Last night at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Philip and Cathi were on hand at the Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards. We were guests of Karisma Hotels & Resorts and were delighted to see them win the honor of being named as the Best Boutique Hotel Company.
Winners were selected in 59 categories in the airline, car, hospitality, rail, GDS, agent education, tour, cruise, destination and theme park sectors. The first part of the process is that the readers of Travel Weekly magazine nominate companies in each category. After the nomination period, then the readers are asked to vote on the winner.
Here is a list of the winners in each category:
Best in Airlines
- Domestic: Delta Air Lines
- International: Virgin Atlantic
- Business/First Class: Emirates
Best in Car Rental
- Domestic: Hertz
- International: Hertz
Best in Hotel Chains
- Domestic: Marriott International
- Asia: InterContinental Hotels Group
- Caribbean: Sandals Resorts
- Europe: InterContinental Hotels Group
- Mexico: Dreams Resorts & Spas
- Hawaii/South Pacific: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
- Sales & Service: Marriott International
- All-Inclusive: Sandals Resorts
- Boutique: Karisma Hotels & Resorts
- Luxury: Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts
- Mid-Priced: Hampton Inn
- Upscale: Westin Hotels & Resorts
Best Las Vegas Hotel
- Bellagio Las Vegas
Best Resort Worldwide
- St. Regis Bora Bora
Best in Tour Operators
- Domestic Packaged: Gogo Worldwide Vacations
- Domestic Escorted: Tauck
- International: Globus
- Africa: Abercrombie & Kent
- Asia/Pacific: Globus
- Canada: Tauck
- Caribbean: Travel Impressions
- Europe: Trafalgar Tours
- Hawaii: Pleasant Holidays
- Mexico: Apple Vacations
- Luxury: Abercrombie & Kent
- Sales & Service: Travel Impressions
Best in Cruise Lines
- Domestic: Royal Caribbean International
- Alaska: Princess Cruises
- Caribbean: Royal Caribbean International
- Europe: Celebrity Cruises
- Luxury: The Yachts of Seabourn
- Premium: Celebrity Cruises
- River Cruising: Viking River Cruises
- Sales & Service: Royal Caribbean International
- Overall: Royal Caribbean International
Best in Cruise Ships
- Luxury: Queen Mary 2, Cunard Line
- Premium: Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Cruises
- River Cruising: S.S. Antoinette, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Rookie: Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Cruises
- Overall: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line
Best in Destinations
- Africa: South Africa
- Asia/Pacific: Australia
- Canada: Vancouver
- Caribbean: St. Lucia
- Central/South America: Costa Rica
- Europe: England
- Hawaii: Maui
- Mexico: Riviera Maya
- U.S. State: Hawaii
- U.S. City: Las Vegas
Best Travel Agent Program
- NCL University, Norwegian Cruise Line
Best Rail Vacation
- Rocky Mountaineer
Best Theme Park
- Walt Disney World
On a daily basis, I get calls from clients wanting to travel to Europe. The question usually isn’t where to go, or what to see. It’s “what package fits me?” Some people like fully guided tours. On fully guided tours you cover a lot of ground, but you have a very busy schedule and not much free time. Not everyone wants to be around the same group from start to finish, and not everyone wants to visit that many cities.
As I write this, the travel plans of many people have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. It’s a good reminder that when we leave our home, it’s important to be prepared.
How can a traveler be prepared for disruptions?
1. Have an advocate. Be sure you have someone in your corner who can help you and fight for you. The easiest solution to this is to find and use (consistently) a great travel agent.
2. Have Travel Insurance. Travel insurance can help smooth out the bumps along the road. Was your home destroyed by a hurricane? Covered. Did you misconnect on your way to the destination? Hotel expense: Covered. Did your flight get canceled and you have a non refundable prepaid hotel? Covered. There are a million great reasons to be covered by insurance.
3. Charge your electronics. (And carry chargers with you) Before you leave home, make sure your cell phone, your tablets, your computer, your wireless internet card and any other electronics you carry with you are completely charged up. If you need to communicate with your advocate or with home or with the hotel or the airline reservation department, the last thing you need is to lose the ability to use your phone.
4. Bring your contacts with you. Make sure you have the phone numbers you need. It isn’t hard now that you can store infinite contacts right in your phone. It isn’t like you need to be afraid to lose a piece of paper.
5. Prepare financially. Be sure you have more than one card with you in case one gets eaten by a rogue ATM machine, or in case the issuing bank goes off line and you can’t get an approval for a purchase. Also, cash is king. Be prepared with at least some cash.
6. Pack your carry on wisely. Certainly any medications that you must have should stay with you and not be checked. Also, you should consider carrying some basic vital toiletries so that if you get stranded with just your carry on, you have enough with you so that you won’t be miserable. Consider a snack too. I love to carry Larabars because they fill me up and don’t mess with my blood sugar. In fact, I have a travel blanket that has come in handy on more than one occasion.
7. Bring your best attitude. Keep in mind that the ticket agent in front of you isn’t responsible for the weather or the mechanical issue that is causing your disruption. Raising your voice with them isn’t going to solve anything. It won’t even make you feel better, and it certainly won’t make anyone else feel good either. Why not be that understanding person who is a breath of fresh air for the very people who are in the best position to give you that last room or that last seat?
How else can you be prepared for a travel disruption?
On November 1st, 2012, travel agents from all over the world gathered at El Dorado Royale for the 5th Annual GIVC Awards. Legacy Travel was honored to receive many awards. Here is a list:
Top 10 Producers El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels, by Karisma
Highest Category Sales (This award recognizes the agency who books more of the higher categories than any other.)
GI Wedding Consultant awards for Marty, Nicki and Terrah.
Top 10 Wedding Producers El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels, by Karisma (We have two of the Top 10 Wedding Producers for El Dorado.)
Top 10 Wedding Producers Azul Hotels, by Karisma
We also have three Four Diamond level awards.
Finally, we received the 2012 Hall of Fame Award.
From the program that night, here is a description of the Hall of Fame Award:
The Hall of Fame Award is given to the agency who has made a significant difference to the El Dorado Spa Resorts and Hotels and Azul Hotels organization by the actions taken throughout the year that resulted in an overall increase in business. The award is given on behalf of all the employees of our hotels with great pride.
The reason we put so many people at El Dorado Resorts and Azul Hotels is that we know when we send guests, they will be well taken care of and will have a great time.
Thank you, Karisma, for being amazing partners and doing such a great job.
The Banks family just returned from a long awaited trip to Universal Florida. Here are some notes from the trip. I hope they will help you.
1) Loved Marriott’s Grande Vista. Plenty of room. Good price. Everything you need. Not far from anything.
We stayed at Marriott’s Grande Vista in a two bedroom villa. I would totally stay there again for any future trip to Orlando. It was close to anything we needed as well as the airport and the theme parks. The two bedroom villa was perfect for us. We had two full bathrooms and bedrooms. We have a full kitchen with a stackable washer/dryer. We had a dining room and a living room. There was even a kitchenette in the 2nd bedroom. Our family needs lots of room to spread out, and we certainly had it here.
2) Do the unlimited express.
I definitely recommend purchasing your park passes before arriving at whatever theme park you’re visiting. It will save you waiting in a line when you’re eager just to get started with the fun. At Universal, there is an option you can buy called “Unlimited Express”. I believe you can only get it directly from Universal. It almost doubled the price of the three day, two park passes that we purchased. It certainly gave me pause to spend so much extra money, but we tend toward spending money to buy a better experience, so I took a deep breath and hit ‘purchase’.
I am so glad I did. The kids were able to get right on the rides again and again. We walked past hundreds of people right into attractions and onto rides. It was great.
3) Do the preferred parking.
The regular parking is $15. Preferred parking is $20. At the end of the day, when you’re exhausted, you’ll beg to pay the extra $5 to have your car closer so that you can collapse into it and go back to the hotel.
4) If a theme park ever got truly good food, it would be unstoppable and could charge whatever they wanted.
I didn’t eat anything truly awful, but I also didn’t eat anything truly outstanding. Why is it okay for theme park food to be so mediocre? If a theme park really put an emphasis on food, I believe they could charge whatever they wanted.
5) How much would you pay for a locker with an outlet inside?
I became an expert on finding outlets where I would whip out my iPhone charger and get a few percentage points of charge while awaiting offspring to complete a ride. I am constantly on my phone (don’t judge). I would have loved to have been able to lock my phone up in a locker that had a power outlet inside for about an hour to get completely charged up. In the interest of full disclosure, there is one storefront in “Tune Lagoon” where you could pay $10 to charge your phone for an hour. We were on the way out of “Tune Lagoon” when we found this though, and never went back through.
6) AT&T needs to put a tower (or two) right at Universal.
My iPhone is AT&T. The data coverage was really, really bad. It took forever for Facebook or email to update. iMessages were almost unusable as a method to communicate with those with whom you are traveling. Seriously, it would be 30 minutes for a message to go through.
7) Going with older kids is way better than going with stroller aged kids.
I felt so sorry for parents with babies and preschoolers. Even young school aged kids were challenging. Younger kids don’t have the stamina to do a full day at a theme park. They also have to be watched so closely. My kids are 12 and 17. When each of them wanted to ride different rides at the end of the day, we were able to find a place to perch (near an outlet, of course) and each kid went their own way and rode that special ride over and over (thanks to the Express pass) until the appointed time to meet back up.
8) Wear a Scottevest.
You may have heard me talk about my magic vest before. I could wax poetic about all of the reasons I love traveling wearing my wonderful vest. I loved it even more in a theme park. It was so nice not to carry things over my shoulder. It was great not to have to think about if I was leaving something when moving from place to place. There are pockets for everything. It was wonderful.
Aren’t those cute little shampoo bottles that you find in hotel rooms cute? They’re also handy. You can use them for future trips because they’re very packable. You can also stock your own guest bathroom at home with them. Also, depending on the hotel, the toiletries themselves can be quite luscious and you just might want to continue using it at home.
Whatever your motivation, lots of those little bottles go home with hotel guests in their suitcases.
Is that okay? Is it okay to take home certain items from hotel rooms?
I recently posed that question on our Facebook page. The general consensus was that it is okay to take anything that isn’t reusable. Toiletries, for instance were generally mentioned as acceptable to take.
To make things interesting I also posed the same question to our hotelier partners. Every single one of them also said it was okay to take the branded toiletries.
Then there are also things that is it generally agreed that it is NOT okay to take. Towels, robes, pillows would all be included in the “hands off” list. Beach towels are commonly taken from resorts. I believe the people who take them know that they are stealing though, right?
So there are things that are clearly okay to take, and things that aren’t. Not everything, though, is as clear cut.
Take for instance a bottle of wine or champagne left for you in your room. Should you take that? What about the stuff in the (free if you’re at an all inclusive) mini bar?
Or what about what happened to me on a recent trip? The hotel was really going above and beyond for us. They had embroidered washcloths with our names on them. Clearly we were supposed to take those.
The last morning we were there I went running, then took a quick shower and put on the robe in the closet to go to a sky massage on the beach. When I got back to the room I threw the robe on the floor as I rushed around to get dressed and pack so we could leave.
I noticed my name on the floor. I assumed it was the embroidered washcloth so I went to pick it up. Turns out, they had also embroidered our names on the wonderful robes.
I was very puzzled. A robe is a big expensive thing. You just don’t take a robe from a hotel room. But, they had our names on them. So, I asked our butler what I was supposed to do. He assured me that I was to take them home, which is wear they are hanging today.
So, I would say the general rules are:
- It’s okay to take the toiletries.
- It’s okay to take things that are clearly given to you as a gift.
- Leave everything else there.
What are your thoughts?
In planning your vacation and making all of the decisions about where you’ll go, what you’ll do and where you’ll stay, it’s important to know what’s important to you. As odd as that may sound (who else would know what is important to you?), people make decisions all the time that aren’t congruent with what they really value on vacation.
For instance, are you a beach person or a pool person? Is a really nice room important to you or are you a “I’m just in the room when I’m asleep” person. How important is food to you? What about kids activities? If you have toddlers, does the resort your looking at have a program that doesn’t start until the child is four years old?
Pay special attention to past vacations and what you wish had been different.
Knowing yourself and what is important to you on vacation will save you money and give you more of what you like.
In case you hadn’t noticed, life isn’t perfect. Throw travel into the mix and you really have a potential for some interesting situations. Take for instance, today. I’m writing this post aboard an American Airlines Super 80 bound for Portland, Oregon. I am headed up to visit my nieces for the weekend. My flight was to have left at 9:30am this morning. By 12:30pm. two broken airplanes and two gate changes (one of which was a terminal change) later we were finally ready for take-off.
Things happen. Weather, mechanical delays, oversold flights, illness, resort renovations, and a million other things can happen along the way. If you fall apart at the first sign of a problem, your vacation is almost certain to be ruined.
Also, the crazy things that happen during your trip are the things that you’ll talk about 20 years from now. Just go with it.
This morning, our local CBS affiliate was out to interview me about the recent problem with pilots at American Airlines causing a rash of flight delays. This is the second media interview I’ve done this week. The last one was for a radio station in….ummmm..I don’t remember. Syracuse, New York I think.
We’re always happy to help out the media when they need clarification on a story about travel.
I’ll post a link to the story when the station posts it.
Tuesday night, Nicki and I were guests at both the Golden Apple Award luncheon as well as the Crystal Apple Award presentation. What are Golden and Crystal Apples you might ask? Well, I’m glad you did.
One of the many confusing parts of picking a resort for your vacation is that the rating systems are so inconsistent. One company rates a hotel as three stars (or whatever symbol they’re using) and another rates it a four (sometimes even a five!). What’s cool about the Apple Vacations rating system is that it is completely based on customer feedback.
If you see a rating on Apple, you know that it has been earned because hundreds of thousands of clients just like you have filled out client satisfaction surveys after their vacations and have revealed the good, the bad and the ugly. Crystal Apple Award winners truly represent the best of the best.
So, with no further adieu, the winners of the Crystal Apple awards for 2012:
Best Staff and Service, Mexico: Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun
Best Staff and Service, Caribbean: Iberostar Grand Bavaro
Best Staff and Service, Hawaii: The Royal Hawaiian
Best Staff and Service, Central America: Riu Guanacaste (This is a new category for 2011)
Best All Inclusive: Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro
Best Hotel Chain: Secrets Resorts
Best Destination: Riviera Nayarit
Congratulations to all of the winners.
El Dorado Generations is a new brand brought to you by the brilliant minds that created EL Dorado Seaside Suites, El Dorado Royale and El Dorado Maroma.
Now, these El Dorado Resorts are and always have been adults only. I love El Dorado resorts. For me, there are no other resorts on earth better than these.
Imagine my bliss when he owner decided that he would build a number of rooms right next to El Dorado Maroma where families could stay. The adults at this new family friendly place would have full privileges at El Dorado Maroma. Fantastic!
Imagine also how honored and excited I was when I learned that he decided to get the resort ready to open to the point that my family and I could check in during our family vacation and be the very first ones to check in and stay.
We did exactly that. We were the very first people to stay at the resort. We ate the first meal served in the restaurant. We cut the ribbon at the ribbon cutting. I feel like this is our resort, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Now we didn’t exactly have the full experience that guests will have once the resort is fully operational, but we know El Dorado Generations Maroma will not disappoint.
The children’s program will feature meaningful yet entertaining experiences for ages 4 – 12. The resort is right next door to one of the most popular activity marinas in the destination. Just steps away you can enjoy wave runners, ATVs, camel riding, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, speed boats and probably several other activities that I am not remembering. (Marina activities at an additional charge. The marina is a separate company, it just happens to be located next door.)
The rooms at Generations are HUGE! We had a two bedroom swim up suite and it was almost as big as our house. (We have a four bedroom house.) I found that I would forget about the kitchen / living room / dining room area because we had so much space (including another living area) in just our two bedrooms. There were no less than five TVs, each equipped not only with cable TV but also each had its own DVD player. We had three full bathrooms (not to mention four different showers including the outdoor shower).
The large dining room was the site of many matches of “Settlers of Catan” during our stay. I took this picture of one of them. The major difference between playing it at Generations and playing it at home is a) room service and b) champagne.
I understand that Generations will start accepting reservations late this month. Join me in being one of the first to experience it. Now there is no reason to accept second best just because you brought the kids.