Category Archives: Adult Group Travel

Tips From Master Mixologist On #1 Luxury Cruise Line

Originally published by Crystal Cruises.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT INCLUDED ON A LUXURY CRUISE!

EXPERIENCE THE ALL-NEW SANDALS MONTEGO BAY

Sandals Montego Bay Undergoes Complete Transformation to Elevate the Luxury Included® Vacation Experience ~

sandals-mbj1

Sandals Resorts is excited to unveil a renewed resort for the brand’s flagship property, Sandals Montego Bay.  With a number of upgrades, the resort company introduces a whole new level of luxury and innovation to guests of Sandals Montego Bay.  In the past year, the flagship property has transformed its resort experience with the completion of the Palms Building renovation, the introduction of Montego Bay’s Romeo & Juliet signature Love Nest Suites, a newly designed bar, and the soon-to-debut this week Beachfront Millionaire One –Bedroom Butler Villa Suites.

“We continue to invest in our product in order to exceed our guests’ expectations,” says Gordon “Butch” Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International. “The renovations at Sandals Montego Bay will offer guests our highest standard of luxury and unprecedented services, providing them with the best possible vacation experience.”

The complete renovation includes the following:

Beachfront Millionaire One-Bedroom Butler Villa Suite with Outdoor Tranquility Tub
Accepting guests this week, these extravagant Love Nest® Suites offer an exotic escape for two people in love. The expansive bedroom boasts a chic, reclaimed wood king-size bed with built-in reading lights, HD Smart TV and a hand-woven rug. A retractable glass wall opens onto the living area featuring an elegant sofa and second HD Smart TV. The expansive balcony features stunning views of the ocean from the comfort of a signature Tranquility Soaking Tub for two or outdoor bistro set. The spa-inspired bathroom boasts a circular soaking tub, walk-in rain shower, and a granite vanity with an oversized backlit mirror and trough-style sink. This romantic enclave also includes a fully-stocked wet bar, spacious walk-in closet, Butler Elite service and 24-hour room service.

sandals-mbj2New Beachfront Bar
Recently completed in July 2016, Sandals Montego Bay added a brand new ocean view bar so that guests staying at the Luxury Included® Resort can enjoy their cocktails alongside the Caribbean Sea and discover a new take on happy hour.

sandals-mbj3Beachfront Romeo & Juliet One-Bedroom Butler Villa Suite w/ Outdoor Tranquility Tub
(RJ) These Love Nest Suites® were newly completed this February and are located directly on one of Jamaica’s best private beaches. A master bedroom features a king-size bed and HD smart TV. A separate living room boasts elegant furnishings, a fully stocked wet bar and a second smart TV. The lavish spa-style bathroom features a dual-control, walk-in overhead rain shower, a soaking tub for two, twin vessel sinks and large back-lit mirrors. Outside, an extra-large balcony or patio houses a Tranquility Soaking Tub for Two & a bistro set which provides the perfect spot for beachside relaxation or al fresco dining. Guests enjoy the attentive service of a personal butler and 24-hour room service.

sandals-mbj-4 Palms Building:

  •          Beachfront One-Bedroom Butler Suite w/Tranquility Soaking Tub (OWT)
  •          Beachfront Honeymoon Walkout One-Bedroom Butler Suite w/Tranquility Soaking Tub (OWT)
  •          Beachfront Honeymoon Walkout Club Level Junior Suite w/Tranquility Soaking Tub (WGBT/GBT)

sandals-mbj-mail-5

COMING SOON…
As Sandals continues to elevate its brand, the momentum continues for its flagship property with even more exciting upgrades planned to debut this December. From more signature suites, such as the Oceanfront Swim-up Butler Suites and brand new reception and lobby, to Water’s Edge Honeymoon Club Level Rooms, the Luxury Included® Resort will offer the following new additions:

Almond Building:
Oceanfront Swim-up Butler Suite w/ Patio Tranquility Soaking Tub (OSS)
These magnificent swim up suites are newly built and reside in the garden level of the Almonds building. Stunning oceanfront views are featured from the swim-up river pool as well as the private patio sandals-mbj6bequipped with a bistro set and Tranquility Soaking Tub for two. Elegant interior details include custom crafted furnishings, a king-sized bed, a large HD smart TV, cutout ceiling with recessed lighting, and a spacious open floor plan with aquatic accents. The spa style bathroom is outfitted with a dual-faucet, long vessel sink with a backlit mirror and features a walk in overhead rain shower. Guests staying in these vibrant suites will also enjoy the attentive service of a personal butler and 24-hour room service.

All-New Lobby:

sandals-mbj-7-bThe flagship resort will open its doors and welcome guests with a brand new lobby, completed with fresh and groundbreaking designs.

Water’s Edge Honeymoon Walkout Club Level Room w/ Patio Tranquility Soaking Tub (WOFT)

These newly renovated rooms are located on the ground floor of the Almonds building and feature stunning oceanfront views from a private patio equipped with a bistro set and Tranquility Soaking Tub sandals-mbj-9for two. Elegant interior details include custom crafted furnishings, a king-sized bed, a large HD smart TV, cutout ceiling with recessed lighting, and a spacious open floor plan with aquatic accents. The spa style bathroom is outfitted with a dual-faucet, long vessel sink with a backlit mirror and features a walk in overhead rain shower. As an exclusive Club Sandals room, a dedicated concierge is available to handle any special requests and reservations, such as spa appointments or dinner reservations. *Available for arrivals beginning December 17, 2016.

Chris Rakes; Sandals Certified Specialist and Destination Wedding, Honeymoon Expert
Chris Rakes; Sandals Certified Specialist and Destination Wedding, Honeymoon Expert

For more information on Sandals Resorts or to book a Luxury Included® Vacation at Sandals Montego Bay, please contact Chris Rakes, a Sandals Certified Specialist.  She will provide you with personal, accessible service and make expert recommendations based on your travel style, for the same price as booking direct! 919.589.2437 / chris@tet4u.com

 

A Luxury Cruise May Not Be Out of Reach

Luxury cruises offer intimate comfortable settings
Luxury cruises offer intimate comfortable settings

A luxury cruise may not be as far out of reach as you think.  I would never say that luxury cruises are cheap, but when you factor in all of the money you spend on drinks, dining, and other onboard expenses, luxury cruises offer excellent value and not as expensive as you think.

If you’ve ever shopped around for a cruise, you probably stumbled across a few luxury cruises at some point only to immediately change pages after you saw that the fares were as high as $500+ per night, compared to $100-$300 on more popular mass market cruise lines (ex. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian).

Obviously, you’re never going to sail on a luxury line for the price of an inside or oceanview cabin — I’m good at finding deals, but no one is that good. Still, when you compare the prices of similar accommodations (suites) on larger mainstream ships and add in all of the extra expenses premium and luxury lines include, you end up with a very surprising picture.

In the breakdown below, cruises from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Oceania, and Regent are compared. All sailings are roundtrips from Miami.  Note: Cruise fares can vary widely (even on the same line), but this sample is representative of the offerings from their respective lines. Onboard expenses are approximated based on the spending habits of a typical cruiser.

Caribbean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison
Caribbean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison

Luxury cruise cost comparison Caribbean * Air pricing is from JFK airport. ** Roundtrip taxi from MIA to the cruise port. *** Based on 1 excursion per port per day @ $150. Oceania includes 4 excursions. **** Based on $35/night for 6 nights. ***** Celebrity offers $150 onboard credit, which we applied to the offset specialty dining cost.

Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? For a comparable experience on Royal Caribbean, you’ll have to pay close to $50 more per night, and a whopping $400 more per night on Celebrity. While the base fares are somewhat comparable, the fact that premium and luxury lines include most (if not all) onboard expenses, airfare, and shore excursions makes them remarkably less expensive in the long run. Sure, some cruisers may be able to trim down the overall cost by purchasing cheaper shore excursions or not buying a WiFi or beverage package, but it’s not going to have a huge effect on the overall results.

To be thorough, a few Mediterranean cruises being offered by the same lines were also compared. All trips are sailings from Barcelona to Venice, except Royal Caribbean which is a roundtrip from Barcelona.

Mediterranean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison
Mediterranean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison

Luxury cruise cost comparison Caribbean * Air pricing is from JFK airport.  ** Based on 1 excursion per port per day @ $150. Oceania includes 4 excursions.  *** Based on $35/night for 6 nights.  **** Celebrity offers $150 onboard credit, which we applied to offset the specialty dining cost.

In this case, Regent is actually the cheapest line! With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that if you’re looking at the higher-end options for cabins, there’s a good chance it might be cheaper to sail on a luxury line.

Quality, service, unique experiences and a relaxing vacation
Quality, service, unique experiences and a relaxing vacation

To be fair, it’s worth noting that there is far more to do on your average mass market/mainstream ship (ex. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian). When you factor the sheer variety of dining options and onboard activities, plus extensive child care programs and Broadway-caliber entertainment, it makes sense that you might have to pay more for similar accommodations. But if you’re looking to sail in a suite (or even a balcony in concierge class), have impeccable service, visit smaller ports, eat excellent food in a comfortable intimate setting, and you don’t need flashy stage shows or 30 different specialty restaurants, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be considering luxury and premium cruises.

Chris Rakes, River & Ocean Cruise Expert
Chris Rakes, River & Ocean Cruise Expert

 

Looking to plan your next cruise?  Ask me about luxury cruising and it’s all inclusive features – 919.589.2437 / chrisrakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

How to Pick the Best Cruise?

Which is the right cruise for you?
Which is the right cruise for you?

Choosing the right cruise can be cumbersome.  Commercials draw many in but, some lines don’t advertise at all.  Each line and ship has its own personality. Much will depend on your travel style and interests.  Work with a travel planner to help you decipher which is best for you and your family.  It’s free, it’s personal and they can objectively help you choose the cruise for you. To give you some things to think about before you contact your personal Travel Pro, below is a comparison for some different options.

Azamara Club Cruises

All Inclusive Cruise
All Inclusive Cruise

Size: Small
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Cruises to locales in the Far East and South America feature lots of long 2- to 3-day stays so you get an in-depth look.
Food Highlights: No end-of-cruise surprises — fares include alcohol, as well as soft drinks and tips.  Considerations: Homogenous passenger profile means you’ll be cruising with an active but older crowd.

Carnival Cruise Line

8.14.16 3Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Party, couples, family
Activity Highlights: Some ships may quiet down before midnight, but nightlife on these vessels lasts into the morning. Drop-off kid programming starts at age 2 (most start at 3), allowing parents to take a night off.  Food Highlights: We love the 24-hour pizza and (on some ships) the Indian food in the buffet Lido deck restaurants and the new (complimentary) burgers by Food Network’s Guy Fieri.  Considerations: These ships are loud (décor-wise and in terms of volume) and lack learning opportunities.

Celebrity Cruises

8.14.16 4Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, family, learning
Activity Highlights: Edgy offerings include art tours using iPad devices, Apple stores, and outdoor lawns (covered with real grass) for picnics. Spas are both large and well-designed.
Food Highlights: Chic bars serve molecular gastronomy cocktails.Specialty restaurants include creative Qsine, which serves sushi pops and has menus on iPad devices. Considerations: Lots of things cost extra, from the spa’s Thalassotherapy pool and steam room to Lawn Club cabanas and some classes.

Costa Cruises  

8.14.16 5Size: Medium, large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: International passenger mix adds flavor to the cruise experience. Lively audience participation includes contests and costume parties, creating a fun atmosphere.
Food Highlights: A focus on Italian food the way real Italians like it: thin-crust pizza without excessive sauce and cheese, and pastas tossed in rich sauces.  Considerations: Announcements in multiple languages can get long and tedious.

Crystal Cruises

8.14.16 6Size: Medium
Cost: Moderate, expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning, family
Activity Highlights: Wraparound promenade deck for jogging and strolling, as well as tiered stern decks for quiet sunbathing and wake views, are rare features. Free classes range from languages to computer skills, and guest lectures fill sea days with celeb sightings and food for thought.
Food Highlights: Delicious food includes sushi in the Nobu Matsuhisa-helmed restaurant and homemade pastas in the Italian specialty spot. Wines, liquors, and soft drinks bundled with fares are convenient. Considerations: Service is great, food is impressive. If you have the money for these cruises, they’re a fabulous choice. (We’re still trying to come up with something negative to say…)

Cunard Line  

8.14.16 7Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, learning, family
Activity Highlights: Great lectures, the biggest libraries at sea, and impressive art and memorabilia collections make the ships as much of a learning opportunity as the destinations. The drop-off nursery for babies is a surprising perk on ships otherwise popular with older cruisers.Food Highlights: Afternoon tea includes scones with proper clotted cream. The grand 2-story main dining rooms are the most elegant grand restaurants at sea. Considerations: Nightlife can be a real yawner; no one seems to stay up past 10 pm.

Disney Cruise Line

8.14.16 8Size: Large
Cost: Moderate, expensive
Style: Family
Activity Highlights: Amazing kids facilities and large cabins make traveling with the whole brood a breeze; high-quality stage productions blow us away. Calling in Castaway Cay, the line’s private isle, is like visiting a resort for the day. Food Highlights: Rotating dining program lets you take your waiters with you; Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy win over adult foodies with upscale French restaurant, Remy. Considerations: High rollers may miss not having a casino onboard. On sold-out cruises, the packed pool deck is a mob scene, with kids elbow to elbow in the water.

Holland America Line 

8.14.16 9Size: Medium
Cost: Low, moderate
Style: Couples, family, learning
Activity Highlights: Extras include free movies in a real theater, impressive cooking classes, and the best combination Internet café/onboard library at sea. Food Highlights: Look for free canapés in bars before dinner. Poolside lunch buffets (mussels and crab legs!) are impressive at this price point. Considerations: Sleepy nightlife means you might be hanging with the staff after dinner, since other guests go to bed early.

MSC Cruises  

8.14.16 mscSize: Medium, large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Low fares are sometimes shockingly low ($399 per person per week?). Kids under age 11 always sail free in the same cabin with parents. Med cruises are offered year-round, so you can visit in the less crowded off-season.
Food Highlights: Dining options include an Italian venue with a slow-food ethos, where you can sample locally sourced and produced food. Considerations: The international passenger mix means there isn’t always the community feeling you get on other lines, since people speak different languages.

Norwegian Cruise Line 

8.14.16 10Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Edgy entertainment includes improvisational comedy and family-friendly Blue Man Group shows. Nickelodeon characters (think Dora and Sponge Bob) delight little ones, while everyone else has a go at water slides and the trampoline. Studio cabins wow singles. Food Highlights: Open-seating specialty dining options number 10+ on most ships and include a Brazilian steakhouse and Chinese noodle bar, and Ocean Blue gets rave reviews on Norwegian Breakaway. Considerations: Standard cabins are among the smallest at sea.

Oceania Cruises  

Food, wine & pampering
Food, wine & pampering

Size: Small, medium
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Standard outside and balcony cabins on the newest ships, Marina and Riviera, are super roomy. Design is elegant (picture boutique hotels rather than Las Vegas casinos). Cooking schools include plenty of do-it-yourself workstations. Food Highlights: Newer ships have a whopping 9 dining venues (unheard of for ships of their modest size). Seven are complimentary, and all have lots of tables for 2. Jacques Pepin’s restaurant is sure to impress. Soft drinks and water are included.
Considerations: Nightlife sometimes peters out before it even gets dark.

Princess Cruises

8.14.16 12Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, family
Activity Highlights: Outdoor spaces include wraparound promenade decks (perfect for jogging) and an adult-only sunbathing area. Food Highlights: You’ll find excellent buffet spreads at breakfast, lunch and dinner; pizza made from scratch is offered by the slice poolside and in pies in (complimentary) Alfredo’s restaurant. Considerations: The tiered balcony design on half the fleet means you can peek on your neighbors below — so much for privacy.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises  

All Inclusive luxury w/ first class air
All Inclusive luxury w/ first class air

Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning
Activity Highlights: All-inclusive fares set an industry standard, covering shore excursions, flights, airport transfers, and a free pre-cruise hotel night. Formal nights are optional, creating a more laid-back vibe. Even standard suites are large. Food Highlights: The 4 to 5 complimentary restaurants include a steakhouse and an Italian venue. All-inclusive alcohol includes a bar setup in your cabin. Considerations: Summer and holiday cruises can result in 100+ kids on small ships not built for them. The result during those times: packed pools.

Royal Caribbean International

8.14.16 14Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and zip lines keep kids and grown-ups busy, and the new Quantum of the Seas will offer skydiving and bumper cars as well as the line’s first nursery for babies. Broadway productions include “Chicago,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and “Hairspray.” Food Highlights: Johnny Rockets diner is well worth the $4.95 cover charge — for the food and the relatively intimate surroundings. Considerations: Cabins are tight, especially on the older ships; food in main dining rooms can be underwhelming.

Seabourn Cruise Line

All Inclusive Luxury
All Inclusive Luxury

Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning<
Activity Highlights: Optional formal nights mean you don’t have to wear a jacket and tie, and all-inclusive pricing means you don’t have to sign a check every time you have a drink. Food Highlights: Gourmet dining includes the impressive Restaurant 2, serving small plates over many courses. The fresh fruit smoothies and sherbet are refreshing and healthy.
Considerations: Passengers are wealthy, well traveled, and older.

SeaDream Yacht Club

8.14.16 16Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Adult toys range from mountain bikes to Wii consoles, keeping the vibe playful. The water sports platform offers easy access to kayaking, sailing, water scootering, and more. Pricing is all-inclusive, and service is over the top: 95 crew cater to 112 guests, an impressive ratio. Food Highlights: The Champagne and caviar beach parties are the elegant, adult version of a fun college party. Diverse menus in the 2 restaurants include Japanese, raw food, and pan-Asian dishes. Considerations: You won’t find one balcony, not even in penthouse suites.

Silversea Cruises

8.14.16 17Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning
Activity Highlights: Lots of 7-night cruise options around the world, plus Galapagos cruises offered year-round, give luxury seekers choices. Walk-in closets, marble-clad bathrooms with separate shower and tub, Belgian pillow chocolates, and Pratesi linens are included in the (all-inclusive) pricing.
Food Highlights: Impressive cuisine includes a pan-Asian restaurant and an art deco-style supper club serving small plate dishes on Silver Spirit. Considerations: Older clientele, which tends to retire to bed early. Although this is the line hosting the U.S. Olympic basketball team and Coach K in Rio!

Windstar Cruises  

Barefoot luxury & casual
Barefoot luxury & casual

Size: Small
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, offbeat
Activity Highlights: The wonderfully casual atmosphere includes sail-away sunset barbecues on deck, a no-jackets-required dress code, and a lively water sports platform.
Food Highlights: Soft drinks and bottled water are included in fares, so you won’t feel nickeled and dimed.
Considerations: These yacht-style cruises are best for outdoorsy and casual types; others may miss some of the formalities.

Travel Planner and Honeymoon & Group Specialist
Chris Rakes – Travel Planner and Cruise Expert

You can look at brochures and websites and still not know how to tell the cruise lines apart.  Plan with a personal, professional travel planner and cruise expert. 919.589.2437 / crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

Is the all-inclusive experience for you?

All-inclusive resorts are designed for relaxation. From the moment you step off the plane, everything is taken care of. Need a drink? You got it. Want to play a round of golf? The staff will arrange it. Just want to enjoy the beach or pool? They’ll guide to you to cozy cabanas complete with drink and snack service. While all-inclusives may sound like a dream vacation, consider the following before you book.

Palm Trees and Tropical Breezes
Palm Trees and Tropical Breezes

Pros

  • You’re busy, and you want to relax, but don’t have the time to spend shopping around for hotels, airfare, or activities. All-inclusive resorts take the stress out of planning a vacation. Book your trip, and the resort handles the rest.
  • Often your flights, airport transportation and activities are included with your booking – making your arrival and departure as stress-free as possible.
  • Since you’ve paid up front, you’re less likely to stray from your budget. You won’t need extra money for tips and other typical vacation expenses.
  • Forget about cooking, grocery shopping, or figuring out where to eat; all your meals and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are
    Refreshing poolside and beach-side drinks
    Refreshing poolside and beach-side drinks

    included in your booking fee. Resorts typically offer a few different dining spots for travelers as well.

  • All-inclusive vacations are great for groups and couples alike. With adult-only and family-friendly options, you can choose as much alone or together time with your companions as you desire. Plus, many family-friendly resorts  have special clubs to keep kids occupied.

Cons

  • When you book an all-inclusive, you’re committing to staying on a resort, which can be claustrophobic for some travelers. If you are the type of traveler who likes spontaneity and experiencing local flavor, skip the all-inclusive option and plot out your own path.
  • Check with the resort to make sure the offerings work for you.

    Resorts vary in size
    Resorts vary in size
  • All-inclusive activities are available, but are limited and first come, first served. You may end up spending more money on things you want to do outside of the resort.
Chris Rakes - Cruise, Tour, All Inclusive Expert and Honeymoon & Group Travel Specialist.
Chris Rakes – Cruise, Tour, All Inclusive Expert and Honeymoon & Group Travel Specialist.

Whether you’re an all-inclusive traveler, or are looking to blaze your own trail, the vacation you want is waiting for you. Use a trusted Travel Pro to help you decipher best options and book your bucket-list experience, for the same price as booking direct.

The Caribbean Is A Premier Destination But, Did You Know?

The islands of the Caribbean comprise one of the world’s premier vacation destinations, a naturally beautiful landscape of sunny blue skies, powdery white-sand beaches and year-round warm weather.

Antigua - Barbuda
Antigua – Barbuda

The region features more than 7,000 islands, islets, reefs and cays, and consists of the Greater Antilles, bounding the Caribbean Sea on the north, and the Lesser Antilles and Leeward Antilles on the south and east. The region also includes the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands, in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba.  Bermuda, situated in the Atlantic, north of the Caribbean Sea, and the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean Sea south of Cuba, are also considered parts of the Caribbean.

turks-caicos
turks-caicos

The Greater Antilles include Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and are by far the largest countries in the area and generally the ones most visited by travelers. The largest cities include Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Kingston, Jamaica; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Port of Spain, Trinidad.  Antigua and Barbuda are located in the Eastern Caribbean’s Leeward Islands, while Aruba is the smallest of the Dutch Caribbean islands.

The Caribbean is organized into 27 territories including sovereign states, overseas departments, and dependencies that reflect Afro-Caribbean, native American, Arawak, Carib, Taino, Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Dutch and Chinese cultural influences.

Bermuda
Bermuda

The Caribbean has long been a resort vacation destination for families, honeymooners and retirees. In recent years Caribbean travel has diversified to include historical, adventure, cuisine, eco-tourism and cultural exploration-oriented vacations.

For example San Juan, Puerto Rico is the oldest city under the United States dominion and features distinctive century-old architecture, including Spanish military forts dating from the 1540s to the 1800s. San Juan also offers an active harbor, magnificent beaches and a wide array of hotels, plazas, museums, and historic sites.

Jamaica is the Caribbean’s third-largest island with six main tourist regions – Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville and The South Coast, Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios.

Ocho Rios is a top cruise ship port and also features lush bays and beaches including Runaway Bay, and Discovery Bay.  Just inland lies Dunn’s River Falls – a long-popular attraction. Montego Bay is another vacation center featuring sailing, scuba diving, jet skiing, parasailing, sport fishing and glass-bottom boat excursions.

Barbados
Barbados

Meanwhile, Barbados offers sugary beaches, powerful surf, plus luxurious hotels, inns and villas. The island’s premier festival, Crop Over is traditionally celebrated the end of the sugar season, lasts for five weeks and features markets, carnival shows, calypso concerts and colorful parades. The Barbados Jazz Festival offers a week of live performances, each at a different island venue. Sunbury Plantation House dates back to 1660 and offers antiques ranging from carriages and farm implements.

Caribbean cuisine is enormously varied. Many Caribbean cooks and chefs train overseas before returning home to fuse outside ideas with traditional island cuisine, which features spicy stews and soups and créole recipes utilizing vegetables like yams, cassava and okra. The region’s wide varieties of fruit are used in refreshing island drinks. Caribbean rum is among the world’s finest, and the region also features many distinctive local beers.

The overall Caribbean climate is tropical, although rainfall varies with a destination’s elevation, size and water currents. Warm tradewinds from the east create rainforests and arid, semi-desert regions on mountainous islands. The Caribbean enjoys year-round sunshine, plus dry and wet seasons. Air transportation to the region is widely available from major U.S. gateways, and there are several inter and intra-island air transportation providers. The Caribbean is the cruise industry’s number one destination, and major cruise ports are scattered across the region.

Chris Rakes - Travel Planner and Honeymoon & Group Specialist
Chris Rakes – Cruise, Tour & All Inclusive Expert

 

Use a trusted travel professional to help plan your Caribbean Cruise or All Inclusive  Resort vacation!  Contact me at  919.589.2437  crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

My Visit to Sandals Whitehouse

european whitehouse

While I’m still reeling, I wanted to take some time and share a little about my most recent stay at Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa, located on the south coast of Jamaica, just a short ride from Montego Bay Airport.

To start, the Jamaican Government has just completed a multi-million dollar rehabilitation on the road leading to the resort, making for a smooth and easy ride from Montego Bay’s airport.  euro whitehouse 3 Upon getting to my room, not only was I taken with the spacious accommodations and gorgeous decor but the views were breathtaking.  I couldn’t help but just stand on the balcony and take in the ocean breeze.  One of the many unique features of Sandals Whitehouse is that you are guaranteed an ocean view regardless of room category.

That evening, I was able to enjoy the romantic fire pits scattered throughout the property before heading to the group cocktail party and dinner at Bluefields.  The next 2 nights, we took advantage  of Gourmet Discovery Dining.   Before and after dinner I enjoyed a gorgeous sunset catamaran sail and singing songs with new friends at the martini piano bar.

euro whitehouse 2

 

 

 

 

 

New friends at Sandals
New friends at Sandals

The Sandals Whitehouse resort boasts 360 rooms and suites, 7 restaurants, and the luxurious Red Lane® Spa. It is set beachfront within a 500-acre nature preserve where three distinctive European Villages – French, Italian and Dutch – are set along a 2 mile stretch of beach.  Thanks to Gourmet Discovery Dining, between lunches and dinners, I made it to Bayside, Neptunes, Jasmines and Giuseppe’s.  Choices were varied and dishes delightfully prepared!

Gourmet Discovery Dining:  Sandals Whitehouse has 7 sensational dining options.    Restaurants include Giuseppe’s, a cozy Italian restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating; Jasmine’s,  specializing in pan-Asian cuisine;  Café de Paris, a Parisian-style patisserie; Eleanor’s, specializing in authentic West Indian dishes;  Bayside Restaurant, overlooking the pier and Caribbean Sea;   Bluefields Beach Club, the casual beachside grill;  and Neptune’s, the oceanview seafood restaurant. eurowhitehouse 4  In addition, Sandals Whitehouse serves Robert Mondavi Wines as well as an enhanced Manager’s Wine List.

Accommodations:   Sandals Whitehouse is designed so that everyone, no matter where the location of their room, can enjoy views of the sea.   eurowhitehouse 5  With all beachfront rooms, including 80 lavish suites, every accommodation is designed to bring the outdoors in with spectacular views from beach view balconies and walk-out patios close to the water’s edge.

 

eurowhitehouse 6  Entertainment:   With three pools (including Jamaica’s largest pool) and four whirlpools, unlimited land and water sports, and unlimited diving, there is something for everyone to enjoy during their days at Sandals Whitehouse.  This visit, I mostly just took advantage of the beach and pool.  At night, the energy level kicked up a notch with shows at the amphitheater, opulent beach parties or at the lively piano bar.   Daily and nightly experiences include exciting beachside activities and themes such as Talent Night, Carnival Party, Caribbean Night, Live Bands, White Night.

eurowhitehouse 7

I saw two weddings while there. One was on the beach during sunset. The other alongside the newly manicured lush gardens. There really is something for every bride and groom at Sandals. With its romantic wedding locales, wide array of beautiful suites and enhanced amenities, Whitehouse makes it the perfect location for friends and family to celebrate together!

As a Certified Sandals Specialist, and Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Expert, I am happy to help you narrow down the perfect resort for your special occasion or first time together as Mr & Mrs.

Contact me today to get started!

Chris Rakes - certified Sandals & Beaches Resorts specialist
Chris Rakes – Sandals & Beaches Resorts certified specialist

919.589.2437 / CRakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

Why Balconies are a Must on Cruises

54cbc6b39abb8d533165b250_seabourn-quest-cruise-exterior

Cruises are an exciting way to see the world. In between ports, there’s no shortage of shows, dining and pool time, so it doesn’t really matter what your room is like right? Wrong. While you don’t think you’ll spend much time in your room, you will need time to rest, recover and reenergize for the next day. And while most modern staterooms are extremely comfortable, having a balcony in your room is essential. Here’s why:

Greet the sun each morning. It’s nice to have your morning coffee in your bathrobe. It’s nicer to have your morning coffee in your bathrobe on your own private balcony in the middle of an expansive body of water. With your own private outdoor space, you can leisurely enjoy your morning routine, or evening routine, or just some peace and quiet.

Enjoy the scenery. Drink, dine, dance and rekindle your romance in your own personal outdoor space while taking in spectacular views of the open ocean.

Fresh air. A warm sea breeze cures what ails you, and you’ll have access to plenty of it in your balcony room. It’ll freshen your room and give you the chance to air out clothing, which could be wet from exciting excursions.

Water sounds are relaxing. The sounds of the lapping ocean water lull you to sleep each night, or you can enjoy an afternoon timeout to clear your mind.

Alleviate illness. If you experience sea sickness or claustrophobia, having a view of the horizon or a little outdoor space can be a life saver.

Work with a Cruise Expert and Trusted Travel Professional when planning your next river or sea adventure!

Personal & Group Travel Planner
Cruise, Tour & All Inclusive Resort Expert

919.589.2437 / CRakes@TotalExperienceTravel.com

Sandals Re-Certifies Christine Rakes as Resorts Specialist

CHRISTINE RAKES OF TOTAL EXPERIENCE TRAVEL ATTENDS SANDALS RESORTS’ LUXURY INCLUDED® WORKSHOP IN DURHAM, NC

ochi-beach-club

            Durham, NC, Jun 19, 2015 – On Thursday 6/18/16, Christine Rakes of Total Experience Travel completed in an intensive travel agent workshop administered by Unique Vacations, Inc. (UVI), an affiliate of the worldwide sales and marketing representative for Sandals, Beaches, and Grand Pineapple Beach resorts. Each workshop – The Closer You Look the Better we Look… –offers detailed information on Sandals Resorts International extensive portfolio – comprised of Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts, and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts – as well as an overview of new developments, services and amenities. All who participate in the workshop are eligible to become Certified Sandals Specialists (CSS), an elite group of travel agents recognized by Unique Vacations, Inc. and the travel industry as experts in the worlds only Luxury Included® Resorts.

According to Chris of TET, there is a serious job at hand, understanding the nuances of each brand within the Sandals Resorts portfolio which is critical to her customers.  “My clients rely on me to help them make the best vacation choices so that every hard-earned dollar they spend is giving them true value,” said Rakes.  “I am thrilled to have been a part of this workshop. I have come away with a wealth of knowledge. My clients want to feel confident that the information they receive is based on expert knowledge and, my Certified Sandals Specialist designation does just that.”

According to Gary Sadler, Senior Vice President of Sales at UVI, relying on a CSS travel agent is one of the best ways consumers can get the most out of their Caribbean vacation.  “Vacations are memories in the making,” said Sadler.  “You don’t get a second chance to celebrate the perfect honeymoon or family reunion. It has to be just right. CSS agents such as Christine are helping us to match customers to their ideal vacation experience. We congratulate Christine Rakes for participating in our workshop, and wish her the very best.”

Christine Rakes, Sandals Resorts CSS
Christine Rakes, Certified Sandals Specialist

Contact Chris with confidence when seeking assistance in planning the perfect Sandals vacation!

919.589.2437 / crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

 

Today’s River Cruise Trends in Europe

More River Cruise Trends in Europe as reported by Cruise Critic’s Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

In Europe, river cruising continues to experience an unprecedented boom. Besides the sheer increase in the number of boats on the waterways, the experience of a river cruise is changing, too, with more sophisticated amenities and smart new programs. We weigh in on what’s innovative and different.

cruise-viking-river-aquavit-terrace

Alfresco Dining

What’s changing: Just about every river line offers the occasional buffet meal on its sun deck, typically on a day of cruising. What’s exciting is that some lines are incorporating alfresco dining into new ship designs.

On Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette, L’Orangerie is the industry’s first “pop up” restaurant; the captain can literally lower the ceiling and walls in order to pass under low bridges. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served there. On Viking River Cruises’ Longships vessels, the Aquavit Terrace features indoor/outdoor dining at all meals, including a casual alternative to main dining room dinners. Emerald Waterways’ (which goes by the name Evergreen Tours in Australia) new Emerald Sky has an outdoor grill on an outer deck.

Considerations: If dining outdoors is important to you, choose your ship carefully. Aside from the aforementioned special sun deck buffets, lines like AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, APT, Vantage, Tauck and Grand Circle have limited alfresco options (as does Uniworld on any ship other than S.S. Antoinette).

Immersive Shore Excursions

What’s Changing: One of the charms of river cruising is that most shore excursions are included in cruise fares. These typically involve city walking tours or motorcoach trips to major historic, natural or cultural sites. Increasingly, however, river lines are adding more unique opportunities to their tour menus. On a Uniworld Rhone River cruise, you can go truffle hunting. On Viking River’s Bordeaux itinerary, you can visit a cognac house where you’ll blend your own bottle, and AmaWaterways features hands-on cooking classes in restaurants.

Considerations: Typically these excursions are priced on an a la carte basis, anywhere from $100 to $200 apiece, so if you want something special, you’ll have to pay for it. There are two exceptions: Neither Tauck nor Scenic charges for tours.

European Interlopers

What’s Changing: Lines that you may never have heard of, such as Luftner’s Amadeus and CroisiEurope, are courting North American and British travelers. These companies, the former from Austria and the latter from France, have long carried some English-speaking passengers, but that’s because they market to travel groups (like alumni associations). This year, Luftner’s Amadeus has partnered with Amras, a Boston-based company, to market more proactively in North America. CroisiEurope is also making a strong effort to draw English-speaking travelers to its moderately-priced river line.

Considerations: The primary onboard language might not be English, and you could find you’re traveling with more Europeans than English-speakers. Also, while increasingly limited, smoking can be more widespread on lines that primarily cater to Europeans.

cruise-uniworld-ss-catherine-balcony-screen

Screens

What’s Changing: Unlike oceans, rivers can be buggy, and sitting out on your verandah (or keeping French balcony windows wide open) can attract annoying insects. In a brilliant move, Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine is the first ship on the rivers to put a screen in place on all balconies. It’s optional; the push of a button opens the balcony’s window with the screen in place — or not.

Considerations: Screens are only on S.S. Catherine for now.

Semi-Standardized Ships

What’s Changing: The big trend over the past couple of years for river new-builds has been to replicate existing designs over and over again. On Avalon, AmaWaterways and Viking River in particular, if you’ve seen one newbuild, you’ve seen them all. Well, almost.

Some rivers are trickier than others, necessitating revised ship designs. Germany’s Elbe is particularly shallow, so ships require a different propulsion system (jets at the back that essentially push the vessels forward). This propulsion isn’t strong enough to power a ship of typical length, so the vessels must be smaller. Portugal’s Duoro poses a different challenge, as it’s narrower than most. So, for instance, when Viking River recently introduced its new Viking Torgil and Viking Hemming in Porto, it dubbed them the “baby Longships.” Accommodating just 106 passengers (instead of the normal Longship capacity of 190), there are plenty of consistent features, particularly in decor and ambience. Cabin layouts are nearly identical, as well. But, because these ships are shorter, the Aquavit Terrace concept is abbreviated (no food service outdoors), which is a shame, but these twins do each have a small swimming pool on their sun decks.

Considerations: While lines like Avalon, AmaWaterways and Viking River still are building most ships in nearly identical classes, do your homework on the line, ship and itinerary before you book a cabin.

cruise-france-giverny-monet

France Grows in Appeal

What’s Changing: France’s trademark river cruise itineraries have long been on the Rhone, which visits Burgundy and Provence, and the Seine for Paris-based cruises that go to Normandy, Monet’s Giverny and Rouen. Bordeaux, on France’s western coast, is new this year for U.S.-based Uniworld and Viking River. (In 2015, Scenic and Avalon will offer it, too.) Next year, CroisiEurope will be the first river line to offer a Loire Valley river cruise.

Considerations: Operating on French rivers can be challenging for river lines. There are varying reasons. The Seine has an enormous number of locks and tidal issues as the river gets close to Honfleur and the Atlantic. On the Rhone, medieval bridges are extremely low, so sun deck time can be limited, and in Bordeaux, tidal issues and the construction of a TGV (fast train) bridge across a key waterway are causing cruise lines to retreat to Bordeaux and use buses to transport passengers to some attractions.

Cabins Get Bigger

What’s Changing: Avalon and Viking River are front runners when it comes to upping the size of accommodations. Avalon pioneered the “Suite Ships” concept. At 200 square feet, about 15 percent larger than standard river cabins, these staterooms (which technically aren’t true suites, as they’re just one room) have a very different design from that of most riverboats, with walls that are slightly angled to open them up. In addition, floor-length windows peel back to create balcony-like seating areas with tables large enough for dining. Marble bathrooms are especially spacious.

Going a step further, Viking reconfigured the layout of its cabins on its Longships so that two-room suites, with separate sleeping and living areas, are lined up one side, sideways. Luftner’s Amadeus, which launched a spate of standardized design newbuilds, is working on its next new vessel, due out in 2015. On that ship, the line will reduce capacity to increase cabin size.

In another cruise cabin innovation, Tauck has eliminated “aquarium class” by building multilevel rooms that give every passenger access to natural light and fresh air. The result is a space that feels airier and more pleasant than previous lower-deck cabins.

Furnishings also play a big role in making cabins seem larger. While cabins are generally the same size throughout AmaWaterways’ fleet, furnishings are more streamlined on newer vessels to make the rooms feel more spacious.

Considerations: On Viking’s Longships, standard balcony cabins actually were downsized to make room for more suites. Beyond suite accommodations, most river cruise cabins are still smaller than their oceangoing counterparts. If space matters, make sure you choose your stateroom carefully or upgrade to suite-level accommodations.

Come to TET’s River Cruise night on August 26th 6-8 pm to learn more!  And work with a trusted travel professional to assist you in planning your river cruise adventure!!  ChrisRakes@totalexperiencetravel.com /919.589.2437