Four Seasons Orlando – an oasis of family fun!

A genius idea at Four Seasons Orlando: At check-in, the children are each given a "Passport to Adventure" that includes a scavenger hunt. They must get stamps from various outlets around this vast property. Once all of the stamps have been collected, they receive tokens that can be exchanged for a free scoop of delicious gelato from "Lickety Split". I'm fairly certain that Four Seasons has clued into the fact that the children will then take off as soon as they arrive on a desperate tour of the Resort with parents in tow. We spent our first hour after arrival at 7 PM, collecting these prized stamps but only allowed the children to cash in on the reward the next day. What? Don't judge unless you've tried spending the night in a hotel room with sugared up children at bedtime. Want to add more sweet treats to your stay? Call me. I'll give you the goods.

Top 5 things to include in your Hawaiian Vacation Planning

Accept the offer for the ABC Stores Reward Card.  At the first purchase, you probably won’t think you’ll meet the targeted $100 to qualify for a reward but you’ll be back, and you’ll exceed that amount by the next day! You might as well earn the free mug or t-shirt, so do not throw away your receipt for those inflatable water toys.

If you’re planning a visit to Pearl Harbor and hoping to get on that boat that takes you to the USS Arizona Memorial, reserve your tickets as soon as they become available two months prior to your dates.

While you’re making early reservations, book a Luau.  You’re in Hawaii for heaven’s sake!! Choose one that offers authentic Hawaiian dishes and try to reserve early for good seating.  We enjoyed the luau experience at Old Lahaina in Maui; the pre-show is very entertaining for the kids.

Check the weather forecast before attempting the self-drive to the summit of Haleakalā.  We did not and found ourselves on a 3-hour mystical journey to the clouds.

If you’ve got 5,000 American Airlines Frequent Flyer miles and you don’t know what to do with them, you can book a 1-way flight on Hawaiian Airlines (code-share partner) from Honolulu to Maui (subject to availability).  It’s a fantastic deal.

If you’re flying from the East Coast, go ahead and schedule tours and activities for early in the morning.  You may think you’ll sleep in on vacation but that 6-hour time difference will have you wide awake at 5:30 AM and asleep in your dinner plate by 9.00 PM for the first few days.  Cancel the clubbing unless you are terrific at the power nap!

Review: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

     The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is one of my family’s favorite places.   It’s an oasis in a city that can be overwhelming to the senses.  Complimentary shuttles from the Resort will get you to Walt Disney World, Seaworld and Universal but when you’ve had enough of the heat and noise, gracefully and gratefully retire to the calm spaces and elegant rooms of the Ritz-Carlton.

Top 5 reasons why Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is perfect for families:

1) Kids are # 1 -  Children have their own check-in station at Guest Reception where they receive a “VIK” (“Very Imporant Kid”) bracelet that somehow gets them free ice cream in the lobby. 
     If you’re traveling with toddlers, this property offers “The Protect Our Little Ones” (P.O.L.O.) guestroom package that includes blocking electrical outlets from little fingers and removing alcoholic beverages from the in-room refrigerator to accommodate bottles and other necessities.

2) The Ritz Kids Program  - Home base is a cheerful and comfortable lounge with pets, games, engaging and friendly counselors.  The program is fully supervised, focuses on environmental conservation and most of all, is FUN! My daughter spent a couple of hours fishing by the lake, cuddling with a rabbit and happily absorbed in arts & craft.  The resort fee includes 2 Pool floats and 2 free hours of the Ritz Kids Program daily.

3) In-room camping – Sleep in a tent in a hotel room?  Pure awesomeness!  If you book an Executive Suite, you can order a tent for a child instead of a rollaway bed.  When else can bedtime be this exciting?
The  In-Room Camping experience costs $75.00 and includes one premium tent per executive suite, complete with (per child):

•    A double featherbed with double sheet, waffle blanket, and standard pillow 
•    A battery-operated lantern 
•    A children’s book 
•    A stuffed animal 
•    S’mores themed pastry with welcome card 
•    Ritz-Carlton tent delivery and set up

4) Activities galore! – Looking for the cure for boredom?  You’ve come to the right place. There is so much to do on property, as well as at the neighboring JW Marriott (Ritz-Carlton guests also have signing privileges at the restaurants and pool side bars) that there will be at least one person in your family who will not wish to depart on account of not having the time to do one cannot-leave-without-completing-my-life-will-be-irrevcoably-altered-if-I-am-not-indulged thing.
•    Kayaking & Eco Tours
•    Golf
•    Spa (offering treatments for kids and teens as well)
•    Bocce Ball Court
•    Surrey Bikes
•    Lazy river pool

5) Great Food – Buffet breakfast is a real treat at this Hotel and something to look forward to every morning.  It’s a complimentary Virtuoso amenity for 2 and not to be undervalued.  All of the dining outlets deserve recognition for the quality of cuisine and the $100 food and Beverage credit that accompanies a Virtuoso booking, means you have added incentive to sample the food in all of the dining rooms. The new "Highball and Harvest" restaurant serves up field to table cuisine with produce from the Resort's 7,000 square-foot garden located at Whisper Creek Farm.     
     The Club Lounge is an indulgent treat -  spacious with five exciting food and beverage offerings per day.  There is a dedicated family room with a television and games at one end, although children once accompanied by an adult, are welcome to sit anywhere.  Huge, delicious cookies and milk were particularly popular with my children, and there was vitamin water (wine) for Mom, in addition to  a selection of coffee, teas and soft drinks. 
     The Ritz-Carlton is not the place where you shudder just thinking about an $8 bottle of Fiji water in your room on a hot day in Florida.  As soon as you step out of the car, an attendant will offer you a smile and a bottle of cold water.  No charge!  You will find the same in your room.  You will also be able to enjoy complimentary lemonade or iced tea in the lobby, a coffee station on the ground floor during certain hours of the morning, and yes, as you get back into the car to leave the hotel take a few more bottles for everyone, just to keep you hydrated and Ritz-Carlton comfortable.   You will return!

Review: The West Bay Club Turks and Caicos

The West Bay Club sits right next door to the Gansevoort Hotel on Grace Bay Beach.  It is the boutique sister property of the more sophisticated Grace Bay Club Resort.  Each of the 46 suites includes a balcony with an ocean or courtyard view and kitchenette.  There is one pool at the center of the Hotel and easy beach access for guests.  

The Beach is wide and uncluttered and guests can enjoy complimentary chairs, towels and umbrellas.  

There are 2 restaurants, both outdoors.  The Noodle Bar + Kitchen in the Main building and STIX, a beach bar serving light fare.

The entry level studio 1-bedroom suites are comfortable and attractive and the kitchenette area is impressively compact.  The Studios are offered with King beds only but a family with 1 child could request a Rollaway for the room.  Max occupancy is 3 in this category.  The 1-bedroom luxury ocean view suite is spacious at 1500 square feet with a nicely sized balcony that is large enough for a table and 4 chairs as well as a lounging area.  Suites can be configured with up to 4 bedrooms.

There is a pleasant, well-equipped fitness room on property as well as a small spa.

Guests will likely need to use taxis for a short ride to the Marina area or the Regent Village.

Review: Amanyara, Turks & Caicos

     Amanyara sends a sporty and luxurious SUV to pick me up from my Hotel in the Grace Bay Area.  The 45 minute drive to the Resort allows me to see a part of the island I have not yet visited and I realize that Providenciales is quite spacious for its 22,000 residents.  Suddenly the highway ends and the vehicle makes an abrupt left on to an unpaved and winding road.  I notice there are no signs or lights along the way and idly I wonder if the Driver knows where he’s going. Turns out to be a subliminal metaphor for the Resort as it’s perfect for people who want to get “lost” and feel completely removed from the bustle of everyday life, transported to a cocoon of privacy.  We pass through a security checkpoint and soon we’re pulling up to the entrance of the Hotel where a team of people, including the Resort’s Manager, Sven Van Den Broeck, is waiting to welcome me.  It feels a little formal but friendly and I’m immediately acquainted with the level of personal service that is the hallmark of the Aman brand.  Amanyara wants you to know, as soon as you step through its doors, that you are a special guest.  
     There are no conventional “rooms” at Amanyara.  Accommodations are offered in one of the 40 freestanding pavilions situated down private pathways in dense vegetation around the resort.  There are two 2-bedroom pool suites that include a lounge, nanny's room, exercise room and 60 ft pool. Take your flashlight when you leave for dinner as it’s just you and the moonlight on the trek back to your door.  All of the pavilions are identical in layout and the categories are differentiated by location and views – pond, alcove and ocean.  The pavilions have glass walls (automatic shutters can be used in the evenings) and are very large and attractive spaces.  There is a complimentary mini bar in each, stocked with juices, soft drinks, assorted bottled water, nuts and cookies.  Guests can make free telephone calls to anywhere in the world.  Bikes are available to travel around the Resort but I utilized the services of the golf carts that arrived almost immediately after a call to the Reception Area.
     Large travel parties have the option to rent a 3-5 bedroom villa. The bedrooms are detached from the main living pavilion that includes a full kitchen and a private Chef.  A complimentary golf cart is assigned to the villa.
     The spa is a beautiful, Zen space with a massive square pool in the center for Aqua Therapy treatments.  I was particularly intrigued with the description of a massage involving “Tibetan singing bowls”.  
     The Nature Discovery Centre houses the Kids Program and is an interesting and comfortable place for the children to spend a few hours. In addition to outdoor activities, children have the opportunity to learn about conservation and enjoy the resident pets in assorted aquariums. 
     There are extensive facilities for tennis lovers  - 4 clay courts and 1 youth mini-court and guests can arrange private lessons with a Pro.  Older children can enjoy a Games Room outfitted with a Pool Table, Foosball, Table Tennis and Shuffleboard.
     I ate dinner in the Main Dining Room and lunch at the Beach Club.  The menus offer Asian and Mediterranean dishes and plenty of seafood options in addition to casual fare like pizzas and salads.  There are no convenient, alternative dining outlets close to Amanyara and food, while good, is not inexpensive.  Seasonal promotions that include some meals or a full meal plan offer considerable value for this Resort. 
     Amanyara is visually stunning, presenting a photo opportunity at every turn. It is also very, very quiet despite the presence of young families.  
      Service is warm, attentive and discreet and possibly best summed up in my luggage experience.  Before I left my pavilion for the airport, I ripped off the inbound airline’s sticky luggage label from my suitcase.  As I was checking in for my flight, I glanced down and noticed a fancy, blue, leather-like tag marked “Amanyara” attached to the handle of my case.  Neatly typed inside the flap was my name and home address.   The subtle attention to the details of the client’s experience is the very thing that resonates during a stay at this Resort.

Rates at Amanyara include private airport transfers, non-motorised water sports, daily snorkel trips, use of tennis courts, equipment, and lessons, regular yoga classes, private bar (except spirits), afternoon tea, in-room wireless internet access and all telephone calls.  When booked through me, complimentary Virtuoso amenities are included:    
•    Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
•    Continental breakfast daily, for up to two in room guests
•    A la carte lunch for 2 persons, once during stay (excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuities)
•    Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability