About Terry Denton

Inveterate traveler, proficient writer, avid golfer, unremarkable person. Co-owner of Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel of Fort Worth, Texas · http://www.travelleaders.com/fortworthtx

Casa De Campo: Mere Resort or More Destination?

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, among others, is credited with coining the aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  My sincereGood Intentions hope is that he, or whoever authored that phrase, was simply having a bad day and peevishly overstated the case.  I don’t know too many of us who want to be found lazily strolling down the “broad road which leads to destruction”.

Way back on June 2nd, when I published another of my literary gems, “Bit On The Bum By The Teeth Of The Dog”, I had every good intention of following it up in short order with a sequel on Casa De Campo.  I even promised as much.  Life, as it has a habit of doing, managed to intervene.  Sound theology reminds us that true repentance involves not only contrition but a corresponding course correction.  This blog post is my humble attempt to make amends for my tardiness.

 CASA DE CAMPO

For those unfamiliar with this property, Casa De Campo is, as I suggest in my title, best understood not so much as a resort but rather a full-blown destination. It is situated in La Romana on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic and is accessible  by at least ten different airlines flying into either La Romana, Santo Domingo or Punta Cana.

Even as I pen these words,  a large map is spread out across my desk called the “Resort Overview”.  Honestly, I am feeling a bit of vertigo as I try to soak it all in.  My eyes dart between the polo grounds and La Marina, from the seaside “Teeth of the Dog” golf course to the hilltop “Dye Fore” layout, from oceanfront villas to the shooting club to the shops of Altos De Chavon.  It is all rather dizzying.

Casa De Campo Polo FieldsAs a quick aside, don’t you just hate it when people use your image without your permission as was so obviously done above.  Here I was simply trying to collect my thoughts after a tough polo match and the paparazzi could not grant me even a moment of serenity.  $%*& press!

There is a fascinating history to the place which you can read here.  There is not sufficient time or space to recount the story now but it begins with a young Alvaro Carta fleeing communist Cuba in 1960.  If you want to find out how a sugar plantation, the famed golf architect Pete Dye, the crooner Frank Sinatra, the renowned restaurateur Siro Maccioni and the designer Oscar de la Renta are all woven into the history, you will just have to go back and click on the little blue “here” above.

Let’s assume for the moment that you are the type of vacationer who requires constant stimulation to avoid boredom.  If that describes you, rest assured, Casa De Campo will be your nirvana, paradise, heaven, shangri-la or land o’goshen on earth (take your pick).

There are three polo fields (I have no idea how you will get a horse into the overhead compartment), a 245 acre shooting facility (don’t even think about stuffing a shotgun down your pants leg) and 90 holes of golf (the airlines will allow you to check golf clubs but only after they clear out your retirement account).

Casa De Campo Dominican RepublicThis resort . . .  I mean destination . . .has more villas than an Italian count can count, including this little humble abode above called Villa Las Ondinas with a mere ten bedrooms.   I understand this particular villa is a big hit with strict, not to mention virile,  Catholics who take the pope’s views on birth control very seriously.

So where can such a large clan dine with a nice ocean view?  How about this locale where I took a leisurely lunch with a few of my close friends?  (I can only ascribe bad lighting and a quick shave to the fact that my picture here bears so little resemblance to my other picture above!)

Lunch on the beach at Casa De CampoI wish I had time to tell you about all the dining options like the Beach Club by Le Cirque or great bars like Punto & Corcho down by the marina.  If you love to shop, be sure and check out Altos de Chavon.  For some incredible excursion options, just click here.

I don’t know how much clicking through to the Casa De Campo website you have done to this point but I sent you there because it is the source of loads of helpful information about this “destination”.  However, when it comes to making an actually booking, there is only one place to go.   How could you live with yourself if after consuming this extraordinary content, you callously booked somewhere else?  If the road to hell really is paved with good intentions, bad intentions might well be the short cut!

Just a little something to think about when you are ready to book.

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Bit On The Bum By The Teeth Of The Dog

If the expression “Golf is a good walk spoiled” (often misattributed to Mark Twain) sums up your view of the sport, you may want to return to my “What Did I Miss” page to find another subject more to your taste.  But if, as I do,  you have a love/hate  (90% love, 10% hate) relationship with this ancient Scottish game, this little post may strike a few familiar chords.  Terry at Teeth Of The Dog

I can sum up my take on the game of golf in one sentence, “It looks deceptively easy but is actually infuriatingly difficult.”  All those young Turks in the professional  ranks who bomb 300 yard drives with effortless power and complain, after shooting a round of 66 mind you, that they left a few birdies out there on the course don’t exactly make us mortals feel any better.

The absolute worst thing about the game is how your swing comes and goes, ebbs and flows not just over weeks or days but often in the course of the same round.  If an amateur golfer, even for one nano-second, allows himself or herself to think (or, God forbid, voice out loud) , “You know, I think I am beginning to get this game figured out”, he or she better scamper to the club house like a scalded cat before bolts of lightning start raining down out of a clear sky.  Let’s just say in my experience the golf gods are not in the least amused by even fleeting cockiness.

TEETH OF THE DOG

Teeth of the Dog, Casa de Campo

I was fortunate enough a few days ago to play this renowned Pete Dye ocean side course located within the famous Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic (more about that momentarily).  Just two weeks earlier I was equally privileged to play the “White Witch” in Montego Bay, Jamaica, another classic layout.  Beyond finding a way to slip in this little “humble brag”, I mention it because that day I was striking the ball quite well . . . by my modest standards at least.  I shot a very respectable 86 and left feeling that my game was in pretty decent shape, thank you very much.

Teeth of the Dog So I had every reason (except long experience and common sense) to think on the day I awoke to play the “Teeth of the Dog” that another nice ball striking day was ahead of me.  What I didn’t reckon on was that my driver, usually a very reliable and trustworthy friend, was going to turn on me like a jilted lover.  There is a driver out there called the “King Cobra” but even though my rental clubs were of a different make, I might as well have been attempting to drive the ball with the head of a live cobra intent on nipping me on the neck in the middle of my backswing.  To borrow . . . steal actually . . . another snake analogy from the golf announcer David Feherty, “I looked like a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth.”

I began to feel about my driver the way you would feel if you caught a glimpse of your best man lasciviously ogling your bride halfway through the nuptials.  Oh, the sense of betrayal, the keen disappointment, the primal urge to wrap the blasted thing around the nearest palm tree.

Thank goodness my frustration was broken by the spectacular holes that run along the Teeth of the Dogocean.  It suddenly dawned on me that I was playing one of the classic golf courses in all the world with rented clubs,  a serious loft problem (lack of friggin’ talent) all on someone else’s dime.  Instead of cursing my driver, I should be counting my blessings.  Let’s be honest, the course record was never going to be in any jeopardy no matter how well I played.  The remainder of the round I drank in the spectacular surroundings and dined on the camaraderie and even hit a few nice drives.  They came too late to salvage my score but not to top off a spectacular experience.

Having swum several laps in the pool of my personal self-pity, there is no time left to tell you about the remarkable resort called Casa de Campo.  Not to worry.  Merely sign up to follow this blog and you will soon be getting an engraved (OK, not really engraved), more like embossed (OK, not exactly embossed), more like electronic email invitation to return to this site for another happy stroll through Casa de Campo.

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Hyatt Zilara / Ziva Rose Hall: EaZy To Love

Until fairly recently, the self-effacing and unpretentious letter “z” had managed to keep a low profile by hiding in the shadow of the gangly “y'” there at the end of the alphabet.  But once Hyatt jumped with both feet into the deep end of the all-inclusive pool with their Zilara and Ziva brands, those days of obscurity for the ultimate letter were forever lost.  Now “Z” is all grown up and strutting its stuff like a voluptuous Miss Venezuela in the swimsuit competition at the Miss Universe pageant.

ZalaraTake the names of their restaurants, for example.  Petit Pariz is bringing, as they like to say, “Parisian flair to the shores of Jamaica.”    Flavorz is located in the main lobby offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Horizons, whose name they didn’t even have to massage, features international cuisine in a “farm to table” concept.  The lobby bar is called is called Potionz and the pool swim-up bar is styled Islandz.   Time fails me to talk about Choicez, Di Roza, Fuzion, Calypzo, Grindz and Fez.  Unless you have dozed off and are cranking out a few zzzzs by now, I think you get the idea.

If you are eager to know more about how Hyatt is upgrading the all-inclusive experience fromZiva A to Z, you have only to read my typically brilliant post Hyatt All-Inclusive Resorts: Evolution or Revolution?  Should you then be swept away by my lilting prose, you can read about the Hyatt Ziva in Los Cabos.  Speaking of swept away, that already stunning property is undergoing a complete transformation thanks to the visit of a most unwelcome guest last September called Hurricane Odile.

We shall, however, focus our remaining time together on the Hyatt Zilara / Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica where I was privileged to stay recently.  For those who may not know, the Zilara is the adult only brand and Ziva is the family brand.  In this case, the two brands are adjacent sharing a central lobby.  As the slightly more deluxe brand, all the facilities and dining options of both are available to Zalara guests but not vice versa. DSC02523

I, along with 200 or so of my closest friends, was the recipient of the largess of Funjet Vacations and the Hyatt for this experience.  Those cynical souls who are immediately suspicious of my objectivity need to read my Fool Disclosure page where I lay bare my soul on that subject.  For those who prefer the executive summary:  I don’t claim any . . . objectivity, that is.

As to the resort, here are my observations about both the resort and the destination.

Extraordinary Service

I have often said on these pages that the overall level of service in Mexico has never been matched in any other destination.  While the service levels in Jamaica are quite good, I have always tended to put them a notch below Mexico.   Leave it to Hyatt to make me eat my words.  (Fortunately, they also provided a nice little Cabernet to wash them down!)

The folks at Hyatt have proved that exemplary service is all about setting the right expectations, hiring the right people and providing the right training.  The warmth and friendliness of the staff and their eagerness to serve is everything you could hope for at a deluxe resort.

Beach Lover’s Paradise

Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall BeachThe sobriquet “beach lover” does not really apply to me.  Call me crazy but I have an aversion to tiny grains of sand finding their way into every crevice of my body.   However, I am well aware that for many, perhaps most, of you, a quality beach is the most important consideration when selecting a warm weather resort.

If you fall into this category, I can happily report this property has as nice a beach as youBarefoot Jerkz will find nearly anywhere.  There are plenty of palapas and lounge chairs and a nice breaker so even the urchins can enjoy the water.

The most popular beach feature is Barefoot Jerkz where you can get chicken, beef and fish Jamaican style.  Finally, someone has come up with a restaurant named with me in mind!

Rose Hall Great House

If you like to mix in a little history, culture and voodoo witchcraft into your vacation (and who doesn’t), the Great House at Rose Hall, just across the road from the resort, is just what Great House Rose Hallthe witch doctor ordered.  I don’t have time to recount the story of the “white witch” and the three husbands she killed in three separate upstairs bedrooms (plus a handful of lovers but who’s counting)  but you will get all that when you do the tour as I did.  Let’s just say that Annee Palmer was a little, as in 4’11”, ball of pure, unadulterated evil.

Even better than the tour of the Great House, for my taste at least, is the White Witch Golf Course.  While the beach worshipers were back at the resort attempting to inconspicuously deal with their own sand wedgies, I was using my sand wedge to Great House Rose Hall 2extricate myself from one of the numerous bunkers that dot this magnificent course.

There is oh so much more to say about the Hyatt Zilara and Ziva Rose Hall but, alas, no time left to share it.  If you are looking to experience some of the best of Jamaica without the trek to either Ocho Rios or Negril, let us book you into this magnificent resort where the service will impress, the beach will entice and the culture will inspire.

One closing word of caution for the male reader.  It is said that Annee is actively looking for her next husband so if you do tour the Great House by candlelight, you might want to keep up with the rest of your group.  Just sayin’.

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I’ve Got Answers. I Need More Questions!

Having spent a significant portion of my adult life in the travel industry, it would be surprising, I suppose, if I had not accumulated a reasonable storehouse of knowledge along the way.   Setting aside modesty for the moment (My personal record is a decade so a moment is nothing!), I do believe I have acquired a repository of travel nuggets and insider information that would interest the novice and knowledgeable traveler alike.

Those who have clicked on the “Fool Disclosure” tab along the top of this page will know that educating my readers ranks right behind entertaining them in my hierarchy of objectives for this blog.  With all these creative synapses firing off in my brain like roman candles on the Fourth of July, I need a little help in deciding which questions my readers find most universal and pressing.  Hence this post.  What in the world would you like to know?

Planet EarthBefore I spill the entire contents of my brain like I once did with a large glass of red wine all over a friend’s priceless antique purse given to her by her grandmother on her deathbed (or so she gleefully maintained for the next few years of inflicted guilt), I would very much like to hear what is going on in your little noggin.  Specifically, I am soliciting burning questions that I can douse with the cooling waters of my overflowing wisdom. (See comment about lack of modesty above.)

First a few stipulations and then an exciting inducement!

Stipulations:Comments

1)  You must use the comment icon on the top of this page to record your question.  No email, text or snail mail submissions, please.

2)  Your question must be specifically travel related:  something regarding airlines, hotels, cruises, tours, rail travel, destinations, etc.  The silo of my wisdom is deep but not very wide.

3)  You can submit as many questions as you like but you will only be entered once.

4)  I must receive at least ten quality questions from separate individuals or the offer below is rescinded.  Thus, you might want to share this post with your friends (see share links at the bottom of the page).   Greed is never rewarded here!  You can follow along at home as all questions will appear in the list of comments viewable by all.

5)  Your odds of being selected are directly proportional to choosing a question that is likely on the minds of lots of other folks.

6)  In the interest of transparency, I should probably exclude relatives.  Sorry Bro!

Inducement

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral BeachWhy should you take time out of your busy day rearranging your sock drawer or removing navel lint to submit your question?  Since you are beyond the reach of a manageable stick, I will offer a carrot instead.  From among the questions submitted, a committee of one . . . that would be me in case you are not firing on all cylinders today . . .  will select the ten I like best.

I will then write down those ten names on a slip of paper, drop them in my favorite snap brim fedora and draw out the name of the one lucky winner.  As if having your name drawn by me wasn’t high honor enough, I will send you a certificate for a complimentary three night stay at the Fiesta American Grand Coral Beach Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico.  Yes, I am as serious as a heart attack.

If you are not familiar with this stellar property, you can read about it in a post I wrote aFiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach while back called Crème de Cancun:  The Top Five Resorts.  Just keep in mind that this prize does not include airfare and also that this five-star property is not all-inclusive so you will be responsible for food and beverage.  Other terms and conditions do apply.  The window of opportunity to participate in this little exercise is thirty days from the date this post is published so I wouldn’t tarry!

The time has come to retrieve your thinking cap from the basement where you dropped it when looking for anything of value to pawn during the last recession and come up with something you always wanted to know about travel but were unable to find anyone gullible enough to take you seriously.  I am the crown prince of naïveté so fire away!

In case you have not divined the method to my mad largess, I plan to use the top ten questions and my sagacious answers as fodder for future posts.  So even if you don’t win, you will still get answers to all sorts of puzzling travel questions.

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Time Not Well Spent

Since I got a surprisingly warm reaction to my post the other day on business travel (by way of full disclosure, I consider anything short of an actual cease and desist order a warm reaction), I decided I would magnanimously share a little more of my distilled wisdom on the subject.  Fortunately for the reader, I own my own distillery.

Airplane over buildingsMost highly successful business owners seem to have one thing in common.  They place a high premium not only on their own time but also the time of their employees.  They constantly preach the old adage of not just working harder but working smarter.

So, for example, if the average CEO discovered that the roof of their headquarters building needed replacing and a well-meaning observer were to suggest that he or she organize a work crew from among their existing employees to repair it, that executive would look at the author of that unsolicited advice as if they had three heads.

“You seriously want me to take a dozen people off-line and have them perform a task for commercial-roofingwhich they have absolutely no training or background?  Do you have any idea how much productivity would be lost around here not to mention how shoddy the roof repair would no doubt be?  Why don’t you come back with another idea when you are not smoking a controlled substance?”

And yet (you knew there was the inevitable “and yet” coming, didn’t you?), some business owners think nothing of assigning the critical task of travel management to a group of over-taxed, highly stressed administrative assistants.  Let me see if I can demonstrate how this abysmally bad idea is based on a handful of commonly held but nonetheless erroneous myths.

Myth #1:  Booking travel couldn’t possibly take that much time.

Well, on this one I will give you partial credit.  We have timed our own highly skilled corporate agents who average over twenty-five years experience and they can typically book an air, hotel and car reservation in under three minutes.  That is because they are using a GDS (an airline reservation system) that they have used for decades and their fingers fly over the keys like hummingbird wings over a field of nectar.

Admin stressed outAn admin, however, will typically spend forty-five minutes to an hour on the same reservation once they have visited numerous airline, hotel and car websites and / or placed several phone calls.  Now if your admin is so under worked that you are desperately looking for ways to help combat boredom, then you have found the perfect recipe.  Assuming your company does even a modicum of business travel, you should have no difficulty in quickly filling those empty hours.

Myth #2  We hear travel agencies charge fees these days.  We can’t afford to use a travel agency.

I know.  Shocking, isn’t it!   Unfortunately, some business owners have trouble seeing the forest for the fees. If you run a business, I encourage you to focus on the potential savings, not the minimal costs.   As Robert Burton put it around four centuries ago, “Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.”

There is not a travel management company worth its salt that cannot easily offset their service fees with the savings they generate.  We just do it a little better than most.  We are experts at obtaining low air fares, discounted car rates and reduced hotel prices.  We save you money, and . . . in keeping with the theme of this little treatise . . . if you believe time is money, we even compound the savings.

Plane among cloudsMyth #3  We are already paying our admins anyway and the end result is the same.

The finished product is demonstrably not the same, just like with the roof analogy.  It is inevitable that many more mistakes will be made, certainly not due to incompetence, but simply due to  inexperience and lack of training.

What happens when there are weather delays and equipment malfunctions?  It is my observation that when those things happen, as they routinely do, you see two sorts of folks at the airport.  The first group is standing in a long line with anxious looks on their faces praying that there are options still available when they get to the front of the long queue.  The second set  of travelers is sitting in the bar chatting on their cell phone with their travel agent  who has them rebooked before either they or their glass of beer has time to break a sweat.

To summarize, having admins book travel without any professional assistance is decidedly time not well spent  If you are looking for an example of the better use of time, being a coffee lover I will close with this anonymous tidbit.  “A cup of coffee with a friend is happiness tasted and time well spent.

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Trains, Tours And A Touch Of Tequila

The other day a couple of sales reps came a callin’.  OK, admittedly,  that in itself is not exactly remarkable or particularly blog worthy.  In the travel industry, sales reps are as common as fleas on a junk yard dog.  Not that I equate any of these precious souls with a member of the Pulicidea family of insects, let me hasten to add.  Certainly not these two charming ladies!

Tequila, MexicoWhat is beyond remarkable, however, is whenever a supplier is able to lay before me a destination or experience:

  1. I have never even heard of before.
  2. I would gladly book the next flight to experience for myself.

These two ladies scored on both counts and, since I live to make your jaw drop too, I am going to tell you all about it.  Strike that.  There is never enough time to tell you “all about” anything. Instead, I am going to tell you just enough to tickle your wanderlust.  Relax, that is not nearly as prurient as it sounds.

 

Tequila Espíritu de México

The journey begins with a flight into Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. Our ultimate destination is Tequila, Mexico.  (Did I catch you reflexively licking your lips?)  OK, we are in Guadalajara but how shall we traverse the sixty kilometers (just under forty miles) to Tequila town?  Let’s see . . . burro, oxcart, thumb a ride?  If it is all the same to you, I think I would rather hop aboard the:

Jose Cuervo Express It doesn’t require much imagination to picture myself sitting at the bar below, sipping on a smooth little Jose Cuervo tequila and testing my limited Spanish on the convivial, and very patient, bartender.  He even stifles a laugh when I ask him if he is ever pregnant (embarazado) when he uses the wrong English word.  I hate those false cognates!

Bar club and dining areaTo continue my imaginary journey, after the brutal two-hour rail journey gazing at gorgeous agave fields and throwing back tequila shots, I am only hoping I can find some decent little hovel to rest my weary head.  If required, I suppose I could make do with the brand new Hotel Solar de las Animas.

This incredible hotel is based on a Creole colonial house andHotel Solar de Las Animas is designed by renowned architect Jorge Loyzaga whose prestigious restoration works include Chapultepec Castle, a stunning edifice overlooking Mexico City.  (I have a picture of me standing on the ramparts of the castle where the city looms over my right shoulder,  a piece of trivia I realize would bore even Clilff Clavin from Cheers.)

The room categories range from Superior Double to the Royal Suite.  Since, for now at least this is but a mythical journey, I attempt to check into the Royal Suite.  When my royal lineage is called into question (surprisingly they seem to be unfamiliar with the prominence of the Denton clan in British history), I gracefully accept whatever category is shown in the picture below.

Room at Hotel Solar de las AnimasComfortably ensconced in my room, I turn my attention to whatever enriching experiences might lie outside my doorstep.  I am intrigued to discover how many options the area offers but I decide on a horseback ride through blue agave fields and a tour of Fabrica La Rojeña , the oldest distillery in the Americas.  The order in which I participate in the two activities is not accidental, I assure you!

When you visit (hopefully, unlike mine, yours will not be of the virtual variety) you will want to sign up for the Maestro Tequilero blending experience where, under the watchful eye of an expert in the art of blending, you will experiment with five combinations to produce your own souvenir damajuana.   If like your humble scribe, you have never even heard of a damajuana, you will immediately recognize the necessity of the expert assistance mentioned above!

Horseback riding  Fabrica La Rojena

Unfortunately, the cold, wet dishrag of reality is slapping me in the face and I must conclude my mythical odyssey.   If the two ladies who planted this yearning in the first place are reading these words, I feel sure I could add so much more vibrant color and rich context in future blogs if only I were to experience Tequila Espiritu de Mexico for myself.  (As regular readers can attest, I have always valued directness over subtlety.)

If you think this might be a trip you would enjoy, reach out to me and maybe I will put a little group together so we can all experience it!

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Business Travel: It Only Looks Easy

Some of you may not realize this fact (since I rarely address the subject in this blog) but in addition to making your vacation dreams come true,  we are also very good at managing corporate travel.  We have an entire second website devoted to business travel.

Since by now you are familiar with my embarrassing displays of immodesty from time to time, I don’t mind saying we are pretty darn good at it.  Which, I suspect,  might lead you believe that arranging business travel is quite easy.  Keep reading and you will soon be disabused of that silly notion!

View from airplane window

A lot of things in life look deceptively easy that really aren’t.  Take golf.

Just for the record, this is not Ernie Els.

Just for the record, this is not Ernie Els.

Tune into a PGA tournament on TV this weekend and watch Ernie Els hit a golf ball.  He seems to expend virtually no effort with his legendary, lackadaisical swing and yet the golf ball explodes off the club face like it was shot out of a cannon. His iron shots pepper the flag stick and his putts curl into the cup with monotonous regularity. As a golfer myself, I only wish it were half as easy as Ernie makes it look.

But it isn’t just golf. Whether you are talking about cooking a gourmet meal, playing a violin or adding an entertainment theater to your house,  professionals are paid huge sums of money to make their finely honed skills appear routine and commonplace.

Booking corporate travel is no different. The advent of online booking tools only reinforced the notion that booking an airline ticket, a hotel and a car could be done by a chimpanzee trained to hit three buttons in the proper order. And, in point of fact, a reasonably bright monkey probably could be trained to book a reservation.

But here’s the rub. The airfare might well be $400 higher because the monkey had no idea that a flight into John Wayne airport was significantly cheaper than LAX. The hotel might well be twenty miles and 45 minutes from your meeting place and the car might be booked for the day after you arrive. Sound familiar?

When a company starts spending significant sums on travel, rest assured some well-intentioned executive will pop up with the not so revolutionary suggestion that since we travel so much, we should just handle it ourselves. They will quote the low transaction fee of an online agency as justification for making this precipitous leap. That is analogous to an inexperienced sailor becoming fixated by the tip of an iceberg and ramming the ship into the ninety percent of the ice flow below the waterline.

Frustrated at keyboardIs it realistic to expect an administrative assistant, however bright, for whom travel is just one of many responsibilities, to book travel with the same speed, accuracy and creative faring as a professional corporate travel agent who has been doing this task all day, every day for fifteen years? It makes about as much sense as hiring some fresh-faced newbie and explaining that their duties will entail answering the phone, doing some filing and, oh by the way, performing a little brain surgery. “Don’t worry, after a few stabs at it (pun intended), you’ll catch on.”

In a blog post this short there simply isn’t space to explain all the thousand and one ways in which booking corporate travel is complex, complicated and convoluted (none of which is it reasonable to expect an admin to know). But then again, if you have any personal experience with the “do it yourself” approach to managing travel, perhaps you don’t need a lot of convincing.

I’m not saying that booking corporate travel is rocket science. I’m just saying it’s pretty darn close. At Travel Leaders we make corporate travel management look easy . . . perhaps even a little too easy.

If you would like to discuss travel management for your company, CLICK HERE.

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Zoëtry Villa Rolandi: Such An Easy Decision!

Life, as you may have noticed, is filled with one brutally difficult decision after another.

  • Is this really the soul mate of my dreams or the beginning of one long nightmare?
  • Is a college degree a sound investment for me or a fool’s path to crushing debt?
  • Should I vacation on a Caribbean island this year or yield to the magic of Mexico?

OK, since I am neither a marriage counselor nor a life coach, I am going to pass on offering advice regarding the first two questions.  However, since I am a renowned travel maven (in the murky corners of my own mind, at least), I will gleefully presume to dispense my own brand of wisdom in regards to the last question.  As I like to say, my advice is as simple as it is self-serving.

Zoetry Villa Rolandi ExteriorContact me to book your next vacation at Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun and you will find yourself enjoying both.  The reason is, Isla Mujeres is both a Caribbean island and a charming part of Mexico.  This “Island of Women” is located about eight miles off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea and is home to one of the most delightful resorts it will ever be your privilege to experience.

In spite of what they say, getting there is seldom half the fun.  In this case, however that old saw is true. Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport and whisked to a nearby pier where you will board your aquatic transfer to your all too temporary abode.  Aboard the twin hulled, 42′ power craft, the CoCoon, you will soon discover that it is not only the panoramic skyline of Cancun that begins to recede.  As the high-rise hotels of Cancun gradually become less imposing in the distance, so too will the weighty responsibilities and worrisome cares of life back home.   Before you can say Danaus plexippus (or “monarch butterfly” for the non-scientists in my audience), you will find yourself casting off your own cocoon thus releasing the butterfly of your better self.

Zoetry Villa Rolandi CocoonFor those of you who occasionally miss one of these timeless posts (unless you want an unexcused absence, I will need either a letter from your doctor or your grandmother’s funeral notice in the future), here is a quick review of the Zoëtry concept.  After reading this  post, you will be well versed in the subtleties of Endless Privileges and Wellness and Luxury.

Daniele Sandro Muller

With just 35 oceanfront rooms, Zoëtry Villa Rolandi is about as boutique as a resort can be.   Should we ever meet, dear reader, it will become instantly obvious to you that I have weakness for all things culinary.  Thus, what say we begin our tour with a look at the exquisite dining options?  The stellar quality of the food comes as no surprise since Daniele Muller, the son of owner Sandro Muller and manager of the specialties restaurant “Le Mestissage”, trained at the Institut Paul Bocusse in Lyon, France. Nice pedigree!

On a recent trip with some of our travel agents, we dined at Casa Rolandi, whose offerings are styled “Gourmet Swiss-Northern Italian Cuisine”.   I won’t pretend I can Casa Rolandidistinguish Swiss-Northern Italian from Northern Swiss-Italian in a dark room . . . which this obviously was . .  but, for what it’s worth, I can testify that when I finished, I felt as though I had just consumed a small Swiss chalet.  Yes, I know true gourmands don’t engorge themselves but moderation has never been my long suit.

Since my visit was much too brief, I did not get a chance to sample the French Mexican fusion cuisine at Le Métissage.   Such a pity.   Sandra, our gracious hostess for the evening, assures me that I must rectify that deficiency post-haste.  Well, Sandra, I suppose if you insist though my demanding schedule precludes me getting there before, say . . . tomorrow night!

If you share my lack of dining restraint (oh, and did I mention drinking?), you are going to need somewhere nearby to waddle off to after a night of feasting and imbibing.  With a mere 35 rooms, you should be able to find your lodgings with a minimum of assistance. from the helpful staff.

Superior Junior Suite When you do arrive at your room, this is the type of modern décor that awaits.  I personally love the fine Italian marble and the spacious design.  If you feel the need to wander, but not too far, youZoetry Villa Rolandi Jacuzzi can always retreat to your balcony for a glass of wine or a relaxing dip in your jacuzzi or, even better, combine the experiences.

I once wrote a blog post explaining why no vacation can possibly be complete without a round of golfIf, by some odd coincidence, you share this addiction as well, you can find relief (so to speak) at Playa Mujeres Golf Club where you’ll enjoy complimentary greens fees.  It is a beautiful Greg Norman design with generous fairways and manicured aprons from which you can often putt.  If you are not a golfer and find that last sentence incomprehensible, I suggest you just ignore it and soldier on.  It won’t be the first time someone found my writing mystifying.

Lest I test the limits of your attention span, not to mention mine, I will have to leave the matter here.  There is so much more that could be said about this exclusive resort.  That said, the very best way to learn more is to go there and experience it for yourself!  You will not be surprised when I tell you that I . . . OK, our talented staff . . . can make that happen.  If you can leave tomorrow, save me a seat tomorrow night at Le Métissage.

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Crème van Aruba: The Top Five Resorts

You, my delectable little devotees, will know that I have previously published four posts in my Crème de Mexico series where I shared my expert opinion on the top resorts in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Los Cabos and Riviera Nayarit (with more Mexico destinations to follow soon).  

I can only imagine how ecstatic you must be to hear that I have elected to apply my not inconsiderable talents to the island of Aruba.  (I am sure that faint ripple of applause I hear trickling through cyberspace will reach a crescendo at any moment.)  What say we start with a word or two about the destination itself before I unveil the lucky beneficiaries of my editorial favor?  Hearing no objections . . . even with the now thunderous ovation I correctly predicted . . . I shall continue.

Family enjoying Aruba

These are Aruba “Happy Returners” Mark and Robin Everly & their children from Frisco, Texas. They travel to Aruba twice a year for their Caribbean Vacation. Click on the image to see other “Happy Returners”.

Centuries of Aruban history is summed up nicely in this one sentence on the Aruba Tourism Authority website,  “What began as a fishing outpost for Amerindians has changed hands between the Spanish and Dutch throughout the centuries, and is now a diverse constituent country of the Netherlands.”  Knowing my audience all too well, I feel comfortable in assuming that your interest in Aruba is more hedonistic than historical so that tidbit should suffice. 

Let me list several compelling, and more contemporary, reasons why Aruba needs to wiggle its way to the top of your bucket list (I’m picturing a pail of slimy fishing worms but you don’t have to).

  • Aruba has more than a dozen incredible beaches like Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, etc.
  • Aruba is relatively easy to get to with direct flights from many US gateways.
  • Aruba accepts US dollars and most everyone speaks English (along with Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and even Papiamento (just in case you need to brush up)
  • Aruba offers an almost endless supply of adventure sports such as:  diving, kayaking, sport fishing, parasailing and . . .  Tell you what.  Just go here and you can look at five pages of adventure options.
  • Aruba offers a surprising selection of food as their cuisine is influenced by 90 nationalities!

More about Aruba another time but we must return to the stated purpose of this blog post which is to give you five superlative options for your Aruban home away from home.

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in ArubaAs stated above, my number one reason to visit Aruba is the array of incredible beaches.  If you are an aficionado of boutique style resorts that cater exclusively to couples and adults and a world-class beach is a must, then this property is for you.  Located on Eagle Beach, this hotel is owned and operated by the renowned hotelier Ewald Biemans.  You know you are staying in a boutique hotel when the owner writes his own blog which you can read here.

But what if you are not only a beach bum but also a food fanatic?  Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts has you covered there as well.  Carte Blanche is Nirvana for serious food lovers.  The restaurant only seats 16 (now that’s exclusive).  You will want to make your reservation well in advance of your trip to ensure one of those coveted chairs.  As the website explains, “The highlight is Owner/Chef Dennis van Daatselaar cooking a 5-course “Carte Blanche” (chef’s surprise) dinner right in front of you.”

If fifteen fellow diners still make you agoraphobic, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts has the perfect solution.  Simply book a private cabana like the one pictured above where you can choose from a specially designed menu for two.  Now if even two people seems excessive, I am afraid you have psychological issues neither Bucuti and Tara Beach Resorts nor I can resolve in this space!

 The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba

Ritz-Carlton Aruba DiningWhat say we move from the boutique to the bodacious?  This property has 320 spacious rooms, each with a private balcony.  It offers a 15,000 square foot casino open 24 hours a day for those of you still living the fantasy that next time you really are going to beat the house.  If you really want to daydream a little (OK, I know you are reading this at work but I won’t tell your boss), check out the pictures on their website.  I must say they are some of the most stunning you will see of any resort.

Here is a quirky little factoid.  The incredible spa at the Ritz is also 15,000 square feet, the same size as the casino.  What better place to recover from the lingering disappointments of the night before at the blackjack table?   After your Awa Awakening Treatment and the “seven different indigenous local floral and herbal potions . . . created by a Caribbean herbalist,” you will be so mellow you will sneer in the face of your gambling losses.  OK, maybe not sneer but at least stop whimpering.

Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa

Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & SpaThe Radisson Aruba Resort is one of the most popular resorts in Aruba with an impressive number of repeat visitors.

The resort offers a nice selection of dining options but be sure you visit their signature restaurant, the award-winning Sunset Grille.  What caught my eye was the fact that their extensive wine list has received the highly acclaimed Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine 10 years in a row.  I have been known to savor a tantalizing red on a couple of occasions (weekdays & weekends).

Another unique feature of the resort is Biba Aruba each Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m featuring Aruban food and culture, live music and carnival dancers.

Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba

Would you like to discover one of the nine hidden jewels of the Caribbean?  Before youBoardwalk Aruba room answer, let me clarify that this is not an invitation to participate in another hokey reality show where you get to betray your best friend and sleep with your arch rival.  This is the term no less an authority than USA Today applied to  Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba.

Though they have labored to obscure the fact with their name, I should point out that this hotel is small.  Speaking as one who has yet to be asked if I am a professional basketball player, I have no problem with small.  In fact, I am a big fan . . .metaphorically speaking . . . of casitas (small house in Spanish) which this property offers in spades.  They are doing a lot of things right to be ranked 2nd out of 24 Aruban hotels on TripAdvisor (You know, that site where people go who have yet to discover this incredible blog).

Occidental Grand Aruba Resort (Royal Club)

Occidental Grand Aruba Resort hot tubI am going to wind up this list by sharing a little insider tip.  If you book your trip to Aruba (through us, of course) at the Occidental Grand you will have a great vacation. But if you want to turn great into spectacular, pony up the relatively small difference and book the Royal Club.

The best way to think of the Royal Club is as a hotel within a hotel designed for those with a nose for value.  Paying more is never a guarantee of getting more so it takes a degree of travel moxie to know when an upgrade is worth the difference.  Take it to the bank (my bank, preferably),  this is not the time to quibble over a few bucks.  You get access to the Royal Club Restaurant,  the Royal Club lounge, personalized check-in and a private concierge.  Don’t forget the premium beverages and the free wi-fi as well.

The only problem I see with the picture above is the potential argument over who gets the side with the view.  Although, I suppose you could argue that if you have chosen your roommate well, there isn’t a bad view!

If you have been to Mexico so many times, the consulate is calling and asking if you have thought about applying for dual citizenship, maybe it’s time to spread your wings.  Aruba beckons and one of these five exclusive resorts has a room with your name on it.

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All Aboard The AMRewards Express

If you are among those who eke out an honest living outside the travel industry and also possess a passion for personal travel, this humble little blog was created with you in mind.  The vast majority of the posts are intended to harmlessly entertain and painlessly educate you about various travel destinations.

However, as time goes by, I seem to have acquired a number of devotees to this blog who, like me, toil in the hot sun (not to mention soft sand) of the travel industry.  Many of those are front line travel agents spending their days . . . and likely a few sleepless nights . . . making their clients’ travel dreams come true.  (A few of them are almost as good as our own agents!  See “shameless plug”.)

This particular post is written with those folks in mind.  You who belong to the first category have my permission to jump off the train at any point that your eyes start to glaze over.  The good news for you is that this post is going to be shorter than one of Paris Hilton’s miniskirts if not quite as titillating.

Loco Motive:  Four Not So Crazy Reasons To Enroll In AMRewardsI was recently asked to contribute an article to one of the travel industry’s premier online trade publications called Travel Research Online.  The article I wrote recommends a new program for travel agents called AMRewards.   The title of the article is:

4 Great Reasons To Climb Aboard The AMRewards Express

I am not going to replicate any of the content here for two perfectly sound reasons:

  1.      It would only bore those of you who belong to my primary audience.
  2.      Equally important, if you know anything about how internet search engines work, you may know that Mr. Google (as well as his first cousins Bing, Ask, Yahoo etc.) frown upon duplicate content floating around in cyberspace.

Thus, if you are a travel agent and are dying to read my provocative article, you could buy a ticket, stand on the platform and jump on the AMRewards Express . . . or I suppose you could just click here.  I highly recommend you step on board this milk run to greater prosperity and higher customer satisfaction.   Don’t worry, there is plenty of time to thank me by way of a small but thoughtful gift later.

As for all my non-travel-professional followers, one quick clarification and I am done.  If you are worried in general that any rewards earned by a travel agent are going to compromise their objectivity in selecting the right vacation for you, let me drive a silver stake right through the heart of that old vampire.  In the first place, several of the items referred to in my article accrue directly to the benefit of you, the consumer, not the agent!  Secondly, travel agents live and die on happy repeat customers.  No agent with half a brain would trade loyalty and trust for a trunk full of trinkets.

Come back soon and I promise you more tantalizing travel tales, all written to the same impeccably high standard you have come to expect from this space.  No, really, I’m serious!

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