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All Inclusive

IBEROSTAR Hotels and Resorts
It was only a few years ago that frequent news of violence on Mexico’s Pacific coast threatened to scare away tourists for good. Recently, however, a light has emerged out of that dark period. The 190-mile coastal development known as the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, has seen significant expansion since 2007. In January, Aeroméxico will begin a new non-stop route between New York City and Puerto Vallarta, with fares for less than $500, while Virgin America’s route from San Francisco, which launched in 2011, costs less than $400 round-trip.  Add in the current exchange rate between the USD and the MXN, and you’ll find the beaches and resorts of Riviera Nayarit make for a very affordable winter getaway. Read more

BodyHolidayIf you’re reading this site, chances are you love travel. And along with the obvious perks of roaming the globe (experiencing other cultures, trying new foods, scouting awesome souvenirs to bring home) there is the inevitable wear and tear on the body that  comes from being on the road. To that end, we wondered: what steps can be taken to ensure optimum health during travel?

A few days ago, we shared advice on how to avoid catching your seatmate’s germs on a long-haul flight. Here, we chat with Dr. Manoj Kutteri, Wellness Center Director at The BodyHoliday, a health and wellness resort in St Lucia, about the benefits of travel, the “right” way to drink, and other useful travel health tips. Read more

Expression_Exterior_Austria_Durnstein_Danube_Wachau_Einhard_0150246Taking your time. Delving deep. Enjoying scenery. Making new friends.

If this sounds like your kind of travel, you’re certainly not alone – which is a large part of why river cruises, popularized in the 1990s, have been making a remarkable comeback in the past two years. More than two dozen new ships will be sailing in Europe alone in the upcoming year, and entire cruise lines are debuting, too. More notably, though, river cruises might seem expensive at first glance, but their all-inclusive nature can make them a great deal.

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620x400_HyattZivaThings change. Those words are particularly apt when talking about the current hotel expansion happening in the Caribbean. On Wednesday, we showed you photos of the still-in-construction 1,000-acre mega resort Baha Mar, set to open on New Paradise Island in the Bahamas in late 2014/early 2015. Of the resort’s four hotels (totaling 2,200 rooms), one will be flagged as a Mondrian, the design-forward brand normally associated with urban destinations like New York and Miami.

With its trendy cocktail bars, pool cabanas, and “Sunset Strip vibe,” the Mondrian will be specifically targeting fashion and nightlife crowds. This signals a 180-degree shift from the Caribbean’s usual family-oriented, mid-range hotel offerings. But this could be just the tip of the iceberg. Read more

IBEROSTAR Grand Paraiso, Riviera MayaAt an all-inclusive resort, we often resign ourselves to an acceptance that what we gain in dollars saved, we lose in memorable dining experiences. When all of our meals are included in the room rate, we often don’t hope for anything better than standard food court or buffet fare.

The Spanish hotel chain Iberostar wants to turn that perception on its head, and so they have launched a new initiative, named Iberostar Chef, that focuses on elevating awareness of the brand’s culinary offerings through special events, training courses for guests, and a cookbook.

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Ah, those pesky resort fees. We’ve all encountered them in our travels, lurking on our hotel bills.

They’ve been around since the 1990s when they were generally utilized to pay for the upkeep of high-end facilities at upscale resorts; the beach clubs and tennis courts, for example. However, in the last five years or so, more and more hotels have been tacking on these annoying – and often spendy – extra charges for considerably lower-end facilities. For example, almost every explanation of these fees we’ve encountered includes such uninspiring “perks” as a newspaper and local phone calls.

According to research by Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management at New York University, the U.S. hotel industry collected approximately $1.55 billion in fees and surcharges in 2009. Not all of which were resort fees, but you can see how fees and extras add up. Here’s a breakdown of these fees, how they work, when they’re charged, and how you can avoid them. Read more

Money-Saving CruisesThere is generally one main factor at play when it comes to cruise prices during the holiday season: the strength of the cruise industry. If it’s been a gangbuster year, don’t expect the cruise lines to wave you aboard for a pittance. Conversely, if sales have been lagging over the past ten months, they’re more likely to roll out holiday deals in a bid to shore up fourth quarter revenues. Value offers will vary by line, so consumers will benefit from some comparison shopping.

Though 2013 brought some challenges to the cruise market – remember the Carnival Triumph power loss in February? – deals seem to be on the  scarce side this season. Nevertheless, we found a few decent ones floating around: Read more

Carnival Cruise GuaranteeCarnival Cruise Lines endured a negative media frenzy earlier this year when its Carnival Triumph lost power due to an engine room fire and became stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after, propulsion and power problems affected two other Carnival ships, causing the suspension of a cruise and missed port calls.

In order to convince potentially weary consumers to book a cruise, the line has launched the “Great Vacation Guarantee,” a policy that enables dissatisfied passengers to disembark the ship and end their voyage early. They’ll also receive a 110 percent refund, free transportation home, and a $100 credit for a future sailing – that is, if they weren’t sufficiently spooked to never book again.

Taking a closer look at the new “guarantee” policy, a few things jump out: Read more

Reasons to Book a Brand New HotelBooking a room in a brand new hotel can be a nerve-wracking experience – you’re just not sure what you’re going to get. Moreover, that brand new hotel might not even really be open yet. Often in the hotel world, prior to the grand opening, there is what’s called a “soft opening.” This refers to a period of time – weeks or months – when the hotel is not fully open but is renting rooms anyway. Soft openings are rarely announced, and sometimes not all of the facilities (such as the spa, the pool, or the restaurant) are up and running. The soft opening (and also sometimes the very early period after an official opening) is the time in which staff and management can work through the kinks before formally inviting the world inside. So should you take a chance and book a room in a brand new hotel? We say yes, definitely. Here’s why… Read more

Hurricane Season Caribbean Travel DealsNine months out of the year, Caribbean islands are a postcard-ready panorama of blue skies, swaying palm trees, and cocktail-sipping, hammock-lounging bliss. But from September to November (as in, right now), they are associated with another thing: hurricanes. As we speak, reports are showing that the season’s first tropical storms are already forming.

But for those willing to roll the dice, hurricane season can also yield up some incredible bargains. Flights, cruises, and hotels often go for a fraction of their peak season rates, at a time when most travelers are too spooked by the thought of having their trip washed, blown, or flooded down the drain.

And if you’re worried about showing up to a ghost town, rest assured: of the 25 million tourists who visited the Caribbean in 2012, roughly a fifth of them were brave enough to travel between September and November, the peak of hurricane season.

To give you a head start, we logged onto Expedia and CheapCaribbean and chose some hotel-and-flight packages for a range of dates in late October and mid-November. All packages are priced per-person, based on double occupancy, with flights from Miami. Other departure cities are usually available for more.

Clearly, none of the following destinations can provide guarantees on anything weather-related (otherwise they wouldn’t be offering the deals in the first place!). But with prices this low, you can afford to have your trip cancelled and still have extra cash lying around to re-book the whole thing from scratch. Now, get out those bathing suits! Read more

Wilson Island, Great Barrier ReefSome people only dream of exploring Australia’s prized gem: The Great Barrier Reef, with its crystal clear blue waters and countless species of fish that call it home. But getting to Australia, let alone the natural heritage site (and one of the seven natural wonders of the world), isn’t easy. Aside from the numerous hours on a plane, hotel expenses, activity fees – the list goes on – there are plenty of reasons to just save it for “later.” Until now.

For groups looking to hunker down on a private island for several nights, Wilson Island could be the difference between your dream and reality. Read more

Viceroy Anguilla Resort DealWhat are you doing between now and December 19? If your answer is ‘nothing,’ you may want to consider a trip to the Caribbean; specifically, Anguilla, where the ultra-luxe Viceroy Anguilla recently unveiled a snazzy new package that offers partial reimbursement on the cost of your flight. Seriously. By booking five nights at a four- or five-bedroom villa, guests will be eligible to receive airfare compensation of up to $1,000 or $2,000, respectively. Read more

Craft Beer CruiseLast week, Celebrity Cruises announced new routes leaving from Los Angeles (a first for the company), including two new beer-themed voyages: the 2014 Alaskan Brewing Company cruise, which starts at $1,684, and the California Beer Festival At Sea cruise, which starts at $639. And while themed cruises are something we’ve come across before, the growing popularity of Celebrity’s “craft beer cruises” are making us sit up and take notice.

And we’re not the only ones interested – after posting their 2013 and 2014 Alaskan Amber Craft Beer Cruise, tickets sold out in less than a month.

To make these trips happen, Celebrity links up with various breweries and beer festivals, such as Alaska Brewing Co., Sam Adams, or California Beer Festival who, in turn, supply the booze. A winning partnership that Celebrity says “has significantly increased our business.” And we believe it. We were wondering, though, how the cost and value of these cruises stacks up. After all, you’ll pay extra for alcohol on almost any big ocean cruise, and that’s not the case with these theme cruises. Here’s what we learned.  Read more

Easter Island GuideEaster Island, or Rapa Nui as it is locally known, is more than 2,000 miles from Chile and the nearest islands of Polynesia, making it the most isolated destination in the world.

The island’s main draw? The 887 extant monumental statues, or moais, created by the early Rapa Nui people. Moais are placed upon ceremonial platforms and graves called ahus. The statues are a large part of the reason why Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with much of the island (and many moais) protected within Rapa Nui National Park. Read more

Amazing New Train RoutesAs convenient as airlines can be, the act of flying often sucks the joy out of getting there, wherever ‘there’ might be. After enduring the endless security lines, the tedious boarding process, and the subpar airplane food, we arrive at our destination cranky, tired, and often a little disoriented. Not so with train travel. Assuming you have the luxury of time, trains can be one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a new country, with their slower pace and more civilized atmosphere.

More and more travelers are now rediscovering the magic of trains, and luckily, supply is meeting demand. Countries are investing in their rail networks as a viable source of tourism revenue, and promoting off-the-beaten-path destinations as stop-offs along the way. Want to wander through Vienna en route to Stockholm? Or spend two weeks visiting natural wonders in western USA? These new train routes could be worth looking into.

Since 1911, intrepid passengers have cruised inland along the Noyo River aboard the California Western Railroad, a 40-mile route between Fort Bragg, CA and Willits, CA. The rail service was originally created to ferry timber to and from the Pacific Coast, and indeed the route itself winds through stunning redwood forests in the Noyo River Canyon. These days, the ‘Skunk Train,’ as it’s commonly known (thanks to a pungent odor emitted by the old trains’ exhaust gases), is one of the state’s most popular train routes, despite its brevity. A tunnel collapse earlier this year forced a temporary closure, but as of this month, the one-of-a-kind historic rail service is open to passengers once more. Choose from a Saturday evening “Sunset BBQ Excursion,” ($70) which involves a stop-off in Northspur Station, or a simple 4-hour trek between Fort Bragg and Willits ($49). Read more

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