The Chubby Chaste Island, aka Virgin Gorda, BVI

My business partner stoutly refuses to let any opportunity slip by without contorting the most innocently dropped term or phrase into some sort of twisted pun.  His wife, with the obligatory spousal roll of the eyes heavenward, loves to remind him that puns are the lowest form of humor.  I must warn those of you with the same affliction — and full disclosure compels me to admit that I too love to torture the language in similar fashion — are going to have to bite your tongues more that once when reading this post.  You will understand why very shortly.

Virgin Gorda, BVIThe name of the incredible isle (see list of categories on the right side of the home page) I have chosen to feature today is Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.  The name, which means “fat virgin” in Spanish, is derived from the fact that Virgin Gorda, BVIthe  “island’s profile on the horizon looks like a fat woman lying on her side.”  (OK, behave now.  I told you this was going to test your restraint.)  Honestly, I am not seeing the fat virgin myself but then I flunked college psychology because every Rorschach image they showed me looked like a Hostess Twinkie dipped in melted chocolate.

Virgin Gorda is the third largest and second most populous of the British Virgin Islands.  One of theBitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda chief delights of the island is its numerous yacht clubs.  I too would belong to a yacht club were it not for the unfortunate fact that I don’t actual own a yacht.  I know, it seems grossly unfair to me too!

This is a picture of the Bitter End Yacht Club.  (Your second opportunity to curb your not so punny instincts.  Oops, there I go!)  This is but one of several yacht clubs on the islands.   Perhaps one of the most popular aspects of the island is an unusual formation known as “The Baths”.  The BVI tourism site describes the area as “a geological wonder comprised of awe-inspiring granite boulders, which form sheltered sea pools on the beach’s edge.”  Their site has a fascinating description of the geological process that produced this phenomenon.

Rosewood Little Dix Bay

I am just going to pause here and let you get every bad wisecrack, gag and chestnut (don’t even go there!) out of your system. . . . .  Just thought of another one? . . . . Are you done?  Okay, may I now please tell you about a truly amazing resort?  Thank you!

Rosewood Virgin GoradAll kidding aside, something I seldom set aside, this is one of the world’s great resorts in one of the world’s most breathtaking settings.  It is situated along a crescent-shaped white sand beach in the midst of lush mountain foliage. If you get totally bored on your stretch of pristine beach (poor baby), just hop on a complimentary water taxi and motor off to any of seven other beaches.

If you love fine dining (do I really need to ask?), you will quickly decide you have landed in the middle of paradise.  The Sugar Mill is set in an open air stone mill nestled along the beach.  Every table has a sweeping view of the bay with nothing to obstruct either the sound of the gently lapping water or the caress of the lightly dancing ocean breeze.

Rosewood Virgin Gorda

You may recall my mentioning our friends at Island Destinations.  Well, by a very fortunate  . . .and of course completely random . . . confluence of circumstances, they just happen to have a most amazing offer of a guaranteed upgrade at time of booking, $100 Spa service credit + $150 Dinner credit.  No, I am not stuttering.  Yes, all three.  Reach out to me and I will tell you about some other cool items such as included breakfast and airport greeting.  Oh, and if you insist, we can also chat about the price although that seems so very gauche.

You Say St. Martin And I Say St. Maarten

Before you jump in and shout, “Let’s call the whole thing off!”, let me quickly point out we are both correct . . assuming we are both talking about the enchanted Caribbean island located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles.  St. Martin is the common English spelling and St. Maarten is the traditional Dutch spelling.  St. Morton is a complete mauling of the name and indicates you probably have way too much salt in your diet.

St. Maarten coastlineChristopher Columbus discovered St. Maarten on November 11th, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours, and thus named the island after him.  If I had known back in college days that all you had to do to get an island named after you is become a saint, I might have behaved a little better.   I am not suggesting by the picture below that this constituted Christopher’s mode of transportation.  I remember from zoology class that there are such things as sea horses but I am relatively certain these are not examples.St. Maarten horseback riding

One of the peculiarities of this tiny island is that it is shared by two sovereign nations, Holland and France.   This fact no doubt explains the provocative phrase the tourist board likes to bandy about. “Where European sophistication and raw island passion have fallen in love.”   Another way to say it is St. Maarten is a “Caribbean Paradise with European Panache”.   Suffice it to say that there is a lot of “Old World” charm on this “New World” isle.

I could ramble on about the myriad activities (take horseback riding on the beach, as a random example), the splendid and variegated beaches, the night life that never ends (can you say 14 world-class, Vegas style casinos) and the dozens of dazzling places to dine but, as you no doubt have observed from past posts, I am a humble man of very few words.  You haven’t noticed?

I would much rather husband our brief time together and tell you about an amazing resort located on this Caribbean gem.  I am referring to none other than the incomparable

La Samanna

The name of this resort comes from the owner’s three children:  Samantha, Natalie and Amanda.  It’s fortunate he wasn’t more prolific or the resort might be unpronounceable.

La Sammana Main EntranceIn the words of the The ID Travel Group brochure, “La Samanna, an Orient-Express hotel, lies in 55 acres of lush, tropical gardens, overlooking Baie Longue stretch of white
sand beach.”  This property is ideally suited for anyone looking for a place to relax and let the gently lapping waters of the bay gingerly wash away the accumulated cares deposited there by a frenetic lifestyle.  If stress is the poison that kills, La Samanna is the antidote that revives.

That doesn’t mean that resuscitation has to take only one form.  An exuberant toast shared by new-found friends under a canopy of stars can be just as invigorating as an afternoon nap in a gently St. Maarten toastswaying hammock.   A sumptuous dinner in an elegant bistro famous for their French cuisine, with apologies to Shakespeare, can serve as well to “knit the raveled sleeve of care” as a restful night’s repose.

Here is one of those insider tips we love to share in these “Incredible Isles” posts.

 “For a couple looking to dine at the most exclusive and romantic table on the island, Le Cave is the spot.  Located in the wine cellar of La Samanna, guests can arrange a private dinner with a customized tasting menu and wine pairings.  It is the most amazing setting for a special occasion.” –Jennifer Molloy, Reservations Manager.

If even these prescriptions are insufficient to straighten out the kinks in your tortured La Samanna Spapsyche, then there are always the nine beckoning spa treatment rooms where the combination of Asian transcendental music and lightly dancing magical fingers will have you slithering out of the treatment room like a great gray slug.  OK, not one of my more gentile metaphors but, you have to admit, it does evoke a powerful, if rather slimy, mental image.La Samanna Spa

I know you will be completely shocked when I tell you, I just happen to have a very special offer should you at this point be gathering up possessions to sell so you can experience La Samanna for yourself.  I am not going to give you a lot of details because 1) that is not what we do here and 2)  if I did, I would have to add a couple of hundred words in mice type of legal disclaimer.

So let me just hint that my little offer includes upgrades, paying for less nights than you stay, some free insurance and such.  If you are intrigued, contact me and I will quite gladly send you the offer . . . along with the mice type disclaimer . . . suitable for framing!

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

Maui On The Move: Travel Trends According To You

Each fall, Travel Leaders Group conducts a survey of travel agents across the United States called, appropriately enough, the Fall Travel Trends Survey.  Travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents are asked which destinations are trendingTravel Leaders Fall Travel Trends Survey upward in the months immediately ahead.  What should make this survey of particular interest to you is that the agencies are asked to base their answers not on speculation, personal preference or even yours truly’s highly sought after and quickly discarded opinion but on actual forward bookings.

According to the news release of September 4th, “This survey was conducted by Travel Leaders Group from July 30 – August 23, 2012, and includes responses from 871 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents from the flagship Travel Leaders brand, along with – for the first time ever – those affiliated with Travel Leaders Group’s Luxury Travel Network, Nexion, Results! Travel, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com units.”  What this means is that this year’s survey is based on a much broader sampling than in the past and thus is even more authoritative than ever!

You can read the entire survey here but I thought I would share a few highlights for those of you who live in mortal dread of inadvertently booking a vacation insufficiently “hot” (in the popular, not the climatological sense) to render your in-laws and nosy neighbors overwrought with envy.  I mean, what is the point of a great vacation if you can’t tantalize friends and taunt enemies, right?

Maui wavesIf that is your objective, than you’d better be planning to motor over to Maui (figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t recommend you try it literally.)  Here is an interesting little tidbit.  In last year’s survey, Maui was the top recommended domestic destination.  Apparently, a lot of you were paying attention to your trusted travel advisors, always a sound practice, because this year Maui jumped three spots to number two on the hit parade, a close second to Las Vegas.

For the serious jet setters among you, what does the international scene look like?  If the survey were a flower garden (never mind the fact that you would need a trowel to fill it out), Caribbean cruising and Cancun would be classified perennials.   Nonetheless, the survey did offer a couple of surprises.  Mediterranean cruising rose (pun intended) to number three on the list and European River cruising blossomed (that’s it, I promise) into the top ten.

That last result is not the least surprising to those of us who ply the travel trade.  River cruising, whether in Europe, China or Vietnam, is experiencing a boom.  I took a Rhine River cruise a while back and it was one of the best vacations I ever experienced.  Not to worry, I plan to post about it very soon.  As a quick aside, it is strange once you start blogging how you no longer have personal experiences, you only have potential blog posts!

I encourage you take a moment and read the entire Fall Travel Trends Survey news release.  You can peruse the entire domestic and international top ten list,  discover the average cost of airfares to various popular vacation destinations and even take a behind-the-scenes peek at the level of optimism we in the travel industry harbor going forward.

This is the most authoritative survey of its kind in the industry, exactly what you would expect from the Travel Leaders, the industry leading travel company.  That didn’t sound self-serving, did it?