Category Archives: Destination Experiences

Planning Around The Holidays

Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe
Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe

Hope everyone is in a festive spirit and getting ready for a wonderful holiday! In addition to shopping and trimming the tree, TET has been busy checking out a host of  resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean and learning what’s new out there for couples in love, families looking to spend quality time, destination weddings your guests will never forget, girlfriend getaways, bachelor groups and MORE! To see pictures from our latest trips visit Total Experience Travel’s Facebook page There are plenty of albums to get lost in, and more to come.  Look for Jamaica in January!

Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding!
Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding planning.

Did you know it’s not only the holidays but, it’s engagement season? More couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentines day, than any other time of year.  Did you also know that more than 70% of couples choose an all-inclusive tropical honeymoon?  As a certified Honeymoon/Destination Wedding Specialist, I CAN tell you why!

 

Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you
Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you.

I will help YOU decide which resort and room is best,  be there for you from research thru return, add personal touches & perks –that only a live trusted agent can! Don’t listen to what those paid advertisements tell you, collaborate with someone you can trust. Pssst- it’s the same cost as doing it all yourself.

Christmastime is about the joy of giving. Give the best gift of all, the gift of travel!  It’s not to early to start planning for next Christmas and not too late to plan for that family Spring Break in 2017.  I have all kinds of wonderful recommendations; something to fit every style.

beaches-this-months-featured-resort-turks-caicos_05
A favorite for FAMILIES and GROUPS – old and young! Books up fast – don’t wait to contact me.

 

 

Ask me about my new favorite family resort.

 

 

New Year's Eve in the Caribbean!
New Year’s Eve in the Caribbean! Don’t wait – contact me today!

 

Or the hottest New Year’s Eve party in the Caribbean! There’s still limited space for 2016 and it’s NOT too early to plan for 2017!

 

 

Still not sure where to go next year – read my latest Travel Tips with info on Alaska, traveling abroad, ship nightlife, and Disney cruises for inspiration.  Then, contact me to start planning! I am specialized in All Inclusive Resorts, Ocean & River Cruises, and Guided Tours because these vacations offer best values and are the kind my family and I love to take!  What I haven’t done personally, my clients or peers have.  In addition to expertise, I’m independent so, can be objective when planning a vacation that’s just right for YOU!  It’s a No Brainer

Chris Rakes - Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist
Chris Rakes – Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist

When you are ready to plan, plan with Chris 919.589.2437 / info@totalexperiencetravel.com

Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!
Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!

 

 

What does luxury travel mean to you?

Luxury Travel.  You may not miss it, but when you have it you will appreciate the heightened experience. Read below and contact me to see if, you agree!

Multigenerational family vacation
Multigenerational family vacation

A welcoming greeting and smile.  You are sure to notice and feel special when everywhere you go gracious staff are saying hello, asking about your stay and what more they can do for you.

Extra towels without asking. As every woman with chin length hair and longer knows, we need more than one bath towel! What a delight it is when housekeeping gives you multiple bath, hand and wash towels without ever having to request them.

woman-spa

Maid service twice per day with turndown service.   Who needs turndown service you ask?  Probably no one.  But, I can promise you that after two days if, it’s late, you’ll be looking for it! Coming back to the room to find those heavy shades drawn, your luxurious spa bath products restocked, and your silky soft bed linens exposed and ready for slipping in – will have you saying oohlala.

True mixologists who craft your cocktail.  I recently had a bartender who took a good 3 minutes to make me a Grey Goose Cosmopolitan. At first I thought, wow this is a process. Then I noticed he had my martini glass set aside filled with ice giving it time to chill, while he carefully selected and squeezed fresh ingredients. After a good shake and strained pour, I was expecting a lot. I was not disappointed! It was truly the best Cosmo I’ve had to date.

Choose from a variety of different a la carte dining cuisines and indoor or outdoor seating
Choose from a variety of different a la carte dining cuisines and indoor or outdoor seating

A la carte and fine dining. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had delicious and fresh food at buffets and made to order stations, no question.  But, when your vacation includes a la carte restaurants and you get to choose between French, Italian, Sushi, Indian, Mediterranean, Japanese Hibachi, Seafood or Steakhouse each night; that is quite a perk! When you can additionally count on the service and food being above average to exceptional, that is AWESOME!!

Waiters with recommendations. When you are a foodie like me, this means a lot to you.  Experienced discerning diners want recommendations and inside information from those who know the restaurant best. Waiters who are in tuned to what other patrons are ordering, what they are seeing and tasting in the kitchen, and familiar with chefs’ specialties offer an added valuable touch to the dining experience.

Exceptional service, drinks and food.
Exceptional service, drinks and food.

Good coffee.  I’m not a coffee connoisseur but, I know what I like.  I also know that Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee sells for about $20-$22 per pound. To be able to make this in my room at any time and order it at any restaurant is something I appreciate. For a coffee lover, it adds immeasurable value.

Premium liquor and restocked bars. As an all inclusive expert, the hesitation about watered down drinks is one I hear a lot. I tell my clients it’s not a mystery – expect to get what you pay for! I can personally attest to being at resorts where I watched as they opened new bottles of Grey Goose vodka in front of me. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to ask the bartender to put more mixer in my drink because it was too strong.  Do I think there are resorts where they water down their drinks? Probably. Do I know for a fact that there are resorts that allow you to choose from authentic premium liquors and use only fresh ingredients? Absolutely. No pun intended.

Children's programs for all run by capable competent staff
Children’s programs for all run by capable competent staff

Capable, fun and entertaining children’s programs for all kids. The best resorts have educated, trained children staff capable of attentively looking after every child, including those with special needs.  Should your child have a physical disability or behavioral disorder, you can relax and feel confident that your baby is having fun and in good hands.

Gourmet Concierge. I have an iron stomach so, this one isn’t for me. However, I recognize that there are a lot of people out there with dietary restrictions.  If you or anyone in your family has food allergies, food restrictions, etc., you need not worry.  A dietary concierge will sit down with you and customize daily menus. Each restaurant will be ready to serve you a delectable meal that meets your needs.

All Inclusive Luxury over the water bungalows
All Inclusive Luxury over the water bungalows

Think you can’t find luxury at an all inclusive resort or on a cruise?  Think again.  Ask Chris Rakes more. 919.589.2437

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

 

Are These On Your Bucket List?

A few  ideas on what travel experiences you need to do before you die. Contact me now to start planning!

Northern Lights
Northern Lights

The list starts with northern lights, and Nigel Tisdall, Telegraph Travel’s northern lights expert writes that “it is one of the great, timeless thrills of travel…”

 

Passionate travelers should also check off the Galapagos Islands.

Discover an abundance of wildlife as you explore the Galapagos Islands
Discover an abundance of wildlife as you explore the Galapagos Islands

“The Galapagos Islands is probably the most famous wildlife-watching destination in the world,” says Mark Carwardine, Telegraph Travel’s Galapagos Islands expert.

 

A trek to Machu Picchu is another destination that is a must with Telegraph Travel’s Chris Moss saying that while popular and full of high expectations, the journey does not disappoint.

Pictures do not do it justice, Machu Pichu
Pictures do not do it justice, Machu Pichu

“No other South American archeological site comes close when it comes to visitor numbers and broad appeal,” said Moss.

 

 

A last and timely recommendation is to see New England in the fall. While leaves change in the fall just about everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the explosion of color in North America and particularly New England is something worth checking out IRL.

Everyone should experience New England in Fall
Everyone should experience New England in Fall

“Photographs can’t do justice to the startling scarlet, gold, purple and orange that blaze across the hills and sweep into valleys,” writes Paul Wade, Telegraph’s New England expert.

 

Travel Planner and Honeymoon & Group Specialist
Chris Rakes – Your Personal Travel Planner

 

Contact Chris Rakes, your travel planning professional today to start planning your bucket list trip! 919.589.2437 / crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

A Brief Guide to Luxury Cruise Line Loyalty Programs!

Signing up for a loyalty program doesn’t mean you now have to do all the research and work yourself.  You can reap the full benefits of both a loyalty program and personal service from your travel planner without any negative consequence.  It’s a win win.  Read Jason Leppert’s article below on the different loyalty programs.  And, contact your personal travel pro when ready to plan!

Luxury benefits of both a loyalty program and travel planner
Luxury benefits of both a loyalty program and travel planner

Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises

We’ve looked at the loyalty programs of mainstream, premium and upscale cruise companies, and now we’ll finish off with those from four luxury lines.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Society extensively rewards repeat guests with a host of benefits that begin with automatic enrollment in the program after one’s first sailing of five or more days. To start, members receive a membership card and perks like special savings, a cocktail party, itinerary previews, priority brochure delivery, email newsletter, Passport magazine subscription and society host or hostess.

Milestone rewards are accrued thereafter towards free cruises, shipboard credits, penthouse upgrades and recognition dinners and celebrations. Cruise credits are tallied according to voyage duration with those between five and 15 days receiving one point and those of 16 days or longer receiving two.

A whopping 21 tiers of milestone benefits are outlined by the Crystal Society from two to 100 milestone levels beginning with a complimentary tote bag and luggage tag. Milestone five starts to see at least a $150 onboard credit and an Emerald Society Pin. Credits increase in increments of $50 or more thereafter, and accommodation category upgrades begin at level 10 and a free cruise already at level 25. Other perks along the way include more recognition pins, private car transfers, specialty restaurant fee waivers and private The Vintage Room dinners.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The Seven Seas Society from Regent Seven Seas Cruises follows a five-tier program of benefits based on nights sailed, and guests are members automatically after their first voyage. Plus, referring a new guest that sails with the member gets the referrer a $100 onboard credit per guest on the cruise.

Otherwise, perks start at Bronze (seven-20 nights) with special savings, online profile access, itinerary and offer previews, a cocktail reception and double loyalty credits for single guests. At the Silver level (21-74 nights) additional benefits kick in like free two-item garment pressing, an hour of phone time, priority specialty dining and shore excursion reservations, a commemorative pin and the Society Pages newsletter.

Then at Gold (75-199 nights) add-ons include one free bag of laundry service, four-item total garment pressing, unlimited Internet access, three hours total of phone time, priority disembarkation, international newspaper service and exclusive onboard and off-board activities. At Platinum (200-399 nights) perks ramp up to free unlimited laundry service and garment pressing, nine hours total of phone time, one-time air deviation service, a 10 percent discount off shore excursions and hotel and land programs and leather luggage tags.

Finally, at Titanium (400-plus nights), guests also get free private transfers, dry-cleaning service, a 25 percent total discount off shore excursions and hotel and land programs and embarkation day suite access by 1 p.m.

Seabourn Cruise Line

After one’s first sailing, Seabourn Cruise Line begins to issue Seabourn Club guests Milestone Awards and Seabourn Club Points. Points designate your club level and redeemable perks of your choosing. Sailed days equate to one point each (or two points each when in a penthouse or premium suite). Plus, an additional point is earned for each night aboard an escorted Seabourn Journey and for every $500 of eligible onboard or pre-cruise purchases.

Base Seabourn Club membership (one to 19 points) comes with special events and receptions, a club host or hostess, 5 percent onboard booking savings, other special savings, itinerary and offer previews, Seabourn Club Herald subscription and an online profile. Once a Silver Member (20-69 points) extras include silver luggage tags, Seabourn Advisory Board membership and one choice of 10 percent shore excursion savings, 10 percent premium wines and spirits savings, a two-hour internet package, 20-minute phone package, massage, spa serene area day or bag of laundry service.

As a Gold Member (70-139 points) guests additionally get gold luggage tags, 10 percent savings off luggage shipping, advanced hosted sailing invitations, a Travel + Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler subscription and now two choices from the aforementioned perk list with the wine and spirit savings bumped to 15 percent, Internet package to three hours and phone package to 30 minutes. Then as a Platinum Member (140-249) guests also receive platinum luggage tags, upped 15 percent savings off luggage shipping, a dedicated Seabourn Club concierge and now three choices from the onboard benefits offerings with the shore excursion savings boosted to 15 percent, wine and spirit savings to 20 percent, Internet package to four hours and phone package to 40 minutes.

Once a Diamond Member (250-plus points) guests get diamond luggage tags, now 20 percent savings off luggage shipping and all the onboard perks with the wine and spirit savings padded to 25 percent, now unlimited internet time, complimentary laundry and pressing service and daily newspaper delivery. Above and beyond, as milestones at 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 and 2,500 days are met, members will additionally be recognized at a special event with a gift from Tiffany & Co. and a free one-week cruise will be awarded at 140 days and a two-week one at 250 days.

Silversea Cruises

Silversea Cruises has its Venetian Society for repeat guests available after their first sailing, which comes with a newsletter, onboard recognition, private parties, 5 percent savings off select voyages, ship visitation privileges and milestone reward tiers, all of which include complimentary laundry service. Plus, those who refer new guests will receive $250 onboard credit and double cruise day credits when they sail with you, and the referred will also get 5 percent cruise savings.

Milestone breakdowns are per cruise days sailed with Sapphire (100 days) coming with 5 percent additional future cruise savings, Emerald (250 days) with 10 percent additional future cruise savings, Ruby (350 days) with the earlier savings plus a free one-week cruise in a veranda suite and Diamond (500 days) with the savings and a free two-week cruise in a veranda suite. And a complimentary one-week cruise is issued again every 150 days earned beyond.

 

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

When Is the Best Time To Take A Cruise

Clients are always asking me when the best time is to take a cruise.  So, when I came upon Cruiseline’s article written by Simon Duvall, I thought I’d share it.  It will really depend on your priorities and preferences but, there are some general rules of thumb based on weather, price and destination.  Contact me for more input and to help you decide which cruise line and itinerary is best for you.

Cruisers enjoy Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman - Photo by Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock
Cruisers enjoy Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman – Photo by Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for when to sail: It depends on your own personal priorities. Whether you’re looking to avoid the rough seas or score a bargain deal, there’s a time of year that’s best for you. If you’re looking for low prices, shoulder season — the time between peak and low season — is a great option, but it may come with trade-offs like rainy weather or fewer wildlife sightings. Check out our breakdown of the best time to cruise based on destination, weather, and price:

Alaska

Regent Seven Seas -Alaska's most luxurious ships
Regent Seven Seas -Alaska’s most luxurious ships

Best Price: Mid-May to early June and late August to mid-September. The trade-off: Cooler weather, less wildlife activity, and (in September) more rain.  Best Weather: For longer days, dry weather, and warm temperatures, the best time to cruise in Alaska is late June through mid-July.  We Recommend: Salmon run season (mid- to late July) is when the bears are most active. If you’re interested in whales, however, August is when you’re mostly likely to spot them.

Australia and New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand - Photo by Rawpixel.com
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Best Price: November to mid-March, except for holidays.  Best Weather: December and January are warm and dry. Avoid cyclone season (early December and late May) in Australia; New Zealand is rarely impacted.  We Recommend: New Year’s Eve is the highlight of the year in Australia; cruise to New Zealand during reliably sunny December and January.

Bermuda

A white-sand beach on Bermuda - Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto
A white-sand beach on Bermuda

Best Price: March, April, and November.  Best Weather: Bermuda is often in the path of storms during hurricane season (early June through late November), with the biggest risk from August through October. May through July is usually ideal.  We Recommend: Cruise during Bermuda’s festival season (winter through early summer) for cultural events like the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, which draws artists from around the world.

Canada and New England

Annisquam Lighthouse, Massachusetts - Photo by Christian Delbert
Annisquam Lighthouse, Massachusetts

Best Price: June through early September, as well as late October.  Best Weather: Temperatures are warmer in the summer months, and June, July, and September are driest.  We Recommend: Fall “leaf-peeping” season runs from the second or third week of September to mid-October.

Caribbean

Caribbean Photo by Sean Pavone
Caribbean Photo

Best Price: January, May, and September.  Best Weather: Hurricane season lasts from June through November, so winter is prime time. We Recommend: Winter is a no-brainer. (Plus, it’s colder up north and kids are in school, so ships are less crowded.)

Hawaii

Disney Wonder off the coast of Kauai - Photo by Disney Cruise Line
Disney Wonder off the coast of Kauai

Best Price: Between October and early December.  Best Weather: The rainy season runs from November through March, so the weather is best between April and October.  We Recommend: Since the prices are stable year-round, choose a sailing between April and October.

Mediterranean

Carnival Freedom in Venice - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Freedom in Venice

Best Price: October through February, except for holidays.  Best Weather: The peak season is May through August; however, if you’re looking at small-ship cruises, beware of the Meltemi winds in the Aegean Sea. We Recommend: In summer, tourists overwhelm many ports. If you’re looking to avoid the flocks, consider early fall, when the weather is still warm but kids are back in school.

Mexican Riviera

Carnival Splendor sails way from Cabo - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Splendor sails way from Cabo

Best Price: September and January. Best Weather: Summer is often uncomfortably hot along the Pacific Coast, so sail during late fall or winter. We Recommend: Score great deals by sailing here in winter, which is more likely to be cold back home.

Northern Europe

Seven Seas Voyager in the Norwegian fjords - Photo by Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Seven Seas Voyager in the Norwegian fjords – Photo by Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Best Price: The season is short (May through August), so there aren’t many bargains. Try to snag a deal on the first or last cruise of the season. Best Weather: Conditions during summer are perfect. We Recommend: If you want to avoid crowds, cruise in early May or late August.

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal - Photo by Heeb Photos / eStockPhoto
The Panama Canal

Best Price: April, September, and early January. Some lines offer longer repositioning cruises in May and September; if you can spare the time, these are the best per diem deals anywhere. Best Weather: December through February offers warm temperatures and the least rain. We Recommend: From December through February, the weather is best, shops stay open later, and street festivals abound.

South America

The Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro - Photo by Fuse / Thinkstock
The Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro

Best Price: November and late April to early May. Best Weather: December and January are typically most pleasant, but the farther south you travel from the equator, the more varied the climate. Seas are rough near Cape Horn and Antarctica, regardless of the month. We Recommend: December and January offer the best temperatures and the most wildlife. The Carnival of Brazil is the five days leading up to Ash Wednesday.

 

THE FACES OF KETCHIKAN

Having been to Ketchikan, Alaska I know how unique and beautiful it is. Therefore, when I came upon this article posted by one of my favorite all inclusive cruise lines, I couldn’t resist sharing.  Enjoy and contact me to plan your all inclusive Alaska vacation.

A black bear lunches on fresh salmon in Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan.
A black bear lunches on fresh salmon in Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan.

The impossibly picturesque town of Ketchikan is good at the “warm welcome.” Your first step from Crystal Serenity positions you directly in the town’s bustling market district, chalk full of wonderfully competing aromas – freshly popped sweet corn, handmade fudge, and the mingling flavors of the diverse array of international restaurants that line the walkways. Upon entry into any of the many shops or eateries will earn you a quick “hello and welcome!” and an easy conversation. You’ll meander along the waterfront, where fishermen will happily talk to you about their daily catch, then wave at the kayakers as they pass under bridge (they’ll wave back, of course).

A bald eagle keeps watch from the treetops of the Tongass National Forest.
A bald eagle keeps watch from the treetops of the Tongass National Forest.

During our final visit to Alaska’s first town for 2016, we followed these friendly encounters with a venture beyond the town center of Revillagigedo Island (where Ketchikan is located). A brief waterside drive took us to Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in North America, where the locals waiting to greet us included more black bears, sea otters, bald eagles and spawning salmon than the human residents. This is fitting, since Ketchikan is the “salmon capital of the world” and black bears outnumber people on the island three-to-one.

Our exploration of the rainforest animal sanctuary presented endless opportunities to discover the Alaskan wildlife. And while the rainforest is the second largest in the world, just behind the Amazon’s expanse, it only took a few hundred yards of trekking through lush greenery to be greeted by one of the resident black bears, who had ambled into the stream for a fishing expedition. As the summer winds down, the bears are doubling down on their consumption of the spawning salmon before they prepare for hibernation, when they’ll lose more than 20 percent of their body weight.

A family of sea otters shares the flowing stream in Tongass National Forest with black bears and plenty of salmon.
A family of sea otters shares the flowing stream in Tongass National Forest with black bears and plenty of salmon.

Also observing the massive creature’s meal time was a family of sea otters, recently expanded by one pup, according to the impressively knowledgeable expert guide. While it might prove difficult to tear your eyes away from rare meetings like these, but we do encourage you to look upward occasionally, as you’ll likely be greeted by the Alaskan sky’s most majestic inhabitant, the bald eagle.

See it best, see it in style.
See it best, see it in style. Explore Ketchikan and the Tongass National Forest on specially crafted Crystal Adventures in 2017 luxury Alaska voyages.

By land & sea is the perfect way to go. Plan with a Pro. 

Chris@tet4u.com 919.589.2437

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.

The Lowdown on Tours

Adventure, escorted, hosted, independent; here’s the lowdown on Touring!

Couple touring
Couple touring independently

The advantage is clear: you choose an escorted tour to travel stress free. The tour company handles the transportation, daily sightseeing and the local guides, leaving you to absorb as much of the destination as possible. If this sounds like an appealing way to travel, consider these factors before choosing your tour destination.

Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe -France
Notre Dame, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe -France

V.I.P. Access – Line cutters rejoice! Tour groups are often escorted straight to the main entrances of major attractions and ushered directly inside without waiting in line or having to buy individual tickets.

Themes – Some tours are based around a theme, such as wine, gastronomy, hiking, golf, even the sparkling, seasonal Christmas Markets. If you’re looking to make some new friends who share a common interest, look no further.

Great tours are available for all ages and types of traveler.
Great tours are available for all ages and types of traveler.

Age Range – Escorted tours generally attract seasoned travelers who enjoy hassle-free experiences. If the tour has a high activity level with long hikes, then chances are the average age will be on the south side of 50.

history, art, architecture and more
history, art, architecture and more

Exotic Destinations – Escorted tours are ideal for going more afar than you typically would on your own, to places where the customs and languages are completely foreign and the camaraderie of the tour group is comforting.

local knowledgeable expert & tour guide
local knowledgeable expert & tour guide

Questions Answered – Anytime you experience an international destination, your mind is filled with a thousand questions per minute about all of the new and exotic things you see, hear and smell. Thanks to your local tour guide’s constant presence and regional knowledge, you learn the answers to all of your questions and more.

And, thanks to an expert planner, you are sure to go on a tour that is perfect for you! Don’t wait,  contact Total Experience Travel to start planning.  919.589.2437

Chris Rakes is a River Cruise, Tour and All Inclusive Expert Travel Planner.
Chris Rakes is an independent travel planner and tour expert. http://www.totalexperiencetravel.com