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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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hanging Ten In 2015: The Hottest Trends In Travel

Even if you have never surfed a day in your life and find yourself slightly older that your average backyard topsoil (OK, that would be me), you are still likely familiar with the term “Hanging Ten”, if for no other reason than you lived through all the surfing songs of the sixties.  According to Wikipedia, where we all turn when “remotely close to the truth” is good enough, “Hanging Ten refers to having both feet on the front end of the board with all of the surfer’s toes off the edge, also known as nose-riding.”

2015This blog post is dedicated to those of you who love to live life out on the end of the long board.  You are in a constant quest for the hottest trend and the “new next”.  You scoff at the idea of visiting last year’s destination . . . so utterly passé and embarrassingly démodé!

However, if the paragraph above describes you, you face a rather large dilemma.  How do you find out what are the hot travel trends for 2015?  Make one little misstep and you will find yourself drummed out of the army of the avant-garde faster than Bradley “Chelsea Elizabeth” Manning found his/her way to federal prison for violations of the Espionage Act.

Not to worry!  Here is my very practical suggestion.  Simply ask 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents.   But what if you are pretty sure you don’t know 1,226 travel agents, at least not well enough to grill them for detailed travel booking data?  Again, not a problem!  My wonderful friends at Travel Leaders Group do and, would you believe, they have already asked them!   How fluky is that?

If I tell you where you can find this treasure trove of timely information, will you promise, scout’s honor, not to go there until you have trudged through this entire blog post?  If you want to see the results of the entire survey, you merely have to click on the image below.

Travel Leaders 2015 Travel TrendsOK, now that was very, very naughty.   Don’t imagine for one moment I can’t tell that some of you have already clicked on the link.  There will be coal in your stocking come next Christmas . . . assuming Santa can still find any coal by the end of next year.  Since you obviously are intent on scouring the entire survey for yourself, I will just point out a few highlights and send you scurrying on your way.

1)  If you want to be hip in 2015, you would be wise to cast anchor for Alaska rather than venture to Vegas.  Why is that?  Cruising to Alaska has dethroned perennial winner Las Vegas as the number one domestic destination for 2015!  There is no better way to see Alaska than on with Un-Cruise Adventures.  Click the image below to see a very neat video.   Un-Cruise Alaska video2)  If you really want to be way cool, tune in to the brand new season of Downton Abbey, not for the riveting production but for the commercials.  One of the main sponsors is Viking Cruises which has helped to put river cruising on the map.  According to the survey, river cruising in Europe jumped another spot among international destinations in 2015 to #4!

Viking - Budapest3)  Finally, for those who really want to get all ten toes wet, try one of these hot, up-and-coming destinations:  Croatia, New Zealand (visit the farm where The Hobbit was filmed), Costa Rica or Vietnam.  When you return from one of those destinations, you will be the envy of even your snootiest friends.  After all, what is the point of having a snooty friend if not to make them jealous!

The time has come when you can jump from here to the survey without feeling the least pangs of guilt.  The ones who have already clicked obviously have long since seared your consciences, so you may disregard this absolution.   Have fun discovering the hot new trends and, when you are through, don’t forget to reach out to your old friends here at Travel Leaders to begin planning for 2015.

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Zoëtry In Motion

A couple of weeks ago, I led a familiarization trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Mexico for a few of our travel agents and independent contractors.  It was hosted by AMResorts, a company about whom I have written often.  Like many hotel and resort companies, they have elected to group their properties into various brands, each designed to appeal to a different clientele.

In the case of AMResorts, their brands are called Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now, Sunscapes and Zoëtry.  Most of those terms could well have been lifted from the pages of a steamy Nora Roberts romance novel.  Should I pause a moment while you fan yourself and regain your composure?

Zoetry YogaLest you imagine that the life of a travel agent is an endless round of one crème brûlée after another (there are a few molten chocolate souflés sprinkled in from time to time), we saw fifteen properties in three days.  Granted, it hardly qualifies as the Baatan death march but one can pick up a nasty blister if the proper walking shoes are not worn and a good antacid to combat all that rich food is a must .  Enough about me and the noble sacrifices I routinely make to bring you these mesmerizing blog posts.   Your touching gratitude, which I can feel wafting over me across cyberspace at this very moment, is compensation enough.

Today’s focus shall be on the last, but hardly the least, brand in the above list.  I am referring to Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts.  My goal for this post is to give you a broad overview of the defining elements of this brand and then, in subsequent posts, to tell you about the two Zoetrys which I visited in person on this recent trip:  Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita, Rivera Maya and  Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun.  You are welcome!

Zoetry ParaisoEndless Privileges

A good place to start is the concept of endless privileges which is what  Zoëtry calls their unique approach to amenities.   This property beckons the most discerning travelers, those with the most discriminating taste.  Picture your next vacation at a resort with no check-in or check-out times, where the maid services your room three times a Zoetry pamper verticalday, where only healthy gourmet cuisine is served and where unlimited top-shelf spirits are provided.

Trust me when I tell you those items I just mentioned are merely the starters intended to whet your appetite.  You can read the full menu of endless privileges by clicking here.

So many amazing touches!  What could be nicer than finding a complimentary bottle of rum or tequila when you arrive at your room?  OK, possibly enjoying daily afternoon tea with live plant infusions.  Honestly, I am not sure what that means but all the glitterati tell me one hasn’t really lived until one has been infused with a live plant.

Did I mention the luxurious Bvlgari® bath amenities and the 24-hour private in-suite dining?  I can’t take responsibility if, at this point, you are starting to feel just a tinge decadent.  It sometimes happens at Zoëtry.

 Wellness And Luxury

I am all for wellness but I must admit I don’t tend to equate it with luxury.  I picture it being achieved at some rustic boot camp where a fitness guru with a terminal case of hemorrhoids finds delight in making sure I am in at least as much pain as he is.  You can’t imagine my relief when I read this sentence on Zoëtry’s website.  “Discover a perfect balance between holistic wellness and unrivaled luxury in blissful ocean front settings.”

Zoetry SpaAnother  aspect of their wellness emphasis is their personalized menus.  They can and will accommodate vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and pretty much any other dietary preference.  If you are an adherent of the Petra Nemcova carrots, tomatoes and seafood only diet, no problem.  You just have to sign a disclaimer regarding your palms turning yellow as hers apparently did!

Bucket ListCome back soon and I will tantalize you with vivid descriptions of the two Cancun / Riviera Maya Zoëtry properties drawn from my recent visit.

I have added an extended stay at one of them to my bucket list.  Given the fact that, in my case, the metaphorical bucket is starting to loom rather large, that is saying something!

Zoëtry is definitely in motion. They are moving towards new heights of luxury, style and comfort and I, for one, am quite keen to jump on board.

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Dreams Tulum: Perfect For Whom?

In the travel business, we spend a lot of time asking our customers a series of questions to make sure we tailor our recommendations to their unique desires.  As I like to remind our front line sales staff:  prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

And yet, ever so often, we discover a property so versatile, so accommodating that it is difficult to imagine there is anyone who would  not enjoy its disparate offerings.  I just returned from spending a few days at  a resort that pretty much annihilates the old adage “Jack of all trades, Master of none.”  As you might have divined from the title . . . sly devil that you are . .  I am referring to Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa.  The answer to the question posed by the title of this post is simply “whomever”.

DSC02392Dreams Tulum is an ideal selection for at least three categories of travelers:  families, weddings / honeymoons and meetings / groups.  (I can think of several other categories such as couples, golfers, etc. but since this is supposed to be a blog post and not an encyclopedia, I will restrain myself.)

FAMILIES

If you are still at that stage of life where little rug rats routinely crawl all over the furniture in your living room like a small rodent convention, than you are going to love this property.  For one thing, the resort has recently increased the number of connecting rooms in the Deluxe and Junior Suites category.  This gives Dreams Tulum the ability to confirm connecting rooms in advance, something very few other properties of this stature can do!

In addition, this property now offers Family Suites which come in configurations of 4,5,6,7, 10 or even 12 rooms.  They share a large living area and are all accessed through one master door.  There is an additional daily charge for this option.

DRETU_Explores Club    Dreams Tulum Camp Out Adventure

As do all the Dreams Resorts, the Tulum property offers an Explorer’s Club for kids ages 3-12.  This includes such activities as a camp-out adventure pictured above. There is a basketball court, kids can climb rope ladders to a playhouse, enjoy a rock climbing wall and much more.  Dropping your little munchkins off at the Explorer’s Club is not going to be a problem.  Picking them up at the end of the day to clean up for dinner might be another matter!

WEDDINGS AND HONEYMOONS

So how do you know if a given resort is serious about weddings and honeymoons?  The first clue is whether they have a wedding showroom!

DRETU_Wedding ShowroomThe second question you should ask is, “Do they have an onsite wedding coordinator?  The answer, of course, is . . . “Of course!”.  Finally, do they have several wedding options to choose from with enough flexibility to customize your experience?  Again, the answer is a resounding yes.

You can visit the Dreams Tulum Weddings page for answers to frequently asked questions, to better understand Mexico’s marriage requirements, to see photos of recent weddings, to get a checklist, to see their Pinterest board and a whole lot more.  Planning a destination wedding can seem daunting but our experienced agents will have you feeling undaunted before you can say “I do!”.

The resort also offers Honeymoon packages if you are getting married stateside, anniversary packages and vow renewal packages.  Not to mention, if you have your wedding at Dreams Tulum, you can even return on your first anniversary for complimentary nights!  How sweet is that?

So far as I know, there are no divorce or burial packages but you never know what might be on the drawing board at Dreams Tulum.

WeddingMEETINGS AND GROUPS

So what happens if you want to come to Dreams Tulum and bring along a few hundred of your closest friends?  (For me, that’s not a problem because the people who will admit publicly to knowing me would fit in a VW minivan but I realize that’s not true of everyone.)  Dreams Tulum is a perfect place for any kind of meeting or group.

Dreams Tulum Convention CenterAs a matter of fact, they have a dedicated website for just meetings and groups which you can access here.  That site has a two page fact sheet suitable for distributing to key planners or even all participants.  In the same way there are wedding planners, there are dedicated meeting planners.  There is also a layout guide for planning space utilization.  They have a very robust multimedia capability as well.

I realize groups travel together for a lot of reasons beyond business.  Every year Dreams Tulum hosts affinity groups, multi-generational family groups, Girl’s Getaway groups, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and conventions for left-handed, Bolivian unicyclists. OK, I may have made that last one up.

OK, I am out of time with no room left to give proper due to the beautifully appointed rooms, the Art at Dreams Tulumvarious decadent restaurants which I hold personally responsible for sending me into an eating frenzy or to the epicurean spa.

I will say this though.  Based on my experience, I feel comfortable promising that you will meet some of the nicest people if you visit Dreams Tulum.  As I was relaxing in the spa, I saw this lovely couple (see picture to the right) who were just hanging around the hot tub.  They seemed a little shy.  It was unfortunate my masseuse showed up at just that moment to lead me away to my treatment room because I could sense they were about to open up.  I have a rare gift for reading people.

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Quantum: Debutante Of The Seas

Those of you who hang on my every word . . . assuming for the sake of this post that such hapless souls really exist . .  will no doubt recall that last August I was privileged to see Quanum at the Meyer Werft shipyardQuantum of the Seas in her gawky, gangly, pre-teen stage. Not to be uncharitable, she was displaying some serious zits back then.  You don’t have to take my dubious word for it.  Just look through these prepubescent pictures.  (The last 27 at the bottom are the new ones of the completed ship.)

All of us who took that tour of the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany last August voiced the same unshakable conviction: there was no way on God’s green earth that this ship was going to be presentable to the public come November. And yet, I was completely, if uncharacteristically, wrong!  I know, I am every bit as shocked as you are!

Quantum of the Seas Michael'sYet, here I sit at Michael’s Genuine Pub penning these words while sipping a brewsky and reveling in Quantum’s debutante ball. For those unfortunate readers who may not flutter about in high society like some of us social butterflys, a debutante is ” a girl or young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity and, as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal ‘debut’ presentation.”  I have a little sage advice for you young guys out there. Tread carefully when pulling the pigtails of your best friend’s freckle-faced kid sister.  Some awkward teens grow up to be ravishing young ladies!

There is simply neither space nor time here to detail all the innovative features and fascinating facets of this amazing ship.  Speaking of time and space, did you know that Albert Einstein wrote a book about space . . .  and it’s about time too.  (Sorry, I really can’t help myself.  It must be genetic.)

Bionic BarHere is one of Quantum’s more fascinating features.  This is the Bionic Bar which mixes you a drink, delivers it to you and then listens to your marital woes (although personally, I must say, I found the one on the right to be a trifle aloof and diffident.)

Since we can’t cover everything here, if you are interested in knowing more about:

1)  the back story regarding how this entire series of blog posts came to be, click here.

2)  the trip to Germany, the PreCab Cabin tour and the big “Reveal”, click here.

3)  The amazing technology behind smart check-in, the on-board app, the WOW bracelet, the incredible wifi bandwidth and more click here.

4)  The concept of Dynamic Dining, the wide array of dining options, the North Star and Ripcord by iFly, click here.

5) the average bmi of an adult African aardvark, I don’t have a clue where you should click!

Vicki FreedWho is that mysterious woman sipping a latte in the Royal Esplanade?  Why, I do believe it is Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support and Service.  I interviewed her for this blog a while back . . . and yes, she is that incredibly generous with her valuable time.   Click on the image, or here, to listen to that interview.

One of the dining venues created by Devin Alexander, New York Times best-selling author and media personality, is called “Devinly Decadence”.  For me, while the cuisine definitely pleased the palate, at first hearing the name jarred the sensibilities.  I was all prepared to dredge up grammatical technicalities from my English major past regarding which parts of speech properly modify one another, not to mention spelling, when it finally dawned on me that the name of the venue was not “divinely” but rather eponymous, a take on her name Devin.  OK, so the little gray cells don’t fire as rapidly as they once did!

To tie a final bow on this five-part series on the Quantum Of The Seas, this royal debutante has blossomed into a regal mistress of the high seas.  I have no doubt but that she will delight her guests of all ages and for many years to come.

Quinceañera on Quantum of the SeasOne final note.  As I arose from my table at Michael’s and strolled down the Royal Esplanade, my ear was caught by the lilting voice of a young women emanating from inside Boleros.

As I stood at the door and gazed inside, it was obviously the speech of a newly minted fifteen year old young princess at her Quinceañera, roughly the Latin American equivalent of our debutante ball.    As I listened to her excited but quivering voice, I could not help but smile and think to myself,  “How perfectly apropos!”

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Crème de Riviera Nayarit: The Top Five Resorts

Are your ready for a little creative crème with your morning Mexican coffee?  Today we are adding another installment to our Crème de Mexico series.  Yes, it is entirely appropriate tomexican coffee do the happy dance . . . assuming you remain fully clothed, of course.  This is a family blog site, after all.

Just as Cancun has the Riviera Maya  (or Mayan Rivera, as you prefer) to its south, Puerto Vallarta has the Riviera Nayarit (or Nuevo Vallarta, as you prefer) to its north.  As is the case with Cancun, you fly into the respective region’s main airport, in this case Puerto Vallarta, to reach the bordering destination.   If that explanation isn’t clear on the first read, try another Mexican coffee with a small shot of tequilla and I am sure it will become instantly lucid.

The Riviera Nayarit is one of Mexico’s most exciting emerging destinations worthy of its own full exploration.  Perhaps I can spare you a little time in trying to ferret out the top five resort options for your first, or next, visit as the case may be.   My list is both authoritative and definitive (or at least it seems so to me after following my own advice in the preceding paragraph).   So what are the top five resorts in the Riviera Nayarit?

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

Grand Velas ResortsI think I see a pattern emerging here.  This property’s equally sultry sister, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, made my Crème list for the Mayan Riviera area a few weeks back.  (See a list of all the previous Crème posts at the end of this particular masterpiece.)

This incredible resort is the only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded Five Diamonds by AAA . . . a feat almost as impressive as the laminated balsa wood award I received recently for the most inscrutable travel blog in cyberspace.)

Grand Velas Riviera NayaritI  have mentioned frequently on this blog that I place a personal premium on pampering.  Thus, to qualify as a leading resort, it simply must have a leading spa.  This one does . . . literally.  It is home to a Leading Spa of the World!   Condé Nast Magazine, whose exacting standards in such matters almost rival my own, recognized them as a “Most Excellent Spa Hotel.”  If you long to be caressed and mollycoddled by the best (and what self-respecting bon vivant doesn’t), make  the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit your next stop.

The St. Regis Punta Mita

St. Regis Punta MitaThe next two resorts on my list already have an esteemed place on the virtual bookshelf of this blog.  In each case, you need merely to don your cybersuit and transport over to the following link to read all about my recent visit to this incredible place:  The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!   

Follow this link to  read about another great spa, the Remède Spa, sumptuous dining options and another of my favorite topics, world-class golf courses.  This property is about as posh as it gets.

Marival Residences Luxury Resort

There is so much to love about the Marival Residences Luxury Resort starting with the fact that, while most all resorts have beaches (beach resorts anyway), the Marival Residences have their own exclusive VIP Beach Club.   Picture yourself relaxing in one of these beach chairs pictured below.  Find yourself coveting a quesadilla?  Craving a cold Corona to quietly quaff?  Before that thought is fully formed, an attentive (and apparently psychic)  waiter is delivering your preferred refreshment.

Marival Residences VIP Beach ClubAs a matter of fact, I love this place so much that, a while back, I took my entire extended family on a multi-generational  experience of the first magnitude. Naturally, as a compulsive chronicler, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the experience. They were called  Bridging The Generations Down Mexico Way  and Build A Travel Bridge To Somewhere.   Read those two posts and not only will you learn a great deal of helpful information about this unique resort but you will undoubtedly learn way more than you ever cared to know about me and my progeny!

Four Seasons Punta Mita

Take a look at this picture because it represents the most difficult decision you will have to make all week at Four Seasons Punta Mita.  “That hammock looks so inviting but is it really worth the energy to get up out of this chair to walk the three steps over there and lie in it?  Oh well, I do have the rest of the afternoon to decide.”

Four Seasons Punta MitaAs relaxing as that sounds, let’s be honest.  It might be a little risky for some of us Type A’s to try and decompress all at once.  I personally would be afraid of contracting the psychological equivalent of the bends.  We titans of industry require a little activity before we start the unwinding process.

So is there anything to do at the Four Seasons?  Nothing . . . unless you want to count, as they do ” . . .some of the best snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, surfing and golf in theFour Seasons Tail of the Whale world.”  I range between a novice and a non-participant in the first four activities in the list but I am a self-designated expert when it comes to quality of golf venues.  I would give the Pacifico course, with its world famous third hole called “The Tail Of The Whale”  (click on the picture for the full effect), six stars out of a possible five.  I am throwing in the extra star for the incomparable service rendered from the time you enter the pro shop until your golf shoes are handed back to you at the end of the round looking better than when you bought them!

If you rightly equate the Four Seasons brand with delivering guest experiences “beyond compare”, a visit to the Four Seasons Punta Mita should only burnish the brand’s already stellar reputation.

Villa La Estancia

Villa La Estancia dining at nightWhen you vacation at a deluxe resort, you expect dining options commensurate with all the other lavish amenities.  This is one area where this property shines.  La Parrilla Restaurant is the casual, poolside option when you are craving a mid-day wrap or  a bracing Mexican ceviche.  La Casona, the Mexican steakhouse with its selection of Kobe beef, offers a choice of either indoor or outdoor dining. Deluxe Superior Room   Villa La Estancia Three Bedroom Suite

Regardless of the number of guests in your party, the Villa La Estancia has a room category to fit your need.  They have deluxe superior rooms; one, two and three bedroom suites and even Penthouse Suites.

You need not take my word on this property.  Just take a look these intelligent young peopleVilla La Estancia Yoga who are obviously head over heals (or would it be heels over head) in love with this property.

Having just read this exquisitely written synopsis of the best of Riviera Nayarit, I have total confidence you are clamoring to read the other posts in this series.   If so, you have only to follow the links below for more rip-roaring good fun.

Crème de Los Cabos: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Riviera Maya: The Top Five (or so) Resorts

I would love to hear your opinion on these two questions.  Which of the four Mexico destinations that I have treated so far is your favorite:  Los Cabos, Cancun, Riviera Maya or Riviera Nayarit?  Also, which of the twenty plus resorts we have highlighted is your personal choice?  The best answer will be awarded a free lifetime subscription to Travel By Terry (my lifetime, not yours!).

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The Windsor Court: English Charm Just Five Minutes From The French Quarter

I have remarked upon this irony before that we in the travel business routinely live like commoners yet occasionally travel like royalty.  I just returned from a business meeting in New Orleans where for twenty-four all-too-fleeting hours, I felt like the good princes William and Harrys’ little known and older . . . OK, much older . . . brother.

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans and fortune has been relatively kind to you, you would be doing yourself a monumental favor if you let me book you into the Windsor Court Hotel.   To be perfectly honest, before my trip I was not familiar with this gem.  However, being an inveterate Anglophile, from the second I walked into the lobby they had me by my waistcoat fob pocket.

Windsor Court Hotel ExteriorIf you too are a fan of most everything English, you should return to the link I have provided (after you have read this blog post in its scintillating entirety, of course) and take a few minutes visiting the hotel’s photo gallery.  If you are not totally enthralled by the images then you are clearly missing the “thrall” gene.

This hotel has recently undergone a $22 million restoration.  As they say on their website, “Windsor Court is restored.  Renewed.  Refreshed.”  Ironically, that precisely sums up how I felt after spending just 24 hours there!  Do you happen to know offhand (if you do, I am impressed) how many hotels in New Orleans have both four diamonds from AAA and four stars from Forbes?  The correct answer is just two and Windsor Court is one of them!

Windsor Court LobbyOne of the first things you notice when you walk into the lobby, once you able to tear your eyes away from the spectacular classic furnishings, is that seemingly every wall throughout the hotel’s public areas is adorned with gorgeous original English art.  I was told that there are more that eleven million dollars in original art pieces without one reproduction.  One of my great regrets was that, due to the brevity of my recent visit, I did not have time to download their smart phone app that gives you a self-guided museum-like tour of all the art works.  That would have been a blast.  Oh well, next time.

My room at Windsor CourtMy room at Windsor Court

Next we come to the sleeping rooms and here I need your advice, dear reader, on a rather delicate matter.  Tell me honestly, do you think I may have crossed the line when I sent my dear wife, left behind at home to keep the cogs of industry turning, this text message along with the pictures above?  “I suppose I can make do with this room.  I just need to remind myself I will only be here one night.”

I am thinking perhaps so since her reply referenced the strong opinion that, were there any justice left in this world, I would gag on a plate of rancid Étouffée before experiencing a slow and extremely painful demise.   OK, that wasn’t exactly what she said but after a few fleeting decades of marriage I have astutely learned to read between the lines.   Note to self:  Sometimes it’s best to keep these serendipitous little treats to oneself.

Another huge regret was that there was no opportunity to experience Windsor Court’s high tea.   Just High Tea at Windsor Courtlooking at this picture I am flooded with memories of the times I have taken high tea in London, Australia and even Kenya.   I never feel quite so civilized as when munching on a scone stuffed with clotted cream and strawberry  preserves and sipping an Earl Grey tea with my right pinky extended in the most pretentious, and uncharacteristically effeminate, fashion imaginable.

Time fails me to talk about their spa, the various dining options, their wedding program and so much more.  So instead, I direct you to their website, Facebook page, Pinterest site, and a delightful five-minute Video which includes some nice New Orleans jazz music.

Bottom line, if you are planning a trip to New Orleans and you want to make the trip truly memorable, plan on staying at the Windsor Court Hotel and count on enjoying the most worthwhile five minute walk in New Orleans!

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The Gilted Edges Of Murray Gardiner

If you have long since fallen under the seductive spell of Travel By Terry (and if not, I know a great African witch doctor I can recommend), you will know that I have a category on my blog called Backroom Banter in which I offer up the insights of leading travel industry luminaries.  Check the list of previous posts in that category and you will discover just how high the bar is set for admission.   I myself have been rejected . . . twice!

I mention this to say that although you may not have heard of Murray Gardner, don’t let his modesty and low profile mislead you.  When it comes to the dark continent, there is no brighter beacon than Murray Gardiner.  As you read his thoughtful answers to my marginally intelligent questions, you will realize that Murray has a sterling pedigree, a first-rate education, an enviable record of accomplishment, an insightful view of the Africa market and a strikingly beautiful family as you can clearly see for yourself.   Add to that, day by day he is building a lasting legacy of accomplishment.

Murray Gardiner family1)  What was it like growing up as an offspring of Adrian Gardiner, one of the true pioneers of African conservation and game reserve development?

It was exciting.  It was great to be part of something special and I am very proud of what my Dad has achieved.  It is also tough at times as my brother and I have big shoes to fill.  My Dad has been very supportive of what I have done with Giltedge and equally proud of my achievements.

Giltedge Africa 2)  With your father’s enterprise, The Mantis Collection, so broadly involved  in boutique hotels, game reserves, ski lodges and chalets, and much more, what made you decide to focus on building a premier destination management company?

I think it was a natural fit.  My Dad knew a lot of people in the industry, which helped open doors in the early days.  Mantis Collection also needed a vehicle to get bums in beds, so Giltedge certainly helped with this.  However, it is important to understand that we do not send business to Mantis to make sure their beds are filled.  We always create an itinerary that fits our clients’ needs and that often includes non-Mantis properties.  I also wanted to create my own legacy.

3)  How did your stint working for an internet company in London and as a publisher of Murray GardnerGiltedge magazine prepare you for the work that you are known so widely for today?

I think it certainly helped me understand how international companies operate.  It also gave me the opportunity to travel and understand the challenges one faces when travelling on a long haul route.  Through publishing a travel magazine, I was able to meet some key people in the industry who were instrumental in helping Giltedge grow into the company it is today.

4)  Giltedge Africa is unique in that it has both inbound and outbound divisions and has a significant focus on incentive and golf travel as well.  Would you give our readers a quick overview of the various markets Giltedge Africa serves in Southern and Eastern Africa?

Our core markets for clients travelling to Africa are USA, Canada, UK, Scandinavian Countries, Australia, China and New Zealand.  We have full presentation in both the USA and Sweden.  The countries we send clients to include: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius.  With us having an office in South Africa, we contract directly with most properties, which allows us to offer very competitive pricing.

Giraffe5)  Where geographically do you spend the bulk of your time these days and what facet of your business demands most of your personal attention?

After a 3 year stint living in the US, I am now spending 70% of my time back in Cape Town.  If I am not there, then I am in Austin, TX, which is Giltedge’s US hub.  As our business covers all aspects of travel – FIT, group, incentives, corporate travel, golf, etc. I am very involved in the business development of all these divisions within our company.

6)   What is your vision for tourism in Africa for the coming decade and what are the greatest challenges you see to realizing those goals?

The current challenge is most definitely Ebola.  One does not know how this is going to affect our tourism business over the coming year.  Communication with clients is key at this stage and we all need to be marketing our destination more than ever.  With the South African Rand at its weakest against the US dollar in several years, it is an attractive cost effective destination.  With some of the best hotels and game lodges in the world, we would like to see Southern and East Africa become one of the tourist hot spots worldwide.

lions7)   I have saved what may prove the most difficult question for last.  What is the best personal travel experience you have every had and why?

I think every travelling experience within Africa is unique and life changing.  Certain things appeal to each individual, family or group.  We pride ourselves in creating trips of a lifetime, so we listen and get to know our clients before creating an itinerary.  With me spending more time in South Africa, I am excited to be able to go out and experience more amazing properties.

Thanks Murray for stopping by Travel By Terry and sharing your wisdom.  (Dear reader, despite what you might assume, Murray agreed without the involvement of any incantations, spells or potions by my trusted African medical consultant referenced above.)

Just so you know, you haven’t heard the last from Giltedge and The Mantis Collection or from me, for that matter.  I have already written a post on the Zambezi Queen which I invite you to peruse at your leisure.   It is my full intention to introduce you to many more masterpieces in this coveted collection in the days ahead.

Quantum of the Seas: Dining, Diversion and Difficult Decisions!

Back when the book I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris was all the rage (I know, I am dating myself), I ran I'm OK You're OKacross this little ditty.

“I’m OK, You’re OK, OK is what we both are,
But as between the two of us, I’m more OK than you are.”

That fairly well sums up my misguided, even slightly delusional, outlook on life.  “Keep moving, nothing abnormal to look at here, Bub.”

However, I will be the first to admit that I do have a slight psychic tic when in comes to making decisions.  Thank goodness men’s attire has become less formal.  You have no idea how much time that has saved me standing in front of my impressive rack of neckties in the morning unable to pull the trigger.

If you share this particular character flaw, you may need to solicit a little professional help in planning out your Quantum of the Seas vacation.  (Our folks are excellent at helping with that, by the way.)  To shamelessly paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quote about Russia, the Quantum of the Seas offers choices, wrapped in options, inside of alternatives!  Fasten your seat belt because we are about to go around the ship in 800 words.

DYNAMIC DINING

Quantum Restaurants First, you must grasp the concept of dynamic dining which, fortunately, is so strikingly simply that even I got it on the first try.   The concept is to offer a mind-boggling array of delectable yet distinctive cuisine within an alluring variety of settings and ambiance served up when and how you choose.  For the first time on a cruise ship you have ultimate flexibility and control of your dining decisions.   For someone who can’t touch their toes with a yardstick and whose life has been careening like a steel ball in a pinball machine for decades, flexibility and control would be nice!

There are eighteen dining venues from which to choose.   What is particularly exciting is that, in addition to the specialty signature restaurants you have come to expect, there are five unique full-service restaurant options that are all complimentary and sans reservations!  Those are American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, The Grande Restaurant and Coastal Kitchen.  To learn about some of the other eighteen options, simply click here .

Quantum Celebrity ChefsAnother exciting aspect of dynamic dining are these three celebrity chefs:  Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian), Michael Schwartz (Michael’s Genuine Pub) and Devin Alexander  (Divinely Decadence at Solarium Bistro) all working their magic under the watchful eye of Cornelius Gallagher, Director of Culinary Operations at Royal Caribbean International.

If you would like to watch a brief video that perfectly encapsulates the themes I have just been sounding, simple click here.

DRAMATIC DIVERSIONS

For some people a perfect vacation is defined as doing nothing.  I think Royal Caribbean must have had a completely different set of folks in mind when they built the Quantum of the Seas, i.e., the ones whose definition of a perfect vacation is doing everything!  If the ultimate aim of taking a vacation is to escape the ordinary and experience the extraordinary, this ship has struck a center bulls-eye.

What kind of diversions would you find on the perfect cruise ship?  Hmmm . . . let’s dream a moment.

Quantum North StarThe perfect ship would have an “intimate, jewel-shaped capsule” that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering “breathtaking views of the ocean, the ship, and the exciting destinations.”   That would be North Star.

Quantum SeaPlex                                                       The  ideal ship would also have a magical indoor space where you can indulge in your favorite activities like crashing bumper cars, roller skating like we did way back when, shooting a little hoops with a pick-up team or attending a circus school where you learn the ancient craft of the flying trapeze.  I know, let’s call it SeaPlex!

Ripcord by IFly

As long as we are brainstorming, let’s go way out on a limb.  In fact, forget the limb altogether.  Let’s create a way to experience the exhilaration (or in my case, sheer terror) of skydiving without committing the insanity of jumping out of a perfectly sound plane!  You will be floating on air in no time . . . literally . . .  thanks to Ripcord by iFly.

I promised you 800 words and I am getting perilously close.  I haven’t even mentioned Two70, Dreamworks, the Royal Loft or Music Hall.   If you have been paying attention, as I know you always do, it has no doubt begun to dawn on you.  If your humble scribe can’t decide which features to highlight, how are you going to figure out where to eat and what to do?  Not to worry, mon ami.   We have an army of people (OK, probably more like somewhere between a squad and a small platoon) that are eager to assist you.  You aren’t alone in your quest for adventure.

And with that, this is the 800th word: Cheers!