Category Archives: destination weddings

Voted World’s Best

One of my favorite resorts to date! It’s easy to understand why I’m not alone.  Ask me more.

Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel

Not only have I been there, in addition to YOU receiving personalized 1:1 service to help you decide what’s best for you when booking through Total Experience Travel; I GUARANTEE you receive EVERY available DISCOUNT! 

Chris Rakes – trained, experience and certified all-inclusive expert and Sandals/Beaches resorts specialist. 919.589.2437



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


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)


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 /


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 /

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


  • 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.


  • 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.

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 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! / 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 /

Back to Beautiful in Riviera Maya!

Couples and families planning trips to the beautiful Riviera Maya, Mexico region need not worry.  Read about how two of my favorite suppliers worked to ensure guest travel was not negatively impacted when an Aug 26th sink hole swallowed 4 lanes of highway between the Cancun airport and Tulum.

All inclusive resort
All inclusive resort

A letter from Mandy Chomat

While many of you may know Lomas, you may not know that it was Lomas that sprang into action this week in response to a sink hole that occurred on the main highway between El Dorado Maroma and El Dorado Royale. Lomas regularly moves thousands of passengers a day of which roughly half stay at hotels from El Dorado Maroma all the way to Tulum so you can imagine the impact such a sink hole would have on the destination.

Now back to the sink hole. Can you imagine getting a call at 3 a.m. last Thursday from one of your colleagues making you aware that on the main highway to and from the airport a sink hole appeared and that traffic would be diverted and take a minimum of two additional hours to get to and from the airport? How many passengers would miss their flights? Would there be alternate flights to accommodate them? What about the arriving passengers who were expecting seamless transfers to their hotels to begin enjoying their vacations? And how would this impact the impression visitors had of the Riviera Maya, Mexico?

If an alternative was not figured out to make the visitor experience more pleasant for arriving and departing passengers, it would be devastating.

Sra Dolores and Sr Martinez realized this immediately and called an emergency executive meeting at 3 a.m. that same morning to determine how to help – they came up with an impressive solution.

They realized that the only way to solve the sink hole problem was to create a Sea Ferry to transport their passengers staying at El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels and other hotels all the way to Tulum. For this to work, they would need to transport all the passengers to Marina Maroma, board them and their luggage, and then Ferry them to the pier at El Dorado Royale. At El Dorado Royale, they would disembark with their luggage, be greeted with a cold towel and a bottle of water or a glass of champagne, and be taken to the lobby for their transfer to the airport. This would be done in reverse for those passengers arriving.

It would be possible but it wouldn’t be easy. To ensure it happened, Sra Dolores and Sr Martinez sent 20 of their vehicles on the 2-hour diverted route to get to the other side of El Dorado Maroma so they would be in place to start transfers first thing in the morning. Then they cancelled all of their boat charters for the day and prepared the Fleet to take passengers and luggage safely between the pier at Marina Maroma, which is next to El Dorado Maroma, and the pier at El Dorado Royale.

You can imagine the logistics that went into executing this solution flawlessly in only a matter of hours. The Lomas and El Dorado staff worked hand in hand to assure all guests would make their flights on time and that all incoming passengers would get to their hotels and start their vacations as soon as possible.

The Lomas tagline is “We Do Care.” This is just another example of this being so much more than a tagline but a reality for Sra Dolores and Sr Martinez.

I speak on behalf of myself and all of my colleagues when I say that we are blessed to have the opportunity to represent an organization with owners that care so much for their fellow country man, their staff, and travel agents for giving them a chance to take care of their clients. THEY TRULY CARE.

Oh, did I tell you that both Sra Dolores and Sr Martinez, worked side by side that day with all their staff as they normally do?  Thank you both for being who you are.

Mandy Chomat and the Karisma Family

PS- All is back to normal in the Riviera Maya paradise where I’m happy to be today.

Chris Rakes - Personal & Group Travel Consultant, expert in Cruises, Tours and All Inclusive resorts.
Chris Rakes with a friend in Riviera Maya. Chris is a Personal & Group Travel Consultant, expert in best ways to experience Alaska, Caribbean islands, Central America, Europe, Hawaii & Mexico destinations.


Work with a trusted travel professional to plan your Mexican vacation! They know who is reputable and who best to recommend for you!!

Chris Rakes at 919.589.2437 or

Why I Chose Beaches as June’s Featured Resort

Beaches TC3Having just finished up certification training for the Sandals resorts brand, I am reminded that these resorts really are the only choice for foodies and discerning travelers who enjoy the all-inclusive experience.  From gourmet discovery dining to sports activities that include scuba diving, there is no better choice.  With school out and family summer vacations upon us, this month’s featured  resort, Beaches Turks & Caicos  is perfect for friends, families and groups!

Beaches-Turks-&-CaicosLocated in exotic Grace Bay in Providenciales, Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa is a Caribbean wonderland of adventure and luxury for people of all ages. Beaches Turks & Caicos is a multi-faceted fantasy world, where pastel pink bungalows are nestled in tropical gardens resplendent with graceful palms. Here, there are almost enough pools for each day of the week, and the last day is reserved for the largest pool of all, the clear turquoise sea bordered by a 12-mile stretch of beach. Made up of four distinct areas, Beaches Turks & Caicos offers the seaside garden paradise of the Caribbean Village, the sophisticated style of the French Village, the monumental surroundings of the Italian Village and the laid back style of the Key West Village. Dive into a one-of-a-kind, unbelievably exciting Beaches luxury included® Turks & Caicos vacation for the whole family.

Beaches Turks & Caicos
Beaches Turks & Caicos

A 45,000 square-foot waterpark; four magnificent villages, boasting the architecture and ambiance of Italy, France, the Caribbean and Key West; a 12-mile beach lapped by clear turquoise waters; endless fun activities for everyone, from tots to tweens and teens, featuring Sesame Street® characters, the Xbox Play Lounge and a sizzlin’ teen disco, Liquid at Beaches-all located on one of the world’s best beaches.

beaches tc4
Caribbean family resort of the year!

If you’re looking for the most comprehensive luxury included® family or group vacation ever at  a resort that offers every imaginable amenity and the Caribbean’s largest water theme park located on one of the world’s best beaches, Beaches Turks & Caicos is for you.  Suite Concierge Service, Exclusive Butler Service, Tours & Beaches-Turks-&-Caicos_17Excursions, Wi-Fi Coverage and Internet, Baby Sitting Services       Tips & Gratuities, Scuba Diving; More Quality Inclusions Than Anywhere On the Planet!

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

Contact a Sandals & Beaches certified specialist to plan your perfect getaway!


Yucatan Peninsula Going Strong

The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico – Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen.  For many travelers, this region of Mexico is their first introduction to the Caribbean Sea.  The continental country that borders, and has four islands in the Caribbean Sea is a popular tourist destination for many reasons!

playa del carmenGolf courses overlooking some of the world’s most beautiful waters, endless white sand beaches, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, a fantastic nightlife, world-class spa services, outstanding fishing, incredible snorkeling, outrageous diving, archaeological ruins, the list goes on.

A record number of travelers are vacationing in the region and the government’s commitment to the tourism industry is evident.  While interior regions of the country have some serious challenges, the photoEscudo_Destinos_de_retiro_Playa_del_Carmen_Playa_del_Carmen_MAINtourist areas of Cancun and by extension the Mexican Caribbean locations of Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya, Playa Del Carmen, Isla Cozumel, Tulum et al are considered by many to be some of the safest travel destinations in the Caribbean.

The short flights to this nearby jewel, the strength of the dollar compared to the peso, the all-inclusive scene make this region a very CZ-13-cozumelgood vacation value.  The personal attention and quality service you receive by the warm and welcoming people adds to your enjoyment and list of reasons why travelers are coming back repeatedly with their friends and families.

Contact Chris Rakes today for convenience and added value in planning your special occasion or group trip to the Yucatan Peninsula!

919.589.2437 /

Choosing a Destination Wedding Location


gazing couple

There are many benefits to having a destination wedding and more and more engaged couples are deciding it is the way to go.


Considered a more intimate and shared experience, couples also report experiencing fewer hassles and less stress when they work with a professional travel planner and onsite wedding coordinator to plan their destination wedding.  Rather than consuming themselves with decisions and details, couples in love are free to relish and enjoy this special time instead.


At the onset, a good travel planner will assist you in deciphering the best option for the location of your destination wedding.  Some items of importance you will be asked to consider are:

  • What is the longest duration of trip you are willing to consider for yourself and your guests in order to get to the wedding destination?
  • Will you or your guests require a passport or visa?
  • Do you have a climate preference?
  • How important is airport proximity to the wedding location?
  • Is there an on-site wedding planner to handle the wedding and any pre- post- wedding event details?
  • Is there a good combination of active and relaxing options to spread out for your guests over a few days?
  • Do you have a list of “must do” activities that the resort can accommodate?
  • Does the resort offer a free honeymoon or wedding option to the couple?
  • What is most important to you about the destination?

Renew Vows3A destination wedding is typically a less expensive, less hassles option for engaged couples.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity for friends and families to reunite.  Don’t leave the details to chance or put stress back into the occasion by trying to do it yourself. Work with a professional travel planner to pick the perfect destination that includes a great onsite wedding coordinator, and handle all the travel details for you, your friends and family.

Get started planning your destination wedding with a professional certified Destination Wedding and Honeymoon specialist.

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