Monday, August 13, 2018

China - Part 1

In June, I wrote a blog post about preparing to travel internationally.  I was in the throes of preparing for our family's upcoming and long awaited trip to China.  We have now returned from that trip and I wanted to share a few highlights with you.

We began our tour in Beijing where we spent 3 days touring different sites.

Day 1 - Temple Of Heaven


 followed by a Kung Fu Show in the evening.


Day 2 was quite wet and dreary but we still managed to see some great sites.  We began in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in deluge of rain and a sea of umbrellas. (Some of our clothes from that day were still wet when we returned home over 10 days later!)






Thankfully, the afternoon got a little drier as we had rickshaw rides and ate dinner in a local family's home.





According to our tour guide, the  three "must do's" of visiting Beijing are visiting Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City,  climbing the Great Wall and having Peking Duck dinner.  On Day 3, we completed that list!




On Day 4 we flew to Xi'an and went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.




It was also my birthday and our tour guides special ordered my dinner - Longevity Noodle Soup to ensure my long and happy life.  It was delicious!!

On Day 5 we visited the Ancient Wall of Xi'an before catching our train to our next destination.

I walked along the wall and enjoyed the sights.  I especially liked observing this dance class in the park below the wall.

The rest of my family opted for a bike ride.  One on a tandem with a friend, the other 2 riding solo.


As you can see in the title this is only Part 1.  You'll have to check back next week for Part 2 You won't want to miss it.  There are  PANDAS and a River Cruise in beautiful China as well as some interesting sights of life in China.






Monday, August 6, 2018

Beautiful Barbados


   This was the very first site I saw when I got to my resort! It was simply breath taking! This photo is not filtered or photoshopped and it was taken from my smart phone not a professional camera! The water is really that color and the sand is bright white and oh so soft! I could not even wait until my room was ready to go put my toes in sand and water!



   Oh Barbados! So many amazing things to do and see on the Bajan Isle! You will discover the whitest sugar sand beaches you've ever laid eyes on and the torquoise blue waters are so surreal! One of my most favorite sights were the Turtles! On my last trip to this incredible beach, I got to see the sea turtles, I hired a tour operator “Ellis” (he is the best, I highly recommend him) to take me out on his jet ski, and he took me down to the Oistin’s Bay Park Docks to see the sea turtles swimming in the water! He also let me drive his jet-ski full speed ahead over the choppy waves it was so much fun! I don’t think I have had that much adrenaline pumping through my veins, ever! By the way, you can actually experience an authentic Bajan fish fry down town at Oistin’s on Friday nights. 





   Another unusual sight to see are the Green Monkeys of Barbados. In my photo you will see some of my fellow travel agents actually letting the monkey’s crawl on them. I love animals just as much as the next person but there is no way I am letting a wild animal crawl on me. I think I’ve seen Monkey Shine, King Kong, and Outbreak one too many times for that. The monkeys were incredibly cute and entertaining I will admit. However I was just not comfortable with getting that "up close and personal" with them. I also got the opportunity to go on a glass bottom boat and snorkel adventure while I was there. All the amazing fish and sea life I got to see and experience! Unfortunately I did not take my camera or phone for fear of getting it wet before I realized the gift shop sold waterproof phone cases. Oh well, all the more reason to go back!

   



   The resort I stayed at was Sandals Barbados in Saint Lawrence Gap. I have to say this is one of my favorite Sandals Properties. The staff was incredibly courteous and went out of their way to make sure my stay was a pleasant one. The food and drinks were top notch as are all of the Sandals properties I have visited. I think my favorite restaurant was a toss up between Soy Sushi and Bombay Club Indian Cuisine Restaurant. I absolutely love sushi and I am very picky about the freshness of the fish and veggies, but Soy got it right every time, I think I went there to grab a beverage and a few sushi rolls at some point each evening. Merry Monkey is a British Pub that serves up late night British noshes, like bangers and mash and Shepherd’s pie and it is sooo good! One thing that Sandals is known for is it’s incredible 5 Star Gourmet Cuisine.  It does not disappoint. That is why it is so hard to say "this place" restaurant is my absolute favorite, I'm a foodie and have different favorites for different reasons.


   The entertainment was phenomenal and the staff is amazing at what they do and how they interact with the audience and their lively energy is contagious. They had some pretty impressive Michael Jackson impersonators and one of the female entertainers sounded just like Tina Turner and was going around the audience and getting everyone to sing along with her. Word of warning, don’t ever sing loud enough for the staff to hear you if you have singing talent, they will put you on the spot in front of everyone and hand you the mic, it happened! Seriously though I wasn’t too embarrassed, fun was had by all, and I had an amazing time and I can’t wait to go back and visit all my new Bajan friends again real soon! 




  Now, there is even more reason for me to love Barbados and go back! Sandals Resorts recently opened a second location, Sandals Royal Barbados right next door to Sandals Barbados, which is an all luxury resort. The best part is that you can stay at one and enjoy them both! The rooms at Royal Barbados are truly spectacular! There is a roof top pool bar over looking the resort. There is a couple's bowling alley and a gentleman's old fashioned shave shop! There are rondoval butler suites and infinity pool balcony rooms.  You name it --this is next level luxury at it's finest. If you want to experience a truly unique Caribbean island then Barbados is the place you definitely want to put on your bucket list and you most certainly want to choose Sandals Resorts for your accommodations.  In my own opinion no one does all inclusive like Sandals Resorts. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Meet Stacie

Today's blog post is a Q&A session with Stacie Palma,  Owner of Dreams Come True Travel LLC

Stacie at Sandals Royal Barbados


Where do you call home? Barbados (although I live in the US!)

Tell us about your family:
  I am married with two children who will be 21 and 26 this year

Where have you traveled?
Hawaii, Florida, CA, NYC, NJ, MA, PA, MD, CT, NC, SC, Las Vegas Nevada, New Hampshire, Canada, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, Washington DC, Bermuda, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados 

Favorite vacation destination?
Barbados - and my heart's true home!

How long have you been an agent?
10 Years

How did you first become a travel agent
? I helped plan Walt Disney Vacations for friends and family.  

What is your favorite Walt Disney World Resort? Grand Floridian
What is your favorite Walt Disney World attraction? 
Winnie The Pooh Ride
Favorite Disney restaurant? 
Narcosis 
What is your favorite vacation memory? My Destination Wedding which was held at Beaches Turks & Caicos

What is your travel specialty? Honeymoon & Destination Weddings & Family Vacations


Your specialty is honeymoon and destination weddings, at which Sandals Resorts excel.  What is your favorite Sandals Resorts property?
Sandals  Barbados & Sandals Royal Barbados
Favorite activity while there?
Hobie Cat
Favorite restaurant?
Soy



What makes you passionate about being a travel agent?
I strive to ensure each and every client is taken care of with the same standard of excellence and to make sure they are aware of all options for making an experience they will always remember

What is your most memorable client experience?
I had booked a Connecticut family of 4 who were traveling to Miami to take a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines.  I received a call at 4am in the morning saying they were at the airport and the flight had oversold,  and there were no seats available.   I advised them which actions to take and was able to communicate with the Cruise Line on their behalf to ensure they made their cruise. My clients  arrived at Miami International and a Manager from Norwegian was waiting for them with a limo and took them directly to the Cruise Terminal where they were able to board.  This experience is a classic example of why having a Travel Agent is so Important to be available 24/7 and known to always be their for you pre, during and post travel!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Meet Paula


This weeks blog is an interview with another agent with Dreams Come True Travel LLC - 

Paula



Where do you call Home?
Maryland

Tell us a little about your family:
We are a retired military family.  My husband and I are both veterans.  I have 5 daughters and 2 grandchildren.

Tell us a little about where you have traveled:
I have traveled all over the USA, Sicily, Italy, The Caribbean and Germany. I have been to Disneyland and California Adventure with my children many times.

When did you become a Travel Agent and what led you to that decision?  
I have been an active agent for 2 years.   I became an agent because Stacie introduced me to Sandals and Beaches Resorts, and I fell in love.
.
What do you consider your travel speciality?
My travel specialty is Sandals/Beaches...Sandals Ochi in Jamaica is hands down my favorite. I fell in love with Paddle Boarding while visiting.  My favorite restaurants there are Le Gourmand, Valentino's, Kelly's Dockside and Soy!

What is your favorite European country to visit?
My favorite European country is Italy, and Sicily in particular. Very romantic. My husband and I met and got engaged there.  Fantastic food, friendly people, amazing culture and ruins! And I love all Italian food. Limoncello is something everyone should try.

What is the best part of being a Travel Agent?
Being able to give clients an amazing experience makes me passionate. I love seeing their photos and hearing about their adventures!

What is your favorite vacation memory?
 Getting engaged in Taormina, Sicily  and spending the night in a beach side hotel with the balcony doors open and the full moon shining in. It was stunning. (Sadly, no pictures...I don't even think I owned a camera at the time!)

And finally, do you have a personal travel goal?
My personal travel goal is to visit each of the 50 states, and see the "important stuff" within that state. I am about halfway there!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Meet Jana!


Our blog is happy to announce we are adding agents!!  Jana has already written a few posts for the blog, but has not been properly introduced so today we will remedy that....



I was a “military brat” and am now a military wife.  My dad was active military, and my husband (my high school sweetheart) is also military and while I was raised in Central Florida, we are currently in North Carolina.  I have three girls between the ages of 8 and 12, all princesses all drama all the time LOL. I have two daughters with specials needs one who is on the autism spectrum, and I have tons of experience traveling with children with special needs in addition to being an IBCCES Certified Autism Travel Professional.  
I have had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica, Barbados, ALL over the United States, including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska.  Sandals South Coast is my favorite couple’s destination.  While I love all the Sandals resorts I have visited,  there’s just something extra special to me about South Coast Jamaica.  The neo classical inspired architecture of the resort surrounded by misty mountains on one side and the ocean on the other is so lush and tranquil.   The extremely friendly service of everyone there just adds to the ambience to make it my favorite place. 

My favorite family vacation destination is Walt Disney World.  My must sees (and eats!) there are Animal Kingdom, Space Mountain and Coral Reef.

My favorite vacation memory was when my immediate family moved from Maryland to Florida when I was 14 because my Dad accepted a job position in the Bay Area. The transition was hard and stressful so at the end of the school year we took 3 long weeks and explored just about anything and everything we could in Florida: Disney World, Universal, Cape Canaveral, museums and multiple beaches - you name it and we probably saw it in those 3 weeks!

I feel travel opens your eyes to different cultures, new cuisines, different ways of life and magnificent creations. Everyone should travel and experience other cultures and discover more of the beauty you never knew existed.  Moreover, I also feel it is so important for people to get out of their daily grind and experience something fresh, new, and relaxing at least once a year in order to destress and reprioritize and refocus on what is really important in life.  

I love to travel, and I want to invest my time taking my family on adventures, and helping my friends, family, and clients experience some of the same adventures with their loved ones.  I became an agent about a year ago, however, I have worked in the travel industry since 1998 when I started working as a Cast Member for the Disney Reservation Center when living in Florida.    My favorite travel agent success happened just recently.  A military couple was forced to cancel their traditional home town wedding due to an unexpected and quickly approaching deployment.  I was able to help them rescue their wedding by booking a last minute Wedding Moon to Barbados for them.   Its opportunities like this that make this job so rewarding!




I specialize in The Caribbean, Walt Disney, Sandals Resorts, Cruises

Monday, July 2, 2018

Happy 4th of July!!!

When one thinks of the 4th of July, one can't help but think of ....

Fireworks!

Walt Disney World



Disneyland




Flags.....
Utah Beach Memorial, France


London Olympics 2012!
Ready to cheer on USA Womens Olympic Soccer Team against Canada in the semi-finals!  


Flag at the American cemetery in Normandy, France


Flag flying over the USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

And American Pride!
USAF Thunderbirds


Patriotic clothes (French and American) made out of parachutes to celebrate the first anniversary of the liberation of France - Utah Beach Museum

Display at Duxford Imperial War Museum in England honoring Jimmy Stewart's military service.



Monday, June 25, 2018

First Steps to Travelling Internationally

As I prepare for my own upcoming international trip, I am so grateful for yet another opportunity to experience another country's sights and culture.  My exposure to foreign countries has taught me so much and stretched me as well as given me incredible vacation memories!

So today, I just want to share with you the first few steps to planning an international trip while they are fresh in my mind.


1.  Don't do it alone.
Find a travel consultant that has experience with the region or country you want to visit and enlist his or her help.    In addition to the training and expertise travel consultants have in actual travel planning, their insights and personal experiences are beneficial in providing tips for you, easing your fears, and possibly guiding you to the hidden gems they have discovered that can add the magic to your vacation memories!


2. Passports and Visas - Familiarize yourself with the requirements of the country you are visiting.   Check your passport's expiration date (or apply for one if you don't already have one!).  Some countries require a certain amount of time left on them and well as a minimum number of blank pages.  Be sure you will be able to comply with those requirements before committing to your destination and choosing travel dates.

3.  Ask yourself "Do I want to travel in a group or independently?"
Consider your travel style and your own comfort level.   Do you like being spontaneous and just seeing where the day takes you?  Do you like having control over all your options for each day? Do you like making the plans on your own? Or do you prefer to follow a set plan laid out by others and know exactly when and where you are going to be each day?  Are you comfortable navigating new and unfamiliar situations independently?  Do you prefer to have someone guide you?  Do you have a special interest that you'd like to experience on vacation with like-minded travelers?  Do you want to explore multiple facets of that foreign country, or do you want to concentrate on one area or resort and spend all your time at just one destination?

This is YOUR vacation and making decisions based on YOUR style and comfort level is vital.  It is a not a right or wrong choice, just a personal decision.  And it can also change based on your destination.  For example, I have had the privilege of living in Europe for 7 years.  I am very comfortable travelling in European countries. Even though they can be quite different from each other, they have enough similarities that I am confident that I can navigate the culture comfortably and enjoy myself as I explore the countries there.  And while I know of escorted tour companies, that I would highly recommend and be confident they provide an excellent vacation experience, travelling independently was the best option for my family's travel preferences while we were travelling in Europe.     On the other hand, while I have been to China, I am still not as confident with the cultural differences which are more extensive than they are in Europe, and our family is opting to travel as part of a group for our upcoming travels.   Knowing that we will have tour guides on hand to assist us and direct our travels is greatly comforting to me, as I know we will have experts on hand at all times to guide and assist us.  I also think the common interests of the other members of our group will greatly enhance our experiences there.


These are very basic first steps to starting your international vacation, but they are first steps....so where would they take you if you could choose your dream international destination?





Monday, June 11, 2018

Beaches Turks and Caicos - Part 2

As I confessed last week, I was so impressed with all that Beaches Resorts offers for children, that I broke my own no pressure for grandchildren rule as I watched other families enjoying a precious multi-generation vacation together and started dreaming of my own!  My children seemed non-plussed, so this week's blog is dedicated to them - the married ones anyway! - for some additional prodding!

Beaches Resorts has many children's programs and activities to cater to children aged 0-17 years old so that Mom and Dad can also enjoy Couple time while on their family vacation.

Camp Sesame, an air conditioned building, has two locations on property and is staffed with nannies and counselors to cater to children from 0 to 4 years old.  It is equipped with swings, cribs and rockers.  Pirate's Island offers programs for aged 5 to 17 years. And Beaches Resorts are Certified Autism Centers so that families with special needs children can also participate in their children's programs!



 Pirates Island is kid central!



 The activities are listed and easy to find. There are activities for all interests.  I loved that I kept looking for the "building" for the "middle" children and couldn't find it and was excited to learn its because the children are kept active for their programs and not just taken to a building to be babysat.

Each age level has their own information sheet so children can pick and choose what activities they wish to participate in and parents can plan their day.  We were told often that the children often beg to stay all day!







There are some air conditioned areas to play games if the heat is too intense.  Parents can participate with their children in some of the game areas.




And for the gamers who need Xbox time on vacation, there is a room just for them.

In the evening, the teens and tweens even have their own space to hang out and party with their friends.  No alcohol is served until after it has closed and becomes adults only after 11pm.  A Teens Only Catamaran Cruise is also available.

Beaches Resorts is partnered with Sesame Street, and for children who love interacting with characters a schedule is posted to be sure no opportunities are missed.  There are also additional character interactions available such as a tuck in service, character breakfasts and a personal Sesame party.


I loved all the special touches and considerations for children that are evident around the resort.

What child doesn't love mac and cheese?  What's not to love about a Mac and Cheese food truck by the water park?!!
Crab Mac


And I couldn't help but smile when I saw the child sized soda fountain, imagining all the "I do it myself Daddy"s that are most likely heard their daily.



Child size picnic tables next to adult size ones at the barefoot restaurant by the beach.  I loved seeing the children of multiple families dining together excitedly gathering together for their own little party as their parents took their places at the larger tables nearby.


Children have their own castle dining room at one of the restaurants.  Big Bird in a suit of armor was there to greet them as they entered.



The diner in the waterpark also had a room for the littlest diners to eat independently at child size tables.  They could even get their own popcorn.


Swim up pool bar with fruit smoothies in the water park area.



And in the rooms, child size robes await the littlest guests.


And while I loved all the activities for children, even more, I loved the family activities and observing families having fun together.  My favorite activity was Reggae night.  Children and parents both dancing in the audience and proud children cheering on their parents during the dance contest.  And while I wasn't able to attend one of the Creativiva productions during my stay there, I look forward to making that happen when I return with my own family as theater is "our thing."



Beaches Turks and Caicos is an awesome resort for everyone and one doesn't need to have children to go there and have an amazing vacation. I could certainly plan a family vacation there before grandchildren, but I think I'll wait.  I don't want to lose my collateral in my current not so subtle Give Me Grandchildren Campaign! (but if they take too long, I'm going back with just my husband.  I LOVE this resort too much to wait too long to return!)