Category Archives: Travel

Getaway to the Naples Grande Beach Resort

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I had the opportunity to spend a long weekend at the Waldorf Astoria Collection’s Naples Grande Beach & Golf Resort in Naples, on the Southwest coast of Florida. For us, it’s an easy 2 hour drive to get to Naples, and we like to be able to get away from the routine for a weekend. This time, we found an excellent rate for this resort, and jumped at the opportunity (note that this was not a travel agent rate, but a rate we obtained from one of our suppliers).

Before I get to my impressions of the hotel, I feel like I need to note how impressed I was with the hotels social media presence, specifically on twitter. It’s very common for companies to have a twitter account. Unfortunately, it’s also common for them to use it as a one-way street to post notices, offer, etc., instead of using it as a true media tool. That is not the case with the Naples Grande, whose twitter account is @NaplesGrande. I made my reservation just a couple of days before arriving. I immediately twitted that I was staying there, and was twitted back promptly offering any help I may need. I asked for an early check in, if possible, and was told they were going to try to accommodate me. As I was on my way to Naples a couple of days later, I got a tweet letting me know that my early check in was now confirmed! Kudos to the hotel’s social media department…

View Towards the Coast

The hotel is very well located, directly on the coast, not far from downtown Naples. The only drawback is that it’s not directly on the beach (although you won’t see that mentioned in the hotel’s website). There’s a marsh area between the hotel and the beach. You go down to the pool and take a golf cart to the beach. It takes about 10 minutes, and is really no big deal. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to get a typical Florida afternoon thunderstorm and want to get to back at the same time 100 other people are trying to! The beach itself, however, is beautiful, quiet, the sea is more like a pool, and the facilities and restaurant are adequate.

Room at the Naples Grande Resort

The resort building is nicely decorated, as are the ample rooms. Ours had 2 double beds and an extra large bathtub (no jacuzzi, though). Wifi is provided as part of the inevitable resort fee (that’s a rant for another time). In short, the room and the hotel grounds are comfortable, nice, nothing over the top…

The only negative points, which I wouldn’t have expected in a hotel of this quality, were bed sheets with a hole in one of the corners and a slightly moldy shower curtain. Also surprising was that there was no mini-fridge in the room, although they sent us one when we asked. The other surprising issue was that there is no elevator access to the garage. You either valet (at an additional cost) or take the stairs (luggage, stroller, sleeping child, etc., included).

The pool are is very nice. There are 2 pools, one of which has a sloped entry for children and a waterslide. This is the more popular of the 2 among families, and it was always full.

The Resort's Beach

To me, what makes or breaks a resort, is service. Here, I can’t find fault with the Naples Grande (although I have a good client who may disagree). The 2 requests we had for our room where there in less than 15 minutes. Service at the beach and the pool was always friendly and prompt. The pool staff went out of their way to find chairs for us and find a place for us around the pool where there was enough shadow. Our early check in and late check out requests were happily granted. To me, that is much more meaningful and important than a sheet with a hole in it.

Going back to the location of the hotel, there are plenty of things to do close by. Dining and shopping options can be found 3 minutes from the hotel. Downtown Naples and 5th Ave. is less than 10 minutes away, and we found a very nice park just South of 5th Ave., with the biggest children’s playground we’ve seen!

We definitely enjoyed our time at the Naples Grande and would not hesitate to go back. In fact, we most likely will, and are looking forward to it.

I would love to help you plan your next vacation to Naples or any other place. Please contact us for details or to have us plan your next vacation!

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
kctravel.nexion.net
kctravel@bellsouth.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

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The Marriott Los Sueños

Whenever we go to Costa Rica to visit family in San Jose, we try to go somewhere else and visit other parts of the country. It may be a weekend in Manuel Antonio or a day trip to the Poas Volcano National Park. This time we only had one night we could get away, so we decided to go to the Marriott Los Sueños, on Herradura Beach, about 2 hours drive from San Jose.

Los Sueños is a hotel and residential complex very popular among well to do locals. Many have their beach homes or apartments in the same complex as the hotel. To get to Los Sueños from San Jose, go past the airport and follow the signs towards Jaco, until you start to see the signs for the hotel itself. Go pass the complex’s security gate and drive to the hotel.

We got there around 1:00 pm on a Sunday, and our room wasn’t ready. Check in time is 3:00 pm, by the way. Instead of waiting for the room, we left our luggage and drove to Jaco for lunch. Jaco is the biggest town in the area, and is very popular among young American tourists for its surfing. It has seen tremendous development over the last few years, with new hotels and residential buildings having been erected since the last time I was there.  Jaco is maybe a 15 minute drive from Los Sueños, so it’s really convenient for a change of scenery and to go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner. We had a very good pizza at Rioasis and went back to the hotel.

View of the hotel's rooftops

View of the hotel's rooftops

Once back at the hotel, we checked in and went to our room to rest. As you can see from the pictures, the hotel is built in a Colonial style, with red and yellows being the dominant colors. It really gives it a nice, rustic feel to it. The rooms are ample and comfortable, with most of the amenities you would expect. Wifi, however, hasn’t made it here yet, and wired Internet costs $12/day (charging for Internet is still something I can’t understand from hotels that call themselves 4 or 5 stars). It goes without saying to be careful of the minibar prices. If you want to get some snacks or groceries, though, there’s a very well stocked super market not far away (at the turn off from the highway into Los Sueños).

Hotel Grounds

Hotel Grounds

Even though the hotel is on the beach, the hotel’s main attraction is the pool, which extends across the gardens and almost into the restaurants. There are plenty of loungers around the pool and in the garden itself, and some hammocks as well. The morning we were there, they were playing slow,  relaxing music, which was then replaced by high energy music during a water aerobics class.

The beach itself is a disappointment. The sand is dark and coarse, and is just not very appealing. It’s no wonder there was no one there that morning. Everyone was by the pool.

View of the hotel from the pool area

View of the hotel from the pool area

In conclusion, this is a very nice hotel for a relaxing night or 2, and its pool is definitely a big draw. It’s closeness to San Jose  is a plus, especially if you want to stay somewhere outside of the city before an afternoon flight home. There are also plenty of tour opportunities in the area, which can be arranged in advance or at the hotel. This includes ziplining, fishing, and visits to several National Parks.

If you’re beach people, though, you’d better pass on this and go to Guanacaste or Manuel Antonio. In fact, that’s what most of my clients do.

View of the hotel from the beach

View of the hotel from the beach

Costa Rica is one of my favorite destinations for the variety of activities it offers, and the Marriott Los Sueños is a fine hotel to experience part of your stay from, but there are definitely other locations in the country that I like better than this one.

If you’d like help planning a vacation in Costa Rica, or anywhere else, please contact us.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Repositioning Cruises

If you’re looking for very good deals for a cruise, you’ll often be told to look for a repositioning cruise. So, what is a repositioning cruise? As the cruising seasons change, cruise lines need to relocate (or reposition) their ships where demand is stronger and where they can command better prices. Other factors that play into moving ships around like this are weather patterns (like the Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season) and the need to provide repeat cruisers with new itineraries in different regions or ports.

The two most common types of repositioning cruises are:

  1. Transatlantic cruises: Ships leave the Caribbean for Europe in the Spring and return from the Old World in the Fall. This also coincides with the hurricane season for the Caribbean routes, and this is when cruise lines keep the fewest ships in the area (most likely for financial reasons than climatic ones, though).
  2. Transcanal cruises: Cruise lines often advertise Panama Canal cruises of around 10 days leaving and coming back to Florida. In reality, these sailings enter the canal, reach Gatun Lake, turn around, and come back to Florida. However, as the Alaska sailing season begins in May, and again when it ends in September and October, ships make a full transit of the canal as they move from one coast to the other.

Other repositioning cruises are made when ships come back from South America to the Caribbean, from Alaska or the West Coast to Asia or Australia, etc.

So, how good are the deals for these cruises? Sometimes they’re really good. Back in April, I have clients who traveled on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale to the UK, and paid $700 per person for a 13-day cruise, and sailed on Balcony cabins! Granted, this was an extremely good deal, but not really unheard of. This one for Celebrity Century’s trip back in November comes close.

The main drawback of repositioning cruises is usually the airfare. By definition, you need to purchase one-way tickets, which especially for international flights, tend to be expensive. However, I just came across one offer from Royal Caribbean that solves this problem. They are moving the Enchantment of the Seas from Fort Lauderdale and Colon, Panama. They have also chartered flights to return passengers back to Miami. This allows them to offer much better prices and lock the air fares as well:

RCCL Enchantment Repositioning

As you can see in the flier above, prices for this 8 day sailing start at $749 per person, including the flight back! This is less than $100 per person per night, for a cruise that goes all the way South to Cartagena, and includes the flight back to Miami. It’s really pricing that you don’t see very often. Of course, the also offer cruise only pricing for those who want to stay in Panama longer, or who want to fly back directly.

If you would like to know more about repositioning cruises, or want to look into booking this sailing of the Enchantment, please let me know.
Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Time to Go Back to Mexico?

It seems that the swine flu scare is subsuding, just a few weeks after it made the front pages.  On May 15th, the CDC removed its recommendation to avoid traveling to Mexico.

On the cruise front, Royal Caribbean is resuming visits to Mexican ports of call on sailings starting on May 24th. Carnival has also announced that it will resume its stops in Mexico once their already modified itineraries run their course. In fact, I’ve already started to receive requests for short cruises to the Western Caribbean, which stop in Cozumel, such as this one. Mexican Riviera sailings will also be restored.

Even if cruise lines were affected economically by the epidemic, they were still able to operate and most guests elected to sail the modified itinerary. Hotels and resorts didn’t fare as well. Some chains, like Iberostar and Occidental, were forced to close some of their hotels, with the effect that has on the company and its employees.  Guests in the affected hotels were upgraded to the more upscale resorts that remained open.

Guests may not return as quickly as people would hope, so companies are enticing tourists to come back with discount and even assurances. Occidental Resorts is offering free nights, starting with every second night free at the Occidental Grand Xcaret and  the Grand Cozumel, all the way to every 4th night free at the luxurious Royal Hideaway.

Free Nights from Occidental Resorts

Free Nights from Occidental Resorts

AMResorts' Flu Free Vacations

AMResorts, owner of the Dreams, Secrets, and Zoetry brands, announced a Flu Free Guarantee. If a guest contracts Influenza A – H1N1 while staying at one of their resorts, their next three vacations will be free of charge. In order to qualify, the guest must have reserved their stay between May 8, 2009 and June 30, 2009 for travel taking place between May 8, 2009 and December 20, 2009 (see the website for more details).
More offers are available from other companies, so if you want to hear about them and plan your next trip, let us know.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Swine Flu in Mexico

By now you’ve most likely heard about the swine flu epidemic in Mexico, and to a lesser extent, in the U.S. So, what do you do if you have plans to travel to Mexico? First, check often for updated from the CDC and the State Department.

At this time, the CDC is recommending that people avoid non essential travel to Mexico. In general, you should also follow the CDC’s recommendations for avoiding catching the desease:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Try to avoid contact with sick people.
  • Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

Some airlines, such as Continental, Delta, United, American, and others, have relaxed their change and cancelation policies for people traveling to and from Mexico. Some tour operators I work with, like Travel Impressions and  Funjet Vacations, are also working with customer who want to reschedule or cancel their upcoming trips to that country.

Moreover, classes at all levels have been suspended across the country, and the American Embassy has suspended all but the most essential services. This clearly is proof of how serious people are taking this outbreak.

At this time, however, no cruise line has announced plans to alter itineraries that call on Mexican ports, but they have indicated that measures will be taken to reduce the chance of outbrakes on their ships.

If you are (or were) planning a trip to Mexico, please comment on how this epidemic is affecting your plans.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Photo Workshop in St. Lucia

For those of you who share my 2 hobbies of travel and photography, this is a great opportunity. Anse Chastenet resort, in the island of St. Lucia, is offering a photo workshop with renowned photographer Joe McNally, and a special session with Scott Kelby, a Photoshop expert.  The week will be an informative, intensive look at the possibilities of small flash, and the nature of what is beautiful light and how to use it to make your pictures more eloquent and expressive. Each day will involve shooting all around the lush grounds of the resort, working with models, heading into jungle locations for action flash photography of mountain biking. During the “bad light” of the day, classroom sessions will take place discussing the theory and the practical use of flash photography. Each day of shooting will be followed the next day with a critique of the efforts in the field. The critique sessions will spur further investigation of the practical, fluid use of flash photography and how to improve your skills.

Kelby will finish up the workshop with a session on post-production skills, bringing the photographic experience to a full circle.

For those of you not familiar with St. Lucia, the island offers not only the beautiful beaches you expect in the Caribbean, but also a lush interior landscape, thanks to its volcanic origin. The omnipresent Pitons, perhaps one of the most recognizable sights in the Caribbean, provide a backdrop for framatic landscapes.

The island also offers vibrant towns with a rich cultural heritage, a variety of hiking trails, horseback riding, and even turtle and whale watching.

The workshop starts on July 5th and costs $1500 per person, and the 6-night package at Anse Chastenet costs $1475 per person, based on double occupancy. It includes round trip transfers, all meals, taxes, and service.

If you’d like more information on the workshop, or just on visiting St. Lucia, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll be happy to help you plan your St. Lucia vacation.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171

Starwood Hotels to Celebrate Earth Hour

Starwood Hotels, the company that represents such brands as Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, and the new Element and Aloft, has announced that their properties will participate in this weekend’s Earth Hour. For one hour, the hotels will turn off their signs, dimming or turning off non-essential interior lighting, using candlelight in public areas such as restaurants and bars, and informing guests about the hotel’s observation of Earth Hour through in-room voicemail messages and guest room television messages to encourage them to do the same.

In addition, hotels are coordinating additional events to highlight awareness, such as walk-a-thons in their local communities, public candlelight unplugged concerts, and guest receptions featuring signature green cocktails.

According to their press release, Starwood is rolling out initiatives to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, and improve environmental quality at their properties. I couldn’t find specific details on these initiatives, but their corporate environmental policy, which reads:

We, at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., believe that economic growth and the well-being of society are inextricably tied to the health of the environment. Accordingly, we embrace our responsibility for environmental stewardship and are committed to integrating leading environmental practices and sustainability principles into our core business strategy.

Through collaboration with our hotel owners, franchisees, suppliers and business partners, we will actively work to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities and to continually improve and innovate on practices aimed at:

  • conserving natural resources,
  • minimizing waste and pollution,
  • enhancing indoor environmental quality,
  • establishing and reporting on key environmental performance indicators, and
  • raising environmental awareness among our associates, guests and communities.

We acknowledge that, in many ways, we, like the global community we serve, are only in the early stages of developing and implementing the many changes that will be necessary to achieve these vital goals. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that our efforts to support a healthy environment serve the interests of both current and future generations and constitute the foundation for enduring success.

As part of that corporate policy, Starwood is proud that have launched Element, the first major hotel brand to mandate that all hotels in the US (there’s currently 4 of them) pursue the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification.
I think what Starwood is doing is commendable, and I hope the Earth Hour initiative is just a sign of their efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

Regards,

Enrique Brener
KC Travel
N. Miami Beach, FL
www.kctravel.jurni.net
info@kctravel.jurni.net
305-792-0618
FL Seller of Travel Reg. TI-35171