Saturday, July 28, 2018

Free Destination Weddings at Sandals Resorts

Sandals and Beaches All-inclusive resorts provide FREE Weddings to their guests staying on property. We recently booked and attended our oldest daughter's wedding at Sandals Ochi, Jamaica and it was beyond perfect.  It was picturesque and so easy.  Our daughter was the opposite of 'bridezilla' and really didn't care to control or plan every minute detail and as soon as she made that clear to the wedding coordinators she had very little to do.

To be married in another country you do have to ask questions about their specific requirements. Jamaica required documents be faxed or emailed in advance (birth certificates and ID, previous divorce decrees or name changes) and you to be present on the island for 48 hours prior to the wedding.  

You could add some items to your event that were additional fees, one thing we paid for in advance was our daughter's hair to be done for her. We were all amazed by the beautiful updo they created. She met with them the day before and after trying several styles chose her favorite.

We also paid for a wooden structure with drapes to add to the ceremony. The seating for guests was provided and arranged.  There is a reception provided with cocktails, hors d'ouerves, and a cake. If you choose to add a private meal they will do that for a fee as well. We did this because half of our party was staying at Beaches family resort nearby and we wanted additional time together as a group.

My beautiful daughter

A picture package can also be purchased and was $500 for 25 images that can be printed at home at any photo printer. We had a dedicated photographer for the ceremony and the beginning of the reception and they got a lot of excellent, high quality photos.

Mr. and Mrs. Bob Leonard
 Once you choose which resort to stay at and book your room a code is created for your wedding so we can "link" all your guests together. This allows you to earn perks for the more rooms you book.  As soon as this is booked a person from the Sandals Wedding Team will make arrangements for a phone call to plan the specifics and hear any concerns or requests the couple have. This is also a time they can let you know any documentation necessary.
You can invite as many people as you want to your wedding or get married alone with your spouse. We were fortunate to have grandparents and some family in a party of 17 and they elected to have a reception a few weeks after returning home for family that were unable to make the trip. The more rooms booked with your wedding party you are offered additional amenities at no charge. So the more people you can get to join you on your special day the better!

complimentary cake with wedding

Once on property, the bride and groom are shown several areas for the wedding and the reception. They can decide which areas are their favorite and make decisions after seeing everything because they only allow one wedding at a time.

 Since we had some traveling with us that were under 18 we had to divide our party. Some of us stayed at nearby Beaches Family resort and arranged for a taxi to transfer us onto the resort property. This ended up being ideal so the bride and groom could enjoy their honeymoon without mom and dad!

This was the meal chosen in advance for our wedding party. This private meal as an additional cost and we all decided not really necessary.

We felt the experience was incredibly easy from beginning to end. It was ideal for a couple that was not wanting to plan or for a second marriage. Obviously, you will have less people in attendance but I felt that made the event more special than some weddings I have attended and allowed it to be a stress free event.

If you are considering a Destination Wedding send as an email at and we will get you started with no obligation quotes.

Beaches Ocho Rios

"I want to do a vacation with my kids that is NOT Disney!"  We get that email a lot at our travel business. We love the Sandals (adults only) and Beaches (families) resorts in the Caribbean. These offer all-inclusive resorts because you pay everything before you leave your home then just go and truly enjoy a peaceful vacation.

Beaches Resorts are in three locations: Negril, Jamaica, Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Turks and Caicos.  All three offer all inclusive food, drinks and water sports for families. We have visited all of them and recently spent a week at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Turks and Caicos is the largest beaches and definitely the nicest but you get what you pay for and it does price on the higher side in both resort cost and flights.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica is the most affordable of the three and a great entry level family all inclusive. One reason for the pricing is the 90 minute complimentary airport transfer. We really enjoyed the drive as a way to see the country outside of a resort atmosphere. Our kids were fascinated and we felt it was worthwhile. However, you are in a 3rd world country with driving that is not what most Americans are accustomed to!  Some people feel that after a long day of getting up early and connecting flights that transfer just adds to travel pains.

First time snorkelers! And all the equipment is included at no cost!

"All-Inclusive" can mean a lot of things in the travel business. Sandals and Beaches really mean ALL inclusive. All the drinks including top-shelf liquor, all the water activities which do vary by property but include glass bottom boat, snorkeling (equipment provided), kayaking, Hobeycats, paddle boarding and scuba diving IF you have a certification. You can pay to be certified there but if this interests you, I highly suggest you do your certification in the states so you don't waste valuable vacation time getting trained.

There are excursions available if you want to pay to leave the resort. You can do Catamaran tours, hike some waterfalls, visit school children, or go floating down a river with guides.  You would not need to do any of those things to have a fun full week with family.
One inexpensive excursion is a trip to a local school to read to the children. You are encouraged to pack picture books to bring to donate and get to spend about 45 minutes with local school children. This was a highlight of our trip. They did think my dad was "Saint Nicholas" and his beard is real when pulled!

Employees at Beaches resorts are second to none. We find the people working there to be some of the best memories we make. A couple of young guys working came up and started a game of soccer with our son. Another employee, Romero, was a huge part of our week. He helped teach my son to swim and prepare him to snorkel for the first time and he "rescued" my daughter when the wind took her a little too far paddleboarding.  Then he spent hours encouraging her back out onto the paddleboard with patience and fun that made the trip so memorable.

The entire Sesame Street gang is available at Beaches properties for little ones.  You can also pay for extra opportunities with those characters like a special breakfast during your stay.

Dinner on the beach one night was a fun change and was followed by a Beach Party. There are four restaurants on property and no need for reservations. You can go to any of these each night. There is a lunch buffet daily, a creperie and a grill open for during lunch hours. Breakfast is a full buffet with everything you can imagine including a chef making omelets to order. She greeted one of my sons each morning with his order memorized. Attention to detail by the staff is evident in everything you experience. There are bars throughout the resort serving alcoholic and non aloholic items. Drinking age in Jamaica is 18 and they did ID the nearly 20 year old with us several times.

The pool is never busy including the water slides. A nearby bar and grill offers drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks all day. 

Our trip to Beaches, Jamaica was to attend our oldest daughter's wedding. She was married at nearby Sandals Ochi. We had children that were under 18 so we could not stay at an adult all-inclusive and felt the bride and groom might not want mom and dad on their honeymoon! It was perfect because we were able to travel together and pay for a taxi to the wedding but be at a family location.

When you are ready to book your all-inclusive trip email us for a no obligation quote:

Keep in mind we are always paid by the resorts with no costs being carried over to you!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I can book my vacation myself, why book with a Vacation Planner???

We often get told, "I don't need a travel agent. I will just book it myself."  You are right, you can book a  vacation yourself. However, we feel we have a lot to offer and for the outrageous FEE of ...NOTHING! You will pay absolutely nothing for my services.  We are paid by the locations we book not by you. If you book directly with travel companies or with us, your trip will cost the same amount. If you book with a third party online vendor (travelocity, expedia and so on) you will be required to contact them for any changes. If you arrive and don't like your hotel, you cannot make changes or cancellations without talking with travelocity. This is no easy task while frustrated and trying to enjoy your trip. We are always a text or call away to speak to a PERSON, not a company.

You will pay nothing but you will receive the following benefits:

  • Experience: We have been to Walt Disney World twenty five times. We have been on two Disney Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruiseline, Disneyland California twice, San Diego, New York, D.C. Scotland, Wales, London, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Costa Maya, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Grenada, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Turks and Caicos.  Each of these trips has broadened our knowledge. We intentionally stay at different resorts and eat at different restaurants on each stay to gather more information to book vacations that fit each guests needs.
  • Booking: We will handle the booking of your stay as well as your guide you through area information.  For Walt Disney World we will handle your dining that can be booked 6 months in advance. 
  • Peace of Mind: While traveling if anything goes 'wrong', you make one call to us and we will jump in to handle anything that isn't quite to your liking.  We have numbers and contacts to call directly to management at the resorts so we can help resolve anything that isn't right. Honestly, this is a rarity. The locations we send you to are hand picked and often they do a wonderful job and takes great care of their guests. There have been a few instances that we have needed to contact them for a guest on property and they immediately took steps to help our  clients. 
  • Organizing Groups: We are especially helpful when larger groups are traveling together. We are able to help organize everyone and make plans for dining and itinerary. We are also experienced at helping everyone come together to make one plan everyone can enjoy.
  • Advice: Going to on vacation is an amazing experience but it is also an expensive one. Having us available to ask questions can really put your mind at ease. We can answer your questions along your planning journey and are available by text, email or phone while you are traveling.
  • Discount Monitoring: If a discount comes out we immediately call and get the offer applied to your package. Then let you know about your savings. This is something Disney and other travel companies won't do for you when you book directly with them! They aren't interested in saving you money, we are
  • Contact us today at 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fastpass Strategy update

My strategy for planning fastpasses is constantly changing. A few things remain consistent. do not make them first thing in the morning and pick things with long wait times. I will take a couple of paragraphs to try to give a clearer explanation of those two situations.

First, timing is important. You will plan your dining in advance. Sometimes your dining will dictate which park you need fastpasses for each day. If you are eating in Hollywood Studios it would make sense to get your fastpasses there as well.  Sometimes your meals are not in theme parks so you have flexibility on which park to go to that day and then which fastpasses to get.

Once you know the park you plan to be in for the majority of the day you will choose three rides, shows or character meet n greets are worth using your passes on. This is not something we do for clients for a couple of reasons. Your family is unique.  As your family grows and changes the fastpasses that make sense change. It is important to my family to get Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios for instance. For some families there isn't anyone willing to ride that!  There is also the component of characters. Some people have a lot of character meals so they don't need to plan specific character times to get photos. Others have kids that don't want to be around the characters or just value rides over characters.  Most shows will allow you in regardless of having a fastpass but you will have to get there much earlier and wait in a line to secure your seat. This is true of Fantasmic, Animal Kingdom's light show, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and Indiana Jones.  If you have a fastpass you come when it tells you to and you are guaranteed that spot. I would also highly suggest going later in the day to any of these. Oftentimes there are second showings at the end of night events. When the fireworks are done a second time there are fewer people in the park and getting a prime spot is much easier.

I have a previous blog on picking your parks based on early entry.Park Planning I suggest really being practical about what your vacation will look like based on the reality of your family. If you have to argue and douse your children with buckets of ice to get them out of bed at home to do an activity they like, don't expect to have a pleasant vacation waking them up at 6am to make park opening! If your children are teens you might decide a divide and conquer approach is best. Leave them and go do what you want and they can join you later.  Obviously, this takes mature, responsible kids with some experience on Disney property using buses and understanding the process.  I cannot sleep in a hotel much past 7:30 am. I will be very grumpy sitting there awake waiting hours to go knowing the park is filling up. So, our family gets up and anyone ready goes to the park. Anyone else is required to be there by the first fastpass and we generally stay together for the fastpasses and meal then let everyone do their own thing.

However, you might still be in the throws of little princes and princesses that really like to see the sun come up whether they have slept 2 hours or 12. If this is the case you might as well tackle the parks at dawn, do your sit down meal for lunch and fastpasses early so that you can return to swim and relax at the resort without worrying about meltdowns at a late dinner.

Magic Kingdom:

  • IF you can get there near park opening:
    • People tend to merge right in our society...and wander forward as if the castle has a magnetic pull. DON'T herd forward and right. Instead, move through the connected stores on the left side of the store and you will be spit out to the left of the castle where there are bathrooms immediately behind you then continue on to the left to go to Adventureland. Ride Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Manson. Get fastpasses starting around noon for Peter Pan, Space Mountain and one other fantasyland ride.
  • IF people will not get out of bed!
    • Plan to be there later. Do fastpasses for Option 1 thrill riders: Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Jungle cruise and then wait in standby for Pirates (air conditioned standby) and Haunted Mansion  Option 2 non thrill riders/little ones: Peter Pan, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion
Hollywood Studios:

  • This park divides rides into Tier 1 and Tier 2. You can choose one Tier one ride (awesome rides) and two Tier Two rides (lesser rides)
    • Tier One: Toy Story One and Rockin' Roller Coaster: EVERYONE should pick Toy Story
    • Tier Two: Tower of Terror, Star Wars are the top two for thrill riders. Frozen Sing a long, Disney Junior or Indiana Jones if you have little ones

  • This park also has Tier 1 and Tier 2:
    • Tier One: I highly suggest Soarin....more than that I won't even contemplate anything else! Okay, fine, if you have a princess and HAVE to do Frozen do it, I will just be really sad for you.
    • Tier Two: Spaceship Earth and Mission Space...if you have little people you can still do Spaceship Earth (the big globe), and maybe a character meet
Animal Kingdom
  • Tier One: Crazily important **Nearly impossible to get** Avatar Flight of Passage...basically for now you will not ride this if you don't fastpass it. The wait was nearly 3 hours. 
    • When you don't get this you go ahead and take the other Avatar ride: Navi River Journey if you just like to do everything new...but the Safari is better if you haven't done either.
  • Tier Two: Dinosaur and Kali River Rapid (you will get wet).

In summary:

  1. Read my blog on which park to visit each day: Picking the day for each park
  2. Choose your dining based on where you will be and let us now 190 days in advance so we have time to review it then make your reservations 180 days in advance: Dining Plan blogs
  3. 70 days prior to travel decide which three rides/shows/experiences you will fastpass each day and make a written plan, send that to us if you want our opinion then login so that you make sure you can get in your account!
  4. 60 days in advance at 7 am get your fastpasses done on an actual computer not on a phone app!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Planning your park days at Disney World to avoid crowds

Right when I have it all figured out...things change. My last couple of fall break/Christmas trips I have noticed that the Magic Kingdom park closing really messes with park crowds.  Disney does two things that really unbalance the parks. First, during Halloween and Christmas seasons they offer special park tickets that you buy in addition to your general park tickets that get you a special event night at the Magic Kingdom. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party November and December both require the Magic Kingdom to close at 7pm and all guests will be ushered out to allow for the special limited guests time to start. These events are usually 3-4 nights of the week. The other nights Magic Kingdom is a madhouse as those not attending the event are trying to go on a full day to get their money's worth and see the end of night fireworks show. Those with passes to the special events will walk on many rides with little to no waits especially on weeknights because the number of tickets is limited. The even is sold for 7-midnight but they will actually allow those with tickets in around 4pm.

This means that the majority of guests at Walt Disney World are flushed out into the other three parks that day. The second mess with crowds are extra magic hours. Any park with extra magic hours will be the busiest because inexperienced travellers will go to that park for the day. There are strategies you can use but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone that will be there when I am, let’s just keep it between you and me!

Park Hopper Strategy for a day with a special event. If you purchase park hopper tickets then event days are the BEST days to go to Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning. Go LEFT at park entry and have your fastpasses starting afternoon. In the morning you will walk on rides with very little waiting. Use this time to ride things on the left side of the park(Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain). Get your fastpasses beginning around noon. You need fastpasses for Peter Pan, Seven Dwarfs and Space Mountain (substitute Buzz Lightyear space ranger spin or Splash Mountain if your family will allow you to skip Peter Pan).

Then around 4pm everyone else is allowed to enter the parks for their evening event so you need to leave. Either grab dinner then go back to the resort to swim and relax OR park hop over to another park. Again, if a park has late hours it will be the busiest but everyone leaves after the evening show. (Fireworks or performance). Then wait time will be reduced.

NON Park Hopper Strategy The struggle is real. Since you don't have park hoppers you are going to have to be really smart. Morning magic hours probably are a bad choice unless you have kids that are dragging you out of bed at 6 am no matter what. Once our kids were older we would let them sleep in and go late to a park that had late hours. This allowed them to be much better rested, less rushed and stay out into the night when the sun has gone down it is so much cooler in Florida and kids will think they are doing something really neat being out in the dark. The biggest thing is to plan WITH your childs sleep behaviors not against them.

Here are a couple of scenarios:
  • When our kids were young they would not sleep past 7:30 am. Well, we might as well go to the park. If we came back midday they would not nap. However, we could swim and cool off and put on clean clothes before going back out. This is really only realistic if you are staying in a deluxe resort so you don't waste much time traveling back and forth. Going back to a value or moderate resort (or Animal Kingdom Lodge) will be a 15 minute wait on a bus, a 20 minute ride then a walk to the room. Then you repeat that to return later. Now, that midday trip back is taking well over an hour in your day. IF your kids nap this is probably well worth it. Some are blessed with kids that will nap in a stroller and be perfectly pleasant. We were not blessed with one of those.
  • When our kids became teens getting them out in the morning just wasn't worth it on our longer trips. We had time to get it all done so we would just let them sleep and meet us later in the day. We would get out with our younger one always eager to go and easy temperament to stay for the long haul and we would go in the morning. Our older ones would set an alarm get up around noon shower and meet us for lunch then fastpasses. Sometimes they would outlast us at night and they were fine to get back and forth on their own using Disney buses, boats or monorails.
  • Parks are dead on days that Magic Kingdom is late night. Go anywhere else!!!
  • Absolutely do NOT go to an extra morning magic hours park after the morning magic hours are done. For instance, extra magic hours are at 8-9 am. You go there are 10...DUMB. This means you are now in the busiest park for the day and did not take advantage of the extra hours at all.
  • If you have park hoppers start your day anywhere that does not have magic hours. Go to the park with late magic hours around 8pm. It will be slowing down and short waits.
  • No matter how well you plan...allow for your kids to show their ugliest side (maybe your spouse too!). When they are starting to unravel decide to go back, feed them, or go into a calm and air conditioned stupid ride to wait it out. For instance, Hall of Presidents or Small World.

Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort at Walt Disney World, Florida. We try to stay at different resorts each time to experience them and later blog about them since we book a lot of Disney travel. I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Animal Kingdom and Animal KIngdom lodge has not been high on my list of resorts I was interested in visiting.

Bunk Beds in pool view room

Queen bed

View from Pool View room

Some of my feelings were upheld on this trip and others changed. First, Disney has three levels of resorts: value, moderate and deluxe. However, price wise there is really a clear distinction within the deluxe set of resorts. There are deluxe resorts then there are deluxe resorts on the monorail (Polynesian, Grand Floridian and Contemporary). Those on the monorail are a clear and evident step above the rest in convenience, quality and price.  If you can budget to stay in a monorail resort you will not be disappointed. BUT for the first 15 years of our adventures in parenthood that was simply ridiculous. The deluxe resorts not on the monorail offer all of the deluxe amenities including nice table service restaurants, superior pools with hot tubs with slides, food courts with tastier food options and quality bedding. These resorts include Beach/Yacht Club, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge and Boardwalk.  Wilderness has a boat to Magic Kingdom and is only a five-minute bus ride away. Beach, Yacht and Boardwalk are a walkway to EPCOT (perfect for the food/wine festival in the fall) and a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios (or a 8/10 mile walk).  Animal Kingdom fails big time in this arena. You are a 20-minute bus ride from Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. This really loses some value in convenience when it prices very similarly to Wilderness Lodge.

Why stay at the Animal Kingdom then?  SAVANNA VIEW!!!! This expensive room view offers you a direct view of the savanna with live animals. If you are an animal lover and spend a lot of time at the resort this could be a good choice. The pool is very nice and never busy. We have teens and we are out at the parks morning until night. We were there on a short 5-night visit so we did not spend much time at the resort.  There were some neat moments when we went and sat out on rockers on the savanna public balconies, watched employees from Africa showing children how to carve wood into animals and showing animal footprints and skulls from their countries. The design of the lobby is beautiful and similar to what you see throughout Animal Kingdom park.

Final thoughts: reasons to choose this resort…
  • You are a laid back family planning to spend a lot of time at the resort
  • You are staying an extended period of time so you will have more downtime
  • Young children in your party are enamoured with animals
  • Honeymooners
  • No interest in returning midday to the resort
  • You are willing to spend the money to upgrade to a savanna view room to take full advantage of the resort
Reasons to choose other resorts
  • You have young kids needing midday naps or teens that like to go back and forth (more experienced families that tend to divide and conquer and let the kids do their own thing)
  • You don’t like long bus rides
  • Don’t care about animals or are not willing to pay for Savanna View

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sandals Saint Lucia-Stay at One Play at Three

Email me with your questions or for a free quote:

We are currently loving our stay at Sandals Grande Saint Lucia. It is a beautiful resort in the Carribean. Of course since it is a Sandals resort it is ultra all inclusive so the Hobie Cat, Kayaking, snorkeling are all FREE! We have taken advantage of all of these and enjoy them. We never have reservations but instead just walk up and get our life vests and take off. Your first trip out on a Hobie Cat you will get lessons on how to sail but after you master things you are able to come back anytime.

There are three resorts here and all are distinctive.  We chose Grande because it has the most restaurants. It is also the most expensive, you pay for convenience. The Grande boasts a large outstretched public beach. Locals are allowed to approach on the beach but they are friendly and once you let them know you don't plan to make any purchases they move along.  We are in a standard room with a completely remodeled bathroom and  garden view off the back porch.

There are always way too many room categories at a Sandals resort but it can be broken into a few areas. VIEW and butler or club levels.

  • Standard rooms: Least expensive category with a refrigerator stocked with water, soda and fruit juice. These rooms are clean and remodeled.
  • Club rooms: these rooms have a bar stocked with liquor and beer in the refrigerator. Another advantage is view and location. You can get a walk out into a quiet pool or a room with balcony overlooking the ocean. You also get ROOM service in this category...FREE
  • Butler rooms: these rooms have an employee assigned to you for your stay. You tip them once at the end of stay (normally there is not any tipping on sandals properties). You have different locations within this category. There are Roundevilles and Over the Water  bungalows. Both offer privacy beyond standard rooms and amazingly up to date rooms and services. These are so impressive that it is well worth it if this is a financially "doable" option.
Three resorts here have their own personalities.

  • Grande-the longest beach and the most expensive with the newest Sandals room category of Over the Water bungalows. Lots of restaurants including Barefoot on the Beach (one of or favorite seafood options), Gordon's on the Pier, Bombay Indian cuisine, Kimonos and Soy japanese hibachi and sushi.  As well as italian, buffet and jerk shops.

This resort is beside a really neat old hill/mountain as part of a public part. You can walk out of the resort and go over for a one hour hike/walk to the top to see old remains of forts and a pretty remarkable view. You pay American cash to get in it was about $15-20 for a couple.
  • La Toc-This resort is less expensive and still an excellent option. It includes a millionaire suite (only four on property so book early) These are up in the mountains with stunning views and a walk out pool on the balcony.You need to be able to climb and walk up steep inclines. If you have mobility issues I would not choose this one.  There are also standard, club and butler options. A favorite room of ours when touring this resort was a club level room with a soak tub and balcony overlooking the ocean. This resort has several restaurant and bar options as well. There is a golf course on property. Golfing is free, you can rent clubs or golf course if you don't bring your own. You are required to hire a caddy for $11 on 9 hole course. 

  • Halcyon-this resort is definitely a different one of the three. It is much smaller and goes at a slower pace. The employees are very friendly with less stress to handle the masses. There are only a few restaurants so you would want to take advantage of the free exchanges to the other resorts for nightlife and dining. This would be the choice for a couple that truly wants to be left alone and not interact with many people the whole week. The area seemed dated but there were major renovations going on while we were there. We got into a room under renovations and it was very nice.