Friday, September 30, 2011

Let the Adventures Begin!

Take a moment to think about your most treasured family memories from growing up. Chances are that several, if not all, centered around some sort of family vacation. Isn't is amazing that out of all the thousands of days you spent sitting around your dinner table, or in your living room as a child or teenager, that the moments that stand out most in your head are those that took place elsewhere?

As the youngest of five children with a thirteen year span between us, I don't have a lot of memories of us all being together at the same time. Someone was always coming and going, and it was rare that we were all together. I would imagine that families with even one or two children nowadays aren't able to all be together much, with the many activities going on in our daily lives. But my most treasured memories definitely bring me back to vacations. When I look back now on the pictures of camping and exploring, I see a bunch of greaseballs in bad 70's clothes and hairdos, but boy does it make me laugh!

Not my family, but you get the picture!

Rarely do these memories have to do with just sitting on the beach reading, but more often they are associated with an event or activity...something that forces the family to DO something together. Now I know it seems like a lot of work for us parents to put together an itinerary for our families filled with activities. Isn't that what we're trying to get away from? Don't we want to just get away for a week and chill? It might sound great to the adults, but what usually ends up happening on Day Two of your beach vacation? Inevitably you hear, "I'm bored."

This is where the Guided Vacation comes in. What has always been known as "Escorted Tours" is now morphing into something more suitable for families. In fact, there are itineraries specifically designed for family travel, with a nice mix of down time as well as exploration suitable for children ages 5 and up, and even the grandparents! The best part is that everything is taken care of and planned out for you in advance, so you the parent do not have to worry about getting out the map, following directions, or waiting in the long lines at every attraction.

The hotels included are hand-picked because of their family-friendliness, and the Vacation Guides are well-trained in keeping the kids entertained and the adults engaged. They are there to answer all of your questions, and can recommend off the beaten path options for your free time. Here are some of the most popular itineraries and a highlight of the trip:

Magic and Make Believe: Your fair maidens can explore Windsor Castle, one of the Queen's favorites!

Castles and Kilts: See the Dining Hall that inspired Hogwarts at Oxford University

An African Adventure: Safari at the Lalibela Private Game Reserve
If you would rather not spend your time traveling in an airplane overseas, there is plenty to do and see right here in our own Americas!

Pioneer Adventures of the Old West: Stay inside the Grand Canyon park for two nights and marvel at the sights

Rockies Thrills and Glacier Chills: Get splashed in a rip-roaring white water rafting adventure

Monkeys, Jungles and Volcanoes: Zipline in the Rainforest

Dude Ranchin' Yellowstone and Glacier Roundup: Become a Junior Ranger at Yellowstone
If you don't see something that appeals to you here, rest assured there are many other options. Whatever you decide to do for your next family vacation, keep in mind that the most important thing is that you are there together creating memories to last a lifetime, and someday when the kids are grown with families of their own, you will look back at the photos and video and treasure every moment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Destination Wedding 'Rehearsal'- This is so cool!

I was planning on holding off on my next blog for a bit because I am heading to Mexico soon and will have some awesome pictures to post when I return. I will be visiting El Dorado Casitas Royale and The Royal in Playa Del Carmen and doing multiple site visits for both brands while I'm there. I can't wait to show you guys first-hand photos and videos of these gorgeous properties!

Anyway, I received a very cool e-mail this morning from the people at Karisma, who own/operate Azul Hotels and the El Dorado properties. Engaged couples who are pondering a destination wedding will absolutely love this! For only $399, brides and grooms can stay for 3 nights at the hotel of their choice and have the opportunity to taste cake options, sample menu items, and even view various locations and setups for their ceremony and private events. On top of that, wedding groups of 10 rooms of more will receive a $500 credit towards their wedding, so the scouting trip/'dress rehearsal' pays for itself and then some. How fabulous is that?!

If you're interested feel free to call or email me ( There are several sets of dates available: Oct. 20 to 23, Nov. 3 to 6 and Dec. 15 to 18. What a great way to get an in-person, head start on the planning process (that's affordable too!).

One more thing~ Don't forget to get your tickets for the upcoming Wedding Fair at the Convention Center on Sunday, October 9. We'll be there from 11:00 - 4:00 with some great materials to share, and will also be collecting entries for a luxurious getaway prize!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Avoiding Group-Travel Disasters (and, random alert! The recipe for the most delicious Pumpkin bars ever!)

It feels like forever since I last blogged! I hope everyone had a fun ending to summer and that you're all enjoying the start of fall. Side note: Am I crazy or is this the absolute best time of year? I love putting away my summer stuff and switching to sweaters & boots, seeing everyone get organized and grounded at home for going back-to-school, making and devouring Williams Sonoma Dessert Squares (these are heavenly!) and last but not least, lighting a Pumpkin Spice candle at home. How cozy does that sound?!
If you don't have one of these in your house 

    I strongly recommend getting one- Yum!

Not to worry if you are a summer-lover though, this posting is not going to be all about my love for the autumn season; it's actually going to focus on group travel. I've discovered a lot of helpful hints while booking so many large groups for destination weddings, and I think there's a lot to be learned from other peoples' mistakes. Here are my top tips for avoiding group travel disasters based on my experience in the industry. If you're a destination wedding bride, I promise you these are worth reviewing!

1. When sending out initial information on a particular vacation package, do not make any absolute statements or promises! Things in the travel industry change all of the time- policies, pricing, availability, etc. The best thing to do is communicate that the information you're providing is meant to be a nice snapshot, but things are always subject to change prior to booking.

Many guests from one of my more recent groups received a Save-The-Date with very specific statements on there, and rather than being helpful (which was of course the intention of the wedding couple), it really misled people about the varying costs based on city of origin, room type, flight preferences, etc. Again, the best thing you can do is strike a balance between too vague and too specific.

2. Do not ever advise guests to wait until later to book! Unfortunately many people still hold the notion that they'll get the best deal if they book at the last minute, and the vast majority of the time, this is truly not the case anymore (especially when you need a large number of rooms). Pricing is often better the sooner you book thanks to 'early booking bonuses,' and furthermore, availability at the hotel is not guaranteed.

Several couples from another one of my groups were advised (not by me) to wait until about three months out to get the best deal. Know what happened? The hotel was totally sold out by then, and the airfare had gone through-the-roof.  I did the best I could to partner with a neighboring hotel to line up a back-up for them, but it's not an ideal situation by any means. Lesson to be learned? Encourage your friends and family to submit their deposit sooner rather than later.

3. Stress the importance of consulting with the designated travel agent. I promise I am not saying this to create revenue for myself, Midwest Travel Service or any other agency!! I have seen waaaay too many mistakes happen when people try to book it themselves, usually because they think they can find it cheaper. In one of my spring groups from last year, a couple of people ended up booking themselves at the wrong hotel, about a hour & a half away from the rest of the group :( It was too late to change by the time they got there and realized it, so they were not only out the money, but they were also out of a lot of fun time shared with the group.

4. My last piece of advice for group travelers is to re-confirm important requests shortly before your group departs (i.e. certain wedding details, wheelchair accessibility issues, etc). I hate to be pessimistic, but just because you initially requested something with the hotel doesn't always mean it will 100% happen upon arrival. Some of the hotels are incredibly busy on a year-round basis, so never underestimate the power of polite follow-up!

For those of you with upcoming group vacations, I hope these tips were helpful. Of course, feel free to contact me for assistance anytime. My email address is

Can we go back to the whole fall topic for one more second? I have just one more thing to share- The recipe for Williams Sonoma Dessert Squares (link courtesy of the 'Bakerella' blog). My family likes to add a dollop of homemade whipped cream, with a drop of almond added of course, on top of the warm bars for a seriously scrumptious experience!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

W.A.T.W. ~ Summer Beach Bodies

The end of summer and the nice fall breezes always bring about thoughts of big warm sweaters, boots and covered-up skin. It's time to forget about losing that 5 pounds gained from Gin & Tonics and summer bbq's, and start thinking about a spring fitness plan I'll need to rid myself of the 10 pounds I will most likely gain from holiday celebrations and Minnesota winter hibernation! I thought this might be a great time to share some of the latest celebrity vacation beach bodies and keep them on-hand when I am looking to stick my hand - yet again - into that bag of Cheetos!! Granted these people most likely don't consistently work a 40 hour work week, and they most likely have a personal trainer and a chef, but for some reason I still feel like my beach pics should look the same!
David Beckham playing with his brood in Malibu 
Brooke Burke and David Charvet celebrating marital bliss on the island of St. Bart's
Heldi Klum on a yacht in Sardinia
Julia Roberts on a family vacation on the island of Kauai
Gwen Steffani and Gavin Rosedale with Kingston in Malibu 
Kendra Wilkinson at a pool party at Wet Republic in Las Vegas
Hugh Jackman takes a dip in St. Tropez
Kate Hudson vacationing apres baby in the South of France
Beyonce shows off her baby bump with husband Jay-Z in Croatia
There it is!  The pictures speak for themselves- Nothing says 'celebrity' like a beautiful beach, a beautiful body and a beautiful smile! Off to find my bag of Cheetos! Until next time...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Aulani Resort and Spa ~ Disney's newest 'Happily Ever After'!

With the upcoming Labor Day weekend here, the question arises, 'Where to go and what to do that will keep everyone in the family happy?' The answer: the Aulani Resort and Spa in Hawaii, the perfect balance of tropical paradise and Disney adventure! Now, I know it's not realistic to fly from Minnesota to Honolulu on a Friday afternoon, experience all that the Aulani Resort and Spa has to offer, and be back home by Tuesday morning at 7am (just in time for the first day of school), but one can dream, right?!

Aulani, pronounced 'ow–lonee,' means “the place that speaks for the great ones” or “the place that speaks with deep messages." The gorgeous resort welcomed its' first guests on Monday and is located on the west side of Oahu, about an hour drive from Waikiki. The sprawling 840-unit resort is the first major Disney property to offer a mix of regular hotel rooms and Disney Vacation Club time-shares away from a theme park. That's great news for those of us who believe that the idea of a 'vacation' is NOT standing for hours in the blazing hot sun with whiny kids, waiting for a ride that lasts less than two minutes, only to hear them complain at the end of the day that they "never get to do anything!" Anyone with me??


When most of us think of Disney, we think of Mickey Mouse and theme parks.While Mickey and his pals do have a presence here, Hawaii and it's natural beauty and culture are the real stars of this show. Everything from designs, textures, colors and artwork come to life both inside the resort and outside the lush 21-acre property. Yes, it’s a Disney resort and your favorite Disney characters will be there, but it’s hard not to get immersed in all that is Hawaii. Walt Disney Imagineers worked hand in hand with locals to create a place that celebrates Hawaiian culture, history and traditions. From contemporary Hawaiian art featured throughout the resort, to myriad recreational activities, culinary programs, excursions and more, Aulani immerses guests in the legends of the islands so you can experience the true enchantment of Hawaii.



Entertainment? YES!! At Aulani, Hawaiian traditions blend with magical Disney storytelling to create world-class entertainment for the entire ʻŌhana. Kids can watch Disney movies, play dress-up or video games, and/or participate in activities such as learning hula while parents hit the spa, beach, take in an adults-only art or nature tour, or enjoy a quiet meal. Tweens and teens have a separate hangout where they can listen to music, eat frozen yogurt and surf the Internet. Besides an 8,200-square-foot pool, there is a 950-foot-long lazy river where kids can glide along in a tube through forests and caverns, a saltwater snorkel lagoon filled with tropical fish, a rock formation with lava tube slides and an aquatic jungle gym called Menehune Bridge. Pay an extra $45 to visit a water preserve where you can feed stingrays and see starfish and anemones (a portion of the proceeds will be donated to conservation efforts in Hawaii). The best part? Most entertainment is complimentary for registered Aulani Guests!!




Weddings are always a fairy tale and for those of you that always dreamed of being a Disney Bride,  Aulani is the perfect romantic setting for your wedding or honeymoon. Aulani offers the benefits of the outer islands but with the convenience of Oahu. And with Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings, your big day will be just as you imagined with every detail thoughtfully carried through creating the perfect place to begin your happily-ever-after!


It's no secret that Disney vacations are never booked based on their 'cheap price'.  Disney does everything first class and in a most perfect example of you get what you pay for; a Disney Vacation is always worth it's weight in gold. The memories you create with your loved ones will last a lifetime and in my opinion, you can't put a price on that! Rooms at Aulani range from $399 a night for a 420-square-foot room, to $549 a night for an ocean view room, to $2,449 a night for the Ahu Ulu Suite (two bedrooms, 1,910 square feet). Not bad considering the rates are comparable to the rates charged at most of Hawaii's other upscale resorts!


For more information on Aulani Resort and Spa, or any Disney vacation, contact us and we'd love to assist you. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Labor Day weekend.