Vine + Table: Seven Travel-Savvy Tips
For the July 16th 2012 issue of my column, Vine+Table, in Cincy Chic, I shared tips for finding a luxury summer vacation online without getting burned.
|Terrah at the Grand Riviera Princess Resort|
With literally hundreds of online travel sites screaming for your attention, and biased bloggers promoting vacation deals for places they’ve never been, how do you know that your dream vacation will turn out to be as picture perfect as it appears online? Fortunately, there are reliable sites (I personally recommend tripadvisor.com) and some simple steps you can take to ensure your dream getaway doesn’t turn out to be a mirage.
Step 1: Make a wish (a wish list, that is)
Write down your goals for the trip. This will allow you to stay focused when bombarded by a barrage of travel deals. If they don’t align to your vacation goals, then move on. What are you looking for in a vacation? Adventure? Relaxation? What type of resort do you want? Boutique? Adult-only? All inclusive (my personal recommendation)? What is your maximum budget? How much time do you want to spend traveling? Mexico is a personal favorite because a direct flight to Cancun takes under three hours where if I were going to Bora Bora, that flight is over 20 and costs significantly more. Do you want to spend all of your time and money in the air or are you willing to stay closer to home and save all around?
Step 2: Do your homework
You can find the best deals online, but you have to look for them. Some of my favorite sites allow you to select multiple criteria (location, travel dates, budget) in addition to showing you current deals. Check out these sites: tripadvisor.com,travelzoo.com, AppleVacations.com, BookIt.com, CheapCarribean.com,SunsetBeachVacations.com, UnitedVacations.com, eurotrip.com, andVacationExpress.com.
Step 3: Call your agent
Another way to find travel deals with a personal touch is to call your travel agent. They can tailor your vacation and often give personal testaments to favorite destinations and advice on where to avoid. It doesn’t mean you have to book with this agent, but she might share vacation deals that aren’t available online.
Step 4: Trim the fat
Use your wish list to narrow down your search to your top five locations. Now it’s time to do some research.
Step 5: Check with your advisor
tripadvisor.com offers unbiased, real reviews of hotels and vacations from travelers, including photos and travel advice. Simply search for the hotel you are considering and start reading. Based on real reviews and ratings, you can get a good feel for the hotel on your list. I recommend reading as many reviews as possible (good and bad) and making your choice wisely. Be cautious of reviews from competitors and employees. You’ll be able to sift through these pretty easily. The forum also allows you to contact any posting traveler if you have a question.
Step 6: Book it
Now it’s time to book your trip. If you are purchasing a package from a travel site, I also recommend using Google to see what others say about the company. If they have a bad reputation online, steer clear. Also, be sure to read all the fine print and invest in travel insurance. Anything can happen on vacation, including bad weather, sickness, and flight delays. You’ll want to make sure you are covered in any event.
Step 7: Give back
Now that you’ve visited the resort, experienced the culture and sampled the food, it’s time to return the favor. Let other travelers know about your vacation by logging into your account on trip advisor and giving them an honest review (sooner the better so you don’t forget the details). Would you recommend this resort to a friend or family member? Did the hotel represent itself honestly online? Did you feel safe in the city or country? Don’t forget to tell other travelers about the café with world’s best clams and that dive bar where all the locals hung out. Your review will help someone else make the right choice for their vacation investment.
Keep reading to hear about my tried-and-true online vacation find at all inclusive,Grand Rivera Princess, All Suites and Spa Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Budget: $2500, all inclusive (2 adults, seven days)
Vacation Wish list:
Luxury resort (min. 4 stars), direct flight, beach, all-inclusive (food, drink, airfare, transportation), on-site spa, oceanfront suite, safety, top shelf liquors, multiple dining options, adult-only options.
After all the research and reading through real life horror stories of holidays gone bad, I finally honed in on a vacation destination that met all of our requirements. VacationExpress.com was promoting 6 days, 7 nights at four-star all inclusiveGrand Rivera Princess, All Suites and Spa Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, only an hour from Cancun for $670, all in. The all-inclusive plan at the Grand Riviera Princess was plentiful for the price, including luxury room accommodations; unlimited meals and snacks; unlimited beverages including domestic and international alcoholic drinks; in-room mini-bar with soft drinks, bottled water and beer. Honestly, even after all of the research I’d done, I was still hesitant about the legitimacy of the deal. However, the hundreds of positive reviews on trip advisor (1,318 out of 1,896 positive reviews to be exact) led me to believe that this was the real deal, and it most certainly was. After our weeklong stay at Grand Riviera Princess, my expectations were exceeded and here is what I found to be tried and true.
In all of its glory, the opulent entrance to Grand Riviera Princess is breathtaking, floor to ceiling marble, open-air foyer filled with vacationers from all over the world, a magnificent bar and immaculate gardens. At check in, we were greeted with hot towels, and our platinum plus suite upgrade (highly recommended) afforded us two flutes of welcome champagne and speedy check-in. Before long we were whisked off to our ocean front suite. A spitting image of its online portrayal, and even more magical in person, our room was everything I’d hoped for. A huge living and bedroom opened up to a balcony, which overlooked the Caribbean Sea. Our suite had not one, but two Jacuzzi tubs; one in the bathroom and another on the balcony. We also had a stunning fruit arrangement, chilled bottle of champagne (there is a theme here), and fully stocked bar (no additional cost) waiting for us. Our concierge made dinner reservations in advance; the only thing left for us to do was kick-off our shoes and enjoy the start of a relaxing vacation.
The resort is huge over 1,500 fully-equipped rooms and plenty of activities to keep everyone in your group happy. 12 swimming pools (8 main swimming pools for Adults and 4 for Children). Outdoor tennis courts and a health club are featured at the resort. 12 outdoor swimming pools are on site along with a children’s pool. Other recreational amenities include a spa tub, a sauna, a steam room, and a fitness facility. Free introductory scuba lessons, archery, Disco lunge, live entertainment nightly.
One of my favorite parts of the trip – food and wine. The resort offers a wide range of on-site dining options to choose from, including seven thematic restaurants presenting rich and varied options from Mediterranean, Mexican, Swiss, Italian, steak and seafood. Less formal choices were also available at the international buffets. In the morning and afternoon we indulged in delicious and healthy meals; y the pool, we enjoyed specialty cocktails and Mexican beer, all without ever having to pull out our wallets.
I can’t think of a better way to relax than getting a massage on the beach with the ocean lulling you to sleep and the breeze caressing your suntanned skin. Beach massages are just one option offered at the resort. Other services include facials, body scrubs, and body treatments. The spa is equipped with a sauna, a spa tub, and Turkish bath/. A variety of treatment therapies are provided, including aromatherapy and hydrotherapy (a manmade waterfall gently pounding on your neck and shoulders for a massage like therapy).
All said and done, this vacation deal is real and for the price, you get your money’s worth, and so much more. Let us know about the travel deals you find by posting them on our Facebook page and including a link to this column.
Find the full article in Cincy Chic