Friday, September 1, 2017

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Six New Ways to Experience Alaska by Ship

As more Americans choose closer-to-home vacations, Alaska was this summer's hottest cruise destination:  Almost 3/4 of the 700 travel agents polled by Cruise Lines International Association reported an uptick in Alaska summer bookings.  Lines say the 49th state satisfies current cravings for an adventurous, scenic, family-friendly, and safe destination.
By ship, you can glide through the Inside Passage and watch humpback whales breach and glaciers calve in spectacular settings like Glacier Bay National Park. Strike out on adventures like heli-hiking and dogsled mushing in port, or catch your own salmon in a mountain stream. Many lines offer add-on land tours that take travelers deep into Denali National Park or through Yukon gold-rush country in northern Canada.
Here are six new ways to experience the Great Land by cruise in 2016: 
1. Cook your catch. If you land a salmon or halibut during certain Princess Cruises shore excursions, the ship’s chefs will prepare it to your specifications to enjoy onboard. The new “Cook My Catch” offering is available during calls at Juneau and Ketchikan. As passengers return from their tour, they select their preferred fish preparation and accompaniments, and then the culinary team takes it from there. And if the fish aren’t biting? You can still dine on fresh Alaskan king crab, king salmon, and halibut in Princess ships’ main dining rooms. Plus, this summer their deck grills feature specialties from popular shore-side eateries, including crab cakes from Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau, fish tacos from Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan, and halibut burgers from Skagway Fish Company.
2. More to do at Denali. Travelers on Holland America Line’s Land+Sea Journeys can experience more culture and scenery at the company’s gateway to Denali National Park.  In the 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort, the newly inaugurated Denali Square serves as a gathering area to relax, dine, hear music, and delve into Alaskan culture. An amphitheater provides a covered performance stage for local shows, ranger talks, and demonstrations. The Gold Nugget Saloon is a choice spot for live music, and a new restaurant offers mountain views from an outdoor deck. You can gather ’round fire pits on cool evenings and toast marshmallows for s’mores, visit an artist-in-residence cabin where Alaskan native and local artists display and discuss their works, and hike paths through mountainous landscapes and along the Nenana River.

3. Explore more at Icy Strait Point, Alaska’s native-owned and operated cruise port. A new floating dock means ships no longer have to anchor. This gives passengers more time to explore Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit town, with its restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum, nature trails, and 100 percent Alaskan-owned shops. Passengers step ashore at a new Adventure Center, where they can join many different tours, from exploring Glacier Bay to searching for humpbacks at Point Adolphus, one of Alaska’s richest whale grounds. Those who stick around Hoonah can see bald eagles wheel overhead, sip a local beer at the Duck Point Smokehouse, or fly down North America’s longest and highest zip line.
Princess Cruises allows its passengers to cuddle with sled-dog puppies.
Princess Cruises allows its passengers to cuddle with sled dog puppies
4. Meet puppies (really!). Princess Cruises is bringing aboard some of Skagway’s newest sled dogs for a visit in the ship’s piazza (central atrium). You can snap a picture with the cuddly puppies and talk with the handlers who’ll be training them for a life of mushing.
5. Get active in the wilderness. Small-ship specialist Un-Cruise Adventures has two new routes: “Exploring Muir’s Wilderness” and “Yachters’ Alaskan Frontier,” both featuring hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff excursions, and whale watching in remote wilderness. With few or no port calls and flexible itineraries, the week-long programs, round-trip from Juneau, focus on exploration and wildlife. The best part? Each trip is different.
6. Trek the Northwest Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean. In August the luxurious, 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity will become the largest cruise ship to navigate the route, maneuvering through 900 miles of waterways lined with glaciers, fjords, and vast, unspoiled landscapes north of mainland Canada. The expedition begins in Seward, Alaska, and ends 32 days later in New York City. On board, speakers will address climate change and how the retreat of polar ice has enabled Crystal Cruises and others to undertake this expedition. The cruise currently has a waiting list; however, Crystal plans a second voyage in August 2017. And next year, fellow luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises will be transiting the Northwest Passage, too.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

When people find out what I do for a living, weird things often happen...Some will tilt their heads to one side and ask “Do Travel Agents still exist?” as if they were magically staring into the eyes of a unicorn. Others will immediately start over-sharing every travel nightmare they, and everyone on the internet have ever experienced. Finally there are the folks that hit you up with a rapid fire, laundry list of questions like a hypochondriac during a doctor’s visit. The other ever popular response is “Wow, so you must get to like travel all over the world for free-right?”
Truth be told, I have the best, most misunderstood job in the world. It’s true, most people have no idea how travel agents work and how they can help. Hopefully, I can help clear up some of this confusion by explaining things about what we do....
Most desperate vacation-seekers, take the knee jerk reaction of heading online to make their reservations. The lure of internet convenience and control quickly turns into confusion, indecisiveness and anxiety not to mention a huge time suck. How do I know?...because not a day goes by that I don’t receive emails pleading for help from these exact problems from would-be vacationers.
Think of a travel agent as your tour guide that will lead you to the perfect vacation.
If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a travel agent is like, here’s a bit more about what we’re all about and how we help our clients....

Travel Agents are “All Inclusive” - Hotels, vacation package companies and cruise lines all include travel agent commissions in their published prices. If you do all the work yourself online, they “pocket” the difference. Using the services of a travel agent means you get the customer service you deserve. You won’t be spending hours on the internet, hanging on phone hold for eternity or wasting any precious time wondering and worrying.

Travel Agent Do Not Cost More - Travel agents basically earn their living by the commissions we earn from our sales of hotel stays, cruises, sightseeing and rental cars. The airlines haven’t paid commissions to travel agents since the mid 1990’s. This is why when my travel agency recommends infants should have their own airlines seats instead of flying free as a lapchild, we’re not trying to part you from your money, we’re trying to make sure your baby stays safe. If you want to use mileage points too book your own flights, no problem. Online Travel companies do charge service fees. They build them into the cost that you pay. There are some travel agents that do charge a minimal service fee for their time which is usually offset by their time and money savings. Make sure you do ask in your initial consultation. Others may ask for an upfront deposit, especially in situations dealing with very complex itineraries or group events.
Travel Agents Are not pushy - Any good travel agent knows it’s not about making the sale, it’s about creating happy clients. Happy clients become fans of your company, come back to you every year and recommend your company to others. Most travel agents rejoice when we can save our clients money with a great deal. We make our recommendations based on the specific needs and requests of our clients. We don’t base our recommendations on industry sales incentives or bonus gifts. If we know of a better room or experience that will enhance our client’s family vacation, we’ll suggest. We just want our clients to make the best informed decisions to get the most value for their vacation dollars.
Travel Agents Match Online Prices - Some people just enjoy planning their own vacations. These are probably the same folks who like putting together IKEA furniture. No matter, make yourself happy find your best price and email us all the details. Your travel agent will either be able to match it or tell you why you’re setting yourself up for a scam. I even had clients who will make their own reservations directly with a cruise line or tour company then call and transfer their booking to our agency. It’s a win-win. They get and do exactly what they want while having us do all the follow up, follow thru while making suggestions to enhance their enjoyment. .
Travel Agents Have Rates That You Don’t - Travel agents are privy to special flight prices, special hotel and cruise cabin rates that consumers will never find online themselves. This feature alone will save you money. Beyond pricing, good travel agents have the buying power to get extra amenities like ship board credits or insider tours that can also enhance your family’s vacation.
Travel Agents Save You Time - Time in our most precious commodity and yet so many people are willing to waste it. HOURS can be spent properly researching a vacation. With the amount of conflicting information available online, it’s easy to quickly get overwhelmed and confused. Many times, the questions perplexing travelers are one that agents can answer right off the top of our heads thanks to our years of experience. If you have detailed questions or need to plan a complicated itinerary, we do all the work for you. We can make the international phone calls to get your questions answered. We know who and how to reach out to in order to get the job done, saving you hours of frustration.
Travel Agents Understand The Fine Print- Most people don’t bother reading any of the fine print terms and conditions of their travel documents until it’s too late. This is what “trips” them up (pun intended) and costs them big bucks in the long term. Even if folks do stop to read it, they fully understand all the implications. Travel Agents are well versed in these rules, terms and conditions. We can help navigate and protect your family and investment.
Travel Agents Protect You - Most DIY vacation planners don’t realize that medical insurance usually does not cover your family while on vacation out of area or especially overseas. Many foreign countries will take your passport if you are admitted to a hospital and will expect payment in full for any treatment or surgery prior to discharge. A good travel agent will make sure you have the proper peace of mind with the right travel insurance to keep your family safe and protected.
Travel Agents Have Contacts - Travel agents do not get “free” trips. We invest our own money and especially our time to travel and visit the destinations we recommend. Sure we experience new travel options and learn about destinations. The most important reason why we make this professional investment is for the opportunity to meet face to face with the right important industry contacts. These important connections truly benefits the vacation experience our clients ultimately enjoy. We know exactly who to speak to in order to make special requests for our clients. This could mean things like connecting rooms, welcome gifts or advanced restaurant reservations. These relationships have proved priceless in emergency situations.
Travel Agents Have Specialized Expertise - At our agency, we specialize in Family and multi generational vacations. In a former lifetime, I was a pediatric nurse so I often use those skills to help my clients. I will often share and collaborate with other travel industry professionals to help clients enjoy vacations that exceed their expectations. Even within our agency, we have agents who are Disney experts while others have experience creating customized tours in Europe, Africa and Asia. If we don’t have an in house person who can best serve our clients, we collaborate with other professionals who can.
Travel Agents Have Priceless Advice - First hand experience and knowledge are what will change a typical vacation into a real memorable experience. Even though good travel agents professionally invest in their own travel to gain this experience, not every Travel Agent can humanly know every destination in the world. That said, good travel agents have a “golden network” and know exactly who to call to get the answers their clients need.
Travel Agents Prevent Hassles - Most DIY travel people don’t realize if there is a HUGE difference between great value and the cheapest price. For example, you may pay a really low price for your family’s flight but that doesn’t mean you’ll make your connecting flight. This could result in an unexpected camp out at the airport terminal and the out of pocket loss for the vacation days you’re missing. A good travel agent know certain airport require longer connection times than others to prevent problems. This is just one of many examples that “trips” up online travel shoppers and may explain so many of the unnecessary rants on travel review websites.
Travel Agents Babysit Your Reservations - Many folks have commitment issues when it comes to pulling the trigger and confirming their reservations. They always think they will get a cheaper last minute rate. Often they wait too long, forfeit availability and end up paying much more for their vacation. Most people don’t realize that if their trip goes on sale, they can get a lower rate. A good travel agent will babysit your reservation and have any lower prices or sales applied to your reservation, even after you’ve made your initial deposit has been made. This is true for many cruises or Disney vacations. For Caribbean or Mexico resort vacations, our agents can direct you to price guarantee coverage that offers you the same option.
Travel Agents Offer Affordable Payment Plans - Online booking require payment in full at the time you confirm your reservations. This means you could be paying huge credit card interest fees that will add to the total cost of your vacation in the long run. If you plan ahead and use a travel agent, you will only be required to pay a small deposit to confirm your family’s vacation reservations. Final payment for your trip will usually be required 45 to 60 days prior to your departure. This means your travel agent can set up a monthly vacation layaway program that could save you hundreds on credit card interest.
Travel Agents Work As Your Troubleshooter - No matter how much you prepare, sometimes unexpected “stuff” happens while your on vacation. When you book with a travel agent, they are with you every step of the way. We are your personal advocate. If you run into any issues, your travel agent can make calls and usually fix the situation so you don’t have to waste valuable vacation time problem solving. We usually know who to call and how to ask for the right solutions many times exceeding your expectations. In the rare instance that you need to make a travel insurance claim or need to follow up on a complaint after you return home, your travel agent advocate continues to work on behalf on your family. We make sure any problems are solved to your satisfaction.
I don’t think my job is weird at all...honestly, I think I’m one of the lucky ones.
I am one of those rare individuals who looks forward to getting up, pouring a cup of coffee and going to work every the morning. I commute to my office where I connect every day with friends and great people all over the globe. Our staff works virtually and they are happy and get to be at home surrounded by the people they love every day. We get to help our clients explore the world, check items off their bucket lists, share life changing memories with their loved ones and come home with suitcases full of amazing experiences. I am fortunate now to be doing this long enough that the kids I once sent off on vacations with their parents are now calling me up to help plan their destination weddings or to take their own kids on vacation.
Tell me, does this all sound like a bad day at the office to you?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Oberammergau Passion Play

In 1633, the residents of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague ravaging the region, they would produce a play thereafter for all time depicting the life and death of Jesus. The death rate among adults rose from one person per 1000 per year in October 1632 to twenty in the month of March 1633. The adult death rate slowly subsided to one in the month of July 1633. The villagers believed they had been spared and they kept their part of the vow when the play was first performed in 1634.
The play is now performed repeatedly over the course of five months during every year ending in zero. 102 performances took place from 15 May until 3 October 2010 and is next scheduled for 2020.  The production involves over 2,000 performers, musicians and stage technicians, all residents of the village.  The play comprises spoken dramatic text, musical and choral accompaniment and tableaux vivants, which are scenes from the Old Testament depicted for the audience by motionless actors accompanied by verbal description. These scenes are the basis for the typology, the interrelationship between the Old and New Testaments, of the play. They include a scene of King Ahasuerus rejecting Vashti in favor of Esther, the brothers selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt, and Moses raising up the nehushtan (bronze serpent) in the wilderness. Each scene precedes that section of the play that is considered to be prefigured by the scene. The three tableaux mentioned are presented to the audience as prefiguring Christianity superseding Judaism, Judas selling information on the location of Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus. 
The evolution of the Passion Play was about the same as that of the Easter Play, originating in the ritual of the Latin Church, which prescribes, among other things, that the Gospel on Good Friday should be sung in parts divided among various persons.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2017 5 Hot Travel Destinations

2017 5 Hot Travel Destinations

As a travel agent I get asked what is the newest or hottest destination right now.  There are a lot of different opinions, but here is a list of destinations that popping up for us.

Reykjavik, Iceland
Travel between June and August tends to be the most popular with visitors. June offers 24 hours of Arctic daylight, while July and August are the warmest months, offering the best chances for good weather. Travel between mid-September and mid-October is perhaps the most ideal, as you’ll miss the swell of high-season tourist traffic, sneak in before snowfall blankets the trails, and have a solid chance of seeing the northern lights. Although winter weather can be an impediment, and the narrow window of daylight can shorten your sightseeing, excellent deals can be scored during the off-season.
Turin, Italy 
Best known for its historic cafes and the Shroud of Turin, the city is also a vibrant contemporary art destination. Last year, superstar curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev was named director of two major institutions, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Italy's first modern art museum, and Castello di Rivoli, its first contemporary art museum, featuring works from powerhouses like Michelangelo Pistoletto and Paul McCarthy. Earlier eras can be explored at two other newly overhauled museums: the Galleria Sabauda, where visitors can see more than 500 works once owned by the royal Savoy family, and the Egyptian Museum, which houses one of the most extensive Egyptian-artifact collections in the world. Early in 2017, Turin's medieval roots will be revealed at Lavazza coffee's new headquarters in the Aurora neighborhood, when the company unveils a fourth-century basilica discovered during construction. 

Thankfully, the pace of change is not overwhelming, leaving the simple pleasures of travel in Myanmar intact. Drift down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River in an old river steamer or luxury cruiser. Stake out a slice of beach on the blissful Bay of Bengal. Trek through pine forests to minority villages scattered across the Shan Hills without jostling with scores of fellow travellers. Best of all, you'll encounter locals who are gentle, humorous, engaging, considerate, inquisitive and passionate – they want to play a part in the world, and to know what you make of their world. Now is the time to make that connection.In 2015, Myanmar voted in its first democratically elected government in more than half a century. Sanctions have been dropped and the world is rushing to do business here. Relaxing of censorship has led to an explosion of new media and an astonishing openness in public discussions of once-taboo topics. Swathes of the county, off-limits for years, can now be freely visited. Modern travel conveniences, such as mobile phone coverage and internet access, are now common, but largely confined to the big cities and towns, where the recent economic and social improvements are most obvious.

Paros Greece
Kitesurfers have long made a playground of the breezy beaches of Paros, and no wonder: this sunshiny isle is a Cycladic triumvirate of sandy shoreline, history, and culture. Last summer the island debuted a new airport, opening it to larger aircraft and more vacationers. And the fishing village of Naousa, with its boxy white architecture and seaside tavernas, is increasingly sophisticated—check in to the modern, adults-only apartments of Porto Naousa or the elegant Seven Santa Maria, where six airy, all-white suites (and a separate villa) come with a private boat and skipper for exploring the island’s secret coves. 

Malaga, Spain
Málaga, in Spain’s Andalusia region, is now a veritable museum-goer’s paradise. The first wave included a Picasso museum (the artist was born here) and the sprawling 8,000-square-foot CAC (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo), which has hosted exhibits by Ai Weiwei and Marcel Dzama. Since then, the Carmen Thyssen, an outpost of Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum that houses the famous baroness’s extensive private collection, has opened; so has a five-year pop-up of Paris’s Centre Pompidou displaying works by Magritte, Chagall, and Kahlo. The Pompidou’s location along Málaga’s renovated waterfront is marked by a hypermodern, rainbow-hued glass cube. And in the industrial space of a former tobacco factory is a sister site of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Archaeology buffs can comb the extensive collection at the Aduana Palace (it houses both a fine arts and archaeological museum) or head to the Antequera Dolmens (a prehistoric burial site that earned its UNESCO World Heritage nod in 2016). Unwind afterward at the lavishly appointed Gran Hotel Miramar; it opened at the end of 2016 in a historic 1926 Art Nouveau building across from Málaga’s most timeless attraction: Malagueta Beach.

Friday, April 21, 2017

From the vivid wall paintings at Bonampak to the mighty temples of Chichén Itzá, the sheer variety of archaeological sites in Mexico is astounding. Add to this the brilliance of the Caribbean Sea, huge canyons and dense jungles and you have an invigorating cocktail of culture and landscapes.
Congested, polluted and gloriously manic, Mexico City was originally founded by the Aztecs. Beyond the capital, the pace slows. Colonial cities, founded on the wealth of silver mines, rest assuredly on their architectural laurels. Within easy striking distance of Mexico City, the mountains and desert plains of Querétaro are another world:  people quietly go about their business as they always have, farming and producing crafts for sale at the local markets.
The city of Oaxaca is the jewel in Mexico's gastronomic crown, home to colorful markets and a wide array of restaurants and street stalls serving regional specialties such as mole amarillo and empanadas stuffed with courgette flowers and molten quesillo (a mozzarella-like cheese). Sign up for one of the cookery courses and market tours offered by many restaurants around town.
Adventurers flock to Mexico to climb the volcanic peaks, to descend into the deepest cenotes or to spill down the white waters of the Antigua and Pescado rivers. The Caribbean offers superb diving off the Quintana Roo coastline, while on the west coast surfers ride the giant rollers beside the beautiful beaches of the wild Pacific and Baja California. In the far north-west, the Sea of Cortéz is one of the planet’s richest marine feeding grounds – where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot hammerhead sharks, dolphins and California grey whales.
From the scorched northern deserts to the humidity of the southern rainforests, Mexico is an invigorating blend of influences as diverse as its landscape. Which begs the question – which is the Mexico for you? 
he Copper Canyon Railway is rightly regarded as one of the world’s great train journeys. But what do you do when the ride is over?
Have you heard of Mexico’s Island of the Dolls? It’s just outside Mexico City and is covered in the weathered remains of plastic dolls. 
Mexico’s remote Chiapas region, once the home to bandits and revolutionaries, it is now opening up to travelers, offering an insight into the life and traditions in the south. 
Mexicans will hold a fiesta at the drop of a very wide-brimmed hat. No matter what day it is, it will be some saint’s birthday somewhere and the fireworks and colourful costumes will be dutifully brought out.
The biggest festival, held at the start of November each year, is Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead. Locals head to the nearest cemetery to commune and party with long-deceased relatives.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Here you are, blushing bride to be! You’ve narrowed down your wedding date and time, picked your dream wedding venue, and raved all about the hotel you’ve chosen for your destination wedding to friends and family. What’s next? As a bride in today’s digital age, there are endless options in sharing the deets with your guests. In hopes to make this process a bit easier for you (to ensure you stay on track with your bridal beauty sleep), we’ve narrowed down the best wedding websites our couples have used in the past, and compiled a list of things to know about each website provider so you have all of the information you need to select a wedding website that has all the features you’re looking for, and more!
Price: Uncomplicated pricing with no monthly fees, there’s a one time fee of $39 for the Boutique Collection or $89 for the Luxury Collection. The only difference between collections are the website and app styles you get to choose from!
Creative features: One of the biggest stressors for couples is getting the word out to their guests about additional activities and dinners planned in destination in the days leading up to the big day. Appy coupleprovides unique sharing features through a personalized website and app, like coordinating email templates, printable mini cards (in your chosen theme) to print and place on tables on the day of the wedding or to include with your invitations, and instant messaging directly from the app or your wedding website to stay in touch with selected guests, your wedding planner (that’s us!), or anyone you choose.
Why we love it: The trailblazer of online and mobile planning, Appy Couple features 500+ stylish website designs, free concise wedding planning tools from a wedding budget manager to event decor style guides, wedding registry advice, and (most importantly) flexible RSVPs with on-app management. Harmony Walton, founder of The Bridal Bar, with an impressive celebrity client list including Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, provides expert insight on planning process tips and tricks of the trade along with Appy brides (and grooms) all the up to the wedding day.
Price: Free.
Creative features: Word on the street is that your wedding day will go by like a blink of an eye, if you haven’t already heard. This is the most common statement you will hear from newlyweds, and results in so much gratitude for making photography and videography a top priority early on. Joy helps your guests capture and preserve the moments you may miss by sharing photos on your private timeline, and a LiveShow mode lets you display your timeline during the wedding so everybody can watch it unfold as it’s happening!
Why we love it: As wedding planners that rely heavily on in-destination vendors to execute our couples’ wedding visions the way we have directed and coordinated, we love the feature of showcasing who made the cake, bouquet, and decor. Guests always want to know who the vendors are, and now they have a way!
Price: 7 Day Free Trial, $12 / month (cancel anytime)
Creative features: An artsy, cultured, and fierce creative agency, Bliss and Bone is a destination for couples that don’t want their website (or wedding stationary) to look like anything or anyone else. Customize everything from mix and matched fonts, colors with your own hex code, specialty Monograms for your own personal touch, and any domain name you wish. Create a unique wedding flow with the expertise of clean, modern design, and generate a hopelessly romantic version of your love story.
Why we love it: Made for the design-savvy, creative bride, in addition to customizing your wedding website, Bliss and Boone gives you the ability to design your dream invitations, save-the-dates, envelopes, and reply cards, and nit-picks every little detail until it’s absolutely perfect.
Price: Free. 
Creative features: Sign up for The Knot, and you’ll get connected to a complete wedding planner that acts as a personal planning expert sending you updates and checklists throughout planning that’s personalized to your specific timeline and wedding location. Did we mention a personalized wedding spend plan based on your budgetis included….for free?
Why we love it: Aside from being rated the no. 1 wedding website tool, we are huge fans of anything that helps couples stay within budget and stretch that dollar. We love the All-In-One registry feature that allows you to pick a charity and The Knot will donate with each registry gift purchase.
Price: Free.
Creative features: Choose from 600+ website designs and match your invitations to your website with designs from top stationary providers, like minted and wedding paper divas. In comparing other free wedding website builders, there is an intuitive editing feature that’s extremely user-friendly for the less than tech-savvy couples. Everything is hosted on one page, making it easy for you to set the options the way you’d like.
Why we love it: This is your one-stop shop for wedding planning and the ultimate guide to additional events for your guests, style and decor inspiration, etiquette and advice, DIY for days, registry essentials, and even honeymoon adventures.
Price: $35 / month or $240 / year
Creative features: We like to consider Riley & Grey the Belle of the Ball for couples looking for an upscale, seamless wedding website with guaranteed one-of-a-kind website themes and an RSVP system you can count on. Customize the retrieval of guest details like reception song requests, meal orders, travel dates, and more with mad-libs, spicing up the otherwise tedious task. Better yet, guests will only see the events they’re invited to and those plus one permissions will be crystal clear.
Why we love it: In the words of Riley & Grey, “theme-y cheesiness be gone.” Inspired by the best of design and decor, it’s understood that not every bride wants flowers, hearts, and unicorns bursting from the computer screen. Traditional wedding or not, they do a great job in helping couples reflect their true style, while focusing on eliminating headaches and making the process as simplified as possible. As international wedding planners, we appreciate the respect to traditions across the globe, and the ability to change the site to a different language to help add the many travel details guests from afar need to book their travel. That’s what we call first class work, Riley & Grey!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Five Great Places To Stop In The Florida Keys
Tell someone you’re going to the Keys and odds are they’ll ask about Key West. But with more than 113 miles of coral and limestone islands at your disposal, there’s more to the Florida Keys than six-toed cats and conch fritters.

Start your journey by getting in an Enterprise Rent-A-Car – and wouldn’t this be the time to rent something exotic? – and begin in Miami and head south on U.S. Highway 1, which links Key West, the southernmost Key, to the U.S. mainland.  You could drive it in an afternoon; after all, it’s just about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Miami to the end.
But that would mean missing out by stopping at some hidden – and not-so-hidden – gems along the way.

First Stop - Key Largo: Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart have long since left but the allure lives on, especially for divers, as the surrounding sea offers up historic shipwrecks and a few man-made coral reefs. Just 18 miles south of Miami, it’s an easy day trip to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Divers will want to have their picture snapped by the underwater statue of Christ of the Abyss (the original is located in the Mediterranean Sea) by the Key Largo Dry Rocks reef.

Second Stop – Islamorada: Drive 30 minutes south from Key Largo and you will arrive on Islamorada, a 20-mile long chain of islands known as the “sport fishing capital of the world.” The Gulf Stream brims with schools of tuna, sailfish and kingfish. Those who love fish, but not fishing, can buy a bucket of bait to feed the tarpon who swim close to the docks in search of a snack.
Third Stop – Marathon: Marathon, as the story goes, was named by workers who came to build Henry Flagler’s railroad through the Keys. The work was so back-breaking that workers called it a real marathon and the name stuck. Today, Marathon is a destination known for being family (and sea life) friendly. Visitors should stop by The Turtle Hospital, a veterinary hospital for sea turtles, where they can go behind the scenes and feed the residents, and the Dolphin Research Center, where visitors can swim with and learn more about these friendly ocean mammals.

Fourth Stop - Bahia Honda Key: This quiet Key was once home to railroad workers. Today, it’s home to the Bahia Honda State Park and offers up a fairly untouched beach, thanks to being a bit off the beaten path. The park offers the chance to engage in a host of watersports, including snorkeling and kayaking, and has a campground for those looking for an outdoor adventure.

Fifth Stop - Key West: Key West is everything you want in a tropical destination and more. With quaint historic homes, a great restaurant scene, beaches galore and some pretty hot nightlife, what’s not to love? History buffs will want to check out the Little White House, President Truman’s winter home away from home, while anyone who’s ever read “The Old Man and The Sea” needs to swing by Hemingway’s former home to see how Papa once lived.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

7 Secret Passenger Rights

We already feel like airlines are screwing us enough. Add long delays, overbooked flights, lost bags, and it turns into hell on runway. But there's a silver lining, if you know what to ask for. Here are seven ways to get even.  Get refunded for bumping It’s hard not to freak out when you’re bumped off an oversold flight. But remember this: you can get paid back. According to the Department of Transportation, if you get to your destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time on a domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international trip, the airline owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare (up to $675). If you arrive more than four hours later than planned, you'll pocket 400 percent of the ticket (up to $1,350). Still can't believe it? An AirHelp study found that the average payout is $643.
Ask for cash not flight vouchers Don't let an airline ever give you a voucher for a bumped flight, or any other inconvenience. Vouchers are like Monopoly money. They look good on paper, but they're not as useful in reality. Your best bet? Ask for cash or a check because credits almost always come with strings attached (i.e. blackout dates). So before you pass go, collect your $200 — in cash.
Opt out of a tarmac delay So you're stuck on the runway, forced to watch Taken for the fifth time as the hours tick by. (No offense, Liam.) Lucky for you, you can't be held on a delayed plane for more than three hours on domestic flights or four hours on international routes (if you don't want to be at least). Airlines are also obligated to update passengers every 30 minutes, and serve food and water after a two-hour wait. Pass the pretzels.  Cancel tickets for free Got a bad case of buyer's remorse? Don't worry, most airlines allow you to cancel or change your ticket within 24 hours for a full refund. In fact, on some carriers (like Southwest) you can even change plans until right before boarding at no charge. But there are some exceptions. Take American Airlines: You can hold a ticket up to 24 hours, but once you book, you're locked in. Also, keep in mind that third-party sites like Kayak and Expedia have their own set of rules, too.
Pay back for itinerary changes When flights are delayed, rescheduled or canceled, many passengers are forced to rearrange transportation. In situations like these, the airline must either cover all the expenses and fees to reroute you or give you a full refund — even if you bought a non-refundable ticket or were rebooked on a different carrier. So, if the only seat left on the next flight out is first-class, it's yours without costing a cent. More champagne, please.  Snag a hotel voucher This will be the last time you'll ever have to sleep at the gate, or worse, on the terminal floor. Airlines are required to offer free accommodations if you're stuck overnight involuntarily. Just don't expect the Ritz. These hotel vouchers can be claimed at any time, meaning if you decide to stay with friends instead of a Holiday Inn, you are still entitled to the coupon. It's also worth asking if they'll cover meals as well.
Cash in for lost luggage If your checked bag is lost, delayed or damaged, don't settle for the small $50 sum you're usually offered. Depending on how much your items were worth and how long your bags are MIA, you could be repaid up to $3,500 per passenger in liability for a domestic U.S. trip, and up to $1,675 on international flights. Hello, shopping spree.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tips for Taking a Great Family Vacation with Teens

Let's face it, teens aren't the easiest people to please. They want to be treated like adults and do their own thing, especially on vacation, but they aren't quite adults yet.  Oh, and they also get bored easily too! When you travel as a family, you are exposing them to educational experiences.  Shaping a teen's mind by exposure to other cultures is one of the best things you can do for them.

However, planning a vacation with teens comes with its own unique set of challenges, so how do you make your trip a good one for them?

Stay at an all inclusive resort with a great teen club and activities.  Teens love food, games, and a place to hang out without adults.  Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean is a great example of a true family vacation with a Scratch DJ Academy, where your teen can learn to be a DJ and compete in a DJ FaceOff, or even perform at a party while they are there.  

Involve them in the decision making process.  Ask them what they would like to do.  Let them have a separate space or their own room.  Sometimes, it is best to have a condo style or villa property.  Let them have a say in the destination choice and what their interests are in that destination and make them feel their desires are important.  

If there is free Wi-Fi at the resort, set boundaries before you arrive.  How many hours per day are they allowed on a device?  Set a time frame to put devices in the safe so you are spending quality time together doing activities.  On the other hand make sure they do stay connected to their friends by having Wi-Fi readily available for those set times each day.

Though family vacations, especially with teens, can be stressful, the benefits of spending that time together away from outside distractions, will promote family bonding and your children will have lifetime memories that they will forever be grateful.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Romance Get Away Webinar!

Register for a Sandals/Beaches webinar with Absolute Dream Vacations LLC

2 Dates available

February 28th @ 7:00 PM

March 14th @ 7:00 PM

At the above times and dates copy and paste the link into your browser and sign up!  That's all there is to it!!
If you should choose to book with Absolute Dream Vacations within 10 days, you will receive up to a $250 Red Lane Spa credit to use on your romantic get away.  If you book Sandals Negril, Sandals LaSource, Sandals South Coast, Sandals Grande St. Lucian, or Beaches Ocho Rios you'll also receive a romantic candle light dinner!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sandals' New Overwater Bungalows

Sandals is expanding its already-popular overwater bungalows in the Caribbean.
The company, which debuted its first overwater villas in Montego Bay, Jamaica earlier this year, as announced nine new “over the water honeymoon butler bungalows” set to open at its Sandals Grande St Lucian property in St. Lucia.
The nine new units are now available for bookings for travel beginning in May, the company said in a statement.
The new bungalows have glass-floor panels, a private outdoor tranquility soaking tub for two, a king-sized bed and overwater hammocks.
The bungalows’ bathrooms have his and hers sinks, a large backlit mirror with mosaic tile and a walk-in rain shower.
Each bungalow also has a private patio with a sun deck, outdoor shower, sun loungers and a bistro set.
Sandals’ “Butler Elite” service and 24-hour room service are included with each room.
See more on the company’s overwater bungalows from Caribbean Journal’s video above.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Norwegian Cruise Line will kick off the new year with a cruise industry first: an upgrade program that allows passengers who have paid for a cruise to bid for an upgrade to a higher-category stateroom. 
The Norwegian Upgrade Advantage program has the blessing of a group of top travel agents after a 60-day beta test in advance of its February 8 launch. Their feedback was all positive, including the fact that the entire system is automated and requires no travel agent intervention, keeps them in the communication loop at all times, and pays commissions on the enhanced fare, Norwegian’s senior sales VP Camille Olivere told TMR. So what’s not to like?
“This truly is brand new, and our beta test was super-successful,” Olivere said. “After final payment guests can bid on an upgrade and there’s a little dial that will show them in red, yellow or green the likelihood their bid is going to be accepted. When we offer the upgrade to the guest we email the travel agency of record, so they see the guest has been offered the ability to upgrade, and if the bid is accepted we notify the agency. The agency has to do absolutely nothing.”
Once guests’ bids are accepted, they are assigned to an available cabin at a higher level—“inside to outside, outside to balcony, balcony to a suite or The Haven,” Olivere said—but cannot choose the exact stateroom to which they are assigned. 
The idea is not completely new in the travel industry, of course; companies from Priceline to airlines to hotels offer upgrade bidding programs. But it is a first for a major cruise line. And while Olivere—who returned to Norwegian in November after two years at Club Med and World Travel Holdings—takes no credit for dreaming it up, she is excited to be on board as it rolls out. 
“It’s truly awesome,” she said. “It offers the ability for guests to pay a reasonable price, and also gives the agent more commission on the additional revenue. It’s all done online and the agent automatically gets the additional commission.”
Olivere noted that travel professionals were always top of mind as the program was put together, and their feedback was solicited and incorporated in the final product. “We wanted to make sure we had all the commission together and that it worked, that it would benefit the guest and the agent in every way.”
While of course Norwegian is “encouraging everyone to participate,” any agency that does not want to offer it to customers can simply opt out. 
“It’s an idea born really out of trying to solve the question of how do we let our guests take advantage of the best part of our ships in a way that is easy. And of course it was launched in a spirit of Partners First. We always take a view through the lens of our travel partners before we launch something to make sure it is beneficial for our travel partners as well as their guests.”
Upgrade Advantage will launch on the large ships (Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Epic) and Pride of America on February 8, followed by the remainder of the fleet by the end of the second quarter.