Wednesday, February 22, 2012

MTS Couples: Holly + Matthew

One of our MTS brides recently returned from her wedding at the Sandals Halcyon resort in St. Lucia. Here's what she had to say about the all-inclusive resort:

We had a wonderful time! So beautiful down there. We loved the resort and also visited the Grande [Saint Lucian]. We liked the Grande too, however we really enjoyed Halcyon the best. Much more relaxed and the rooms are closer to the ocean.

Other than her valuable feedback, Holly also sent me a photo album full of vacation snapshots from their adventures. It started out with their arrival at the airport and covered everything from the horseback riding excursion, dinners and cocktail hours, their wonderful beach wedding and more. It was so much fun to browse! She was nice enough to let me share some of their pictures here- It was really hard to pick though! I love how natural and candid their photos are... They look so happy and relaxed, don't they? Take a little peek for yourself:

Congratulations to the new Mr. and Mrs! I am excited to work with you again in the future and am SO happy you enjoyed your trip :) Thanks for sharing your experience with me!

Cruising ~ Spa Style

When I think of cruising I immediately think of lazy days on deck, sunning myself on the most gorgeous Caribbean beaches and food and drink to my hearts content.  A vacation fit for a queen...that is until I return home!  It's no secret that cruise vacations in the past have brought about thoughts of heavier homecomings (that endless consumption of food and drink has got to end up somewhere!), not to mention most needing a vacation from their vacation!  Not anymore!

The presence of spas on cruise ships is not necessarily a new trend. Indeed, the days of exercising in a closet size studio and maybe a beauty shop onboard that might offer an occasional hand massage are long gone!  Cruising, along with all the traditional amenities it has to offer, now offers the opportunity to invest in your well being as well.  Cruise ships are now offering their guests everything from massages and aromatherapy wraps, to steam rooms, full gym services and even some medical treatments!  The good news? It is possible to stay healthy while cruising!  Here's a few highlights of what some of the top cruise lines are offering.

Carnival Cruise Lines: Four of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships feature the 21,000-square-foot Cloud 9 Spa.  The spa spans two full decks on the forward portion of the vessel offering large picture windows for panoramic views.
Among its features are a thalassotherapy (seawater used as a therapy) pool with a glass dome, a thermal suite with climate-controlled rooms, 17 private-treatments rooms, and a full gymnasium. A private elevator connects to the 68 spa staterooms and suites.  Not to worry, the remaining ships in the Carnival fleet also offer Spa experiences.  Guests can also stay in shape with Spa Carnival's state-of-the-art exercise equipment, jogging track and aerobics classes. Each ship's spa features a staff of knowledgeable fitness experts ready to assist her guests. Spa Carnival also features a variety of beauty treatments that will have you looking and feeling your best. Services for men and women include facials, loofah treatments, manicures, pedicures, and hairstyling.

Cloud 9 Spa Suite aboard Carnival Breeze

Carnival Cloud 9 Thalassotherapy pool

Norwegian Cruise Lines operates with a fleetwide agreement with Mandara Spa, a leading operator of exotic resort spas in the world. Spa treatments reflect the beauty, spirit and traditions of Bali. Services include the Hawaiian Majesty, Bali-Press, and Four Hand massages. Exquisite treatments like the Oxygen Lifting or Japanese Silk Booster Facials nurture guests inside and out. For those special occasion evenings, you may finish your spa visit with an up-do or manicure and pedicure. NCL Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line's newest vessel, has a 31,000-square-foot Mandara Spa, reputedly the world's largest such facility afloat, with two dozen treatment rooms, private couples' villas,  two exotic steam rooms, Do It Yourself sugar or salt scrub, hydrotherapy, thermal suite, and a salon and barber shop.  She offers 39 spa suites and  balcony staterooms featuring mood lighting, circular beds and several come with whirlpool tubs.  Guests of these rooms also gain free access to spa facilities.  Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic even offers mother-daughter massages and ice cream–themed mani-pedis, proving you’re never too young to relax and rejuvenate!

Norwegian Epic Spa Suite

Spa pools aboard the Norwegian Epic

Holland America Cruise Lines:  Holland America's newest Signature Class ships feature spa staterooms, most with private balconies.  In-room amenities include yoga mats, iPod docking stations and Elemis bath products.   The Greenhouse Spa & Salon offers breathtaking views for guests as they enjoy exotic skin, body, and hair treatments ranging from hot stone massages and pedicures to hair styling and facials. Facilities include a heated ceramic lounge reminiscent of an opulent Turkish bath, therapy rooms inspired by an exotic blend of cultures, or a hydrotherapy pool bubbling with warm sea water. Whatever the service, passengers enjoy the indulgences that are a signature feature of Holland America Line cruises.

Spa Suite aboard the ms Nieuw Amsterdam

Holland America Greenhouse Spa and Salon

Fitness Center aboard the ms Nieuw Amsterdam

Disney Cruise Lines: Not just for kids anymore, Disney ships are catering to the adults as well.The Vista Spa & Salon offer some adult pampering that always leaves you wanting more. For example, onboard the Disney Magic or Disney Wonder couples may share a rejuvenating spa experience with a Vista Spa Villas Treatment. Upon arrival, couples receive a soothing foot cleansing on a private outdoor veranda. Couples then relax in a bubbling hot tub amidst the incredible ocean vistas and warm tropical breezes from this perfect perch. Following a massage or other treatment of your choice, the experience culminates with a traditional tea ceremony. Other spa treatments include an Elemis Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap, Exotic Hand Ritual with Manicure, or Marine Facial, to name a few.  Rather then wonder why you spent your adult vacation time on a Disney Vacation, you'll be highly disappointed when your cruise comes to an end.

Couples Massage room at the Disney Cruise Lines Vista Spa

Celebrity Cruise Lines:  On Celebrity's Solstice class ships, the AquaClass staterooms are located within steps of the spa.  They all come with balconies, five jet shower systems, upgraded bath products, fine linens, a healthful room service menu and spa access. Celebrity Cruises offers a two-deck AquaSpa that includes a Persian Garden aromatherapy room and Relaxation Room. In addition to deluxe manicures, mineral essential facials, and aromatherapy massage, you may also pamper yourself with a hydrotherapy spa bath, herbal steam bath in the Etruscan Chamber, or Elemis Synergistic Therapy, which combines reflexology, Shiatsu, and pressure-point massage. Or splurge for the Sensory Heaven treatments, offered exclusively on Celebrity Cruises.  A nearby specialty restaurant, Blu, features Mediterranean-influenced "clean cuisine."  Celebrity Solstice class ships are among few to offer acupuncture at sea.

Treatment room aboard Celebrity Solstice class ships

AquaSpa ~ Celebrity Cruise Lines 21,000 square foot complex

Blu Restaurant ~ serving health conscious cuisine

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines:  Not to be outdone, Royal Caribbean is one of the first lines to introduce the younger generation to the luxuries of the Spa, GenerationYSPA, a program specializing in services and treatments for teens ages 13 to 17.  Spa services include Acne Attack, an oxygen facial for problem skin, or Fabulous Fruity Facial, a massage for the face utilizing a moisturizing, organic mixture of fresh fruits. The girls take a break together to enjoy the side-by-side Mother and Daughter Paradise Massage, or smarten up the tootsies with a Sole Mate pedicure. Boot camp fitness classes get the blood pumping to prime tweens and teens for adventure. Royal Caribbean International's newest, and currently the world's largest, ships, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas contain the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, which includes a two-deck semi-enclosed solarium on the bow. Seating in this facility is on "islands" surrounded by burbling water, swimming pools, and whirlpools.  Opportunities aplenty to leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvinated!

Thermal Suite aboard Oasis of the Seas

Oasis of the Seas Fitness Center

The Epic, the Allure of the Seas, and all Celebrity Solstice–class ships are now offering some medical treatments as well.  Botox, acupuncture, even teeth-whitening, to name a few.  Who knows, face lifts, liposuction and tummy tucks may not be far behind.  Eat and drink to my hearts content AND return home tighter and thinner than when I left!  Now THAT'S a dream vacation!!

Until next time...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Resort Spotlight - Sandals Emerald Bay

If you've ever driven up to Lake Superior from the Twin Cities, you'll remember that moment when you leave the farmland and pine trees behind, turn the corner, and suddenly the vast waters of the lake appear before you. That moment was always a small thrill for me growing up. Now fast forward many years and multiply that feeling by millions...this is what I experienced a few months ago when I first saw the breathtaking Bahamian waters of Great Exuma.

Honestly I have never seen water that color, and I have no adjectives that do it justice. I just know that during the short 10 minute transfer from the most adorable little airport you've ever seen (think Little House on the Prairie schoolhouse) to Sandals Emerald Bay, there is a moment that you will never forget. You turn the corner and this water appears before you that shocks your eyes. It disappears behind trees and brush and you cannot wait to get another glimpse. When Emerald Bay emerges again it slowly starts to sink in - you are in for one incredible vacation...

Sandals Emerald Bay is a new resort that has already earned top honors in the travel world. In 2011 it was voted Best Honeymoon Caribbean Resort by Bride's Magazine. It is the recipient of Travel Weekly's 2010 Magellan Gold Award for Golf Course Design. The World Travel Awards voted it the Bahamas' Leading Spa Resort, and the Red Lane Spa has earned the Six Star Diamond Award.

But more about Sandals in a minute...first I want to tell you about the location. When most people think of the Bahamas, Nassau immediately comes to mind and that's great. But if you're willing to spend an extra hour on a plane, there is so much more in the Out Islands of the Bahamas. The Exumas are a 120-mile chain of islands south of Nassau. Many are private islands home to stars such as Johhny Depp, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (you know how we love our stars here at MTS). The largest is Great Exuma, and that is where you'll find Sandals Emerald Bay.

It is actually pretty easy to get to! Many airlines offer just one connection from Minneapolis/St Paul, including American and Delta, and once you land, the customs and transfer process is a breeze since they can only handle one plane at a time. The weather here is almost a sure thing, as they enjoy an average of 340 sunny days per year! The temps range from 70 - 90 degrees, and really only fall about six degrees at night, which makes for a light suitcase and low baggage fees - we like that!

And now for the is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. Perfect for a honeymoon or time away from the daily grind. It features three fresh water pools, including the Caribbean's largest zero-entry pool with a fire pit in the center! I loved the fact that the pool areas have so many conversation areas. Many resorts just throw hundreds of lounge chairs out around the pool, as if you're going to sleep by the pool all day long. Not Sandals! They have couches, chairs, poolside cabanas with misters, and tables in the pool that make it comfortable to hang out and enjoy your day any way you prefer.

While it is a more quiet resort, there is still plenty of action. At Sandals, all-inclusive really means just that! Complimentary to all the guests are dance lessons, introductory golf and tennis lessons, live music, jazz performances and piano sing-alongs. If watersports is your thing (and who wouldn't want to test out that 72 degree water?) you can kayak, windsurf, hobie cat sail, snorkel, scuba dive, or take out a paddle boat all at no extra cost! They also offer social events, like White Nights, Beach Parties and Chocolate Late Night Buffets.

After all that activity you will definitely have to spend some time at the incredible Red Lane Spa, a 16,000 square foot, award-winning facility, with 16 treatment rooms, and hydrotherapy areas that you are free to use any time.

One of my favorite experiences here at Sandals Emerald Bay was touring the golf course. Greg Norman designed this 7001 yard, par 72 Championship course, which features 6 Signature Oceanside holes. To me, that means nothing because I'm not a golfer, but trust me when I tell you that this course MUST be experienced. The beauty of the contrast between the green fairways and the turquoise waters, the peacefulness of the waves crashing against the rocky shore...pure heaven. I could have stayed there for hours, until someone nailed me on the head with a golf ball. Just kidding, but that would've been funny.

Sandals Emerald Bay is truly a luxury property in every sense of the word. Each room comes with personal Concierge service, and if you stay in a One Bedroom or more, you will get your own professionally-trained Butler, who will take note of all of your preferences and make sure you are always refreshed with a drink and stocked with everything you need to enjoy your vacation to the fullest.

There are so many wonderful luxury resorts to choose from, but do yourself a favor and visit this one. Unlike many, it is truly an oceanfront resort in your own private mile-long bay. I promise that the memory of that indescribable color of Emerald Bay will carry you through the next cold Midwest winter.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day, Sandals and Pinterest

Does everyone have something prepped to remind loved ones they're special tomorrow? It's almost Valentine's Day in case you forgot! I know a lot of people think Valentine's Day is just another way for the card companies to rake in more dough selling over-priced cards (which I don't entirely disagree with), but I still enjoy 2.14 and think it offers a nice opportunity to be thoughtful and remind those who're near-and-dear that we adore them!

In case you don't have anything for your sweetie just yet, check out the Sandals sale which ends in just a couple of days. Take a moment to browse and you'll see that there are some GREAT deals currently offered which include plenty of extra perks and inclusions. Why not treat yourself and your honey to some time away together?! You have to admit that the couple below appears to be having a great time :-) Here's a link to view more info.

One more thing before I wrap up this quick little post! Midwest Travel Service recently joined the Pinterest community so I want to share that link as well: MTS on Pinterest. We just joined so our pinboards are still pretty bare, but we're looking forward to finding and sharing lots of cool stuff on this new site soon!

Are you on Pinterest? It's a pretty intriguing site that allows members to visually organize and share the things, sites and ideas they love + find inspiring (quickly and easily too!). If you decide to check us out and do a little browsing of your own, don't say I did't warn you about how addicting it can become!

Happy Valentine's Day to you all~

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Resort Spolight and W.A.T.W. ~ Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita

One of my favorite things about my 'job' is visiting different resorts around the world and experiencing them as you would.  What do they have to offer that would create wonderful 'lifelong memories' you could take with you and look back on with great fondness?

Before I even stepped foot inside Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita, I knew this resort was special!  From the moment I entered the lobby graced on either side by Zoetry's mascots, Hope and Prosperity, I could feel the wellness, serenity and romance that is the focus of the resort surround me and I was hooked!

The main lobby entrance during sunset featuring unique, contemporary designs welcoming guests into a world of unmatched luxurious indulgences!

Another lobby view featuring decor that is the epitome of serenity, privacy, wellness and romance!

Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita is perfectly situated along Cancun‘s famed Riviera Maya just 20 minutes from Cancun‘s International Airport and is set on 14 acres, including 500 yards of private beach.  The resort offers a new kind of vacation experience focused on wellness, serenity and romance, as well as social and environmental responsibility.  Highlights include 90 uniquely decorated oceanfront suites; a 22,000 sq. ft. Thalasso Center and Spa - the first Thalassotherapy Spa in North America (I didn't initially know what that was either so let's just say it's Amazing! ); 3 restaurants featuring gourmet cuisine and stunning views; and 2 luxurious lounges, each serving premium brand domestic and international beverages.  It's easy to see why Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita has earned the AAA Five Diamond Award for 8 consecutive years!

Aerial view of the resort! Check out the pristine freshwater pool, and gorgeous sandy-white beach!

The ultimate in relaxation!

 One of my favorite things about Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita is their Endless Privileges® concept. Endless Privileges® are the privileges available to all guests designed to create unparalleled experiences.  A few of the benefits included in this concept are: personalized, private chauffeured airport transfers; unlimited worldwide phone calls and concierge service; daily breakfast, lunch and dinner gourmet dining options with an assortment of organic food and beverage selections; complimentary cocktails and specialty beverages from a variety of domestic and international premium brands; sunset catamaran sail; shopping excursions by boat; complimentary 24-hour laundry service; a Thalasso Seawater Treatment per guest; as well as complimentary golf.  And I'm not done yet!

Ocean Front Suite Bedroom
Private Terrace with stunning ocean views

Ocean Front Suite featuring spacious living area opening onto a large private terrace with a plunge pool, double sun lounger and direct beach access
A few of the other Endless Privileges® inclusions related to your accommodations include:
  • Luxurious accommodations with Bvlgari bath amenities, multi-functional rechargeable outlets, aromatherapy pillow and linen scents, fine quality linens and bathrobes, a complimentary handmade beach bag and oceanfront suites featuring terraces providing direct access to the private beach
  • 24-hour private, in-room dining
  • Maid service three times each day
  • Fresh bottle of champagne and basket of fruit daily
  • Welcome bottle of Tequila
  • Daily afternoon tea time featuring real live plants for tea name just a few!
Now on to the culinary options available to you.  Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita offers 3 restaurants and one Sushi and Ceviche Bar.  Each restaurant features superb, gourmet cuisine and a large selection of light, heart-healthy and vegetarian dishes.  They squeeze their own fruit juice daily and make their own ice creams, sherbets, bread and pastries.  Be sure to sample the Iced-Tea of the Day, served throughout the resort!  Long pants are required at some of the restaurants in the evening for men so be sure your hubby or significant other brings a pair along.  Best part of all...No reservations required!!

La Canoa Restaurant ~ Award winning AAA Four Diamond restaurant

Outside patio of La Canoa Restaurant with gorgeous views of the ocean and sunsets!

Poolside Hippos Bar

Exquisite and romantic 5,000 bottle wine cellar and private dining room for special occasions with room for up to 10 people.  I've never seen anything like it!

When all else fails...private dinner on the pier ;)
The Spa! There is no better place to experience the concept of a spa than at Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita!  Tucked between a lush mangrove forest and a secluded white sand beach, the Thalasso Center and Spa is a true temple of relaxation and healing. You can experience the perfect blend of ancient tradition and modern science through a wide range of treatments.  I could've spent a month in the Spa alone!

Indoor Jacuzzi Spa

Outdoor Hydrotherapy sea-water pool. Heal ~ Revitalize ~ Detoxify!

Not to worry if you're not like me and can't spend a week sitting in a beach chair with a good book, a better drink and getting pampered to your hearts content, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy.  Take advantage of all Zo√ętry Paraiso de la Bonita has to offer including fresh water and salt water swimming pools and a private beach, both with wait staff service. Go sailing aboard 'La Bonita', the resorts private 4-cabin catamaran.  Also offered is snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, tennis, yoga, wine tasting and culinary classes, Mayan and Spanish lessons, dance classes, cooking lessons...get the idea?  Not to mention complimentary golf and close proximity to both Cancun and Playa del Carmen for some 'off-resort' entertainment.

Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita also offers wonderful 'Romance Celebration' opportunities.  Because the entire setting is so special and intimate, it adds a spectacular atmosphere to the romance of weddings and honeymoons.  Several options and packages are available but I'll leave those for another time.  If you can't wait to hear the details, contact me and I'd love to share them with you!

Oh, and I got so carried away with my Resort Spotlight that I almost forgot about the celebrity part of my post so I'm forced to keep it short.  Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita has welcomed Malin Akerman, actress and model who has appeared in such films as The Proposal and Watchman and the TV show, 'How I Met Your Mother'.  She was there with her husband to experience the 1st vacation she's had in 3 years!  Another celebrity sighting at the resort was Heidi Klum - I believe she needs no introduction.  She was in Cancun to film her new perfume ad and I'm told fit in very well with the other guests and was a fan of the homemade pita.  I wonder if we sat in the same beach chair?  I always knew I could rub shoulders with celebrities!!

For more photos on Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita, visit our facebook page and check out our album.  We love to share!  Until next time!!