April 24, 2012

Ten Fun Facts About the Arizona Biltmore Resort

I recently visited the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, and was "wow'ed" by not only it's beauty, but it's history. Here are some fun facts I learned on my trip:

1. The only existing hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design
2. Second largest gold leaf ceiling next to the Taj Mahal

3. The Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame) owned & operated the hotel for 44 years
4. A scene from Waiting to Exhale was filmed in The Wright Bar
5. Wright’s serves diners homemade cotton candy at the end of the meal

6. Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas” by the Catalina Pool
7. This was also Marilyn Monroe’s favorite pool
8. They have a “Tea Sommelier”

9. Nancy Reagan always stayed in a villa with a view of her parents’ nearby estate
10. All Presidents have stayed here since Herbert Hoover in 1932, except for Barack Obama (so far).
This is beautiful, historic property which is perfect for a family vacation or family reunion.  Accommodations range from standard rooms and suites to 1 & 2 bedroom villas.  Kids will love the large, grassy open spaces, and fun pool with waterslide.  All ages can enjoy fine dining, a family-friendly atmosphere, and lovely indoor & outdoor public areas with firepits and comfy couches.

 Clients who book their stay through me are eligible for Virtuoso amenities, which include:

- Daily continental breakfast for two
- $100 food & beverage credit at Frank & Albert’s
- Upgrade to next room category, based on availability*
- 4 pm late checkout, based on availability

* If possible, Virtuoso guests will be upgraded to a Club Room in the Ocatilla building. 

For more information, contact me at suzette@family-treks.com.

April 15, 2012

Travel Insurance- What You Need To Know After You've Bought It

As anyone who has followed my blog or twitter feed knows, I am a HUGE proponent of protecting your vacation investment with travel insurance. But that insurance will do you no good if you cannot obtain reimbursement due to lack of documentation to support your claim.

Here are some tips from Travelex, one of the companies I recommend most often because of their family-friendly rates and great customer support. And most importantly, they are efficient at processing claims to ensure my clients receive funds in a timely manner. The turn-around time is typically about 2 weeks if all necessary forms are filled out properly and include the supporting documents.

If you have booked your trip through a travel advisor, they should be able to provide most of the necessary information to file a claim:

* Invoices for initial and final payments. (Documenting the date of initial payments for a trip is important to determine if a client qualifies for coverage for extras such as pre-existing conditions, financial default of the supplier, etc. Thus it’s important to buy travel insurance in a timely manner, usually within 2-3 weeks of your first deposit, to obtain the most comprehensive coverage.)

* Terms and conditions of the supplier, and penalties charged

* Refunds received for any unused portions of the trip

* Original & unused travel documents, or copies

Additional documentation a traveler needs to provide may include (depending on the reason for the claim):

* Attending Physician's statement

* Proof of cause of interruption/delay (e.g. incident report from airlines)

* Receipts for additional expenses: purchase of new airline tickets, hotel receipts, etc.

Proof of charges for trip: credit card statement or cancelled checks (front & back copy)

Lost Baggage Claim number  – be sure to get something in writing from the airline.  Hang onto your baggage tags.

* Police report - If there is an incident that requires police assistance.  If your valuables are stolen, you must call the police and file a report in order to submit a claim.

Here are some tips to help you prepare before your trip:

* Document what you are carrying in your luggage:  Lay all items out on a bed before you pack and take a picture.

* Take a picture of your luggage to assist baggage handlers in locating your lost bag.

* Never pack valuables in your checked bags, always place them in your carry-on. This includes cameras, laptops & other electronics, jewelry, prescription glasses, medications, etc. Not that there is usually a cap on how much insurance will pay for a single item. For example, Travelex‘s limit is $600.

* Pack your travel insurance documents in your carry-on luggage. Most insurance companies also provide wallet cards and baggage tags for your convenience.

If something unfortunate happens while you are traveling, the first thing to do is call the 24 hour support number shown on your insurance policy. The emergency call center can assist with booking new flights and accommodations, finding medical care, replacing lost passports, and tracking lost bags. This feature alone is worth the cost of any policy, especially if traveling in an unfamiliar area or if you don’t know the local language.

If you cannot call them immediately, call as soon as is possible, don’t wait until you get home or to your destination. It’s important to document incidents as soon as they occur, as waiting too long could hinder the claims process. Also, customer service can advise you real-time on what documentation to collect, which could be difficult or impossible to obtain at a later date.

If you have not purchased travel insurance yet, I am happy to help find the right policy to suit your needs.  It is not necessary that I have booked your trip.  Contact me at suzette@family-treks.com for more information.

April 5, 2012

El Tovar, a Grand Canyon Gem

What’s better than a visit to the Grand Canyon? Spending the night there in the El Tovar Hotel.

Though it’s >100 years old, I walked into the hotel with the same anticipation as if entering the latest & greatest modern luxury hotel. I had heard about it for years & knew it was a ‘must do’ which actually made me worry that I had overly high expectations. But I was not to be disappointed.

I have to admit I am biased. I LOVE the historic grande dames of the National Park system. Exposed knotty beams, taxidermy on the walls, Native American prints...I just eat it up. And the employees are always so happy to be there (who wouldn’t be??), so service is always good.  And the location? Getting any closer to the rim would be downright dangerous!

Booking a room at El Tovar can be tricky business. As is common with older properties, rooms are smaller than in modern hotels, they are inconsistent in size, layout, amenities, and bathrooms & closet space tend to be modest. We spent a little more for an oversize room, which in fact turned out to be about the size of a standard hotel room. There were 2 queen beds, a single chair, an armoire, and a small closet. Cozy for a family of four, but clean and comfortable with modern bedding. The bathroom was relatively spacious, and fixtures were new.

We did luck out in a couple ways: we had a large balcony (shared with another room), and we were on the second floor. The latter had two benefits: fewer stairs to navigate in a hotel with no elevator, and a common area just down the hall with a TV, piano, fireplace, and tables and chairs that overlooked the lobby. At the end of a full day of hiking & sightseeing, it was nice to have a place to read a book, play cards and games, and even enjoy a meal delivered by room service.

The hotel also has many suites, each with different bedding and amenities, and some that sleep 5 or 6.  I obtained the suite information with all the details so that I can help my clients pick the best one for their family. 
You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy one of its finest features: the beautiful dining room which features a private room built just for President Roosevelt. A casually elegant setting, guests can feel comfortable in dress clothes or jeans, and enjoy fantastic food and friendly service. (Insider tip: Don’t bother to ask about corkage fees, as you can’t bring your own wine to restaurants in Arizona.)

As is true for accomodations in most National Parks, El Tovar books up very far in advance, especially for peak vacation periods, so it is imperative to plan ahead.