December 17, 2009

Pastry Chefs Gone Wild - Part 2

I've received more pictures of amazing hotel gingerbread houses, so I decided on a follow-up to my previous post.

Ritz Carlton Chicago
(I love the ewok theme!)

Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch

Four Seasons Austin

Ritz Carlton South Beach
Ritz Carlton Sarasota

Pleasant Holidays Corporate Offices
(a gift from the
Ritz Carlton Kapalua)

Four Seasons Las Vegas

Ritz Carlton Moscow

To learn how to obtain the best rates and amenities at any of these resorts, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com

December 8, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Ok, maybe you think traveling with your kids is all the wildlife you need. But honestly, there is almost no better way to ensure kids have fun on vacation than to take them where they can see cool animals up close.

Here are some of our most memorable animal encounters:

Riviera Maya – The jungle extending from Puerto Morelos to Tulum is home to not only dozens of great family-friendly resorts, but also to many lizards. At the Fairmont Mayakoba, we couldn’t take two steps without seeing a gecko or iguana, and there was even a resident alligator in the canal! And Akumal Bay will always have a special place in our hearts, after hours spent snorkeling with manta rays, turtles, and even the occasional barracuda.

Alaska – While grizzlies have the most fearsome reputation, we had more encounters with black bears, including a very persistent guy who kept following us around on a backpacking trip in the arctic. Watching bear cubs tumble down a hillside in play (from a safe distance via spotting scope) was adorable. But one of my favorite experiences was kayaking in a small arm of Glacier Bay alongside seals that delighted in surfing with the incoming tide. San Juan Islands – One of the highlights on our Backroads family cycling trip was a wildlife-watching cruise. There are resident orcas in the waters off San Juan Island, which can also be observed from land at Lime Kiln Point State Park, along with the occasional minke and gray whale. It’s also a great destination for bird-watching.

Yellowstone - A visit to our nation's first national park is like going on a safari - wide open spaces and lots of big game. The kids squealed in delight as a bison practically stuck his (her?) head through our car window. And a bear foraging alongside the road was a real traffic stopper. We also saw moose, bald eagle, antelope, and heard there were also some wolves in the area, though we didn't get a chance to see them.

Canada – Near the top of my list of amazing animal experiences was during a trip to the Canadian Rockies one year around Labor Day. Fall is the elk breeding season when these beautiful creatures literally can be found walking the streets of town. But the real treat was when a bull decided to make the lawn of our cabin along the Athabasca river home to his harem. Every evening we had a herd right outside our door, and we listened to the haunting melody of the elk bugling, one of the most unique sounds I have ever heard in my life.

There are many other great family vacations that offer amazing opportunities to view, and sometimes even interact, with wildlife. Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Africa, just to name a few. These are the kind of vacations that not only create memories to last a lifetime, but can also change your life.

For more information about planning your next family vacation, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.

December 3, 2009

Pastry Chefs Gone Wild

Some hotel pastry chefs make amazing gingerbread creations to display in their lobby during the holidays. I asked them to send me pictures to share.

Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Spa, Sedona

Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay

Fairmont Banff Springs

Ritz Carlton, Charlotte

Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island

Grand Floridian Resort, Walt Disney World
(See a time lapse video of its construction.)

At all of these resorts, my clients receive exclusive amenities such as complimentary upgrades, resort credits, daily breakfast, and more. For information about these and other special offers for families, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist at suzette@family-treks.com.

November 23, 2009

Princess Dreams Come True at Disney

Recently a client took advantage of the dine free promotion at Walt Disney World, saving hundreds of dollars on her family’s vacation. And she was in for an even greater surprise when she arrived, having been upgraded to a large suite in honor of her birthday.

Not just any suite, but the 3000 sq ft Vice Presidential Suite with six plasma TV’s, five balconies, and four bathrooms! The suite is in the Tower Club, which means they also enjoyed access to a private lounge that served complimentary snacks, beverages, and cocktails throughout the day, and offered spectacular views of the Magic Kingdom.

Now I can’t guarantee an upgrade like this for everyone, but I promise to always ask my contacts at the resorts to take extra special care of my clients. And all guests have the chance to be treated like royalty when visiting Walt Disney World.

Many little girls dream of being a princess, so no better way to have that fantasy come to life than at the Magic Kingdom. The magical day starts with the full treatment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: hair, makeup, nails, costume. Then the beautiful princess and her courtiers (i.e. parents) enjoy a wonderful meal right in Cinderella’s Castle, hobnobbing with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, and of course, the castle’s namesake.
For more royal entertainment, little princes and princesses can enjoy the buffet at Norway’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot, or the Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Grand Floridian where they will receive a tiara or crown. And young ladies wanting to meet Prince Charming should plan to head back to the resort for Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner.
The free dining offer has expired, but guests can still save big on a Disney World vacation with the Free Nights promotion which is still available. Guests who pay for 4 nights can get up to 3 more nights free, including a 7 day park ticket for the price of a 3 day ticket. The offer is valid for travel most dates through 3/27/2010, if booked by December 20. For more information contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com.

November 10, 2009

Six Ways Families Can Save Money on Travel Insurance

1. Don’t automatically buy the insurance offered by the travel supplier – Some suppliers do offer insurance which provides excellent coverage at a good value, but more often than not their policies cost more and provides less coverage. Read the terms and conditions carefully.

2. Buy a policy that offers free coverage for children – Insurance sold by airlines, cruise lines and tour companies is usually offered at a fixed price per person, which makes it more expensive for larger families.

3. Buy early – And buy as soon as the first component of a trip has been booked, even if it’s a refundable deposit. Procrastinating or waiting until all trip details are finalized can limit coverage, and buying early may also provide free upgrades.

4. Add a rental car upgrade rather than purchasing CDW from the rental company – This is especially true when renting in countries like Mexico where CDW is mandatory. For example, Hertz charges $40 per day for insurance, but upgrading a travel insurance policy to include one week of rental coverage is less than $50.

5. Shop around – Most travel insurance policies are comparably priced, but they do increase rates by age. So a policy from one company may cost more for a 50 yr old traveler than another, based on how they set up the age brackets. Also, a basic policy might cost the same between two companies, but upgrade options could be priced differently.
6. Buy from a professional – Travel agents can sell insurance to anyone, even travelers who have booked a trip on their own. They receive ongoing training, so they have the latest information on traveler’s concerns such as swine flu and can explain what is and isn’t covered. They know what questions to ask to ensure a traveler is purchasing the right policy for their needs, and also get them the best value.

If you would like more information about travel insurance, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist at suzette@family-treks.com.

November 3, 2009

A Kid Friendly Retreat in Las Vegas

I don’t generally recommend Las Vegas as a family vacation destination, but sometimes a trip there is necessary due to family or work obligations. Parents can avoid the casinos, clubs, and any other “scenery” they find too risqué for their children, yet still enjoy luxurious amenities and exemplary service by staying at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Located near the airport, in the Mandalay Bay complex, the Four Seasons offers a non-smoking, non-gaming retreat. In fact, when sitting poolside, or enjoying a meal on the terrace, it almost feels like being in Hawaii. Yet steps away are the casinos and pools of Mandalay Bay, as well as a complimentary car service ready to whisk guests in comfort to other destinations on The Strip.

I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, and though I was not with my children, the family-friendliness of the hotel was evident. In fact, I ran into several parents with young children during my stay. The rooms are spacious, and the one bedroom suites are particularly nice for families as they have a sofa bed in the living room. There’s even ample space for a rollaway (which was one of the plushest I have ever seen), so each child can have their own bed.

The main Four Seasons pool is modest in size compared to other Las Vegas hotel pools, but it is quiet and well-staffed with pool attendants who promptly bring towels and a pitcher of ice water with lemon wedges. There’s even a sunglass butler to clean guests’ glasses and tighten up loose screws. A small wading pool located on the far side of the bar gives parents with young children their own retreat. And for children of all ages (even grown-ups), the Mandalay Bay wave pool and lazy river are just steps away through a private gate which only Four Seasons guests may use. The Four Seasons Hotel actually occupies the 35th through 39th floors of the Mandalay Bay tower. However check-in is completely separate, and guests take an express elevator to their rooms. It is possible to never see a slot machine or gaming table while at the Four Seasons, but for those who want to gamble, the Mandalay Bay casino is just steps away through a key carded door exclusively for use of Four Seasons guests.

My agency is a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, so my guests receive daily breakfast for two (a $76 value, which covers the wonderful buffet), a $100 spa credit per room, and a complimentary upgrade, based on availability. And suites are very affordable right now, as a Buy 1 Night Get One Free promo runs through the end of the year.

For more information about special rates and amenities at Four Seasons Resorts & Hotels worldwide, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist at suzette@family-treks.com

October 21, 2009

Just For Kids in Los Cabos

Los Cabos is a great beach destination just a short flight from West Coast cities. Located on the Baja Peninsula, the climate is arid and dry, very different from other Mexico resort areas.

Here is a sample of what resorts have to offer for families:

Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa – The Explorer’s Club for ages 3-12 offers a playground area, indoor game room, plus movies under the stars and a weekly camping adventure on the beach.
Royal Solaris Los Cabos Resort & Spa – A water park has fountains for toddlers to splash in and a water slide for children under 12. A teen club is open 10 am to 10 pm for ages 12-18.

Melia Cabo Real – In addition to a kids’ club for ages 5-12, they also provide childcare for children as young as 4 months. Older kids and adults can enjoy a zip line on the beach and rock climbing wall.

Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos – The Fiesta Kids Club features six animated characters to entertain children. A cove beach area, protected by its own reef, is safe for swimming.

One and Only Palmilla – Children 4-11 enjoy a fully supervised program which explores the culture of Mexico, including Spanish lessons, piñata-making classes, and cooking lessons. Virtuoso amenities for my clients include a complimentary upgrade based on availability, daily continental breakfast, a 30 minute in-room Foot Rejuvenation for two people, and a set of candles.

For help planning the family vacation of your dreams, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist at suzette@family-treks.com.

October 6, 2009

Family Travel Diaries: Yellowstone & Grand Tetons

Here is a report from a client who visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this summer. To make the most of their time in Yellowstone, they booked a guided tour which gave them behind the scenes access to some of the amazing natural features. They enjoyed the guided tour so much the first day, they upgraded to a private tour for the next so that they could have an even more exclusive and personalized experience.

Below are e
xcerpts from the travel journal written by the children:

Day 1 -We flew into Bozeman, MT on a puddle-jumper this afternoon. About a half an hour later, we were half way to 320 ranch (our “hotel”) when we saw two black bears (that were brown) and one stood up on its hind legs!... Our “hotel” actually turned out to be a historic cabin which had one bedroom- until J. found the magic door in the ceiling to the finished attic for us kids. That night was our first tour: “The S’mores Tour”. On that tour we saw old faithful erupt. When it got dark, we pulled over to a “picnic” area where we had Smores and our tour guide told us a scary story…

Day 2 – [We] took another Yellowstone tour. It was the best! This time, we went to Lamar Valley, or the Upper Loop. We saw way more animals. At the end of the tour, HUMOUNGO Bison were crazily crossing the road. There must have been hundreds of them! About half were babies, and that was totally cool.

Day 3 - Today was a crazy day. We went into Yellowstone this time to see The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We drove up to Artist Point, and when we got there it was pouring down rain!... Anyway, the view of the canyon was absolutely beautiful! It is made of literally, “yellow” stone. Also, we saw Upper falls, which drops two times longer than Niagara Falls! The drop on Upper Falls is 309 feet! The view was excellent!

Day 4 - Today, we started a hike that was an animal trail…We were walking in places that your typical tourist would not travel. We picnicked at the top of a hill – we ate right there on the ground...

Day 5 - [We] started off the morning going horseback riding. It was the awesomist horseback ride I’ve ever been on.... J rode the biggest horse, on his first horseback ride ever! It was extremely fun!!!! We had the best views of the Teton Mountain range.
For more information about planning your family's next adventure, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Advisor at suzette@family-treks.com.

September 28, 2009

Frightfully Fun Events for Families This Halloween

Universal Studios Orlando - Movie monsters such as the Wolfman, Jigsaw and Chucky come to life on Halloween Horror Nights. The Wolfman movie doesn't hit theaters until February but Universal guests will get a preview of the character and his obsessions at the park. Other horror films and characters include re-imagined classics like Frankenstein and Dracula, along with haunted houses, live shows and costumed actors.

Walt Disney World® Resort – Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom features trick-or-treating with Disney characters in their finest Halloween outfits, a HalloWishes fireworks show where the Disney villains go trick-or-treating in the sky, and Mickey's "Boo-to-You" Halloween Parade. Separate event ticket is required, for select dates between Sept. 4 and Nov 1.

Disneyland® Resort – Halloween Screams, a bewitching display of fireworks and breathtaking effects, will be shown select nights between Sept. 25 and Nov. 1. Space Mountain will turn into Ghost Galaxy with sinister sound effects and creepy cosmic creatures lurking around every corner. Jack Skellington and his creepy crew are back for another Halloween/Christmas monster mash-up at Haunted Mansion Holiday. And guests of all ages can enjoy crafts & activities plus lots of spook-tacular entertainment at Mickey’s Trick or Treat party (separate event ticket required).

Hawaii – Lahaina (Maui) is famous for having the biggest Halloween party in Hawaii. The festivities are often compared to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, although more family friendly, at least until sunset when things can get a bit rowdy. In fact, events are kicked off with a Children's Costume Parade. Ichabod's Haunt" spooky attraction on Front Street offers not-so-scary children's shows from 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu offers a Haunted Lagoon canoe ride beginning Oct. 2. The Hallowbaloo Music and Arts Open Air Street Festival will take place in the Downtown Honolulu Arts District on Oct. 31. Kauai activities include a cornfield maze at the Kauai Christian Fellowship Church in Koloa, and a haunted house and costume parade at Hanapepe Town Park. And the Big Island features an all day block party in Kailua-Kona on the Alii Drive waterfront, including live entertainment and costume contests.

Las Vegas – I don’t normally recommend Las Vegas as a kid-friendly destination, but older children who enjoy haunted houses and horror movies may enjoy the award-winning Fright Dome at Circus Circus. Beginning Oct. 2, the hotel's Adventuredome theme park transforms into a frightful experience, including five haunted houses (two themed after the legendary SAW horror movies), 23 rides & attractions, a Freak Show, and a haunted 4-D FX theater.

California - In San Jose, the Winchester Mystery House offers special flashlight tours and trick or treating in the gardens. And Half Moon Bay is host to a world famous pumpkin festival on October 17 & 18. Here families can see pumpkins bigger than Volkswagens and watch the "Picasso of Pumpkin Carvers" create a masterpiece out of a 1000+ lb gourd. The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay has rooms beginning at $399 per night including these exclusive amenities for clients of Virtuoso agencies:

• Breakfast for two daily ($60 Credit)
• $85 Wine Flight Voucher to Eno
• Upgrade at check in based on availability

For more information about planning a fun family vacation for Halloween or any other holiday, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.