Another Week in Paradise

Linda and I just returned from a week-long trip to Hawaii – for business. Of course, a week in Hawaii is a week in paradise no matter how you look at it or what you do.

We were guests of Apple Vacations at their annual Apple Vacations Hawaii MVP (Most Valuable Partner) Advisory Retreat at the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Fifteen travel agents from Maryland to California were invited as one of several benefits awarded to MVP agencies selling Apple Vacations to Hawaii. Highlights of the third annual, 4-day event included a welcome reception hosted by the Sheraton Kauai Resort, hotel site inspections in Kauai, a round-table forum with Apple Vacations’ executives, a destination presentation by the Kauai Visitors Bureau, and a tour and dinner sponsored by the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. Familiarization trips like these are among the many reasons to use a travel agent. We know the destinations we sell.

Enough about business

We flew into Maui two days before the meeting, picked up the rental car, and drove an hour to Kaanapali Beach in west Maui. We stayed at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, located where the legendary Black Rock of Kaanapali meets the Pacific Ocean. Top-notch resort. We snorkeled at Black Rock and saw five eagle rays, but did not see any turtles this trip. We visited Lahaina a few miles south, where we dined at Cheesburger in Paradise while enjoying the sunset over Lanai and shopping.

Sunset in Lahaina

Sunset in Lahaina, Maui, with Lanai in the distance

We flew to Lihue in Kauai, drove the rental car to Poipu Beach a half-hour away, and checked in at the Sheraton Kauai Resort & Spa. Ocean front room. Beautiful view of the Pacific.

Hotel site inspections were the next day. A site inspection includes seeing various room categories and public spaces, e.g. restaurants, fitness facilities, pools and spa. We had breakfast at the Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach; then visited the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort, the Kauai Beach Resort (where we had lunch), the Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach Wyndham Grand Resort, and the Castle Kiahuna Plantation & The Beach Bungalows. Photos can be found on the ATS Facebook page.

Hotel site inspections set travel agents apart from online travel agencies. A great travel agent visits the destination he/she sells. She sees the properties and surroundings. She experiences the destination – one of the best reasons among many to use a travel agent.

After our morning Advisory Board Meeting with Apple Vacations staff, we enjoyed lunch and a presentation sponsored by Starwood Resorts Hawaii. A short break was followed by a bus ride to Kauai’s north shore for appetizers at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas and dinner at The St. Regis Princeville Resort, and, of course, inspections of those properties.

Sunset at Hanalei Bay

Sunset at Hanalei Bay from The St. Regis Princeville Resort

The final day began with our morning Advisory Board Meeting, followed by lunch and presentation sponsored by the Kauai Visitors Bureau. Then a free afternoon. We enjoyed a visit to Poipu Beach Park, where we took the kids way back in 1986, and lounging by the pool.

The final evening featured a hotel inspection and Farewell Dinner sponsored by the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. What a stunning resort!

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

View of the grounds at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

We urge you to visit the Islands of Aloha. The Hawaiian Islands – rich in history, diverse in culture, and stunningly beautiful – are waiting to say “e komo mai.”

Just another week in paradise…

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Posted in Apple Vacations, ATS, Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Travel Agent, Vacation

6 Reasons Travel Agents May Be Off the Endangered Species List

Re-post from Janice Hough, Consumer Traveler

Travel agents’ obituaries have been written more times than Brett Favre has talked about his retirement. Even President Obama commented last year, “When’s the last time somebody used a travel agent instead of just going online?”

But agents are still around, and agency airline ticket sales have been heading upwards since late 2009.

Here are six reasons why.

1. Airlines increasingly are pushing online bookings, and de-emphasizing phone reservations. This means that when there’s any issue that can’t be taken care of online — an inconvenient schedule change, a mistake in the booking, a misconnect — it’s getting harder and harder to find someone to help. United may, currently, be having the most problems because of their merger, but hold times on airline customer-service lines, these days, are seldom insignificant.

2. The novelty of booking online is wearing off. At first, many people loved the ability to have access to reservation systems to search for their own hotels, flights, vacation packages, etc. But as with many things, websites can be confusing and extremely time consuming. As one relatively new client told me, “It just wasn’t fun anymore.”

3. The number of competing online sites with contradictory reviews and rating classes can be overwhelming. Confusion reigns for those who like booking direct. Even travel agents have a hard time trying to find the actual hotel website as opposed to a third-party site.

4.Time is money. For many travelers, time is their most precious commodity. When many are inundated by 24-7 communications — phone, emails, texts, Tweets, etc. Spending hours online may well result in the same fare a good travel agent finds, but is it worth it?

5.Often, it is “who you know.” Contacts can’t solve all problems, but, just for starters, travel agents may have access to special airline phone numbers and supervisors. Not to mention connections with cruise ships and hotels. For example, a VIP request from an agent that has a relationship with a hotel will almost certainly mean a better chance for an upgrade and/or amenity.

6. The airline staffing problem is compounded when travelers are at the airport. Kiosk work fine, on a normal day. But when the weather is bad or a flight is cancelled and long customer service lines wind through the terminal, it’s a different story

One of our own agents was traveling this week to Venice when United, due to a strike in Europe, cancelled their San Francisco to Frankfurt flight. (And as we disovered, Air France did the same thing with San Francisco to Paris.)

At the airport, it was chaos, and there was no help. After a long wait the check-in agent said there was nothing that day. Our agency found a Swiss Air flight and were able to get United on the phone, eventually, to redo her ticket.

I fully expect many readers to respond, “I’ve used agents and I can do a better job.” They might claim, “A travel agent messed up my booking,” or “He/she was clueless,” etc. I’ll admit, there are incompetent agents out there. But, perhaps another reason that travel agents will survive is that all but the fittest are gone or on their way to retirement.

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Posted in Travel Agent

Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic

Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa is located near the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic along a 40-mile stretch of spectacular beaches dotted with palm trees about an hour from the Punta Cana Airport. ATS owners Linda and Bill Cleveland visited this all-inclusive resort last month as part of a Punta Cana familiarization (fam) trip. This resort is rated 6 Golden Apples by Apple Vacations.

Dreams Punta Cana Wedding Gazebo

Dreams Punta Cana Wedding Gazebo

Just beyond the lobby of this compact, 620-room resort, one can see the beautiful gazebo, shown above, site of numerous weddings during their stay.

Dreams Punta Cana Pool

Dreams Punta Cana Pool

The largest pool in the Dominican Republic meanders throughout the resort complex so you are never far from a refreshing dip. The depth is only three feet.

Dreams Punta Cana Oceana Seafood Restaurant

The open-air Oceana Seafood Restaurant is located adjacent to the beach. The ocean breeze and delicious seafood entrees make this one of the best of the resort’s six a la carte restaurants. There is also an international buffet restaurant. No reservations are needed for dining at Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa. There is also 24-hour room service as well as pool and beach wait service. Linda and Bill experienced excellent service throughout the resort during their stay.

Dreams Punta Cana Swim-Out Rooms

Dreams Punta Cana Swim-Out Rooms

One of the unique features of Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa is its deluxe swim-out rooms made possible by the expansive pool. There are many of these rooms located throughout the resort.

Dreams Punta Cana Room

Dreams Punta Cana Room

All of the rooms and suites at Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa will have been refurbished by the end of 2011. The king standard room shown above includes the latest decor.

Dreams Punta Cana Swim-Up Bar

Dreams Punta Cana Swim-Up Bar

What all-inclusive resort would be complete without a swim-up bar? Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa is no exception as shown above.

Other resorts from their fam trip will be featured in future postings. At ATS we have the expertise and firsthand knowledge to help you plan your dream vacation at any of Apple Vacations‘ destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

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Posted in All-Inclusive, Apple Vacations, Punta Cana, Vacation

Sandals Royal Plantation in Jamaica

ATS travel consultants Alexandra Bohn, DS, ACC and Nancy Roberson have recently returned from a familiarization (fam) trip to Jamaica. One of the resorts where Alex and Nancy stayed was the all-inclusive Sandals Royal Plantation, an all-butler boutique resort in Ocho Rios and one of the Leading Hotels of the World. On the north coast of Jamaica, where the rolling St. Ann Mountains sweep down to two private cove beaches, this resort hosts 74 oceanview suites tucked into a coral bluff.

Nancy and Alex at Sandals Royal Plantation

Nancy and Alex at Sandals Royal Plantation

Sandals Royal Plantation grounds

Sandals Royal Plantation grounds

Sandals Royal Plantation Great Room

Sandals Royal Plantation Great Room

This all-butler, all-oceanview resort features 2 beaches, one for sunbathing, one for watersports; watersports including scuba diving (included for certified divers; nominal fee for resort dive certification), snorkeling, sailing, and windsurfing; spa (spa services for additional fee); golf at nearby Sandals Golf & Country Club (greens fees included); 3 gourmet restaurants including the award-winning Le Papillon serviing French cuisine; the Caribbean’s only Champagne & Caviar Bar (fee for caviar); 3 bars including a piano bar; and Stay at One, Play at privileges at Sandals Grande Riviera, providing 12 additional restaurants to choose from.

Sandals Royal Plantation suite

Sandals Royal Plantation suite

At ATS we have the expertise and firsthand knowledge to help you plan your dream vacation at any of Sandals’ destinations in Antigua, Bahamas, Jamaica, and St. Lucia. We are a Certified Sandals Specialist.

This blog entry is adapted from an ATS newsletter article. You may want to subscribe to Travels with ATS if you like this entry.

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Posted in All-Inclusive, Apple Vacations, Mexico, Vacation

Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa, Riviera Maya, Mexico

ATS owners Linda and Bill Cleveland accompanied a group of more than 100 members of the Maryland, Delaware, and District of Columbia Elks Association to Riviera Maya in Mexico earlier this year. They stayed at the Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa. The Elks used their earned group travel benefits to support Elks Camp Barrett, a camp designed to help young people of all backgrounds develop and grow by affording the opportunity of getting outdoors for adventure and fun. In the past five years, the Elks have raised over $16,000 for Elks Camp Barrett from group travel.

Grand Palladium Colonial Beach

Grand Palladium Colonial Beach

The Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa is an all-inclusive resort rated 5 Apples by Apple Vacations. It offers 24-hour food and beverage service, all meals and snacks, four à la carte restaurants, three buffet restaurants, unlimited imported drinks at thirteen bars, nightly entertainment, disco, four pools, six tennis courts, non-motorized watersports, spa, and much more! And remember, all-inclusive also means tips are included. The 836 air-conditioned rooms feature two double beds or one king bed, most bathrooms with tub, shower, hair dryer, in-room safe, coffee maker, mini-bar, ceiling fan, and terrace or balcony.

Grand Palladium White Sands Swim-Up Bar

Grand Palladium White Sands Swim-Up Bar

Grand Palladium Colonial

Grand Palladium Colonial

The Elks trip this year had an amazing price of less than $1,000 per person! That price was for round-trip airfare from Washington’s Dulles Airport, seven nights accommodations at the Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa, all meals, all drinks, entertainment,  taxes, government fees, gratuities, and transfers in Mexico.

The Maryland, Delaware and DC Elks are traveling next April to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, where they will stay at the 6 Golden Apple Dreams Punta Cana Resort & Spa for under $1,500 per person for a seven-night all-inclusive vacation. The Pennsylvania Elks will be at the the Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa in April with a price of just over $1,100 per person. If you are interested, please visit the ATS web site.

If you are interested in group travel to support a charitable cause, or to reduce the cost for each member of the group, please contact ATS, and we will be happy to explain to you the benefits of group travel.

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Posted in All-Inclusive, Apple Vacations, Mexico, Vacation

Iberostar Lindo Resort & Spa, Riviera Maya, Mexico

A while back I mentioned that Linda and I had recently returned from the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya, Mexico. This 4-night all-inclusive vacation included airfare, accommodations in a junior suite, all meals and snacks at an international buffet and seven specialty restaurants, 24-hour room service, unlimited imported and domestic drinks at  seven bars and lounges, six pools, water activities, fitness center, taxes, government fees, gratuities, and transfers in Mexico. The resort is rated 5+ Golden Apples by Apple Vacations.

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Junior Suite

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Junior Suite

This resort is one of Linda’s and my favorites. Our April trip there was our second trip to this resort. What we most like about the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo are the powdery white-sand beaches, the facilities, the food and service, and the year-around warm weather.

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Beach

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Beach

Most of the resorts in Riviera Maya have large pool areas, and the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo is no exception. The resort even boasts a wave pool and lazy river. The kids especially enjoy “walking on water” as one of the many pool activities.

Walking on Water at the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo

Walking on Water at the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo

Whatever you like on a vacation, your travel consultant can help you find it – and at the best value for you and your family. At the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa the food and service were top-notch as usual. The weather was superb – 86 degrees and breezy everyday! The Pina Coladas were refreshing. And the beach, pool, and ocean were perfect. Who could ask for a better vacation?

Next time: Grand Palladium Colonial and Kantenah Resort & Spa

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Posted in All-Inclusive, Apple Vacations

Travel Agent Appreciation Month

Guest Post by Gina West, Apple Vacations

Every year, Apple Vacations celebrates Travel Agent Appreciation Month during the month of May. This year is no exception. As a Senior Sales Manager with Apple Vacations, my primary role is to work hand-in-hand with our travel agent partners to keep them up-to-date on any new destinations, resorts and the latest hot deals. Yet, whenever I meet someone new and they discover what I do for a living, I’m often asked, “With all of the resources on the internet, why would anyone need to use a travel agent?”

Travel agents literally spend hundreds of hours each year continuing their education of destinations and resorts by participating in educational seminars and familiarization trips (FAMs) to keep their knowledge current. The internet is a great tool but the information is often conflicting, contradictory and confusing. A good travel agent uses all available resources plus their personal studies and experiences to ask the right questions and recommend the vacation that best fits your needs. In the long run, planning your vacation takes less time to qualify you and your family for the right vacation by using a travel agent.

If you’re still not convinced that it makes sense to use the services of a travel agent, consider this … Apple Vacations considers the travel agent’s input so critical to successful vacation planning that the cost of the travel agent’s services are already included in the cost of each and every Apple Vacation. That’s right – the cost of your Apple Vacation includes paying your travel agent to book your vacation with us for you so by not using a travel agent, you are in essence short-changing yourself and not getting the full benefit of the Apple Vacation product and service. Since your travel agent’s service is included in the cost of your trip, why not get all of your monies worth?

So, during the month of May, I hope you’ll join Apple Vacations and say “Thank You” for a job well done to the person who cares so much about you and your vacation experience… your local travel agent! If you don’t already have a personal travel agent, visit Ask An Agent on AppleVacations.com.

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Posted in Apple Vacations, Travel Agent

All-Inclusive Resorts in Riviera Maya, Mexico

All-inclusive resorts are an extremely popular vacation option in the Riviera Maya region just south of Cancun, Mexico. I am very surprised at how little most people understand about the concept and value of an “all-inclusive” vacation. So today’s post is meant to educate you about this type of vacation.

The first all-inclusive resort was a Club Med that opened in 1950. Over the past 10-20 years, many resort hotel companies have embraced the all-inclusive concept, especially in popular Caribbean locations like Mexico, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. American tour companies like Apple Vacations, one of our preferred suppliers, have packaged these resorts with airfare so that travel agencies can sell all-inclusive vacations to their clients.

The photo below shows the pool area at the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya. Linda and I vacationed there less than two weeks ago.

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Pool

Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa Pool

This 4-night all-inclusive vacation included airfare, accommodations in a junior suite, all meals and snacks at an international buffet and seven specialty restaurants, 24-hour room service, unlimited imported and domestic drinks at  seven bars and lounges, six pools, water activities, fitness center, taxes, government fees, gratuities, and transfers in Mexico.

All-inclusive means that once you pay for the trip, no money is needed unless you want to take an optional excursion or buy a souvenir in a resort boutique. We recommend that our clients take some small bills to tip bartenders, bar waiters, and restaurant waiters who really work hard to provide excellent service. But it is neither necessary nor expected to do so.

At the time of this post, booking this package with Apple Vacations for May 5 for 4 nights in a standard room (we upgraded to a junior suite) without insurance is $951.35 per person based on double occupancy. That’s for everything – airfare, transfers, resort accommodations, all your food, all your drinks, all your taxes, all your gratuities.

Just to give you an idea of special pricing often available from Apple Vacations, we have a group of over 100 people going to a comparable Riviera Maya resort later this month, and the rate for seven nights was only $1,160.94 per person. This group recognizes the value of an all-inclusive vacation!

Next time: More on the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya.

Posted in All-Inclusive, Mexico

Bora Bora and 1987 Television

Bora Bora will always have a special significance for Linda and me. I blogged last time about that, but now let’s answer the trivia question from the previous post: What entertainer taped a television show on the Liberte late in 1986 for a 1987 TV special?

The answer is Bob Hope, whose first television special of 1987  was called “Bob Hope’s Tropical Comedy Special From Tahiti.” His guests were Morgan Brittany, John Denver, Howard Keel, Jonathan Winters, Miss America Susan Akin and Miss Tahiti Ruth Manea. Bob Hope performed his monologue on the pool deck of the Liberte. The high point of the show was a parody of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” taped aboard an exact replica of the famous ship that had been built by director Dino DeLaurentis at Cook’s Bay, Moorea. The skit starred Hope as Captain Bligh, Howard Keel as the ship’s doctor, John Denver as Fletcher Christian and Jonathan Winters as a tribal chieftain with whose daughter Fletcher has fallen in love. The Bob Hope Show Backstage: Have Camera, Will Travel is a wonderful retrospective look at Bob Hope, his comedy writers, and television guests over the years.

Bob Hope taped his monologue aboard the Liberte the week of November 8-15, 1986. The reason I know this fact is that Linda and I cruised the Liberte one week later, November 15-22, 1986, on our very first cruise. Although the passengers, staff, and crew of the ship were thrilled that Bob Hope was aboard, the presence of Bob Hope’s television production crew and cast caused a lot of inconvenience for passengers. Although we would have loved to meet Bob Hope, Linda and I were happy to enjoy a more peaceful cruise.

I offer one last look at the beauty of Bora Bora.

Bora Bora Helicopter Ride

Aerial View of Bora Bora

The photo was taken during our second visit to Bora Bora in 2000 while we were touring the island by helicopter. Our ship can be seen in the background. We will never forget the beauty of the hues of blue and green in the lagoon.

Why not add Bora Bora to your own travel bucket list?

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Posted in ATS, Bora Bora, Cruise, Travel Bucket List

Bora Bora and the South Pacific

Bora Bora is what started it all.

Linda and I like to travel. We discovered that about one another shortly after we met. Trouble was, neither of us had traveled very much. Sure, we had taken Linda’s girls to Ocean City during the summers, and the four of us even went to Hawaii. But that was as exotic as it had ever been.

Things were about to change in 1986. Linda and I decided to take our very first cruise to celebrate her milestone birthday (I’ll let you do the math). After a lot of research, we decided on the Liberte, a 715-passenger, 23,500-ton ship belonging to now-defunct American Hawaii Cruises. We contacted a Frederick travel agency to help with the arrangements, since we recognized even then the importance of the personal service and expertise a good travel agent could provide us. This ship did a very exotic itinerary – after flying to Tahiti, we would sail to several of the Society Islands of French Polynesia in the South Pacific – Tahiti, Rangiroa, Huahine, Raiatea/Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Moorea.

The image below is my favorite personal scenery photograph ever. I took it while riding with Linda in an outrigger canoe around Bora Bora’s lagoon. The highest point of the island, Mount Otemanu, is visible in the distance. Bora Bora is truly the most beautiful island in the world.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora

We were hooked on cruising!  In fact, since Linda had always wanted to own her own business, her love of cruising lured her toward the travel business. Within 30 months of this trip, Linda and I would purchase Antietam Travel Service, a nearly five-year-old travel agency, incorporate the business, and continue beginning April 3, 1989, as Antietam Travel Service, Inc.

Interesting trivia related to this trip: What entertainer taped a television show on the Liberte late in 1986 for a 1987 TV special? Leave your guess in the Comments section – answer and details next time.

Linda and I have cruised more than 50 times since 1986 and two of those cruises were return trips to Bora Bora. Bora Bora is what started it all!

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Posted in ATS, Bora Bora, Cruise

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