Best Value for Disney World Accommodations

To experience Disney World at its finest, choosing the right accommodation means everything. You might be asking yourself: “Why does it matter what hotel I get if I’m spending most of the day at Disney World?” Your “home away from home” can make your vacation more fulfilling and allow the magic of Disney to continue even after you leave the park. There are two types of hotel options when it comes to staying at Walt Disney World: First, you have the Disney area hotels that are close to Disney World but not on Disney property. Second, there are the Disney owned and operated on site hotels that get you right in the action day and night.

Briefly consider Disney area hotels. We know that Disney World sits on 47 square miles of land and has 4 theme parks and 2 water parks. You could be close to Disney World by staying off site but still be 45 minutes from the Disney theme park of your choice. While these hotels are wonderful, you end up losing precious Disney time just trying to get to certain parks. I prefer Disney on site hotels as they offer free transfers between the airport and hotel, free access to Disney transportation to get you from one park to another, and extra magical hours where, for resort guest’s, one theme park opens 1 hour early and another stays open up to 3 hours after park closing time.

Disney offers 4 different types of hotel experiences on site and choosing the best selection for your family helps make the trip much more exciting.

Value Resorts:
These are wonderful properties which I would equate to a Holiday Inn type hotel. They offer 1 king or 2 double beds. They have several swimming pools and a large food court. These hotels work well if you plan on spending the majority of time away from the hotel. Two of the value hotels offer family suites that will sleep up to 6 people, but you can usually get 2 rooms with connecting doors for less money than the family suite.

Moderate Resorts:
These resorts offer 2 queen beds and some have a trundle bed that can sleep a fifth person. The rooms are larger than the value resorts and they have more pools and food options.

Deluxe Resorts:
These resorts are the best of the bunch, rated 5 stars and have several transportation options (three are on the monorail system). They also have 2 queen beds and most rooms will sleep up to 5 people. They offer fine dining as well as the quick service food court. These rooms are very large.

Disney Vacation Club Resorts:
The Disney Vacation Club has condominium type accommodations. They offer a full kitchen, living room areas and are 1-3 bedrooms in size. You can have food delivered to your condo but there are no grocery stores on Disney property. These are the most expensive accommodations, but are the best suited for larger families. You do not need to be a member of the Disney Vacation Club to stay at the condos.
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Going Away for the Holidays

There are almost 3 months until Thanksgiving and you can almost smell the roast turkey and Thanksgiving trimmings. Halt- Thanksgiving?! Already? Well, if you want to travel for the holidays- whether that is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year’s- not only is it the right time to think about it now, but it’s time to talk to a travel agent about booking your holiday vacation.

Home away from home:  The holiday season is by far the busiest time for airlines, hotels, and cruise lines. Hotels are running at premium prices and the airlines rack up costs during this busy time, but people left and right are booking like crazy in order to book their holiday vacation. And it is easy to see why! The stress of preparing and cleaning up dinner, getting the house ready for guests and relatives, and kids running around the house all goes away when you are on vacation. This is also an opportune time because kids are out of school and many jobs give their employees time off. The holiday celebrations during vacation are longer than the one day holiday you would be spending at home, giving your family more time to bond over the holiday break. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.

When to book: More often than not, the longer you wait to book a vacation for the holiday period, the more expensive it can become and the less chance there will be availability.  After August, your chances of going to your number one choice destination decreases, especially for popular vacation spots such as Hawaii or Cancun. While you may still find great deals and prices up to a month before, remember that space on board a flight or cruise may already be full. In reality, the later you wait, your pickings will be slim and you may not like the leftovers.

Where to go: Popular destinations to head to during the holiday vacation are just about anywhere that is warm and sunny. These places include Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta, Thailand, Jamaica, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Florida. But Christmas away from home doesn’t have to be so tropical. If you can’t stand not to have snow on Christmas day and you would cry without having a traditional Christmas tree, then head to Quebec City, Canada; Manhattan, New York; Reykjavik, Iceland; or Barcelona.

Make this year’s holiday season unforgettable. It is a perfect time to start new traditions or enhance the old ones. The memories you create walking through the streets of Italy, sunbathing on the shores of Cancun, or riding Splash Mountain at Disneyland won’t get hidden behind the buffet of past traditional Thanksgiving dinners. This time, it’s going to be a memory your family will talk about for years to come!

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The Getaway Guru’s Favorite European Destinations

There are over fifty countries to choose from when planning your European Vacation. That can make planning a little overwhelming when deciding where to go! The Getaway Guru (who is always here to help) has chosen the top twenty cities that you MUST check out on your next trip to Europe. Check out the infographic for his top picks, as well as his favorite things to do in each city!

Top 20 European Cities (3)

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Disneyland vs. Disney World Price Comparison

A vacation to a Disney Park creates memories that last a lifetime.  We have compared side by side the differences of visiting both Disneyland and Disney World using on site (Disney owned) and off site hotels and resorts.  We compared several hotels both on site and off site and averaged the prices for high, low and mid-season rates.  The infographic below shows our comparison of the different ways you can visit Disney parks for a family of four staying 4 nights and departing from Salt Lake City.

Disneyland-VS-Disney-World1

It is interesting to note that the on site hotels (Disney owned) are some of the best vacation values. Only the Disneyland off site option has a lower average cost. Disneyland is a closer destination and has lower airfare costs, but when you want the full Disney vacation experience an on site hotel at Walt Disney World vacation may be the best overall value.

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Data was taken using vacation packages sold through Funjet Vacations and Southwest Vacations.

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My Favorite Destination – BANGKOK

I’m often asked what my favorite place to visit is.  I always answer this question with a question, viz., “What is the purpose of the trip?”  For excitement; something exotic, but very safe; great food, world famous beaches, deluxe hotels, and a friendly and welcoming people, it’s an easy call — Thailand.  No other place on earth exerts the same power over people.

Bangkok, the “City of Angels” and capital of the Kingdom of Thailand, is an exciting, colorful and vibrant city of over 12 million people.  Bangkok is the “Venice of the East” with more than 300 canals (“klongs”) that crisscross the city.  In one day you will find yourself taking an automobile taxi, “tuk tuk” three-wheeled open-sided taxi, and a water taxi; and we haven’t even talked about the above ground Skytrain and below ground subway.  Board a long-tail boat and explore the many klongs that wind through the city.

Bangkok is a modern city paired with antiquity.  It is a city of contrasts with a long history, world class shopping, colorful night life, night markets, street vendors, entertainment, and delicious cuisine.  Between modern shopping malls, and tall skyscrapers, you will find the traditional and spiritual side of the people with the many temples gracing the city.

The Chao Praya River cuts through the center of the city.  No visit to Bangkok would be complete without an evening dinner cruise along the river with the temple and palaces illuminated.  Other popular activities include a food and walking tour of “Old Bangkok”, a bicycle tour, spa visit, Muay Thai kick boxing, the famous flower market, and a stroll through the Chinatown market.

Not to be missed wats (“temples”) and historic areas include the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha, Wat Po and the reclining Buddha, and Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn.  Bangkok and all of Thailand is a shopper’s paradise with large indoor shopping malls, including the popular Siam Paragon, MBK, CentralWorld, Terminal 21, and Siam Center; to street vendors and night markets that offer everything imaginable.

Dining out is a national pastime and the Thais take their food seriously!  Thai cuisine is famous around the world and what better place to enjoy the wonders of Thai cooking than right here in Thailand.  Fine and casual dining right along side street food is all available and is reasonable priced.  Consider enrolling in a Thai cooking class.

One visit to Bangkok is never enough.  There is a power to Bangkok and the Kingdom of Thailand that brings you back.  You will find both Bangkok city and the country one of the most exciting, exotic, and adventuresome places you will ever visit, and you, too, will start planning your return trip.

-Larry Gelwix

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The Best Family Hotels in Cancun Riviera Maya

Cancun and the Riviera Maya have become one of the best destinations for family travel.   Families are flocking to this destination because of the all-inclusive vacation experience and plenty of things to do for all ages.  You can explore ancient cultures, swim with whale sharks, swim in a cenote, take a thrilling zip line ride or snorkel in the beautiful blue water.  There are several good hotel/resort options in all price ranges to choose from, but there are three hotels that stand out for a great overall value for a family all-inclusive vacation experience.

3. Azul Beach: This 5 star all-inclusive hotel is a smaller hotel located on a great beach.  It is a boutique hotel that is kid-centric, but inspires romance. Azul Beach just recently signed an agreement from Nickelodeon to operate their kids and teens program. This beachfront hotel caters to families and couples in an intimate and refined setting.

2. Azul Fives: This is a 5-star hotel that is perfect for larger families.  At this gourmet all-inclusive hotel  you can purchase a studio to a 3 bedroom unit.  This resort caters to the five senses.  It offers 9 restaurants and 5 pools. One of the highlights is their cenote where you can often see spider monkeys.  One of the unique room categories is the Sky Suite that is located on the upper floors and has stair access to the roof with a Jacuzzi hot tub, bbq grill and plenty of space for the family to spread out. This is the perfect hotel for all ages.

1. Generations Riviera Maya: This 5-star hotel is meant for all generations.  It is an all-butler hotel geared for families and extended families.  Your butler can reserve beach cabanas, special themed meals in your room and so much more. You can purchase studio to 3 bedroom units, many with either swim up accommodations or access to walk out plunge infinity pools.  All 144 units plus the 4 gourmet restaurants at Generations have a beach front view.  One additional perk is that adults have access to an additional 11 restaurants at the El Dorado Royal located next door.  This is the perfect resort that balances kid time with adult relaxation.

There are several amazing family hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya to choose from.  These are three choices that provide an exceptional family experience.

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Jamaica – A Caribbean Paradise!

There are generally two different perceptions of Jamaica based on “how you visit” Jamaica. Many people visit Jamaica as a port of call on a cruise ship, while others take a land vacation and stay for a few days.  Most people that visit on a cruise ship sometimes state they would not like to go back, while those that take a land based vacations rank it among their top travel destinations.  Why is there such a big difference of opinion?

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Visiting by Cruise Ship:

People generally remember the first 30 minutes and the last 30 minutes in port.  Unfortunately, this first and last impression is generally not a good one for Jamaica. While most people report that they enjoyed the destination and activities, most only remember the swarm of vendors as they get on and off the ship and at some points on certain tours.  Many that visit Jamaica on a cruise ship would not care to go back.  The port of call experience that many have does not accurately represent the great destination of Jamaica.

Visiting by Land:

When you choose to visit Jamaica on vacation your impression can be totally different than those that visit by cruise ship.  In Jamaica, you have friendly people, good food, amazing beaches, fun activities and some of the best all-inclusive resort hotels in the world.  Many that visit Jamaica on vacation would chose the destination again and again and it usually is one of their top vacation destinations.

My Experience:

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I have been fortunate to visit Jamaica by both methods above.  The first five times I visited by cruise ship.  If you had asked me a year ago (before I visited on an actual vacation) about Jamaica I would have told you that  Jamaica is one of the most beautiful tropical destinations I have ever visited, but I would never choose to vacation there.

Now, I have taken two land based vacations to Jamaica in the last 6 months.  My view of the destination is 100% different now.  I received some of the most attentive and friendly service by hotel staff I have ever experienced at the Sandals Montego Bay and Hyatt Ziva/Zolara hotel resorts, along with some of the best food anywhere in the world!  If you have not had authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken you are missing out on a great meal.  The activities available are some of the best of any destination in the world.  I personally enjoy the Jamaican Bobsled Experience and Bamboo Rafting.

Jamaica is similar to Hawaii in that the flight time is about that same,  there are great beaches, a good selection of activities and excellent food.  One major difference is although the price points are similar to Hawaii, in Jamaica you get an all-inclusive experience where all of your meals, drinks and some water sports (at resort) are included.

My Top Jamaica Hotel Recommendations:

1 – Hyatt Ziva/ Zolara: 5 star (my rating) all-inclusive with a family section (Ziva) and a adults only section (Zolara)

2 – Royalton White Sands: 5 star (my rating) all-inclusive that is perfect for a family vacation

3 – Sandals Royal Caribbean: 4.5 star (my rating) – Sandals can be a little pricy but you won’t find better service anywhere in the Caribbean or Mexico.

4 – Riu Ocho Rios: 4 star (my rating) –  This is a big resort with a great beach and close to many of the activities on the island.

5 – Holiday Inn Montego Bay: 3.5 star (my rating) – This is a basic all-inclusive hotel without the bells and whistles of the above hotels but perfect for the value minded traveler.

My Favorite Jamaica Activities:

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1 – Jamaican Bob Sled Experience: A fun rollercoaster type experience through a tropical rain forest

2 – Bamboo Rafting: A leisurely float on a bamboo raft – perfect for couples

3 – Dunn’s River Falls: Probably the most popular activity on the island. There are some pushy vendors here, but the Falls them self are beautiful and fun to climb.

4 – Rose Hall Great House/ Haunted Night Tour:  Learn about Annie Palmer and why the house is said to be haunted.

5 – Spirit of Reggae Tour: Visit Bob Marley’s home town of Nine Mile.

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Jamaica is a Caribbean island paradise that I hope to visit many, many more times.

By Mark Faldmo, Jr
Contributing – Rayleen Myers
Columbus Travel

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The Guru’s Favorite South Pacific Islands

“Few men who come to these islands leave them; they grow grey were they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated.  No part of the world exerts the same attractive power upon the visitor…The first experience can never be repeated.  The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched a virginity of sense.”  — Robert Louis Stevenson

There is a magic that calls inside of me to the islands of the South Pacific.  I have traveled, paddled and sailed throughout these archipelagoes, lived with native families and stayed at 5-star resorts, fished and foraged for food with the locals and enjoyed gourmet meals at top restaurants.  I love the South Seas!

Hawaii – You can feel the “Spirit of Aloha” the moment you step off the plane.  My favorite island is Kauai and believe it or not, I love Honolulu and Waikiki Beach (which I have referred to as the “Tijuana of the Pacific”) both on the island of Oahu.

DIamondhead(OK)

French Polynesia – Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Rangiroa, Tuamotu, and Marquesas are sensory overload.  I am often asked my favorite place to visit.  I ask, “What is the purpose of the trip?”  For seer physical beauty, it’s French Polynesia.  (A 10-day cruise is the best way to see these islands)

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Fiji – Where do I start with Fiji.  Happy people, beautiful beaches, and easy access makes Fiji as worldwide favorite.  Fiji boasts some of the top resorts.

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Samoa – Talofa lava!  The two main islands of ‘Upolu and Savaii lack much tourist infrastructure.  This lack of development is also its appeal.  Beaches are native, tourist services are limited, and friendly people who welcome visitors.  Samoa is the best island nation to see traditional lifestyles.  Most Samoans still live in fales (pronounced “faa-lays”) which is the “little grass shack” we all dream about.  While grass and pandanas leaves have largely give way to more efficient metal roofs, many native villages and homes lack electricity and people fish and forage for food still cooking over open fires.

Cook Islands.  While most people tend to stay on the main island of Raotonga, I prefer the short flight north to Aitutaki with one of the most beautiful lagoons in all the world.  The Cooks are a “let’s get away for it all” visitor.

New Zealand.  Home to the native Maori culture which permeates most everything in Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”), the original name of these islands.  Varied season climate, New Zealand is a must see.

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River or Ocean Cruising Which is Best?

Not long ago a client who had taken 19 ocean cruises was in our office to report his first experience on a river cruise. He loved the river cruise so much that he stated he was never going on an ocean cruise again! River cruising is one of the hottest trends in travel today and our client makes a good point. However I would offer some qualifications. Here are important comparisons between river and ocean cruising.

Price and Value
You won’t find a river cruise for $499 like you might for an ocean cruise. However, river cruises provide excellent value when measured against the price of a similar travel experience on land to the same destination. Add the total cost of sightseeing, transportation, meals and entertainment on a 7-day land tour in a four-star hotel or better with the cost of a river cruise and the river cruise will win every time.

Connection and Convenience
Because river cruise boats are much smaller (80 to 180 passengers) than ocean cruise liners ( 2,500 to 6,000 passengers) , river cruising offers a feeling of connection to destinatins that ocean cruises cannot offer. You unpack and pack once and enjoy the local cities and sights along the way. On land tours to similar places you would pack and unpack almost every day.

Onboard is different
River cruise ships do not have lavish entertainment but rather cabaret entertainment or entertainment provided by local folk lore entertainers. The food on river cruises is good, but don’t expect upscale fine dining restaurants that ocean liners have. Many, but not all, river cruises include shore excursions as part of the cruise fare. Cabins most ocean liners are small, and cabins on river cruises are even smaller.

Shopping for a cruise
There are several river cruise companies. They all offer excellent but slightly different experiences. Viking River Cruises is perhaps the best known river cruise company in the U.S. They have done an excellent job of marketing and they have an excellent product. However there are several other river cruise companies offering outstanding products as well. It is always a good idea to comparison shop.

Major river cruise companies are:

• AMA Waterways
• Avalon Waterways
• Uniworld River Cruises
• Viking River Cruises
• Croisi Europe

Croisi

Personalities
Travel preferences among different nationalities vary widely. Some cruise lines such as Viking River caters to clients from the U.S. and Great Britain. CroisEurope river cruise line is the largest cruise line in Europe. It is French owned and operated and the food is excellent. It caters to an international clientele so it offers a different feel and experience. CroisEurope has not penetrated the U.S. market and are currently offering some excellent rates.

Is river cruising better than ocean cruising? It depends on what you are looking for. It is a unique adventure and every traveler should consider a river cruise.

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