Category Archives: Couples 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

The First-Timer’s Guide to Cruising in Alaska

An article from the Huffington Post with some good information.

Alaska, majestic and beautiful
Alaska, majestic and beautiful

Alaska is sometimes thought of as America’s last frontier, with the state’s rugged mountains covering huge amounts of land, and much of it largely untouched by humans. It is also home to glaciers and wide waterways, referred to as passages, bordering the thick brush of the mountains. It is these waterways that enable cruising to be such an amazing way to see Alaska. An Alaskan cruise brings passengers alongside wildlife and glaciers with panoramic views visible from the decks of the ship.

Where Alaska cruises sail

Alaska cruise itineraries typically include the Inside Passage, a beautiful part of Alaska’s landscape that stretches along the southeast coast of Alaska. Along the way, the famous Hubbard Glacier is visible along with other glaciers and fjords. There’s also the chance to see a wide variety of wildlife.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the wilderness, many cruise lines offer cruise tours, which either start or end your cruise vacation with a land portion that takes you through the inland area of Alaska.

There are also many options for where to start your Alaska cruise. Leaving from Seattle to Vancouver means you’ll get to see parts of the Canada coast as you sail north; however, if it’s a seven-night cruise your itinerary may then include more days at sea and less time in port. Leaving out of Seward, Alaska, for a week long cruise usually includes ports of call most days. Multiple week cruises in Alaska offer a variety of options for where to sail out of and what ports to see, allowing you to see many components of the cruising world of Alaska.

When to cruise to Alaska

alaska2When it comes to the time of year to take a cruise in Alaska, you’re at the whim of Mother Nature. Due to the cold winters, cruises to Alaska are only available from the end of April through beginning of October.  Not only is this the safest time for the cruise ships to sail to avoid any ice that may form on the water passageways, it also is the time cruisers can most enjoy being on deck of the ship and exploring each port as the weather is much warmer than in the frigid winter months.

Even in summer, though, you’ll want to pack warm layers, such as sweaters and windbreakers. The nights in Alaska can get cold plus being on the water can result in chilly breezes. Also pack clothes you’re not afraid to get dirty. Many of the most popular shore excursions and activities to do while in port involve hiking, fishing and canoeing.

Popular ports of call

Which line is right for you?
Which line is right for you?

Some of the most popular towns and cities to visit in Alaska are ports of call many cruise itineraries stop at while cruising the state.

Juneau: Alaska’s capital city is a great port of call for cruisers who love animals. Take part in a whale watching tour during which you may see the impressive Humpback whale, plus other sea animals like seals and sea lions. The port of Juneau is also nearby the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area, which is a protected area that lets brown bears live in their natural habitat and it is home to the largest percentage of brown bears in one area.

Anchorage: Anchorage is often the northern most port cruises visit. It is home to snowcapped mountains and glaciers, providing impressive scenery. Some of the most popular excursions in Anchorage include ice and snow. Take part in a flight over glaciers and even land on top of one. Or play with man’s best friend and race through the snow as huskies pull you on a dog-sledding adventure.

Ketchikan: Did you know Alaska has rainforests? It does and you can explore the rainforests via the port of Ketchikan on your Alaska cruise. Try ziplining over the rainforest canopy at an adventure park. You can also partake in a nature hike through the forest plus glide down a lake on a Native American style canoe as you learn about the history of Ketchikan and the Native American past of the area.

Skagway: Take part in the river life of Skagway by trying the historic pastime of panning for gold while learning about the history of the practice, or by going white-water rafting down the river for a more adventurous excursion.

Choosing a stateroom

Which cabin is best?
Which cabin is best?

When cruising Alaska, you can find good deals for inside and oceanview staterooms; however, if at all possible with your budget, splurge for a balcony stateroom. Though there are many public decks on board cruise ships sailing through Alaska, being able to have access to your own private balcony will make the trip more memorable. You’ll be able to wake up and go outside to see the scenery first thing in the morning while enjoying a cup of coffee you get delivered via room service, or enjoy a glass of wine on your balcony before dinner while you keep an eye out for whales and bald eagles.

When choosing a stateroom, it is also wise to pay attention to what side of the ship it’s on. If sailing from south to north, choose a stateroom on the starboard side of the ship in order to have good views of the mountains rolling by and the small seaside towns the ship will past. If sailing from north to south, choose the port side of the ship to see Alaska’s mainland scenery from on board.

Cruise lines that sail to Alaska

Which itinerary and time of year?
Which itinerary and time of year?

When sailing to Alaska, you have a variety of cruise lines to choose from and you can find the ideal cruise line for you and your traveling partners whether you’re looking for a family friendly cruise, luxury vessel or expedition ship.

Many family friendly cruise lines sail to Alaska, offering an opportunity for parents to show their children Alaska while still ensuring they won’t be bored while on the ship during time at sea. Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line are all great cruise line options that offer activities on board to entertain both children and adults.

Those traveling with teenagers or as a couple may enjoy the premium cruise lines that offer a sophisticated ambiance on board while still offering a variety of entertainment options. Princess Cruises, Holland America and Celebrity Cruises offer excellent itineraries to Alaska that are ideal for this style cruising.

Luxury lovers will enjoy sailing on the Alaska itineraries offered by Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. When not in port, relax in your opulent stateroom and eat gourmet meals in the five-star restaurants onboard.

Looking for a bit more adventure on your luxury cruise? An expedition cruise is the way to go. Since an expedition ship is smaller it can fit into areas larger cruise ships can’t and get cruisers closer to the wildlife action and scenery. Though there isn’t as much entertainment onboard, you’ll get lots of it through the exploring you do via small boats many expedition cruises have to take passengers even further into the wild away from the cruise ship. Check out itineraries from Lindblad Expeditions.

Whichever cruise ship and itinerary you decide is right for you to cruise Alaska, remember to keep your camera with you at all times — you never know when you may just be passing by a deck and see a wild animal or perfect photo opportunity.

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

Professional Wedding Planner On The Big Day, Honeymoon and Blending Families

Would You Rather Do It All Yourself or Relax and Enjoy?

Erin McCauley of Chestnut & Vine
Erin McCauley of Chestnut & Vine

Hello, everyone!  My name is Erin McCauley, owner and lead coordinator of Chestnut & Vine Day-of Wedding Coordination.  When Chris invited me to be a guest blogger for her LiveFun blog, I jumped at the chance to chat about my two favorite things…..weddings and travel!  Whether you are getting married on a faraway tropical island, a romantic castle in Ireland, back  in your hometown over 300 miles away or in a church just 10 minutes from your house, the best investment you will make as an engaged couple is to hire a wedding coordinator.  Just as someone with no hiking experience would be ill advised to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without the guidance of a seasoned expert, why would a bride and groom with no event planning experience think it wise to throw the biggest, most expensive party of their lives without any professional help?  Wedding coordinators enable couples to enjoy the planning process by helping them focus on their wedding vision, drafting a plan to create that vision, and then implementing the plan to turn their vision into their dream wedding.  They also alleviate couples’ stress levels by identifying possible roadblocks, offering recommendations to overcome those obstacles, and then assuring them that they are on the right path to throwing an unforgettable celebration.  Your guests will thank you, too, because well-planned, expertly executed weddings are ALWAYS the most fun and memorable weddings to attend!

Rest and Relax on Your Honeymoon
Rest and Relax on Your Honeymoon

Once the wedding is over, it’s on to the honeymoon.  Traditionally, most couples leave for their honeymoon a day or two after their wedding, and once they get there find themselves too exhausted to truly enjoy their vacation.  You have been looking forward to your wedding day for most of your life, and in the blink of an eye the ceremony, reception and honeymoon are all over at once, leaving you with a noticeable void where your excitement once thrived. This is why I ask my clients, “Why the rush?”  Extend the excitement of your wedding experience and give yourself something to look forward to by scheduling your honeymoon a few months after your wedding weekend.  I am an advocate for couples escaping to a quiet getaway for two or three days immediately after they are married so that they can relax, reflect on how amazing it was to have all of their friends and loved ones in the same place, and enjoy time alone as newlyweds..  Then in a few months they will be energized and ready to embark on their adventure of a lifetime.

Australia & New Zealand
Australia & New Zealand

My husband and I became an instant family of four when we got married.  In order to give my step-daughters an opportunity to wind down after all of the wedding hype, as well as establish ourselves as a family, we took them on a “Family Moon” to Mexico the Monday after we got married.  It was exactly what all of us needed!  Then six months later my husband and I honeymooned on our own in Australia and New Zealand.  Not only did it give us something to look forward to, we were able to take more time off from work and, after writing all of those wedding vendor checks, replenish our savings for excursion trips and souvenirs.

German & Italy w/ Friends
German & Italy w/ Friends

Finally, eager parents and grandparents will tell you that after the honeymoon starting a family comes next . NOT TRUE!  As I told my good friends Amy and Dan on their one year anniversary, “You are not allowed to have kids until you backpack through Europe.  How can you encourage your children to explore the world when you haven’t seen it yourself?”  A year later the three of us were hiking through the Italian Cinque Terre and German Alps, and now 4 years after our adventure they have two beautiful daughters who will no doubt share their parents’ love of travel.

A big thank you to Chris for allowing me to chat with all of her loyal followers.  If you or someone close to you is getting married but hasn’t hired their planner yet, e-mail me ASAP at erin@ChestnutandVineWeddings.com so we can discuss how I can make your wedding a success.

 

Special Occasion & Group Travel Planner
Honeymoon, Destination Wedding and Group Travel Specialist.

Your Honeymoon deserves equal attention.   As honeymoon specialists and travel experts, we work with you to decipher best options –  at No Additional Cost, over booking direct! Let us help you Research, Customize and GO on your most memorable vacation! 

CRakes@totalexperiencetravel.com / 919.589.2437

 

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

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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