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May 1, 2016

Gift Ideas for Grads Traveling Away to College

Here are some of my favorite travel accessories, which would make great gifts for graduating seniors.  We sent our first child across the country to college this year with several of these, which came in handy for his trips back and forth.

Clear plastic carry-on bag for liquids – It will hold up better than a ziploc bag through multiple trips.

311 TSA Rules:  3.4 oz, 1 qt , 1 bag 


Luggage scale – To discourage the teen’s instinct to shove as much stuff into one bag as possible.

Don't stuff hockey bags to capacity!

Duffle bag that collapses easily and compactly – Can serve as an extra carry-on bag when they pull out all the extra things from their checked bag.
 
Go Sharks! (Had to get that in for playoff season)

Cable lock – To secure bags when traveling by train or when waiting in airports.  They can also keep items secure in a dorm room.

The 3 ft long cable can link several bags together,
 or secure one to a stationary object

Durable luggage tags – A colorful one is easy to spot on a luggage carousel.

But don't store your jewels in checked bags.

Packing cubes – Full disclosure:  my kids still don’t want to use them, but they’ll appreciate having them some day!

Probably my favorite travel accessory


Portable charger – I love my Jackery, it's a lifesaver on a long flight or a long layover in an airport that has limited outlets.

Also has a light!

Even if your student is going to school in the US, they will probably have opportunities to travel internationally. When the time comes, they'll appreciate these items:

Dual voltage extension cord – So they can charge all their electronics at once (regular extension cords used around the house need a converter).
 
The Luggage Valet has one USB and three 3-prong outlets.


Universal travel adapter – So they can keep up with social media in multiple countries.
 
If your electronics and chargers are dual voltage all you
need is the appropriate adapter.


If you see something like 100/240V  or 110~220V on the label
then you don't need a converter.

Here's a tip for summer:  Apply for or renew their passport if necessary so they have a valid one when they head off to school.

And if you'd like ideas for a celebration trip, so your grad can try out his or her new gadgets, just send a note to suzette@family-treks.com.

March 23, 2016

Book London Now for Deals Later

There are some offers available right now for London, valid for travel throughout the year. Some expire next month, and others are limited to availability.  If you plan ahead, you can get a great deal with some of our favorite hotels and tour guides.


Combining traditional grandeur with modern freshness, the redesigned Victorian building is ideally located in the heart of London, facing the River Thames.  It is a short walk from many of the city’s major attractions, and offers an exquisite light-filled lobby, a spacious exterior courtyard, and the most breathtaking spa in London, housed across four floors.

The best spa in London
Annual Sale
Up to 30% off the best available rates. Must be booked by April 30.

Family Friendly Package
Two connecting rooms (if available at time of booking) or nearby, for one discounted rate.  Parents will receive a bottle of champagne, and children will receive a game console and some treats.  Valid for stays until Dec 30, 2016. 

Rooms average 485 sq ft

My clients receive Virtuoso amenities on these offers as they do when booking regular rates:
  • English Breakfast for two people per room,
  • Noon arrival (subject to availability),
  • Upgrade on arrival (subject to availability),
  • £85 Hotel Credit (once per stay)
  • Water and fruit
(Blackout dates and minimum stays may apply)


London's quintessential luxury boutique hotel, a magnificent 19th-century architectural treasure centrally located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Each of the rooms, luxury suites, and long-stay apartments are dressed with fine fabrics, fresh flowers, antique furnishings, and rare artworks, plus 21st century technology. The hotel has two staff members for every guest, ensuring personal care to every detail.  Family friendly amenities include Mini bathrobes & slippers, a teddy bear book and a chocolate mouse on turndown, and even baby intercoms.
 
Every room is unique

Brownell Travel Exclusive Amenities:
  • $100 food credit per room per stay
  • Additional $100.00 food credit for bookings of two or more nights
  • English Breakfast for two each day
  • Upgrade on arrival (subject to availability)
  • Early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
  • Book a suite for 3 or more nights and get a one way airport transfer
  • Book an apartment for 4 or more nights and get a one way airport transfer

Spacious apartments for long stays


A beautiful townhouse dating back to 1843, enviably located on a tree-lined street in fashionable Knightsbridge (just a short walk from Harvey Nichols and Harrods). The hotel features its own private art collection, and all of the 28 guestrooms and suites are individually designed. Head barman Antonio Pizzuto has spent 40 years perfecting his art, and is known for the best martinis in London.
 
It's 5 o'clock somewhere!

Brownell Travel Exclusive Amenities:
  • Full English Breakfast daily
  • £100 Food Credit
  • Exclusive pair of member tickets to current exhibitions at The Victoria and Albert Museum with access to the members lounge. (These tickets are impossible to get!)
  • Afternoon tea for 2 on one day during their stay
  • Martini Master class
  • Upgrade on arrival (subject to availability)
  • Early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
  • Book a suite for 3 or more nights and get a one way airport
Authentic London townhouse in a residential neighborhood


Family Sightseeing Tours

Context Travel is offering 10% off family tours around the world if booked by April 30.  Client favorites in London include:

British Museum for Families
Join an archaeologist in the discovery of the British Museum: one of the largest repositories of ancient art in the world, and an amazing backdrop to a family-oriented exploration of the ancient world and its traditions, religions, and lives. Families will learn about how the museum was founded and how the passion for collecting is still alive today.  Using fun educational tools, they’ll pick a theme or a particular civilization and follow its development throughout time while navigating the museum.
 
Hands on learning

Tower of London for Families
Known for its feathered inhabitants, for its gruesome executions and its famous prisoners, the Tower is the site of intriguing stories that inspire and fascinates young visitors. Why do the ravens live in the Tower? Was the Tower really used as a zoo? Led by a specially trained family-friendly historian guide, the tour provides an interactive learning experience for children and introduces them to British history
 
Kids love the macabre!

Drawing London: A Hands On Art Workshop
A hands-on tutorial on how to engage and hone your powers of observation and expression, under the auspices of a professional artist and art teacher.  The tour starts at the artist's beautiful flat, and while sipping a cup of tea, families are introduced to materials and a demonstration of some basic drawing techniques.

Anyone can be an artist

They can even arrange for a  a private tennis lesson on Henry VIII’s court!

Context regular tours are a good value even when not on sale.  And if you have 4 or more in your group it's less expensive to book a private tour!

Contact me if you'd like more information, or are ready to book so that you get our exclusive amenities.

My clients love London!

February 13, 2016

Why JK Place Firenze is the Most Romantic Hotel in Florence

I had the pleasure of visiting JK Place Firenze on my trip to Italy last summer, and I was blown away by how unique and awesome it was.

As we approach Valentine's Day, I found myself thinking about the hotel, how it would be an excellent for a honeymoon or romantic getaway.  Here's why:

* Private and sophisticated -  LIke a home away from home with lots of private spaces.  There's no lobby, you "check in" in the library.

Cozy!
* Great location -  On pretty Santa Maria Novella Piazza with a view of the church, convenient to the train station and shopping, and away from the heaviest tourist traffic

Do you like this...
.. or this?
* Romantic accommodations -  Only 20 rooms, all unique.   The Penthouse has a private balcony with a clear view of the Domo. 


Some have canopy beds
Chic but comfortable


* Spa access - Two minutes away is Olimpo SPA Steam Bath


Couples massage anyone?
* Pretty rooftop terrace - With daybeds to snuggle on after a long day of sightseeing.

Peace and quiet and fresh air
* The tiramisu - Some say the best in the city. 

They say the shortest distance to the heart is through the stomach.
Presentation is everything!
* The general managerOne of the most important features of any hotels is who’s at the helm. Claudio Meli is passionate about providing the best possible experience for his guests, and that attitude trickles down to every member of staff.  After talking to him for a short while, you'll learn he's a devoted husband and father, a true romantic at heart!
  

JK Place is also a great value when you book through a Virtuoso travel advisor and receive exclusive Virtuoso amenities:


Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Continental breakfast daily for two
- $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability


Breakfast at "home"
Are you ready to take your Valentine to Florence?? Then contact me!




January 27, 2016

The Best Luxury Resort Values in Hawaii

There are so many great resorts in Hawaii, how do you pick one? Hopefully this guide will help you find the best value for your money!

Oahu: The Modern Honolulu

A member of the Ritz Carlton hotel group, The Modern is cosmopolitan and chic, with a splash of Hawaiian whimsy.  It’s luxurious and intimate, yet has all the amenities one expects of a luxury hotel including spa, nightclub, and two pools.  The oceanfront location is close to great beaches, shopping, and restaurants.

If you book an ocean view room through a Ritz Carlton STARS agency, you are automatically upgraded to a Studio Suite if available, which has a king bed, sofa bed, and a private terrace.  And there are no resort fees, even high speed internet is included!
 
Modern rooms at The Modern Honolul
Insider Tip:  Several Daybed Experience Packages are offered which include unlimited use of a daybed for the entire day,a 3-5 course tasting menu, and wine or cocktails.  You can upgrade to add a 30 min couples massage.
Pearl Harbor
Kauai: St. Regis Princeville / Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa

Frankly, there are limited 5 star options on Kauai, so the rates don’t vary dramatically, and they offer the same Virtuoso amenities:  daily breakfast for two, amenity valued at $100, upgrade on arrival if available.  But they offer two different experiences.

The St Regis Princeville is perched on Hanalei Bay, boasting one of the most scenic views in the world, perfect for a romantic getaway.  The north shore is known for its spectacular unspoiled scenery, which is why many movies have been filmed here (and many celebrities have made it their second home).  It also offers some of the best adventure activities and snorkeling on the island.
 
Hanalei Bay
The Grand Hyatt Resort and Spa has a slight edge if traveling with young children, with its lagoon style pool and fun waterslide, plus they will guarantee connecting rooms in advance.  There is plenty of on-property entertainment, and a luau is offered twice a week.   It is not on a swimmable beach, but they have a sandy lagoon, and are only a few minutes from Poipu Beach.  The island’s south shore is a good location in the winter months, as the north shore beaches are not safe for swimming with the high surf. 

Grand Hyatt waterslide
The island is not that big, so no matter where you stay, it’s not a long drive to any activity or attraction

Insider Tip:  Take a snorkeling cruise to the Napali Coast in the morning, then drive up Waimea Canyon in the afternoon to get a birds’ eye view of the same coastline.
 
Napali Coast
Big Island: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows

This low key resort on a beautiful white sand beach is a lesser known gem, but guests tend to return over and over because of the great service and authentic Hawaiian ambiance.  Rates are some of the best for a resort of this caliber, and Virtuoso clients are upgraded at time of booking if possible, making it an even better deal.  Daily breakfast and $100 resort credit are also included in the Virtuoso amenity package. The resort fee is also one of the most inclusive to be found.
 
One of the nicest Big Island beaches
They recently announced the Bungalow Inclusive Experience which includes accommodations in a 2 bedroom bungalow, private roundtrip airport transfers (or a rental car), daily $500 spa or golf credit, and 3 meals a day for up to six people!  The bungalows are 2,700 sq. ft. including two master bedrooms, wet bar and full kitchen, and a large private outdoor space with jacuzzi and heated swimming pool.
 
Snorkeling with turtles is always a highlight
Insider Tip: Baby turtles are raised in salt water ponds on the property.  If you visit during the Fourth of July holiday, you can watch them be released into the ocean.


Maui: The Fairmont Kea Lani

This is not only the best value on Maui, but possibly the best value in all of Hawaii.  Suites command premium rates at most resorts due to limited availability.  But every room at the Kea Lani is an 800 sq ft one-bedroom suite!  With huge bathrooms, entry foyer for stashing gear, queen size sofa sleeper, wet bar, and spacious lanai, they are perfect for families.  Larger groups or couples traveling together will appreciate the space and privacy of villas near the beach, which have a full kitchen, dining area, and private plunge pool.

Virtuoso guests receive complimentary daily breakfast, $100 spa credit, and upgrade on arrival if available.
 
Two level family pool with water slide
Insider Tip:  If you have young children, book one of the twelve poolside suites which is just steps from the family pool. 

Haleakala
You may be thinking “What about Lanai?”  Well, you really don’t have much choice there, but what a choice it is!  The Four Seasons Manele Bay is re-opening on Feb 1 after a renovation, and they are celebrating with a 4th night free offer and guaranteed upgrade at time of booking (through April 30), exclusive to clients of Four Seasons Preferred Partner agencies. Four Seasons resorts are always a great value, because they include so much in the rates, such as internet, snorkeling gear, and the Kids For All Seasons program.
 
Four Seasons Lanai beach



If you're ready to head to Hawaii then click here!

January 16, 2016

Private Guides - Your Best Travel Investment

On our trip to Italy this summer, I tried out several companies we use for private tours.  My expectations were exceeded, and our experience was so much better than if we had done it alone.

Vatican Museums - The crowds were so overwhelming, I could not imagine visiting without a private guide.  She was able to pull us aside as dozens of large tour groups filed by with headsets on, and then show us something interesting (even for the kids) that everyone else was missing.  
Couldn't even see the pictures when the hall was filled with tour groups
While many people just popped their heads in the papal apartments, we were learning how different Raphael and Michelangelo were both in artistic style and personality. Before entering the Sistine Chapel, we relaxed in the beautiful courtyard as our guided explained what to look for when we got inside.
Prepping for the Sistine Chapel
Pompeii - We took a day trip to Naples from Rome, and I previously wrote about our experience hiring a private driver.  Before we headed off for our drive along the Amalfi coast, he dropped us off for a 2 hour tour of Pompeii with a guide. I had heard it was huge but had no idea until I saw it for myself.  It literally is a city, with block after block of streets that all look alike, and minimal signage. 

The streets go on and on and on...
Most guests take a self-guided tour with headsets, which can run out on the busiest days.  Our guide, who also led school field trips, expertly led us around the site so we could understand what life was like for residents. Often other visitors nearby leaned in to listen, as the stories she told were not found on any signs.
Learning about the "McDonalds" of Pompeii
Tuscany - We explored with our own car most of the time, but one day we had the luxury of a private driver.  Finally my husband and I both got to relax and enjoy the scenery rather than focus on a map and scan for road signs.  
Wouldn't you rather enjoy this view while someone else drives?
We visited a honey farm, a cheese farm, and a winery where we had a wonderful lunch prepared by the owner.  He also took us to the hilltop village of Montalcino so we could see the fort.  He dropped us off outside the castle so we could enjoy the scenery rather than waste time in the car looking for parking.

This Brunello wine came home with us.
Say cheese!
One day we drove ourselves to Volterra, where we met another guide who grew up there.  She showed us around the ancient Etruscan village, and took us to the shop of an alabaster artisan I had met in San Francisco, when his replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was put on display.
If this looks familiar you may have seen it in a Twilight movie,
this is the home of the Volturi
A master in alabaster
Florence - We day tripped by train from our resort, so our time was limited.  The guide we hired for a city orientation tour met us at the train station, and she took a few minutes to get a feel for how we’d like to spend our time. Since we had seen enough churches and museums, she took us to the food market, which we would have never discovered on our own. 
Before the lunch rush.

Then she led us on a tour of the city, guiding us through side streets so we avoided the worst of the crowds.  She pointed out where Leonardo di Vinci and Michelangelo once stayed, and told the back story on funny signs we saw everywhere. 

Hunting for these signs amused the kids.
We planned to visit the Accademia on our own, so she had done us the favor of reserving our tickets in advance.   She ended our tour at the will call window (which was practically impossible to find unless pointed out), made sure we got in the right line (there were 3 very long ones), and recommended a nearby cafe for lunch.
The original David
When you hire a private guide, you will save time, you will learn more, your kids will have fewer melt downs, and overall you will have a better experience.  Whenever we’ve visited a town or museum on our own, we found ourselves wandering a bit aimlessly. (And in the summer heat, efficiency is key, you want to make every step count!) 

Wish we had a guide at the Colosseum, very few signs here
If you have a special interest in art, history, food, etc., then you’ll really appreciate having a guide who is an expert in that field, rather than taking a generic city tour where the guide is reciting a memorized spiel.

Beautiful Florence, one day is not enough!
You don’t have to hire a guide everywhere you go.  But consider investing some of your travel dollars in locations where a private guide will make the difference between a good vacation, and a great vacation.
Water taxi to the Venice airport, another worthwhile splurge