Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple

As a first timer to New York City, I wasn’t sure what to expect…I mean sure I have heard plenty about it and my husband has been several times and LOVES it.  But this mountain loving open space seeking girl isn’t exactly super excited about all the tall buildings and city life.  So to say I was a bit worried I might not love it is an understatement.  BUT, it was truly fabulous!  There are so many fascinating things such as the sheer number of Starbucks in a 10 block radius, or the number foreign languages I heard…but what stood out the most is the number of people ALWAYS around…not matter what part of town you are in or what time of day…there are so many people.  In a good way – mostly.  ;-)

When starting to plan our trip I did what any good travel consultant does…research.

When it came to trying to figure out where to stay, there were so many great choices of course.  But we landed on a new hotel that has a totally different approach to hotel living.  We stayed at the EVEN Hotel near Penn Station.  The reason I wanted to check it out is because it has a unique opportunity for the hotel guests.  Each room has a workout space in it equipped with an exercise ball, yoga mat, exercise bands and loads of workout options from a booklet to multiple workout channels for you to  turn on.  From the catchy slogans on their signs to the water bottle for us (to be more green) this place impressed me the most by their outstanding service.  Some of the best service I have ever had at a hotel to be honest.  They have a healthy option restaurant, Cork and Kale, for breakfast, dinner and on the go meals.  Of course this type of hotel wouldn’t be complete with a 24 hour fitness center with more equipment for you to use to make certain you can stay healthy while traveling!

Since we chose to stay there, I made sure to get over to a couple other hotels so that I can see which room I will stay in next time I visit.  The first stop was the JW Marriott Essex House.  WOW.  What can I say?  Luxury feel, fabulous location, amazing views of Central Park and the city, great restaurant and bar, the list is long.  What stood out the most you might wonder?  The size of the rooms!   Even the standard room is quite big for New York hotels.  Plenty of space to move around, ample storage for your luggage - you don’t ever feel cramped.  The overall vibe of the hotel was really nice, not pretentious, but rather a pretty affordable luxury hotel.   The ballroom is remarkable for your next wedding or other event  - where you will always be the ONLY event going on in that space, not matter how big or small.  We dined in the restaurant and were impressed by the food and wine selection as well the ambiance.  If you want to buy a table for breakfast the morning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, you can enjoy a fabulous meal while watching the parade cruise by your table.  You will even have street access if you prefer that.  It would definitely be great to go back there for that event.  To sum it up, you just can’t go wrong with this luxury hotel.  The JW Marriott Essex House – a must!

One other hotel I wanted to check out was the Lotte New York Palace Hotel – it is right across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Another fabulous location with great city views as well as views of the famous historical St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  This luxury hotel is another gem of New York City.  The attention to detail and the thought behind each finish is truly amazing.  The standard rooms and suites are also quite large with several great options for families or multifamily travel.  There are a few options to have a cocktail at, a breakfast lunch/coffee place, and a restaurant that will be serving breakfast only soon with lunch and dinner to come in the months ahead.  The most interesting place to get a drink there is Rarities.  This place is essentially a drinkable museum.  You must have a reservation to get in, but once you are in, you can try liquors and wines that have some amazing story behind them and were likely purchased at an auction.  It truly is a “rare” find.  You do not have to stay at the hotel to have a drink there…just be sure you get your reservation made in advance!  My absolute favorite place in the hotel though is the Jewel Suite.  A 3 story room with your own personal elevator, outdoor patio with fireplace and hot tub as well as plenty of tables and chairs to sit around while enjoying the stunning view of the city.  Jewelry designer Martin Katz helped create this stunning room with his jewels showcased in the room for you to enjoy.  This room has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, an office that is too pretty to work in really, and the most amazing gathering area with the 3 story windows for you to take it all in.  This suite is only matched by one other suite in town – and happens to be right next door in the Champagne Suite.  A much more masculine room, but the same amazing views and features, the completely different d├ęcor including much darker wood finishes.  This suite will not disappoint the Dom Perignon lover with the displays of Dom around the room and the glass chandelier that was made to look like champagne bubbles in your glass.  Yes, the attention to detail is unmatched.

So many things to do and see in NYC and too many to try to list here in this blog.  One of the most unexpectedly interesting things we did was the Rockefeller Center Tour.  I had no idea it was going to be mostly outside and all about the 19 buildings that make up Rockefeller Center.  Who knew?  Our tour guide was amazing and just the right amount funny!  We learned a ton and were in awe most of the 75-minute tour.  It is worth it if you haven’t done it.  Some must-do’s in my opinion would be to visit the 911 Memorial, walk the financial district, get to the Top of the Rock and for the romantics out there, take a carriage ride with your sweetheart through Central Park.  That is just the beginning of things to do over a long weekend in the city that never sleeps.

 New York is known for great food…and it did not disappoint.  We had dinner at Minetta Tavern – a great spot in Greenwhich Village that seemed filled will locals.  It’s been around since 1937 and for good reason.  They are known for their Black Label Burger, but have a wide range of options from Roasted Bone Marrow to King Salmon and so much more.  Great wine list, excellent Martini, and impeccable service.  If you decide to go, be sure to make reservations a few weeks in advance!

We also hit David Burke Kitchen in SoHo.  My husband has been there for dinner a few times so we had planned to have brunch there, but ended up doing breakfast, which was amazing!  Best French Toast I have ever had!  Most unique Bloody Mary we have come across – but the hubs says it was amazing!  You can’t go wrong with anything you order any time of day!  Reservations are ideal.

Of course we hit the random pizza joint on the street to grab a slice and it was great! 

One more place to note that we hadn’t planned on going to but SO glad we did is Patsy’s Italian Restaurant New York.  It is a family run restaurant that has been there since 1944 in the Theater District in Midtown Manhattan.  From the moment you walk in the door you are greeted with fabulous service and likely to see at least one of the family members.  They have only had 3 chefs – the late Patsy himself, his son Joe, or Joe’s son Sal (who has been running the kitchen for the past 29 years).  The best service we have ever had, some amazing Italian food and we even got to see Tony Danza dining at his regular table.  And yes, we made eye contact but I did not bother him.  ;-)  This restaurant is a must!  And you will want to have a reservation there also!     

If you have the opportunity to go to the Big Apple for the first time or your 10th time, there is always something new to see or a restaurant you haven’t hit.  Needless to say, his first time visitor will be back!
(Article contributed by Jamie Eldridge, H&K's adventure travel expert.  You can see her profile by clicking on this link H&K Luxury Travel)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Modern Travel Consultant

First let's make the statement that should be an obvious one since I am a travel consultant myself...we exist.  Yep.  Surprise surprise.  Travel consultants still exist and in fact, we are thriving.  We are thriving because we are not what so many travelers out there picture we are.  And when I say we, I am referring to the more modern travel consultant.  This is not an all-encompassing rule because there are still exceptions to what I am about to say.

We are not order takers.  We don't sit there and listen to what you want us to book and then simply type it all up, take your money and then book the trip.

We are not the same as the internet.  We are living, breathing, creative-thinking people who you can actually text, snapchat, call, see in person or video chat with.  The internet cannot give you personal recommendations.  We can.  The internet cannot act on your behalf when problems occasionally arise.  We can.

We are not the "cheapest" vacation planning option.  The internet has made people think that cheap is somehow always a good thing.

We are not a "Costco-type" travel agency.  Our motto is not "book a ton of business and give away the farm in the way of kickbacks so we can get more business."

We are not amateurs.  The internet is full of those who may have traveled once or twice and think their reviews and opinions are the same as those who do this for a living.  Sites like TripAdvisor make everyone think they are a travel professional.

So those are things that we are not.  And here is what we are.

We ARE consultants.  We use our knowledge and experience to help our clients find the best vacation options possible.  We consult when it comes to true budgets needed for destinations of interest.

We ARE value oriented.  We provide vacation options that are the best value for our clients.  Big difference between value and cheap. The best value may be the upgraded room category coupled with great flight times and connections.  The best value may be the resort that is known for better food and beverage.  The best value may be using a supplier that we have a great relationship with knowing that our clients will get special treatment upon arrival.

We ARE a small, service oriented agency dedicated to making sure every client of ours knows how important they are to the success of our business.  Our clients know that we are there to help when needed.

We ARE technology savvy.  We communicate with whatever the best method is for our clients and their schedules.  As previously mentioned, we text, snapchat, vid chat, and utilize the technology needed to stay in communication with our clients even while they are on vacation.

We ARE professionals.  We spend time and money on training to make sure we are current when it comes to up and coming destinations, hotel trends, travel alerts etc.  We have the experience needed to be able to provide real reviews of hotels and resorts.

That is a glimpse into the modern travel consultant.  We are real, tangible people with real professional travel experience. We are highly trained.  We are your advocate and advisor.  We don't hide behind a desk.  We get out and see the destinations and work hard at establishing key relationships with those staff members that can make your vacation even more special.  We will give you our professional opinions because it is our job as consultants to do so.  This is who we are.  Let a modern day travel consultant show you the real value in using a professional help you in planning your next dream getaway.

Want to see what real breathing travel consultants look like?  Click on this link to visit our "About Us" page.  H&K Luxury Travel

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Travel Trends for 2016

A new year is upon us. New years bring new beginnings and new opportunities.  Maybe you are one of those persons that like the newness of the new year.  Maybe you like to think about doing things you have never done or seeing places you have never seen.  Well the travel industry is well equipped this year to offer everyone something new and exciting.  Here are some examples of what is hot for 2016.

1) Cuba.  This destination has been making the news now for quite some time but it is still very misunderstood.  It is not "open" to tourism as some headlines make you think.  But it is accessible through the right tourism channels.  Now is the time to investigate those channels before it does become more open and more hotels and resorts descend upon the pristine beaches staking their claim for the future.

2) The "other side of Mexico."  Major hotels and luxury resorts are seeing the potential in places like Cabo San Lucas and Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa.  These are still destinations where you can escape the larger crowds that flock to the Caribbean side of Mexico.  Hotels to consider are the new The Cape in Cabo and Capella in Ixtapa.  Enjoy some of the most gorgeous sunsets and beautiful beaches found anywhere in the world.

3) Experiential Travel.  More and more travelers are weary of the same old same old when it comes to vacationing.  Sitting on a beach with an umbrella drink was fun the first 5 or so times, but thanks to social media, more travelers are seeing that there are exciting experiences awaiting them out in the big old world.  So travelers are now looking for their vacations to be one of a kind experiences that they can brag about to their friends via sites such as Instagram, Snapchat etc.  This makes destinations such as Costa Rica or Guatemala places that are seeing increases in tourism.

4) Year of the Dragon.  I am using that phrase generically to show that so many areas of Asia are on the radar now for 2016.  When large luxury hoteliers such as St Regis or the Four Seasons start building new properties in areas, you know that they are seeing trends that are making these destinations the next hot area.  Such is the case with Japan, China and Korea.  If you have been to Hawaii, you are already half way there.

5) River Cruising.  No longer are river cruises for those that carry certain cards to get certain benefits because of their birth dates falling before a certain year.  Get what I mean? Tour companies such as Tauck and Disney are seeing that river cruising is for all age groups within a family.  It is one of those vacations where grandma, grandpa, mom, dad and son and daughter can all go together and have something enjoyable to see and do during the vacation. This means that staterooms, menus and activities are all being designed to cater to all ages and families are seeing this as a great opportunity for the whole group to get together for a once in a lifetime vacation.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Giving Winter the Slip

One of my favorite songs that I love to listen to in the winter is "Under the Sun" by Michael Franks.  One of my favorite lines in the lyrics of that song is when he says "Snow in my shoes, mid-winter blues, have got me down, just point me south lets go now, the clothes on back are too Pasternak, from soul to crown, where in the hell's the snow plow? Down 95 we'll come alive, and by the time we get somewhere near Savannah, give winter the slip, it's well worth the trip..."  Don't we all want to give winter the slip after a few days in the 20 or 30 degree temp range?  Palm trees, sand and sun start to call our name.

Well the problem comes in when people come to us, as their trusted travel professionals, and say they are ready to give winter the slip but they prefer to be able to drive to that sunny and warm destination. Or they are willing to leave the Country, but only on a short cruise or a short flight to the Bahamas.  Trust us when we say that driving as far south as the Keys or even planning a trip to the Bahamas in January or February will NOT guarantee that you will be giving winter the slip.

I have personally traveled to Florida (by car) and have cruised to the Bahamas twice in December and January and at least 3 trips were met with cool to cold temperatures.  There is nothing more disappointing than stepping out on the white sands of the Bahamas in a hoodie.  Nobody wants to be packing a hoodie for their winter escape.

So where are some places that you can travel to in the winter where you will be truly giving winter the slip and leaving your hoodies and warm socks back at home?  Here are our top 5 based on flight distance from the USA or cruise length.

  1. Cancun, Mexico.  Even if you get down there and the temps are in the low 80's, no hoodie required.  You will be met with white sand beaches, blue Caribbean water, friendly people and a warm sun. 
  2. San Juan Puerto Rico.  Flight times are good from most major airports, easy immigration process for US citizens, and plenty of warmth, sun, and sand.  And, it is a destination rich in culture.  
  3. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  Some are thinking...where did you say?  This awesome destination is on the Pacific side of Mexico and offers a true winter escape and is a nice change in scenery for those who have been to Cancun more than once. 
  4. Turks and Caicos.  If you look on the map you will see that T&Cs are closer than most other Caribbean destinations from Miami International Airport.  If you have not visited this destination yet, it needs to be on your radar before it becomes even more popular and more crowded. 
  5. 5 night Caribbean Cruise.  Royal Caribbean offers 5 night options from Tampa as well as Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale).  The 5 night cruises will usually take you as far south as Cozumel (short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen and Cancun).  4 night cruises can't get that far south usually unless they sail from Galveston TX and we have our reasons why we are not recommending those cruises.  Trust us.
So there you have it.  Our top five pics for giving winter the slip without the fear of winter sneaking into your checked luggage. And all of these are not going to require an all-day travel experience to get there.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

I Left My Heart in Savannah

I know, that is not the right lyric but if you have ever visited Savannah GA, you will know what I mean.  I completely understand why writers use it as a back drop for their novels.  I know now why photographers flock to its squares.  I am fully aware now why food shows shoot episode after episode there.  I understand 100%.  And I also understand why it is a city where romance blossoms.

It is everything a traveler could want out of a destination.  It is steeped in so many centuries of history.  Pirate stories, revolutionary and civil war stories make Savannah a historian's paradise.  You see its history around every corner and on every step that you take down one of its cobblestoned streets.

I could go on and on but what I want to do is give you an idea of how to spend a weekend in this southern gem.

First...try to stay somewhere along Bull Street.  The Mansion on Forsyth Park offers a very unique experience with a very eclectic design in the main hotel building which is juxtaposed against the historic mansion adjacent which houses the hotel's main restaurant and lounge.  Or you can choose to stay at he Hilton Savannah DeSoto which is also located on one of the historic squares, but closer to the main downtown area of Savannah.  Or maybe you prefer smaller, boutique hotels.  If that is the case, try a few nights at the Eliza Thompson House which too is situated right on one of the 6 parks/squares that are along Bull Street.

Once you are situated in your hotel, get out and walk.  Don't take a shuttle, don't call a cab...walk.  Walking is by far the best way to enjoy Savannah over a weekend. Walking allows you to stop and savor what you are really seeing with your own eyes.  And make sure your phone/camera has plenty of storage space.  You will want to snap a pic of literally everything you are seeing.  So as you are walking, you will notice the small, local pubs and bistros that go from Forsyth Park all the way down to Bay Street.  Pick one and enjoy an awesome dinner.  One with a fun atmosphere for your first night would be the Six Pence Pub.  Try the shrimp and corn chowder (if available) or the crab cakes.  And get yourself a pint.  Its an English Pub for Pete's sake.   Finish the night with a historic tour via a horse carriage and take in the romance of a southern night.

The next morning, wake up and head down to the "Arts Cafe" which is affiliated with the Savannah College of Art and Design.  A piece of Savannah History resides inside.  It was such a refreshing alternative to a heavy, southern-fried breakfast.  Healthy eating and the south can go together and they do well at the Arts.  You can't miss it.  Just look for the big red bus inside and ask about it while you are there.

Now that you did not have a heavy, painful breakfast, enjoy some more walking around and take in some of the many boutique decor and clothing shops along Bull Street and within two blocks on either side of Bull Street such as One Fish, Two Fish or Folklorico.  After you have shopped and explored...take a break at the Crystal Beer Parlor and act like a local because this is a local's watering hole.  Take time to read the menu on the outside of the building and you will appreciate what you are about to step into.

Then...go back to your hotel and take a breather and prepare yourself for one of the most confusing, yet pleasurable dining experiences of your life.  You might want a shuttle or pedicab ride to get to this next dining experience since it is down on Bay Street.  And please don't confuse this place with some of the other more touristy options down in that area of town.  Bay Street is where you can find all of the souvenir shops and other tourist-oriented activities,  but surely you can see that this itinerary is leaning heavily towards the local scene in Savannah.  And the Treylor Park is nowhere (currently) on the tourist's radar.  As we sat and ate our PB&J chicken wing appetizer, we noticed it was filled with the younger, local demographic and yes...I said PB&J chicken wings.  Just go with it.  Hope you get there thirsty because the beer and bar menu is something you need to venture into.  Then load up with the chicken pancake tacos.  Yep, you heard me correctly again.  That is fried chicken strips inside a savory pancake topped with some form of strawberry concoction that made me want to reenact the scene from When Harry Met Sally.  So go and enjoy my friends.  You will want to tell everyone about the transcendent food experience you just had and they won't get it until they too head to Savannah to hitch up at the Treylor Park.

So after your brain catches up with your stomach,  enjoy a leisurely stroll back up Bull Street and make a stop at The Public Kitchen and Bar and have their mixologists whip you up something real nice and again enjoy feeling a part of the neighborhood. you have come to the last morning.  I say head to 700 Drayton which is inside the mansion section of the Mansion on Forsyth Park Hotel.  Their omelet and pancakes were incredible.  Service was a tad slow but we had to remind ourselves that we were in the south and southerners tend relax more and enjoy life so sit back, take in the ambience of the restaurant, sip your coffee and let Savannah take your heart one last time (like it did mine) before heading back home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The "Best Airfare" Conundrum

Some of you remember back in the day when flying was a gigantic luxury.  The cost of airfare kept most American families out of the air and stuck to vacations within driving distance.  Then, as the economy changed, flying became more and more of a feasible way to get you from point A to B.  Because of that, slowly but surely flying became an ordinary thing for travelers and now it is something that everyone treats as a commodity on the open market.  "How cheap can I get it?"  That is now the standard measuring stick someone uses when looking to fly.

Article after article are being written about how you can attempt to get the cheapest price out there.  Some will tell you to make sure you buy on a Tuesday or a Thursday or try logging on a different computer in case the airline knows you were looking at that flight previously.  Some will tell you to fly on certain days in order to get a better fare (I will come back to flying on certain days in a minute).  And other "experts" will try to tell you to wait 60 days to buy before your trip or some other amount of time before you are wanting to fly.

But here is something that is very important when it comes to waiting or looking for cheaper airfare etc.; what if the flight you really wanted is sold out after you waited to see if airfare is getting any cheaper?  What if you really wanted to leave on a Thursday, but those flights are gone and now you are leaving on a Friday? What if your 6 night vacation just got shortened to a 5 night vacation because seats sold out?

The "how to get cheap airfare" articles never ever address the issue of sold out flights.  They also never address the issue of double connections or terrible layovers.

The majority of the traveling public will not want sit in an airport for 6 hours because that long layover saved the person $30.   The majority of our clients do not want to leave at 5am and arrive at their destination at 9pm because they left one airport, flew to another with a 3 hour layover, flew to another one with a 3 hour layover and then finally on to their destination.  But that all day-double connecting flight may have been the cheapest by $30-$40 each way.  Is the extra $60 to $80 worth it if you have to spend $20 to $40 for airport food because you traveled all day and on flights where there was no food service?  Is that extra savings worth the chance that your luggage may get lost between points A to D? We professionals say no it is not. We say there are more factors at play when deciding on what airline to fly and how much the ticket is going to cost.

So when looking at airfare, here are the criteria WE use for our clients when it comes to the air portion of their vacation:

1)  How early can we get you to your destination?  Our theory is to get you relaxed in a pool chair or hammock as quickly as possible.  Early morning departures with single connections and shorter layovers usually accomplish just that.  Early departures also allow for mishaps such as weather delays, mechanical issues etc.  If you are taking the last flight out because it is the cheapest, you have no room for mishaps and may end up spending the night in the airport.

2) How long is the layover?  We prefer an hour to 2 hours.  Anything shorter has the traveler at risk of missing a connection.  Anything longer than 2 hours is overkill and not preferable.

3) Where is the connecting city?  If you are flying in the winter, connecting in Dallas may be better than connecting in Chicago or Detroit.  If you are flying internationally, we know which airports have the better customs set-up and which ones do not.  Miami is horrific (generally) when it comes to getting through customs.  Dallas on the other hand seems to have theirs more organized and streamlined.  So connecting cities matter.

4) Are you flexible when it comes to schedule?  I mentioned above that I would come back to this. Flying on a Tuesday or Thursday may be preferable simply because the airports tend to be less crowded.  Forget the idea that it might be cheaper to fly on certain days.  I like to fly on certain days for the sake of possible shorter security lines and check in lines.  Sundays, Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays tend to be more crowded due to business and leisure travel. So regardless of being cheaper or not, days of the week can make for a better overall travel experience.

5) Do you have a frequent flier account?  United may be $50 cheaper than American, but you may have a frequent flier account with American and this next trip may give you enough miles for a free airline ticket on your next vacation.  So spending that extra $50 may end up saving you $500.

So again...none of the above is ever discussed in the "How to get cheap airfare" articles.  No one walks into a clothing store and says, "I want the cheapest pair of pants you have.  I don't care about how they fit, what they look like etc.  I just want the cheapest."  Yet so many treat their travel plans this way, especially when it comes to airfare.

So there you have it.  You now have our airfare advice and we didn't have to write some complicated computer program to help you figure it all out.

Friday, October 16, 2015

So You Want To Be A Rock Star?

Whether you are already a rock star, an aspiring rock star or just want to see how a rock star lives for the day, we have the perfect idea for you.  Pack your bags and let us send you to Universal Orlando Resort.  They know how to turn ordinary folks (like you and me) into VIP's.

You can become the most important person(s) in their two theme parks once you arrange for their VIP Tour Experience.

Be the envy of everyone as your personal tour guide escorts you to the front of the line of your favorite attractions.  Smile as people wonder who you are when your guide takes you into areas usually only reserved for Universal personnel.  Look good for the cameras as other guests assume you are someone famous because you are being seen in areas of some attractions that others had no idea they could access.

The knowledge of each tour guide is amazing. They spend hours training to qualify for the exam that gives them the honor of becoming a VIP tour guide.  They can help you maximize points on rides such as Men in Black by telling you exactly where to aim.  They can show you where certain cameos of famous people appear on rides such as The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman.  In addition, you will get to eat in some of Universal's top dining spots and all arranged in advance.

And for the ultimate rock star experience, plan a stay at the Hard Rock Hotel which is just steps away from the entrance to the parks. Book the King or Graceland suite and upgrade to "Rock Royalty" for the ultimate in rock star luxury.  Enjoy all the perks that a VIP should such as a concierge service, access to their exclusive rock royalty lounge, discounts on pool cabanas etc.

I can tell you from personal experience, once you enjoy the perks of their VIP tour experience, you will never want to plan another theme park trip without it.  Couple it with a suite at the Hard Rock and you may never go home.