Monday, January 25, 2016

Making Your Destination Wedding Fun For Your Guests

Ah, are you dreaming about your ideal Destination Wedding?  Can you smell the fresh ocean breeze wafting through palm trees, you and your intended walking down a sand runway strewn with flower petals, barefoot?  Your guests enjoying tropical drinks and Jamaican music?  Everyone pouring love, love love to the bridal couple?

Well, as a Destination Wedding Specialist, let me pull back the covers and tell you this may be the end all on the day of your wedding, but getting to that point is not going to be lollipops and roses!
A Destination Wedding will be less stressful to the bride and groom - as long as you let a professional travel agent deal with booking and taking care of your guests - you do not want to take this on yourself!

From the day you send out "Save the Date" notes, there is going to be a lot of grumbling behind the scenes so if you are thin skinned, this may not be the dream wedding you envisioned.  Here are some things we can promise you will happen:

- Grandma or Aunt Bertha are going to complain about having to fly anywhere and the expense.
- People are not going to give you wedding gifts, thinking their attendance at such a cost is enough.
- Friends and Family are going to say "Yes, we'll be there!" and back out when they hear the cost.(Our experience is only 1/3 of guests who say they are going to go actually do).
- If you opt for somewhere out of the U.S. keep in mind that passports are involved and guests will put off getting them as long as possible and then come crying when they don't have them a week before the wedding.
- If you get a group rate for your guests to insure that you will have enough rooms or so you will get some freebies, like perhaps a free ceremony,  guests are going to shop the price and book on their own. That takes those bookings off the number you will be required to book to get anything extra and could hurt you if you book more rooms than you need in a contract.
- If you opt out of a group rate and contract, guests who book the last minute may not be able to stay at the resort with you. And none of them will get the same price for their trip, as it will be dependant on the current pricing on the day they book.
- Guests are going to want to stay somewhere cheaper and you may have to pay an additional fee to get them a guest pass to attend your wedding.

So how can you have your dream and try to make it fun for your guests?
- First, use a travel agent who is experienced in Destination Wedding. It usually doesn't cost you anything and they will deal with all the guest issues, freeing you up from having to handle complainers or problems.
- Keep in mind budget.  Most wedding guests won't stay a week - they stay three or four days to keep expenses as low as possible. Find a wedding resort, hotel or venue that will fit in your guests budget. If you want higher end - move to a higher end resort after the wedding for your honeymoon.
- Understand if there will be children attending the wedding, you are limited to family friendly resorts so Sandals is out, but Beaches is in.
- Arrive at least two to three days before your wedding to get last minute planning done so you can relax. Some islands require you to arrive earlier because they have residency rules as well.
- If budget permits, purchase an excursion for all your guests to do together when they book through your travel agent or group.  Not only does it make it a fun event for your guests, but it gives them a value add that they will not be able to get UNLESS they book their room through your group or with your travel agent.  It can be something as simple as a horse ride on the beach or a private catamaran cruise. 
- If it is in your budget, see if your resort can put together a private cocktail party for your guests for the night before the wedding.
- Start early. Resorts book up during popular times, such as winter vacation and summer. Get a contract and hold all the rooms you might need so your guests aren't shut out. 
- Put together welcome bags or baskets. Add a bottle of water, snacks for the room, sunscreen, sunglasses, flip flops - anything that can be used during their stay. g do (ask your travel agent) and guests that couldn't come to the wedding can watch it in real time on their computer and be with you for the day via video.

And for those guests at home who won't be able to attend, consider having a big party when you get home and invite them. It doesn't have to be a fancy, schmancy event - a backyard BBQ or a rental of a local VFW hall can work well to share your wedding with everyone.

You CAN have your dream but let a professional help you and take the burden of the hotel bookings off of you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hotel Review - Hyatt Regency Boston

If you are looking for a well priced hotel in downtown Boston that is convenient to the airport and cruise ship pier - this is the place.  Located on One Avenue de Lafayette, this hotel is in the Theatre District, less than 15 minutes from the airport,  10 minutes to the cruise ship and within walking distance of Faneuil Hall and  Boston Gardens. The hotel is connected to  Macy's with subway stops right there. You can't be in a more convenient location.

At check in, we were greeted warmly by the desk clerks and check in was quick and efficient. We received an upgrade to a junior suite which had a separate sitting area and large bathroom. And large IS large - more than enough space.

The room was catty corner so we had city views from a small window in our bedroom as well as a great view from the living room.  The wonderful Hyatt Grand bed made for very comfortable sleeping.

The room was very clean. The bedroom has two club chairs in it and a good sized dresser.  The living room had a couch that pulls out to a sleeper sofa and another chair and table. The bathroom had a host of amenities (and fine ones at that) from shampoo and conditioner to face and pillow mist, foot lotion, pulse point oil and much more.

There was free wi-fi and the hotel offers 24 hour room service.  We didn't use room service - in fact we didn't eat at the hotel at all. We were in the midst of so many great restaurants, we wanted to experience as much as possible.

The hotel has a seasonal terrace, heated indoor pool and gym.

The Freedom Trail, Boston Opera House, Boston Common, Newbury Street, and Boston Harbor are nearby. The hotel is conveniently connected to Macy’s and only a short stroll to nearby shopping districts like Copley Place, Newbury Street, the shops at the Prudential Center and Faneuil Hall. Hop on the “T”, which is connected to the hotel, to get anywhere in the city within minutes.

As far as pricing goes, the price of this hotel is just about the best value in Boston.  For all you get, this is very reasonably priced.

We will definitely come back and stay here when the weather is warmer.  It was cold and we didn't get to see as much as we could have had the weather been warmer.  We'll definitely be back!

Friday, November 27, 2015

I am Afraid to Travel - Can I Cancel My Trip?

The answer to this depends on on several factors but in 95% of cases, the answer is yes but you will probably lose money. How much money are you willing to lose canceling?

In the case of the recent Paris incident, airlines did not stop flying to Paris nor were they canceling flights or allowing changes.  Hotels were not closing down and waiving cancellation fees. So those who canceled lost their money.

  Have you purchased a travel insurance policy that offers Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) coverage?  If you have, check with your insurance company.  Since most insurance with CFAR coverage does not reimburse you 100% of your trip cost, you will likely have some type of monetary loss for this. You must purchase one of these policies either at the time of booking or within 14 - 21  days of making a deposit so if you haven't bought one of these policies and are already scheduled to travel, you are out of luck in most cases.  CFAR insurance cannot be sold to NY residents so if you live here, you can't purchase this anyway.

Some policies offer coverage if a terrorist incident occurs where you are traveling to within 30 days of the day you are traveling. Purchasing one of those policies when you are traveling and you will have some protection if an incident occurs within that time frame.

Any other travel insurance does not offer coverage for "fear". (It's considered an emotional issue and not covered). Some people have said they will get a doctors note saying that they cannot travel because they are afraid.  Even having a doctor write a note saying you are emotionally distressed doesn't result in a claim being honored as policies clearly state their rules about this.

So what if you cancel anyway?  If you purchased a non-refundable ticket, unless you have purchased a very restrictive fare, most airlines will offer a credit for your airfare that you can use up to one year from the date you originally
purchased your air tickets, less a cancellation fee (usually a few hundred dollars).

If you have booked a hotel that is not part of a package or pre-paid  and allows cancellations up to a few days before arrival, you can cancel with no penalties.  If you have booked your hotel room through an online travel agency such as Travelocity, Orbitz, or through your travel agent, they may have a per person cancellation fee. That is why it is usually best to book directly through a hotel site and not using an online agency, or making sure your travel agent doesn't have a cancellation fee.

If you have pre-paid for your hotel or booked a restrictive low rate that will charge you for the booked nights, you are out of luck as far as getting any money back.

If you've booked a cruise and are beyond final payment date, you will also lose all of the money you have paid for your trip.  If you haven't made final payment - you can usually cancel with no penalties, depending on the type of rate you booked. (Some cruise lines have non-refundable deposits, particularly river cruises and Carnival, which has a restrictive rate that has non refundable deposits).

In essence, you may have to decide how much money you are willing to lose by canceling. Call your airline, travel agent, hotel or cruise line and find out how much of a loss you may have before you do cancel. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Is It Safe To Travel At All?

With the unfortunate incident in France a few weeks ago, the bombing of a hotel in Mali, the terror alert in Belgium and the U.S. issuing a warning about travel, travelers are beginning to panic about traveling anywhere.

While this alert is meant more to ensure travelers are more aware of their surroundings and follow protocol to be as safe as possible, this isn't the first time that a travel alert has been issued by the U.S. In fact this is the 6th worldwide travel alert in the past four and a half years.

And there is a difference between a travel alert and a travel warning.  The U.S. has declared an alert.
From their website:

We issue a Travel Alert for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Alert might include an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. When these short-term events are over, we cancel the Travel Alert.

 A warning (which has not been issued)  is more ominous. From their website: 

We issue a Travel Warning when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. We want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all. Travel Warnings remain in place until the situation changes; some have been in effect for years.

If you read the entire alert, you will note that the full alert adds information:

U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.  Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.  Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country.  U.S. citizens should:
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.  Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
  • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
  • Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

You can read the full alert here

  The alert also does not reference U.S. travel but we should remain vigilant in the U.S. as well.  But remember - there are hundreds of countries that have not been targeted as a hotbed of terrorism. While that can change any time, only you can determine how fearful you might be of traveling now.

There are a few things to consider. One, the chances of being involved in a terrorist attack are very small. Statistically the U.S. cities we live in are more dangerous than the places we travel to overseas. The risk of dying from terrorism is one in 20 million.Your risk of being killed in a car crash or being struck by lightning are much higher than your chance of being involved in a terrorism incident. The single biggest cause of death when traveling overseas is a car accident!

However, when we hear stories like the recent news, we think of the irrational happening. Every time I swim in the ocean I still hear the Jaws theme in my head and am on the lookout for sharks. But the chance of a shark attack are very small.  Every time I fly, I visualize the plane losing power and falling out of the sky. Living in New York, I have a better chance of being pick pocketed in Times Square on my frequent trips into NYC than I do of dying at the hands of a terrorist in Istanbul, of my plane crashing or of a shark enjoying me as a meal.  

Before deciding to cancel a trip you are already booked on, or before deciding you won't travel, take these things into consideration.

If you are already booked on a trip, unless you have a cancel for any reason (CFAR) travel insurance policy, if you cancel your reservation you will face monetary loss.  You can lose all you have paid thus far for your trip.  If you cancel your airline tickets and you purchased non-refundable tickets, you won't be able to obtain a refund for your tickets. Depending on the type of ticket purchase, most airlines will allow you to cancel and give you a credit to use within one year of the DAY YOU BOOKED your tickets (not the travel date), less a cancellation fee (which can run several hundred dollars). 

If you have a hotel reservation, depending on whether you booked it with a travel supplier or directly with the hotel, you may be able to cancel with no fees. If you booked your hotel as part of a package with a supplier such as GoGo or Apple Vacations, the supplier may have a cancellation fee you would have to pay. Or the hotel, if you pre-paid, might also have a cancellation fee. 

Any other travel insurance policies other than CFAR do not have coverage for "fear of traveling" due to the current alerts. Most specifically state they do not offer coverage for this. Some policies allow you to cancel if a terrorist event occurs within 30 days to the place you are traveling to.  

We'd love to hear your comments on how you are handling the current advisories. Will you travel or won't you? Please post your comments on our blog!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hotel Review - Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

We recently enjoyed a long weekend in Washington D.C. and booked the Grand Hyatt as our home away from home. The hotel is ideally located at 1000 H St. NW on the corner of 10th St. and walkable to most attractions in Washington D.C. This hotel has 897 guest rooms and suites.

Check in was quick and we had a corner room on the 10th floor that had a view of the interior of the hotel. We liked the room as it was a little larger than a regular room and loved the placement of the bed.

The room was a very good size and in good condition, it appeared to be fairly recently renovated. The bathroom, though a good size, was renovated except for replacing the bathtub, which showed wear and tear.

The room had plenty of storage between the drawers and closet, a refrigerator that thankfully wasn't loaded with mini bar items, but just two bottles of water for purchase at $3.50. There was also a one cup coffee maker.We went to a nearby pharmacy and bought bottled water and snacks for the room.

There is a Starbucks on site for coffee and quick meals. Cabinet, the onsite restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch on the weekends but is expensive with the average breakfast item costing $17. There are several restaurants on 10th Street that had great breakfasts (and lunch and dinners!). Room service is available with a very similar menu as that found at Cabinet.  The other restaurant open for lunch and dinner, Cure, was a nice change of pace. It is a tapas restaurant serving small plates with a choice of 3 choices for $14, 4 for $17 and 5 for $20.  Three choices were enough but food was hit or miss.

The staff was very good from check in and out, to the concierge to the doormen and bellmen. Our room was very clean as well, no issues.

The location was excellent - far enough from the White House area where it was quiet but within walking distance of almost everything. (We did use a Hop on Hop Off Bus to get to the Lincoln Monument area and Arlington National Cemetery).

Right around the corner on 10th St was Ford's Theater and the House Lincoln Died In, and our favorite restaurant, Le Pain Quotidien. Madame Tussauds is on that street along with two Hop On Hop Off Bus Companies, Big Bus and Old Town Trolley. (Use Old Town Trolley, they seemed to have better hours than Big Bus). Many restaurants are close by and Chinatown is a 10 minute walk away.

Cab ride to and from Reagan Airport was less than $20. This is a great choice for your trip to Washington. We have stayed in Georgetown, in Crystal City and here and of all the locations, this is, while not the least expensive, was the best to get around.  The money  and time saved versus staying outside the district and using trains and cabs to get to the tourist sites was well worth spending a little more.  Splurge on your hotel, as just about everything else in Washington is free so your hotel and food will be your biggest expense.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hotel Review - Residence Inn Arlington Capital View

We just returned from a delightful stay at the Residence Inn Arlington Capital View hotel in Arlington, Virginia. From the first step into this hotel until I contacted them about a lost IPad charger, I couldn't have been happier with my experience here.

Located on the very outskirts of Crystal City 10 minutes from Reagan Airport, this hotel has 325 residence suites. Our studio room had a sofa bed that pulled out into a double and a king bed. There was a full size refrigerator and kitchenette with stove with two burners, microwave, sink, dishes and glasses - just about everything you can use for a great stay.

Our room had a view of the new Capital Wheel in the distance, train tracks, the bus depot and the airport. While I normally wouldn't consider this a great view, with a three year old who is fascinated with buses, plane and trains, this provided quite a bit of distraction for him for the short times we were in the hotel.

The hotel has a complimentary shuttle to Reagan airport and to the Crystal City metro station. (it is nearly a mile to walk to the train). They give you a website you can upload to your smart phone or Ipad to see where the shuttle is on the route so you have an idea of when you'll be picked up.

A wonderful free breakfast buffet is provided. They have hot and cold food - scrambled eggs, sausage or bacon, French Toast, cereal, yogurt and bagels and muffins.  I didn't notice anyone complaining about the lack of variety.  The staff were really on top of things too - when something emptied they were right there with more.  On Sunday morning, the buffet was mobbed and they opened a conference room off the market with more tables, which I have never seen done by a hotel with a buffet before.

Rooms were spotless and the employees were so friendly. Need to know which train station to transfer to for sightseeing in DC? They'll give you a map and tell you exactly how to get there. Need to know where the shuttle is? They'll help you.

The hotel shares a pool with the Renaissance Hotel located next door. The pool is extremely small and the water was freezing - we had thought it would be heated. But the kids enjoyed it anyway. Towels were plentiful in the pool  room.(Located on the third floor of the hotel, I recommend requesting a room anywhere but on the third floor. it can be noisy with kids running through the halls to the pool).  The hotels also share a huge gym with plenty of machines for working out. I was very impressed that every machine had a towel on it for guests to use so they weren't spreading sweat from machine to machine.

The only drawback to this hotel is the location. It is quite out of the way, which makes for a quiet stay but not many restaurants to choose from for dinner.  We ended up going to the Renaissance's Socchi Italian restaurant for dinner, which was right next door. Luckily they had a kids menu and the prices were very reasonable. Otherwise, you'll have to walk at least 15 - 20 minutes to get near any other restaurants.

Parking was in an underground garage shared by the two hotels. Parking was $30 per day, a little bit high. There were parking spaces around an empty lot next door on the street which we might have been able to use but we preferred the hotel lot.

One note - I left my Ipad charger in my room. A call to the hotel, who put me through to their security department, and my charger was located.  I gave them a credit card to mail it back home with.  Thankfully our room attendant, Cecelia, turned it in.

If you are on a budget or traveling with kids to Washington DC and want a budget friendly hotel. I highly recommend this hotel. The train to downtown DC was about a half hour ride so it is easy to get around into Washington without having to use a car.

#washington DC
#family vacations

Thursday, August 27, 2015

There's A New River Cruise Line In Town

There's a "new" five star river cruise company in town that is blowing the socks off of Americans when they are cruising in Europe. Scenic Cruises, an Australian company, has been doing river cruises in Europe since 2008 and is an offshoot of it's parent company Scenic Tours, which began in business as a tour operator in 1986. While Scenic is well known in Europe, last year they began marketing to the U.S. to great kudo's.
Courtesy of Scenic Cruises

Scenic refers to their ships as "Space Ships" because their cabins on average are 24% bigger than traditional river cruise ships. Another big advantage of Scenic is that they offer butler service with every cabin!

Scenic is all inclusive - which means everything is included, such as transfers, dining, excursions, beer, wine, soda and water all day. Their ships feature unique "Sun Lounges" - which encloses the entire balcony at the touch of a button, meaning you can sit out on your balcony if it's raining and not have to worry about getting wet.   Suites on the Diamond and Sapphire decks feature private outdoor balconies, unlike the Romeo and Juliet balconies found on other lines.  

  With fresh, crisp Egyptian cotton linen and pillow menu - you'll feel ultra luxurious. Your suite or stateroom includes a flat- screen HDTV and Mac-mini infotainment system, plus complimentary mini-bar (restocked daily) and WiFi internet access. There is also a personal safe for valuables and a nightly turndown service.

The Panorama Lounge, with ceiling to floor windows providing excellent views and a large central bar area serving top shelf spirits day and night, as well as beer and wine. This lounge also hosts nightly entertainment and special performances. There is also a 24-hour coffee service along with the River CafĂ©, which is located in the lounge.

With a choice of up to six dining venues, Scenic offers a huge variety of culinary options.  World class cuisine  along with an extensive wine collection, is sure to please even the pickiest guest.  Open seating allows you to dine when you want. Scenic does not require a dress code, although country club casual is recommended.
Courtesy of Scenic Cruises


  • A personal butler for EVERY guest
  • Unlimited drinks all day and night*
  • All airport transfers
  • Free WiFi throughout the ship
  • In-suite mini-bar restocked daily
  • Nightly turndown service
  • The finest in Egyptian cotton linens
  • L’Occitane amenities
  • Private in-suite safe
  • 24-hour room service
  • In-suite Mac-mini infotainment system
  • Scenic Riverview (our onboard commentary guide)
  • ALL tipping and gratuities
* The Scenic Tsar does not include personal butler service or unlimited drinks. 
* Premium/Top Shelf liquors are included. Ultra-premium liquors and spirits, French champagnes, and vintage wines are available at an additional cost.

And for Shore Excursions, you have many choices.  From their website:
  • Scenic FreeChoice offers multiple coach, walking, and bicycling excursions at every port. Each excursion is designed for immersion into the local culture and history while providing the choice for independent discovery.
  • Scenic Enrich provides exclusive, memorable special events that are included at no extra charge. Most other cruise lines charge an extra fee for these exclusive events. Typically there are one to two offered per cruise.
  • Scenic Sundowners - new in 2015, Sundowners are our exclusive cocktail receptions hosted at some of Europe’s most majestic locations where your clients will toast to the day’s end in style.
  • Scenic Tailormade - each guest will be provided a GPS driven device which is preloaded with over 600 informational self-guided tours. The Tailormade can be used as a headset to hear the tour guides or as a GPS unit for travelers to use on their own to independently tour the local area walking or on a bike.
  • Electric assist bicycles enable travelers to venture beyond the normal coach or walking tour. Each cruise offers one or two guided bike tours and travelers can use them independently with or without the Scenic Tailormade. Our bicycles allow your clients to see Europe beyond the typical shore excursion, creating unique and wonderful memories.
So what's not to like? Let us compare Scenic to other river cruise lines for you and e'll show you the incredible value Scenic offers their clients. Call us -  516-608-0568