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
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.
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.
I recently returned from a visit to Alaska. I lived there when I was younger and I loved it. On this trip I kept seeing things that I hadn’t thought about in years. There are so many unique things about living in Alaska, I decided to keep a list. I didn’t quite get pictures of all of them. So, here are things I had forgotten about living in the great state of Alaska. (In no particular order.)
The way an airplane comes in for a landing.
When you’re flying into Ted Stevens International Airport, you come in over water. The runway starts pretty close to the edge of the water. As you approach, you’re really close to landing before you see the welcome site of terra firma glide in under the airplane. If you’re not expecting it, it’s a little shocking.
Great Tap Water
I had forgotten how simply wonderful the tap water is in Anchorage.
In an Alaskan winter, you can’t generally wash your car because if you do, the locks will freeze. This means that from October until about April the grime just builds up on the cars.
Brightly Colored Houses
Most of the houses, in Anchorage at least, have wood siding. Because so much of the year is filled with white snow everywhere, the houses tend to be brightly colored.
Here in Texas, we have vents in the ceilings of our rooms that blow hot or cool air depending on the season. In Alaska (and maybe in some other cold areas too) the heat comes to each room via these baseboard heaters. Hot water runs through the pipes and it radiates into the rooms.
Newspaper Boxes Mounted on Mailboxes
As you can imagine, throwing a newspaper onto a snowy driveway or yard doesn’t make for very clear reading. Most homes have a separate plastic box mounted on the same pole as the mailbox. This is so that paper boy can put the paper right there and it will be protected from the elements.
The air is very very dry in Alaska. Homes have a large household humidifier. Many times each bedroom will have its own as well.
No Sales Tax
What a delight!
While we were in Cancun this past weekend, we had the opportunity to do the ATVs through the jungle at Paradise Maroma. They gave us the choice between the ATVs and speedboats. Nicki and Erin decided on the ATVs.
I think the tour lasted an hour and a half. There were paths through the jungle where we followed the leader through the whole thing. Of course, Nicki was a wild person and was fishtailing whenever possible. I was the last one in the group, which was fine by me because I didn’t want to feel pressure to go faster than I was going. Much of the time I couldn’t even see the group because I was so far behind. They stopped every so often though to let me catch up.
The whole time I was riding I could only keep thinking, “It’s high season, I have no time to heal…”
They do provide a helmet, so I guess my brains would have been fine. Here are some pictures from our adventure.
To do a good job at packing your toiletries and not end up on your trip longing for a forgotten item requires forethought and planning. Here are a few tips that will help.
1) Pick the right toiletry kit. Since this series of posts is about packing for a trip to France, one consideration is lack of counter space. European hotel rooms rarely have any at all, and our cabin on our river cruise will certainly not have much, if any. So, it is important to have a toiletry kit with a hook so that it will hang on the wall. You can hang it from a doorknob, the top of the mirror, a light fixture or maybe even a hook. Another great asset in a toiletry kit is lot of pockets or dividers so that you can keep everything in the right place rather than rummaging around a big open bag. The toiletry kit I picked for this trip is the REI Ultimate Shower Kit. I recently retired my Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Wallaby. I would have just replaced it with another Wallaby since it served me so well for so long, but I just wanted to try something new.
2) Small Containers. I hope it is already obvious that it isn’t good packing technique to carry around full size containers of most things. For this trip, I’m using GoToob Silicone Travel Bottles. They are great and squishy and even have suction cups so you can easily affix them to the wall in the bathroom or the shower.
Or, if you want to purchase small sizes of your favorite items and you can’t find them in that section at Target, take a look at http://www.3floz.com/ or http://www.minimus.biz/
3) Planning. I tend to do better if I pack well ahead of actually leaving for the trip. This gives me longer to remember things I’ve forgotten. It also gives me time to really evaluate each choice to see if I really need to bring it or not.
When it actually comes time to fill the toiletry kit I sit and actually imagine the process of showering and getting ready in the morning. As I come to each step in the process I pack the appropriate item. If it is an item that I will still need to use in the days leading up to departure, I put it on a “last minute packing items” list.
I also keep a “need to buy” list so that I can jot down things I still need to pick up (usually at Target).
Unless you’re packing a separate medication / first aid kit, you might also consider including those items in your toiletry kit. Think through some of the ailments that you commonly get either at home or while traveling and bring items to treat them.
Here is a list of the items currently in my toiletry kit:
Enough makeup to make me minimally presentable
Blister Band Aids
One dose of cold medicine (enough until I can find somewhere to buy it if I need it.)
Small Bottle of Advil
Small Bottle of Benedryl
What toiletry item can you not do without? Tell us in the comments.
What is a beach bed? Where can you find one? Why should you care?
Swim up rooms are becoming more and more popular, but just exactly what is a swim up room? What do you swim up to? At El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya, Mexico, Cathi shows the world exactly what a swim up room is and why it could be a part of your next vacation.
The Third Annual GIVC Awards Weekend was held this past weekend at the fantastic El Dorado Royale in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Philip, Cathi, Terrah and Marty were all thrilled to be in attendance.
GIVC stands for “Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultant”. From the website: “A GI Vacation Consultant is a travel professional who is well versed, educated and prepared to provide exceptional service offering a tailor made vacation experience according to their client’s needs and expectations at El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and Azul Hotels, by Karisma. A GI Vacation Consultant is a specialist in one or more of the following niche markets; destination weddings, honeymoons, adults only, romance, anniversaries, families and group travel.
A GI Vacation Consultant provides customers with confidence based on their first hand experience and knowledge after going through rigorous training and property site inspections at our hotels.”
Marty and Terrah are both GIVCs. This year they were both awarded four diamond status. Four diamond is the highest level possible. There were only a total of 18 four diamond awards given. Only one other company was awarded more than one four diamond award.
Another honor bestowed on Marty and Terrah was the designation of “Gourmet Inclusive Wedding Consultant”. Again, from the website: “The “GI Wedding Consultant” logo designates GI Vacation Consultants who are our most experienced and productive partners in Destination Weddings at our resorts. This select group of travel agents have undergone specialized educational experiences focused exclusively on providing clients with the best possible service when booking a Destination Wedding and have firsthand experience in booking destination weddings to our resorts.”
Additionally, Terrah was also recognized as a Top 10 Wedding producer at El Dorado Resorts as well as at Azul Hotels.
The biggest thrill of the night for me was when it was announced that Marty and Terrah had tied for the honor of “Best Storefront Agent”. This means that out of any travel agency that you could walk in to, anywhere in the country, ours does more El Dorado Resorts and Azul Hotels than anyone else.
I visit Cancun and the Riviera Maya alot. I’ve stayed at most of the resorts in the area. Here are my four favorites.
I love the El Dorado Royale. It is an elegant, adults only resort where the food is fabulous, the rooms are beautiful and the staff is perfect. There is a two person jacuzzi in every suite. I especially love the beds in the suites in the Casita section. It is seriously like sleeping on a cloud. The food is legendary. I think my two favorite restaurants, if I have to choose, are JoJos and the Fondue Restaurant.
The Royal is a beautiful adults only resort located right along Fifth Avenue in lively Playa del Carmen. To start with, the lobby is arranged with a multitude of sofa arrangements so that there is always somewhere to sit and visit. The rooms and beds are luxurious. The food is fantastic. My favorite restaurant is Maria Marie. A great asset to this resort is the location. Many guests in the Riviera Maya take a taxi and spend an evening in Playa del Carmen. When you stay at the Royal you can take a stroll among the shops and nightlife of Playa del Carmen any time you’d like.
Azul Beach Hotel:
The best family vacation we ever had took place at the Azul Beach Hotel. It is a small boutique style resort. At the time we stayed there, my son was 7 years old. Because the resort is so small we were able to give him a great deal of freedom. He was able to run and play freely. My daughter and I were able to go out on a hobie cat with a guide which we love to do.
As far as I’m concerned, this hotel is the crown jewel of resorts. At any moment, if I were presented with the opportunity to be transported to El Dorado Maroma, I would take it. To me, El Dorado Maroma is the perfect place to be. There are only 72 rooms. It is a very quiet resort. The resort is located on world famous Maroma Beach. There is always somewhere to relax. And the food…oh the food! Chef Efrain is magic. The food is truly amazing. The staff is beyond thoughtful. They work hard every single minute to make sure you have what you want and need.
Of course, the perfect resort for me might not be the perfect resort for you. It’s our job to listen to you and help figure that out.
What about you? What’s the favorite resort you’ve visited? Let’s talk in the comments.