rides that have less than a 20 minute wait or for shows that seats large crowds. Download the free app "My Disney Experience Walt Disney World" on your cell phone and you will be able to have information on current wait times at rides.

# 8 - Check out the website allears.net. Not only will you find a list of future events, you'll also find hints on where to find characters in the park and overlooked attractions at each park. It is a great resource for Disney travel.

Call us to book your next Disney vacation. We have experience with determining the best resort for your family and you have us if things go wrong - 516- 608-0568.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The NEW Beaches Ocho Rios

Beaches Ocho Rios (formerly Beaches Boscobel) recently completed a $30 million renovation of it's property, adding four villages and new restaurants.


On a hill with a view of the beach, the Greek Village has 59 rooms on three levels, each level named after a Greek Island. In this area you will also find two bars - the Calypso Bar and OPA Sunset Bar.

The French Village overlooks the beach offers upgraded suites. In this area is the Red Lane Spa, a piano bar, Neptune"s Restaurant and the gym. It also has the French Terrace with fantastic views of the ocean and a new quiet pool. There is also a Smoothie Bar and Creperie here.

The Italian Village is located in the Lobby area and the Italian Restaurant is located here. The Caribbean Village encompasses two wings on either side of the lobby. This area is closest to the main pool and the new Pirate Island Waterpark.



The new water park is 27,000 square feet with nine waterslides, a Kids Zone and an Aqua Play area.
If you are a golfer, Beaches offers unlimited rounds of golf with greens fees and round trip transfers included. Caddies are mandatory and you can optionally rent a golf cart, golf shoes and clubs.

There are also five restaurant choices. Call us to book your next Beaches vacation. 516-608-0568.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Let Me Tell You About......Peru

Machu Picchu, often called the "Lost City of the Incas" is located on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley near Cusco, Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  It was built about 1450 and abandoned a century later and not discovered until 1911 by an American historian,Hiram Bingham.

While Macho Picchu is well known, the country of Peru and the surrounding area on the way to see Machu Picchu are not often spoken about but are filled with amazing sites that should be seen along with visiting the amazing site of Machu Picchu.  How much do you know about Peru and this area?

In almost every case, you will fly into Lima, Peru from the United States and you should take a day or two to discover Lima. The Miraflores neighborhood is a tourist friendly part of the city and much like any urban city - beaches, hotels and nice restaurants. Miraflores has a boardwalk that runs round Pacific cliffs and a stone staircase that goes down to the beach. There is a shopping mall and the Parque del Amor was inspired by the creations of one of my favorite Barcelona architects, Anton Gaudi.

One thing to mention is that you must be in fairly good physical condition to visit this area of the world.  The towns are at extremely high altitudes and many people get altitude sickness. You should make sure you exercise and are in good physical shape before attempting to visit this part of the world.  Machu Picchu is almost 8,000 feet above sea level and Cusco is even higher, at over 11,000 feet.  This is not a trip to rush - you will need to spend several days in towns getting used to the altitude before you'll feel well enough to trek to Macchu Picchu. A tour is your best bet to get the most of out traveling here.

After Lima, your next stop will probably be Cusco, where you'll fly to. Plan to spend at least two days here so your body has time to get adjusted to the altitude. You may feel out of breath - all hotels have oxygen tanks but the best way to handle it is to give your body time to adjust. There is a local remedy called Coco Tea that if offered at many hotels - there are mixed reviews on whether this helps.

Another thing to remember is that due to it's altitude, Cusco is cold. It hardly ever gets warmer than the 60's. A good location for a hotel is the Plaza de Armas which has the main attraction of Cusco, The Cusco Cathedral. Saqsayhuaman is an Incan site just outside of town that you can visit with 200 ton rocks similar to Stonehenge.

The next stop on your trip will likely be Aguas Calientes, the tourist town right outside of Macchu Picchu. It is "only" 6700 feet feet above sea level and a bit warmer than Cusco. This is where you will go to Macchu Picchu from. You must buy entrance tickets to Macchu Picchu at least a month before you are traveling, so make sure that you keep this in mind - and another reason why a tour booked before you leave is a good idea as all this will be waiting for you.

Macchu Picchu was supposed to be a royal residence but was abandoned by the Incas when the Spanish invaded Peru and the Spanish never found it. Buildings have been reconstructed so tourists have a better idea of how it actually looked when it was built. There are gates, chambers, towers, plazas, tombs and temples to see and photograph. A good guide is a must here and can make the visit extremely interesting.

Before you return home, take a tour of the Sacred Valley which was the heart of the Incan empire. Salt was mined in terraced holding ponds. Weavers work at a collective here and you can learn how chica is made.

What do you need to travel here? U.S. citizens need a valid passport for entry and to depart that expires more than six months after their departure date. The government of Peru prohibits removing any type of archaeological artifacts, colonial art and some natural artifacts such as fossils. You should exercise caution when purchasing art to ensure you are not being sold something that you are prohibited from bringing home.

June to August is the dry season, December to March are the wettest months as well as being the hottest and most humid time of year. The currency is the nuevo sol, which has traded at S3.00 to S5.50 per US dollar (US$). U.S.$ are widely accepted but make sure to ask for change (which will be given in local currency) in small bills.

Call us to book your tour to Peru! 516-608-0568

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Let Me Tell You About......St. Lucia

A four hour flight from JFK in New York will get you to one of the most amazing islands in the Caribbean, St. Lucia.  This lush playground has everything you could want in a vacation spot - all inclusive resorts in all price ranges, plenty of excursions from zip lining to visiting a dormant volcano and having a mud bath to nice beaches. Located 21 miles from Martinique on the northern tip of the island and St. Vincent 26 miles from the Southern tip,  the island is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. However, due to the extremely hilly terrain that roads must be built around, getting around can take more time than you would anticipate on a small island. From the Hewanorra Airport to Castries, the main tourist area,  the ride can take about an hour by car.
There are two airports - Hewanorra (UVF) located about 40 miles from Castries and George F. L . Charles Inter Island Airport in Castries. Most airlines fly into Hewanorra hut you can take a helicopter from Hewanorra to the Castries airport to avoid a drive of about an hour and a half.
Coconut Bay Resort in St. Lucia
 
English is the official language but French Creole (Patois) is also spoken. The U.S. dollars is widely accepted, but the Eastern Caribbean Dollar is the official currency, which is linked to the US Dollar at the exchange rate of 1 US$ to about  2.70 EC$. A passport is required to enter the country for U.S. citizens.
A tropical climate kept mild by trade winds allow St. Lucia to be a year round destination. From June to November be prepared for sporadic tropical showers. Average temperatures range from 70 degrees to the mid 90's and can be hot and humid. June through August are the hottest months, and December and January are the coolest, with temperatures between the mid 70's to mid 80's. There is a rainy season from June to November. During this time, there can be heavy rainstorms that quickly clear.
 

 
 
There are large rainforests and the Piton Mountains are a major attraction on the island. Visitors exploring the trails through the rain forest in the center of the island need to be prepared for some very hot and humid weather without any relief from the trade winds. Many of the major landmarks in St. Lucia were made by nature.  These include the two volcanic domes of the Pitons, Sulfur Springs Drive In  Park located at  a dormant volcano  and  Diamond Falls, which features a mineral bath, botanical garden, and waterfall.  At Sulpher Springs, walk through the crater and you'll see pools and hot springs bubbling up. Just outside, you can bathe in the warm pools.

 
There are many award winning resorts on St. Lucia - from the Body Holiday, Hotel Chocolat, three Sandals Resorts, Jade Mountain, Anse Chastenet and many more, there is something for everyone. Enjoy water sports and seek out rare wildlife. Some hotels feature water parks, beach volleyball, and multiple pools for everyone's enjoyment. There are many excursions that can be purchased - take the family to stunning waterfalls, rainforests and mineral baths. Don't forget a stop at the "world's only drive in volcano" located in Soufriere - and have a mud bath!

 
Rodney Bay is located in northwest St. Lucia and probably the most active city on the island. During the day, the gorgeous beach of Rodney Bay makes any St. Lucia experience memorable and is the perfect location to experience nightlife and multiple restaurants, cafes, shops, night clubs and even a casino. Every Friday night, Gros Islet comes alive with dancing, seafood and Caribbean music in what is called "jump in".
 
Love spas? The Soufriere Volcano  supplies mineral rich mud and steam baths unique to the island. Resort spas use these natural resources in some of the most sophisticated spa treatments in the world.
 
St. Lucia is also the perfect place for a destination wedding - there is no residency period and you can apply for a marriage license two days before the date of marriage (most resorts suggest arriving three to four days before your wedding date to complete final paperwork and get your marriage license). Your guests will be thrilled to attend a destination wedding on such a diverse island.
 
So what's not to like? We are St. Lucia Specialists and can provide the right resort for you based on your wants and needs. Contact us for more information. 516-608-0568


 
 
 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Westin Waterfront Hotel Boston Review


While not exactly waterfront, if you are given the right room you can have a view of the water. But wonderful is the word for the Westin Waterfront Hotel in Boston. Located about a half mile  from the South train station and right next to the convention center, you notice the Westin difference as soon as you enter.
Check in was a breeze at the individual check in stations at the time we checked in but that wasn't always the case. Several times while in the lobby we noted long check in lines with one or two people performing check in. At one point, we saw four employees at the desks with three people waiting on line and suddenly three  staff members went behind an office door leaving one person doing check in, and the line quickly built up. 

Staff was warm and welcoming. Our room was 859 with a view of the hotel roof and a sliver of the waterfront. There were two queen sized beds, a flat screen t.v.,  refrigerator in the credenza (empty, perfect to store your bottled water) safe and three drawers. A desk, chair and small table were near the window.

There was an extremely small closet and good sized bathroom. The shower had a rainshower head. Bathroom amenities include shampoo and separate conditioner (yeah!), soap and body lotion. A hairdryer is in the room. The room was very clean. There is a coffee maker in each room, but we had to ask for creamer.

Westin Hotels  feature the Heavenly Bed system, and that is an apt description. The bed felt like a cocoon, and I woke without the usual backache from a new bed. There is a pillow menu as well. Take advantage of this - I didn't and woke up with a stiff neck from overly high pillows.

Internet service is $12.95 per day in the room, free in the lobby. Breakfast buffet in Sauciety Restaurant (open for breakfast and lunch) was $21. 

M.J. O'Connors was one of the  restaurants inside the hotel, which features an Irish type menu. If you sit at the bar or at one of the outdoor tables, you can order from the $7 bar menu. On the menu was excellent ribs (3), fried mac and cheese bites (5), olive sampler or pretzels with a chipotle sauce (3 long soft pretzels). There was also City Bar in the lobby that had a small menu of bar food. A comedy club is expected to open within the next month or so.

There is also a gift shop, Starbucks,pool and gym.  The pool is indoors and the room was oppressively hot so we didn't use the pool or hot tub although we wanted to.

We were at a conference and the conference rooms were very large. Most are windowless thus very dark inside. The rooms were were also cold so bring a jacket.

Unless you are going to The Boston Convention Center for a convention, the location of the hotel is not ideal. There is no place to eat in the immediate area besides the hotel restaurants and you are trapped with their high prices. After two days, an employee gave me a hint about a Greek deli that was in the building across the street and had great sandwiches for half the price of M Donahue's and Starbucks and the sandwich was ready in two minutes.Otherwise it was a long walk over the D Street bridge to the waterfront for restaurants, a 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts.  One night there were fireworks on the Harbor and I was able to enjoy them from inside my room.


The Aquarium and Fanuel Hall are walkable from the hotel over bridges and up Atlantic Ave.  It is a little over a mile, longer if you walk the waterfront path through condo and hotel yards. 

The area is being built up with planned apartments and condos so hopefully in the next few years there will be more restaurants and amenities in the area. The hotel is a beautiful one with great staff and can be so much more if there were more things to go in the immediate area.