December 22, 2012

Amazing Hotel Sweets - Part 2

These hotels are offering fantastic sweets with their suites this holiday season!

A life size gingerbread house at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Santa comes for a visit at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay

An impressive canned food drop-off station at the Hyatt Regency Savannah
North Pole Station at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver

The Kerry Hotel in Pudong, Shanghai spent over 200 hrs creating this amazing house

The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver's massive candy castle
Beautiful entry in the "Once Upon a Time" gingerbread contest at the Sheraton Seattle
A hotel within a hotel at The Dorchester in London


Wishing Happy Holidays and Safe Travels to All!

December 17, 2012

Amazing Hotel Sweets - Part 1

Any time of year you can book one of these hotels’ suites, but only during the holidays do you get to enjoy these sweets! 

Here’s the kickoff to my annual gingerbread house photo gallery.

IP Casino Resort Biloxi

Pastry chef putting finishing touches on gingerbread village at Rosewood Sand Hill
Over 6000 bricks of gingerbread used at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge! (Pastry chefs below.)


Chocolate house at the Runnymede on the Thames

Fairmont Olympic Hotel's replica of the Seattle Great Wheel

Snow village at the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe

The Mayflower Hotel, Washington DC

Replica of the CN Tower at the Ritz Carlton Toronto

And one from a floating hotel:

237 Square Foot Gingerbread House on the Disney Dream

November 7, 2012

5 Most Commonly Misunderstood Travel Terms

Adjoining rooms don’t actually join. – "Adjoining" means adjacent, or next to one another, not connecting. This is one of the most popular requests from my clients, especially when they are traveling with young children. In general, hotels will not guarantee room requests like this in advance, though there are a few that will guarantee connecting rooms for a fee. I have a very high success rate of acquiring guaranteed connecting rooms for my clients at Virtuoso properties and other luxury hotels, because of our agency's great relationship with them.
The Goring Hotel, London

Direct flights aren't always faster. – Frequent fliers know that a “direct flight" does not mean that the plane goes directly to their destination. It just means they don’t have to change planes, which is more convenient than a connecting flight, but not necessarily faster.  If you are looking for the shortest flight, make sure it’s nonstop.
Time for my beauty sleep

Ocean view does not mean a great view of the ocean. - As long as you see water from any vantage point, a hotel can get away with calling a room “ocean view.” Even if it means you have to stand on one edge of your balcony & lean way over to see just a sliver of water through the trees. Some hotels break down their room categories very precisely, offering everything from partial ocean view to oceanfront. But if the hotel doesn’t offer anything but ocean view rooms, that probably means there is a wide discrepancy in views, and it’s the luck of the draw when you check in. In that case, I request that my contacts at the hotel hand pick my client’s room to ensure the best location & view.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

Double has double meaning. – A "double" room can mean either that it sleeps two people (in one or two beds), or it has two beds in the room and can sleep up to four. Nor does it indicate what size the beds are. Whether a room has a double, full, queen, or king size bed is very important to many travelers, but this can be one of the most frustrating pieces of information to obtain. I don’t rely on website room descriptions to tell me everything I need to know, I talk to my contacts to find out exactly what my client can expect in their room, and ask them to guarantee their bedding request.
Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe

And my personal pet peeve:

Suites are not always as sweet as you think. – When clients tell me they want a suite, they usually mean they want a private bedroom, with a door separating the sleeping and living areas. But this is not necessarily what you get when you book a "suite" through a website. Hotels frequently use this term to refer to an oversize room with a seating area, what I would call a “junior suite.” I check floor plans or ask my contacts at the hotel to make sure I my client is getting exactly what they want.

Four Seasons Las Vegas

Instead of wasting your time trying to navigate through confusing, and possibly misleading, information on the internet, give me a call to help plan your next family vacation.  If I don't  have accurate information at my fingertips, I know exactly where to get it. You deserve to have your vacation dreams come true.

October 3, 2012

Top 5 Paranormal Hotel Hot Spots

Experience this season’s top paranormal tourism hot spots and rub elbows with century-old ghosts! Here are five hotels that really get into the "spirit" of Halloween, including two Virtuoso member hotels.

The Grove Park Inn (Asheville, NC) has had a ghost roaming its halls for over half a century. She is referred to as the Pink Lady because of the flowing pink gown she wears. It is believed that this young woman was a guest in Room 545 in the 1920’s and that she either jumped or was pushed to her death in the Main Inn’s Palm Court, five floors below. New reports of her sightings still occur, especially by young children. Some say they just see a pink mist, others a full apparition of a young long-haired beauty in a pink gown.

La Posada de Santa Fe (Santa Fe, NM) has a rich history dating back to 1882 when a Santa Fe Trail merchant, Abraham Staab, built it as a three-story Victorian mansion for his family. When Julia, Staab’s wife died in 1896 at the age of 52, her presence continued to live on throughout the home. Today, the Staab House at La Posada de Santa Fe retains its original structure and is home to a cozy bar and Suite 100, which used to be Julia’s bedroom. To honor her, the hotel staff makes sure to invite her to parties held in the house and greet her when they enter her bedroom.

The Homestead (Hot Springs, VA) is one of the oldest resorts in America (built in 1766) and has a long history including reports from the 14th floor located in the resort’s oldest wing. As the story goes, in the early 1900’s, a woman was set to be married at The Homestead but on the day of her wedding her husband-to-be ran out and never returned. The bride became so distraught that she took her own life. Now her spirit roams the 14th floor of the resort asking guests and staff for the time with hopes her groom will return.  Families take note, the resort just opened Allegheny Springs, a 2 acre waterpark including two 100-foot water slides and a 400-foot lazy river.

Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily buffet breakfast for two
$100 Outdoor Activities credit

Omni Mount Washington Resort (Bretton Woods, NH) hosts the ghost of Caroline Foster, the wife of railroad tycoon and the resort’s builder, Joseph Stickney. Visions of an elegant woman in Victorian dress are often spotted in the hallways of the hotel, but perhaps the most common sighting of the beloved Caroline is in room 314, where guests report seeing the vision of the woman sitting at the edge of their guest bed. This year, guests can get in on the scares with a new Haunted Canopy Tour offered October 26 and October 27 where you can zip through the trees during the early evening hours and expect to be spooked by ghouls, goblins and more.

Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort (Antigua) is an all-inclusive luxury resort located on the private island of Jumby Bay which takes its name from “jumbie,” Antiguan colloquial for “playful spirit.” In Antiguan culture, it is considered taboo to pass by graveyards at night for fear of becoming entrapped by Jumbies, spirits of persons who have become trapped in a state of limbo or purgatory who remain near their grave sites until they have served enough time to earn a place in heaven. The small island of Jumby Bay has an old graveyard near the main beach dating back to the 1700s.

Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
$100 Spa services credit

To learn how you can have the family vacation of your dreams (rather than a family vacation nightmare), contact Suzette at suzette@family-treks.com.

August 24, 2012

My Travel Insurance Story

I always recommend travel insurance to my clients, mainly to cover nonrefundable expenses or penalties should they have to cancel or cut short a trip. But many travelers don’t realize that this insurance provides other benefits as well, such as coverage for medical expenses or medical evacuation. There’s even a 24 hr customer support line for emergencies like a lost or stolen passport, or last minute changes to travel plans.

I buy travel insurance for almost every trip I take, including this summer’s vacation to Oahu. Fortunately I didn’t need to cancel or change our plans, but my Travel Guard insurance policy turned out to be beneficial anyway.

On our second day enjoying the beautiful beach at Disney’s Aulani Resort, my husband went swimming with his iPhone in his pocket. Which did not have a waterproof case. So we quickly added one more excursion to our list: a trip to the AT&T store for a new phone. Fortunately he had the phone long enough that he was eligible for an upgrade rather than having to pay full price. But it was still an expense we hadn’t planned for.

When we got home, I remembered we had the insurance policy and looked up baggage loss. It said cell phones & other electronics were covered for up to $150 per device. And there were no restrictions for being careless, clumsy-minded, or simply having a middle-aged moment!

I just had to send in some paperwork: a summary of what happened, a diagnostic report from AT&T saying phone was dead, an estimate to replace it, and a ‘denial of coverage’ letter from our homeowner's insurance (since the baggage portion of travel insurance is secondary coverage).

A few weeks later, I received a check for $149, which more than reimbursed us for the $113 we spent on our Travel Guard policy.

I have to mention that later on the trip, my son ALSO went swimming with his phone. Since it wasn't a smartphone, AT&T gave us a new one for free in appreciation for our customer loyalty, so we didn’t submit a claim. However we could have received up to $150 towards a new phone for him as well, since the policy covered up to $1000 for baggage loss. That also included things like lost, damaged, or stolen items, as long as the appropriate reports have been filed with the police, the airline, etc.

As you can see, even one little incident like this can make a travel insurance policy worthwhile. I have to admit, it’s more likely that my family will dump a beach bag filled with electronic gadgets off a boat than cancel a trip last minute. But since insurance policies are so reasonably priced, that alone makes it worthwhile. And the peace of mind that comes from knowing thousands of dollars of travel expenses are also protected is priceless.

If you have questions about travel insurance, please contact me at suzette@family-treks.com.  I can assist you with selecting the right policy for your needs, no matter how you've made your travel plans.

August 20, 2012

Family Vacation Photo Album: Denmark

One of my clients shared these pictures of her family's trip to Denmark this summer.

Really great trip!    It is truly a great family-friendly destination...   Museums have kid areas with dress up, Legos, coloring, etc.   Parks everywhere.   Really felt easy to travel.

Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen

Guarding the castle.

Helsingor, with Kronberg Castle in the background.

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.

Climbing the 400+ stairs of Old Saviors Church tower.

Climbing the anchor by the canals in Nyhavn.

Bumper boats at Tivoli Gardens.

Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde.
Kids had a ball dressing up as vikings,
making their own boats, & learning to write their name in Rune.
Many thanks to my client for sharing these wonderful photos!
Let me help you plan a memorable family vacation, too.  Just send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.

August 8, 2012

Disney’s Aulani Resort – I Tried Not to Like It

I know this sounds bad coming from a family travel specialist, but I have to confess that spending a week at Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu was not my idea of the perfect Hawaiian vacation. I do love Disney, I think have fantastic cruises and resorts. But having been to most of the Hawaiian islands, I have become a bit of snob about this destination, and had trouble wrapping my brain around a Disney-themed resort in my beloved tropical paradise.
So when our in-laws suggested we vacation there together, I had mixed feelings. But I quietly reprimanded myself as I would one of my children, saying I should be very thankful that we even get to vacation in Hawaii.

Disney must put something in the lemon & lime-infused water that they hand you on arrival, because I wasn’t in the lobby more than 10 minutes before I knew I was going to love the place. The décor was stunning, an elegant nod to Hawaiian culture. And the service was one would expect at a luxury hotel. When the greeter noticed the front desk was busy, he commandeered a concierge desk so that we did not have to wait to check in, then apologized that he was not as fast & efficient on the computer as the regular front desk staff.

Disney excels at attention to detail. Every single day I discovered something new, and it’s impressive that many of the details are not there to wow the guests, but to pay tribute to Hawaiian culture. I highly recommend every guest take one of the hotel tours so they can also appreciate these details, from the clever use of coconuts in the Makahiki dining room, to the symbolism of the artwork in the lobby.

I could write pages about all the fun things at Aulani, but since blogs are supposed to be short & concise (not my specialty), I will summarize my favorite things:

The lazy river - It was reasonably long & interesting with caves, fountains, and a fun waterslide. The pool area is undergoing expansion this fall, so there will be even more places to play next year.
The room – Nice details including under bed storage for suitcases and loose items, good shelf space in the bathroom, a balcony with 2 chairs & side table, and beautiful Hawaiian décor (with tasteful Disney touches including a vintage Mickey Mouse lamp).

The beach – Complimentary umbrellas and boogie boards, and a pretty & safe lagoon.

The activities – Each evening a resort guide was placed in our room, much like the activity guide you find on a cruise. There were a variety activities for all ages (most complimentary), including arts & crafts, cultural tours, and evening storytelling & movies. My daughter got to make a woven bracelet, a feather flower and turtle necklace.

The food – Every venue, from poolside dining to the signature oceanfront restaurant, was very good. A nice souvenir is an insulated travel mug, which can be refilled with soda or coffee at stations around the property.

Menehune Adventure Trail – Kids and adults can enjoy a high tech scavenger hunt with a specially programmed iPod that interacts with various features at the resort. There are multiple “trails” so there’s always something new to try. We made fire shoot out of a rock, sunk an island in the koi pond, and made musical instruments play on their own.

An oceanfront, two level, infinity hot tub – Need I say more?

And one other feature I have to mention, though my kids were too old for it, is Aunty’s Beach House. This is the complimentary kids' club for ages 3-12, and I have never seen anything like it. It is actually a full size house (over 5000 sq ft), with kitchen, playroom, computers, movie room, backyard, even a garage with workshop!

There is so much more I could tell about Disney’s Aulani Resort, and the island of Oahu. If you’d like more information or assistance with planning your own family vacation to Hawaii, just send a note to suzette@family-treks.com.