The Spizer/Costa/Carpiniello Family with six adults and four children (ranging from 8-13) traveled to Israel over the winter break to celebrate a B’nai Mitzvah. The family described the experience as the most amazing trip of a lifetime! Jen created a completely custom trip for this multi-generational family from the Philadelphia area. The trip began with a VIP airport arrival and some time to unwind in Tel Aviv where they toured on their own with a visit to the beach and Old Jaffa and stayed at the apartment hotel, Alexander All-Suites for two nights. On their third day, their guide and driver picked them up in a spacious bus (with wifi) for an exciting day trip to the Ayalon Institute (known as the bullet factory), to Beit Guvrin for a hands-on archeological dig and then onto Neot Kedumin for tree planting and a lesson from a local scribe. The next day the group headed north to visit the Roman ruins in Caesarea which now offers a cinematic exhibition and audiovisual experience. From there they continued onto the once Crusader capital of Akko where they walked on the city walls. The charming Hotel Hagroshim, their favorite accommodations of the trip, became their Galilee home for the next two nights. The following day they explored the Dan Nature Reserve with a nature hike and took a jeep tour through the Golan Heights. They also visited a kibbutz to learn about this communal lifestyle unique to Israel including a meeting with local members. The day ended with a visit to the Agamon HaHula Nature reserve; a popular resting place for birds migrating from Europe to Africa. The following day the family headed to the mystical city of Safed and the Biblical-style camp of Kfar Kedem where they tried on traditional Israelite dress and took a donkey ride through the countryside. Other biblical related activities included fresh pita bread and cheese making. They also visited Nazareth before heading to Jerusalem with a visit to the Western Wall as the sabbath began. Their three-night Jerusalem hotel stay was at the Dan Panorama. The family explored Jerusalem on their own on the sabbath by walking over to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. They found the museum fascinating and also got to see the Knesset. Their guide picked them up the following day with a tour of the Old City. The day started with a panoramic view from the Mount of Olives and then to the City of David where an audiovisual 3D movie brought the city’s history to life. They also saw new discoveries from recent excavations in the area, visited a Canaanite dry tunnel as well as the Western Wall Tunnels. A visit to the Christian Quarter and its holy sites was followed by a visit to the Jewish Quarter. The next day the group made a day trip to Masada where they took the cable car to the top and then to a nearby hotel’s private beach for a Dead Sea swim. Their final day began with a somber visit to Yad Vashem with a private curator. The older children were “twinned” with children who perished in the war and did not have a chance to mark their own Bat Mitzvah. Their regular guide took the youngest child to the Biblical Zoo as he was too young for the Holocaust experience. The family really appreciated the forethought in arranging for this; so that everyone could have a special last day in the Holyland.
The family let us know that they were very happy with a mix of interactive experiences combined with the more traditional sight-seeing although their amazing guide still found ways to entertain the children with engaging activities everywhere they went like a race in the hippodrome at Ceasarea and an aluminum foil sword fight as crusaders in Akko! They found their guide to be energetic and knowledgeable and she accommodated each generation so well. They loved her so much that they all got teary when it was time for good-bye. Happy tears after a special trip to Israel.
The Delatorre and Laguio Families returned to their former home (and for some their birthplace) of Thailand to to revisit their memories with a new generation. The trip began in Bangkok where they were able to visit the old neighborhood and school as well as see the city sights, floating market and temples. The St. Regis was their home for four nights. The family enjoyed this modern, urban retreat where the staff greeted them with an orchid garland and traditional Thai bow (wai). Actually each hotel they stayed at did the same. The hotel had an amazing breakfast buffet that stretched across three rooms and served international dishes from Europe, Thailand, Japan, China and the United States.
The final stop for the Delatorre family was the beach resort town of Phuket with a stay at the Andara Resort and Villas; a dream property for the children. Their large villa had a 50 ft. long private pool and amazing views. A Maya Bay speedboat trip was a highlight with unforgettable sights of the bay along with cave swimming, snorkeling, monkey feedings and an island lunch.
The family reminds us how special (and inexpensive) Thailand is for travelers. It’s a Buddhist country with a long reigning monarch which lends to the mystique of the temples, monks, and ceremonies. Combine that with the rugged northern towns with elephants and tribes, and the southern islands with their gorgeous beaches. The group was there while the country was in mourning over the passing of their monarch. Photos and tributes to the king were everywhere. Most Thais wore black, and they were also encouraged to wear black at the temples out of respect. The lines of mourners outside the Royal Palace in Bangkok where the king is laid to rest stretched for miles in the hot sun. He was the only king most Thais know and the Delatorre and Laguio families felt his loss too. They also had Thai massages everywhere with the least expensive ones at the Wat Po temple in Bangkok and the Thai markets and put their feet in aquariums where fish nibbled for a unique exfoliation treatment! This foodie family also loved the Thai food whether it was consumed in a restaurant, food stall or on the street. Overall a very successful trip, family reunion and home coming.
Mindy and Lauren attended the invitation-only Family Travel Advisor Forum last month at Moon Palace Jamaica in Ocho Rios. The resort property sits in a gated community close to downtown Ocho Rios and to many of the island’s top nature experiences such as Dunn’s River Falls, Konoko Falls and the Blue Hole. It’s about 1 ½ hours from the Montego Bay airport. The 705-room property has plenty of dining options; a sprawling pool complex with bridges and water slide; large spa and gym; water sports including fly boards, stand-up paddle boards and two surf pools; children and teen clubs; dolphin swim and evening shows. Plus a friendly and accommodating staff. We enjoyed our meal at the Japanese restaurant’s teppanyaki tables the best with a very entertaining Jamaican/Asian chef. The bakery which created made-to-order crepes was also very popular. Our rooms were in the North Tower and were a little snug, but well appointed with a filled mini fridge, pull out liquor bar, Chi hair products and styling supplies and a lovely bathroom with shower only. We also toured the South Tower rooms which are more spacious with full balconies. This tower offers Family Suites (connecting rooms) and a gorgeous two-bedroom Presidential Suite which is ideal for families and includes a large spa tub, separate living area and several balconies. The private beach unfortunately offers a view of the Port of Ocho Rios, but otherwise has calm water. Hotel guests also receive resort credits to use for excursions, spa treatments, family photos and more based on the number of nights they stay. The trade show we attended offered us the ability to meet and mingle with many of our favorite suppliers along with new suppliers, tourist bureaus, social media experts as well as with other family travel specialists from around the United States and Canada.
Mindy traveled to the Cancun/Riviera Maya region in October to attend meetings with our travel agent consortium, the Traveri Group, as well as attend one of our supplier’s trade show and summit. Her stay began at the family-friendly Finest Resort on Playa Mujeres for two nights. This property is just north of Cancun. She thought the rooms were spacious and beautiful with a modern style. She really enjoyed staying at this property and meeting our representative for the hotel chain (see photo). The resort offers a wide variety of activities for children and teens including a well-equipped children’s compound. She also toured several other family resorts including Hyatt Ziva in Cancun and Dreams Playa Mujeres. The Hyatt was a pleasant surprise with a great range of activities and 3 calm beaches. The food was excellent and there are large family rooms including a two-bedroom villa that can sleep up to 8. Dreams is a new property that has a fun waterpark and lazy river, well-equipped teen area and nice dining options. The resort is also showcasing the Broadway show Rock of Ages through January 15. Family accommodations include a two-bedroom suite on the club level that can accommodate up to 8 people. The adult-only properties she toured include the boutique-style Beloved located on Playa Mujeres for a quiet getaway and Excellence Playa Mujeres for adults who seek a wider variety of activities and recreation. Both received high marks for rooms, dining and beach.
Mindy then called the newly renovated Grand at Moon Palace home for the next three nights. The service and amenities of this elevated section of the Moon Palace property offers a bowling alley, movie theater, waterpark and more. The section has over 1,300 rooms and suites with golf cart shuttles to get you around. She also got to see the Cirque de Soleil show, Joya, which draws on Mexico’s history and heritage. The show has its own theater in the Riviera Maya and is also a dinner show. She thought the story line was a little confusing, but with great acrobatics. She also attended The Mark Travel Corporation Summit that showcased 200 of the travel industry’s top suppliers, including hotel and resort companies and destination executives along with 650 travel agents. The learning opportunities included academic level workshops, seminars and courses along with keynote speeches about the state of the travel industry, advancements in technology and more. The Summit is one of the largest travel industry events of the year.
Lauren just returned from The Family Travel Association’s annual Summit. The gathering of family travel agents, family travel media/bloggers, family friendly suppliers, researchers as well as Royal Caribbean and association staff took place aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas which sailed out of Port Canaveral. The Family Traveler was also the selected agency to book the cabins for the meeting (as we were the first agency to join) which allowed us the chance to better get to know all of the attendees. A pre-cruise night stay at the Marriott Courtyard in Cocoa Beach included an informative dinner with local suppliers including hotels, activities and the port. Then the 4-night cruise sailed to Nassau, but was unable to send tender boats to the private island of Cocoa Cay due to weather. This gave us more opportunities to network and learn through keynote speakers, small group discussions and one-on-one meetings. There were many highlights of the Summit including a discussion with Sven-Olaf Lindblad of Lindblad Expeditions about how to provide diverse aspiration for all ages while traveling, a variety of research to show the growth and direction of family travel, learning about and understanding the diversity of travelers and hearing about the Red Trunk Project which is a cultural initiative to spark global dialogue for a more inclusive future for children. We met with suppliers as diverse as Kids Sea Camp (see above) to Martinhal Hotels and Resorts which are specifically designed for families and located in Portugal. In Nassau, the show took place at the historical British Colonial Hilton. Afterward, Lauren ventured to the Junkanoo World Museum with other agents to learn about this colorful festival, amazing costumes and history. It proved to be a worthwhile experience despite its location outside of the downtown area. The family-friendly experience includes hands on drumming or an art project based on Junkanoo costume techniques. The Family Traveler Association’s mission is to inspire family to travel – and travel more – while advocating for travel as an essential part of every child’s education. This is a practice we greatly value in our agency and through the trips we book for you each and every day. Check out http://familytravel.org for more details and to see their diverse membership.
The Cheris Family of 4 from North Potomac, MD (2 adults and two teen boys) spent their summer vacation in sunny Southern California. The trip began in Los Angeles with a stay at the Andaz West Hollywood, close to all the Hollywood attractions. They really enjoyed the hotel, especially the rooftop pool with expansive views of the Hollywood Hills that they could also see from their high floor room. Mom found the rooms very clean and comfortable. Their LA highlight was a Warner Brothers Studio tour and enjoying a beach day at popular Venice Beach. They also ventured to the Griffith’s Observatory with a nice view of the city and the Hollywood sign, drove around Beverly Hills to check out the lovely homes and visited Rodeo Drive. Dinner at Mel’s Diner was a fun outing. On their way south to San Diego they just decided to stop in Newport Beach for lunch. They ended up renting bikes and swam in the ocean and really enjoyed a lovely day there. Their stay in La Jolla was also a hit with a stay at the Grande Colonial where the staff took good care of them. Their upgraded suite was spacious and had a sweet charm to it despite a musty smell in the building. The hotel pool and views were a plus. Other fun activities included a kayak and snorkel tour right out of La Jolla, the San Diego Zoo, time at the beach (the hotel loaned them beach equipment) and meandering the village streets. Every day mom loved visiting her sea lion friends at the beach in the early morning with Starbucks in hand. Dinner at El Pescador Fish Market was described as casual and amazing. One evening mom and dad went out for a date night for Mexican food in the Gaslamp Quarter while the boys had room service at the hotel. Overall the trip was a great success, with minimal whining and fighting! The family mentioned that their hotel choices were spot on…they were sad to leave behind the adorable sea lions…
Mindy and her family (parents and young adult children ages 20 and 18) ventured to London and Amsterdam in celebration of her son’s high school graduation in June. The trip began in London with a five-night stay at a self-catering, two-bedroom apartment in the Knightsbridge neighborhood. The apartment was on a quiet cul-de-sac off a major street, with easy access to pubs, grocery stores, retail shops and dining. Their time in London was chock full of experiences with a variety of prebooked tours, dining reservations and entertainment which helped maximize their time and avoid long ticket lines. The family began their visit with a city orientation tour. Their private guide/driver took them around the city and understood the best places for viewing events while avoiding the crowds such as the practice sessions for the Changing of the Guard. After the tour, the young adults enjoyed an exciting speedboat tour along the Thames River while mom and dad relaxed with a picnic lunch in a nearby park. Among other sites, they visited the Tower of London, Spitafields Market and the Churchill War Rooms. A guided tour of London’s Graffiti and Street Art was more educational and fun than expected. Evening entertainment was also a special part of their time in London. They saw the limited engagement of the Billy Holiday show on the West End (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill), Tape Face as well as Van Morrison. The later was a real highlight as the intimate concert took place at the historical Hampton Court Palace in one of the courtyards.
The family then flew onto Amsterdam for three nights. Their first lesson was how to avoid the city’s bike riders. With 880,000 bikes on the city’s roads; they quickly figured out who has the right of way – not the pedestrians! They stayed at an apartment-hotel well located just a 10-minute stroll from the Central Rail Station. The new Erik Vokel Apartments offers spacious one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with lovely river views. Their visit to Amsterdam began with a private walking tour followed by visits to the Anne Frank House and a privately guided tour of the renovated Van Gogh Museum. While in the Museum Quarter, the family happily stumbled upon a special Banksy Laugh Now exhibition at the Modern Contemporary (Moco) Museum. It contains around 50 original works by London’s Street Art-legend whom the family learned about on their earlier street art tour. For the first time in history there is a Banksy exhibition in a museum! In addition, visits to the Amsterdam Cheese Museum and the Amsterdam Tulip Museum provided good entertainment along with yummy samples of Gouda cheese. The culinary highlight though was the local pancakes (pannenkoeken) served either savory or sweet and they indulged in these thin crepes multiple times. Another highlight was the city’s newest icon, the A’dam Lookout with 360 degrees views. The young adults went Over the Edge on Europe’s highest rooftop swing atop the building. Dinner is served inside at M’adam where a spectacular sunset, nice ambiance and good food created a memorable occasion. On their last day, a small canal cruise allowed them to see Amsterdam from the water and to learn about the dam systems and bridges that are essential to the city. They also learned about of a rite of passage tradition that is unique to The Netherlands that was also significant to the Valencis. Putting the country’s flag out and hanging your child’s school bag on the pole is a sign that they have passed their high school exams. The family saw bag-on-a-flag all over Amsterdam in fitting celebration of their own special graduation celebration.
The Getsy Family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children ages 12 and 9) from Atlantic Beach, FL took their first family cruise for their summer getaway on the Celebrity Equinox. They let us know that they had a fabulous time!!! They stayed all together in a balcony cabin and thought it was actually pretty awesome. It was tight, of course, but had much more room than the family expected. The room and bathroom had tons of storage; so they had plenty of places to put their things. Even with the pullman beds dropped down at night for the children; they had room to move around and get to the veranda. They loved having the balcony for star gazing, mother/daughter pedicures, reading and enjoying a cup of tea.
The family enjoyed the food on the ship, especially the specialty restaurants which included one night as an adult only meal. They felt the supplement for these more intimate dining experiences was well worthwhile. With no waits. The gelato stand also received high marks from the children. It too was a little extra cost, but not unreasonable.
The children tried the kids clubs, but decided not to spend a lot of time there. But they still had fun. The 8 year-old spent a lot of time on the lawn (yes, this ship has a lawn!) practicing his cart wheels and ninja moves and played ping pong outside the cafe anytime he could talk anyone into doing it with him. Their daughter had fun looking around the shops and read some in the library. Mom and daughter played Scrabble and the whole family had a game of Clue in the card table area. They caught a couple of the family game shows at 8:00pm each night. Everyone loved that. Mom and dad went to an adult game show one evening and that was pretty funny too. The son is just learning to play guitar; so they also appreciated the music acts. Mom caught a movie one day and a yoga class one morning.
They also really enjoyed their excursions. They explained that is is hard to say which excursion they liked the most because they were all so different. The submarine in Cozumel was short, but super cool. Just having that experience of being on a submarine and that close to the reefs was amazing. The Mayan Experience Tour in Costa Maya was really neat, too. The staff were very knowledgeable and fun. Mom thought it was great for the children to see how people in other countries live and now her son wants a mango tree in their yard! Mom and daughter loved having the stingrays swimming around them at Stingray City in Grand Cayman, but dad and son were a little disconcerted. The family recommends to book this excursion early to avoid the crowds. All of their hosts on the excursions were very courteous and fun. Unfortunately their stop in Key West was canceled due to weather; so they got an extra day at sea.
Overall the trip was a great success. It was especially nice to disconnect. In fact, the no dishes, no food prep, no laundry was mom’s favorite part. Just not having anything to do, but relax was surreal, but amazing. They look forward to sailing again soon hopefully with other friends or family in tow. We look forward to planning that trip for them!
Lauren was in Montana at the end of May to experience Averill’s Flathead Lodge in Big Fork. The trip was part of a gathering of travel agents who are members of the Family Travel Association. It was a wonderful opportunity to network with agents from around the country who are working in agencies large and small to discuss the future of family travel and how to best promote all the wonderful aspects that go along with it.
Flathead Lake Lodge is a third-generation family run and operated dude ranch. During the summer, week-long stays attract families from around the country year after year. A variety of accommodation options are available for families including cabin style and connecting rooms. We stayed in a spacious and new one bedroom loft with two full bathrooms. A spacious bedroom overlooked a living and dining room with sofabed and showcased typical Western cowboy themed decor. A wooden porch swing outside the front was the ideal spot for enjoying beautiful lake views.
The feeling of summer camp pervades this unique ranch as it was originally built in 1932 as a boy’s camp. The daily activities, lake activities and group dining promote that camp-like feeling as well. Recreation includes a complete horse program highlighted by individual lessons, rodeo events, breakfast and lunch rides, a private elk preserve and more than 2,000 pristine acres for daily trail rides. The ranch has 120 horses! In addition to the riding programs, the lodge offers unmatched water activities on Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake West of the Mississippi and one of the cleanest lakes in the world. Kayaks, sail boats, stand-up paddle boards, water skiing, wake boarding, canoes and more are at your disposal. We enjoyed a very relaxing kayak trip around the lake as well as an evening motorboat tour. There is also a lakefront heated pool; massages; hiking; mountain cookouts; barn dances; camp fires; mountain bikes and more.
The resort also showcases a children’s program where family interaction is key and children have the freedom to safely roam the property and indulge in the various activities as they like. Children focused activities include children’s horseback rides, arts & crafts, water activities, tepee overnight, children’s rodeo, organized games and a junior wrangler program to name a few.
The food was also plentiful, fresh and met most special dietary needs. The hot breakfast buffet changed daily. A bountiful outdoor buffet lunch also rotated themes each day. Three course evening plated meals (with child-friendly options) were served in the main dining room with open seating. And throughout the day freshly baked goods and drinks were available. After a first night cocktail hour, parents can get a ride into the town of Big Fork to stock up on any alcohol needs. There is a good size refrigerator in your room.
Our other dude ranch highlights included riding the mountain bikes into town for the Bigfork Whitewater Festival, an evening steak-out in the Elk Reserve (we got there by firetruck), a visit to Glacier National Park just 35 miles north and the super friendly staff.
Our new addition, Jen and her family (2 adults and 2 children ages 11) and the Murland Family (with 2 adults and 2 children ages 8 and 10), traveled from Philadelphia to the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica for spring break. Jen really enjoyed her one bedroom butler suite with two separate balconies with views of the pool and ocean. A great place to relax and enjoy the lovely views. She noted that her butlers were awesome and took great care of the family assisting them with dining reservations, birthday celebrations, cabana rentals, coolers for the pool, snacks, etc.
Both families noted that the food is overall quite good. They really enjoyed the breakfast buffet, steakhouse and the Italian restaurant commenting that it easily could be a great restaurant at home. Most enjoyed the sea food restaurant as well. One night the adults ventured over to the Hyatt Zilara, the adult only property next door, to enjoy the Jamaican restaurant. It was a new culinary experience for them. Their butler kindly took the children to the evening programming at the kids’ club and stayed on as a babysitter afterward. And everyone loved the jerk chicken available by the pool! Ya mon.
There was plenty of recreation to keep everyone on the move as they indulged in water aerobics, yoga classes, beach volleyball, basketball, golf, snorkeling and boogie boards. Bring your own golf clubs if you are an avid player. The two pools kept all the children quite happy especially the pool with the swim-up bar. The main pool by the beach offers lots of activities and music throughout the day. There is also a nice jogging path through the property as well. The kids club has day and evening programming, but they thought it was better suited for younger children in regards to the activities.
Jen noted that in general this property treats and trains its staff very well which is showcased in the way they treat their guests (and also the assistance we get with reservations and pre-trip planning). That was proven with two very thoughtful birthday celebrations for Jen and her husband on different days with room and cabana decorations, cake, champagne and other goodies.
The families also ventured off the property for a fun excursion with a mini boat tour with Sun Wave Adventures that included time for snorkeling.
Overall a great trip for all and Jen’s first as an official travel agent!