Category Archives: Trip Reviews

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

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

A New Solstice

A few weeks ago, we had the fortune to sail on Celebrity’s brand new ship, Solstice.  We were invited by the cruise line to a 2-night pre-inaugural cruise, where they showcased the ship to travel agents and some top customers.  This was a very exciting event because this is Celebrity’s first new ship since the Constellation was launched in 2002.  It is also now the largest ship in Celebrity’s fleet, and is the first in a class of at least 3 more ships, starting with the Equinox, to debut later this year.

Some of the ship’s main points are:

  • It carries more than 2850 passengers
  • It has 1425 staterooms. 85% of them have balconies, and 90% have ocean views
  • It is over 1000 ft. long and 121 ft. wide
  • It cruises at 24 knots

Here are my impressions of the ship…

Solstice

The ship is very nicely decorated; the different common areas seem to blend with each other, and it just looks like a very elegant hotel. Everything was in working order, and as you’d expect on a new ship, very clean and well cared for. These pictures of the main atrium and the ship’s solarium will give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Main Atrium

Main Atrium

Solarium

Solarium

The ship was fairly easy to navigate, with most restaurants and bars on decks 4 and 5, and the rest on the Lido deck by the pool. There were several spaces where you could just take a book and “hide”, both indoors and out.

Staterooms

We boarded the ship around noon and headed straight to our stateroom, which was ready for us. We stayed in stateroom 9106, a Balcony stateroom on the Panorama deck, forward. We also toured different types of staterooms, from Inside cabins, all the way to the largest and most expensive suites.

The cabins on Solstice have been designed with passenger comfort in mind. Of course, they use the latest technology, like flat screen TVs and WiFi (WiFi is actually available throughout the ship, and has an additional fee).  Storage space was sufficient, and it included space under the beds. As usual in cruise ships, beds can be configured as 2 twins or 1 queen.

Balcony Stateroom

Perhaps the biggest improvement was in the bathroom. It was larger than in most cruise ships and more ergonomically designed. The shower was rounded, with sliding doors.

One very cool thing Celebrity did when designing the staterooms is to invite 5 women to participate in the design process. The women were an experienced cruiser, a hotelier, a travel agent, a travel writer, and a potential cruiser. Their insights resulted in redesigned layouts for better ocean views, improvements to storage, softer colors, and a more efficient use of space overall.

The ship has the typical range of accommodations, from Inside and Oceanview cabins to Balcony staterooms and Suites. It also has 2 categories unique to Celebrity:

  • Concierge Class cabins are Balcony Staterooms that offer additional amenities, such as early embarkation and debarkation, priority for shore excursions, express luggage delivery, dining and seating preference, and a host of in-cabin goodies.
  • Aqua Class cabins, new on the Solstice, adds to the Concierge Class by offering a more relaxed atmosphere through unlimited access to the ship’s AquaSpa relaxation room and Persian Garden, programming and wellness classes, and exclusive access to Blu Restaurant.

Dining

Without a doubt, one of the more anticipated aspects of any cruise, is dining. Food aboard Solstice was certainly plentiful. We had breakfast and lunch at the Oceanview Cafe on the Lido deck. Breakfast had your usual assortment of cold cuts and cheeses, plus several other selections, and an egg station. Lunch was also varied, with stations for pizza and pasta, sandwiches, and a very popular (and very good) Asian grill, in addition to salads and other hot food options.  The quality of the food was OK to good. Nothing terrible, but nothing to write home about either. The low point, as I’ve found to be true of most buffets, was dessert. One other negative point is that food was not always labeled, so you had to keep asking if a dish was chicken or pork, or what kind of fish was used.

We had dinner at the main restaurant, the Grand Epperny, which spans 2 decks. Food here was actually very good to excellent. I had fish both nights, and they were very well prepared and presented. The salads and soups I had were also very good. Even the creme brulee was excellent!

Grand Eperny Restaurant

Grand Epperny Restaurant

We also tried the gelato at Cafe al Bacio, which was very good, and the crepes at Bistro On Five. The crepes were good, but our Nutella crepe came with chocolate instead of Nutella (I think that was a misunderstanding with the waiter, though).

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the specialty restaurants, of which Solstice has 4.

Service

As you get to know me through this blog, you’ll realize that I’m a very tough customer when it comes to service. I know things don’t always go as expected, but well trained service providers should be ready to anticipate and respond to those situations.  That is certainly how I run my agency.

In any case, service on Solstice was very good. We didn’t have any problems, and service was unobtrusive and efficient. This includes the stateroom attendants, restaurants, pool area, bars, etc.

I did hear a report of room service taking up to 2 hours, but I couldn’t verify it, and I find that hard to believe. In any case, if that were true, I can’t believe Celebrity would ignore the problem.

Pool Area

Always one of the busiest areas on a ship, this is no exception on Solstice. There are loungers all around the Lido and part of the Lawn Club Deck, as well as in the Solstice Deck, the highest deck. The Solstice deck was actually one of my favorite places. It has a very relaxed atmosphere, perfect for taking in the sun and reading on one of the extra large loungers.

Pool Area

Pool Area

Pool Area

Pool Area

Other Common Areas

The ship has plenty of spaces to pass the time, day and night. I won’t describe them all here, but will tell you the more popular ones were the Martini Club, the Entertainment Court, with access to Quasar and Celebrity Central, and where an a capella quartet performed nightly, and the shopping arcade.

Martini Club

Martini Club

Entertainment

We saw 2 of the nightly shows that will be performed on Solstice’s 7-night sailings. Solstice is a Cirque du Soleil style show which was very impressive for something being performed on a moving ship. The downside was that sometimes it felt too long or too slow.

The other show we saw was Ghostlight, a review of Broadway songs. This one was very good, very lively, and well executed.

There were other venues with comedians, bands, etc., but I can’t comment on those.

The other big entertainment outlet is the casino. It is big, as you’d expect, and has a variety of slot machines, plus the usual blackjack and poker tables, roulette, and craps.

Other Innovations

Celebrity waited 6 years to introduce a new ship, so you’d expect a few new things.  Granted, this is not a ship that will have a surfing pool or bowling lanes. The more visible innovations are:

  • The Lawn Club, an area on the top deck with real grass. The area is supposed to be used for putting, croquet, and just strolling. Most of the time we were aboard, the lawn “was resting”, so you couldn’t walk on it.

    The Lawn Club

    The Lawn Club

  • The Glass Show, right next to the Lawn Club, features a glass blowing show presented by the Corning Museum of Glass. The show was very interesting and well presented. Pieces from the show are exhibited, but not sold, on board, and are auctioned for charity.

    The Glass Show by the Corning Glass Museum

    The Glass Show by the Corning Glass Museum

The other improvements have to do more with efficiency and “greening” the cruise ship. A synthetic paint is used to reduce drag and fuel consumption; LED lighting has been implemented; and solar panels have been installed to generate electricity. They don’t supply power to all the ship, but every little thing helps.

Summary

I can’t cover all aspects of the ship in this review. There are parts of the ship I barely had time to see, like the spa and the gym. Others may not be representative of what you’d see on a regular 7-day cruise. Still others may continue to improve as the crew gets used to the ship and fine tunes the service, quality of food, etc.

However, all in all, I think the experience was very positive. I’ve never had a complaint from a Celebrity passenger, and I think most will be happy with Solstice. As with Celebrity in general, this ship is not best suited to people who want to party 24×7, and there are lines that are more oriented towards children’s needs.

I do recommend Celebrity, and Solstice in particular, to couples who enjoy a more sophisticated atmosphere, to cruisers who enjoy Celebrity’s other ships and want to try something a little bigger, and to multi-generational families, who will find something for everyone aboard her.

The Solstice is currently sailing from Fort Lauderdale to the Eastern Caribbean, and will move to the Mediterranean in April, from where she’ll sail 10 to 12 night itineraries. Space is also still available on the repositioning Transatlantic cruises (in April and November).

If you’ve already sailed aboard Solstice, or are planning to, I’d love to hear your impressions or expectations, so please enter your comments below.

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