February 26, 2009

Family Cruise News

The new Carnival Dream will feature the largest and most elaborate water park at sea, including a 303-foot-long, four-deck-high corkscrew water slide with another 104-foot-long spiral water slide that leads into a giant funnel. The ship also introduces Carnival's first 18-hole miniature golf course. The ship caters to children, 'tweens and teens with more than 19,000 square feet of space of indoor & outdoor play space and supervised programs for ages 2 - 17.

Younger children will enjoy arts and crafts, toys and games, while older children & teens will have video games such as PlayStation and Wii, a karaoke machine, air hockey and foosball tables. Teens will also have their own separate area with dance club, soda bar, video jukebox, arcade games, and internet workstations, or can enjoy Carnival's Y-Spa youth spa program. Multi-generational activities will also be offered for the whole family, including pizza-making sessions, family water play and trivia contests.

Princess Cruises has teamed with Klutz® to provide high-quality arts and crafts projects for young passengers to enjoy onboard. Custom-built kits have been designed to engage young cruisers in fun and creative activities, a unique offering in the cruise industry which will be available fleetwide.

Children will have the opportunity to participate in up to seven Klutz® activities during their cruise: to build their own storybooks; create lanyard bracelets; make “picture tags” for charm bracelets, luggage tags, or pet I.D.s; create fuzzy masterpieces with Velvet Art; craft paper flowers, weave friendship bracelets; or make thumbprint art. The new Klutz® activities are offered for young passengers of all ages, and are scheduled during the youth center’s regular activities or during the ship’s family fun fair in the atrium, where all family members can join in.

Disney Cruise Line® was named the top large cruise ship experience and top 5 best spas at sea by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Disney recently announced a new service beginning in March that makes cruising with very young children even easier - baby supply delivery service. Guests can order items such as diapers, baby food, and infant formula before their cruise, and have them delivered directly to their stateroom.

Disney also announced 50% off for kids 12 and under. This offer is available for most sailings from March 26 through May 14, 2009. Government taxes and fees not included, and there must be full-fare guests in the same stateroom.

Royal Caribbean announced new services for guests booked in suites, designed to focus on distinctive and personalized service. New service enhancements include:

> Dedicated check-in lines
> Complimentary cabin amenities such as luxury spa robes, slippers, fruit plate, and chocolates at turndown
> Pre-dinner cheese presentation on the first formal night
> Exclusive privilege of ordering from the main dining room's menus for in-suite dining
> A selection of Mattel board games delivered to the suite
> Priority disembarkation and complimentary valet luggage service

RCCL’s Mariner of the Seas arrived in Los Angeles this week, to sail year-round on 7 night Mexican Riviera cruises. This is the largest ship to offer cruises from the West Coast, and it features the line’s iconic rock wall, a nine-hole miniature golf course, an ice-skating rink, a full size basketball court, and an inline skating track. Running nearly the length of the ship is the Royal Promenade, a boulevard of shops, restaurants, bars and lounges.

Costa Cruises will equip public areas and cabins with Sony PlayStation video game systems. Ships will feature PlayStation World, an area with PlayStation 3 consoles. There will also be PlayStations 3's available via on-demand service in cabins. The children’s and teens’ clubs will have PlayStation 2 consoles. After dark, Costa will hold “PlayStation Nights” on the lido decks of four of their ships, where gamers will play on giant screens.

For more information about finding the perfect cruise for your family, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com

February 23, 2009

Disney News for Families

Beginning March 15, Disney Cruise Line® becomes first the cruise to offer a new service for parents of infants and toddlers – baby supplies delivered right to their stateroom! Cruise guests will be able to order supplies online before their cruise, through online retailer Babies Travel Lite, who offers more than 1,000 brand-name baby products.

Other new services to make a Disney Cruise even easier with young children include:
- Complimentary use of Diaper Genies, cribs and playpens, bottle warmers, bottle sanitizers, and strollers
- Wagons for use on the beach at Castaway Cay
, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas
- Baby supplies available for purchase

At Disneyland, “it’s a small world” reopened in early February with new enhancements, including a new “Spirit of America” scene, new musical enhancements and a new look for some of the attraction’s familiar child dolls. Guests will be able to find some of the child dolls dressed as their favorite Disney Characters, in the countries where their stories take place. For example, dolls dressed in Aladdin and Jasmine costumes play in the Middle East scene, and a doll dressed as Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” appears in the Great Britain scene. The renowned “it’s a small world” song still plays throughout the ride, but now with subtle film music woven into the song, fitting the characters and scenes.
On Valentine’s Day, Walt Disney World® unveiled its newest attraction: The American Idol Experience.” Following the model of the widely popular television show, guests experience the challenge of auditioning, the rush of performing on stage in competition or the thrill of judging the performances in a live interactive entertainment setting. Each show takes place in a 1,000 seat, indoor theater that features the neon signs and a multi-layered backdrop inspired by the actual “American Idol” set in California. The newly designed venue is the most technologically advanced theater found at Walt Disney World Resort.

Walt Disney World® also recently introduced an ultra-interactive attraction inspired by the Disney Channel animated series, “Kim Possible.” Using the latest technology, Disney’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure invites guests of all ages to become secret agents, teaming up with members of “Team Possible” to save the world from various comical villains and their mad inventions. With their handheld wireless “Kimmunicator,” guests maneuver through the mission, connecting with a variety of characters from the show who provide clues to stop villains from taking over the world. These devices also allow guests to control top-secret equipment hidden inside World Showcase pavilions, creating an adventure jam-packed with mystery and excitement.

There are great deals to be had no matter what Disney vacation you choose for your family. For more information about how to plan a great family vacation and obtain the best value, contact Suzette Mack, a College of Disney Knowledge Graduate and Family Travel Specialist at suzette@family-treks.com.

February 9, 2009

Hawaii’s Best Luxury Travel Deals for Families

If you've always dreamed of a taking the family to a luxury resort in Hawaii, this may be the time to do it. For the past several years, Hawaii's popularity as a family vacation destination has been increasing. And as a result, rates have steadily gone up and hotels have sold out very early. But the current hiccup in the economy has reversed that trend, and now there are great deals to some of the best resorts on the islands.

If traveling out of SFO or LAX, Pleasant Holidays is offering special airfares, inlcuding 50% off a companion fare (SFO only through May 31) and reduced children's rates (one child per two adults for travel June 1- August 23). Clients also receive double upgrades on select Hertz rental cars, or a complimentary economy car.

So how does booking a package compare with booking everything separately? The price of a 7 night Pleasant Holidays package for June 13-20 in an Ocean View Suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani is $7746, including a mid-size SUV, taxes, lei greeting, and vacation protection plan. This includes roundtrip, daytime (not redeye) nonstop flights out of SFO. When I looked up these flights on United’s website, they were priced at over $2200 per person because only first class seats were available on the return flight. Nonstop flights which had economy class seats available were >$1000 per person. The best internet rate for the hotel is just shy of $4000, so that comes to over $8000 not including the rental car and travel insurance. That's a savings of over $1000 by booking the package!

Other Hawaii luxury hotel offers include:

Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island
Their Family Package includes:

> Guaranteed connecting rooms
> Breakfast for four daily
> Two full day passes to Keiki Adventures Program.
> Fifth night free for Garden View and Partial Ocean View rooms
> Third night free for Ocean View rooms plus $400 resort credit.

For single room bookings, the following offers apply:
> Garden view and partial ocean view – every 5th night free and full breakfast daily
> Ocean view and higher – every 3rd night free and $200 resort credit

Planning a family reunion? Book five rooms and the fifth room is upgraded to a suite for free - what a way to treat the grandparents! All offers are valid through December 20, 2009.

Four Seasons Resort Maui
They have an exclusive offer for guests booking through Preferred Partners before March 1, 2009:
> Fifth night free for travel through March 12
> Full island buffet breakfast for two adults each day including tax and gratuity
> Afternoon whale watch excursion for two adults
> Two specialty tropical cocktails and choice of appetizer in Lobby Lounge

Halekulani on Oahu
They are offering clients of Virtuoso Travel Advisors who book a minimum 3 night stay:
> Reduced rates
> Complimentary room upgrade (based on availability)
> Daily breakfast for two
> Private taxi transfers (or complimentary parking).

The Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa Kauai
An exclusive Suite Delight promotion is available through Virtuoso Travel Advisors for travel through December 24, 2009:
> $200 resort credit with a 4 night minimum stay in a suite
> 6th night free
> Beautiful orchid arrangement in the suite
> Deluxe fruit bowl
> Complimentary access to ANARA Spa facilities ($60 value per day)
> Daily buffet breakfast for up to two guests
> One evening appetizer in Stevenson's Library Lounge

To read more about Kauai, see my recent blog post, Kauai - A Family Vacation Paradise.

For more information about planning a family vacation to Hawaii, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com.

All offers subject to availability, and may be changed or canceled at any time without notice.
Restrictions or blackout dates may apply.

February 2, 2009

Fairmont Mayakoba (Riviera Maya) Review

I love Fairmont Resorts because they excel at being luxurious, yet kid-friendly, a balancing act that not all resorts do well. I have been pleased with all my Fairmont experiences, so I was very eager to try out the relatively new Fairmont Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya, just north of Playa del Carmen. I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive at first, as it is a very large, sprawling property. But once there, amidst the canals and lush vegetation, the resort took on a much more intimate feeling. And the Fairmont staff, as expected, provided exceptional service, so it was definitely not a mass market, “mega resort” experience.

Most of the rooms are spread out in low rise buildings around the property, surrounding an island with the main family pool, an adults only pool, kids club, cafe/deli, and casual restaurant. It really didn't take long to get oriented, as there is one main path running through the center of the property. Our room was the in “Private Casita” section, out by the beach, and separated from the rest of the resort by a long stretch of jungle. But rather than feeling isolated, we felt like we were staying a private resort. At the end of the day as guests headed back to their rooms near the main pool, we enjoyed having the oceanfront pool and beach to ourselves. And only the casitas in this section are assigned a private butler.

The best rooms hands down are the Beachfront Signature Casitas, with their own oceanfront infinity pool, and a terrace leading right to the beautiful beach. Most romantic are the Private Signature Casitas right behind them, on the second floor with their own rooftop infinity pool. While not beachfront, they enjoy the same panoramic views of the ocean and the resort, but are quieter and more private. But even the least expensive Fairmont rooms have their redeeming qualities. They are close to the lobby and spa, and have their own pool which was the quietest one of all, as most guests headed to the main pool in the center of the resort, just a short walk away. And as all rooms are nearly identical in size (~500 sq ft) and amenities, guests experience no difference in quality no matter what room they book.

For families wanting lots of space, there are many suites available which are basically two rooms connected, with the second bedroom transformed into a living room with sofa sleeper and coffee table, and two identical, and huge, bathrooms. Half of all the rooms at the resort are also available in a connecting configuration. Though they are not guaranteed before check-in, my clients receive priority in getting a connecting room request fulfilled because the Fairmont Mayakoba is a Virtuoso property.

What impressed me most about the resort was how it managed to serve the needs of all guests. Adults could find ample places to relax in peace, either at the adult infinity pool, or in the huge Willow Stream Spa (20 treatment rooms, including a couples’ room on the roof). Families with babies and toddlers hung out by the shallow kids’ pool, which was located conveniently close to the bathrooms, swim-up bar, and market. In fact I was very impressed by the clever design of the entire main pool area. Walkways and grassy areas clearly separated sections geared either for adults or children, but not so much that parents felt like they were isolated. Mom and Dad could relax in the kid-free water near the swim-up bar, but still easily monitor their kids on the waterslide. And if parents need some time alone, all children receive 3 complimentary hours in the Kids Club daily, which is open until 8 pm.

For 2009, the Virtuoso amenities are:
> Upgrade on arrival
(subject to availability)
> Daily continental breakfast for up to two guests
> $50 or $250 spa credit, depending on room type

For more information about the Fairmont Mayakoba, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at