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Planning Your Perfect Vacation, Part 2

I am back with part two of planning your perfect vacation. In case you missed it, click HERE to read the first installment. So, now you know what your idea of the perfect vacation is and what kind of experience you want. You have an idea of where you want to go and you’ve checked on the weather/season of travel.

 

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Curacao, 2012

The Next Step

What have you decided on? A multi-city travel itinerary, tropical island, or country? Now is the time to do your research. I always turn to Trip Advisor first. This is the link for the travel forum. Find your location, and navigate from there. I get so much information about where I am going on Trip Advisor. When we went to Cancun several years ago, I read about Jungle Spa near Puerto Morelos. An American ex-pat who’d moved to Mexico learned about a local custom where generations passed down the art of Mayan therapeutic massage. She started Jungle Spa as a cottage industry for these women to help support their families. The reviews of the spa were excellent. So, I scheduled us for massages through their Facebook before our trip. My husband still talks about what an incredible massage he had there.

 

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Royal Caribbean

A Cruise?

Did you decide on a cruise? Cruise critic is a great place to start. You can research different cruise lines and read reviews of cruise ships. One of the areas most helpful to me is the forum boards that they have on general cruising information, specific cruise lines, and ports of call. When we decided to take our first cruise in 2007, I had no idea which cruise line to choose. The cruise critic site really helped me find which cruise line best suited us. For instance, we wanted a smaller ship with more adults and fewer children, excellent service, and good food. Cruising is a great way to wake up in a different country or city every morning. You can see so many ports of call in just a week-long cruise.

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Puerto Morelos, November, 2016

Accommodations

So, where do you want to stay? A hotel, resort, condo, or vacation home? One of our favorite types of resorts are all-inclusive. An all-inclusive resort, for those of you who have never heard of one, is a resort where the cost includes everything. All meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, activities, and entertainment. All-inclusive resorts are very popular in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Condo Resorts or Vacation Homes

When we go to Hawaii, we generally stay in condo resorts. We like the spaciousness of condos, the choice of grilling on our lanai in the evenings or eating out, and taking our own beverages to the pool. We’ve stayed in some lovely resort hotels in Hawaii, but usually only for a few days of our 10 day stay.

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Grand Hyatt, Kauai, 2015

 

My favorite website for booking condos or vacation homes is VRBO (also known as Home Away). If a property I’m interested in has a professional management company, I always go to the company’s website to compare prices before booking. A few tips: read the reviews, chose properties that have reviews, and compare the total costs before you choose one. The charges can vary greatly from one rental to another. An example is that one may waive the cleaning fee for stays of a week or more and the other excessive booking fees.

Hotel Resorts

If you’ve decided on a hotel resort, then I recommend reviewing hotels through websites like Expedia or Costco Travel. I’ve personally booked trips through both websites. Costco is great if you’re a member and booking your airfare and hotel together. What I like about Costco is that they fully vet the properties listed and hold them to high standards. They do have a more limited number of hotels and resorts, though. Expedia has a wider range of hotel and resort options. They also offer more airline options, too, if you are booking both airfare and accommodations. I usually narrow it down to three or so hotels/resorts, then read reviews on multiple websites, always including Trip Advisor.

Why I Do the Research

Hopefully I warned you in part one of Planning the Perfect Vacation that I take vacation planning pretty seriously! Unless I’ve stayed somewhere previously, I never book a vacation impulsively. I have high expectations, so I want to ensure that I’m choosing wisely.

You’re almost there to planning your perfect vacation. Stay tuned for the last installment! That’s when I’ll share the plans for our next vacation that I am finalizing now.

Planning Your Perfect Vacation

In the past 10 years, my hubby and I have traveled to many wonderful destinations. Off the top of my head, we’ve visited 11 islands in the Caribbean; Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico; Maui, The Big Island, and Kauai in Hawaii; and a few cruise ports in Central America. We’ve been on 5 cruises, which account for many of the Caribbean islands, and taken multiple trips to Hawaiian resorts, and Mexican all-inclusive resorts. I get asked all the time how I plan our trips, so today I’m going to share that with you on the blog.

 

Perfect Vacation
Hilton Waikoloa Village, Hawaii, 2010

 

I’m the designated travel planner in my family. Just ask anyone in my family, I take my mission seriously. I’ve only used a real travel agent once, for our 30th anniversary trip to St. Lucia in 2015. I probably won’t do it again. Not that it was a bad experience, because it wasn’t. I used the travel agent to help me narrow down the region of our trip and to choose a resort based on our needs. Her expertise was really helpful in choosing and booking our location.

 

Perfect Get-A-Way
Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos, 2011

 

What’s Your Idea of a Perfect Vacation?

Our idea of travel is going to a warm, fun, sandy place for some R & R (rest and relaxation). Everyone’s idea of travel is different, so it’s important to know what your idea of the perfect vacation when planning. Some people travel for new adventures, to experience a new culture, or to visit a particular city. Every time you travel you are going to have a new experience, you just need to ensure it’s the type of experience you want.

 

Sandals at St. Lucia, 2015

 

First Things First

The first step is knowing what’s your idea of the perfect vacation. What do you want out of this vacation experience? Is it freezing cold where you are right now and you want a warm, toes in the sand vacation? Or do you want to see a lot of places, say several cities in a week? Maybe you want to go zip-lining through a jungle? Understanding this is key to having the time of your life or coming home feeling like you still need a vacation.

 

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Hawaii, 2015

 

Wonderful Destinations

Once you know what kinds of experience you’re looking for, it’s time to decide where to go. There are so many wonderful destinations out there! Deciding what you want to do comes before deciding where to go because there are more factors involved in the destination. Say you always take your vacation in the summer because your kids are out of school then. If a tropical, toes in the sand experience is what you want then you’ll need to factor in the season and weather. For instance, it’s hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea in the summer and fall. This means great deals are to be had during the low-season, but a hurricane or tropical storm could affect your plans.

It’s Hot, Hot, Hot!

In Mexico, some places are really hot in the summer. We once went to Cabo San Lucas in July and it was blazing hot. I knew that it would be hot, but I didn’t realize the effect of the very high humidity. It was 110 with the heat index and we spent all day in the pool just to be comfortable. Another time, we went there in mid-August and had a tropical storm. In fact, our resort flooded and we lost water and air conditioning. We still had a great time though, and have a good laugh when we talk about that trip. Include Mother Nature in your decision making.

Planning the Perfect Get-A-Way
The Arc in Cabo San Lucas, 2010

 

So, we’ve covered what kind of vacation you want and what to factor in when choosing your destination. I have plenty more to share, though! Topics such about where to look for deals, research on where to say, and what to look for in a resort are to come. I’ll be sharing that over the next few weeks. Look for part two of planning the perfect get-a-way!

Feel free to share any of your funny vacation experiences below.

Spring trip, Part 1: Tampa & Key West

A few weeks ago, we returned from our spring vacation trip to Florida and a week-long Caribbean cruise. We’ve been on a number of Caribbean cruises before, but this itinerary had a few ports that we hadn’t been to.

Tampa, Florida

Before our cruise, we spent three days in Tampa at the Renaissance Hotel, next to International Plaza. To call International Plaza a “mall” would almost be a disservice. Not only were their stores a shopaholic’s dream (Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Dillard’s, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Ballard Design, Tiffany & Co., Tory Burch, etc) but their restaurants were an epicurean delight. While dining outdoors on the patio, the sky looked like the painted ceilings at the Venetian in Vegas, with soft blue and puffy white clouds. On our second night, we ate at an Italian restaurant called BRIO Tuscan Grille and my husband is still talking about the pork chops he had there.

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Pork Chops and lasagna

We’d been to Tampa several times before, so we spent our time driving around St. Pete’s, Clearwater, and enjoyed the hotel and International Plaza.

Bon Voyage!

On Friday, we boarded our cruise ship. It was our first time staying in a Pinnacle Suite on Holland America (we usually stay in a Neptune Suite), so we had no idea what to expect when we boarded the ship. After checking in, we were escorted on board and shown to our suite. It was gorgeous! I was most excited about having a jetted spa on our balcony. I’ll post more pictures under the travel topic above.

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Pinnacle Suite balcony spa

We got settled in our room, walked around the ship, had lunch, and a drink (or two) before departing Tampa.

Key West, Florida

The next morning, we arrived in Key West. It was the cruise stop we were the most excited about! Next to Key West, there were tiny islands accessible only by boat. I snapped these pictures as we were arriving.

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Oh, it was so gorgeous there! The weather was just perfect. We went into town and decided to take the Conch Train on a tour of the island. After that, we had lunch at a Cuban restaurant, did a little shopping, then returned to the ship. I wish I’d taken more pictures of Key West!

Roatan and the rest of our trip will be on my next installment.

Thanks for reading! Post comments and questions below…