Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A River Cruise To China

River cruising is the fastest growing travel trend and a river cruise in China can open a world of wonder for the adventurous traveler. Sailing on the Yangtze River is one of the best ways to see what China has to offer with it's rich history. Since most people will visit China once in their lifetime, the best way to see China is with a river cruise plus an add on of several days to see the Great Wall, Guilin, Shanghai and the Terracotta Warriors. Most river cruise lines offer itineraries of  11- 15 days that combine the amazing views from the Yangtze River with inland wonders mentioned above.

The optimal times for a river cruise in China are April - May and September to October. Weather is warm and mild and flights prices are relatively stable during these months. June - August will be hotter but pricing will be lower.

The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world. Most river cruise lines visit the Three Gorges, a 100-mile area  between Nanjin Pass in the east and White King City in the west. The Three Gorges Project, started in 1971 and finished in 2009 and was designed to alleviate annual flooding and to save lives.  It created the world’s largest reservoir, and raised the level of the Yangtze River by about 570ft. It also  submerged towns and villages. The dam supplies 15 per cent of China’s hydroelectricity power.

A sample itinerary would begin in Beijing, where you'll visit  Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China and a rickshaw tour. Then you'll move on to Xian, one of the most culturally rich cities in China. Tour the mausoleum where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago.You'll see thousands of life-sized Terra Cotta Warriors, archers and infantrymen that were buried with him.

You’ll then be taken to Chongqing where you’ll board your ship for  your trip down the Yangtze River. Visit Shibaozhai Temple, a 12-story pavilion built in 1650 along the Yangtze. Then it’s time to enter the Three Gorges.  This series of limestone ridges has towering cliffs on both sides of your boat.  There are amazing sites to see, such as the hanging coffins of the Ba people.  You’ll also pass through 5 locks in the evening.
On the following day, it’s time to disembark to view the Three Gorges Dam and learn about this marvel of engineering. At the end of your cruise, you’ll fly to Shanghai for several days of cruising before returning home.

Your China River Cruise will be an amazing trip that you’ll never forget. Call us to book or learn more


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Let Me Tell You About.....Oahu

When one thinks about flying to Hawaii, most people immediately think of Honolulu, which is located on the island of Oahu. Oahu is the island most visitors fly into as the first stop on a trip to Hawaii. If you are cruising on the only seven night cruise itinerary on Norwegian Cruise Line, you'll embark on your ship in Oahu.

Oahu is the third largest island in the Hawaiian Islands and has the largest population. If you are a surfer, the north shore of Oahu is the premier surfing destination where you'll find the wildest waves.  The urban city of Honolulu, with its skyscrapers and Waikiki Beach lies next to the Diamond Head Crater (great spot for hiking).

Flights arrive at Honolulu International Airport (HNL), Hawaii’s major airport located about 20 minutes from Waikiki. All major domestic carriers and many international carriers serve Oahu. You’ll find the majority of hotels and resorts in Waikiki, but there are also three other resort areas - the North Shore, the Leeward Coast and the Kahala area, east of Honolulu. Did you know Oahu hosts  Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa, possibly the most beautiful family resort anywhere?

There is something for everyone on Oahu.  There are many natural wonders like Diamond Head and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Learn to surf in Waikiki and then take in a luau. Learn about the ancient history of Oahu at the Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha Statue and the Kawaiahao Church, all within walking distance of each other. Try the regional Hawaiian cuisine and take in the nightlife – you won’t find the caliber of nightlife on any other island as there is in Oahu.

A trip to Oahu is not complete without taking at least half a day to visit Pearl Harbor.  Visit the USS Arizona Memorial, where the remains of 1,177 servicemen still lie underwater after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  You'll also have the opportunity to visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, where Gen.  Macarthur accepted the Japanese surrender that ended WWII.  You can also visit the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Oklahoma Memorial. 

Use Oahu as your gateway to the other popular islands, such as Maui, Kauai and the big island of Hawaii. Most are a short plane ride away (20 – 40 minutes) and many people stay a few days on each island so they have the full Hawaiian experience.
Many cruise lines offer cruises here from the West Coast of the United States.  Most are at least 10 – 14 days and have several sea days each way. NCL is the only cruise line that has a 7 night cruise that disembarks from Oahu and goes to Kauai, the big island and Maui before returning back to Honolulu.

Call us to book your dream vacation and excursions to Oahu! 516-608-0568.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Do Solo Travelers Pay As Much As Two in a Hotel or Cruise Ship?

When you look at advertising that shows prices of a vacation, you usually see a notation "per person, double occupancy". That means the price is based on two people in a room or cabin. If you are a single traveler, you will usually pay the same price as if there was another person traveling with you.  Did you ever wonder why?

Hotel rooms and most cruise cabins are equipped for two people, in either a queen or king bed or two doubles so that two people are comfortable in that room. On a cruise ship, the beds are either twins or pushed together to make a large bed for two. If you travel solo, you still have access to a room for two people (and much more space for yourself)  and you will usually have to pay the same rate as if you were traveling with a companion.  Business travelers deal with this all the time - they pay the same price for their room as if two people were in the room.

Some cruise lines do not charge the full two person rate for a cabin - some may charge only 50% or 75% more versus 100% more if they are offering a sale. One cruise line, Norwegian, has several ships that have cabins made especially for solo travelers that do not charge for two people called Studio cabins. These cabins are much smaller than a normal cabin and specifically made for one person in the cabin. On the ships with these Studio cabins, NCL also ensures that they give guests in those cabins the availability to meet up with others who are traveling alone for meals and tours.  They have a lounge specifically for the guests in the Studio Cabins as well as activities in the lounge that allow solo travelers to meet and interact with each other. These cabins are a hit with guests and other lines are looking at doing something similar.

With pricing for two people, this will allow a hotel or ship to charge additional fees for a third or fourth person in the room/cabin. The hotel/cruise line recoups extra money for the costs of providing service to more than two people, such as toiletries, towels, complimentary items, etc.

 On a cruise ship, the third and fourth person rates are typically lower than the first and second - but not all the time. If a ship is nearly sold out, I've seen instances of the third and fourth person charges higher than the first and second - to encourage you to book a second cabin rather than put that many people in one cabin. Cruise ships also have to deal with Coast Guard capacity limits and sometimes they stop selling triple and quad rooms to ensure they remain under capacity. 

On occasion, you may see a cruise line or tour operator state "single supplement waived" or their single supplement is not 100% of the usual price. Some river cruise lines have sales where they
waive the single supplement and some tour companies have a small single supplement add on. For instance, we have a group tour of Ireland traveling in April of 2015 and the single supplement charge is an additional  $275, instead of doubling the price for solo travelers.  If you are a solo traveler, ask your travel agent if there are any current specials.

There are also limits on the number of people you can put into a hotel room or cruise cabin.  Most rooms will only allow up to four people in one bedroom.  Again, fire and Coast Guard regulations limit the number of passengers in a hotel or ship for safety reasons.  If you have more than that number traveling together, you will often need to book two rooms or cabins unless there are suites available that can accommodate more people with an extra bedroom or pull out sofas.

While we are on the subject - don't try and book a room and put more people in it than are allowed. Housekeepers have to come in to the rooms to clean them and they know how to determine how many people are actually in a room.  If you get caught, you'll have to pay the full price for the room and you risk being asked to leave the hotel.

Your travel agent can be your most valuable resource when booking a vacation as a solo traveler - ask if they have any single traveler specials.  Call us to book - 516-608-0568.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hyatt Jumps Into the All Inclusive Market!

Hyatt Hotels has taken a giant leap into the all inclusive resort with their new Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva resorts in Mexico.  The Zilara brand are adults only (age 16 and up) all inclusive resorts and Hyatt Ziva resorts are made for families.

The first Hyatt Zilara resort is now open in Cancun Mexico in what was formerly the beautiful Royal Resort. Set on a gorgeous stretch of beach in the Cancun hotel zone, this all suite hotel offers cold towels and champagne upon arrival. There is butler service at the pool and beach and in suite double jacuzzi's. You'll have use of 15 restaurants, bars and lounges, a spa, fitness center with Pilates instruction and more. There are poolside and beachside bali beds and two large whirpools.

The first Hyatt Ziva family resort opened in Los Cabos just minutes from downtown San Jose del Cabo and the airport. Here you'll find six a-la carte restaurants, two gourmet buffet restaurants, a Martini Bar, spa, seven pools, yoga, a childrens program and nighly entertainment on property.

Soon to be open - Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta, Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara in Rose Hall Jamaica (late 2014) and Hyatt Ziva Cancun in 2015.

There are great booking incentives for these new resorts.  Call us at 516-608-0568 to find out the latest and let us book your all inclusive vacation for you!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Star Clippers - An Authentic Tall Ship Sailing Experience

Have you ever watched Pirates of the Caribbean and thought it would be interesting to sail on a tall ship with those beautiful masts pulling you through the warm, blue Caribbean water - without having to walk the plank? You CAN experience this type of sailing with Star Clippers. Star Clippers operates three of the world's largest and tallest sailing vessels.

Picture yourself on ships that only hold 170 or 227 guests who will be pampered with the amenities you'd receive on a private yacht. You'll feel like a millionaire with international cuisine and fine wines in a relaxed setting. Visit ports of call that are off the beaten path that huge cruise ships can't get to.

 Help hoist the sails and climb the mast for a stunning view of the horizon. Enjoy free water sports such as water skiing, paddle boarding, wind surfing, kayaking, sailboating, and snorkeling. All cabins are air conditioned and have closed circuit t.v., DVD, radio, hair dryer, phones, safes, closets and under bed storage. There are bars, a dining room, salt water pools and a library. On the Royal Clipper there is also a Gallery, Observation lounge and spa.

What you won't get is thousands of cruise guests on the same ship, Broadway shows and extravaganzas, formal dining or requirements to dress up, and typical cruise ship entertainment. You will be free to do whatever you want whenever you want. You'll meet local entertainers that give passengers a taste of the local music and arts. Learn knot tying and join navigation classes.

Some of the destinations that Star Clippers sail to are Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, Croatia and the  Dalmation Coast, the Balearic Islands, Slovenia, Corsica and Sardinia, the French Riviera, Spain, Iberia and the North Shores of Africa, Greece and Turkey. How about a Transatlantic from Barbados to Rome or Malaga, or St. Maarten to Malaga or Lisbon?

There are also Caribbean sailings. Star Clippers goes to the Panama Canal, Barbados, St. Maarten, Grand Cayman, Balboa, Columbia. Enjoy exotic ports in Venezuela, Curacao and Aruba, St. Barts and more.

Aren't you ready to sail a more exotic cruise? Need more information? Call us at 516-608-0568 to book or for more information.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Disney's New My Magic+ at Disney World - What You Need To Know

Disney's new My Magic+ program at Disney World in Florida was created for guests to have a truly personalized dream vacation at Walt Disney World resort.  With this new program, you'll use the My Disney Experience website to reserve and choose select  attractions and shows with Disney's FastPass service, make dining reservations and more. You'll find maps and videos and itinerary tools all in one place once your trip is booked by using the StartYourDisneyExperience.com website. In addition, there is a My Disney Experience mobile app that you can update your plans, either at home or while you are at the park. 

Besides  having access to DisneyWorld an extra hour each day, Disney's FastPass Service has always been a great perk for those staying on property and the new FastPass + Service allows you to reserve access to select attractions, pick fireworks and parade viewing areas, schedule Disney Character Meet & Greet - but book early to ensure you'll get access. You can start booking 60 days before you arrive if you are staying on property, 30 days before if you are not staying on property.  You are permitted 3 FastPass passes per person per day at the same park. After you have used all yours up for the day, you can go into the application and apply for more. If you do't have a smart phone with the app. downloaded, don't despair - there are Cast Members throughout the park that can help you on Ipads. How is THAT for personal service?  And you can make your reservations 60 days before you arrive if you are staying on property, 30 days before if you are not staying on property.

New Magic Bands are available to guests staying at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels. These are used to enter your resort room, enter the parks, acess FastPass selections and buy food and merchandise. These can be customized on the My Disney Experience site to allow each family member to choose what color band they want. (Guests not staying on property will get a card to use for the rides and attractions).  As long as you order your Magic Bands early, they come personalized with your name so you know who's band belongs to whom.  Don't want your kids to be able to charge anything with their Magic Band? You can add a PIN number to your account to prevent them from doing so. 

Traveling with a group? You can add your friends to your Disney Experience so you can see what reservations they have too. 

Now Disney has thought of everything to make your DisneyWorld vacation a truly magical experience and customized to be just the vacation  YOU want!

Check out the latest Disney offerings here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Resort Review - Sandals Grande Riviera - Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Every Sandals Resort is truly it's own property with it's own flavor and there can be huge differences from resort to resort. Sandals Grande Riviera definitely beats to it's own drum. This resort consists of two sides - the All Butler Riviera villa side, which is not on the beach but across the road in a very hilly area of Ocho Rios. On this side of the resort are villas with butler service and some entry level rooms in the great house.

Across the street  on the Ochi beach side you'll able to dip your toes into the ocean with more restaurants and many more activities. Some of the rooms on this side offer concierge service. While I say "across the street", it isn't a short walk from one side to the other, you must take a shuttle bus.  The bus leaves from the Great House and makes two stops at the Ochi side.

We stayed on the Riviera side and had butler service. We were very excited because we know the butlers are trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers. What we discovered is that the extent of how far a butler will go for you can range greatly. We were part of a large group staying here and each villa had it's own set of butlers. Unfortunately, people began talking about what their butlers did and didn't do and there were vastly different experiences within our group.

Upon arrival, we were whisked to meet our butler, Damian, who put us in our golf cart and escorted us to our room in building 8. Damian brought us to our room and completed our check in at the room, a nice touch. He insisted on telling us the room we had was a suite, but it was actually a poolside villa room. Suites have a sitting area, our room did not.  Damian showed us where things were quickly, asked if we needed anything. Since we didn't quite know where we were on property, we told him we needed to be picked up at 6:15 and taken to the main house for a meeting we had that evening.We were given a cell phone to use to contact our butler and told us he'd be back at 6:15 to pick us up. He did ask if we wanted him to unpack our clothes but we declined. We tipped him and he departed.

After he left, we unpacked. There was surprisingly little storage space in the room - only three drawers in the dresser for two people. We unpacked what we could fit in the drawers and had to put the rest in the closet.

The four poster beds at Sandals are just beautiful, but they are so high that they are difficult to get into - you sometimes have to take a running leap to get on the bed. The sides of their bathtubs are extremely high, so for someone with hip replacements it was very hard to get in and out of the tub.You can request a step from your butler but we once tripped over that getting out of bed in the middle of the night, so we didn't ask for it for safety reasons. We have found the same issue at every Sandals we have stayed at and heard people talking about this over and over. If you are mobility impaired you would have to really think about staying at any Sandals resort due to this. This resort is definitely not for those who are not fluidly mobile - the hills are so steep that you become winded walking to your room.

We did love the privacy of the villas. We were upstairs in the villa, sharing the floor with another room and on the first floor was a suite.  We had the exclusive use of the pool - none of the others in our villa ever used it.  There were some maintenance issues we noticed in the pool - the tiles were dirty, the handrail into the pool had quite a bit of rust on it, there were leaves all over the water and the poolside.  Having had a pool as a kid and being responsible for the cleaning of said pool, I notice things around a pool that normal people wouldn't.

At 6:10, we went downstairs to wait for Damian to pick us up to take us to our scheduled meeting. At 6:25, when we were still waiting, we called and Damian seemed to be surprised at our call. He told us he'd "send someone". We waited another five minutes and when no one arrived, we just started walking and following the carts where we found the main house for our meeting.

We had a special dinner with our group and then enjoyed a chocolate party outside the main house later that evening. Any type of chocolate dessert could be found here - including two people in bathing suits covered in chocolate. It was a lot of fun. (Yes they did having bathing suits on)

The next day, we decided it was easier to walk back and forth to the main house for the rest of our conference. We woke up and went to the Great House for breakfast at Sabrinas Marketplace. We found one cook who was making eggs, no one else was at the grills when we arrived shortly after opening.  I asked for eggs over easy and while the chef was delightful, I had eggs that were cooked in grease and just awful. The buffet was very limited compared to other Sandals Resorts.  We tried the place again for lunch and found the same thing - disappointing food, small variety at the buffet and lackluster service.

For the remainder of the day, we were in classes and during classes were hearing amazing things some of the other butlers were doing for our co-workers. One had a butler who provided them with a certain type of whiskey they liked, one had a butler who drew them a flower strewed bath. One had a butler who brought up a cooler with ice for them to keep beer in their room. Another woman I knew said "Gee, my butler didn't do anything like that - he checked me in and I never saw him again." I said to her "Tell me his name is Damian" and she exclaimed "Yes! That's his name". So there were two of us who had the same disappointments.

And then an embarrasing thing happened. In the middle of a class, my butler cell phone began ringing. I quickly turned it off after seeing it was Damian. Not two minutes later, everyone else's phones went off a well. When we had a lunch break and called back, it was Damian asking if there was anything he could do for us. I asked for two beach towels in our room as we wanted to try to get a quick swim in after classes were over. I told him we wouldn't be in the room for the rest of the day so we didn't need anything other than that.  He announced that our night butler would be Analisa as he was off at night.

We made dinner reservations for the Reef Terrace on the Ochi side that evening and returned to our room late in the afternoon to find one beach towel had been left on the bed instead of two. I used the butler phone again and got Analisa, who said she'd be up with a towel and there she was within five minutes. We told her our disappointment with Damian and she seemed genuinely surprised, telling us Damian had won awards for his fine service. I relayed the story of my co-worker who had the same issues.  Analisa apologized and re-iterated if we needed anything, please contact her.

That night we took the shuttle to the Beach side and got off to try and remember where we had seen the Reef Terrace the day before on a resort tour. As I am walking and trying to remember, who walks up to us but Analisa. I said I was surprised to see her and she said she came over to accompany us to the restaurant. Now THAT did surprise me and this is exactly the kind of service I expected from a butler. Luckily, she was on during the day for the rest of our stay and we were delighted with her.

Dinner at The Reef was outstanding. Overlooking the ocean, the Caribbean fare was fresh and wonderfully seasoned. The service was excellent. This is a truly romantic restaurant we highly recommend.

The beach here is beautiful. The majority of restaurants are on this side and even though we didn't eat at any others, our friends all said that the other restaurants were very good.The Bayside Restaurant, Soy, Neptunes, Kellys Dockside (which requires reservations and is hard to get into) and the Manor are located here.

On the Grande Riviera side, there is also a central pool area with cabanas that can be rented by the day. The pool is huge and the restaurants are located around the pool.  There is Dino's Pizzeria, Bella Napoli, China Doll and a few more.  Activities are held around this pool as well.

Remember, with Sandals, you will get many activities included that other resorts just do not offer. That is one of the best features of Sandals. There is unlimited scuba diving if you are a certified diver - if not, you can take a resort course and become resort certified to dive up to 30 feet at the resort (this costs extra). Sandals has some of the best dive boats in the business, too - Newton twin diesel dive boats. They also use top of the line scuba equipment. There are also stand up paddleboards, water skiing, wakeboards, water hammocks, kayaks, Hobie Cats, Windsurfing, aqua trikes, glass bottom boats and golf - all included in the price of your stay.

Our check out was a breeze - we simply turned in our keys and were off and away. Transportation to and from the resorts are always included. It is nearly a 90 minute drive from the Montego Bay airport to this resort. And we did have a beautiful bath drawn for us by Analisa with flowers decorating our room on our last night. She was just a wonderful butler!