July 23, 2015

What I'll Miss Most About Italy

I am on Italy withdrawal after our two week family adventure to Rome, Tuscany, and Venice (including a day trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast).  Here is what I am missing already, in no particular order:

* Steamed milk instead of cold cream served with coffee in the morning and fresh squeezed orange juice as the norm

* Watching artisans work in their studios

* Water fountains everywhere (a real treat coming from drought-stricken California)

* Pasta as first course at lunch AND dinner

* Cheese and Tuscan ham as an acceptable appetizer before the pasta (I have never liked cheese but I learned to love pecorino, especially with the right honey)

* The pleasant surprise of stumbling across a beautiful statue or church while strolling narrow cobblestone streets

Yummy unique pizzas

* Stunning art and architecture

* Lounging around a pool with beautiful views of Tuscan hills, and chatting with families from other parts of Europe. (It's interesting to learn how much is the same no matter what part of the world you are from.)

* Amazing limoncello from the biggest lemons I've ever seen

* And the wine!

Ok, most of these are about food but is that really so surprising? 

Stay tuned for more posts about our amazing Italy adventure.

June 1, 2015

Ten Reasons to Vacation in Puerto Rico

My family vacationed in Puerto Rico several years and loved it. (Read about our trip here.)   We are an active family, and we found plenty to do during our 8 day stay.  

Kayak and snorkel trip
There's even more to love about Puerto Rico now, and here's why you should go.

1. It's exotic but easy.  No passport needed, no international phone calls or data roaming charges, no international calls, no currency exchange or foreign transaction fees

2. Old San Juan is a UNESCO World Heritage site with lots of history and charm, and interesting architecture. And there are two cool forts to explore:  El Morro and San Cristóbal.
El Morro
Old San Juan
3.The food is great, and foodies will especially enjoy the Saborea culinary festival in April.   Rum lovers can visit the Bacardi factory, or attend the Taste of Rum festival in February.

4. It has the world’s longest single line zip line at Taro Verde Eco Park.

Taro Verde zipline

5. There are 5 bioluminescent bays in the world and Puerto RIco has 3 of them.  Our night kayak tour was one of our most memorable activities, ever.

6. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in US, with 40 species of plants and trees.  You might even get to spot the rare Puerto Rican parrot, there are only 30 left in the wild.

Rainforest nature trail
The up and coming Santurce neighborhood is drawing crowds to see its vibrant street artThey host an art festival in August.
One of many street murals

8. Camuy River Cave Park is the third largest underground cave system in the world.

9. It has award-winning beaches, some of the most beautiful in the Caribbean, including Flamenco and Palomino Island.  (The latter is a private island available to Las Casitas Village and El Conquistador Resort guests.  Read my trip review here.)  Surfers should head to Sandy Beach in Rincon.
Flamenco Beach
10. There are great luxury resorts, including the Ritz Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach and St. Regis Bahia Beach.   And when I book your stay you get the following exclusive Virtuoso amenities:
Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach 
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast
$150.00 resort credit
Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

St. Regis Bahia Beach
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast
$100 dining credit
15% off golf and spa services
Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

For help with planning a great getaway to Puerto Rico, contact me at suzette@family-treks.com.


May 1, 2015

One of a Kind Family Celebrations

We’re coming up on graduation and wedding season, so today’s post is about celebration trips.  Here are my top suggestions for a one-of-a-kind trip to celebrate a special occasion or milestone birthday or anniversary.
My criteria:
- It’s multi-generational, with accommodations and activities suitable for all ages
- It offers unique and exceptional experiences in the destination
- Meals are included or there is ample onsite dining.  No hassles figuring out what to do for dinner!
- There is a supervised children’s program or ample activities for kids
- It requires minimal advance planning on the travel organizer's part.  Just book it, show up, and have a fantastic time!

Lindblad Expedition Cruise-  No casinos or nightclubs, instead travelers get up close to wilderness and wildlife.  Great destinations for families are Alaska, Baja California, and the Galapagos.  There's hands on learning for everyone, kayaking and snorkeling right off the boat in warm waters, and intimate, personal service since ships have less than 100 passengers, and most less than 70!  There is no minimum age on family sailings, and kids under 18 get $500 off.

Virtuoso amenity:  $25 onboard credit on all sailings, additional credits and exclusive discounts on select sailings.

You won't have this view of glaciers calving
 from a traditional cruise ship.
If they were any closer they'd be swimming with them!
Alaska Wilderness Lodge – This is another trip perfect for outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts, the land version of an expedition cruise.  Expert guides and naturalists lead activities such as hiking, fishing, bear watching, and glacier climbing during the day, and then you have downtime or educational presentations at night.  The type of activities vary greatly by location and time of year, so research is key to find the best fit.  And advance planning is a must, as it’s not uncommon for them to book up a year or more in advance for peak periods.

Wilderness doesn't mean roughing it- fresh crab!
Relaxing after a full day of activity
Caribbean Villa Resort – There are lots of private villas and homes available, but if you book one that’s part of a resort, you get the benefits of both worlds:  the services & amenities of a luxury hotel, plus the space and privacy of a home away from home. It's the perfect compromise if you have some who want to relax beach or poolside, and others who want to be on the go. It’s also a good option for families with very young children. 
5 bedrooms and more available!
Great gathering spaces

Check out:

Round Hill Jamaica – 26 private villas, 100 acres of lush gardens, a pristine crescent beach, and complimentary children’s program starting at age 3

Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
$100 spa credit
Early check-in/late check-out

Private pool (and lawn) with a view
Fun for little ones
Escorted Family Tour – This is a great option if your family wants to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time, but doesn’t want the hassle of managing travel logistics. These small group tours visit popular sights in destinations ranging from national parks to European cities to Africa.  Families get lots of quality time together,  but also get to socialize with other adults and children. (Great for families traveling alone!) Most widely known is Adventures by Disney, but Tauck and A&K also offer family departures.  Active families should check out cycling, hiking or multi-sport trips with Backroads 

Adventures by Disney in the Southwest
Guest or Dude Ranch – What’s the difference?  A very simple distinction is that guest ranches offer ala carte activities and more flexible check in /out dates,  where a dude ranch is all inclusive, generally runs Saturday to Saturday and has scheduled trail rides. But every ranch is unique so again, this is a trip that requires careful research to find the right match. Guests can do as much or as little as they want, so it suits a variety of interests and activity levels. Accommodations range from lodge rooms to large private homes to luxury tents.  And don’t worry about it being too rustic, gourmet dining and other resort-style amenities like a pool and spa are often available.

Heading out on the trail
Learning to rope
Check out:

The Resort at Paws Up – A guest ranch in Montana’s gorgeous Big Sky country, with 28 luxurious vacation homes and 30 luxury tents with private baths and a Camping Butler.

Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
Complimentary round-trip private airport transfers
Early check-in, late check-out, subject to availability
A $300 activity credit
Bottle of wine in room on arrival

Private luxury at Paws Up
Brush Creek Ranch – An all-inclusive luxury dude ranch on 30,000 acres of Rocky Mountain wilderness in Wyoming. Rates include on site activities and trail rides, and the Lil Wranglers program for ages 4-8. Ages 9 and up can participate in most ranch activities.

Virtuoso amenities:
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
A complimentary 50-minute massage for up to two people
Choice of complimentary Cattle Drive, Scenic Float, Premium Fly Fishing or Wing Shooting Experience for 2 guests
Early check-in/late check-out

Wyoming scenery
Imagine waking up to this view!
If your group is large enough, you can buy out an entire property or tour. This is the ultimate celebration trip, completely private and customized, something to remember forever!

Are these choices overwhelming?  No worries, just drop me a note at suzette@family-treks.com and I’ll help you design the perfect celebration for your family.

April 23, 2015

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Announces Best Values of the Year

If you're planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, you need to know about the great values being offered at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.  If you have flexibility in your schedule, you can time your trip to get the lowest rates of the year, a resort credit, and Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities if you book through me.

The absolute lowest rates of the year are for travel in September and October, if you book by June 30 for at least 5 nights.  (Other value dates are June 20 – 30 and November 7 – 20.)
Beautiful views from all the rooms
In fall, Ocean Golf rooms start at $645/night, and this deal can be combined with the Resort Credit Promotion, also requiring a minimum 5 night stay.  Here are all the dates the resort credit is available for the various room categories:

Suites - $1000 credit
Apr 20 – Jun 30, 2015
Aug 22 – Nov 20, 2015
Nov 28 – Dec 18, 2015

Ocean-View Room, Prime Ocean-View, Oceanfront - $500 credit
May 03 – May 31, 2015
Jun 20 – Nov 20, 2015
Nov 28 – Dec 18, 2015

Ocean-View Golf, Poolside, Partial Ocean-View - $250 credit
Aug 22 – Nov 20, 2015
Nov 28 – Dec 18, 2015
Lava rock shower!
Families can get 50% off a second room on these dates:

Apr 20 – Jun 30, 2015
Aug 22 – Nov 20, 2015

Nov 28 – Dec 18, 2015

And don't forget that the Kids for All Season program, for ages 5-12, is complimentary!

Want to golf every day?  Then check out the Unlimited Golf package, which requires a 3 night minimum stay:

Unlimited daily golf for two guests with each night purchased, including access to the driving range and a shared cart, and daily buffet breakfast for two.

Apr 20, 2015 – Dec 18, 2015
Jan 03, 2016 – Apr 30, 2016

Having fun on the Jack Nicklaus
signature golf course
Children are welcome on the course, too!  Juniors 13-17 pay reduced fees, and kids 12 and under play for free, with a paying guest.

No matter what promotion or room type you book, as my client you also receive these exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities: 
  • Daily full American breakfast for two people per room
  • $100 food and beverage credit 
  • Upgrade based on availability at time of check-in
If you'd like to know more about the amazing resort, or would like me to find the best rates for your family, just send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.  My contacts will personally oversee your reservation to make sure you have an amazing room and an amazing time!

Wish you were here?

March 28, 2015

Starwood Luxury Collection Update (aka More Perks For You!)

I attended the Starwood Luxury Collection Showcase this month in San Francisco, hosted by one of the member properties, the historic Palace Hotel.  I got to speak with sales representatives from dozens of hotels and resorts around the globe, including Hawaii, Europe, South America, and even Dubai!

Some visitors from Spain

Three great beach getaways

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

Le Meridien London has family rooms that sleep 4.  There are only a dozen of them so you need to book early!

St. Regis Deer Valley is not only offers quick ski in/out access to the slopes, but has a ski in bar.

Apres-ski in Deer Valley
The Phoenician and The Canyon Suites in Scottsdale has a 2 acre cactus garden on property with nature trails, and every Friday and Saturday at sunset they have a bird of prey show.  They also added Surge, a water spray playground last year.

The Canyon Suites (top left) have a private lobby & pool,
but full access to all Phoenician Resort facilities
St. Regis Istanbul just opened in March, has 3 pools, and is across from the city's largest park, a great location for families.

St. Regis Bora Bora can arrange a very special wedding proposal.  They will fly you and your special someone in a helicopter over a beach where coconuts will spell out Will You Marry Me? 

Was the answer "Yes?"
Then you can conveniently plan your wedding before you leave!
The Greece Destination Program gives travelers reduced rates when they stay 7 or more nights in any combination of participating hotels in Athens, Costa Navarino, Mykonos, Santorini, and Eloundra.

Las Alcobas will open in Napa Valley within the next year.  All rooms will be at least 600 sq ft with balconies and outdoor fireplaces, located in a rural setting in walking distance to downtown St. Helena.

Now let's talk about amenities! (One of my favorite topics to write about!)

In 2013, Starwood introduced Luxury Privileges, a preferred partner program, similar to Virtuoso, Four Seasons Preferred Partner, and Ritz Carlton STARS.  Brownell Travel is a member of all of these "by invitation only" programs due to its elite agency status.

So that means my clients will receive amenities when I book their stay at Luxury Collection properties, including: 
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Welcome amenity value at $100
  • Complimentary in-room internet
  • Early check in and late check out, subject to availability
Additionally, there are occasional exclusive Luxury Privilege deals, such as 3rd night free being offered at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Orange County through May 31.
Beautiful SoCal sunset at the
family-friendly St Regis Monarch Beach
How do you get these amenities?  You don't have to have any special Starwood status, or even a Starwood number (though I highly recommend you get one).  All you need to do is let me book your stay, and then I'll ensure you receive the best amenity from any program applicable to that particular hotel.

Starwood has plans to add many more hotels to Luxury Collection over the next 5 years, so stay tuned here for the latest news.  

To find out how to get the most perks for your next getaway, send an email to suzette@family-treks.com.