Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Lucia Revealed

This trip made my third visit to the Simply Beautiful island of St. Lucia and the first with my husband. Our main purpose: much needed R & R [rest and relaxation]. With Bill working full time and also in school getting his MBA, he was well overdue. [And hello, vacation is my profession so I must practice it often, right?] From the moment we landed at Hewanorra airport and stepped off the plane into the sunny 86 degree weather, I was sure I’d found paradise.

For starters, St. Lucia is 27 miles long by 14 miles wide. We stayed at Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa and Beach Resort in Gros Islet which is located on the Northwest tip of the island [1 hour 30 minute drive from the airport- a nice tour of the island on the way to the resort. Or you can take a helicopter to save time.] From Northwest Arkansas, Delta offers single connection flight service. It’s about a 2 hour flight to Atlanta and then a 4 hour flight from there to St. Lucia. [They offer an in-flight movie, GOGO inflight internet and some free snacks. I recommend the biscoff cinnamon biscuits but if pretzels or peanuts are your desire, they have those too.] Sandals Grande St. Lucian is located on a beautiful peninsula. To the North [oceanfront rooms] you have Martinique and when the night lights are shining you can see it off in the horizon. To the South [beachfront rooms] you have the beach and Rodney Bay with wonderfully calm waters in the Caribbean Sea.

I’d like to share the top 10 highlights of our St. Lucia vacation [in no particular order]. Sit back, grab a fruity island drink and take note. By the end of this read you’ll be boarding the plane yourself for paradise [but before you do, call Destinations]. Side note: there were well over 10 highlights, so I have a lot of other nuggets and gems tucked away. If you have questions or comments feel free to email me [sarah@mydestinatons.travel].

1. The scenic views. Coupled with the beautiful Caribbean Sea and the Piton Mountains, St. Lucia is set in a picturesque background. On our last day we toured Piegon Island National Park [just a short walk from Sandals Grande St. Lucian and a small $5 entry fee per person]. This counted as our workout for the day too. We climbed to the top of Fort Rodney and took in the beautiful scenery and enjoyed the wonderful breeze. For all you history lovers, Fort Rodney was a signaling station for the U.S. during World War II. Before that, it was used to protect British interests in St. Lucia from the French over in Martinique.

 2. Rainforest Canopy Tour aka the Zipline. Saturday we set off on a 4 hour excursion into the rainforest to swing through the trees [and yes, I felt like Jane and I’m pretty sure Bill = Tarzan]. We did 11 lines total. The longest being 1500 feet [great for taking in the scenery] and the highest measuring 250 feet. Note: if you think this might not be for you, because you are afraid of heights, think again and dominate your fear. The worst part is the anticipation. By the second platform you’ll be taking a running jump start.

3. George of the Jungle, as our tour guide called himself. George picked us up at the resort and filled us full of St. Lucia tidbits during our 1 hour 20 minute drive to the zipline and back. He was phenomenal. He not only taught us about his island [and boy could you sense his pride], but he also gave us hands on encounters with a cacao pod, cinnamon leaves, fresh coconut and candied coconut making for a tremendous experience.

4. Dining at La Toc. Sandals offers a great value-add in St. Lucia. You can stay at 1 resort and play at 3 [all are within 30 minutes of each other and complimentary transportation is provided]. We took full advantage of this and had dinner at the French restaurant at Sandals Regency La Toc one evening. I highly recommend La Toc and its entire chic ambiance complete with petite lamps with blue and white striped shades on each white linen clothed table. The service was impeccable [Bon Travail, Oriel!] and the food was divine. The chef perfectly prepared my bacon scallop appetizer followed by a succulent rack of lamb. We topped off the night with crème brulee so smooth and silky. I can’t wait to dine at La Toc again, until then I’ll dream about the menu.

5. Our Honeymoon Grande Luxe Beachfront Room. Our room was conveniently located to the main pool area, restaurants and beach and offered a breathtaking view. I loved the King size Farmhouse bed complete with cozy white linens you could dive into every night. We had a nice sitting area with a loveseat, ottoman and coffee table. We had a 40” plasma screen tv that could be adjusted toward the sitting area or for viewing from the bed. [We happen to be Winter Olympic lovers, so we enjoyed catching bits and pieces of it from our luxurious room.] The bathroom had a standard bathtub and shower and a his and her double vanity.

The view from our balcony

6. Gordon’s on the Pier. Our last evening we dined at Gordon’s which is set out over the water and you dine in the open air with the cool ocean breeze hitting your back. It is a lovely setting. [Gordon’s is included for guests staying in Butler Suites, or $130 per couple if not.] This seven course fine dining experience was coupled with wonderful service. Our server, Aston, made it an enjoyable laid back evening. We started with the amuse bouche, which was duck. For theappetizer, I had ahi tuna, a shrimp ceviche and a phyllo pastry with goat cheese and spinach. Next, I had a grilled apple and walnut salad. I skipped the soup, but Bill had the conch chowder and raved about it. Then to cleanse the palette, we had sorbet [who doesn’t love dessert before dinner?] For the main course [as if I had any room at all for it] I had red snapper with vegetables and rice [oh and I had them add a couple scallops which were to die for]. Lastly, we finished off the evening with an excellent chocolate mousse and cheesecake. Then we basically rolled ourselves into bed because we were filled to the brim with rich food.

 7. Champagne Breakfasts. Each morning, with the exception of the last, we had breakfast at Toscanini’s where they serve a la carte breakfast served from 7-10am. We would start off with a mimosa and then order from the menu. Among some of our favorites were the egg white frittata, breakfast sandwich and steak and eggs. They had wonderful pineapple too. It’s nice to be served for all your meals and that’s one of my favorite things about Sandals. I don’t think I did a buffet once on my entire vacation. [Although, if that’s your style Bayside is open for buffet breakfast and lunch.]

8. The Millionaire Suite. As fate would have it, I ran into two Sandals Executives from the U.S. who were at the resort on business and we chatted a bit before our dinner reservation at La Toc. I simply stated that I’d love to see the Millionaire Suites and poof; we were whisked away in the Butler Mobile up the bluff to tour one. [Okay, this was paradise.] Oh my goodness, this might possibly be the very best room category in the Sandals lineup. There are 4 Millionaire Suites and they are located on the highest bluff at Sandals Regency La Toc Resort offering total privacy. Simply brilliant is what these Butler Suites are. [I kept thinking, if only I had packed my bags for the night surely they would have let me stay in it.] I’ve got two words to describe this suite. Macked out. In fact, it’s worthy of its own blog post, so be on the lookout for that soon. Oh, and be prepared to drool when you see the pictures.

9. The Sunsets. The sunsets from Rodney Bay are breathtaking. I love to stay out until the sun disappears off in the horizon [it marks the end of a great day when you can say you saw a gorgeous sunset.]

10. Five Star Service. Throughout the resort, I found the service to be exceptional. So much so, that I took it upon myself to let the General Manager know my last day there. I was thoroughly impressed from the front desk staff to the room attendants. It seemed that everyone was interested in how we were enjoying our stay. And, one lady in particular called me by name each time I saw or spoke with her. What a nice touch to really have great customer service. It really adds to your vacation experience taking it from good to great. On the day we left, I noticed both Hotel Managers were thanking everyone for choosing their resort and bidding farewell by shaking hands and helping with luggage. What a nice note to leave on. It definitely made a lasting impression on me. I’ve traveled to a lot of places and was caught by surprise when I saw these two gentlemen and their genuine gratitude. It brought a smile to my face.

 It can’t go without mention that this resort also has great junk food in addition to fine dining. Creamy milkshakes in three different flavors, brick oven pizzas and calzones, nachos, cheeseburgers, crepes and pub food. The list could go on and on [and yes, in answer to your question, of course I tried it all.] As they say in St. Lucia, No Pressure. No Problem. So I just went with it. [I can work it off later, right?]

For a complete album of pictures, visit our Facebook Fan Page

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top 10 Beaches

On my flight to St. Lucia yesterday, I picked up the Delta Sky Magazine and started thumbing through it. I found an article you’re bound to ooh and ahh over. Calling all beach lovers! It’s time to pack your bathing suit, sarong and those Hollywood sunglasses and jet off to one of these spectacular beach destinations.

1. Playa Punta Paloma { Tarifa, Spain } The southernmost point of mainland Spain - about 8 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar from Africa - possesses the best windsurfing and kitesurfing conditions in all of Europe. To visit this destination fly into Malaga, Spain. I can tell you firsthand that this is an amazing site to see windsurfers and kitesurfers alike in action. I studied abroad in Malaga and we did a daytrip to Tarifa. Absolutely gorgeous!

2. Ipanema { Rio de Janeiro, Brazil } Rated by Travel Channel as the Sexiest Beach in the World, the sandy shores that line Rio's coast are the place to see and be seen. Head over to Posto Nove for a full dose of celebrity sightings. To visit, fly into Rio.

3. Grace Bay Beach { Providenciales, Turks and Caicos } - Often named the most beautiful beach in the world, Grace Bay is home to crystal clear waters, 12 miles of white sand beaches and Jo Jo, the bottlenosed dolphin. To visit, fly into Providenciales. I can also tell you about this destination firsthand. The beach is absolutely breathtaking. The water is a beautiful shade of turquoise and when the powdery white sand gets between your toes you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.

4. Pink Sands Beach { Harbour Island, The Bahamas } - Three miles of hardpacked light coral sand line the pristine waterfront of Harbour Island. The sand is made upf of tiny bits of coral, crushed shells and red-shelled single-celled organisms called foraminiferas. To visit, fly into Nassau.

5. Palawan { The Philippines } While Alex Garland’s The Beach took place in Thailand, he drew inspiration from the jagged limestone islands, subterranean rivers and sugary sand beaches of Palawan for the tumultuous tale. To visit, fly into Manila.

6. Lanikai Beach { Oahu, Hawaii } Considered to be one of the best swimming beaches in Hawaii, the turquoise waters remain calm year-round thanks to an offshore reef. Couple that with sprawling white sand beaches and swaying palm trees, and it’s obvious why Lanikai translates to “heavenly sea.” To visit, fly into Honolulu.

7. Bora Bora { French Polynesia } One of the most romantic and picturesque beach destinations, Bora Bora is known for its pristine cerulean waters and stilted accommodations – and it boasts black and white sand beaches. To visit, fly into Papeete.

8. Paradise Beach { Mykonos, Greece } If you are looking for a party beach, this is it. Expect large crowds during the high season (July/August) and loads of tanned and toned beachgoers. To visit, fly into Athens.

9. Plage de la Briande { Saint-Tropez, France } One of the most secluded beaches along the Cote d’Azur is perfect for those looking to sunbathe in solitude. Parents, be forewarned: many beaches in Europe are topless. To visit, fly into Nice or Marseille.

10. Crane Beach { Barbados } Located on the island’s south coast, the beach possesses all the draws of the Caribbean, but with bigger waves, leaving the waters littered with surfers waiting on the next swell. To visit, fly into Barbados.

Article written by Elizabeth Doyle. February 2010 Delta Sky Magazine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Magical Disney Vacation

The Swope's recently returned from an unforgettable trip to Walt Disney World. We anticipated a rocky start to their trip because of snow and ice in Northwest Arkansas, but luckily their flight took off on time and they were able to leave the cold white stuff behind and head for sunny Orlando. [It was Ryan's first flight!] They stayed at Disneys Animal Kingdom Lodge complete with bunk beds for the kids. They also added on the Disney Dining Plan and set up their dinner reservations in advance, which made for a hassle free vacation. Their kids were at such a great age to experience the magical world of Walt Disney. They had a wonderful time and some of the highlights included Breakfast with the Princesses, Addie's visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, thrilling rides, great meals they shared together and of course the autographs from all the famous Disney characters. What a keepsake that will be.

Addie after her makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, doesn't she look like a Princess? I love that she is wearing her tennis shoes so she can run through the park.

Ryan enjoyed the Princess Breakfast most of all! He got 3 kisses. Look at that smile.

Ryan and Addie getting Minnie Mouse's autograph.

Thank you Swope Family. It was certainly a pleasure designing your magical vacation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Traveling Girls

Within 48 hours I'll be on the ground in St. Lucia. Ahh! Goodbye cold Arkansas, hello Sun and Sand! I've been anticipating this trip for sometime. My husband and I are going on this vacation strictly for rest and relaxation. We will be staying at Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa and Beach Resort. This resort is set on a peninsula so we'll have Rodney Bay on one side and off in the distance you can see Martinique from the other side. I can't wait to report back on all the fun things we do and sights we'll see. I do anticipate one day of adventure...we're going to zipline!

Tracee has two fabulous trips coming up. In March she's headed on a cruise on Voyager of the Seas sailing from Galveston. She'll enjoy 7 splendid days on this fantastic cruise ship by Royal Caribbean. One of the ports she's most excited about is Roatan, Honduras. In April she's whisking her husband away to Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exumas, Bahamas. Have you heard of this All Butler Suite Sandals Resort? It's brand new [just opened last month]. This place is ahh-mazing. I can't wait for you all to hear about Tracee's experience firsthand.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Relax, already!

On my recent flight to Dallas I read the latest Redbook magazine and found some stress relievers worth adopting. More than ever, we are all finding stress in our lives to be at an all time high.

5 ways to find your calm in 20 minutes (or less).
By Karen Asp

1. Tidy up a little. Doing 20 minutes a week of housework could decrease your stress levels. Not to mention how great you will feel when you accomplish something on your to do list.

2. Stare out the window. You know how good a walk outside makes you feel. But even just peering through a window can calm you down. Make a point of sitting by your biggest window with a view when you can.

3. Sniff some coffee. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, slip into a Starbucks and take a whiff. Ahh! Research shows that scents can lower anxiety in humans.

4. Score a yoga buzz just by breathing. It's no secret that meditation, prayer and yoga can chill you out. All of those practices bring about what's called the relaxation response: a calming of mind and body that can actually decrease the experession of certain genes in the body, thus lowering baseline stress. Sit quietly and close you eyes. Allow your muscles to relax. Shrug your shoulders; roll your head and neck and sit at ease breathing in and out slowly. Just 15 minutes of this a day can keep the anxiety away!

5. Go on vacation. Okay, so she didn't write this one, but I had to add it. I know you can't do it in 20 minutes each day, but there's proof that people perform better in their daily lives and at work when they take regularly scheduled vacations to decompress, relax and rejuvenate. Did you know it was necessary to vacation? No longer is it a luxury. Now you have strict orders to start planning your vacation.

For the entire article visit redbookmag.com or get the February 2010 Redbook from your local retailer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Carnival Cruise Line Video

Take 3 minutes out of your hectic day to watch this incredible video. You'll feel refreshed and inspired and ready for fun!

Monday, February 8, 2010

LTA Conference in Dallas

Tracee and I spent the weekend at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Dallas Forth Worth Airport. Believe it or not, we never left the airport from the time we flew in Friday evening until we departed Sunday morning. We attended the Leisure Travel Alliance Conference. It was a great weekend full of new things happening in the travel industry. The hotel was fabulous. I'd highly recommend it. Their Grand Met restaurant offers high end cuisine with impeccable flavor. 

On Friday, we flew out of Fort Smith, AR  for the first time. It's an impressive little airport. We were quite pleased with their restrooms. I snapped a picture for you all to see. Come to find out, in 2005 they were named the nation's best public bathrooms by Cintas, which sells bathroom supplies.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sharin' Some Love Today

We enjoy our fellow Wedding Community Vendors in Northwest Arkansas and wanted to share some of their blogs with you today! If you are planning a wedding or just need a referral you will find all of these vendors to be trustworthy, professional and amazing to work with! From time to time, I'll try to plug some great businesses in the area.

Lori Bova with Festivities has just created a hot new blog called My Party P.O.V. Lori has such a great eye for design and puts together some of the best reception decor I've seen. Check out this Saavy Lady and all her business has to offer you.

Have you ever fallen in love with an invitation? You are sure to fall in love with any of Amy Hannon's beautiful custom made paper creations. Check out Sincerely Yours Blog. You'll instantly love Amy's Southern charm and enthusiasm for paper lovelies! 

Every party deserves excellent food. Look no further than The Event Group for all your catering needs. Shellie and Brittney will take great care of you and make sure no detail is overlooked. Check out their blog to learn great entertaining tips, current trends and the latest in catering and events. Did I mention the food is delicious and displayed creatively? Kudos to Chef Jay!

Happy Party Planning!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Free 2010 Bridal Planner

Calling all Brides! Did you know Arkansas Democrat Gazette provides a Free Bridal Planner? It's a comprehensive guide to planning your wedding, complete with checklists and helpful worksheets to fill in.

To get your free copy of the bridal planner, send your mailing address to the following e-mail address bridalplanner@arkansasonline.com.

Make sure to check out Destinations article and ad on page 56. Read the article about popular honeymoon destinations and tips for what may fit your personality.

To view the digital edition of the 2010 Bridal Planner, click here. Arkansas Democrat Gazette also offers an Online Bridal Community. Check it out today. Happy Planning!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Karisma Hotels + Sale = Your Next Getaway

Book in February to take advantage of great promotions going on with Karisma Hotels. Whether it's a Spring or Summer vacation, they've got a deal for you! El Dorado and Azul Resorts in Mexico are perfect for your next getaway. Choose from 4 El Dorado adults-only or 2 Azul family-friendly gourmet all-inclusive resorts in the Mayan Riviera. Not sure which resort is best for you, because they all look amazing? Well lucky for you, we have been to all of the Karisma Hotels. Call on us for our expertise! 888-398-9297

Book in February and travel Feb 1- Apr 30, 2010:

  • Get 4th and 7th night free at El Dorado Casitas Royale
  • Get up to 30% off at El Dorado Royale, A Spa Resort
  • Get up to 35% off at El Dorado Seaside Suites
  • Get 10% off at El Dorado Maroma, A Beachfront Resort
Book in February for travel May 1 - Aug 31, 2010:
  • Get 15% off + Guaranteed Free Suite Upgrade at all El Dorado Resort! 
Book in February for travel March 1 - Apr 30, 2010:
  • Get 30% off at Azul Beach and Azul Sensatori hotel + Kids 5 & under stay free & kids 6-15 years old only pay $50/night
Book in February for travel May 1 - Aug 31, 2010:
  • Get 20% off at Azul Beach and Azul Sensatori + 1st kid 15 & under & all kids 5 & under stay free, and kids 6-15 years old only pay $50/night  

Monday, February 1, 2010

Where We Are Headed Next

This weekend Tracee and I are headed to Dallas for the Leisure Travel Alliance Conference. We hope to learn lots of great new things going on in the vacation industry! Maybe we can even squeeze in some time for a little power shopping [a girl's best friend].

On February 17th I'm taking off for the beach. My husband and I are going to St. Lucia in the Caribbean for some rest and relaxation. We will stay at one of the Sandals All-Inclusive Resorts on the island. They are spectacular. Did you know that St. Lucia is known as the Hawaii of the Caribbean? They have lush green moutainous terrain as well as banana plantations and a volcano. The Piton mountains make for a gorgeous backdrop in St. Lucia. 

In March, Tracee is taking a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Galveston on the Voyager of the Seas! She'll be cruising in style with some other agents taking part in a Seminar at Sea. I'm sure she'll also find plenty of time for fun too. This ship is full of activities from ice skating to rock climbing, nightly shows and a Royal Promenade for shopping and enjoying an ice cream treat. 

Where are you headed next? Give us a call, 888-398-9297, to plan your getaway.
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