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Why You NEED to go to Africa NOW…

Before I was a luxury travel advisor I was off in a different world as a graduate student working towards a Master’s degree in International Studies. I had always loved travel, and I had always loved learning about the world, but I never truly realized how much travel and tourism are tied to international development and conservation…until 2008. In 2008 I visited Senegal, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa. I remember visiting a “village” (really one family’s compound) outside of Damaraland Camp in Namibia where they had received electricity as a result of the construction of the Camp. Water from the village and camp drained to the garden that provided food for the guests and the village. Contributions from camp guests allowed the village to install an electric fence around their own water source and garden to protect against those pesky desert elephants. I found this symbiotic relationship to be repeated from camp to camp and community to community along our two week adventure. So, after taking the plunge to go for my Master’s I decided to focus on how travel leads to development, and if it is always such a good thing or if it can have negative consequences, as well. My final paper for one of my graduate classes was titled “International Cooperation Around Tourism as a Development Strategy”. Were there countries that were missing out on both receiving tourists and also boosting their economic development?


Children playing in the village outside of Damaraland Camp, Namibia

The world of luxury travel is seemingly disconnected from these issues of poverty, development and environmental conservation, but I was reminded again at Virtuoso TravelWeek last month that these two concepts go hand in hand. Africa, the continent that continues to be plagued by disease, corruption, poverty, starvation and many other maladies, is also one of the most popular destinations for luxury travel. The theme of the Africa lunch this year was “conservation” and Les Carlisle, Group Conservation Manager with &Beyond, reminded us how important it is that guests continue to travel to Africa. More than 17,000 jobs in Africa are supplied by members companies of the Virtuoso network, with the influence of those jobs reaching 80,000 plus people. Without clients of ours visiting these Virtuoso hotels, camps or resorts, or Virtuoso tour companies arranging itineraries to the continent, there would be almost 20,000 fewer people without a job. As we all know, travel to Africa isn’t cheap; as a result, the clientele visiting Africa tends to be from the upper echelons of American society. This doesn’t mean these guests just happen to have more money, but it also means they come from the top layer of the world’s most influential members of society. When those guests return from an eye-opening trip to Africa, they tell their friends who then go to Africa, and they tell their friends and so on. All this does is bring ongoing exposure to the plight of the African people, animals that live in danger daily, and the environment that is under constant threat (degradation of the environment would then subsequently reduce the desire for tourism).

With more people becoming aware of the issues at hand, there is more that can continue to be done privately to protect the fragile environment, as well. For example, South Africa has three times more land under private conservation than it does government controlled national parks. Nearly 18 million hectares of land is under private control and conservation in the country. Did you know one rhino is killed every twelve hours? Did you know that one of the best ways to protect and save the rhinos is to travel to see them? As Les stated, “conservation is beyond competition”. All of these companies that compete for my clients and your business are all working together to improve the status of the African people. By education and knowledge the environment can be preserved, jobs retained, communities developed and tourism increased to this great continent. As the saying goes “You leave Africa, but Africa never leaves you…”

Some examples of “Travel for Good” programs in Africa include:

Wilderness Safaris - Wilderness Safaris created the “Children in the Wilderness" program to teach the next generation how to be leaders in environmental conservation and sustainability. It allows local children to visit the Wilderness camps while learning about these important concepts. Read more about Children in the Wilderness here

&Beyond - &Beyond is another African luxury tour and camp operator. They have the &Beyond Foundation which has raised over $6 million for community development programs in 5 African countries. They also utilize a motto of “Doing Well by Doing Good” and do so by “integrating international travelers and rural people for their mutual benefit”. Read more about &Beyond’s conservation and development efforts here 

Singita - Singita has accommodations in South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. These accommodations are largely considered the most luxurious accommodations available to safari-goers in Africa. While all of the camps have programs to encourage community involvement, development, wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability, all of the profits from Singita Pamushana camp in Zimbabwe are redirected to the Malilangwe Trust. Read more about Singita’s “Giving Back” programs here

Micato Safaris - Micato Safaris is consistently voted one of Africa’s best tour operators…year after year. Their “One for One” and “AmericaShare” programs are widely lauded as great examples of programs that directly link tourism to community development. The “One for One" commitment is simple: For every safari that is sold, will send a child to school. AmericaShare is Micato’s foundation that allows its guests to contribute directly to community development in East Africa. Read more about Micato’s community involvement programs here

All of the companies above provide their guests with the opportunity to participate hands on in these programs whether through volunteer efforts or community visits. For more information on any of these companies or to plan your own visit to Africa, please contact me at Laura@CenturyTvl.com. As always, follow along on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/LauraAllenTvl for more travel tips and updates.



Who’s having more fun here? Me sharing stickers with the kids of Cape Town’s Khayelitsha during a township visit in 2011.


(All statistics in the body of the article taken from Les Carlisle during his TravelWeek speech. All other statistics taken from relevant company’s website)

Heaven…In a Hammock & Elsewhere…

I love spas. That’s it, there’s nothing more to say. I love them. I would go to the spa once a week if I could, maybe even twice. I’ve never really met a spa I didn’t like…well, there was that one experience in Sri Lanka (it started with “now take off all your clothes”). Anyways, I don’t visit spas very frequently except for when I’m visiting hotels for work and I’m able to partake in a treatment to experience it as my clients would.

Last weekend I had the opportunity of visiting the Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. Even though it’s in what used to be my own backyard, I had never been. As it turns out, the spa at this hotel is one of the largest spas in the entire Ritz-Carlton collection. They have treatment rooms, wet rooms, couples suites, couples relaxation areas and both men’s and women’s private locker areas with whirlpool, sauna, steam rooms and showers, capped off with a private spa pool (i.e. – no kids). In addition, the Spa provides a few extra special treatments that can’t be found just anywhere. I was given an incredible tour of the spa with in depth detail by Stacy, one of the therapists and managers of the spa. Like the restaurant SALT at the hotel, the Spa also utilizes pink Himalayan salt throughout for touch therapy, scrubs, salt block massages and bath soaks. They even let me choose my own chunk of salt to take home with me for therapeutic purposes. Stacy was a wealth of knowledge about all things spa. If you really are looking for that detailed experience, ask for Stacy!


Spa pool at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island

I’d been hearing about this signature “Heaven in a Hammock” for a long time. Given it’s their signature treatment and I was in the South…I decided to give it a go. I had visions of lying in a traditional hammock with someone leaning over massaging me…This is NOT how it is! The hammock is specially designed and sourced for this experience by a man in Mexico. After a description, I laid down perpendicular to the hammock with my feet extended in front of me – essentially I was cocooned in this hammock. The advantage of treatments in this form rather than on a table is that resulting pressure on your back and vertebrae is next to nil. I really did experience a sense of weightlessness which allowed me to truly relax. Special “goggles” (or eye mask) were placed on me that produced melatonin which increases relaxation. Combining elements of massage, touch, stretching, aromatherapy and reflexology, this treatment really is unique. I was instructed not to think about how Stacy was touching me but I found out later she used her hands, feet, forearms and knees throughout the treatment. The Heaven in a Hammock really is perfect for that guest looking for a relaxing spa experience outside of the ordinary massage or body wrap.


One of the hammocks used at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island for the Heaven in a Hammock treatment


The Hadashi treatment room at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. Hadashi: “In this ancient form of massage, therapists balance from bars while using their feet to perform deep, soothing strokes, which induce deep relaxation and stimulate self-healing.”

While the Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia is best combined with a stay at the hotel (and with incredible Virtuoso amenities included it’s the best value!), the Spa does offer Jacksonville locals a 25% discount on all treatments on Sundays! Jacksonvillian’s take note!

I’m writing this post from 30,000 feet as I’m en route to Acqualina Resort in Sunny Isles, FL. Acqualina is host to an ESPA spa where I’ll be receiving a Swedish Massage this afternoon. I love it when hotels have spa facilities that are often as indulgent as the treatments themselves. It’s a great way for guests to feel pampered even if they can’t indulge in a treatment. I hear Acqualina has a private spa pool, Finnish Sauna, steam room, ice fountain and hydrotherapy showers. I can’t wait to see how it stands up to other spas! (UPDATE: The spa was fantastic! I especially loved the steam room with oscillating colored lights and the ice fountain!)

5 of my favorite (or notable) spa experiences include:

The Viceroy Anguilla: I was lucky enough to have a massage and facial here. My favorite thing about this experience? The surprise foot massage that came along during the facial! This spa also has oceanfront spa cabanas available for those who truly want to escape.

Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa: Killarney, Ireland may not be a huge city, but the Spa at Aghadoe is a huge draw for locals from Killarney and throughout Ireland, as well as the hotel’s international guests. In addition to a range of treatments, this spa has Turkish baths, a series of hydrotherapeutic showers with various pressures and temperatures, steam rooms and saunas, relaxation chaises with the softest sheets I’ve known and heated loungers with views of the Lakes of Killarney.

Ayurvedic spa in Colombo, Sri Lanka: I know this style of spa experience is an important aspect of Sri Lankan culture. What I didn’t know is how wildly different it is from the spa I’m accustomed with. Let’s just say being told to fully undress in front of the therapist was a disarming way to start that spa day.

Brush Creek Ranch: I had the opportunity to visit this luxury ranch near Saratoga, WY while it was still under development. While now the ranch now has a full-service spa, I was lucky enough to have a Swedish massage outdoors in a teepee! Rustic elegance doesn’t get much better than that!

Inn at Palmetto Bluff: During my brief visit in 2010, just as the Spa at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff was named Best Spa in the Country, I got to have the rosebud scrub. While the treatment was great, the best part of the spa experience at Palmetto Bluff is outdoor copper bathtubs on the screened in porches overlooking the May River. I also fondly remember that they drove my Mom and I back to our rooms via golf cart in our bathrobes from the Spa as we were just too comfy to change.

For information in these or any other hotels I can be reached at Laura@CenturyTvl.com. As always, follow along on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/LauraAllenTvl for travel tips and updates!

Virtuoso Travel Week 2012…Recap

My main takeaway from this year’s Virtuoso Travel Week? It truly is the culmination of the Best of the Best. Being in the presence of the world’s best travel advisors, hotels, resorts, cruise lines, tour companies and other travel suppliers only serves to improve my knowledge. It’s an incredible feeling to know you’re part of a network where everyone’s primary goal is to improve the experience of the Virtuoso traveler. (That means YOU, my clients!


One-on-one appointments in action

Throughout the week of 358 personal one-on-one appointments and many other breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktail meetings I learned quite a bit. Here are my major takeaways and favorite experiences of the week:

- The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island and the Fearrington House Inn are two of only 14 hotels to have the AAA Five-Diamond Award for the Hotel AND Restaurant. Luckily for me I got to kick start my Travel Week on Sunday with dinner with representatives from both hotels (and some other fabulous friends)

 - Royal Malawane, a luxury safari camp in South Africa, is adding a fully Kosher kitchen. What a great way to accommodate and respect guests with specific dining requirements!

 - When overnighting in Los Angeles, you don’t have to stay at a dingy airport hotel anymore! The Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey is just 10 minutes from LAX and offers a “Lavish Layover” Package. What better way to spend those awkward hours between flights than at a Ritz-Carlton?

 - Sending clients to Africa is one way to contribute to the conservation of the wildlife and environment on this impoverished continent. (More on this later)

 - More and more hotels are making their Virtuoso amenities flexible. While some may have offered lunch or dinner credits, or a golf credit, many are now making these resort-wide credit. More choice for you in deciding to where to spend those complimentary one hundred dollars!

 - On the same note, many hotels are offering accommodation upgrades at the time of booking. That means the value is added from the second you confirm your stay.

 - How lucky am I to have a significant other in the same industry? Not many people get to spend a week at a work conference with their boyfriend!

 - Wi-fi is soon coming to international flights! Thanks, Delta! What do you think about this technological development?

 - Colombia and Panama are two Latin destinations that will be very popular within the next ten years. Why not beat the crowds and plan your trip there now?

 - I can now legally book clients to Cuba!! (Not that I booked clients illegally before!) Many tour operators are now able to arrange itineraries with the appropriate requirements for travelers wishing to experience this incredible destination. (I can vouch for its awesomeness – I was lucky to go in 2004!)

 - Francis Ford Coppola followed his passion and in the second half of his life found himself moving away from filmmaking and towards the hotel and wine industry. What a story he has! (And amazing hotels to boot)

- I’m in the industry of making dreams come true. What a job I have!

 - Lastly, if you read my last post you’ll know my photo was one the 20 finalists chosen for the Virtuoso photo contest. While I came away with an honorable mention, it was so fun to walk past it and see it up on the wall for the whole week, and subsequently printed in the September issue of Virtuoso Life! What an honor to be chosen for this and to be included with such an incredible group of photographers!

Virtuoso TravelWeek 2012

Read through to the bottom for an exciting announcement…!

A week in Vegas might sound appealing (or miserable), but it’s that time again. Virtuoso TravelWeek (previously TravelMart) begins again on Sunday, August 12th lasting through August 16th. I’m excited to be attending the world’s best luxury travel conference from August 10th-17th this year for the third year in a row.

TravelWeek is the culmination of the luxury travel industry with the best of the best hotels, resorts, cruise lines, travel advisors, tour companies, various travel suppliers (airlines, car services, insurance providers, etc) and many other travel experts coming together in a serious of four minute appointments for four days straight. Just as fashion buyers might head to fashion week, I head to TravelWeek to shop the newest products and trends in travel for you, my clients. My schedule this year has me set up for 328 personal one-on-one appointments. In addition to these meetings, TravelWeek consists of VAST (Virtuoso Active and Specialty Travel) on Saturday where many adventure and experiential travel companies showcase their newest products, destinations and itineraries (this is always a fun event and it’s own mini-adventure!).  Lastly, while there are many “official” TravelWeek events, much goes on behind the scenes with personal breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cocktails parties, hallway chats, etc.

I’m excited and honored to go on this annual buying trip for my clients for the 3rd year running. Making personal relationships with general managers, hoteliers and destination experts allows me to create superior personalized experiences for my clients. Make sure to follow along on Twitter @LauraAllenTvl for specials, promotions and updates I’ll be sharing live from TravelWeek!

Check out the following links for more information on Virtuoso TravelWeek!

Virtuoso TravelWeek

Virtuoso Defining Moments in Travel

The Power of One to One


(Photo from Travel Weekly)

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!

Every year before TravelWeek, Virtuoso has an annual photo contest for all of its advisor members. We are allowed to submit up to five photos for consideration. One of my five photos was chosen as one of twenty finalists that will be on display at the Bellagio during TravelWeek!! I wasn’t told which photo was chosen, so click here to see my submissions and let me know which is your guess for which is nominated as a top shot!

The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation

The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation is just about as convenient of a weekend getaway as you can get. I recently had the chance to visit the hotel to see for myself what it is that my clients seem to be so obsessed with! I think I have 3 or 4 sets of clients visiting Reynolds Plantation in August alone, so it was time to see what this was all about!

With the rustic atmosphere of a lodge up North or out West, hospitality reflective of Southern charm, and luxury and service typical of the Ritz-Carlton brand, it’s the perfect hotel for any occasion. The hotel offers the Ritz-kids programs for families where kids can partake in activities in half or full day increments while parents enjoy the lake view infinity pool, spa or a nap! Storytelling, bonfires, canoes and fishing are just many of the activities available for kids. Many of the same activities are available to the big kids who visit Reynolds, as well. The property boasts five golf courses, full service spa, infinity pool with food and beverage service, paddle-boarding, kayaking, jet-skiing, nightly bonfire and, of course, smores. I also highly recommend the “smortini”, the more intoxicating version of the classic camp favorite.

The Lodge is a convenient one hour and 30 minutes from Atlanta, making it easy for Atlanta/Georgia locals, or for guests flying in to ATL. If you’re not local to Georgia, how fun would it be to visit Atlanta and see the sights such as the Aquarium, world of Coco-Cola and a Braves game for a few days before finishing at the Lodge for fun on the lake? A major perk whether you stay one night or four nights…clients of mine always receive Virtuoso amenities of a complimentary upgradeat the time of booking, complimentary full breakfast daily, a $100 resort credit and complimentary valet parking for the duration of your stay. Early check-in and late check-out can always be requested to maximize your time at the resort!

A few of my personal tips for your stay at Reynolds…

* If you can visit the Lodge at Reynolds Plantation on a Sunday it’s well worth it! The hotel hosts a Sunday night fireworks show and live music in the summers. The last show of the season is August 12th and then Labor Day!

* While the hotel has enough to keep you busy for days, visit the BMW desk to get your own BMW for a complimentary 3 hour rental! Use this time to explore the local area, indulge in some Southern comfort food and go antiquing!

* If you wish to enjoy Linger Longer, plan accordingly! The restaurant is only open Wednesday-Sunday.

Mason Jar goblets as a welcome amenity:
South + Fancy = the perfect fun welcome amenity!

Curtis did a wonderful job of keeping me fed and well hydrated while on-board a sunset cruise on the Spirit of the Oconoee

Considering the hotel has their own “BBQ-Butlers” for guests staying in any cottages, a BBQ-Sauce challenge created healthy competition among the group.

Kids will always be occupied on Saturday nights with traditional Native American singing and storytelling detailing the rich history of the area

Early bird gets the best chair selection at the infinity pool overlooking Lake Oconee

Linger Longer Steakhouse offers traditional steakhouse fare from lobster, seafood, quality steaks, extensive wine offers and apparently also awesome sunset views of the Oconoee Course (I even glimpsed 2 deer playing on the course!)

The Summer of a Travel Advisor…

I’m sure my friends and family are starting to wonder what exactly I do as a travel advisor. What they see is me traveling almost every other week and subsequent nice, shiny pictures of (mostly) beautiful hotels and destinations. The reality is this: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel quite a bit this summer inspecting hotels and learning about new destinations for my clients. What that really means is I’ve seen more than 20 hotels, probably triple that in hotel rooms and have increased my knowledge of these destinations. It also means I’ve been slow on the blog updates, but here’s a good start in getting the ball rolling again…

Here’s the rundown of where Summer has taken me this year:

May:

Charleston, SC
Hotels visited:
Planters Inn
The Sanctuary at Kiawah

June:

Anguilla
Hotels visited:
Viceroy Anguilla
Cap Juluca
CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa
Ani Villas

St. Barths
Hotels visited:
Hotel Le Guanahani
Le Toiny
Hotel Christopher
Hotel St. Barths Isle-de-France

St. Martin
Hotels visited:
La Samanna

Key Biscayne, Miami, FL
Hotels visited:
The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne

July:

Peru
Hotels visited:
Country Club Hotel, Lima
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Inkaterra La Casona, Cuzco
Hotel Monasterio, Cuzco
Palacio Nazarenas, Cuzco
Titilaka, Lake Titicaca

Sea Island, GA
Hotels visited:
The Cloister at Sea Island

Lake Oconee, GA
Hotels to be visited:
The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation

August:

Miami, FL
Hotels to be visited:
Acqualina Resort & Spa On the Beach
The Setai South Beach

* August also will take me to Las Vegas for Virtuoso TravelWeek  - the largest luxury travel event of the year from August 10-17th. This is my annual buying trip for clients where I learn the latest and greatest trends and products in luxury travel. Learn more about Virtuoso TravelWeek here

* March took me to San Francisco and Napa Valley where I saw:

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
Clift Hotel
The Fairmont San Francisco
Bardessono, Napa Valley

I admit, in the midst of planning travel and visiting new hotels that this blog has gotten left behind. Stay tuned for in-depth updates on the above hotels and destinations. In the meantime, follow my travels on Twitter @LauraAllenTvl!






2012 Forecast…

After having started the year with such a bang, I can’t help but be struck with such optimism for the year ahead. I feel so lucky to start 2012 as I have, both personally and professionally. The year started with me making a big transition from Jacksonville, FL to Atlanta, GA. Not only am I closer to my boyfriend which is a huge plus (and my childhood best friend!), but I also have the opportunity to be working with one of the country’s best travel agencies, Century Travel. Century Travel is a Virtuoso agency comprised of expert travel advisors which means I’m surrounded by the best in travel knowledge all day long. Not only is Century a Virtuoso agency but is also a preferred partner of many of the world’s best travel companies. What does this mean for my clients? Your travel experiences are only going to get better! I feel so lucky to be so busy at this point in my career and the diversity of my clients’ plans keeps me on my toes all day long. From planning weekend getaways for young families to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, honeymoons in Thailand and Cambodia, ski trips to Colorado and a 3 week itinerary to Mustique, St. Barth’s and Anguilla…I’d say this year of travel planning is off to a fantastic start. 

Personally, I’m so fortunate to be in a city where I have a wonderful job and a great support system. It’s been great fun to start the year with such changes, and I have even more exciting travel opportunities ahead for me…starting with San Francisco and Napa next week. I’ve never been to either and can’t wait to tour some of San Francisco’s hotels (Ritz Carlton, Fairmont and The Clift), see the sights and visit my favorite (and only) brother. In Napa I’ll be enjoying the lovely Bardessono Hotel and dining at the famed French Laundry, an experience I’ve been eager to have for many years.

Next up on the travel agenda is a still-in-the-works visit to Anguilla and potentially St. Barth’s. Both are such popular destinations with clients these days that I can’t wait to see them firsthand to be able to give clients the best tips and recommendations for their stay.

In June comes something I never thought I’d see: Machu Picchu! I have only visited South America briefly on Semester at Sea so I can’t wait to see the fabulous Inkaterra properties and visit one of the highest lakes in the World, Lake Titicaca, while staying at the beautiful Titilaka.

Machu Picchu 
peru-machu-picchu.com

The final destination on the agenda so far is Croatia and Montenegro. Both of these countries are still somewhat up and coming and fantastic alternatives to the common European destinations. I can’t wait to see how such recent historical changes in these countries comes to light for travelers. One of the best parts of this trip? I get to take my Mom who’s always wanted to visit Croatia.

waterfalls, Plitvicka Jezera, Croatia, photo
Plitvice Waterfalls - Croatia http://www.widerange.org/photo/plitvice-waterfalls-croatia/

All in all, this post is about sharing how lucky I feel to be living such a great life so far in 2012. Happiness is all relative and the fact that I get to share something I love, the World, with my clients on a daily basis makes it all worth it. I feel incredibly thankful to have been so warmly welcomed to Atlanta by Century Travel, fellow travel industry colleagues and long-time friends. There really is something to say for Southern hospitality…

A Disney Finale…

My last trip of 2011 was an easy one…no flying, no passports, no currency exchange. Disney was the perfect finale to 2011 and just the right spot to ring in 2012; After all it is the happiest place on earth, right? The week between Christmas and New Years happens to be one of the busiest for Disney. This means if you are planning your trip late in the game (like I was) the likelihood of finding accommodations at a Disney hotel, especially if you have specific needs/desires for your lodging, is slim. Since telling a 3 1/2 year old who has already been told he’s going to Disney that he is in fact not going to Disney is impossible, we opted to expand the search to non-Disney hotels.

The Waldorf-Astoria Orlando is just 20 minutes from Orlando International Airport and has fantastic views of the Disney parks. Our stay was nearly perfect, from being offered complimentary drinks while we waited for our room to the friendly staff and beautiful grounds. Since the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando is a Virtuoso property, Virtuoso clients receive perks like upgrades to rooms with views of the nightly fireworks, breakfast and a resort credit. We were lucky to be upgraded to a large, corner suite with direct views of the parks and fireworks, which meant we got to watch FIVE fireworks displays on New Years Eve!

It really seems as if hotel management has thought through how their guests utilize the property. This is evident through the “grab and go” breakfast set out every morning as an alternative to the sit down breakfast buffet. The grab-and-go breakfast option really made sense in order to beat the lines at the parks (you can even use your complimentary breakfast credit on this!). The pool is heated year round allowing kids the chance to swim in the late afternoons while parents enjoy cocktails by the poolside fire pits…there was even a hot chocolate bar for kids! The Waldorf-Astoria Orlando thinks as much about the adult guest as it does the younger guests, too. There is a fantastic lobby level bar and lounge that can host patrons of all ages, and the classic Bull & Bear provides a gourmet dining option.

One of the most common issues that arises when planning a trip to Disney is transportation and proximity to the parks. The Waldorf-Astoria Orlando really has 3 main options for this: self-drive, cabs and complimentary shuttles. We tried out each of these options at least once in order to see how they all worked. With the choice of valet or self parking, renting a car and driving to the parks is a great option; it was just a 5 minute drive from the hotel to Epcot! The hotel also always has a bevy of town car cabs available for guests (one drawback is they are slightly more expensive than a traditional cab, although much more comfortable). Finally, the hotel has complimentary shuttles to all four parks that run on a continuous schedule and take about 15-20 minutes depending on where you’re going.

All in all, the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando is the perfect non-Disney Disney hotel. While it is a luxury hotel, I’d definitely consider it more of a value than the Disney hotels. It came in at nearly a third of the price, included amenities and hosted nicer accommodations. For those guests that dread visiting Disney, this is the perfect place to escape the chaos of Disney at the end of the day! (They make a mean martini, too!)

Check out photos of the Waldorf-Astoria Orlando here and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @LauraAllenTvl for more of my musings on travel.

Six Nights in Nevis…

As I laced up my tennis shoes yesterday and caught sight of the mud still dried to them from hiking “The Source” trail in Nevis, I was (again) reminded of how long overdue my review of the island is, so here goes…

It all started on the Four Seasons Nevis boat from St. Kitts to Nevis where in addition to being greeted with rum punch and hospitable Nevisians I was also greeted with this:

After such a warm welcome from Four Seasons staff and the weather, I knew we were going to have an amazing week. The thing that sets Nevis apart from other Caribbean islands I’ve been to is that I imagine it’s how many of them felt decades ago before they became too touristy or overrun with cruise ships. Perhaps, advantageously, it’s the island’s size which limits this…all for the benefit of the island. The Four Seasons Resort Nevis is the main resort on the island complete with guest rooms, suites, villas, golf, tennis, spa, etc and was my home for the week. Some other notable properties on island are Montpelier Plantation, Nisbet Plantation and Golden Rock Inn. All of the properties have their own perks or drawbacks, but the commonality between them all is that they are all great! Nevis is the place that has something for everyone…the lounger, the adventurous, the child, the honeymooner. It’s the island that people may not have heard of. It’s the island you can go to and not leave your hotel if you don’t want to, or you can have dinner at a local restaurant every night if you choose. While its size keeps everything in check, it doesn’t affect the availability of variety from activities to dining.

A few highlights for us:

Dining:

Mango at the Four Seasons: This was our first meal on the island and did not disappoint with dishes designed from fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. Exactly what one expects to enjoy in the Caribbean.

Private Nevisian Meal at Four Seasons Nevis: Executive Chef Andreas at the resort overheard us discussing how we wanted to try the local dish of “goat water” (goat stew) we kept hearing so much about. Chef Andreas, an honorary Nevisian having lived on Nevis for a while, offered to specially prepare a Nevisian meal just for us…consisting of conch chowder with coconut dumplings, goat water for boyfriend, dorado roti with mango chutney for me and johnny cakes. Simply amazing…the food and the gesture! 

The Mill at Montpelier Plantation: Montpelier Plantation is a Relais & Chateaux property located on the slopes of Nevis Peak. As an old sugar plantation, which are scattered all over the island, the aesthetics are stunning and character abounds. If you’re lucky, try to snag a table in the Mill…a tasting menu with wine pairings lit by candlelight will not disappoint.

Sunshine’s: Home of the Killer Bee. Any bar that serves a drink with undisclosed ingredients is never a good sign (for your liver), right? The Killer Bees were delicious, the Alabama football great (Roll Tide) and the grilled lobster even better. Sunshine’s has a reputation for a laid back beach bar with potent cocktails, but no one mentioned the food! Delicious!

Miscellaneous:

Beachcombing: While Nevis may not have crystal clear water and white sand like some islands in the Caribbean, it sure has some spectacular shells!

Sunsets: Whether you’re directly facing the sunset directly or perhaps facing Nevis Peak, the sunsets are incredible and light the sky no matter which direction you look.

People: How many places do you go on vacation where almost a month later you can still recall staff/locals you met by name? Winston, Fabian, Kishondra, Humpy, Timothy, Chef Andreas, Lisa and Maureen are just some of the many people that made our stay amazing.

On the plane home boyfriend said to me, “I get the feeling that this is the type of place where if we came back next year everyone would remember us”. Could there be a better endorsement for Nevis than that?

A First Thanksgiving…in Nevis

I’ve been dating a man for less than a year (long-distance), and so far we’ve been to six states together and two countries. I don’t know if it’s because we’re long distance, or that we’re both in the travel industry, or that we both just get itchy feet quickly, but we seem to be covering a lot of territory. In this vein, we both agreed to buck tradition for Thanksgiving and spend Thanksgiving in NEVIS! For us, Nevis is somewhat special as in one of our very first conversations together we discussed our preferences in Caribbean islands (again, travel industry), and we both independently said we’d love to visit Nevis one day. Fast forward and we’ll be on our way in less than a week!

Nevis, located in the West Indies and sister island to St. Kitts, is only a short flight from Miami, and also easily accessible from San Juan. What makes this island so unique is its small size, mountainous topography and plethora of activities. Although we’ve attempted to limit our “schedule”, as an example of variety offered on the island we already have plans to scuba dive, go fishing, hiking and “veg”. We’ll be staying at the Four Seasons Nevis where there is golf, spa, swimming, sailing, tennis, etc…everything you’d expect from a luxury island resort. Recently reopened after a full renovation following serious hurricane damage in 2008, this is the premiere five star property on the island. In addition to the Four Seasons, Nevis has a range of accommodations such as boutique properties like Montpelier Plantation (a Relais and Chateaux property on an old sugar plantation-we’ll be dining here one night), Nisbet Plantation and Golden Rock Inn. Nevis’ history is in sugar plantations adding a historical element often overlooked in the Caribbean. Did you know Alexander Hamilton was born and raised in Nevis? Nevis Peak, at 3200 feet, is the recognizable feature of the island, and it is for that which the island is named. When Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1493, he named it Nevis in honor of its cloud-topped peak resembling nieves – or snow in Spanish.

Four Seasons Nevis

I’m so looking forward to taking tons of pics, relaxing, and learning as much as I can about the island during my stay. Of course, follow along live at @LauraAllenTvl on Twitter; I’ll have lots of stories to share upon our return. We’ve already decided to toast our Thanks for this year over Dark and Stormies…appropriate for a first Thanksgiving in Nevis.