December 29, 2008

Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa on Kauai

As a family travel advisor, I often assist parents facing a common dilemma when planning a vacation: having to choose between the luxury and amenities of a resort hotel, or the space and convenience of a condominium. Outrigger solves that problem with one of its newest resorts, the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa on Kauai, by offering spacious one- and two-bedroom luxury condos with resort amenities and a great pool area.

The horseshoe-shaped resort surrounds a lushly landscaped pool area featuring two flumed waterslides. A heated river pool meanders through the grounds, accented with lava rock and waterfalls, and there’s even a hidden cave. A sand-bottom, zero-entry pool provides safe splashing for the youngest children, while adults could find a quiet spot on the lawn surrounding the river pool. A cafĂ© offers snacks and beverages poolside, and a beachfront cocktail lounge provides a nice place for parents to relax while kids play on the beach. Guests can also sink their toes in the sand bottoms of three hot tubs on the property.

The condos are not only spacious, but luxurious in every detail, including stainless steel Sub-Zero refrigerators, Wolf convection ovens, sleek granite countertops, and flat screen TV’s. Our two bedroom/three bath condo was over 1300 square feet, with each bedroom having its own spacious bathroom. Though it was just our family of four traveling, it would have easily accommodated a set of grandparents or another couple, by putting the kids in the living room sofa sleeper.

Children 5-10 years old receive an Island Explorer backpack at check-in including sunglasses, pen, binoculars, and two part workbook with Friends of the Reef Adventure Guide and Let's Explore Hawaii Guide. This is not just a run-of-the-mill coloring book, but a learning guide created in partnership with Jean Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society and the University of Hawaii.

The location in Kapaa was excellent for exploring the entire island. Though the beach was not swimmable at the resort, many excellent snorkeling beaches were just a short drive away. There was also a shopping center across the street, and several restaurants within walking distance. After a fun day of activity on the island, returning to a spacious, luxurious ‘home away from home’ at the end of the day was a real treat.

For more details, contact Suzette Mack, a Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor at suzette@family-treks.com.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

The first client I sent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa walked into the open air lobby with its amazing view, and promptly saw a whale breach offshore, perfectly framed by the foyer. He said right then he knew it was going to be an amazing vacation. And he was absolutely right.

The Grand Hyatt is an exceptionally beautiful resort, with lush vegetation, beautiful artwork, and elegant furnishings throughout. Despite its large size, the clever layout ensures that the resort feels intimate and exclusive. When I visited during peak Fourth of July week, the hotel was fully booked, yet there were plenty of chairs by the swimming lagoon, and I passed only a few other guests on the paths.
The recreational facilities include a meandering lazy river connecting two freshwater pools, a saltwater lagoon for kayaks and inflatables, four tennis courts, mountain bike rentals, a 45,000 square-foot indoor/outdoor ANARA health and fitness spa, and the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course next door. There is also 12,000 square feet of retail shops and for corporate groups, 65,000 square feet of meeting space, plus formal gardens and manicured lawns to host outdoor functions

The Grand Hyatt Kauai is not only one of the most luxurious hotels in the Hawaiian Islands, but it is one of the most family-friendly. Camp Hyatt offers a supervised children's program for ages 3 – 12, featuring activities relating to the island's culture, such as hula lessons, palm frond weaving, shell bracelet making, traditional Hawaiian storytelling and games, and the popular Parrot Talk. And kids of all ages enjoy the 150 foot waterslide!

And one of the biggest perks for parents: connecting rooms can be guaranteed at time of booking for an additional fee, based on availability.

The 2009 exclusive amenities for clients who book with a Virtuoso agency are:

> Upgrade upon arrival, subject to availability
> Daily buffet breakfast for up to 2 guests
> Evening appetizer in Stevenson's Library Lounge once during stay
> Complimentary daily spa access for two

In the exclusive Virtuoso Suite Life promotion, guests who book a suite receive a 6th night free, $200 resort credit, a fruit bowl, and fresh orchid display in addition to the above amenities.

For more details, contact Suzette Mack, a Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor at suzette@family-treks.com.

December 19, 2008

Kauai - A Family Vacation Paradise

It’s hard for me to choose my favorite Hawaiian island, a question I am often asked as a family travel advisor. My husband says it’s easy - it’s whatever island we are on at the time! I agree with that logic, but there is a special place in my heart for Kauai. I love not only its beauty and diversity, but the wonderful choice of family-friendly accommodations. In winter, Poipu Beach on the South Shore is the place to be, with safe swimming year-round. But in summer I head to the North Shore, not just for the jaw-dropping views of lush mountains rising steeply above taro fields and Hanalei Bay, but also to enjoy some of the best snorkeling in the world.
My family is passionate about snorkeling; you might even call us “snorkel snobs.” Despite its reputation for rough waters, we found many kid-friendly snorkeling spots on Kauai. There is a protected lagoon at Lydgate State Park specifically designed for young children, so we spent an afternoon there getting the kids used to their gear and comfortable in the water. It also had a huge playground with lots of fun climbing features, but my kids had no interest when there were fish to be seen! Then we headed to Tunnels Beach, near the “end of the road” on the north shore, where clear, shallow water extends for yards allowing easy and safe snorkeling for all ages. (Interesting fact: The reef along the north coast is so large it can be seen from space!)

There are many other activities on Kauai, making it a great destination for active families with older children, too. Surfing is very popular, and lessons can be taken on both the north and south shore. Hiking trails are available throughout the island, the most popular being the trails in Waimea Canyon offering spectacular valley views, and the famous Kalalau Trail leading to a remote beach on the Napali Coast. A trip to the private island of Ni’ihua offers outstanding diving in clear, deep water with visibility often well over 100 ft. There’s also four wheeling, river kayaking, zip lining, fishing, golf, cycling, and horseback riding. And nothing caps off a day of activity better than a bowl of Hawaiian shaved ice served over macadamia nut ice cream!

Kauai has a way of jarring the senses. You don’t really comprehend the height of the cliffs in Kalalau Valley until it’s pointed out during your boat tour of the Napali Coast that a “small” opening can accommodate a helicopter. The vastness of Waimea Canyon becomes even more impressive when you realize that a tiny white speck in the distance is a plane, which means the “hills” you are admiring are really mountains miles away. Filmmakers also flock to the island because of the lush scenery, and Kauai’s movie portfolio includes Jurassic Park, 6 Days/7 Nights, Mighty Joe Young, South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, and most recently, Tropic Thunder.

Kauai has a broad variety of resorts and condominiums that cater to families. Moderately priced hotels and condos as well as full service luxury resorts offer authentic Hawaiian ambiance, kid-pleasing amenities such as waterslides, and excellent dining and spa experiences. Families who want more space, or need accommodations that sleep more than four, will be pleasantly surprised at the number of upscale options available. For example, the spectacular Grand Hyatt Kauai will guarantee connecting rooms at time of booking for a modest fee. And both Outrigger Waipouli Resort and the new Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas offer spacious luxury condominiums with kitchens, living rooms, and private lanais, and beautiful pool areas. I’ll post more detailed reviews and photos of these resorts separately.

December 11, 2008

Give Mom a Break with a Holiday Getaway

Several years ago I found I was losing the holiday spirit after all the decorating, shopping, wrapping, mailing, baking, etc. I was pretty burnt out on Christmas by the time the big day arrived. One year I declared that I needed a break to get back in the Christmas spirit, and insisted we take a mini-vacation before the holiday. My criteria were simple: I didn’t want to cook, and it had to be a place with lots of holiday activities for the family. Since the old adage is true, “when Mom’s happy, everybody’s happy” it wasn’t difficult to convince my family to go along.

We went to Sunriver Resort near Bend, OR, whose annual Traditions celebration included horse-drawn sleigh rides, cookie decorating, caroling, and breakfast with Santa. My children were even tucked in one night by an elf that brought treats and read them a bedtime story! Spending this quality time with my family renewed my holiday spirit. I went home refreshed and happy, and ready to create wonderful holiday memories in my home.

I think more than ever this year people need to get away not just from the chores at home, but from the relentless stories of economic woe in the newspapers and on television. And travelers can take advantage of excellent promotions during this time. Many resorts are waiving the traditional 7 or 10 night minimum stay requirements typical for the holidays, and offering lower rates or more amenities than ever before. And when booking with a Virtuoso travel consultant, families get exclusive perks and VIP treatment at many of the world's top resorts.

For example, Four Seasons Jackson Hole is offering the fourth night free for arrivals December 18 through April 9. And as I am affiliated with a Four Seasons preferred agency, my clients also receive daily continental breakfast for two, a welcome amenity, and a complimentary upgrade (based on availability). The resort also has luxurious 2-5 bedroom residences in addition to hotel rooms and suites, which are conveniently situated for visiting Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

The Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek, Colorado, caters to families with services such as a ski nanny, youth spa, and daily fire pit lighting with hot chocolate, apple cider and freshly baked cookies. A special treat for kids is borrowing the resort’s resident Labrador Retriever for a snowshoe hike. Exclusive Virtuoso amenities for my clients include daily continental breakfast for two, a $50 spa credit, and complimentary upgrade based on availability. (For 2009, the spa credit is being replaced with an $85 food credit.)

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is also offering a fourth night free, as well as a Mountain Adventure Package which includes daily breakfast and $100 CAD credit per day toward mountain activities. When booking with a Virtuoso travel consultant, guests also receive a complimentary signature martini with souvenir shaker. Special holiday events such as caroling, sleigh rides and dog-sledding are planned through December, and guests can also enjoy afternoon tea service and evening fondue dining. For a festive city getaway, the Hotel Plaza Athenee in Manhattan offers fashionable, family-friendly accommodations a short walk from Central Park and Madison Avenue shops. Their Pillows and Penguins package includes two connecting rooms, daily continental breakfast, a children’s gift bag, 4 tickets to Central Park Zoo, VIP Passes to a Jekyll and Hyde themed restaurant, and milk and cookies at bedtime.

December 4, 2008

Why Use A Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor?

Finding the best travel value is more important than ever for families. It may seem easy on the surface, as the news is filled with travel deals and promotions. But most families don’t want a “cheap” vacation; they want their vacation dreams fulfilled at the best price. As a Virtuoso Family Travel Advisor, I can help parents maximize their travel dollar and end up with a wonderful family vacation that meets, and probably even exceeds, their expectations.

MORE FOR YOUR MONEY – This is not just about price, it’s about getting what you want and need when you travel. The good news for travelers right now is not just that they can get a discounted rate or a free upgrade, but that they can negotiate for those special perks that are often “on request” or “available only at check-in.” For example, many of my Virtuoso partner hotels are willing to guarantee upgrades at the time of booking, or guarantee specific bedding requests, a particular view or location, or even connecting rooms. When combined with the standard Virtuoso amenity, usually a complimentary meal or spa credit, families can get an exceptional value.

POWERFUL RELATIONSHIPS – This is one of those times where it’s “who you know” that makes all the difference. I spend a significant amount of time networking in the industry, to develop and maintain close personal relationships with my travel suppliers. So when my clients walk into a hotel for the first time, they will be warmly welcomed and treated like a VIP. I have also been able to acquire rooms at sold out hotels during holiday periods, or secure tickets to exclusive events. In virtually every country in the world, my clients have a local support network they can count on for emergencies or special needs. This is especially comforting for families traveling abroad with children.

HAPPY KIDS = HAPPY PARENTSAnyone who has traveled with children knows that it’s a completely different ballgame. Just like at home, parents make tradeoffs on vacation to ensure the comfort and security of their children. As a Family Advisor, I know that every age group has its unique needs, and I can help find that right balance in meeting the kids’ and parents’ interests. Years of experience traveling with my own children since they were infants allows me to proactively address parents’ concerns, and gives me expert knowledge of family-friendly lodging and activities. I have taken my children backpacking, cycling, and kayaking since they were very young, so even active parents don’t need to slow down just because they have kids.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS – The value of working with a Virtuoso Family Advisor becomes most evident after the travel reservations are made. That’s when I become my clients’ travel partner, reviewing trip logistics to make sure everything runs smoothly and no detail is left to chance. It’s easy to call an 800 number and book a room at a resort or a cabin on a cruise ship. But when you call back, you’ll probably never get that same agent again. And they certainly aren’t going to contact you to make sure your children have the correct travel documents, provide you a day to day itinerary, tell you which rail pass you should get, hire a driver who can provide a car seat, or advise you on travel insurance. I am at my clients’ service from start to finish.

As we head in to the busy holiday season, remember that the latest trends in fashion, movies, and toys will be forgotten over the years, but the memory of a wonderful family vacation will last forever. It doesn’t need to be far, it doesn’t need to be expensive. What matters is spending quality time together.