Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Concerns Special Needs Families Have on Vacation

Can the resort handle my physical needs?

Special needs clients can’t just pick a resort based on location.  They have so many other things to think about.  Is the resort able to handle their accessibility needs?  This goes far beyond just having an ADA room, and ADA only covers American hotels.  These are important questions for those considering traveling abroad as well.  There are all kinds of questions that people with physical disabilities must consider. How many elevators does the resort have?  Is the sidewalk even outside for ease of pushing a wheelchair?  Is the pool zero entry, or does it have a pool lift?

 1) Just how accessible IS my room?  I once stayed at a hotel that only had two elevators for the entire hotel.  Granted, it wasn’t a very large hotel, and I’m sure most of the time, only having two (smallish) elevators was fine.  However, they did not put the accessible rooms on the first floor.  On the morning of our departure, and we waited at least half an hour for an elevator.  A person without a physical challenge can take the stairs.  But what if you can’t?

2) What are the sidewalks like?  Are they fairly smooth and easy to navigate? Are they wide enough to be comfortable?  Are they level?  In other words, are they easy to navigate while using a wheelchair or EVC? There are some resorts that may have excellent rooms, but then getting around the property may prove to be difficult because of the terrain.  For example, if I have a special needs client in a wheelchair, I would choose to send them to Beaches Negril over Beaches Ocho Rios because the resort in Negril is fairly flat, while the one in Ocho Rios has a lot inclines and stairs. 

3) How are the dining spaces?  Is there enough room for a wheelchair to fit in comfortably? If the resort mainly has buffets, do they have somebody to assist with navigating the buffet for you?  

4) Is there an accessible beach?  Can a disabled person access all the recreational areas that the resort offers?  Beaches Turks and Caicos has a fabulous pavilion on property that is wheelchair accessible.  We are able to call their resort manager when we have guests needing that feature, and they will set aside the pavilion for them.  Disney Cruise Line has a cabana on their private island, Castaway Cay.  In both these instances, there is only one, so the demand is high. 

5) Is there an accessible pool?  When you go somewhere warm, having a nice pool to swim in is important! Disney World does an amazing with this at their resorts.  All of their deluxe resorts, Caribbean Beach Resort, and Art of Animation Resort all have a zero entry pool, making it easy to enter.  All the rest of the pools do have at least one accessible pool.  Beaches also does a great job with providing accessible pools.  Beaches Turks and Caicos and Beaches Negril, again, are my top two picks.  Both are designed to be completely accessible, and have chair lifts for ease of getting into the pools. 

Can the resort handle my dietary needs?

Traveling with allergies is extremely daunting.  I recently had a client who was so wary of eating out that she almost wanted to cancel her entire trip!  I don’t blame her.  One of her children has multiple life threatening food allergies, as well as several milder ones.  The idea of traveling with that is intimidating.  Fortunately, food allergies no longer mean that you can’t travel and eat out.  Disney is absolutely amazing with food allergies. They can accommodate allergies at both their quick service and table service restaurants.  My family has one child with two allergies and one child with nine allergies.  We have never once had a problem at a Disney restaurant.  They work really hard to accommodate.  If you have a special request, they will do their best to make it happen!  They are not the only place that can work with food allergies.  Beaches and Sandals have a whole concierge dining team.  If you have any dietary restrictions, you will meet with them upon your arrival and they will go over your dietary restrictions, your likes and dislikes, and come up with your own personalized menu.  If you have a particular thing that you enjoy eating daily, if you let the staff know prior to arrival, they will do their best to have it onsite for you.  Disney Cruise Line also does a wonderful job.  They will give you the menu for the next night’s meal, and have you pick ahead of time so they have plenty of time to make sure they get it right.  In all my time traveling to Disney, and planning travel to Disney locations, I have never experienced a problem with cross-contaminated food, nor have any of my clients ever told me of such problems. 

Can the resort handle my cognitive special needs?

Having a child with cognitive special needs can be exhausting.  In our case, our son looks like a perfectly healthy 6 year old, but developmentally, he is closer to 3 or 4.  This means I have to supervise him as a 3 year old, but he has twice as much energy.  Taking him on vacation is its own puzzle.  It can be a daunting task.  Thankfully, many locations now recognize how hard traveling with these special needs kiddos can be, and they are doing something about it.  Autism on the Seas is a fantastic program that helps families with autism cruise.  Disney works very well with cognitive disabilities as well.  Their disability assistance program is designed to assist those with cognitive disabilities so they don’t have to wait in line.   Universal also has a disability assistance program, but I have noticed some inconsistency with the requirements for obtaining access.  Beaches Resorts require all of their staff who work with children to go through an autism certification program, and have worked with Sesame Street to bring Julia to their resorts.  Their Kids Clubs have a whole separate program for children with autism, and they are very thorough in their intake so that they can care for the children in the best way possible.  They do extend the program beyond autism, so children with other cognitive needs are cared for as well. 

This barely scratches the surface for those who are in need of special needs travel.  Please ask us questions!  Let us know what needs you have, and what questions we can answer.  If you post your question in the comments, maybe it will help somebody else as well!

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Tale of Two Resorts

Okay, so not really a tale but we do want to highlight two more Sandals resorts.  As mentioned in last weeks post, each resort has its own personality and stands on its own merit.  I personally love that I can confidently help a couple in love find a resort that suits their own passions and priorities in a vacation destination with full confidence that the quality and luxury of each Sandals resort can be counted on.  Jamaica has several Sandals resorts, but today we're going to focus on two of them, which I feel have very different personalities, and  both offer excellent options for couples of differing styles.

Both resorts offer the general inclusions mentioned in last week's blog, so I'm just focusing on these specific resorts and their appeal today.

Sandals South Coast Resort

Quick Facts:
  Situated in an undiscovered 500 acre nature preserve 
European Style  Beach Style Village Setting
372 Rooms & Suites with 18 Categories on 50 Acres
All rooms and suites face the beach
   4  Pools and 4 Whirlpools  .
  Nine Dining Options
Seven Bars
Over the Water Bar
Over the Water Serenity Wedding Chapel
  Over the Water Bungalows
Meeting and Convention space including a ballroom and three level theatre

View from my room - every room and suite has an ocean view

A jerk shack provided a delicious afternoon treat on the beach

 Latitudes - An Over-the-Water bar
Gorgeous sunset

One of the greatest things about Sandals, in the opinion of this foodie, is their 5-Star Global Gourmet dining.  Their food and beverage team represents 39 nationalities to ensure truly authentic cuisine.  This sushi was amazing and I wished I had room for more!  

From my first arrival at Sandals South Coast, I knew this was the resort for my husband and me. The combination of gorgeous beach setting with its mountain backdrop and the European styling, appeals to my love of beaches, his love of the mountains AND our shared passion for anything European as its reminiscent of our years of overseas living.  The atmosphere was serene and calm, and quite relaxing.  There were many choices of activities to do, but they do not impede on the quiet and serenity that envelopes the resort.  In the evening, the White Night Party was lively and fun, but it ended at 10pm and peaceful tranquility descended upon the resort once again.  For us, the resort would provide a perfect balance of activity and relaxation to reconnect and be rejuvenated.

And now on to a very different resort, one I believe would be perfect for a couple like my daughter and son-in-law, who are both active and are refreshed and rejuvenated by time together with and apart from others. They would really enjoy the group beach activities and intermingling with other guests, while also being able to slip away and enjoy time alone the resort provides as well.  And I'm sure they'd happily agree to go test my theory! 

Sandals Ochi Beach Resort

Quick Facts:
Largest Sandals Resort
"Trendy When You Want It" Private When You Don't"
525 Rooms ,Suites and Villas  with 21 Categories on 100 Acres
   105  Pools and 22 Whirlpools  .
  Seventeen Dining Options
Eleven Bars
Rock Climbing Wall
Beach Club
Golf greens and fees and transfers included
Caribbean's only authentic Speakeasy Bar

Sandals Ochi Beach Resort is also a gorgeous resort.  From the moment you arrive you can feel its energy.  A large resort, its alive with activity and guests, but doesn't feel crowded. Guests milled around the lobby. Couples frolicked in the pool or basked in the sun alongside the multiple pools.  The large pool had a lot of activity for those seeking that, but there were also quiet pools on the property where couples soaked quietly and enjoyed each other's attention.  One beach area was alive with games and fun as couples played volleyball, while another was quieter and more sedate.

The rooms were fabulous and the pampering and luxury available in the butler village is guaranteed to spoil any guest.

A private pool at one of the villas!  My dream accomodation!!

The spa was a haven of peace and tranquility.

The most unique feature of Sandals Ochi Beach resort that I enjoyed was the Rabbit Hole, the Caribbean's only authentic Speakeasy Bar.  We had to get the day's password from staff members on the resort and then find its unmarked location on the resort.  We were not allowed to enter until we had given the password.  Drinks include prohibition era cocktails as well as today's favorites.  I recommend the Bees Knees.   Big Mama is a regular feature at the resort and guests enjoy an evening of jazz music with her at the helm.  Unfortunately she was not there the night I visited, but the singer we heard was fantastic so Big Mama must be very spectacular!

Both resorts are gorgeous and offer a wonderful "luxury-included vacation" that will not disappoint.  I love and appreciate that couples can choose the resorts that best fits their vacation style and choose the best atmosphere in which they feel they can connect and celebrate their love.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sandals - Your Caribbean Couples Only Resort

Since we're talking about LOVE this month, we have to talk about Sandals! 

Sandals advertises itself as an all inclusive, luxury resort for two people in love, and boy, do they deliver.  We've had agents in every single one of their Jamaican resorts, both Barbados resorts, and the Royal Bahamian.  While all are amazing, each resort has a different personality, and stands on its own merit.  Today, we'll focus on Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort.

Before we do that, let's talk about all the inclusions that every Sandals resort has.

Scuba Diving

Every Sandals resort includes complimentary scuba diving for certified divers.  It is rated as one of the top 5 dive operations in the western hemisphere.  If you're not ready to get a full PADI dive certification, they do offer a provisional resort certification, which would allow you to dive while you are on property.  If you ARE certified, then you can dive every single day of your resort stay!  You do need to fill out a health questionnaire, and, depending on your answers, you may have to have a doctor's note specifically saying they give you permission to dive. 

Water Sports

Every Sandals resort offers several water sports.  From sailing to stand up paddleboarding, there is something for everyone. 

Every Sandals resort offers snorkeling.  Seeing the sea turtles was definitely one of the highlights for me.  

Some of the resorts even offer waterskiing, tubing, wakeboarding.  This is, of course, based on the current water conditions at the resort, and hours may be limited.

 Land Activities

Every Sandals resort includes a variety of land activities.  You can find sporty activities like beach volleyball, tennis and rock-wall climbing, and more leisurely activities like lawn chess, criquet, and bocce ball.

There is so much to be excited about with Sandals Resorts.  We've only begun to scratch the surface. It's time to get specific.

Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort

Quick Facts:
     404 Rooms & Suites with 29 Categories on 15 Acres.
     10,000 square feet of Freshwater Pools.
  Sandals Island - Nassau’s only resort with Private Offshore Island & Restaurant.
  Eleven Dining Options
  Onsite Conference Center
  Penthouse Fitness Center

The Sandals Royal  Bahamian Resort is, first of all, absolutely gorgeous.  From the beautiful pools to the luxurious rooms, it is absolutely a couple's romantic paradise.  

The Sandals Royal Bahamian offers its very own private island as well, with many beautfulspots for couples to snuggle up while enjoying the peaceful ocean breeze.

Foodies will enjoy dining in any of the 11 restaurants on property.  Those with allergies or special diets will be able to visit with the dining concierge team upon arrival to discuss their needs.  No matter what your diet is, there is certainly something for everyone. 

For those wanting the ultimate in luxury, Sandals' butler team is always ready to make your stay extra special.  From the moment you arrive, they are ready to meet your every need. 

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to head back to the beautiful Bahamas for the ultimate romantic vacation.  Be sure to contact us soon if you'd like to check availability and prices for you!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Paris - City of Love

When we think of February we think of Valentine's Day.
When we think of Valentine's Day, we think of LOVE.
So this month we'll focus on love and romantic destinations.

And where better to start than The City of Love - Paris!!
Nothing says LOVE like a wedding....
Couldn't resist snapping this photo of a bride and groom and their wedding photographers.  

The Eiffel Tower has got to be the most iconic landmark for the City of Love and is not to be missed!

The Eiffel Tower at Sunset.  A most spectacular sight!

No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the LOuVrE. (see what I did there! lol. I do LOVE the Louvre) I have been to Paris 3 times and to the Louvre each time.  Each time I followed a different strategy, as taking it all in one visit is too daunting.  First time, we followed the museum's guide to see the not to be missed exhibits.  The second time, we were studying Greek mythology so I made a scavenger hunt for my children and we found exhibits that referenced the Greek myths in some way.  That kept them happily engaged as I wandered and took in the art.  On our latest visit, we raced to the Mona Lisa upon entering the museum to avoid the crowds blocking our ability to get a photo with her..She's way smaller than you think!

And then found this painting which moved me the first time I saw it and I've sought it out each visit.  Its called The Deluge.

And then we wandered leisurely throughout the museum enjoying its many and varied works of art.

 Paris is a City for Lovers.  Here is a Bridge of Locks - where couples in love write their names on locks and put them on the bridge and throw the key into the River Seine to symbolize their undying affection.   They have since been removed due the structural damage their weight was causing, however my understanding is Paris is trying to determine a new place for them to keep the tradition alive.

Whats not to LOVE about these views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe?

 The Conciergerie,  not a building one might associate with love as it  was formerly a prison and is now mostly for courts of law, but I loved its beauty and the serenity around it as we walked through the city on a gorgeous sunny morning.  

Notre Dame Cathedral - Because my family loves me, they willingly passed up the ability to tour the towers of Notre Dame.  Because I love them, I would have happily waited for them in the nearby park and people watched so they could go, but in the end we all spent some time enjoying sandwiches on French baguettes and people watching in the park rather than attempting the 387 steps required to tour the towers.

Often, our favorite vacation memories come from the unexpected sites and activities we stumble upon.  In this case the street artists gathered outside the Centre Pompidou.  Eating gelato and watching all the activities, and even participating in the Chinese dance was a highlight of our visit!

In closing this post, I realize I'm missing a photo of a very special part of visiting Paris - the CREPES!  Apparently I loved them too much to take time to take a photo so you'll just have to take my word for it and get yourself to Paris to see if they look and taste as good as you imagine!