Welcome

November 10th, 2009

Welcome to the Bright Getaways travel blog.  We’ll use this area of the site to post information about destinations we visit, travel tips, safety advisories and special offers as they are available.  Please bookmark these pages and refer back often as this information is constantly changing.  Please let us know if you have any suggestions or information that you would like to see discussed.  Thank you.

Tours

May 14th, 2010

TRAVELLING TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

January 18th, 2010

We’ve been fielding many questions and concerns about the safety of travel to the Dominican Republic. Beyond the tragedy of the situation there are some logistical questions that should be answered. In General, the Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti. The two are geographically separated by several mountain ranges that bisect the island. While Haiti suffered tremendous damage because of poor building standards, the Domincan republic was fine. The resorts are all intact and operating as normal and Punta Cana, the most heavily touristed area is over 400 miles from Haiti. Below is the relevant information related to travel to the D.R. and how it may affect you:

Where?
MAP OF HISPANOLA

What’s happening now?
OFFICIAL STATEMENT BY THE DOINICAN REPUBLIC MINISTRTY OF TOURISM

What can I do to help?
If you are travelling to the Dominican Republic, you can help the people of Haiti. Tourists are using extra bag space to carry aid items like blankets and clothing to the island. Though there is no official mechanism to do so yet, we are in contact with regional authorities and are trying to coodinate an effort to bring in needed supplies. We will post that info as soon as it is available.

What can I do to protect my travel investment from against natural disasters?
Buy travel insurance.  Not only does it cover cancellation and interruption, but travel coverage can also provide you with emergency services like evacuation and medical coverage in the event of disaster, politijcal uprising and disease outbreak.  Coverage varies by destination and price, so ask your Bright Getaways travel professional to go over all your options for your next trip.

I have a trip to the D.R. planned in the next few weeks.  What happens now?
If you are scheduled to depart for the Dominican republic in the next 30 days, we will be reconfiming with your resort at various intervals before your departure to ensure a smooth trip, but if you would like to speak with us ahead of time, please feel free to call us at 201-360-4536.

TRAVEL AND TERRORISM

December 28th, 2009

In light of the thwarted terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight this Christmas, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on our security situation and how you can take charge of your own safety.  I was a few thousand miles from home, enjoying the holiday with family when I learned what had happened.  Like most of you, I couldn’t get enough of the non-stop coverage of the event, when suddenly a thought came to mind.  Who won?

Yes, the attempt was unsuccessful, bravery won out and everyone lived to tell the story, but what about the millions of people who spent a good deal of time on the holiday watching the news instead of spending it with family and friends.  Worse still were the countless television interviews with everyday Americans describing their fear of flying.  It was like watching us admit defeat.

So what can you do to turn the tide or at least regain some sense of control?

Be alert.  Observe those around you and report suspicious behavior.  Every recent attempt on a US flight was stopped by passengers on the plane, normal people like you and I and all they did was notice something funny.  So take off the headphones, put down the soduko and have a conversation with the person sitting next to you.  If you see something out of the ordinary just walk to the galley and let a flight attendent know (they are very discreet and better equipped to assess the situation) and you just might be the hero next time.

Have a plan.  I know you thought those pesky pre-flight saftey demonstrations  were merely meant to pass the time before you took off, but even if you’ve heard it 1000 times before, pay attention this time.  It has been proven that those who actively listen to the flight attendents, note their nearest exit and actually read the safety card are statistically more likely to survive a catastrophe.  That’s because when you are in a moment of crisis and your survival instinct takes over, your brain will replay this info and react more quickly.  I also encourage you to feel for the life preserver under your seat.  It not only verifies that it’s actually there, but it helps you to develop your own plan of action in an emergency.  (It’s location may also vary from plane to plane and by class of service)

Get in shape.  There is no better way to avoid feeling like a victim than taking a self-defense class.  Even if you aren’t going to go all Wesley Snipes on some unsuspecting terrorist, taking a class on some basic manuevers can help you regain a sense of control.  You’ll feel more confident and inspire others to do the same.

Fly!  The worst thing you can do is stop flying.  That’s exactly what they want.  Hey, how often can you send a message and have fun all at the same time.

FREQUENT TRAVELLER PROGRAMS

December 17th, 2009

One of the most common questions I’m posed with as a Travel Agent is, “What’s the secret for using frequent flyer programs?”.  I always respond the same way, “Loyalty pays.”

When it comes to working the system, your best bet is to figure out which airline/hotel consortium works best for you and stick with the brands within it wherever possible.  With airlines, you should figure out which group operates the most flights within your budget at your preferred airport and which airline in the group you fly the most.  I happen to be a Continental fan and Newark is their hub, so they were naturally my first choice.  Once you determine your airline and sign up for their program, limit your business to that airline and their partners.  For Example, Continental is now a part of the Star Alliance which includes United and US Airways amongst others.  I fly Star Alliance now whenever I can so that I earn continental miles on partner flights.  If you make it to one of the preferred levels of membership in the frequent flyer program like Continental’s elite access, you will get special benefits and accrue even more miles on every flight which really adds up.  (There were a few flights where I earned enough on one flight to upgrade me on the next, all because of my elite mileage bonus).  You will also see benefits on the partner airlines like priority boarding and baggage handling.  Just make sure you follow any changes to the programs along the way as they tend to change every year.

The same applies to hotel programs.  Most hotel brands are part of larger companies.  So whether it’s the Starwood hotel brands or the Hilton brands, your best play is to pick one and stick with it.  This is usually easy to do with hotels as each parent company offers a range of hotel classes beneath it.

Whatever travel suppliers you choose to focus on.  Always verify that your traveller number is included on the reservation and check your balance with them often as there are periodic mistakes and many points programs expire.

NEGRIL, JAMAICA

December 13th, 2009

Because it was my son’s first birthday, I wanted to design a trip that would specifically appeal to him and allow our family to spend some time together.  He’s a fan of sesame street and swimming, so Beaches (a sponsor of Sesame Street) was the natural choice.  I selected the Negril location because Turks and Caicos is not accessible by direct flight from Newark.

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TRANSPORTATION

Continental Airlines
Newark to Montego Bay – 4 Hours
Montego Bay to Newark – 4 Hours

Bus Transfer to Resort – 2 Hours
Bus Transfer from Resort – 1 Hour

Door to Door – 10 hours

ACCOMODATIONS

We spent every moment of this trip at Beaches Negril and rightly so.  The resort location is beautfil and offers so many activities (most included in the stay) that there really is no need to leave.  The staff were friendly and amazing with kids, the facilities are extensive and appeal to a variety of tastes and the place is kept immaculately clean.  This was our first time at an all-inclsuive and we loved it.

I booked the Honeymoon Suite for it’s size, proximity to the beach and the fact that all Beaches suites come with “concierge service”.  The room itself was just OK.  The decor was locally themed, but with a slightly cheap feel and the suite was not actually a true suite in that the bedroom was not actually separated from the living room although it was a good size and had a warm feel to it overall.  The bathrooms were small and in reall need of upkeep.  As for the “concierge service”, as far as I can tell, it was just a private check-in in a special room.  I’m unaware of any other difference.

ACTIVITIES

Relax.  Relax.  Relax.  That should be why you go there.

We spent 3 days doing nothing but relaxing in a cabana on the beach.  The cabana service costs an additional $150 and includes your own private cabana (see photo), concierge from 8am to 5pm, a coolor of beverages on ice, a table and chairs, towels, lounge chairs, meals served on the beach and snacks.    Each day we were greated by Donnel, our concierge, who served us breakfast on the sand, got us drinks, refreshed our towels, brought us fruit and cheese plates, entertained our son, watched our belongings and kept things tidy (he even blew up my son’s raft and killed invading bees).  We asked for cabana 2 which is located on a prime stretch of the beach right in front of the water park, so we could go back and forth between the two all day and that’s just what we did. 

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FLAVORS

The resort offers several dining options ranging from your standard buffet to a Japanese restaurant.  The Mill Restaurant which offers buffet dining is large and well situated next to the main pool.  It has a cozy porch type feeling and gets some great breezes on warm evenings.  While our several dinners there and one breakfast good and well varied in content.  I urge you to avoid the asian themed night at this restaurant.  A lot of people were complaining about the food.  Instead, opt for Kimono’s, the resort’s Japanese restaurant.  The food was excellent and was only outshone by the experience of having the chef prepare your meal in theatrical style right in front of you.  Be sure to make reservations as this is the only restaurant on the property that requires them. 

If you are travelling with children, be sure to sign up for a character breakfast during your stay.  You’ll dine with all of the Sesame Street characters, have a little dance session after the meal and every kid gets a great goody bag.  There is an additional charge for this breakfast, but it is well worth the experience.  Just make sure you book well in advance of the trip as many are sold out ahead of time.

SHE LIKED

The Snap-Shots photographers that roam the property and take candids of you as you move through your day.  You don’t have to make your husband lug around your camera at all because these people are everywhere!  I have over 400 photos of my trip that they took and they look amazing.  Whenever they take your pic, they hand you a waterproof strip that you later turn in at the photo center.  You can also schedule free family portrait sessions ahead of time.  I recommend doing one sunset session and one morning session, and you should be turning in the slips as frequently as possible as they are really easy to lose. 

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HE LIKED

Flipping over the Beaches catamaran.  In addition to the most gorgeous stretch of sand I’ve ever walked on, the beach offers a wide array of watersports activities (which are included with the stay) like sailing, waterskiing, snorkeling, and even scuba diving.  My husband took out a catamaran the last 2 days of our stay and had a ball.  He purposely flipped it over just beccause had always wanted to and because the water was so warm he knew it would be refreshing.  It did, however, take him a good 10 minutes to right the thing afterward, and he refused the assistance of the watersports staff who got to him quickly in a speed boat.

Please be aware that Beaches does not offer Jet Ski rental or parasailing and they do not condone either, but some enterprising jamaicans circle on jetski’s and boats just offshore, calling to the people on the beach.  They are not a part of Beaches and they are not a recognized tour company, so taking them up on their offers is at your own risk.  While we saw people who seemed to enjoy the Jetski rides, it’s not something I would encourage.  For the rest of us, they were just mildly annoying.

KIDS LIKED

All of it.  This is a resort that was created for families.  There is an amazing kids camp that has programs for all ages.  The camp offers a playground, kiddie pool, theater, daycare, art area, character interactions like baking cookies with cookie monster and fitness with bert and ernie.  Older kids can go to a DJ academy or zone out in the xbox 360 zone.  Beyond the camp, the resort offers nightly shows performed by the characters, parades to march in, and beach parties.

My son had a great time in the lazy river which surrounds the water park.  There are no inner tubes in this one, which made for a better experience.  Everyone, including adults, is required to wear a life preserver which they provide.  If you are traveling with a child under 3 or so, I would suggest bringing your own or purchasing one of the smaller type sold at the gift shop as the ones at the pool are too large and don’t offer the between the leg belt that ensures they won’t slip out.

DO OVER

Save on the room type and invest in cabana service.  You will spend every waking moment outside of the room and most of it on the beach.  The price difference in the room category will more than makeup for the expense of the cabana.

You cannot invest in enough bug spray for this trip.  The mosquitos are out of control and because the highest rooms are only 3 stories high, they are equal opportunity pests for all guests.  You can try to stem the tide by making sure close your room door quickly when entering and exiting, hanging wet swimsuits on your balcony instead of in the shower, and using the AC instead of the windows.

In all this is a great trip for families or those who don’t like cruising because of the pace.

ALASKA

November 18th, 2009

COSTA RICA

November 18th, 2009

EGYPT

November 18th, 2009

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO

November 18th, 2009

TRANSPORTATION

Continental Airlines
Newark to Paris CDG > Paris ORL to Marrakesh
Marrakesh to Paris ORL >(+1 Day)Paris CDG to Newark

ACCOMODATIONS

Les Jardins De La Medina is a converted former riad located in the heart of the Marrakesh Medina.  The hotel is located on a quiet street where it’s only marker is a small wood door with a metal palm tree on it.  Upon entry we were directed to the beautiful courtyard where we were served mint tea and snacks while the staff checked us in.  We requested a standard room with  a blacony and were led there by the bellman.  He showed us around the room and out onto a lovely balcony that faced the courtyard.  I was shocked when he then pointed out the stairs up to our private rooftop terrace complete with dining area and lounge chairs.  While the room itself was not impressively large, the outdoor space and charming decor made for one of the best rooms we’ve ever stayed in.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that even the water in the toilet was adorned with rose petals every day.

The hotel in itself was a destination.  Facilties included a large outdoor swimming pool, a lovely shop purveying local goods a beautiful restaurant and a world-class spa.  Perhaps the best service the hotel offered was at the Hammam, a traditional Moroccan steam bath that involves a specially made black soap and an hour of being scrubbed down with special exfoliating gloves.  Although rough at times, you’ll never be so clean in your life and a nice dip in the pool afterward is the icing on the cake.

FLAVORS

One word, OK two…..Couscous.   You cannot visit Marrakesh without consuming plenty of Morocco’s national dish.  We sampled it at various grades of restaurant around the Medina and it was never a bad decision.  Some of the restaurants are tourist traps so steer clear of men on the street trying to direct you into a particular establishment.  Your hotel concierge may offer some assistance, but they are usually on the take.  Your best bet is to ask someone at the hotel who doesn’t work at the front desk.

Please exercise caution when choosing meals that contain uncooked or undercooked ingredients if you plan on enjoying your trip and bottled water is a must.

WHAT TO SEE

Spend a whole day at the Djemaa el Fna, the open square in the center of the walled Medina.    Watch out for the Cobra charmers and the guys in the colorful hats that try to sell you an odd brown beverage that they expect you to drink out of a community cup.  Also, please don’t patronize the men who take your picture with a Baboon.  We saw these animals being severely mistreated a few times.  A great way to spend a sunset is an evening glass of mint tea perched up on one of the restaurant balconies that overlook the square.

You’ll find a maze of souks, markets, that will really test your navigation skills.  Definitely haggle down to the penny on your purchases.  This is not just a sale.  It’s an important cultural exchange that the shopkeepers hold dear.  You know they’ve won the better part of the deal when you are invited home for lunch or tea.  Do take them up on the offer.  Moroccans enjoy entertaining guests.

If you happen upon a very old man with a mountain of carpets behind him, you’ve found Abu Mohammed.  He’ll invite you to scale the mountain of carpets with the phrase “Democratic”.  Make sure you take his address before you leave.  He loves receiving mail and photos from people who have purchased is carpets and he’ll proudly show you these correspondence.

A great day out of the medina is a trip to the Cascades D’Ouzoud.  Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the cascades are beautiful and home to a thriving little community of olive farms and “hippie” camps (during the summer this area is overrun with pot-smoking college students from Europe and the U.S).  The cascades are also home to some cheeky baboons who will come right up to you, so keep a good grip on your camera. 

The most comfortable and surprising inexpensive way to make the 2-hour journey each way is to arrange a private car with your hotel ahead of time.  One you arrive you’ll be greeted by multiple potential “tour guides” who will offer to get you down to the bottom of the falls via a scenic route through the olive groves.  We were a bit skeptical at first, but they are honest people and the trip down through the groves is lovely.  Our guide pointed out all the sites along the way and was extremely excited to talk about the outside world.  In all, he was worth every penny (probably the equivient of $25 for 3-4 hours of touring.

All of the guides direct you to the restaurant at the top of the falls.  Both the food and the bathrooms are dicey.  I’d bring a lunch and use the restrooms located down by the cascades before journeying back up the thousands of steps from the bottom.

 DO OVER

Don’t fly through Paris with an airport change between Charles de Gaulle and Orly at commuting times, EVER.  We had almost 5 hours between flights and even though we were all business moving through the transfer, we had to run onto the plane at Orly.  Paris traffic is pretty much the worst I’ve ever experienced.  I literally could have walked between the airports faster. 

I’d also fly Royal Air Maroc from JFK to Morocco and take the awaiting commuter flight to Marrakesh.  The flights are timed to acknowledge the US passengers and they arrive and leave at times that maximize the time you have to spend in Morocco.