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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

More Than Quoting and Booking

Unfortunately the internet has made so many people think that all there is to certain professions is quoting and booking.  Insurance, mortgages,  home renovations, photography and tons of other services have been effected by people thinking they can go find someone online and get them to simply quote what they want so they can choose between the cheapest option and then book that service.  No other industry has been more effected by this mentality than the travel industry.

But it is so much more than that. Relationships play a key role in travel. The time we spend traveling to various destinations and attending conferences, dinners and luncheons is not because we love food or just love being away from our families so much. It's not just for the purpose of touring and evaluating various resorts and hotels. It is for the relationships we build with the key personnel at those resorts and hotels or with our preferred tour operators and wholesalers.

The benefits of those relationships are passed down to our clients. Those little welcome amenities or those occasional free upgrades or those special dinners or excursions are all results of the time we spend getting to know the resort managers or concierge staff or our wholesaler's business development managers (BDM's as we refer to them). And when the occasional error is made because we are all human, it is our relationship again with key contacts that gets things corrected.

This is why we tell people, sure you can book it on your own through some online travel site, but you may never ever know what you are missing out on until you work with a professional who has become good friends with the key contacts at that resort that you chose.

Now you may think, well I will try to get to know the resort staff myself when I am there. Feel free to do so, but what the general public cannot do is be a resource of hundreds of possible new clients.  You may decide to vacation at that resort again, but travel professionals may send scores of new clients to that one resort...or they may not, depending on client experiences and relationships with that resort.

And this is where the HUMAN travel professional is different than the online travel agency, or OTA as they are called; it is impossible to build goodwill and trust with a computer. The persons behind the scenes at the online agencies are only interested in getting things as cheap as they can so they can convince their users to simply get a quote via them and click "book it." The resorts know that the online agencies are only interested in beating them down to get prices lower and lower. What do you think that does to the relationship between resort and OTA? Do you think that the OTA client is high on the resort's priority list when they check in?

This is why we no longer consider an OTA as our competition. We know that our relationships within our industry is what makes for an incredible vacation experience for our clients. We know vacation planning is more than quoting and booking. Want to learn more about how we are different than some online travel site? Click on this link and let us show you.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Best Onsite/Offsite Disney Property

Is it possible to even have an onsite/offsite property when it comes to Walt Disney World?  Well yes it is.  The Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World is that property.  It sits on Disney property and actually within a Disney residential development.  What makes it an offsite property is that it does not come with the standard onsite perks such as extra magic hours, 60 day in advance fast pass planning, the ability to make it a package with dining etc.   But who cares in this instance.  The property, its service, the rooms, the food and beverage quality trump the lack of other perks, in my opinion.

It is an amazing place and now puts some serious pressure on Disney to up their game when it comes to their deluxe properties.  What did I like so much about the Four Seasons you ask?  Well let me tell you.

First, the rooms are comfortable, spacious and decked out with what you expect at a luxury property; iPads, expresso makers, large LED televisions, gigantic bathrooms with double vanities and a tv in the mirror (yes a tv in the mirror I said), tons of storage, and a huge closet.   Those are just some of things that make the rooms a place you really want to just hang out in and those come with the standard rooms.  On top of what is inside the rooms, you can choose to have a park view room where you will have a view every night of the Wishes Fireworks Show over at the Magic Kingdom.  You can easily see Cinderella's Castle from our view which I enjoyed seeing every morning with my cup of coffee.

Second, the grounds are amazingly beautiful.  Everywhere you turn, you want to snap a photo and hurry and Instagram it and hashtag it #PrettiestPlaceEver.  But this is what you come to expect with a Four Seasons property.  We enjoyed just walking around and seeing how they integrated the property within the natural landscape which made it feel like it has been there a long time vs a property that literally just opened last year.

Third, activities are as abundant as you want them to be.  You can golf, play tennis, exercise in their state of the art gym, enjoy a spa day, launch yourself down their 3-story waterslide, float along in their lazy river, relax in their adults only oasis area, or sip a beverage while watching a movie pool-side at their family friendly pool. And that does not even touch on the activities just for kids.  If you hear someone say they are bored while they are at this property, run like the wind because something is drastically wrong with them.

Fourth and finally, it is the service that really makes this property the best onsite/offsite option.  From the time you pull up to the property, you are made to feel like a VIP.  Every staff member we encountered seemed thrilled to be there and greeted us with a smile and wished us a great stay.  We were there over the Labor Day weekend.  It was hot and the resort was at over 80% capacity, but we never felt like the staff was being overworked or pushed to their limit.  Service was as we expected.  There was only one time where things may have been a little slower than what some might like, but we have to remind ourselves that you are there because you are on vacation and not on your way to business meeting.  Relax, take a load off and enjoy and who cares if it took 10 mins to get your drink or food.  You are on vacation.

I usually try to find some negatives about a property and the only negative some may talk about is the price of food and beverage.  You need to go there understanding that things will not be the same as your local eateries in your hometown.  You will be paying "Four Seasons" prices for burgers, sandwiches, drinks etc.  The fun little coffee, ice-cream, pastry, grab and go, venue called "Lickety Split" was one of our favorites as was the lobby bar.  Both have food options that are less expensive than some of the other on-property restaurants.

But let's compare value to the other actual onsite Disney options.  When looking at pricing, you will find that the average rate per night for one of Disney's deluxe properties runs between $450 to $650 for the standard, garden view rooms.  Four Seasons nightly rates will run between $490 to $550 for their standard, golden oak view room (no park view).   So rates are very comparable.  So you then have to look at value and what you are getting for the rate.  This is where, to me, the Four Seasons stands above the deluxe onsite properties.  Rooms are a huge step up.  Service is as good if not better than what we have received during our onsite, deluxe stays.   It feels far less crowded and is a respite when coming back from one of the theme parks.  It is a destination itself with everything it has to offer for families and adults without kids.

You do get free shuttle to the 4 parks and you are shuttled there in a Four Seasons comfortable motor coach for those that may wonder how you can get to the theme parks.  And the shuttle schedule is much better than any other offsite option.  It literally runs every 30 mins to and from the Magic Kingdom.  So again, to me, the pros outweigh the cons when considering a deluxe Disney resort vs a stay at the Four Seasons.

So the new Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World gets an thumbs up from me and it is a place that I cannot wait to return to.  So...looking for luxury in the heart of theme park heaven?  The Four Seasons now allows you to visit the "happiest place on earth" without sacrificing some of the extra touches you come to expect from a 4-5 star luxury resort.  Have you been already?  If you agree with my assessment or do you have a differing opinion.  Would love to hear your thoughts, especially from those diehard Disney fans out there that feel you HAVE to stay onsite.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Not a Good Fit


A big mistake that almost every small business person makes starting out is thinking that every possible client is a great client and good fit for their business.  I made those same mistakes and have made them even recently.  But with the exciting changes coming to my agency, I have had to really put into practice the truth that not every possible client is a good fit for me or my agents.  It will help you, our valued-clients as well as anyone reading this post, to know what is NOT a good fit for us when it comes to those you might want to refer.  Here are some characteristics that some have that make them NOT a good fit for what we do:

1) They are checking multiple online sites and want someone only to match or beat the prices they are finding.  There is always someone out there wanting to beat someone's price and we are not in the pricing-war game.

2) They don't value our expertise or our personal service.  This really goes with the first one.  Someone just wanting the "lowest possible price" usually does not attach value to a professional's knowledge and personal experience.

3) They expect us to give them freebies in order for them to work with us.  We are not here to win someone's loyalty by throwing gifts at them.  We have bills to pay just like our clients do and this is our livelihood as well as our profession.

4) They expect us to reply to texts, phone calls and emails well after what some consider to be normal business hours.  While we are always accessible for our clients who are traveling, we do have lives just like everyone else does and we need our time with family as much as anyone does.  We may choose to work after hours, but that is our choice and clients cannot expect us to be watching our phones for questions at 9pm on a Friday night, for example.

5) They just don't want to listen.  There are clients out there who refuse to take any advice we give when it comes to flights, resort or hotel reputations, etc and then come back and complain about the very things we tried to warn them about.

If you are reading these and thinking...but I thought travel agents always guaranteed the best price... you have been misled.  What we do is provide the best vacation value.  Lowest price does not equate to best value.  Our expertise and skill allow us to provide each client with the best overall vacation which could include the best possible flight times/connections, the most favorable room location at their resort, the most memorable tours/excursions etc.  We guide our clients on how to navigate customs, we offer insider information when it comes to restaurants and sites to see and our custom itineraries may never be the lowest priced option.

So, if you find yourself in one of the areas listed above, then you are probably not a good fit for us and we would be glad to refer you to a website that would be willing to work with you. But if you do value professional service and expertise and want the best overall value from your dream vacation/adventure, then we would be thrilled to consider you our client and we would be honored to become your travel consultants for life.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Other Side of Mexico

So many travelers seem to think Cancun encompasses all of Mexico.  When someone says, "we want to go to Mexico," they usually mean Cancun.  Well I am here to officially inform you that Mexico is a great, big, incredible Country and extends well beyond the areas of Cancun.   In fact...let me introduce you to the other side of Mexico...the Pacific side.

Now that I have personally been to the Pacific side 3 times (and a 4th visit is planned), I can say without a doubt that it is my favorite side.  In my humbled opinion, it has so much more to offer than the Caribbean side of Mexico.  Yes the Caribbean side has white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.  So if you are a water person, you may be very content with only seeing the Caribbean side.  But if you want culture, history and adventure as well as beautiful sunsets and a laid back atmosphere, then you must plan a visit to the Pacific side asap.

For example, San Jose del Cabo has the historic Mission de San Jose del Cabo dating back to 1730AD.  You can participate in the art walk in San Jose del Cabo every Thursday night between June and November.  Or visit Los Cabos during the winter and enjoy seeing humpback whales breech the water as you sip your morning coffee on your oceanfront balcony.

Or you can enjoy a walk through downtown Puerto Vallarta (PVR) and eat at one of the 5-star dining venues that has made PVR a foodies paradise.  Wine connoisseur?  Plan a trip to PVR in March and enjoy their annual wine fest.

Visitors to Zihuatanejo get taken back in time when it was small fishing village and life went by at a much slower pace.  You can still go back in time as you walk the cobblestone streets.  Maybe you enjoy museum visits when traveling abroad.  If you do, then plan a visit to the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande.

And we can't talk about the Pacific side of Mexico without talking about Acapulco. It is the original Mexico Riviera.  It has been the home of the rich and famous for decades and still is.  It is the "Vegas" of Mexico.  Nightlife abounds along with the abundance of tours up into the rain forest or out and about on the blue waters of the Pacific.  From Acapulco, you can plan a side trip up into the historic silver mining town of Taxco and still see Mexico as it was back during the colonial periods of its history.

So much to much to see.  It is worth every minute of extra time that it might take you to fly into the cities I just mentioned.  And I have not even touched on the geographical differences vs what pretty much all of Cancun and the Riviera Maya area looks like.

In the Los Cabos area, you have the beautiful and rugged desert mountains that look like they literally plunge down into the Sea of Cortez & Pacific Ocean.  That is contrasted with the lush, green rain forests and palm-lined beaches of Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.

So much diversity in every aspect of travel when you venture over to the Pacific side of Mexico.  Please please don't overlook that part of Mexico when it comes to planning your next adventure.  You will not be disappointed.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Supplier Spotlight: Tauck

Not all tour operators are created equal.  When someone sits down with a travel professional to start planning their European or Australian or African tour, options are usually presented that fit with a client's budget, timeframe and overall vacation goals.  Some client's budgets are more flexible than others yet some may hesitate to go with the tour operator that is the agent's top choice simply because it is higher priced.

Well please know that not all tour operators are created equal.    The one I am going to spotlight takes tours to a level that is hard to surpass.  Tauck Tours has fast become my number one choice for my clients.  Do all of my tour operators provide good service? Yes.  Do they all provide clean and safe accommodations? Yes.  Do they all offer a knowledgable guide and comfortable transportation? Yes.  But the memories made during a trip of a lifetime are in the details and that is where Tauck sets itself apart.  

Everyone can offer a tour of Italy, but not everyone touring Italy will get a chance to eat with a Contessa in her private villa.  Everyone can take a tour of France, but not everyone can have dinner at a private country estate in châteaux country with a hunting hound demonstration in full regalia.  Everyone can go on an African safari, but not everyone can offer their child a chance to walk with an elephant during lunch at an elephant sanctuary.  Those are some of the Tauck differences.  

But the biggest differences to me are when clients come home from a Tauck tour and can't wait to tell you what they experienced.  The biggest difference is when clients say, "We will never ever allow you to sell us anything else but Tauck."  And the absolute biggest difference is when a client tells you the following stories related to their Tauck guide going the extra mile:

"Our guide knew that our family was related to a famous sculptor/painter from a small town in Italy and one night we came back to our room where a small gift was packaged and waiting on our bed.  The guide had found a local bookstore where they had two copies of a book related to our ancestors work.  He bought the books, gift wrapped them and had them sent to our rooms."

That same client went on to tell me another story about how their guide went above and beyond and had paid attention to every little detail.  The client went on to say, "We have been on good tours, but nothing compares now to our Tauck tour. It was incredible."  

When clients return and give you reports like that, it makes our jobs so worth it and it solidifies the decision to make Tauck our number one choice for guided tours throughout the world.  It's seldom that I spotlight one tour operator over another, but in this case, Tauck gets a huge tip of the cap from me.

 Contact me and let me show you how Tauck can help you see the world in a way like no other tour company can.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Costa Rica is Pura Vida...When Done Right

You feel it as soon as you land in Costa Rica.  There is a sense of peace or relaxation that permeates the air.  Is it the people?  Is it the culture?  Is it the landscape all around you? Yes, yes and yes.  See...Costa Ricans have embraced a living and existence centered around "pura vida" which simply means "pure life."  People, friends and family are important.  The land around them that they work, live and play in is highly regarded and protected.  Every level of creation that co-exists with them is valued and loved.   While tourism is on the rise, Costa Rica is not willing to lose its identity for the sake of bringing in more and more tourists.  If you plan on visiting Costa Rica, you too must respect and value everything around you.  They do not tolerate visitors who want to come in and destroy things for the sake of pleasure or recreation.   But everything combined in Costa Rica is what sets it apart from so many other tourism choices and it is what makes it one of my most favorite places to visit.

I could write this whole article on why I loved the change in climate such as when you drive from the dry Guanacaste area and trek up to the lush rainforest that surrounds the Arenal volcano.  Or why I loved the smiles on literally everyone's faces.  Or why I loved the noises of the wildlife that are around you every day.  But I really want to focus this blog on one thing...where you stay in Costa Rica is probably the most important decision you will make in regards to your vacation.

Costa Rica does not take up a large footprint when it comes to land mass.  It is smaller than the State of Kansas.  So you would think you could stay about anywhere and be close to about anything.  But that is where so many make a mistake.  Getting around Costa Rica by bus or car can be an adventure. The roads are windy and rough in several spots which makes travel somewhat slow-going.  So while it looks like it should be only a 30 minute trip (as the bird flies) turns into a 90 minute trip by car due to having to slow for every corner and fender-dismantling bump in the road.  So staying in one area of Costa Rica can pretty much isolate you from a lot of other areas unless you like spending hours in a car each day introducing your kidneys to your tonsils.

But this is where Costa Rica is so unique.  One area has you looking down on the rainforest from your cloud-forest lodge while another area has you surfing with dolphins and taking in the beautiful sunset over the Pacific and those two areas can be separated by a 4 hour one way trek.  So splitting your stay between various areas is the ideal thing to do.  I know I know...unpacking and packing back up is not a fun exercise, but you will thank me when you get home.   Take 3 or 4 nights and spend them in the lushness and quietness of the rainforest.  Become one with nature.  Find your inner zen. Take lots and lots of videos and pictures.  You will want to because you will want to capture all there is to see so you can make your friends back home green with tree-frog envy.  Then pack up, brace yourself for the denture loosening drive down the mountains to the beautiful Pacific and enjoy a new sense of relaxation as you kick back in your hammock with a local Imperial (google it) in hand.

So you took my advice, you planned a split stay.  Yay!  Now here is another bit of free advice.  Choose a lodge or hotel that lets you actually experience Costa Rica.  We had the pleasure of staying in two different resorts during our stay.  One was the RIU Palace Costa Rica and the other was a boutique hotel called El Mangroove.  Go ahead...take a guess as to which one I am about to write a very favorable review for.  Any guesses?  How many think the RIU? Bzzzzzz!!  Wrong! For those that already guessed El Mangroove...ding ding ding.  You win.

When you come to Costa Rica, you need to stay at places that try to incorporate as much of the local decor, landscape and food into their resort as possible.  The RIU Palace came up with a big zero in all three.  If you go to a RIU Palace in Cancun. Take good pictures because you will not need to go to another one anywhere else.  They all look the same.  Same room decor.  Same lobby decor.  Same bland buffet choices.  Same non-local specialty restaurant choices.  Same drinks same everything.  It is really a shame.  You trek all that way to a new destination only to be welcomed by the same thing you would see in Jamaica, Cancun, Punta Cana etc.  It is just no bueno.  I read the reviews of those traveling to the RIU in Costa Rica and I shake my head at today's travelers, especially those from here in the US.  I read things like "best food ever" or "most luxurious place we have been" or "best resort ever" and it just makes me cringe.  What have we done?  Have we become a society that thinks travel to a foreign Country needs to be as homogenous as possible as to not take us out of our social comfort zone?  Have we become so used to mediocrity that we actually think bland food, stale bread, luke-warmed entrees are a step above what we normally get?

If you are not used to what I just wrote above, then the RIU Palace Costa Rica is not for you.  I will give the RIU Palace high marks when it comes to their staff.  For the most part, every staff member was friendly and happy and always greeted you with a friendly "hola." Our pool guy, Jose, was awesome.  He paid attention to what we liked to drink and was always around when we needed him and was a genuinely warm and friendly guy.  So the staff at the RIU gets an A!  The rest of the RIU gets a C...maybe C+.  The thing that really surprised me was how cheap things were done in the rooms.  Plywood and white paint were the two most-used supplies when decorating the room.  The coffee table, the desk, the headboard were all nailed-together plywood and simply painted white (and the paint job was not that good).  They then simply laid a glass top on the desk and coffee table which is something I have never seen before in a 4+ star resort.  The whole room was a "get up in the middle of the night nightmare."  The glass top on the coffee table had 4 sharp corners and were perfectly placed at shin level.  They then thought it a good idea to place the whirlpool tub directly between the bed and the bathroom and it too had some really nice pointy corners that would love to welcome a leg or a toe at 3am.   I just kept looking at the layout wondering, "what were they thinking??"  But here is where I get picky in case you think I am not being picky enough yet (HA)...our room was "ready" for us by around 2:30pm the day of our arrival.  We had found some trash that was had not been picked up when we sat our things down and then found the remote control  for the TV to be all cracked and busted.  I went to turn on the TV and nothing worked.  I opened the remote and discovered the batteries were in backwards.  Yes I know that is picky, but this is supposed to be a 4+ star resort.  If you tout yourself as a 4+ star resort, then attention to detail is a must.  If you replace batteries in a remote, the first little detail you should do is make sure it works.  And if you replaced the batteries, surely you noticed that the back of the remote was broken.  When you see things like that, it makes you start to look around.  Our rain shower head in the shower was broken to where it was more like a rain pour instead of a shower since water was coming up around the shower head and not through it.  Then once you see that, you notice that one of the glass blocks they used to separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom is cracked in half.  Would I have noticed all of this had the remote worked and not been busted up?  Maybe, but 4+ star resorts have to do better in my opinion if they want to be lumped into the "deluxe or luxury" resort market.  Other than the landscaping and staff, there was nothing deluxe or luxurious about this resort.

Now...lets move to the second part of our stay and get back to some more positive things.  El Mangroove does it right.  They thought things out.  The construction, the decor, the layout of the resort fits perfectly within its surrounding environment.  Service?  Impeccable.  Staff was friendly and there for anything you might need.  Rooms were what you expected at a 4+ star resort.  Clean, comfortable decor, tons of space for clothes etc.  Their rain shower head worked as it was supposed to.  Food and drink were excellent.  If you are a foodie or a mixologist...this is the place for you.  They did a good job of incorporating the countries abundance of fresh vegetables, fruits and fish into their menu.  The fish tacos at their pool/beach side restaurant were wonderful.  I am bragging on their food because it enhanced the stay.  The food and drink are a part of a hotel's success or failure and El Mangroove gets a A in the food and beverage department.  Service was great at their pool or in their restaurants.   Was it slow at times?  Maybe, but you are on vacation!  Why are you in a hurry for your meal to get over?  Central and Latin Americans are not on the same rushed schedule as we are here in the US which makes me quite envious to be honest.   The only other negative some might find with the resort is that a lot of the rooms will not have a view of the ocean.  They built the resort to go with the landscape, including existing trees and many of the rooms have wonderful mangrove views, but only a small handful have ocean views.  This is a small resort.  If you want big and sprawling and lots of restaurant choices onsite, this is not the resort for you.  If you want a relaxing, intimate, luxury, service-oriented resort, then check out El Mangroove for your vacation to Costa Rica.  They exude "pura vida."  You will actually know that you are in Costa Rica.

So before I end this article...I have to give a shout out to CATOURS.  We used them for our excursion up to the Arenal volcano area where we zip lined at speeds up to 50mph and at heights above 600ft over the top of the rainforest.  We also had the pleasure of having one of their expert guides along with us who helped us understand even more why Costa Ricans believe in pura vida. We also used them for our transfers from airport to hotel, hotel to hotel and then hotel back to airport.  They were wonderful and professional and I HIGHLY recommend using them on your next trip to Costa Rica.

So in summary...please do Costa Rica right.  Pick a place that let's you see the culture and the environment and for sure plan it to where you will come home knowing full well what pura vida really means.  You won't be sorry if you do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

To Fee or Not to Fee...

That is the number one prevailing question in the travel agency industry right now. Do we deserve to get paid for our time and expertise? Or should the general public expect us to give our consulting skills away for free?

Let's roll the clock back about 9 to 10 years ago. Some folks came into the travel planning industry and touted the idea that you should never have to pay any fees for booking hotels, airfare, car rentals etc. These new companies made it sound like you had been getting ripped off for years because you were walking into a travel agency office and sitting down with a real person, asking them questions, hearing their professional opinions and ideas and actually paying them a fee for that experience. Those new companies are what we refer to as OTA's in our industry. That stands for "Online Travel Agencies." The more famous OTA's are companies such as Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline and Orbitz.  These OTA's made it sound like you didn't ever need anyone's professional advice because you could go to their site, see every hotel in every part of the world (or at least they want you to believe you can), see the lowest price and simply book it yourself and save a lot of money. This basically lumped everything every professional travel person had done for years into this idea that they were nothing but middle men/women and order takers. So you could now avoid the middle person and place the "travel order" yourself.

These OTA's did a great job at marketing. Their "no fee" ads were causing hoards of travelers to run from professionals and turn to their one-stop shop for booking vacations, business trips etc. Mom and pop travel agencies were closing right and left because fees were needed to maintain employees, pay for office overhead etc.

A new breed of travel professional was born out of the ashes and I am not sure the big OTA's saw what was coming. Professional travel agents were learning to evolve with the change in market and many changed their work environment to where they too could operate without passing along fees and just live on whatever hotels, car companies and tour operators were willing to pay in the way of commissions. That's, car companies and tour operators pay travel agents commission as a thank you for bringing clients their way. And guess what...the large OTA's get commissions too.  They wanted you to think they were not a travel agent and you were cutting out the agent and therefore saving money, but guess what, they are middle people too and they get commissions and in many cases brow beat hotels and other travel related companies to give them even more than what most professionals would have ever received and then they turn around and kick some of it back to the consumer and call it "savings." You can imagine what that is doing to their relationship with hotels, resorts etc. But that is a story for another time.

Here we are now 9 to 10 years later and our industry is back stronger than ever and more and more travelers are turning to agents again because they are hearing that we no longer charge fees and they can still take advantage of our expertise, our experience and our relationships with key companies in the travel industry. And many have learned that when going through an OTA, you are taking on the role of the professional agent because YOU are selecting that hotel and YOU are choosing those flights and YOU are doing all of the research and YOU are left to deal with issues on YOUR own when you hit the "book now" button on their site.

So let's be clear of the difference between a professional and an OTA. A professional travel agent offers destination advice. They offer destination experience. They offer resorts that are vetted. They offer flights that actually exist with connections that make a vacation that much better. They offer great vacation value and experiences that make vacations memorable. They are trained and skilled in the art of travel planning. They are professional. OTA's are none of those...none.

And guess what...reading stuff on the internet no more makes you a professional travel consultant than does sleeping in a Holiday Inn Express. Reading things on the internet does not make someone a professional wedding planner or a professional interior designer or a professional style consultant etc.  And almost every person understands that going to a professional and seeking consultation or help will most likely result in a fee to cover their time.

So again..yes, we get commission from companies, resorts, hotels, car companies and tour operators that we sell. But we don't make a dime when offering professional travel advice to someone who then takes our advice and goes and books things themselves. Not a dime...until now. That is officially changing as of the posting of this blog. My agents and I love what we do. We love planning awesome vacations for families and clients and seeing their pictures and hearing their awesome stories. But we can't spend the time and energy we need on our valued current clients when we are chasing down info for those possible new clients who just want our free advice and have no intention of booking through our agency. We can't afford to work pro bono. So any new client coming to us as of now will be paying a "plan to book fee" that will be discussed with the possible client upfront. Many agencies in our industry have already been charging for their skill and expertise and it is time every professional agent is recognized as being a professional.  Professionals deserve compensation for their time.

Again...can someone go online and hit a "book now" button and do things themselves? Sure. Many do and will continue to do so. And they are on their own if things go wrong and if they made a poor vacation choice. But again, no one goes to a wedding planner and expects them to work for free and no one hires an interior designer and expects their advice and help for free. And so it is with us. No one should expect to call a travel agent and expect them to work for free. If you come to us and book your trip...we will discuss with you how that fee is applied, but coming to us and picking our brains for ideas and plans will cost you something if you take that advice and walk away with it.

So to fee or not to fee...that is no longer a question with my agents and agency.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Google Flights...What You Should Know

There seems to be a lot of hubbub these days when it comes to Google and their dabble into the travel arena.  Some are saying it will transform our industry yet again while at the same time giving Google and particularly their new flight search site way too many props for being some form of ingenious new way to book your airfare.  One recent travel writer made a claim that Google flights is even better than a travel agent.  So what I thought I would do is simply show what it does and explain how I even use it as a tool when looking for the best airfare for my clients.   Then you be the judge whether or not you think it is the best thing since sliced bread and professional advice from a experienced travel consultant.

First...let's be clear. is simply an airfare search page.  That is all it is.  It is not a vacation package booking engine.  It is not even an airfare booking engine.  It is simply a search site. Let me show you how it works and how I use it.  Let's assume you want to fly from good ole Nashvegas (that's Nashville to you lay-people) to Los Angeles during May of this year.  Let's even assume that your dates are flexible.  For the most part, regardless of advertising gimmicks, travelers and their schedules are usually not that flexible due to vacation times at work, school etc. But let's assume you ARE flexible and can travel at any point in May.

Here is what the search page would look like as you enter the originating airport, your destination airport and the dates of travel...

You can see that $322 round trip looks to be the best looking fare for the entire month of May.  So if I click on May 1st and then click on May 16th for my shows me the following options for my outbound flight...

So after choosing the 6:00am shows me more details of that segment of the trip...

So in case you were unsure of what IAH stood for on the previous screen, you now know that your flight is connecting through Houston and has a 3+hour layover.   So then I went to the next step which was to select my return flight option.  To keep it in that $322 range, I decided to come home on the 1:30pm flight which connects through Chicago.

Now here is what I want you to notice.  I have the flights I want and it appears that the price is going to be $322 round trip for these flights.  So what is my next step?  Book them right here on the Google site? Is Google now also my booking engine? No, not at all.  In order to book this flight, Google is directing me to "book with United."  United's website is where I would actually go to book the flights.  So Google did a good job of showing prices and flights associated with those prices.  But did it offer advice on which airport is the easiest to connect through?  Did it tell you that a 48 min layover may not be enough time to make a connection through Chicago's O'hare Airport?  Did it advise you that taking the latest flight out leaves virtually no options in case a delay were to happen due to weather or mechanical trouble with an aircraft?   Did offer any sound travel advice other than providing you with times and prices?

So does this new search site mark the end of the need for sound professional travel agent advice?  What is it doing that some search sites have not already done?  Is it neatly arranged and easy to navigate?  Yes!  That is why I use it to see which airline may be offering the best prices for a given destination during a given time.  I then take that info and head straight to the airline itself to book for my clients.  And here is something to keep in is not offering any better price than what you are going to get straight from the airline.  It is not a cost saver in that is a search time saver.  So do I, a professional travel consultant, use  I sure do.  But let's not make it out to be more than it really is.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The "Splurge Affect"

How many times have you or someone else said, "let's splurge" when it comes to dinner choices or while out shopping for various things?  We all like to splurge occasionally and just enjoy ourselves and throw budgets to the wind.  Some of us splurge on a daily basis when we head down to our favorite coffee house and pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee that would only cost us $0.75 if we made it at home.  The splurging we do takes money out of one budget coffer and moves it to another.  Some of us call that other coffer the "fun money" or "mad money" coffer.  It is the money we give ourselves each month to just have fun with and, if you are like me, the fun only lasts for a few hours.

Now think about your splurging that you might do each month how much it might add up to if you took that splurging amount and saved it for a year.  How much are we talking?  $600?  $1200? More?

Ok, you know I am a travel consultant so surely you have figured out that I am going to bring this topic around to travel.  So here it goes.  I deal with traveler's budgets on a daily basis.  Some are good...some are not so good.  I define not so good as those budgets where someone only wants to spend $500-$750 per person on a 6 night trip to the Caribbean.  That is just not good.  No easy way to say it. It is a limburger cheese budget.  So that brings up the splurge affect.  Those same folks or in fact anyone who is looking to travel, needs to look at their splurging that is done on a monthly basis.  Maybe you don't feel like you splurge on anything.  Good for you.  But a lot of us splurge, we just don't call it splurging.  We call it normal life because we think eating out or buying a Starbucks cup of coffee is normal when it fact, that is something a lot of people around the world could never afford to do.  But I digress.

Add up the splurging you do and be honest about it and annualize it.   Now think about that amount and the how much time of enjoyment it really gives you.  Now let me show you how the splurge affect can relate to your next vacation.  Most people will take a 5 to 7 day vacation these days.  So while that upgraded cup of coffee or dessert or entree may bring you enjoyment for an hour or so, vacations bring enjoyment for a minimum of a few days if not for a lifetime.  So if you splurge in the amount of $50 per month, that same amount of "fun money" could get you:
  • Upgraded from coach to business class
  • Upgrade from an ocean view (window only) to a balcony stateroom on a cruise
  • Upgraded from a "garden view" to an ocean view room at a resort
If you splurge on the order of $100 a month, you could
  • Upgrade from coach to business or first class
  • Upgrade from a balcony to a junior suite stateroom on a cruise
  • Upgrade from garden view to an ocean front with premium club privileges or to a larger suite
Naturally these upgrades depend on destination, time of year etc, but I want you to see that we all make choices.  Maybe the ocean view or even the inside stateroom is all you really want and that is ok.  Maybe a tropical or garden view room is perfectly acceptable which is 100% fine.  But make sure you have factored in the splurge affect before saying that your travel budget is all you can afford and that is what is driving your choice of accommodations or cruise choice etc.   Am I writing this in hopes of getting every client to spend more money on their trips?  Not at all.  I respect every client's budget when it it is given to me.  But what I want you to see is how much it actually takes to possibly enhance an experience that lasts a whole lot longer than some of the things we splurge on daily.   Add up that amount and you might be surprised.   I am also writing this because we travel professionals have too many potential clients these days who come to us with incredibly unrealistic budgets and those same travelers need to go back and re-evaluate their budgets before only allotting a certain amount to their family's vacation.  And trust me, I am not immune to the splurge affect.  I have decided to do some upgrades myself for my next trip and take some of my "mad money" and use it for something other than my Frothy Monkey coffee habit etc.

So there it is...the splurge affect.  I am sure economic students will be seeing this phrase pop up in text books very soon.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hawaii...No Passport Required

Now for some of you, the title of this post may seem a bit absurd.  Of course there is no passport required to go to Hawaii if you are a US citizen.  It is a State for Pete's sake.  But you would be shocked to know how many of our fair countrymen and countrywomen have no clue that Hawaii is a no-passort-destination.  Some must think that the amount of water between one place and another determines whether or not passports are required.  Now those same folks who apparently flunked US geography in school must have a hard time with Canada and it's passport requirements because the whole non-water thing is really throwing them off now.

But I digress.  The reason my post is titled the way it is, is because I want travelers to understand that Hawaii offers a true cultural experience that is far different than any other US destination, and even some international destinations, but we have the luxury of not needing a passport to get there.

I hope this post catches your attention if Hawaii is a place you have never been interested in or have thought you would never be able to visit.  I want Hawaii on the forefront of your minds by the time you read this article.  So let me confess something right upfront...Hawaii was not on the top of my places to visit before this past November.  But that has all changed.  Hawaii and especially the islands of Maui and Kauai have topped the list of "my favorite places I have been around the world."  Why you ask?  Well let me tell ya.

First, the beauty of Hawaii is hard to match.  Some might argue that Fiji or Tahiti or the Maldives surpass the beauty of Hawaii, but that is not the case when you consider the diversity of the landscape that makes up the Hawaiian islands. There are not too many places on this planet where you can go from a sunny, tropical beach and drive to an snowcapped mountain...all on one island.  You want to see a lush rainforest?  Hawaii has it.  You want to see an active volcano? Hawaii has it.  You want to see the most incredible sunsets while walking along a palm tree-lined beach?  Head to Hawaii.  You want to watch a sunrise from an elevation of 10,000 above sea level?  You can do that in Hawaii. Everywhere you turn, there is something to see and try to hurry and capture with a picture because you know what you are seeing is going to be hard to give justice to back at home when telling your friends of the awesome things you saw in Hawaii.

I found myself in awe during my trip last November.  At certain points I even felt moved spiritually. That was especially true on the island of Kauai.  When you land on Kauai, it is easy to see why so many movie makers head to Kauai for their sets.  The lush rain forests and tall mountains coupled with the beaches and blue waters of the Pacific make it a perfect backdrop for any movie.  I now know why movies such as Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark and countless other films were shot on location in Kauai.   But my spiritual moment came one early morning when we boarded a luxury catamaran for an early morning snorkel and cruise along the Na Pali Coast.  I was not expecting that day to be such a "bucket-list" experience but it became that and more.  It is difficult to not feel a connection with creation when you are sailing along seeing the sun rise behind you and the Na Pali coast ahead of you.  In case you don't know, the Na Pail coast is a stretch of coast line that is only accessible by hiking, boating or by air.  The road that circles the island of Kauai ends at each end of the Na Pali coast.  It is completely preserved in its natural beauty and "beauty" is not giving it justice.

So just when I thought the trip along the coast was already perfect, things were kicked up a notch.  As we approached the main area of the coast where the jagged cliffs and mountains appear to fall straight off into the Pacific, where the mist of the crashing waves climb up those same cliffs and paint the most serene and awe-inspiring picture you have ever seen...all of the sudden the water became like glass and pods of spinner dolphins appeared out of nowhere almost as if to say, welcome to my paradise.   The dolphins jumped and played and swam along side and time felt like it stopped.  I remember just sitting there trying and I mean really trying to take in what I was seeing and it moved me.  It showed me or at least reminded me what travel is all about and it has forever changed me.

Now you probably think that there couldn't be much more but there is.  Just when I was already moved and deeply affected in such a positive way, one more thing happened that made me understand why I was already moving Hawaii to the top of my favorite places to see and visit.  On our way back to the dock, we were all resting and trying to take in what we had seen when again something magical happened.  The captain slowed down and asked us all to head to the bow of the boat.  First the blowing of air from its blow hole and then there it was, the large tail fin of a humpback whale.  That has always been a major bucket list item for me and now, thanks to visiting Kauai, is officially checked off the list.

All of that in just one day on the island of Kauai.  Now when you add our visits to Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), the Na'Aina Botanical Gardens (where we not only learned about but saw an albatross nesting in their natural habitat), our kayaking adventure on the Hule'ia River, there is no wonder why I am now in such awe of what Hawaii offers.

There is not another single domestic location that can touch Hawaii when it comes to scenery and cultural experiences, not one.  The "aloha spirit" is still alive and well on the islands of Hawaii.  I wish I could really go into more of the culture and history that makes Hawaii so unique, but the post is getting long enough.  But please please understand that Hawaii is not like a trip down to Destin or southern California or Miami or any other domestic coastal vacation option.  You will feel like you have stepped off the plane and onto a place that is exotic and as "international" as Fiji or Thailand, or New Zealand etc., except for the fact that you are still on American soil where everyone speaks YOUR language and there is NO PASSPORT REQUIRED.

Hawaii has something to offer every type of vacationer.  Whether you are a hiker/biker, foodie, history buff, naturist, or just someone that wants to sit on the beach and sip an umbrella drink, Hawaii is the place for you.  Whether you prefer the finer things when it comes to accommodations (Grand Hyatt Kauai), or you are more budget-minded (Mana Kai in Maui), Hawaii is for you.

So if you are getting weary of the same old beach vacation choices and want to experience something new and exotic and exciting, please think about Hawaii.  And if you have been to Hawaii before but only Honolulu, don't let that be your only visit and make sure you try some of the other islands. Aloha!