Trip Review: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

December 30, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

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.

 

Trip Review: Cancun/Riviera Maya

November 27, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Cancun/Riviera Maya

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.

 

Trip Review: The Family Travel Association Summit

October 30, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: The Family Travel Association Summit

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.

Trip Tip: California Dreamin’

September 28, 2017Comments Off on Trip Tip: California Dreamin’

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…

 

Trip Review: A London/Amsterdam Celebration

August 25, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: A London/Amsterdam Celebration

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.

 

Trip Review: Our First Family Cruise

July 27, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Our First Family Cruise

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!

Trip Review: Montana Dude Ranch Experience

June 28, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Montana Dude Ranch Experience

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.

Trip Review: Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall

April 28, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall

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!

Trip Review: Over the Moon in Cancun

March 28, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Over the Moon in Cancun

The multi-generational Thomas family from Philadelphia (with 2 adults and 4 children ages 5-12 + grandparents) vacationed at Moon Palace in the Riviera Maya, Mexico.  Overall the family
gave high marks to the resort, staff, facilities, food and overall beauty and condition of the property.  They particularly enjoyed all the pools and the daily activities at the pool to keep the children entertained throughout the day.  Several family members took to the golf course which they gave high rating for skill and beauty while others tackled the mini-golf course nearly every day!  They also had fun at the children’s indoor arcade.

With over a dozen restaurant options, their favorite was the Asian themed, Momo.  Getting dinner reservations nightly did prove to be a challenge during a busy holiday period.  The parents also took advantage of the Romantic Dinner which is served beach side and used their resort credits as payment. Due to their dietary needs, fish was substituted for the normal Surf and Turf meal of steak and lobster.  Unfortunately they were dismayed that the fish dinner came at the same cost, but were pleased with the experience.

Their rooms at the resort provided a comfortable setting for the family.  They did take advantage of the resort shuttle as this property is quite large and spread out.

Their other resort credits were used to pay for two excursions.  The trip to Isla Mujeres was a highlight of their trip that included a sailboat ride to the resort’s exclusive beach club where you can snorkel and swim in calm waters and then a guided tour of the downtown area of the island.  They did have an issue with returning to the boat since some hotel guests added on a dolphin swim and there was some confusion about the meeting location.  But alas a short taxi ride later they were back on board.  They also used their resort credits on a Jungle Tower and Aqua Twister excursion to Aquaworld in Cancun which includes a snorkel tour and exciting speed boat ride across the lagoon and near the mangroves.  It was a lot of fun.

Overall Moon Palace provided three generations with plenty of recreation, relaxation, activities and bonding time.

 

 

 

 

 

Trip Review: Disney Cruise Line

February 26, 2017Comments Off on Trip Review: Disney Cruise Line

The Fratello Family of Jacksonville (2 adults and 1 child, age 6) celebrated the New Year with a week-long Eastern Caribbean sailing on the Disney Fantasy.  Their adventure began with a call from Mickey Mouse on Christmas Day to get them all excited about the trip.  Once on board the ship, the family found the service to be excellent and they really enjoyed their large cabin with verandah.  Mom was especially happy to find everything to be really clean throughout the ship.  Their excursions too were great fun.  They started their day in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands with a guided tour and concluded the afternoon with a catamaran sail/snorkel/beach excursion.  The sailing and beach trip were amazing.  The catamaran was a fun vessel to sail and the beach was very picturesque.  In St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, they started the day with the kayak ecotour.  The tour guide was awesome.  He made every portion of the trip (kayak, hike, and snorkeling) very engaging.  Son Jackson rode in the guide’s kayak and hung with him while the parents snorkeled.  They were fast pals.  After the excursion, they made their way to Frenchtown and had an incredible lunch on the bay at Hook, Line & Sinker.  The seafood was fresh and perfectly prepared.  They are still talking about that lunch!  Speaking of food, the Remy specialty restaurant on the ship completely blew them away for their adult-only dinner.  Without a doubt, they both agree that it was one of the best meals they have ever had together. The menu was innovative and the courses were perfectly executed.  It was amazing.  Overall the food on the cruise could have been a better, but these gluten free issues know they can be picky.  They crushed the unlimited soft serve by the pool.  It was hysterical.  Also, the spa was great (The Family Traveler got them passes to indulge in the Rainforest Room which is a heat, steam and hydrotherapy circuit that is guaranteed to relax).  They had an awesome time together.  They were a bit disappointed with the couples massage, but not upset by any means.  One thing that we have learned from this trip is that they really love spas!   Son Jackson enjoyed the children’s programming in small doses.  Overall, this vacation was one of the best experiences we have had as a family.  We relaxed, bonded and experienced an adventure together.  Mom literally cried when they walked off the ship.

 

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