Archive for May, 2010

PART 1: Family Travel Tips: Choosing a Family-Friendly Hotel

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Do your family vacations conjure the picnic scene from “National Lampoon’s Vacation?” Well don’t be afraid. This summer, I want your family vacation to be unforgettable for all the right reasons. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some important and practical family travel tips and ideas.

Planning is the key to success for your family vacation. You need to get everyone involved from the apathetic teen to the tantrum-laden three year old. Give each member of the family an equal stake in the trip’s success and you will cut down on mid-trip stand-offs and really increase the overall camaraderie. It’s as simple as letting each member choose a restaurant or an activity that you all participate in during the vacation. 

And there’s now a fun way to plan and book your trip. Visit http://www.virtualvacay.com. This hotels.com microsite, VirtualVacation, let’s you visit 10 top destinations and plan your trip before you ever arrive. It’s a great visually entertaining way to show kids where you are going and what the options are for when you get there. Plus you can make the wind blow in Chicago, the fireworks launch in San Francisco and so many more cool effects in the virtual world.

Choosing a child-friendly hotel can make all the difference for your success on a family vacation. It allows you to focus on the part that makes family travel matter, experiencing new things together and building shared memories, rather than the mechanics of adjusting to a hotel that would just as soon have you steal the towels than bring along the kids. 

Family-friendly amenities, include:

 1. Suites with kitchenettes

 2. Refrigerators available upon request

 3. Babysitting

 4. Cribs or rollaways upon request

 5. High chairs

 6. Children’s menus and eat-free programs

 7. On-call doctors

 8. Children’s welcome kits

 9. Children’s activity programs

10. Pint-sized furniture and amenities

Today, many hotels get “it.” The “it” being that family-friendly equals repeat business and lots of it.  Some hotels go well beyond children’s menus and in-room refrigerators with kid-suites – complete with bunk beds and pint-size furniture; others have kid size bathrobes and camp-like programs geared at entertaining toddlers to teenagers.

Here are a few hotel chain standouts in the world of accommodations for children.  But don’t just take just my word for it, remember to read guest reviews and see what other families like and dislike about a resort and then make the best decision for your trip. 

Consider the following hotel chains next time you are bringing your under 18 traveling companions.

Omni Hotels:  Omni takes kid friendly to the top with its Sensational Kids program.  There’s even a website for the kids to check out http://www.omnikidsrule.com. Omni Hotels in California, Texas and Boston also offer Kid’s Fantasy Suites that has kids bedding.

Kimpton Boutique Hotels: Kimpton’s family of boutique hotels are home to some of my best hotel experiences and their hospitality is not just for those over 5’.  The KimptonKids program makes it easier for families to travel by already having on hand the items you dislike packing such as safety kits. You’ll love the mini animal print robes to fit their junior guests. And if you think this is good, Kimpton is super pet-friendly, too.

Hyatt Resorts: Hyatt Resorts offer kids their own vacations with the Camp Hyatt programs found at resorts in the US, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Camp Hyatt has now teamed up with National Geographic Kids and features all new adventures loaded with eco-friendly activities, animal crafts and facts, photo safaris and tons of locally inspired activities.

Single Parent Travel tips: some resorts offer single parent discounts. For example, Breezes all-inclusive resorts have single parent months during August-October.

You can find all of the above-mentioned resorts and more on Hotels.com, and sort by family-friendly to narrow down your options when searching for the right spot for your next trip.

 
 

 

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Summer Steals: Free Concerts and Festivals

Monday, May 17th, 2010

My family at the Founder Day Festival in Melbourne Beach, FL

Wondering where to go this summer to have some fun and not blow the bank? Might I suggest a concert or festival? 

Summer is my favorite season because there is always something fantastic and FREE going on somewhere in this country. I recently attended the Founders Day Festival in Melbourne Beach, FL with my family and it was a day that included road races for grown-ups and kids, a fishing tournament (which my son, Travis, won for his age group), free entertainment, an arts & craft fair, food, and tons of fun. Taking advantage of events like this helps you to get to know a place better and enjoy it even more.

You can find free festivals and performances by local symphonies, orchestras, bands, and theatre groups in cities big and small from Ocean Isle Beach, NC to Nashville, TN and Olathe, KS.  Perhaps your favorite band will inspire your travel? So do some research, find the right venue and have some free fun this summer! Oh, and then tell me about it! I’d love to hear about your adventures, too!

I’ve listed a few of the big summer celebrations below that are definitely worth checking out with a recommendation or two on where to stay.

 
 

 

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Best Hotel Upgrade Strategies

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Checkout this article from the June issue of Travel + Leisure in which I discuss how to get a free upgrade in a hotel room.

 
 

 

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Take Advantage of Memorial Day Travel Deals

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Summer is finally here! Memorial Day is the true kick-off to my favorite season and it’s also a great time to take advantage of a long weekend and some great travel deals!

Let me give you a few tips for saving $$. 

  1. Airfare can be higher for a holiday weekend, so keep an eye on deals to cities that you like on www.airfarewatchdog.com and if you can travel Saturday to Tuesday – you will save.
  2. Plan a road trip (within 4-6 hours) for the long weekend. 
  3. Look for hotel deals such as Stay 2 nights, get the 3rd night FREE, or Save 30%.
  4. Consider visiting equally great but less known and less expensive destinations.  For example: Myrtle Beach, SC versus Hilton Head, SC.   Captiva Island, FL versus Cancun, MX.  Encinitas, CA versus San Diego.

Below are just a few of the excellent Memorial Day Deals that I spotted on Hotels.com. For a complete list, check it out here.

Acapulco, Mexico

Copacabana Beach Hotel by Acapulco Golf Course

3 star, 3.8 hotels.com guest rating, 75% recommended

Save 20%


Chicago

Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago

5 star, 4.9 hotels.com guest rating, 98% recommended

Stay 3 or more nights, save 30%


Key West

The Inn at Key West

3.5 star, 4.3 hotels.com guest rating, 89% recommended

Save 20%


Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Viva Wyndham Azteca All-Inclusive

3 star, 4.4 hotels.com guest rating, 89% recommended

Save 31%


San Diego

The Dana on Mission Bay – Sea World

3 star, 4.3 hotels.com guest rating, 88% recommended

Save 30%

 
 

 

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VirtualVacation Launches from Hotels.com

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

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Want to visit the Statue of Liberty or take a walk down the Las Vegas Strip? Hotels.com launched a new augmented reality microsite this week, VirtualVacation, which offers consumers a first-of-its-kind opportunity to explore 10 of the most popular destinations in the U.S., including  New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver, San Diego and Seattle. You can also go to the top right corner of the site and vote for the next city to be added to the site.

Through the use of visual storytelling and live interaction, the site provides a view of a real world environment whose elements are fused with computer-generated imagery. You ca interact via webcam motion detection and microphone interactivity, activated by a physical printed ‘marker’ or smart phone image.  Once the 3D image of the city appears,you can navigate the site and choose which city and adventure to experience.

You are also given the opportunity to modify local landmarks, customize street signs, land a plane at the airport, and even insert themselves into a postcard and send to friends and family through social networking sites. The site provides you with useful trip planning information, including local weather, event information, and special deals in each city. Travelers can plan their trip and book a vacation right through the site, with the help of SMART (voiced by Ed Helms from “The Office”), Hotels.com’s animated spokesperson, who helps guide visitors through each city.  

Check it out!

 
 

 

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Thank Mom With the Gift of Travel

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Whether you have a mother, you’re married to one, or simply know a mother worth celebrating, give the gift of travel this Mother’s Day. (Is someone taking notes to pass along to my husband?)

Here’s the thing, you don’t have to rush into a trip this weekend, although a last minute getaway is always a thrill. You can surprise her this Sunday with the big news that she is receiving a trip, a weekend, or a night – as the case may be. Perhaps a great overnight trip to your nearby downtown for dinner, a great hotel, spa, etc.? Maybe a weekend for shopping or the beach is just what she’s been hoping for? It’s nice for us mothers to be recognized as the friends, lovers, and adventurers that we also may be!

Here are a few more ideas:

For the Shopper: I know it’s scary, men, but let’s face it we girls like to shop. What better place to visit than the home of the first shopping mall – Dallas, TX.  Stay at Hotel Zaza or the Sheraton Dallas North.  Checkout The Galleria Dallas and the boutiques of The West Village.  Or maybe try the biggest mall in the U.S., The Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN. Stay at nearby Marriott Bloomington.

For Relaxation: How about a weekend at the beach or at a spa? Scottsdale, AZ is home to so many great relaxing spas and resorts like the FireSky Resort & Spa and The Boulders Resort.  Savannah, GA is one of my favorite destinations; steeped in history, great food, shops and the beautiful coastal beaches of Tybee Island. Stay in the historic Eliza Thompson House or The Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront.

The Staycation: Remember, you don’t have to go far to really get away. Leave the kids at home and take the mother in your life to a charming bed and breakfast nearby or a downtown boutique hotel; have dinner after 7pm because you rarely do that with the kids in tow; and sleep in the next day. 

Need More Ideas? Still not sure where to go or what to do? Hotels.com just launched http://www.virtualvacay.com.  A fun, useful, virtual vacation Website that lets you check out a destination and all it has to offer before you actually plan or take the trip.  It’s a great way to get excited about an upcoming vacation and an even better way to say Thanks to Mom. 

 
 

 

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Blame It On The Weather

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Boy can weather create havoc for vacationers.  It can be terribly frustrating to be stuck in an airport or to change accommodations during an unforeseen weather event. So what can you do to mitigate some of the frustration and angst thousands of travelers experience each year whether it’s an Icelandic volcano, regional flooding, a hurricane in Mexico or a blizzard in Colorado?

Before You Travel

  1. Know before you go. Watch the news, check the weather, travel advisories from your airlines, and call your embassy (if you are traveling internationally) to be aware of any event, weather or otherwise, which could impact your trip.
  2. Keep a paper copy of all important phone numbers: airline and hotel customer service, cruises and car rentals, tour operators, family members, schools, doctors, etc. You never know when you’ll be stranded and the cell phone can’t get a signal or the battery is dead but there will be a phone somewhere. Be ready.

When You Book

  1. Know the cancellation and rebooking policies of your hotel. In most cases with a major weather event, hotels will refund, cancel or reschedule guests without penalty much like the airlines.
  2. Find out if the hotel you’re staying in has provisions for guests to stay in the hotel if a weather event hits.  If not, what options does it provide? (think hurricane)
  3. Ask your airline about its policies for helping stranded travelers. Many carriers will voluntarily refund or rebook passengers (at a later date) because it is better to do that than to have thousands of stuck passengers in airports.
  4. Research if the tour operator and/or charter flight company handles getting you back home in the event of a hurricane OR if you have to return early because a major storm is forecasted for your destination. 
  5. Use a credit card (not a debit card) to pay for your vacation.  You can always file a claim with your credit card company for services or goods that you have not received. 

Trip Insurance

Travel insurance is probably a good option for you if you can’t afford to lose the money you have already spent on the vacation. Read the fine print to understand what is included in the coverage. Do your homework and shop around for a policy that meets your specific needs. If you have to cancel your trip, be sure you follow the exact rules of your policy for cancellation. 

In the case of the Icelandic volcano, many travelers had not fully acquainted themselves with their insurance policy and are now finding themselves without sufficient cover and out of pocket on some hefty travel expenses.

In Transit

Let the frustration begin. Sometimes it’s just your good luck that you get stuck at one end of a trip.

  1. Immediately, get in line AND get on the phone with the airlines’ customer service representatives and start to make reservation inquiries that way.  You can probably get through faster and they may also have information more readily available, as well. 
  2. Same is true for hotels. Check immediately if you anticipate needing to extend or cancel a reservation. The more notice that a hotel/travel company has, the more accommodating that they can be. 
 
 

 

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