Wednesday, June 22, 2011

W.A.T.W. ~ France...The Most Visited International Tourist Destination

Recently, my fellow blog partner (not to mention one of my favorite persons in the whole world :)) Christina, participated in Mama Kat's Writing Workshop and shared with us a photo story of her most recent trip to the beach.  The whole process seemed like such fun that I thought I'd try it myself!  My writing prompt:

 "A country you would like to visit"

I'm passionate about 2 things - well, there are more than 2 things that I'm passionate about, but I'll address just 2 of them here- Travel and Celebrity Gossip.   Because this is a Where Are They Wednesday post, I'll start with a little celebrity gossip and Paris.  Recently Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris made it's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.  'Midnight in Paris' was filmed over seven weeks in France's capital. According to the festival director Thierry Frémaux, “Midnight in Paris is a wonderful love letter to Paris. It’s a film in which Woody Allen takes a deeper look at the issues raised in his last films: our relationship with history, art, pleasure and life. His 41st feature reveals once again his inspiration.”  Although I'm not much of a Woody Allen fan, the idea of seeing 7 weeks of Paris filming on the big screen puts that movie at the top of my 'must see' list!  Secondly, it was recently brought to my attention that John Travolta and his family celebrated Father's Day in Paris.  They spent the weekend seeing the sites, posing with fans and enjoying each other.  I mean, if it's good enough for Kelly, it's certainly good enough for me!

Now back to the task at hand.  France and all it has to offer!  Earlier this week, The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) released the top 4 International tourist destinations for 2010.  World tourism is ranked both by the number of tourist arrivals and by the tourism revenue generated.  The #1 destination was France and in fact, France has held the #1 spot the last 3 years.  I've never traveled to France but for years have dreamed of what my visit will be.  I started preparing at a young age when I took French in High School with the hopes of some day speaking the language of love.  Unfortunately, I can only remember a few random words and phrases...
Ouvrir le porte (open the door)
Taisez Vous! (be quiet! - recited in a stern voice by Madame Weinstien to inattentive students)
Vous êtes gros (you are fat)
Je suis très jolie (I am very pretty!)
Bibliothèque (library), Amie (friend) and most important of all...Baiser (kiss).  I have a feeling my limited vocabulary will not serve me well, nonetheless, my desire to travel to France and all it has to offer has never lessened.

Compiling a list of what France has to offer is difficult as the list of top attractions is long and luxurious. From outdoor activities, to historic sites, to great food and wine, the city of Paris is at the top of my list. But wait, what would a visit to France be if I couldn't experience Normandy and it's picturesque coastline, with the solemn D-Day beaches. Or better yet, Versailles, Paris' own political center.  I can't leave the country without a visit to the French Riviera home of some of the best beaches in the world!  The opportunities are endless!!

The Eiffel Tower

Notre Dame

The Louvre
I'm exhausted and I haven't even shared with you yet how to get there, when to travel or where to stay!  Never fear, any of us at Midwest Travel Service would be happy to assist you with your dream vacation to France.  Who knows, you might want to bring me along as your guide.  You never know when you might get stuck in the 'library', with people talking so loudly that you'll need to tell them to 'be quiet' and 'open the door', because 'you are pretty' and want to 'kiss' your 'friend'!  (I left out the 'you are fat' part because I don't want the French thinking Americans are rude!)  Should that happen, you're in luck.  I can speak that fluently!!   Until next time...

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Skinny On All-Inclusives

One thing I've noticed within each wedding group is that there are always a few guests who are unfamiliar and a bit uncomfortable with the all-inclusive-resort aspect. This always surprises me because I absolutely love the concept and the all-encompassing experience it allows for! I figured that reviewing the benefits as well as 'Do's and Don'ts' might be a great reference for some of my future wedding groups, so here goes!
Top three reasons to love all-inclusive vacations:
1. You can save a bundle.
An all-inclusive package typically includes accommodations, all food + drinks, entertainment, on-site activities and even transportation to and from the airport. This type of bundling allows people to get the most for their money! Another financial perk of all-inclusive vacations is cost-predictability. You will know the total price of the vacation from the day you book and only need to bring money for extra things like shopping and/or motorized excursions (jet-skiing, parasailing, zip-lining, etc.).
2. You can be entertained from dawn to dusk.
Many activities are offered for free such as snorkeling, wind-surfing, sailing, fitness classes and beach parties (just to name a select few). These provide a lot of fun opportunities to travelers who want to do more than poolside lounging. The best part? These little adventures are both free and on-site/convenient.
3. There are almost always fun childcare options offered.
Most of the family-friendly resorts offer kid's clubs where younger travelers can be entertained for hours. Furthermore, many of the all-inclusive resorts have multiple groupings so that each age-cluster can do intriguing and age appropriate activities. Examples include mask-making, kickball tournaments, sea lion shows, water balloon battles, Lego contests, sack races, video/board games, broom hockey and more.
The Do's and Don'ts:
- DO ask if you can use the facilities at sister resorts if you're staying at a chain resort. Many places provide transportation between the properties which allows for 'more to explore' at no additional cost.
- DON'T expect an intensely cultural experience. To be quite honest, native culture is not a main priority at many of the all-inclusives and some spots are in very secluded beachfront areas.
- DO inquire about potential additional costs. Clarify exactly what comes in the all-inclusive package at your resort without making assumptions because there is some variance. Certain resorts may charge more for things like premium brand liquors, gratuities and private babysitting services.
- DON'T leave your dinner clothes behind. Some people assume since they're not venturing off-property for dinner that beachwear is o.k. Not true! Even casual resorts have dinner dress codes, so make sure to pack appropriately.
- DO look South, as many of the best all-inclusive deals can be found in Jamaica, Mexico, Aruba, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. 90-95% of places in spots like Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti are not all-inclusive which seems to be a huge misconception.

So are you feeling more familiar with the all-inclusive concept? I hope so! I know that many people are unsure about this route but I'm telling you, it's sooooooo worth a try. If you have a favorite all-inclusive spot feel free to share it in the comments section... I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

W.A.T.W. - The Bachelor in Costa Rica

There are some things in life you should never be ashamed to admit.  In my opinion, Reality TV addiction is at the top of the list!  My TiVo is one of the hardest working appliances in our house and pretty high on the list of what to grab on the way out in the event of a fire!  (I'm kidding of course - or am I?)   Monday nights are a favorite of mine for 2 reasons.  The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.   I know I'm not alone as viewers of both of these popular series number in the millions.  I gather it's no mistake that as the number of viewers rise and more seasons come and go, ABC is finding new ways to keep us watching - as though the drama the show entails isn't enough!  Whatever their reason, it works for me as the various locales are some of the most spectacular in the world!

The latest season of The Bachelor was a season like no other.  I mean they brought back one of the dooffiest (the only word I could think of to describe Brad Womack) bachelors...EVER, rounded up several available bachelorettes and as the season wore on and girls were eliminated, sent the final 8 off to Costa Rica for some mystery and romance.  Once there they stayed at The Springs Resort and Spa.  Since that episode aired we've been getting numerous requests for more information so I thought W.A.T.W. would be the perfect place to share a few details of this quite amazing resort!

The Springs Resort and Spa is a 165 acre luxury boutique five star hotel in La Fortuna, Arenal, Costa Rica with the best view of the Arenal Volcano and the most onsite guest amenities including a 14,000 square foot full service Spa, hot springs, a kilometer of frontage on the Arenal River and a wildlife rescue preserve with 25 rescued jungle cats and monkeys.

The Resort is best described as a romantic boutique hotel that is a perfect honeymoon destination, but also a great family resort with many children’s activities. It is located a mere 20 minutes from the main town of La Fortuna in a secure, self contained and family-friendly resort atmosphere.The resort boasts 18 hot springs pools spanning over 4 acres of landscaped recreational area there is plenty of room to spread out and relax. Each Guest Room and Villa at The Springs Resort and Spa includes a Private Terrace with Balcony and Picturesque Volcano view.

They offer a wide array of on and off-site tours for the adventurous or if you're like me and your idea of vacation is a pina colada, a lounge chair and a great book, their 18 freeform, landscaped pools allow you to do just that.  The resort also offers Destination Wedding Packages, Spa packages and Day Visitor Passes.  Contact us and we'd love to help you find the perfect Costa Rica vacation for you!

Season 22 Bachelor - Brad Womack (sorry, Brad...couldn't resist ;))
 As the bachelorettes were eliminated, the travels continued to Anguilla and South Africa but I'll save those equally exotic destinations for another time.  If you're not a fan of the show, in the end Brad chose Emily.  Word on the street is the engagement didn't last but I'm sure the memories of Costa Rica, a beautiful and magical place, will last a long, long time.