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Spring Break Inspiration Part 2 – Adventure

Looking for a family vacation that’s full of adventure?  Love wildlife encounters and spectacular natural scenery?  Here are 4 popular destinations for families who like to be on the go and get up close to nature.

Galapagos

Don’t let the small geographic footprint fool you.  It’s packed with incredibly diverse scenery and wildlife, some which cannot be seen anywhere else on the planet.   A Galapagos cruise offers the best variety for families with different interests and ability levels.  You can be on the go from breakfast to dinner,  or take some time to relax on deck and enjoy the scenery.   You can explore underwater or sightsee from a boat, choose between a hike or a paddle, or even get up early for yoga.

Getting the toys ready!

Showing us the love

I had the opportunity to experience Lindblad Expeditions’ new ship in the Galapagos in March, which is great for multi-generational groups because it offers the broadest range of activities, including a glass bottom boat for non-snorkelers.  And their new children’s program developed in partnership with National Geographic is fantastic, even the adults wanted to participate.

Kids are kept busy with scavenger hunts, zodiac driving lessons, photography and video workshops, and even a pizza & movie night.

Mexico

I firmly believe Mexico is underrated as an adventure destination.  If you want to stay at a traditional full service beach resort, yet have some off-property adventures, then this is the place to be.  And there are so many choices for places to stay, you can go back again and again.

The Riviera Maya offers archaeological ruins, cenotes, and fantastic snorkeling, and a huge selection of resorts from large all-inclusives to luxury boutique hotels.

This snorkel trip requires a hard hat!

The Baja peninsula has a more arid climate, and some of the best whale watching and snorkeling in the world.  Other outdoor activities include ATV tours, hiking, and kayaking.

How many kids can brag that they got to pet a gray whale on vacation?

Travelers who aren’t interested in the beach can go on a hiking expedition visiting wilderness lodges in the Copper Canyon, or enjoy cultural sites in colonial cities such as Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende.

Oaxaca is world famous for its food, my son wants to go back just for these street tacos.

Costa Rica

Sloths and monkeys and iguanas, oh my!  If you want nonstop action and scenery ranging from volcanoes to rainforests to beaches, this is the place to go.  Clients never complain about being bored, if anything they have trouble fitting everything in!

So ugly he’s cute.

Most clients can visit 2 or 3 locations during a 8-10 day trip, if they don’t mind moving around. This allows them to experience a variety of locations like Arenal volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park.  But the resort area of Guanacaste is great for families who prefer to stay in one location, have a traditional resort vacation, but still have access to adventure activities like rafting and ziplining.

Even little ones can have big adventures!

Peru

If you like to combine cultural exploration with outdoor activities, then consider a trip to Peru including visits to Cuzco, Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, which can be done in a 7-10 day itinerary. Families can enjoy short nature walks to full day hikes, purchase crafts at local markets, explore archaeological ruins and temples, or paddle around a lake spotting wildlife.

I don’t want to feed the llama.    Said nobody ever.

 

They won’t ever forget this view.

And if you have the time, this is a great add-on to a Galapagos cruise!

Contact me to start designing a fantastic adventure for your family!

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Spring Break Inspiration Part 1 – Europe

As a family travel specialist, I solve the problems that frustrate parents when they try to plan a trip overseas. Some of the services I provide include:

– Finding guaranteed connecting rooms or family rooms that sleep 3 or more guests
– Arranging age appropriate activities that are fun for everyone
– Hiring expert guides who can engage even young children
– Arranging family photo shoots to capture the memories forever

Happy kids = happy parents (and vice versa!)

My clients also receive exclusive amenities at preferred partner hotels, which may include free nights, daily breakfast, and hotel credits.

Here are offers from some of my clients’ favorite hotels in Europe:

LONDON

The Corinthia Hotel is loved by many clients for its excellent location close to many attractions, luxurious rooms, and huge spa. Virtuoso clients receive a 4th night free through April 22, 2018, and these amenities:

A luxurious retreat after a busy day in London!

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • £85 Hotel Credit
  • Complimentary high speed Wi-Fi throughout the hotel
  • Access to the extensive Thermal Floor at award-winning ESPA Life at Corinthia
  • Complimentary 24-hour gym access
  • Complimentary Upgrade (if available at check-in)
  • Butler Service for River Suites and Penthouses
  • Complimentary use of the hotel car within Central London (Zone 1)

The award-winning spa-aaaaah.

For travelers who book by April 9, there are bonus amenities! Get all of the above and a choice of one of the following:

  • Guaranteed early check-in
  • Guaranteed late checkout
  • Guaranteed upgrade to the next room category

* Offer applies to Deluxe King Rooms up to The Whitehall Penthouse

Check out The Crafty Concierge which offers lots of great ideas for families in London.

It’s just a 10 min walk to the Golden Jubilee Bridge

PARIS

Esprit St Germain is located near Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank, within walking distance of the Louvre and Notre Dame.  Families love it for the warm hospitality towards children of all ages, making it feel like a home away from home.

Book the Prestige room on the top floor to get a private terrace with this gorgeous view.

They are offering a 4th night free through April 30, which includes the following complimentary amenities:

  • Daily American breakfast
  • Lobby bar with champagne, wines, spirits AND minibar in room (yes, complimentary!)
  • WI-FI
  • Access to the fitness centre, steam room, and sauna
  • Access to the business centre
  • Daily newspaper of your choice
  • Flowers and fresh fruits daily

Blackout dates: March 3 to 7, 2017 (inclusive). Valid only for Superior & Deluxe Rooms

Feel like a guest in someone’s home while enjoying complimentary drinks in this “bar.”

ROME

The Hotel Eden near the Spanish Steps just completed an extensive renovation, so it’s more stylish than ever. They are offering a 4th night free through March 31, and my clients are eligible for Dorchester Club amenities:

  • One category upgrade guaranteed at time of booking
  • 100 EU hotel credit
  • Daily full breakfast buffet for 2 people
  • Unlimited wifi for unlimited devices

Who says historic hotels have to have dark rooms?

They still have their lovely rooftop dining room overlooking the Borghese, featuring some of the best views in Rome, where guests can take breakfast, or enjoy music and cocktails in the evening.

 

They don’t even charge for the view!

You can read about traveling to Rome with kids in a previous blog post.

Roman sites are impressive, but hiring a guide gives deeper understanding, and helps make navigating the crowds less stressful.

LISBON

The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon is offering a 4th night free. My clients always receive the Four Seasons preferred Partner amenities, which include daily breakfast and a spa credit. And if you book a suite, they’ll also pick you up in a limousine on arrival!

Plenty of room for the whole family.

A run with a view

Lisbon is a beautiful city steeped in history, but there are many kid-friendly attractions including an aquarium and safari park, or you can hire a driver for a day trip to beaches or castles.

Sometimes getting out of the city is the best way to enjoy it.

For a special treat, you can go for a spin through winding cobblestone streets with a professional photographer in a vintage Moto-sidecar. Check it out here.

For help finding your family’s perfect European vacation, contact suzette@suzettemacktravel.com.

 

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Summer Vacation Solutions

Don’t panic if you haven’t planned summer vacation yet. There are still many options available, and you can even get some pretty good deals.  I have many offers in my inbox, I just pulled out a sampling of what’s available around the globe.

Kids Free in the Galapagos

With Lindblad Expeditions’ 50th Anniversary Savings, book a Galapagos trip by July 1, 2017 and the first child travels free, the second at 50% off on select departures!  Snorkel with sea lions, hang out with giant tortoises, hike right next to iguanas and blue-footed boobies and kayak along the most idyllic bays. You’ll do, see, and learn more with the most experienced Expedition Team in the islands! 

Yes you can get this close! 
Bucket list item- check!
Fun for all ages!


And if you can’t make it this year, book any 2018 expedition before June 1, and you’ll be guaranteed the 2017 rates.

I had the pleasure of traveling to the Galapagos with Lindblad in March, check out more of my photos here.  

Cruise to the Great Land

Several lines still have space available for Alaska this summer.  Crystal Cruises is offering Kids’ Sail Free when sharing a cabin with 2 adults on most departures.  That can be combined with their Crystal Clear Choice promotion which offers a choice of savings, including a $600 per person onboard credit!  AND my clients also get an additional onboard credit courtesy of Virtuoso.

From ship to glacier in a few hours

Regent Seven Seas is offering a Book Now Bonus on all sailings, including $250 per person shipboard credit for Alaska.  And if you select a Virtuoso Voyages sailings, you also receive your choice of amenity, either a shipboard credit or an exclusive shore excursion.

Glacier Bay is just one of several locations
where you can see spectacular glaciers

Seabourn’s Extraordinary Opportunity Event runs through June 13, with special savings on select 2017 departures including:
• Three Veranda Suite Category Upgrade
• Veranda for Oceanview category Upgrade
• Onboard credits up to $1,000


Say Aloha to Hawaii

Four Seasons Resorts on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island are offering resort credits of up $200 per night for select dates (credit varies by room category booked).  The Four Seasons Resort Lanai is offering a $1000 activity credit for guestrooms, and $2000 for suites.  Stay longer than 5 nights and the credit increases, and all this can be combined with our Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities.

Maui beaches rock!

Kings Pond is fun for families who like to snorkel
at Four Seasons Hualalai

Hit the Beach in Miami

Acqualina Resort & Spa in Miami is offering a Family Escape Package through Sep 30, including

  • Daily access to the Children’s Center, home to the AcquaMarine program offering educational marine-themed programming for children ages 5-12
  • Access to the resort’s beachfront basketball, soccer lawn, foosball and ping pong tables.
The kids may never want to leave

  • Daily activities for toddlers including bike time on a no-pedal Strider Balance Bike, stretch sessions and relay races on the beach
  • A $40 spa credit for up to two adults 
  • Daily buffet breakfast for two (or four in a two-bedroom suite)
  • Complimentary Valet Parking
  • Complimentary Wifi

Parents may never want to leave, either!


Caribbean Getaways

Ritz Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach is offering a Stay Longer promotion, with 10-30% savings on Ocean View and higher rooms.  The longer you stay, the more you save.  And you receive a $50 per night resort credit, as well as Virtuoso amenities.  No passport needed to visit Puerto Rico! 

Besides these beautiful rooms, they have residences
and a 5 bedroom plantation


Shore Club Turks & Caicos lets you stay for 7 and play for 5 when booking a full size suite or penthouse. Rates include breakfast daily, free calls to the USA & Canada, Kids Club for 4-12, use bicycles, tennis court, fitness center, and non-motorized water sports, and wifi.  And of course you can enjoy their four pools: Adults Pool, Family/Resort Pool, Colonnade Pool and lap pool.

An exclusive retreat on Long Bay Beach

Nicaragua Ecolodge Package

My “go-to” Central America supplier is offering an amazing program that includes two of the most authentic and luxurious ecolodges in Nicaragua at a fantastic low price.  You first visit Jicaro Island Ecolodge, one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, located on a private island on Lake Nicaragua.  

You don’t have to rough it at an ecolodge

Then you are transferred to Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, a Virtuoso property located right on the beach.  You can choose from a wide selection of tours in each location, including visits to volcanoes, artisan markets, and colonial towns.  Rates include 3 meals a day at Jicaro, and breakfast at Morgan’s Rock, plus other value-added amenities.

This beach!

Don’t let summer slip away without making some fabulous family memories! To get started, contact Suzette at suzette@family-treks.com.

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Spectacular Spring Break Savings!

“I don’t really care about saving money on my vacation.”  Said no one ever.

If you want to plan a spring break getaway, NOW is the time to book. I have been able to find some great early booking values, most of which are only available  because of our agency’s preferred status with a particular resort, or through a tour operator who only works with travel professionals.

Here is a recap of the savings I found for clients in the past week:

$11,000 savings on a multi-gen family vacation – Grandpa wanted to take his kids and grandkids to Florida in April, so he needed to book a combination of rooms and suites.  This was the amount saved over the rate published on the resort website after applying a Virtuoso discount and an exclusive 4th night free offer.

One Bedroom Oceanfront Suite
One of the beautiful oceanfront pools
Lucky kids!
This same family could have stayed at another resort offering a 50% discount on ALL junior suites booked in combination with a 1 BR suite. It would have totaled to >$1000 per night savings over the published rates. What a great deal for families who want a connecting room for the kids, and suites have kitchenettes as well!

This beach!
Hawaii Villa Savings – I found a Book Early offer for March on 2 and 3 bedroom Maui villas through a supplier who only works with travel advisors.  The client is saving thousands of dollars since they needed multiple villas for their party.
Space, privacy, and your own plunge pool

Views of Lanai from a practically private beach.
Haleakala – One of Maui’s spectacular natural wonders.
$1500 savings on a 1 Bedroom Suite – The same tour operator also has Book Early rates on hotel rooms and suites at many resorts.  This luxury resort is my favorite for families on Maui!
A waterslide, swim-up bar, adults only pool, huge spa,
award-winning restaurants, and a gorgeous beach.
And this view!  What more can a family ask for? Well…
…How about complimentary breakfast every day?
(A Virtuoso amenity exclusively for my clients.)
I was even able to find a great deal for a client traveling to Europe over the holidays:  a 200£ savings per room per night for New Year’s Eve. And they will get the Virtuoso amenities which include daily breakfast and a 100 USD equivalent hotel credit.

This room is worthy of a special occasion.
This place will be hopping on NYE!
To be frank, there generally there aren’t a lot of Christmas “deals” to be found.  I do have the advantage of knowing suppliers that often have rooms blocked at a below market rates.  But inventory is limited, so the early bird has the best chance to score one of those rooms.

Even if you end up paying the published rates,  remember that you still get a better value when I book you, because of our preferred agency amenities, such as daily breakfast for two, upgrade on arrival if available, and resort credits.

It’s understandable that many travelers want to wait until after the holidays to start planning trips for next year. But it’s likely the best offers will be gone by then.  Imagine how relaxing it would be to not only have your spring break travel planning out of the way, but also know you have saved yourself a lot of money

So give yourself the gift of a more restful holiday season by sending an email to suzette@family-treks.com, and from there I’ll do all the work!

I’ll take this image over sugarplum fairies dancing in my head any day.
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High Adrenaline Hawaii

I recently vacationed on the Big Island of Hawaii with my family which includes two teens.  We had not been there since they were very young, so this time we got to experience some more active adventures.

This island has a large variety of unique activities, so if you are looking for more to do than just lay on the beach or by the pool, it could be the perfect destination for you.  Check out some of the fun things we did:
Stargazing at Mauna Kea
While looking through telescopes is not a high energy activity, getting to the top of the volcano does take some effort.   The Visitor Information Center is at 9200 ft, and at nightfall temperatures drop into the 50’s or below.  So we packed long pants, hats, gloves, and sweatshirts along with our bathing suits.   If you have a “true” 4WD drive vehicle you can drive to the  14000 ft summit on a steep gravel road (check safety guidelines first). 
Setting up the telescopes
Here you have one of the clearest night sky views on the planet, we could easily see the Milky Way with the naked eye.  We also  saw Jupiter, Mars and Saturn through telescopes, and watched deep space images on video monitors.
 

The Milky Way seen from Mauna Kea


Zodiac Raft Trip to Kealakekua Bay
Inacessible by car, Kealakekua Bay is one of the most protected harbors on the island and has exceptionally clear water. It is also the site of the Captain Cook Monument, the only foreign-owned land in the United States.  The crew will fill you in on the whole story.  You can also book catamaran trips and kayak trips, but if you like speed and watching dolphins surf next to you, the zodiac boat is the way to go.
Chasing a fish off a volcano
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
There is a lot to see here, and I generally recommend my clients spend a night or two at the summit. (I review the pros and cons with my clients as we design their itinerary.) 

Checking out a steam vent with a GoPro
Walk through a lava tube
We powered through a full day trip from our resort, and were still able to drive the entire length of Chain of Craters Road, have dinner, then go back to see the glow in the caldera after dark.
Kilauea by day and night
What’s exciting right now is a new lava flow which started right before our arrival.  It does require  advance planning as views are only accessible from a parking area about 45 minutes outside the park entrance, and you must hike a few miles along an emergency road.
Note: Lava conditions can change in hours, so visitors need to read the current updates on the NPS website, and talk to rangers before heading out on any hikes.
Lava arches at the end of the road

Night Snorkel With Manta Rays

This was not only the highlight of our trip, but could very well be one of the most amazing wildlife encounters we will have in our lifetime. Because of the particular tour we booked, we had at least a dozen huge manta rays (3-10 ft. wing span) swimming within inches of us.  Yes, it was scary at first, but it didn’t take long to relax, realize we were safe, and enjoy the experience.  You can see a video my son took with his GoPro here.

This isn’t a spaceship, it’s the underside of a manta ray!


And More Snorkeling!
The Big Island is known for some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii and we were not disappointed.  This is one of our favorite activities (we call ourselves “snorkel snobs”), so we chose a resort that had good snorkeling on site and several good beaches nearby, including one with black sand.  There were also lots of turtles at our resort, so it was not unusual to see them in and out of the water. 

Great snorkeling right at our resort
Lots of coral reefs and fish like this Moorish idol
Naptime!
There are many other fun adventures on the Big Island that we didn’t have time to fit in our trip:


Waterfall zip line ~ ATV or horseback riding at Waipio Valley ~ Swim with dolphins

Akaka Falls


Helicopter flightseeing  ~ Lava hike ~  Bicycling tours ~ Scuba and SNUBA


Lava fields

For more information about how to plan a fun Hawaii vacation for your family, send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.

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Private Guides – Your Best Travel Investment

On our trip to Italy this summer, I tried out several companies we use for private tours.  My expectations were exceeded, and our experience was so much better than if we had done it alone.

Vatican Museums – The crowds were so overwhelming, I could not imagine visiting without a private guide.  She was able to pull us aside as dozens of large tour groups filed by with headsets on, and then show us something interesting (even for the kids) that everyone else was missing.  

Couldn’t even see the pictures when the hall was filled with tour groups

While many people just popped their heads in the papal apartments, we were learning how different Raphael and Michelangelo were both in artistic style and personality. Before entering the Sistine Chapel, we relaxed in the beautiful courtyard as our guided explained what to look for when we got inside.

Prepping for the Sistine Chapel

Pompeii– We took a day trip to Naples from Rome, and I previously wrote about our experience hiring a private driver.  Before we headed off for our drive along the Amalfi coast, he dropped us off for a 2 hour tour of Pompeii with a guide. I had heard it was huge but had no idea until I saw it for myself.  It literally is a city, with block after block of streets that all look alike, and minimal signage. 


The streets go on and on and on…

Most guests take a self-guided tour with headsets, which can run out on the busiest days.  Our guide, who also led school field trips, expertly led us around the site so we could understand what life was like for residents. Often other visitors nearby leaned in to listen, as the stories she told were not found on any signs.

Learning about the “McDonalds” of Pompeii

Tuscany– We explored with our own car most of the time, but one day we had the luxury of a private driver.  Finally my husband and I both got to relax and enjoy the scenery rather than focus on a map and scan for road signs.  

Wouldn’t you rather enjoy this view while someone else drives?

We visited a honey farm, a cheese farm, and a winery where we had a wonderful lunch prepared by the owner.  He also took us to the hilltop village of Montalcino so we could see the fort.  He dropped us off outside the castle so we could enjoy the scenery rather than waste time in the car looking for parking.

This Brunello wine came home with us.
Say cheese!

One day we drove ourselves to Volterra, where we met another guide who grew up there.  She showed us around the ancient Etruscan village, and took us to the shop of an alabaster artisan I had met in San Francisco, when his replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was put on display.

If this looks familiar you may have seen it in a Twilight movie,
this is the home of the Volturi
A master in alabaster

Florence– We day tripped by train from our resort, so our time was limited.  The guide we hired for a city orientation tour met us at the train station, and she took a few minutes to get a feel for how we’d like to spend our time. Since we had seen enough churches and museums, she took us to the food market, which we would have never discovered on our own. 

Before the lunch rush.

Then she led us on a tour of the city, guiding us through side streets so we avoided the worst of the crowds.  She pointed out where Leonardo di Vinci and Michelangelo once stayed, and told the back story on funny signs we saw everywhere. 

Hunting for these signs amused the kids.

We planned to visit the Accademia on our own, so she had done us the favor of reserving our tickets in advance.   She ended our tour at the will call window (which was practically impossible to find unless pointed out), made sure we got in the right line (there were 3 very long ones), and recommended a nearby cafe for lunch.

The original David

When you hire a private guide, you will save time, you will learn more, your kids will have fewer melt downs, and overall you will have a better experience.  Whenever we’ve visited a town or museum on our own, we found ourselves wandering a bit aimlessly. (And in the summer heat, efficiency is key, you want to make every step count!) 


Wish we had a guide at the Colosseum, very few signs here

If you have a special interest in art, history, food, etc., then you’ll really appreciate having a guide who is an expert in that field, rather than taking a generic city tour where the guide is reciting a memorized spiel.


Beautiful Florence, one day is not enough!

You don’t have to hire a guide everywhere you go.  But consider investing some of your travel dollars in locations where a private guide will make the difference between a good vacation, and a great vacation.

Water taxi to the Venice airport, another worthwhile splurge
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When in Rome (With Kids)

We started our Italy adventure in Rome. a five night stay at the Westin Excelsior.  This is a Virtuoso hotel located on the Via Veneto, next to the US Embassy.  So my clients receive complimentary daily breakfast for two, upgrade on arrival if available, and a $100 food and beverage credit.  And if you are a Starwood SPG member, you get a discount on lunch and dinner as well.

Deluxe twin room…
…with plenty of space and great A/C

 Here are my top tips when visiting Rome with kids.


* Hire a driver to pick you up at the airport. You’ve had a long flight, you’re tired and hungry, and it’s crowded. It’s a relief to see someone waiting for you outside customs, who will whisk you to an air conditioned car for the 30+ min drive into the city.

* Take an umbrella stroller which is easy to collapse and carry. Better yet, use a backpack. Many streets are bumpy and difficult to navigate.

It’s not fun to schlep a stroller up the Spanish Steps

* It’s hot and humid in summer, so always carry a water bottle.  You can fill them at fountains and water spigots around the city. (Yes, it’s safe to drink).  Plan to rest in the afternoon at the hotel when temps are highest, then visit piazzas in the evening when it’s cooler and kids will be less cranky.


Kids are happy to have water when it’s fun to get

* Use the bathroom before going to train station. They are not centrally located and you have to deposit coins to enter.


* A hop on/off bus tour is a great way to get oriented to the city early in your trip.  But don’t purchase tickets in advance. All companies stop at the same places and run the same route.  But if there are service problems on a particular line, you might have long waits between buses, or find that some don’t even have seats available.  There are “sales reps” at each stop, so try to find out from them if there are any service issues.  We also got off and walked between two stops, just to have an opportunity to explore some small streets far from our hotel, which turned out to have nice shops and cafes.


* Buy Colosseum tickets for the kids, in advance. Though children get free admission to the Colosseum, you have to show their ID, even with pre-purchased tickets.  If you can skip this step, you will truly have”skip the line” access.  Visiting the Roman Forum first? Make sure you know which exit is closest to the Colosseum and allow plenty of time to meet your guide.
  


* Always have some cash on hand. Small cafes and street vendors often don’t take credit cards.  And coins are handy for public toilets.

* Book a family-friendly guide for the Vatican Museum. It’ll make the experience better for the entire family because the crowds can be overwhelming.  Our guide found a pleasant place for us to sit in the courtyard where she could give us some background information and also explain what we’d see in the Sistine Chapel later, since she wouldn’t be allowed to talk in there.  

One of the rare places without crowds in the Vatican

* Note that pasta is “first course.” If that’s all your kids (or you) order, note that it may come out before the other dishes, and the server may not bring any other food until the pastas is finished!  So if you want a pasta dish to arrive at the same time as everyone else’s main entree, ask the server to bring it with the second course (or “with the meat”). When someone only orders one course, servers will often ask when to bring it, but if they look puzzled, just explain what you want.


And antipasta is before the first course.
(Thank goodness for all that walking to burn this off!)

* Let kids burn off steam at Pincio Gardens at the top of the Spanish Steps. You can rent pedal cars, Segways, and surrey bikes, there are vendors selling gelato, drinks and snacks, but most importantly, there’s lots of shade! It has sweeping views of the city, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset.

Great place to hang out on a summer day.

* Add an extra day in Rome to day trip to the Amalfi Coast.  It’s just a one hour train ride, and you can hire a driver guide to pick you up for a full day of sightseeing. (Talk to them about your itinerary before booking the train tickets.) A guide is a must at Pompeii, especially with kids, due to the size.  There aren’t many signs so the only alternative is audio headsets, and they can run out in peak periods.  And don’t you think your kids have headphones on enough already?

Enjoying the view while someone else
hassles with the driving.
Our guide explains why this is
 the “McDonalds” of Pompeii

I would love to design the perfect Italy itinerary for your family.  Just send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.

Roman Forum


One of a Kind Family Celebrations

We’re coming up on graduation and wedding season, so today’s post is about celebration trips.  Here are my top suggestions for a one-of-a-kind trip to celebrate a special occasion or milestone birthday or anniversary.
                  
My criteria:
– It’s multi-generational, with accommodations and activities suitable for all ages
– It offers unique and exceptional experiences in the destination
– Meals are included or there is ample onsite dining.  No hassles figuring out what to do for dinner!
– There is a supervised children’s program or ample activities for kids
– It requires minimal advance planning on the travel organizer’s part.  Just book it, show up, and have a fantastic time!
Lindblad Expedition Cruise–  No casinos or nightclubs, instead travelers get up close to wilderness and wildlife.  Great destinations for families are Alaska, Baja California, and the Galapagos.  There’s hands on learning for everyone, kayaking and snorkeling right off the boat in warm waters, and intimate, personal service since ships have less than 100 passengers, and most less than 70!  There is no minimum age on family sailings, and kids under 18 get $500 off.
Virtuoso amenity:  $25 onboard credit on all sailings, additional credits and exclusive discounts on select sailings.

You won’t have this view of glaciers calving
 from a traditional cruise ship.
If they were any closer they’d be swimming with them!

Alaska Wilderness Lodge – This is another trip perfect for outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts, the land version of an expedition cruise.  Expert guides and naturalists lead activities such as hiking, fishing, bear watching, and glacier climbing during the day, and then you have downtime or educational presentations at night.  The type of activities vary greatly by location and time of year, so research is key to find the best fit.  And advance planning is a must, as it’s not uncommon for them to book up a year or more in advance for peak periods.

Wilderness doesn’t mean roughing it- fresh crab!
Relaxing after a full day of activity

Caribbean Villa Resort – There are lots of private villas and homes available, but if you book one that’s part of a resort, you get the benefits of both worlds:  the services & amenities of a luxury hotel, plus the space and privacy of a home away from home. It’s the perfect compromise if you have some who want to relax beach or poolside, and others who want to be on the go. It’s also a good option for families with very young children. 

  
5 bedrooms and more available!
Great gathering spaces

Check out:


Round Hill Jamaica – 26 private villas, 100 acres of lush gardens, a pristine crescent beach, and complimentary children’s program starting at age 3
Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
$100 spa credit
Early check-in/late check-out

Private pool (and lawn) with a view
Fun for little ones

Escorted Family Tour – This is a great option if your family wants to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time, but doesn’t want the hassle of managing travel logistics. These small group tours visit popular sights in destinations ranging from national parks to European cities to Africa.  Families get lots of quality time together,  but also get to socialize with other adults and children. (Great for families traveling alone!) Most widely known is Adventures by Disney, but Tauck and A&K also offer family departures.  Active families should check out cycling, hiking or multi-sport trips with Backroads 


Adventures by Disney in the Southwest

Guest or Dude Ranch – What’s the difference?  A very simple distinction is that guest ranches offer ala carte activities and more flexible check in /out dates,  where a dude ranch is all inclusive, generally runs Saturday to Saturday and has scheduled trail rides. But every ranch is unique so again, this is a trip that requires careful research to find the right match. Guests can do as much or as little as they want, so it suits a variety of interests and activity levels. Accommodations range from lodge rooms to large private homes to luxury tents.  And don’t worry about it being too rustic, gourmet dining and other resort-style amenities like a pool and spa are often available.

Heading out on the trail
Learning to rope

Check out:


The Resort at Paws Up – A guest ranch in Montana’s gorgeous Big Sky country, with 28 luxurious vacation homes and 30 luxury tents with private baths and a Camping Butler.
Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
Complimentary round-trip private airport transfers
Early check-in, late check-out, subject to availability
A $300 activity credit
Bottle of wine in room on arrival

Private luxury at Paws Up

Brush Creek Ranch – An all-inclusive luxury dude ranch on 30,000 acres of Rocky Mountain wilderness in Wyoming. Rates include on site activities and trail rides, and the Lil Wranglers program for ages 4-8. Ages 9 and up can participate in most ranch activities.

Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
A complimentary 50-minute massage for up to two people
Choice of complimentary Cattle Drive, Scenic Float, Premium Fly Fishing or Wing Shooting Experience for 2 guests
Early check-in/late check-out

Wyoming scenery
Imagine waking up to this view!

If your group is large enough, you can buy out an entire property or tour. This is the ultimate celebration trip, completely private and customized, something to remember forever!

Are these choices overwhelming?  No worries, just drop me a note at suzette@family-treks.com and I’ll help you design the perfect celebration for your family.
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Why You Should Take Your Family to The Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation

Just 75 miles from Atlanta, this destination resort offers 30 picturesque acres on Lake Oconee, and plenty of activities for all ages.  

A great place to discover Lake Oconee
Here are my top 5 reasons why you should consider the Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation for your next family getaway: 

Fun on the water – The swimming pools, which are heated year round, include a beautiful lakefront infinity pool and separate wading pool for toddlers.  The pool is being enlarged to add even more water play area next year.  A pretty white sand beach offers calm water for little ones, and plenty of splash room for older kids.
The current pool, expansion in progress!
A safe white sand beach
Other fun activities on Lake Oconee include fishing, canoeing, kayaking, YOLO boards (like SUP but easier), and paddle boats. ( Email me if you’d like a copy of the Activity Guide and Recreation Fact Sheet.)   

Fun on land –  Wide open lawns provide plenty of space to kick a soccer ball (available from the concierge along with other sports equipment) or play outdoor games like frisbee golf, horseshoes, bocce ball and croquet.  Guests also have access to tennis, bicycles, and 99 holes of golf!

Run wild & free!
Or take a stroll on a meandering path

Great value – The optional Kids’ Meal program includes 3 meals a day for one price for kids under 13, including dessert, drinks, tax, and gratuities.   Another great value is the activity package which includes complimentary use of non-motorized watersports, plus extras like tennis, bike rentals, and use of the fitness center and driving range. 

My clients also receive exclusive Ritz STARS and Virtuoso amenities:

•        Early Check-In upon Request
•        Late Check-Out upon Request
•        Daily American Breakfast for 2
•        Welcome Amenity
•        Room Upgrade at time of booking
•        $100 Resort Credit
•        Complimentary Valet Parking
 

Lakefront cottage with a golf course view

Room for everyone – There is a large variety of accommodations, including many connecting rooms which can often be guaranteed at time of booking.  And all 22 one bedroom suites connect to rooms with 2 queen beds.  If you want more space, there are 5 two bedroom cottages, a three bedroom cottage, and a Presidential house with four bedrooms, all of which have kitchens, fireplaces, and wrap around porches with views of the golf course and the lake.

   

A standard guestroom has plenty of space


And beautiful lake views!
Fun fact:  This is the only Ritz-Carlton property to offer a BBQ Butler, who will prepare a  made-to-order cookout featuring quintessential southern cuisine.  You’ll also get tips in the fine art of grilling, from roasting sauce-smothered ribs in the bold flavors of mesquite wood to smoking chicken in the pungent aromas of hickory.

Executive Suite
 Private time for Mom and Dad – Ritz Kids Camp for ages 5-12 offers activities incorporating outdoor adventures such as scavenger hunts, nature hikes, science experiments, and fun games designed to teach environmental responsibility.  On Friday and Saturday nights, parents can enjoy a romantic dinner while their children play games and enjoy arts and crafts during Kids Night Out.

What kid doesn’t love fishing?
 And of course no outdoor adventure is complete without s’mores, s’mores, s’mores!
Lots of places to toast those marshmallows!
Reynolds Plantation is offering a 4th night free exclusively to clients of Ritz-Carlton STARS agents  through December 30.  With so much to do at the Lodge, you can really use that extra night! 
Sunrise view from my room
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Exploring Alaska Off A Cruise Ship (Even Glacier Bay!)

Is Alaska on your bucket list?  That’s one of my favorite destinations and I’ve travelled all over the state in the past 20 years.   After my latest trip, I posted a 5 part series on my blog.  I’ve put links to all the posts below to make it easy to find in one place, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to take a trip to Alaska as well! 

A cruise is a great way to see the Inside Passage, but if you’ve done that and want a new experience, or you’d like to spend more time exploring the interior, then you might want to consider a land-based vacation.
  

Hiking in Denali National Park

Part 1: Gustavus: The Yummiest Pancakes in the Whole World
On the first leg of our Alaskan journey, we explored Gustavus, the only town located in Glacier Bay.   We saw glaciers, wildlife and scenery up close from a small boat, explored the coastline in kayaks, and hiked through a rainforest.  Evenings were spent relaxing and enjoying fantastic food at Bear Track Inn, a luxurious fishing lodge that made some memorable meals.  
Glaciers up close
Relaxing before dinner at the lodge

Part 2:  Juneau:  The Time We Watched Bears Eat Dinner (and it wasn’t us!)
In Juneau we rented a car so we could explore outside town at our own pace.  We visited the hatchery, where we watched salmon perform acrobatics as they worked their way up the ladder.  And Mendenhall Glacier, where we watched bears expertly scoop up salmon swimming upstream, including a momma bear and two cubs!  Then we wrapped it up with some beer tasting at the Alaskan Brewery, and wrapped the day watching the cruise ships pull away, leaving quiet Juneau all to ourselves.
Bye bye, everyone!
Can’t get fish fresher than this

Part 3:  Anchorage: More Than a Place to Wait for Your Cruise/Flight
Many travelers only spend the night in Anchorage, either on their way to or from a cruise.  But if you have a couple extra days to spare, and a rental car, there really is quite a bit to do and see.  We watched an interesting movie about the quake of ’64, visited the Iditarod headquarters, and cycled along the coastal trail.  And if you love animal babies, you have to head down to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center!
  
THE trophy
Lunchtime for ‘McKinley’

Part 4:   Talkeetna:  Living Vicariously Through the Locals
Talkeetna was one of my favorite stops.   While it was too late in the season to personally watch climbers prep for a trek up Mt. McKinley, we listened to interesting stories from the locals who host them, and learned from the park rangers just exactly what kind of mettle it takes to ascend the tallest peak on North America.  Talkeetna also boasts some of the best views of the Alaska Range.
Old vs new hiking gear
The main drag in Talkeetna

Part 5:  Denali:  The Best 11 Hours We’ve Ever Spent on a School Bus
The 92 mile long road which heads into Denali Park is filled with spectacular scenery and up close encounters with grizzlies, wolves, caribou, and more.  But unless you have a camping reservation, you aren’t allowed to drive past mile 15.  The only way to go deep into the Alaskan wilderness is on a shuttle bus.  Yes, it’s bumpy, and no, it’s not luxurious by any means (however you don’t have to ride the entire 11 hr route).  But trust me, you’ll remember this as the one of the highlights of your Alaska vacation.  Afterwards you can hop in your comfy car and visit the other cool stuff in and around the park.  
Yes, this is a 2 way road.
We lost track of the grizzly bear
count by this point
Alaska offers a lot of logistical challenges to travelers because of its size and limited services.   It’s best to plan early, a year or more is not uncommon, especially if you want to stay in a wilderness lodge.  But I have also been able to pull together great trips at relatively short notice as well.

If you’d like to have your own great Alaska adventure, just send me an email to find out how to get started!
My favorite park employees