A Glimpse at Grand Hawaii 2016

Select Group Vacations offer a unique opportunity to experience new destinations while traveling with other travelers from the Midwest and beyond.  These custom experiences are designed to take care of all the details for you and many are accompanied by a professional Tour Manager from Fox World Travel.  Hawaii tours are among our most popular itineraries in the collection and below you’ll see a glimpse at our Grand Hawaii 2016 adventure.  This tour, escorted by Globus, highlighted sightseeing on 4 different islands (Oahu, Maui, The Big Island and Kauai).  Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Opaeka`a Falls, Waimea Canyon, scenic inter-island flights, relaxing days on the beach, group dining experiences and so much more were all among the highlights of this fascinating trip.

Continue reading

Welcome Home Best of Hawaii Travelers

Welcome home to The Best of the Hawaii travelers! Their all-inclusive tour took them on a 10-day tour of Oahu, The Big Island and Maui.

Highlights of the trip:
Honolulu– the first days of the trip were spent on beautiful Waikiki Beach in Oahu! Tropical drinks, relaxing on the beach and an authentic Polynesian show introduced travelers to the Garden Isle.

Pearl Harbor– an excursion to visit the USS Arizona took travelers back in time to learn about Japanese and American military history.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park– travelers experienced their first day on the Big Island viewing this active volcano.

Continue reading

Signature Travel Network’s Educational Journey to South Africa with Rose Gray

Signature Travel Network’s Educational Journey to South Africa Sponsored by South African Airways and African Travel ~ March 1 – 12, 2015 Rose Gray

March 2 – Our adventure began as we flew from JFK to Johannesburg in Business Class and then JNB to Cape Town in Economy Class on South African Airways. The front-facing business class seats were configured 2 x 2 x 2 and reclined fully into a flat bed. The mattress pads, full size pillows and duvets made the seats/flat beds very comfortable.  The latest movies and TV shows were available on demand on a personal twelve inch screen. Ala carte dining was offered as well as a selection of South African wines; both were quite good.

March 3 – Upon arrival in CPT, we were met and transferred to our hotel,  Resort 1Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.  Due to our delayed flight, we would be staying one night which was unfortunate because it would have been nice to take advantage of all that this luxury hotel has to offer. The hotel has six individual accommodation wings, each with its own unique character, private gardens and facilities. The 201 spacious rooms and suites are individually decorated.

Mount Nelson rooms_02 Junior Suite1My deluxe junior suite was located in the Helmsley, one of three buildings that were acquired, restored and converted into guest accommodations in 1996.  It was the site of the first Jewish Synagogue in Cape Town.

Fun Fact – Cape Town was the hottest place on earth on March 3, the day we arrived; 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dassie
Dassie

After freshening up, we were transferred to the cable car which would transport us to the top of Table Mountain. We were lucky to have been able to experience Table Mountain on this day, as there were wildfires that were still burning which had caused the cable car to stop operating several days prior to our arrival. We spent about an hour hiking, enjoying the views, and checking out the wildlife including lizards and dassies, a cute little African rodent (dassie translates to badger in Dutch).

March 4 – After an early breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and had an orientation tour of Cape Town.  After lunch we took a tour to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years in prison. This prison 2island is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Access to the island is via ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The tour was quite moving as all guides are former political prisoners and their stories and commentary contributed to the experience. Photos and stories hung on many of the cell walls, describing the inmate who occupied that cell and his “crimes”.  It was especially emotional to see the narrow cell where Mandela spent 18 years and the limestone quarry where he and his fellow prisoners worked in the hot sun.

We were scheduled to have an afternoon free, however, Thompson’s Africa was able to re-schedule the helicopter ride that we were supposed to have on our first day, so we transferred to the V & A Waterfront where we all enjoyed a 15 minute helicopter flip and got a bird’s eye view of the sights and grandeur of Cape Town.

resort 2Next we were transferred to the One and Only Cape Town, our accommodations for the next two nights. This unique 5 Star hotel is truly an urban waterfront resort in the heart of Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront. The Marina Rise is a seven-story resort which affords marvelous views of Table Mountain and Signal Hill from spacious rooms and suites. Or you can choose to stay in one of the 40 Island Suites which are

March 5 – After breakfast, our Thompson Tour Guide, Michael and driver, Wally, collected us for a spectacular day of touring and exploring the pristine coastline and quaint towns of pn“The Fairest Cape”. We drove past the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton and then made our way along the coast, past Bakoven and Llandudno to the charming fishing village of Hout Bay, a functioning harbor and the heart of the local crayfish industry. Here we boarded a boat to Duiker Island to view the Cape Fur Seal colony. From here, we traveled to Chapman’s Peak Drive and then on to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where we spotted mountain zebra, bontebok (a South African antelope) and baboons. Next we visited the beautiful Boulders Beach where we spent time observing and photographing the colony of penguins there.

Our next stop was The Flagship.  This unusual four bedroom B & B is known for its fabulous interactive seafood lunch which we were fortunate enough to enjoy. Chef Bruce Robertson was known for his support of sustainable fishing and the new host, Duncan Doherty who took over after Chef Bruce’s recent passing, is carrying on in that same way. This truly was one of the most memorable and delicious meals that I have enjoyed in my lifetime.

12A-Accom-Presidential-002-1400x568After lunch, we returned to the One and Only Hotel where we had just enough time to freshen up before departing for The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa for a site inspection, “sundowners” (the South African equivalent of happy hour) and dinner. This Red Carnation Hotel features two swimming pools, a sixteen seat cinema, a helipad, fitness room, complimentary wifi throughout and complimentary shuttle service to the V & A Waterfront.  There are 70 rooms here ranging from Classic Rooms to One Bedrooms Suites and they are all elegantly appointed.

March 6LaR_room11_021After breakfast and check out, we traveled through the beautiful wine lands to the charming town of Stellenbosch. We took a walking tour of this old university town which the tourist board offered called Bites and Sites.  This was a great way to see the town and to sample some of the great food and wine offered here. Then it was on to Franschhoek Valley and La Residence (one of the hotels in The Royal Portfolio collection), our home for the next two nights, situated on a 30 acre estate. We arrived in time for lunch. Each one of the sixteen suites is uniquely decorated with its own theme and color scheme. La Residence also enjoys a reputation for its superb cuisine and this reputation is richly deserved. Both lunch and dinner were exceptional and the wine pairings were outstanding.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Rose’s South African Adventure to be posted next week!

Tour of Europe with Deb King

Deb King, of Fox World Travel recently went on a trip to Europe with her 18 year old daughter who had never before been to Europe. Hear all about their trip here.

In June I traveled with my 18 year old daughter on Insight Vacations ~ European Breakaway itinerary. This was my daughter’s first trip to Europe, so I wanted to choose an itinerary that covered a number of countries to give her an overview of a variety of cultures.

london great britainTuesday, June 10: London  Our morning started off with the hotel fire alarms going off and quickly exiting the hotel so we missed our included breakfast at the hotel. Once they allowed us to get back into the hotel it was time for our half-day motorcoach tour of London. The tour was on a motorcoach supplied by a local London coach company, not Insight, and was a mix of people on a number of Insight tours that had their tours starting in London. It was a great overview tour of London with a couple stops for pictures.

That afternoon and evening instead of a tour, we decided to see London on our own. We shopped on Oxford Street, took a cab to see Abbey Road and sign the wall outside Abbey Studios, and then went on to ride the London Eye. Don’t be put off by long lines to board. The Eye is in constant motion and our wait was short.

Wednesday, June 11: Eurostar to Amsterdam  This morning we met our Tour Director – Gigi Bromage amsterdam-annefrankand the rest of our group in the lobby of the Thistle. Half of our group was made up of Australians, four New Zealanders and the rest from the US. There were two other families with teenage girls so it worked out well for my daughter to have a couple younger girls to spend time with. We transferred to London’s St Pancras Station and boarded the high-speed Eurostar. The two hour trip was very comfortable. The actual travel through the Channel Tunnel is only about 20 min – 30 min of the trip. Upon arrival in Brussels we met our Insight motorcoach (yeah! Incredible leg room!) and driver for our transfer to Amsterdam. Our hotel was the Movenpick City Centre in Amsterdam. It was about a 20 minute walk to city center, but a really nice hotel. That evening we had our Welcome Dinner with our tour group at the hotel.

amsterdam canal (2)

Thursday, June 12: Amsterdam, City of Canals  Our morning sightseeing tour included driving past the Mint Tower, floating Flower Market and Royal Palace in Dam Square. We boarded a canal cruiser to glide through the canals of Amsterdam. It was a great hour tour and we were able to see gabled mansions of the 17th century merchants, Anne Frank’s house, and the many houseboats that line the canal. After the cruise we went to one of the diamond houses and watched craftsmen cut and polish the stones.

tulips windmillIn the afternoon we decided to take the optional tour to Volendam. This was one of my favorite excursions. We first stopped at a typical Dutch windmill to see how they worked and met the owner. Then on to the picturesque village of Volendam, known for its wooden houses, traditional fishing boats and old harbor, it was a wonderful spot for lunch and shopping. Renoir and Picasso both spent time in this fishing village and some of the residents still wear the traditional Dutch clothing.

This evening we added another optional experience – a walk through the red light district, known as the “Sailors Quarter” and then on to a historic local restaurant for a 3- course dinner.

GR_RhineValleyFriday, June 13: Castles of the Rhine Valley & Heidelberg  Today we departed Amsterdam and traveled through the Pass Arnhem, renowned for its ‘Bridge Too Far’, before crossing the German border bound for the Romantic Rhine. Our first stop was in the river side village of Boppard, nestled on the largest loop of the Rhine. We had time to shop and lunch before we embarked on our Rhine Cruise. We boarded the cruise boat and had a leisurely 1 ½ hour cruise past steep vineyards, medieval hill-top castles and went by the Loreley Rock. The cruise offered food and drinks for purchase. Our Insight cruise included one drink. After the cruise we followed the Neckar River to Heidelberg.

Upon arrival we checked in to the Crowne Plaza Heidelberg and then took a walking tour in old town Heidelberg. The old town is a beautiful mix of cobble stone streets with great dining and shopping.

Saturday, June 14: Bavarian Alps and Innsbruck  Bavarian AlpsThis morning we checked out of the hotel and headed for Innsbruck. We traveled around the northern Black Forest and head for the Bavarian Alps. A highlight of the trip for me was a stop at the royal castles of Hohenschwangau and King Ludwig’s fairy-tale Neuschwanstein. We have a nice 1 ½ hour stop to give us time for our pictures and lunch.

Once over the Austrian border, we continued to Innsbruck. We checked into the Hilton Innsbruck and took a walking tour of old town in the afternoon.

Sunday, June 15: Fair Verona & Venice, Queen of the Adriatic  After an early breakfast we left Innsbruck and traveled across the Europa Bridge and the Brenner Pass into Italy. Follow the Adige River through beautiful scenery, we stopped in Verona. We enjoyed a tour of Verona, with its Roman Arena, maze of squares and saw Juliet’s balcony. We had time for lunch and shopping as well.

hotelThen, on to Venice! Our hotel, the Hilton Molino Stucky, was a beautiful five star hotel. Once a flourishing flourmill, it is now beautifully restored and has 379 charming and comfortable guest rooms. With capacity to host 1-1000 people, the hotel has the most contemporary and largest conference facility in Venice, as well as 14 fully serviced meeting and boardrooms.

That evening we took a short walk to a local restaurant for dinner. After dinner we took the Magical Venice optional tour. This was one of my best memories from our trip. We took a private water taxi to St Mark’s Square area. After a short walk to the center of it all, Piazza San Marco, where we had seats reserved outside a Venetian café. As the sun set we enjoyed a refreshment and the music of a live orchestra and in view of the illuminated buildings and the Grand Canal. Now quiet with most of the tourists gone for the day, we could enjoy the real Venice. It was a beautiful night! On the return we slowly cruised the Grand Canal looking at all the beautifully lit homes as we returned to our hotel.

Italy - Venice 4Monday, June 16: Venice & the magic of ‘La Serenissima’  The following morning, we visited a Venetian arts center where local experts, craftsmen still make gondolas by hand and blow glass into incredible works of art. We had time for shopping in the Venetian glass shop. Then via private launch we traveled to St Mark’s Square. We took a walk along the water’s edge to the Bridge of Sighs which connects the Doges’ Palace with the prisons and then on to our gondola ride including a private serenade as we made our way through the canals of Venice.

That afternoon we took the Insight optional tour to the beautiful island of Burano. After a 45 minute boat ride to Burano we arrived to see the candy colored houses. Known for its artisan lace makers and leaning bell tower, this charming island is the place to buy scarfs and clothing. We had a wonderful late lunch of local seafood specials and wine was included.

lucerneTuesday, June 17: Through the Alps & on to Lucerne  The next morning we traveled through the beautiful farmland as we crossed into northern Italy. We saw some of the beautiful Italian Lake District on our way into the heart of the Swiss Alps and beautiful Lucerne. Lucerne offers a collection of spires, steeples, medieval bridges and half-timbered houses, set beside Lake Lucerne. Our hotel was the Astoria located in the heart of Lucerne.

After settling into our hotel we took the optional Lake Lucerne Happy Hour Cruise. Considered to be the prettiest of the mountain lakes, much of the shoreline of Lake Lucerne can only be fully appreciated from the water. The hour and ½ cruise included two drinks.

Then we moved on to the optional Swiss Dinner experience. This was a wonderfully fun evening. Swiss fondue is one of my favorite foods and I was looking forward to showing my daughter that the fondue she has had in America is NOT real fondue! We were at a traditional Swiss restaurant with entertainment including a folklore show of flag throwing, yodeling, Alpenhorn blowing and other great Swiss entertainment during our dinner.

St. Moritz, SwitzerlandWednesday, June 18: Lucerne’s Lions & Mt. Pilatus  We started off our day with an optional tour to the Swiss Countryside. A local farmer took us on a horse-drawn carriage to his home. The scenery was incredible as we trotted around through the Swiss rural community. Upon arrival at the farm we had coffee, tea and homemade snacks of cheese, crackers and baked goods made by the family. It was a wonderful way to start the day. We then took the cog-wheel train and cable-car to the summit of one of Switzerland’s most famous mountains, Mount Pilatus. We saw amazing sights over the snow-capped Jungfrau and Eiger peaks. Our tour continued back in Lucerne to view the Lion Monument.

We then strolled across the Chapel Bridge to the ornate Jesuit Church and spent time shopping in Old Town. This evening, the included Dine-Around dinner was at a local upscale restaurant. We dined with 10 of our group and had a wonderful 3 course dinner including wine or beer.

seine river parisThursday, June 19: Paris  Today we drove from Lucerne to Basel before crossing the Rhine to enter France. We traveled through the wine-growing Burgundy region to Paris. This was a long day of driving and we arrived late afternoon at the Le’Meridien Etoile hotel.

Tonight was our final Celebration Dinner at a local restaurant. After dinner we took the optional Paris Evening Illuminations tour! So beautiful to see Paris at night. We had the opportunity to stop for pictures along the way.

Friday, June 20: Paris  This morning we met our local guide for our Paris tour. She took us past Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre. We saw the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine once stood and down the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Included was the Eiffel Tower and we rode the express elevator to the famous viewing platforms.

Eiffel Tower 4In the afternoon we took a Paris Seine River cruise and also took a tour of the Louvre Museum and saw the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Mona Lisa and more. Then a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral and a walk through the streets of the Latin Quarter, filled with bookshops, cafes, and restaurants.

In the evening we decided to do the optional dinner and show at the Moulin Rouge. While it’s an expensive evening, everyone should do it once. Our steak dinner was surprisingly good and the show was entertaining. Our whole group decided to do the show so it was a great way to finish off the tour with our new friends.

After the show a group of us went to the Hyatt hotel located across the street from our hotel and up to the 34th floor Bar La Vue Paris. This bar is supposed to have the most expensive drinks in Paris… and one of the best views. We saw the Eiffel Tower start to shimmer at 11:00pm when the lights lit up and started to twinkle. It was a perfect way to end the trip!

Saturday, June 21: Paris  I added an extra day in Paris for some down time and we spent the time walking and shopping along the Champs Élysées.

Sunday, June 22: Departure Home  We had a mid-morning departure for Charles de Galle Airport. Instead of Insights transfers I opted to purchase a private shuttle with Paris Shuttle. It was a beautiful town car and the driver was right on time. Our flights on Aer Lingus were on time and uneventful. I love going through Dublin as we were able to clear US customs there instead of Chicago.

My thoughts:  LOVED Insight! The motorcoach accommodations speak for themselves with the incredible leg room in their business class seating. The Signature dinner experiences in wonderful historic local restaurants and the little unexpected flourishes Gigi gave us throughout the trip made the two weeks special. A souvenir Eiffel Tower Key chain in Paris, Chocolates in Lucerne, and it goes on. The optional tours were excellent. Some of them were your basic add-on’s, but others were very personal and unique. They provide some of the most special moments during the two weeks. The tour was fluid. By that I mean Gigi changed us the itinerary when needed to take advantage of the best weather, or least amount of traffic, etc. It kept the tour comfortable and gave us the most enjoyable experience possible.

Packing: Packing to travel in multiple countries is never easy. Living out of a suitcase for two weeks needs to be organized and you add in a teenage girl who needs to take her closet with her, you have a recipe for disaster. So I purchased E-Bags Packing Cubes and fell in love. For anyone who travels, these are a life saver. Maren and I each had different colors. We were able to pack our clothing by type in the cubes and take out just what we needed each day. These are the best things since wheels were added to luggage in my opinion!!!! I find the medium, small and slim packing cubes are the best. The large are too big. You can find them at www.ebags.com.

Disney World with Jennifer Sabish: Tips and Tricks for that Perfect Family Vacation

Jennifer Sabish, of Fox World Travel, recently went on her first family trip to Disney World.  Hear her review of their newest features, and tips and tricks for planning that perfect family vacation!

This was our first family trip to Disney. We felt the kids were finally at the age to enjoy the whole experience. Since it was our first family trip I knew there were some things that were just must for us; staying on Disney grounds and making sure to visit all four parks. In June I found a promotion that offered free dining. This was exactly what we were looking for.

There are several dining plans. The free plan included in our package was the quick service plan. This plan provides two quick services meals and one snack per person per day. We opted to upgrade to the Disney Dining plan which offered us one snack, one quick service and one table service per person per day. This allowed us to have one nice sit down meal per day, which also included some charter dining experience. Reservations are highly recommended for table service meals, as they can be booked 180 days prior to arrival.

PEP_icon_illustrative_MagicBands_90We also opted to plan as much as we could prior to our arrival. This included ordering our MagicBands. This is a newer feature for Disney guest. All passes, FastPasses, meals, room access, and the ability to charge items back to your room is all loaded onto your band. You can customize your name and color of your band prior to arrival by ordering online. If you choose not to order yours prior to arrival you will be provided plain gray ones at check in. Our kids enjoyed picking out their colors and receiving them in the mail prior to departure. Another new feature is being able to reserve your FastPasses prior to arrival. These can be reserved 60 day prior to check-in for your entire stay. You may reserve up to 3 FastPasses per day at one theme park. After all, initial FastPasses are used on a given day you have the option to add an additional FastPass to be used that same day. The additional FastPass can only be made at a FastPass kiosk at the park you wish to select.

I would also highly recommend downloading the free Disney Experience app. This app links all your reservations made on the Disney Experience website to an app on your smartphone. It also lists attractions, character sites, dining options, entertainment times and more. We used this app most for checking wait times on rides throughout the parks and changing our FastPass times.

We opted to use the Disney Magical Express Transfers along with the luggage delivery service. Even though the lines for the transfers were long, we moved along quickly and were at our resort before we knew it. We really enjoyed the luggage delivery service. This allows you to go right to your transfers and not have to claim your bags. Disney will collect your bags and deliver then right to your room. Theart-of-animation-gallery06 service can take up to 4 hours. So make sure you take anything in your carry on you may need before your luggage arrives.

Our home for the next five nights was the value resort of Art of Animation. There are two room  categories at this resort. The Little Mermaid section offers standard rooms that sleep up to four adults. Rooms have two double beds or king bed. The other category is the family suites. These rooms sleep up to 6 adults offering one queen bed in a separate room with adjoining bath, a double size table bed, double size sofa sleeper and another bath. These suites also offer a mini kitchen with mini refrigerator, microwave and small sink. There are three themes to the family suites; Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars. Our choice was the Cars suite. Each section offer its own pool area, however; the Finding Nemo pool area is larger with bar and kids pool. They also have a movie under the stars area near this pool that shows Disney movies nightly.

room-vf-g01

Our room was not ready when we checked it. However, that was not a problem for us. We checked our other bags and took Disney shuttle to EPCOT. Disney shuttles run every 10-15 minutes between the resorts to parks and park to park. We spent the remainder of our day at EPCOT and had dinner at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. This was our first character akershus-royal-banquet-hall-gallery03dining experience. Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Princess Aurora and Ariel stop at each table for autographs and photos. I felt this was a more private time to visit the Princesses so we didn’t have to stand in long lines to see them at the park. Plus the meal was included in our dining plan. After dinner we viewed IllumiNations, a firework to music show over the reflection pond near World of Showcase.

Monday we spent the day at Hollywood Studios. Frozen has been a big addition to this park; offering a Frozen parade including all the favorites and even snow. This park is more compact than the others; making getting around the park fairly quickly. Our sit down meal for the night was the 50’s Prime Time Café. We loved this dining experience. It is set up like a 50’s family kitchen offering old fashion American comfort foods; like fried chicken, pot roast, and meat loaf. This restaurant also offered a bar (Dad’s Liquor Cabinet) offering both kid and adult drinks with electric ice cubes to light up your drinks.

magic-kingdomTuesday we spent the day at Magic Kingdom. This, of course, was the park the kids were waiting for the most. We used our Disney App to find the shortest wait times and were able to get through the park and rides pretty easily. We were able to view Disney Dance Party parade at 11am which allowed the kids to dance with characters and the Festival of Fantasy parade in the afternoon; this parade offers all Princesses, Mickey and friends. Finding a place to stand can be difficult. Start early or opt to use your FastPass for preferred seating area. Our dining for this evening was at the Contemporary Resort for dinner with Mickey and friends. This was an easy transfer by the use of the monorail. This dining option was buffet style with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto coming around to all tables for autographs and photos. We took the monorail back to Magic Kingdom after dinner to view the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks over the castle. Again, finding a place to sit/stand can be difficult. We were lucky to find a great location on the bridge in front of the castle which gave us prime seating for both.

animal-kingdom-gallery06Wednesday we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom. This was the one park that I had not been to yet, so I was looking forward to my first visit. Best part of our day was the Kilimanjaro Safari where we took an open jeep through the park to view the animals. Since we were on one of the first rides of the day we were able to view all the animals except lions. We all really enjoyed getting wet on the Kali River Rapids. Our favorite roller-coaster through the whole trip was Expedition Everest. This is the one park that I would say you wouldn’t need a full day at. However, that could all change once they complete all the renovations and new attractions. Once we completed Animal Kingdom we headed back to EPCOT for dinner and finish up the few items we missed on Sunday. This evening we ate dinner at Coral Reef Restaurant. We enjoyed dining with views of a living coral reef and underwater sea life with views of the aquarium. After dinner, we were also lucky to have short wait times at Soarin’, another one of our favorites. We then walked through World of Showcase. We enjoyed seeing what all the countries looked like, eat and drink.

tonys-town-square-restaurant-00Thursday was our final day at Disney. We headed to Magic Kingdom to finish what we missed on Tuesday. Due to short wait times we were able to ride our favorite at Magic Kingdom, 7 Dwarf Mine Train. This is the newest Disney rollercoaster and was a big hit with the whole family. We choose to do our sit down meal today for lunch at Tony’s Town Square. The restaurant made famous by the movie Lady and the Tramp.

We, of course, had our entire souvenir shopping to do yet. We boarded the Disney Shuttle to one of the resorts and transferred shuttles to Downtown Disney. This was a great place to find all of your Disney favorite souvenirs. Plus some great restaurants and other shopping stores. We finished up just as it started raining and headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our early departure the next day.

Friday we were heading home. We had already check-in for our Southwest flight the day prior. Disney offers the ability to check your bags at your Disney resorts and they will be taken directly to the airport and checked with your airline. This gave us the opportunity to have our breakfast and get to ready for our shuttle trip back to the airport. Our return flight was on time and was back in Milwaukee before we knew it. Just a quick call to the Clarion our shuttle was on our way to pick us up.

All in all this was a great family vacation!  To find out more about planning your own Disney Vacation contact a travel agent today.

Review of Iberostar Paraiso

Mexico is one of Fox World Travel clients’ most sought after tropical destination. In order to be able to provide valuable, first hand experience and advice to their clients, Fox World Travel sends their agents on Familiarization Trips so that they can experience, in person, the destinations that their clients want to visit.

Vacation Travel Consultants Barb Rogers and Erika Martinez, along with Marketing Coordinator, Kristen Rahmlow, recently went on an intensive Familiarization Trip where they toured 12 resorts in just 3 days! View their review of their second stop, Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar here.

Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar

2014-11-19 12.54.43

This was our host resort for the 3 nights we were in Riviera Maya. It is about 20-30 minutes from the Cancun airport. This property is huge! There are a total of 5 resorts on the property – Del Mar, Beach, Lindo, Maya, and Grand. There are two room categories at the Del Mar – Standard and Jr Suite. The rooms at this resort are all garden-view. The Del Mar and the Beach are equal resorts and share amenities. There are 2 grill snack bars and 7 a la carte restaurants where you can make dinner reservations upon arrival at the concierge desk.  If you stay seven nights you can make four dinner reservations, five nights – three reservations, four nights – two reservations, and three nights – one dinner reservation. We ate at the Italian Restaurant the second night. The food was good and came with a salad, entrée and then choice of dessert.

Coati
Coati

We ate at the breakfast buffet every morning. There was a nice selection of food at the breakfast buffet including made to order omelets, French toast, pancakes, cereal, fruit, yogurt and an assortment of pastries.

Del Mar Lobby
Del Mar Lobby

Wi-Fi was not included at the Del Mar. You had to pay a fee in order to have Wi-Fi and even then it was only available in the lobby area. The fees are as follows: 1 day – $12, 3 Days – $25, 5 Days – $30, 7 Days – $40. There was a shopping mall that you could walk to if you wanted but from where our room was located it would have been a bit of a walk so we took the golf cart shuttles that ran every 5-10 minutes. The shopping center included a small bar, little “restaurants” to get tacos, burgers, coffee and gelato. They also had some clothing stores and souvenir stores. Wi-Fi was free at the shopping center but we did not always get the best connection. There is also a disco in the shopping center that is open until 3am.

 

Riviera Maya Boot Camp: Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun

Mexico is one of Fox World Travel clients’ most sought after tropical destination. In order to be able to provide valuable, first hand experience and advice to their clients, Fox World Travel sends their agents on Familiarization Trips so that they can experience, in person, the destinations that their clients want to visit.

Vacation Travel Consultants Barb Rogers and Erika Martinez, along with Marketing Coordinator, Kristen Rahmlow, recently went on an intensive Familiarization Trip where they toured 12 resorts in just 3 days! View their review of their first stop, Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun here.

Day 1: Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun

1

Secrets Silversands Riviera Cancun is an adult only (18 years and older) resort.  This is a very contemporary looking property that offers Unlimited Luxury which includes unlimited meals, snacks and top-shelf premium drinks.  24 hour room service is available and each room has the “Secret Box” which means when you order room service they will not be knocking at your door to bring you your meal ordered but putting the tray of food into the box and you just access this from your room without seeing anyone.

The resort has eight pools, eight bars and 8 gourmet restaurants (seven of which are a la carte and a buffet).  We actually ate at the buffet for lunch and the variety of food choices was outstanding.

11111

11111On our day of arrival it was raining outside and I was very impressed with the area by the lobby bar  which is located downstairs from the lobby.  It was a great large space for guests to socialize and keep busy or just hang out if you didn’t want to be in your room. The resort had a ping pong table, darts were being played and even a vendor brought in a monkey for guests to be photographed with.

Non-motorized water sports are available which would include kayaks and hobie cats which are used for sailing.  The second largest coral reef is way out in front of the resort.

1111

 

 

 

Restaurants:

  • Bordeaux / French Cuisine
  • El Patio / Mexican
  • Himitsu / Pan-Asian
  • Oceana / Seafood
  • Portofino / Italian
  • Ratatouille / Mediterranean
  • Seaside Grill / Steak & Grilled specialties
  • World Cafe / International Buffet
  • Coco Cafe / premium coffees & pastries (6:30am-10:30pm)

Secrets Silversands offers an even higher level of luxury in the Preferred Club.  You can enjoy an upgraded suite, access to the exclusive Preferred Club lounge which is open from 7am until 11:00pm with its own bar. Continental breakfast is offered and concierge service is also included.

1111111111111 111111111

Learn more about Riviera Maya Travel Destinations or contact a vacation travel consultant today.  Stay tuned for reviews of other resorts visited during Fox World Travel‘s Riviera Maya Travel Agent Boot Camp!

Our 2014 Travels in Review

  • We visited Mexico over 60 times and toured countless All-Inclusive resorts for you! The Riviera Maya area and Cancun made up over 35 visits and Puerto Vallarta saw 13 visits. There were also stays in Los Cabos, Cozumel and Huatulco! They will definitely have advice to share and resorts to recommend based on your travel preferences and budget!
  • We sailed on over 10 river cruises in Europe, visiting Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Portugal, Spain, Nuremberg, Italy and so many small villages and towns throughout these areas! We also escorted a group through Vietnam by land and river cruise!
  • New and popular cruise ships were sailed on, including the brand new Quantum of the Seas, Regal Princess and Norwegian Gem. The bells and whistles they are added to these new cruise ships are fascinating and definitely worth considering for your next vacation!
  • Italy was one of our most popular destinations visited in 2014, with over 10 travel specialists exploring this area either on an escorted land tour or by river cruise. If Italy is on your bucket list, contacting one of our Italy travel specialists is a must!
  • The Bahamas and Caribbean islands also saw their fair share of visits from our travel specialists, with stays in Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, St. Maartin, Aruba, Exuma and Punta Cana.
  • Three travel specialists sailed on luxurious Windstar cruises, visiting destinations throughout Spain, Portugal, Rome, Barcelona, Monaco and beyond. These were unbeatable luxury cruise experiences they’d love to share with you!
  • Escorted land tours were very popular this year, with tours throughout (but not limited to) Poland, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Jordan, Germany, Switzerland and China.
  • Hawaii, Phoenix, Denver, New York City, Las Vegas and Orlando were all popular U.S. destinations we are now even more familiar with to provide valuable consultation when planning your own domestic retreat.
  • As an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, we had four travel specialists visit Walt Disney World Parks and two even attended Walt Disney World’s Earmarked Conference to learn about the latest and greatest exciting new enhancements coming to the Parks. Traveling to Walt Disney World is so much easier after you’ve talked to one of our experts to get insider tips and advice!
  • Adventures and excursions included snorkeling with sting rays and sea turtles in Akumal, climbing the Great Wall of China, exploring the caves in Rio Secreto and hot air ballooning over Arizona.
  • With our move to the Signature Travel Network, many of our travel specialists attended training sessions in Las Vegas, Nevada… learning about all of the new exclusive benefits we can offer you on select cruises, river cruises and tours.

Select Group Vacations Photos

Not only did our travel specialists see their fair share of the world, but our travelers who joined us on exclusive 2014 Select Group Vacations, escorted by Fox World Travel tour managers, did as well!  Check out the photos from some of our trips!

Join us on a Select Group Vacation in 2015!

Great Vacation Tips from Our Travel Consultants!

 
Traveling Internationally
Tip: Take a card from the front desk at your hotel with the building’s name, phone number, address, etc. It’s an easy way to get back to your hotel when you don’t speak the local language! Just hand the card to the taxi driver and you’re off! Bree Moede
 
Traveling to Europe
Tip: When traveling to Europe, it’s important to remember that hotel amenities are often different than what you may be used to in America. The rooms are usually smaller, the buildings are older, and washcloths and shampoo are not always provided! Natasha Persha
 
French Polynesia
There is something for everyone in French Polynesia, with 118 islands in all. From beach bungalows, to overwater bungalows, to yacht charters, to resorts on their own private island. This is truly “heaven on earth” and an absolutely perfect place for a honeymoon. The best time of year to travel is May through October…..perfect for those couples getting married in the spring, summer or fall. –Barb Dahl
 
Uniworld Christmas Market cruise on the Danube
Tip: While packing I was concerned about the cold and having proper clothing for winter weather and neglected to think that there could possibly be rain. So, my tip would be to make sure you pack waterproof footwear and outerwear. Marsha Mulqueen
 
Mexico and Caribbean
There are so many resorts available that cater to different audiences, budgets and interests. It’s important to plan your vacation with someone who understands your travel preferences and can recommend a resort that is going to fit your needs and ensure a great investment.
Tricia Newlands
 
Traveling Overseas
Tip: It’s a good idea to arrive a day earlier than the tour starts due to long flight. That way you are refreshed and ready to enjoy the experience! Terri Norquist
 
Scotland Tour with Insight Vacations
One of Insight’s “Signature Experiences” was meeting a local farm family. We watched Neil Ross and his eight sheepdogs working at the same time all with different whistle commends; it was an amazing sight to see. They allowed us to sheer a sheep, feel the baby sheep and hold newborn collies. I must say it was a great experience! It’s also worth noting that the extra legroom on Insight Vacations motor coaches is wonderful! Judy Schuh
 
Quantum of the Seas
Tip: If you are looking for a brand new, unique cruise experience, then the Quantum of the Seas is worth checking out. This brand new ship has a bold, new, “smart” approach to technology, the first of its kind in the cruising world. From convenient smart check-in and smart concierge, to “wowbands” instead of seapass cards and robotic bartenders, the technology and features of this ship are sure to impress! Connie Rogers and Alana Magestro
 
Europe Travel
Tip: If visiting Europe for the first time, definitely consider an escorted tour. Having someone else worry about the details of the hotels, tours and transportation takes all the worry out of your vacation and you can just sit back and enjoy the ride instead of standing on the sidewalk studying the map, trying to figure out which way to go. Kim Roethel
 
Adventures by Disney
They are adding new 2015 intineraries to Ecuador and the Amazon, along with a “Frozen” Norway Adventure. They have also added some “long weeked” intineraries to Napa/San Francisco and Nashville. These are unique tour experiences! Marisa Pifher
 
Jordan
Tip: Please do not be afraid to travel to the Middle East, the people we met in Jordan were absolutely wonderful! Lynn Timmers
Disney Tip: If you are booking Disney Dining, you will want to make those reservations 180 days before your arrival as they do book up quickly. Kim Roethel

Review of Punta Cana Tours with Kim M.

You may have read Kim’s recent post on her review of Dreams Punta Cana Resort.  Now you can also hear about her incredible out-of-resort tours she experienced during her getaway to the tropical paradise, Punta Cana.Marinarium Snorkeling TourAs amazing as Dreams Punta Cana is, the joy of this destination I believe lies outside its gates. tour1We did three tours, each of which greatly enhanced our Punta Cana experience. We did a half-day Marinarium Snorkeling Tour for $99 per person that took you to the Caribbean side and included snorkeling, a controlled swim with stingray and nursing sharks, and sort of a daytime, family friendly party cruise hosted by some truly engaging young staff. My husband was a total beginner at snorkeling, so the “caged” reef experience was comforting to him. The stingray/shark feature was cool and the rest of the boat activities were very fun, but for real snorkeling enthusiasts it could be disappointing. But we had a great time on this tour.Bavaro Runnerstour2We then did a full-day tour called Bavaro Runners  per person that was such an amazing, varied day of fabulous and interesting experiences. We visited a sugar cane field, tobacco farm, did horseback riding, visited a local home and say how they make coffee and cocoa, had a Dominican food buffet, visited an ancient cave and learned a bit about native culture as well as took in so much scenery in an open air truck. It is a bumpy ride at times, but nothing Dr. Dramamine couldn’t handle and it was quite possibly the highlight of our trip, so I highly encourage you to mention it to your clients and book in advance during busy times (probably true for any tours).Monkey Land3Our last tour covered some of the same terrain as Bavaro Runners but took us to Monkeyland, a squirrel monkey sanctuary  per person. I’m not going to say having little monkeys jumping all over us wasn’t super cool, because it totally was, but it needs to be fleshed out a bit. You get a bowl of food and kind of wait for them to accept your offering and they may sit on your shoulder or arm. But it seemed all too brief and your experience is completely dependent upon what a colony of monkeys feels like doing that day and whether they are hungry or not. They could really do more with this experience and I hope they figure that out. In general, I was impressed by the varied and truly interesting tours available in Punta Cana and I would encourage travelers to leave the resort at least once.Learn more about planning your very own Punta Cana Vacation here.  Or, Contact a Vacation Travel Consultant Today to learn about other traveling experiences. 

A Review of Dreams Punta Cana

Kim, of Fox World Travel recently went on a trip to Punta Cana with her husband.  She shares her review on the Dreams Punta Cana Resort

RESORT

Dreams Punta Cana is in Uvero Alto on the Atlantic side and is about 30 minutes from the airport. About 15 minutes from the airport, we passed the new development ‘Downtown Punta Cana’ which is a planned area of residences, shops, restaurants, and entertainment spots including CocoBongo, the beloved night club experience.drepb.homepage.slideshow.00RL07gk-is-247

The elevated entrance to Dreams Punta Cana does give the resort a grand feel upon approach and you are immediately met by the concierge staff with a cold towel and a glass of champagne. The lobby is expansive and open air, with seating areas and a lobby bar. The grounds and landscaping are far more beautiful and tropical than any picture I saw prior to departure and it has a lovely flamingo pond and wandering peacocks on site. We had been booked into the Preferred Club which is an extra, though not significant upcharge and does give you additional perks: access to the Preferred Club Lounge and their concierge staff, a private bar, all day snacks, free Wi-Fi, beach beds, and exclusive access to The Seaside Grill for breakfast and lunch or Oceana for lunch while those are only available for dinner to other guests. We found this upgrade to be worth it and appreciated our travel agent suggesting it.

drepb.preferred-club.slideshow.150PC02gk-is-247

The property is a long expanse of three-story buildings flanking a long winding pool that leads down to the beach promenade and ultimately the beach. The pool is no more than 3 feet deep anywhere and has a small waterfall and several “islands”, a Jacuzzi, and a wading splash pad for kids. It seems mostly for bobbing around and relaxing and laps might be a challenge. Definitely no diving, but horseplay seems to be encouraged. There are plenty of chairs and floating pads, and although those may be hard to come by in the busiest times, the pool itself seems like it could never be so crowded to be a problem. The beach is wide, clean, with beautiful fine sand and few rocks. There were apparently some larger rock structures out in the water to the right end of the beach, but they are completely avoidable. The water is not clear just by virtue of it constantly being wavy. The riptide was not necessarily strong, but the waves are constant and come at a side angle so it can get a bit turbulent. It also has a significant pitch where sand meets water and about a 5 foot drop about ten feet into the water. It goes from calf deep to nearly over an adult’s head instantly. For these reasons, this is not a family friendly beach at all for younger children. I wouldn’t exclude Dreams as an option for families, but the water does not seem safe. They have a very cool Explorer Club with a pirate ship and castle to climb in, a small pool and a shaded open air clubhouse. There is also an active Teen Zone and they have varied and interesting activities for all ages so I think there is enough to occupy an entire family even if they don’t get in the ocean.

drepb.homepage.slideshow.00RL10gk-is-247

drepb.homepage.slideshow.00RL08gk-is-247

ROOMS

We had a deluxe room on the second floor and it was bright, clean, and attractive with a small balcony overlooking the pool (closes at 6pm). It was usually too warm to enjoy the balcony for long, but nice to have. Featured a stocked mini-bar, safe. Room showed some signs of wear and tear, but maid staff kept it tidy and was always prompt with cleaning. Closet area is OK, but bring extra hangers if you care about a week’s worth of clothing being properly hung. Our room was an adjoining room which would be great for families, but not so great when you are solo parties. You could see the light from the other room around the frame and no insulation from neighbors’ conversations and/or domestic strife. There is a swim-out version of each room category that would be great for many people. Additionally, there is an upgraded suite option available which was very spacious with a slightly separated sitting area, two TVs, better shower, and more storage and an expanded balcony with a Jacuzzi tub. This would be a great upgrade and value added bonus. I believe it was an additional $100 per night.

drepb.homepage.slideshow.00RL01gk-is-247

drepb.preferred-club.slideshow.DREPB_PresidentialSuiteBath_1gk-is-247

DINING

There are 8 restaurants at Dreams Punta Cana: The World Café buffet (open breakfast, lunch and dinner); Himitsu for hibachi, sushi, or Chinese (dinner); Bordeaux for French (dinner); Portofino for Italian (dinner); The Seaside Grill primarily a steakhouse (dinner only unless Preferred); Oceana for seafood (breakfast and dinner only unless Preferred); La Trattoria for wood fired pizzas (lunch) and pizza and pasta (dinner); and Barefoot Grill which is as casual as it gets right on the beach for burgers, dogs, and tacos. There is also CoCo Café in the lobby for full menu of coffee drinks and pastries. There was nothing we did not enjoy about the food at this resort. The buffet which is often dismissed in an all-inclusive as the bottom was expansive at every meal, very flavorful, and never boring I thought. All of the specialty restaurants were good with The Seaside Grill, Portofino, and Himitsu being our favorites. The best thing about the dining at Dreams is no reservations required. You don’t waste time standing in line to make reservations and there are no significant waits or rejections. We did wait about 45 minutes during prime time for Chinese food, but it was no bother. A friend of ours said they waited two days to get into a restaurant at their resort, so Dreams does give that benefit of being impulsive which we really appreciated.

drepb.homepage.slideshow.00RL09gk-is-247

The service in some of the restaurants was inconsistent at times, though good mostly, but nothing so bad to have complained about it at the time. There are many bars on property and if I do have some misgivings about this property, it would be regarding bar service. They have a very large swim-up bar and a few additional bars around the pool. The roaming bar staff was decent, though somewhat slow and they really need more bartenders in almost every location. It was often a bit of a wait to get a drink just due to them not being able to keep up with demand. Admittedly this got better as the week went along, but it seems to be an issue. They were, however, very diligent about collecting empty glasses and the resort always seemed clean.

The entertainment and activities on property were varied, high quality, and well attended. Their evening theater shows were professional with great production value (Brazilian, Western, Burlesque, Dominican, and Circus shows), and there were always two movies, Latin singers and dancing, and special event programming at night. You could not possibly be bored at this resort unless you chose to be. The entertainment staff was great at recruitment and the pool near the swim-up bar was the destination for high energy fun and games that always seemed to span the generations.

If you need or forget anything, the shops in the bottom lobby are almost sure to have what you need in the way of clothing, medicine, tanning oil, books, candy, souvenirs, cameras, electronics. I was impressed by what they carried and picked up many things here throughout my stay.  Overall, we had an amazing time during our trip to Punta Cana and we cant wait until we get the next opportunity to visit again!

Do you want to hear more about Kim’s trip to Punta Cana?  Check out her other post called Review of Tours in Punta Cana where she shares her insights on adventures to be had outside of the resort!

Photos Courtesy of DreamsPuntaCanaResort.com