Aloha! I'm back from my Hawaii vacation and am ready to hit the ground running! It’s the holiday season and that means travel season and lots of family time. Spring Break is also just around the corner. And, don’t forget about summer vacation. It’s important to get a jump start on next year’s travel planning so you aren’t left out in the cold as destinations deal with high travel season demand and limited availability. Are you traveling with little ones or as a family? I'm talking about multi-generational families too, not just mom, dad, and the kids. Don't forget grandmas and grandpas, aunts, cousins, and uncles. This is very applicable to those of you interested in vacationing with extended family as well, and spending time building memories with the ones you love. How can you get the best experience that will keep everyone happy and not feeling like they need a vacation from their vacation when they return home? Read on for my top travel styles for those traveling as a family to help you narrow down your choices for your next escape.
But first, I'd like to start by by addressing that false sense of "vacation" that comes from renting a place for the family because it's inexpensive and has a kitchen so you can cook your own meals. You repeat Airbnb-ers know what I'm talking about. Who are we kidding? That's far from a vacation for us moms, and it's just a change of scenery where we will use pots and pans that aren't ours and be expected to operate in a sub par equipped kitchen. That rental may SOUND like a good idea, but is it really? Ask any mom who's done this type of "vacation" and she will tell you, "We packed up to go do life in a different backdrop," Been there. Done that. And, no part of this travel style is a vacation for mom. I'm talking about an experience that's a real vacation for the whole family.
If you like the idea of having other families and kids around to keep everyone engaged, there are many tour options that offer special departures geared for families. But don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that grownups won’t get to have any of the fun! From National Parks here at home to European destinations, the sky is the limit as to where you can go. Interested in seeing the sights in Europe? How does a Castles and Kilts tour sound? Is an African safari on your bucket list? With plenty of activities and tours that cater to the wide age gap, there really is something for everyone and you’ll get to enjoy all the sights while the younger travelers stay engaged as well. There are tour companies that do a fabulous job of servicing this niche market for families that wish to show their children the world.
One of the top choices for families continues to be the cruise, and it isn’t hard to see why. On board the ship there are endless activities and possibilities to keep everyone entertained. From pool deck dance parties to nightlife and shows, there is ALWAYS something fun going on. Many ships come outfitted with water slides and even ice skating rinks on board. Add in the Kid’s Club where little ones can be dropped off for an afternoon or morning of nonstop fun while the grown ups can get some much needed R&R, and you have a winning combination. Don’t forget about the food! There is always something to be had when on board a ship. No need to worry about the fact that everyone is hungry at different times or that your picky eaters won't find something they like and make mealtime something you dread rather than enjoy.. You have poolside bistros and ice cream machines, buffets, restaurants, and even room service! If there is one thing there is never a lack of on a cruise, that is FOOD!
All Inclusive Resorts
All inclusive family resorts are another excellent option for families traveling together. They are usually in a beautiful tropical location with plenty to do. Kid Clubs are available at these as well and mom and dad can go to the adults only section during their time “off.” With several restaurants on property, you will never go hungry, and with adult beverages included in the price, you won’t go broke when you get your bar tab either! But weeding through the thousands of properties available can be daunting. How will you pick the right one for your family? I’m here to offer my expertise and professional advice with insider and up to date information on a variety of properties. For those looking for a good way to get real pricing upfront and not worry about how much more your vacation will REALLY end up costing when it’s all said and done, the all inclusive is the way to go.
It isn’t just for the “more mature” traveler. River cruising is quickly becoming a popular vacation for families. Cruise lines are offering entire sailings that are geared toward families and multi-generational passengers. You get all the luxury of a river cruise, and the kids have a blast as well. It’s a win, win! Certain ships and sailings now cater to families traveling together by having adjoining staterooms as well as staterooms that can accommodate more than 2 passengers. What types of activities could they possibly have on board a river cruise ship for children? How does a movie night that’s centered around the destinations you will be visiting? Or, a family friendly Oktoberfest themed night that will be fun for everyone. There is karaoke night for teens, and scenic bike rides along the way. Don’t think you have to wait until your kids are “older” to appreciate traveling through Europe. The time is NOW!
Are you a family that wants a little more personalization and small group experience? I can arrange your perfect vacation to just the destinations and sights you want to see. But you don’t have to go it alone. I can arrange a private driver and guide to be with you every step of the way. Your guide will accompany you through the country, towns, and cities we selected, and you will have a unique vacation that was planned and curated just for you. Or, are you a little more adventurous and independent? You can have this option on a self-driving tour. The self drive tour is for the family that is well traveled and has older children or teens and is comfortable driving in foreign countries.
If you’ve decided to start the daunting task of planning a family vacation, don’t feel like you need to go it alone and spend hours researching online for destinations and pricing. These are my top tips for a successful vacation. I’m here to partner with you and make the planning process easy and the vacation a seamless one. As a travel professional, it is what I specialize in for all of my Distinguished Travelers.
There are many travel styles and options for those looking for a family vacation. The hardest part should be deciding which style best suits your family and what your vacation travel dates are. As a travel specialist, I take care of the rest for you! Except the packing, you’re on your own for that too, although I do often send my best packing tips before you go. So, where are you and your loved ones off to next? Time is precious and the opportunity for making memories together that will last a lifetime is fleeting. Eat the cake. Buy the dress. Take that vacation. Because life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
Top 10 reasons Curacao is the hottest destination in the Caribbean
Earlier this month I was extended the offer by the Curacao tourism board to visit this island that remains one of the best kept secrets as a tourist destination for travelers, and I couldn’t resist! What I experienced exceeded my expectations and put it at the top of my “must see” list for my Distinguished Travelers desiring a unique, authentic experience in a tropical setting. It’s a little bit Europe and a lot perfect tropical beauty all wrapped into one that made this girl who loves both unexpectedly ecstatic. What does this have to do with the weirdest thing I ever ate? Well, I ate it here! Read on to find out the top 10 reasons Curacao is the next destination hotspot you should consider when planning your next getaway.
1. The Weather
Yes, it’s in the Caribbean and wonderfully warm, but with the last hurricane season that wreaked havoc on so many traveler’s vacation plans, some are a little antsy about booking a Caribbean getaway. Curacao sits at the most Southern end of the Hurricane Belt and is one of the few islands that is considered a very low risk for impact from tropical storms and hurricanes. Very low humidity in Curacao makes for a remarkably comfortable tropical escape. Plan your vacation now and don’t stress about the weather!
2. The People
I found the people in Curacao to be some of the most loving and welcoming of any Caribbean island. Being a former Dutch colony, there is a wonderful mix of cultures and languages represented on the island that prides itself in its diversity and acceptance of all nationalities and religions. Most of the locals speak a minimum of 4 languages: English, Dutch, Spanish, and the native tongue called Papiamentu. No need to fear a language barrier here!
3. The Food
For those of you that know me, you know how much I love experiencing new cultures through their cuisine. With the convergence of cultures, I can assure you there is something for EVERYONE. From the freshest seafood to the local dishes, I was never disappointed. Michelin Star foodie are you? Yeah, I have a place for that. Wanna go a little more adventurous? Yeah, me too. Want to dine around town? I have the perfect recommendations thanks to a progressive style dinner with courses at some of the best restaurants around. You can even have a wonderful local meal in a former plantation house turned family run restaurant.
4. Honeymoon Hot Spot
For those of you looking for a romantic getaway, look no further. There are wonderful resorts and hotels that are the perfect backdrop for you to relax, get away, and feel pampered with the one you love. You can get a couple’s massage on the beach, enjoy a sunset yacht cruise, visit one of the world class spas, and have a destination wedding or vow renewal in one of the most beautiful destinations in the Caribbean.
5. Family Friendly
Don’t think this island only has something to offer couples! There are a wide variety of activities and excursions for those traveling with young ones and those that are just young at heart. You can participate in a dolphin encounter, go on an off-road buggy safari, snorkel, helmet dive, and visit the Seaquarium. Accommodations vary based on your price range and preference. You have resorts with up to 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens right on the beach. Or, even an all-inclusive option, complete with on-site Kid’s Club for those wanting a little more alone time away from the children.
6. Golfer’s Paradise
Bet you didn’t know that Golfweek found one of the best golf courses in the Caribbean and Mexico in Curacao. Here you can play the Pete Dye designed Old Quarry Golf course, which opened in 2010. Naturally complementing Curacao’s beautiful hills and valleys, this course will challenge golfers of varying skill levels.
7. Scuba Central
Unlike its nearby neighbor, Aruba, Curacao is made up of mostly coral which rises out of the ocean waters. It’s surrounded by deep water very near the shore and offers some of best dive sites in the Caribbean. It is a very popular destination for divers, and the sights are accessible to snorkelers right offshore.
8. Old World Architecture
Remember, I said it’s a little bit Europe and a lot perfect tropical beauty? Well, it truly is. In downtown Willemstad you feel as though you are meandering through the streets in Europe. Because of its Dutch roots, the buildings reflect the European influence in its architecture. The colorful waterfront and its famous floating bridge set this island apart.
9. Picture Perfect Scenery
As an island made up mostly of coral, the cliffs on one coast make up some of the most amazing views as the waves crash and pummel the shoreline. You can hike up to view breathtaking scenery from a hilltop. On the Southwest coast you will find what I like to call the REAL blue Curacao. With water so blue that it looks almost fake, and so clear that you can see down to the depths, it is hard to beat the experience of basking in these gorgeous waters.
10. Easy to get to and get around in
There are many nonstop flights between Curacao and the continental US from certain departure points making your travel experience an easy one. Once there, if you prefer to go exploring on your own, you can easily rent a car. They drive on the same side of the road as we do here on the US and it is not difficult to maneuver through traffic as it is in other destinations.
What does this have to do with one of the weirdest foods I ever ate? I ate it here! As most of you know, I love food and am always up for trying something new and different. On this trip I branched out and ate iguana. Yes, you read that right, iguana. Well, iguana soup, to be precise. It is served in a savory broth that resembles chicken soup. If you can get over the appearance of the skin (which is somewhat rubbery), it is not bad. It tastes just like chicken! Except for the fact that it is very bony. But don't worry if you aren't as adventurous as I am. There are plenty of wonderful foods for those with milder palates.
So, have I piqued your interest and desire to visit this off the beaten path island destination? I hope so! With so much to see and do I know you will not be disappointed. Contact me to help you plan your next prefect getaway! Because life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
You work hard for your money. Let's make the most of it!
You may not be a travel pro, but even travel pros make mistakes. Take a few minutes to learn from mine and save yourself the hassle (and a few bucks)!
Well, I’m off on another trip this week and as I prepare, I thought I ‘d share a few little nuggets of wisdom with my Distinguished Travelers because it’s my job to help you travel like a pro and have a seamless vacation experience. One of the most frequent questions I get from clients is, “How should I go about exchanging my dollars for the local currency?” Stay tuned for a funny story from last fall, and learn from my mistake!
Before You Go
Before you even leave the country, go through this simple check list to ensure you will have access to funds while away.
Now, GET YOUR CASH!
You have options when it comes to obtaining local currency, and I will outline them below so that you can determine which strategy best suits your needs.
I promised you a funny story that will help you learn from my mistakes. Last fall while traveling to Budapest, I charged my husband with taking care of the ATM withdrawal as soon as we landed in Budapest. We had a driver waiting for us at baggage claim to drop us at the hotel and we didn’t want to keep him waiting. So, off he went to procure the local Hungarian Forint (because even though they’re technically in the EU they still prefer Forint to Euros). Not being familiar with the exchange rate, he took out what he guesstimated was a sufficient amount. Well, he actually withdrew the equivalent of about $650! And, we were to be in Hungary for one night (less than 24 hours) before boarding out Christmas Markets river cruise that would take us through Austria and Germany where the Euro is the currency. Our hotel and gourmet dinner were both prepaid, and even I was hard pressed to spend that much cash in one evening and a morning (jet lag caused some sleeping in so I wasn’t at the top of my shopping game). We faced a dilemma – exchange our “HUFs” for Euros, and lose quite a bit on the exchange rate and fees, or discover some lovely Hungarian wines to take along on the ship. Anyone who knows us can guess which option we chose. It turns out Hungary has some delightful wine, which is produced in small enough quantities that you’ll rarely find them in the states. Silver lining! Still, you get the moral of the story – know the exchange rates before you go. Pick a baseline amount, say $100, and know the local equivalent you should expect along your journey.
So, where are you off to next? Can I help you get there? Call or email me and let’s get planning your next great escape. Because life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
So, in the past few months I’ve traveled several times from one corner of the globe to the other. And, in a few weeks I'm off again. This time to Curacao as I explore this lovely Caribbean destination that lies OUTSIDE the hurricane belt and a wonderful option for my Distinguished Travelers that area little gun shy after this last season's storms. I will also be visiting Hawaii before the end of the year to complete my my full Hawaii Destination Specialist Certification and meet with some other leaders in the industry that I partner with. Today, I’m offering tips on how to pack like a professional. Specifically, the carry-on bag.
First off, as a woman I’m allowed a personal item such as a purse (or backpack for men), as well as a free carry-on bag on most airlines. For starters, if you’re traveling overseas or on a long-haul flight, your carry-on luggage becomes one of the most important things you pack. It can make you or break you not only on the airplane, but at your destination as well. On my trip to the European Christmas Markets last fall there were as many as four people on board AmaWaterway’s AmaStella that had their checked luggage fail to arrive until up to five days into the trip. Five days without your luggage is major. Mine was delayed, but only on the return, so it wasn’t dramatic, especially since I had trip insurance. ALWAYS GET TRIP INSURANCE! PLEASE! But that’s another entry for another day. These were all different airlines, all good and reputable carriers. It happens. So, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what are some of the must haves.
Women, pick a big purse for the flight. I carry this lovely large tote as my purse on long flights. I can fit so much in there and then I still have a whole other carry on I can fill. Bonus alert: It is totally reversible! Being black on one side, and brown on the other, it will match any outfit while on my trip and it’s perfect as a shopping tote. So, what’s in my purse? Well, most importantly, any medication I will need on my trip. I’m no spring chicken anymore, and I’m showing my age by sharing my pill box picture with you. But seriously, you don’t want to be without your meds for five days should your luggage not make it. Next, any valuable jewelry. Never. Check. Valuables. Period. In addition, you're going to want an empty water bottle. You can’t get it through security with water in it, but you can fill it at a restaurant or water fountain once you’re through. And you will need it. I recommend drinking one liter of water for every 2 hours you’re in the air to avoid dehydration and help alleviate jet lag. Sorry, but those little plastic cups the flight attendants hand out just don’t cut it. You should also pack bare minimum make up. Obviously, you can’t pack your entire beauty regimen, but a few essentials to help you look refreshed when you land will save the day, especially if your luggage is lost or delayed. I pack a good BB lotion that doubles as a moisturizer and foundation, concealer, mascara, powder, blush, blotting papers, and lip color. That’s it. Bare minimum. Make it a priority to bring all travel documents. This includes any papers your travel agent has sent you, your passport and photo ID’s, and a complete itinerary with any tour or transfer vouchers you will need upon arrival. I keep these all together in a travel documents case like the one pictured here. Next, your wallet, and be sure it’s RFID for your protection. Pare it down to the essentials only. One or two credit cards that don’t charge international transaction or ATM fees should be included. Be sure you call your credit card company before you leave to avoid them freezing your account thinking someone stole your card and is using it in Egypt for that Nile River cruise. Your health insurance card, cash, driver’s license, and travel insurance card should also make the cut. Don't forget your cell phone, charging cord, and laptop or tablet if you’re taking it to keep you entertained. I read on my phone, but if you’re old school, don’t forget your book. A travel pillow, if you use one, can also fit in your purse. I travel with a blanket scarf (in the winter). This is a stylish wardrobe add on that can completely change the look of your outfit and also double as a throw blanket. Last, but not least, an extra pair of underpants, a toothbrush, and travel size toothpaste should not be overlooked. Trust me. You’ll feel like a million dollars once you land in Paris and you can touch up your makeup and brush your teeth. And as far as the panties (or boxers guys, not trying to leave you out), you never know how long a layover will be, or if your luggage will be delayed. One spare pair takes up little to no room and can get you through in a crisis.
Next up, your carry-on piece. So, here’s where it gets tricky. Assume the worst. Your luggage gets delayed or lost. What can you simply NOT do without? It depends on you and your destination. Headed somewhere tropical? Pack one swimsuit, a pair of neutral sandals that can double for day and nighttime use, a pair of flip flops for the beach and pool, and one or two neutral wardrobe pieces. I recommend at least one solid colored sundress that you can wear for daytime or evening and change the look by adding statement jewelry pieces, a simple scarf, or even a lightweight sweater or wrap. Also, include a nicer pair of solid colored shorts, and 1-2 simple neutral tops. You can use the same principle of changing the look just like you did with the sundress. Men, in your carry on pack a pair of slacks, shorts, a swimsuit and your rash guard shirt, and one or two resort casual shirts. Save space by wearing your nicer pair of shoes, and pack your flip flops or sandals. You guys have it so easy! Are colder climate destinations in your itinerary? You'll want to wear your bulkiest footwear on the flight. I know it goes against everything you've been conditioned to believe going through security checkpoints and all, but you’ll want those warm boots if your other ones don’t make it. Reiterating my point from above, scarves and jewelry will make a whole new outfit. That blanket scarf you're using in flight can double as a belted poncho. Be sure your essentials are warm. Your scarves, gloves, hat, pair of nice heels, an extra pair of black slacks that can be worn with boots or heels for both day and night time attire, and a neutral long sleeve top or two along with a pair of thermals should also be in there for you cold weather travelers.
It seems like a lot to think about, but with a little planning and preparation you will be ready for just about anything. And, on the way home, you can shift your contents around to make room for all your fantastic finds you’re bringing with you to remind you of your travels. Now, let’s get packing! Where are you going next?
LIFE IS SHORT.
STOP DREAMING. START GOING.
Can you accident proof your vacation?
As most of you are aware, I not only work in the travel industry as an agency owner, but I’m also an avid traveler myself. I absolutely love to travel. Travel stretches you, enriches your life, teaches you about other countries, people, and cultures. But we live in an imperfect world where sometimes bad things happen. What do you do when unexpected disaster strikes while on a trip? Who will you call for assistance, a medical care flight out, or to find out what to do since you’re going on your third day without your luggage and the airline doesn’t have any answers for you? First, you call me, your travel professional. Second, you call your travel insurance provider.
Travel insurance. Consumers seem to have a love hate relationship with it. Is it a necessary evil? Is it just a way to try to squeeze more money out of you after you’ve already spent so much on your actual vacation? Or, is it a mandatory prerequisite that no traveler should go without? I strongly believe it is the third option, and let me explain to you why.
Eight years ago, my husband and I took our three lovely children to Uganda for what was meant to be a 10-day trip. The children were ages 5 months, 2, and 7. My husband and I were much younger (and healthier). He was in school at the time working on his Master’s degree and we didn’t have a ton of expendable income. But we bought that travel insurance policy. And we are so thankful we did. You see, accidents happen. That’s why they’re called ACCIDENTS. You can’t foresee them, prepare for them, or avoid them. How were we to know that less than 24 hours after arriving in Uganda my husband’s appendix would decide it was the perfect time to require surgery and removal? Seriously, he had to go all the way to Africa to have an appendectomy. What should have been a simple surgery ended up turning into him having his entire abdomen cut open because of complications. Did I mention we were in Africa? In an open-air hospital where he had got to sleep under a mosquito net? Yeah. Did you know that in many countries hospitals will “hold you hostage” until you pay your bill (preferably in cash with local currency) and not you leave until you do? Truth. So, what was supposed to be a 10-day trip turned into a five week stay requiring complete re-booking of international airfare for the five of us, with my husband in First Class because of his physical state. They almost had a nurse fly with us. And guess how much all that cost our family. Nothing but the price of the policy. But the comfort in knowing that financially it would all be taken care of, and that they had a medical helicopter ready to care flight him to South Africa for emergency care if things went South is truly priceless.
I recognize this is an extreme example, and many people ask what the chances of that really are. I don’t know. What are the chances? And does it matter? Is it worth saving a few hundred dollars after you’ve more than likely invested thousands in your vacation?
There are many other things that travel insurance covers. It isn’t just medical emergencies (though those can tend to be the most costly and unexpected). Coverage, depending on your carrier and policy, can include trip cancellation, flight delays, and lost and delayed luggage.
Remember I went to France just this past March. I was traveling through the New Aquitaine region and Basque country attending numerous hosted dinners, meetings, and events. I was also totally and utterly without my luggage for 5 of those days. 5 days. No luggage. Work trip. But I was covered. I had purchased the trip insurance. I was able to shop and purchase clothing for each day as needed, and after I got home I submitted my claim and receipts to my insurance company and received a full reimbursement.
As you can see, I am a huge proponent for trip insurance. I strongly encourage each and every one of my clients to purchase a policy. In fact, if they don’t, I have them sign a waiver stating that they were offered the insurance for purchase and opted not to purchase it. Legally, I must protect myself and my business from someone coming back (usually after some sort of issue arises on their trip) and trying to hold me liable. Yes, sadly, it has happened. I cannot control the weather and grounding of your flight, or if a hurricane will change course and head straight for your island resort destination or cruise ship. The insurance waiver form simply puts that responsibility back on you, the traveler and client. You’re big. You can make your own choices. I can advise you and offer my recommendations, but ultimately the choice is yours. So, what will it be? Are you feeling lucky? Gonna roll those dice or play it safe? It really is up to you. I hope you will choose to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your investment. Because remember, life is short.
Stop Dreaming. Start Going.
With the latest release of travel warnings issued for US travelers to Europe this summer, this question is at the forefront of many traveler's minds. There are many precautions you can take while traveling abroad like registering with the local US Embassy, and remaining alert, attentive, and aware of your surroundings when visiting crowded tourist sights. However, it is a very personal decision that one must evaluate personally. But the Fontanini family will be abroad for nearly an entire month this summer! Our family will not be kept stateside by fear.
As many of you know, I have three amazing children who all devote themselves to the fine art of classical ballet. They dance five or six days a week for anywhere from 3-4 hours per day perfecting their craft. All that hard work has led to an incredible opportunity for one of my dancers. My son has been accepted to train with the Royal Ballet School in London this summer. For those of you not deeply entrenched in the world of ballet (a secret part of me envies you) this is a pretty big deal. So, of course we are all going to London because if my little guy is thinking he’s going to be having all the fun, boy is he wrong! I plan on taking advantage of this trip to use my children as my guinea pigs. In a good way, though! London is a sought after destination not only for adults, but families as well. I will be doing the usual hotel inspections and visits to ensure I put my clients up in the perfect accommodations according to their needs and budget, but I am also going to put together tours and itineraries that appeal to both young and old alike. You see, my mom and teenage niece and nephew are going with us. Remember my mom, the world traveler that’s been everywhere? Well, she hasn't been to London, so, it’s morphed into a multi-generational trip. What's a multi-generational trip, you ask? This type of vacation is becoming more and more popular as grandparents want to engage with their adult children and grandchildren and travel to destinations where they can share experiences together and create memories that will last a lifetime. These can be smaller family units, or even larger extended family groups that wish to do a family reunion type trip. There is a destination and travel style to fit any family.
How will I plan an itinerary that will keep little ones ages 9, 11, and teenagers from 16 to 18 engaged, as well as my husband and I, and my young at heart mom? This may seem daunting, but I have a few ideas and tricks up my sleeve. Did you know that Westminster Abbey has a scavenger hunt for children to keep them engaged while we older history buffs meander through the site? And there’s a special treat for those that complete the hunt awaiting them in the gift shop as they exit. Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and Sherlock? I have them covered. But I’m not overlooking Downton Abbey either because my mom and I can totally join in on the whole fandom thing too. Of course, we will visit all the must-see sights like Buckingham Palace’s changing of the guards, the Tower of London and the crown jewels, and the London Eye, but I want the littles to spend time in the wonderful museums and gardens as well. There are some fabulous day trips we can take out to Stonehenge, Cotswold, and Bath. And, you can take a boat ride up the Thames River to Greenwich and visit the Royal Observatory. For those of you that can't get enough of the royals, Windsor Castle is nearby also. A day trip to Paris on the train through the Chunnel is on our agenda as well!
There is so much to see and do in and around London. My biggest problem is going to be wanting to stay longer. The travel warnings are not keeping us home! So, stay tuned this summer for my multi-generational trip abroad to London, and maybe you will feel inspired to plan a trip with your loved ones this summer too. For those who prefer to travel within the US there are plenty of wonderful things to do and see here from National Parks to beaches, or big city destinations. I would love the opportunity to partner with you to plan the perfect trip for your family. Contact me for additional information on how I can assist you in making your summer vacation a memorable one. Because life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
Just when you thought you knew it all
Whether it's your first cruise, or you've earned the coveted frequent cruiser elite status, these are some of my best tips to make the most of your cruise vacation experience.
With summer not too far away, and cruise season about to be in full swing, I thought I would share with you some of my best insider cruising tips for those of you that will be (or hope to be) riding the waves over the next few months. Summer is a popular time to cruise, but these tips are applicable to cruising in almost any season.
One of the best tips I can offer cruisers, or vacationers in general, is to pack based around a color scheme using neutral clothing pieces that you can change the look of with accessories such as scarves and statement jewelry. Sometimes referred to as a clothing capsule, it is the most efficient way to look fabulous on your trip while being able to travel light.
For cruisers, one of my top tips is to always carry on a small tote or large purse (or a backpack for you gentlemen) that you keep with you and don't hand over to the luggage porters at the dock. Your luggage is delivered later to your stateroom, but it can be hours before you receive it. Start your vacation the moment you step on board the ship by having a swimsuit, cover-up, sunscreen, and flip flops with you. You can change in your cabin immediately and hit the pool deck to order a round of margaritas right away while everyone else is milling around waiting for their suitcase or crowding the buffet.
Ah the buffet. It's the stuff dreams, and nightmares, are made of. EVERYONE makes a B-line for the buffet as soon as they step onto the ship. It's usually around lunchtime, and no one has their suitcases (read swimsuits) yet. Except for you, of course, because your amazing travel agent tipped you off. But, did you know that the dining room is open for lunch on embarkation day? Well it is! You can sit down and have a very nice, quiet, meal that is brought to you by a friendly wait staff while you relax and take it easy. If that doesn't beat the hoards of people elbowing their way through the line and hawking a table, I don't know what does!
Other things to pack? Here are a few items I don't leave home without:
Stop dreaming. Start going.
What makes me a professional?
In my industry, it is very important to have extensive knowledge of the destinations where I send my clients. Every time I select a hotel, offer a restaurant suggestion, or hire a local tour guide, my reputation is on the line. Yes, my job is very rewarding and I love what I do, but I also take very seriously my commitment to curating the qualities of a vacation and experiences in a destination for my clients that I, myself, would appreciate.
So how do I do that? How do I differ from a web search you can do on your own? I do this in a variety of ways. I have an amazing network of fellow travel professionals I call friends who can offer tips and advice on destinations they know extensively. These are not the Trip Advisor (often paid) reviews you have access to as a consumer. These are real-life travel professionals I personally know and trust with first-hand knowledge of an area, and who have done their homework and have high standards and expectations across the board. They have done hotel site inspections, tried the local hot spots and cuisine, and offer a true professional’s feedback.
The other way (and my favorite) is to go and experience the destination myself! I am happy and humbled to announce that I have been selected to attend the prestigious Rendez-vouz en France 2017 by Atout France – The France Tourism Development Agency. This two-day conference for tour operators and travel professionals from across the globe is an incredible opportunity to personally meet potential partners in my industry whose services I would like to retain for my clients. Coupled with a pre-conference multi-day tour of the Bordeaux and Biarritz regions, I will explore all these areas offer. This itinerary will take me to the New - Aquitaine region, in the Southwest of France.
Bordeaux is an elegant 18th century city on the Garonne river, with a British influence, classified by the UNESCO and widely known for its eponymous wines, Medoc, Saint Emilion, Sauternes, and Graves. Bordeaux was elected world’s best city to travel in 2017 by the Lonely Planet!
On the other hand, Biarritz is a glamorous and aristocratic seaside resort with 19th century palaces and casinos. Nowadays, it’s known as an international surf destination, and its location in the French Basque Country brings a strong Spanish influence to the surrounding communities.
I’d love for you to follow my travels on Facebook and Instagram as I tour France this month and bring you the latest and greatest from the New - Aquitaine region. This opportunity gives me the first hand experiential knowledge to set myself apart as an expert as I partner with you to create the perfect French destination vacation. I’d love to hear from you and share my expertise in helping you customize a one of a kind personalized itinerary in the destination of your choice. Life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
Words of wisdom from a nine year old:
At the end of the week we gathered once more with our cohort groups on board to debrief and share our experiences. As part of the exercise we were to write notes of encouragement that would be given to the next set of passengers going to the Dominican Republic for impact work. The above quote is what my youngest munchkin wrote (sorry for the spelling - she is only nine).
As I sat down to write my review of our family's trip for you, I was prepared to tell you about and share pictures of the ship, the meals (I'm a foodie with an addiction, what can I say), the amazing organic wine list on board (let's not call this one an addiction OK? Humor me), and all of the other things that wowed me about this trip. I even had half of it written before we left the ship. Then, the one sentence note above was written by my daughter, and now this article is going to look much different from what I had originally planned.
You see, it was still a vacation, after all. It wasn't all work and no play. However, when I thought about WHY we decided on this trip being the perfect one for our kids, it drove home the fact that it had, indeed, served its purpose. Our purpose was to go. Our purpose was to serve. Our purpose was to give and grow and be stretched. To learn about other cultures, their real struggles, and how we could come alongside them and not sympathize, but empathize with them and help, in our own small way, to improve their quality of life and show them love.
We selected three of the many impact activities. It was hard to narrow down, but in the end we selected the concrete floors, the Chocal chocolate factory because, well, CHOCOLATE, and Repapel, a paper making cottage industry for women artisans to be gainfully employed in their own neighborhood and be able to provide for their families.
There were many others to choose from. Some of the other offerings are reforestation, working with both adults and children on their English speaking skills, making water filters that supply fresh drinking water for up to 8 people per day, kid sports and and arts day camps, and helping to control beach erosion. All good and worthy causes, but we were only in port for a few days. However, my children have all begged me to to go back at least once more this spring. They couldn't get enough. I guess there is more to a vacation than zip lines, kid clubs, beach days, and general self indulgence, and I'm beyond happy that my children took it to heart and grew as individuals from this experience.
You see, there is one thing about the people from the Dominican Republic that struck all of us. They are full of love, peace, joy, acceptance, and happiness. It doesn't matter how much or how little they have. They share an amazing sense of community and family, and care for one another in ways that are foreign to our Western way of thinking. The day our group poured concrete floors for a family's home, not only they, but neighbors, friends and family members came to spend the day helping. There was nothing in it for them. It wasn't their house or their duty to help or serve this family. But, the sense of community and family drove them to give. What an amazing thing to see modeled. The big takeaway for my kids was their willingness to share, and their ability to be joyful, truly joyful, completely apart from their current life or monetary circumstances.
Over the course of our time there, here is the impact our group made in the community:
1,978 seedlings planted in the nurseries
1,150 seedlings planted from the nursery into the Dominican soil
179 pounds of cocoa nibs sorted and cleaned
5,128 cacao products packaged and prepared for sale
1,185 sheets of paper produced
7 homes now have concrete flooring
23 people live in safer homes with an improved quality of life
67 water filters produced
335 will consume clean, safe water
17 visits by 44 travelers provided direct interaction and English instruction
In spite of these great accomplishments by the Fathom travelers the week we were there, I was very sad to learn that Fathom is being pulled from the market and will only continue to sail through the end of May. Apparently, it isn't profitable enough. It was given only a year to prove itself as a viable segment in the marketplace. However, until the end of May you can still experience this wonderful vacation option. And, Fathom will continue to host impact activities as excursion for travelers from other cruise ship lines in the Amber Cove Port of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. My children are begging to go back at least once more before it is shut down. But don't worry, even though this option will soon be going away, there are plenty of other voluntourism opportunities in the marketplace. You really can make an impact with your travel.
Impact travel does change lives, and often, it's yours. Life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.
There won't be much under our tree this year...
Oh sure, there will be a few modest gifts and some stocking stuffers for the kids, but this year will be unconventional, to put it mildly.
It’s almost Christmas.
Time for decking the halls, caroling, parties, and PRESENTS! When you have children, oftentimes it seems more and more difficult to keep the focus of the holiday on what it truly represents, and not the acquisition of more material goods for their greedy little hearts. You know what I’m talking about. The mounds of plastic toys and latest and greatest electronic that they just MUST have. The overflowing stockings and all the “stuff,” has become more and more of a focus in our affluent American culture. Don’t get me wrong, I love my stuff too, but, somehow, I want to demonstrate to my children that it TRULY is better to give than to receive. So, my kids are getting an extra special surprise this year courtesy of their Travel Professional mom.
Instead of an exorbitant number of toys that they will leave broken and abandoned in a matter of days, my husband and I opted to gift them something that will last a lifetime. Memories. Because, honestly, in a few years they won’t remember what shiny gadget or little knickknacks they received for Christmas 2016. They won’t remember which friend or loved one even gave what to them, or what happened to it (mom secretly smuggles these items out of the house for donations when nobody is looking but shh, don’t tell). So, what will they remember? I hope they remember it as the year our family went away for a week just the five of us to spend some time together making some memories. So, you have probably guessed what we are getting them by now. A vacation of course! But not just any vacation. This is a vacation that is focused on others and giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves. I call it my double whammy Christmas gift.
Perhaps you have heard the term “voluntourism.” It’s a big buzz word in my industry right now. Basically, it takes a vacation and turns it into a service opportunity where you work alongside your fellow travelers and locals to give something back to the communities you are visiting. On January 1, 2017 the five of us will be boarding with the cruise line Fathom to go to the Dominican Republic for 8 days. This type of travel is sometimes referred to as impact travel as well.Impact travel is travel with a purpose. The purpose is to change lives - often yours. You work alongside the people whose country you are in and immerse yourself in their culture to create an enduring social impact. Fathom believes that the strongest catalyst for change is the person to person connection. They have a long-term systematic partnership with the countries they visit paired with the unique business model that allows for sustained impact and lasting development.
I can’t wait to share this experience with my family. I pray it really does bring the life long memories they will carry with them always. You know - “Remember that Christmas our crazy travel agent mom gave us vacation that we had to go do work on?” No, but seriously, I look forward to building these sweet memories of service with them.
But, you don’t have to wait for Christmas to see what other types of impact travel or voluntourism is out there. It’s a rapidly growing segment in the travel industry. And, it can be more than just for families and individuals. Companies are sending groups as a team building experience. Churches and other community organizations are sending groups to serve as well. Are you looking for a service project? Maybe your sorority or fraternity would want to go over spring break. The possibilities are endless, and everyone has something to contribute to help those in need around them all the while experiencing an amazing destination and immersing yourself in the culture and its people. To follow our impact travel experience follow me on Facebook. I will be posting reviews, videos, and pictures to share our voluntourism efforts and inspire more of you to consider doing the same. Contact me to learn more about impact and voluntourism travel and the many options available that can be customized specifically for you, your group, or your family.
I hope this holiday season brings you joy and happiness. May you make some wonderful memories with your friends and loved ones that will last a lifetime. Because remember, life is short.
Stop dreaming. Start going.