Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Five exotic gift ideas for everyone on your list!

For the spa addict: Pure Fiji bath, body, and home products

These locally and sustainably produced goodies come beautifully packaged and in 12 splendid natural scents (I especially love the coconut and frangipani), so you're sure to find one that appeals to any nose! With products ranging from candles and aromatic seashells to sugar scrubs and body butter to facial toners and cleansers, and quite a bit in between (including wonderful gift sets) the hardest choice you'll have to make is which ones NOT to buy! Go ahead and treat yourself to a few presents as well - after all, with all of the good works Pure Fiji does in the local communities (see more on that here), every purchase you make helps make a positive difference in the lives of many lovely Fijian people!
Where to buy: PureFiji.com, plus various boutiques and resorts in Fiji (some of the higher-end resorts even have these as their bathroom amenities!)

For the foodie: Tahitian vanilla beans
There are a ton uses for these gourmet pods, from cooking sweet or savory dishes to flavoring sugar or vodka to scenting body lotions or scrubs, and more! You can buy vanilla beans in the US, but they're often skinny and dried out, not to mention lacking the rich flavor of those grown in the Polynesian soil. For those who prefer their ingredients to be locally sourced, these make a perfect gift!

Where to buy: You'll find the freshest and best choices when purchasing these are Le Marche (daily market) in Papeete, Tahiti or direct from harvesters on the islands of Huahine, Tahaa, and Raiatea. Don't have a trip planned to French Polynesia before Christmas? You can also purchase great quality beans (as well as wonderful vanilla extract, paste and other edible and non-edible products) online through Vanilla From Tahiti. But you really should plan a trip to buy these locally in time for the 2013 holidays; leave a few for Santa (or better yet, bake him some cookies with these flavor-packed beans) and you'll definitely be placed on his lifetime "Nice" list!

For the fashionista - or anyone who loves beautiful things: Thai silk from Jim Thompson
Silk scarves, ties, clothing, bags and accessories, and wonderful children's items are all available in the most gorgeous prints from Jim Thompson (the legendary "Silk King" of Thailand, whose disappearance in 1967 remains a mystery to this day). His legacy still produces some of the highest-quality examples of Thai silk work available. My personal favorites are the proud and handsome silk elephants; 3 of them sit on my bedside table for luck!
Where to buy: The full range is available only at Jim Thompson boutiques and a few other stores in Thailand. You can find some pieces at Asia Store in Manhattan or online, though (Ebay also usually has new pieces). But really, think of this as yet another excuse to plan a trip to Thailand - the amazing shopping is just the tip of the iceberg in this incredible, exotic country!

For the hostess: Ornaments from European Christmas markets
Scattered in towns throughout Europe (especially in Germany and Austria), these fun and festive markets featuring every bit of Christmas decor you can imagine pop up in late November or early December ever year. The stalls sell everything from cheap toys to pricey but beautiful handmade tree decorations, in endless colors, shapes, and materials.

Where to buy: The bad news is, you can really only purchase European Christmas market ornaments from, well, European Christmas markets. The good news is, you can buy many almost identical ornaments just about anywhere else in the world!

For the little ones: Delightful animal stories with an evocative Caribbean flair
Local author Jo-Anne Mason's 3 books (Trixy the Monkey Who Ate Nevis, The Perfect Shell, and Paddy the Goat who Saved Anguilla) are all perfect for the youngsters in your life; charmingly written and illustrated, they capture children's imaginations and even impart some wisdom about the cultures and customs of these beautiful islands! In general, I would recommend them for children age 3 and up, though my 2-year-old godson absolutely adores his copy of "Trixy", and has started saying "don't touch the fruit!" (will make sense once you read the book) in between asking to have it read to him again!
Where to buy: Boutiques on the islands of Anguilla, St. Martin, and St. Kitts, and Nevis, as well as Amazon.com

I'd love to hear about your favorite gifts to bring back from travel destinations! Drop me a note in the comments section!

Monday, December 17, 2012

2013's Five Hottest Destinations!

2012 is not quite over yet, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start thinking about your 2013 travel! Here are 5 fabulous destinations that should be on your radar! I would also love to hear reader's top picks for 2013!

 Photo courtesy of VisitMaldives.com
This island nation is known for its luxurious private island resorts set of perfect sugar sand beaches fronted by crystal clear water. One of only 2 areas in the world (the other is French Polynesia) with tons of overwater bungalows, the Maldives offers the perfect romantic getaway in paradise! Some resorts even offer dining (and in one case, sleeping!) with the fish in under-sea restaurants.
 Photo courtesy of VisitMaldives.com
Top resort picks: Anantara Kihavah, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, Soneva Fushi, Baros Maldives, Cocoa Island
Best time to visit: January to April, November and December

Rich history, fantastic food, and gorgeous scenery collide in Greece,where you can spend the morning exploring the Acropolis and the afternoon swimming in an infinity pool on the rim of an ancient volcano. From history buffs to culture-seekers to sun-worshippers to party-all-nighters, This incredible country offers something for everyone!
Top resort picks: Grande Bretagne (Athens), Astra Suites (Santorini), Mykonos Grand
Best time to visit: May to September

*Puerto Rico
 Photo courtesy of St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
With the recent opening of 3 luxe new resorts (see below), Puerto Rico offers more options for high-end travel than ever before. Stay near San Juan to enjoy all the shopping, restaurants, and nightlife you could ask for, or head to the outer islands of Vieques or Culebra for secluded beaches, lush rainforests, and a magically glowing bioluminescent bay.
Top resort picks: St. Regis Bahia Beach, W Vieques, Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve
Best time to visit: January to May

With 3 "main" islands crammed with sightseeing and adventure options, and dozens of incredible outer islands featuring beautiful boutique resorts, local villages, beautiful beaches, amazing snorkeling, rich culture, and some of the world's friendliest people, the Fijian islands are a must-visit destination!
Top resort picks: Royal Davui, Matangi, Qamea, Tokoriki, LikuLiku, Intercontinental Fiji
Best time to visit: May to October

Photo courtesy of TravelBelize.org
Want to snorkel or dive the world's second largest barrier reef? Head to Belize. Want to explore and zipline through rainforests bursting with monkeys, tropical birds, lush foliage, and other wonders? Head to Belize. Want to see ancient Mayan ruins and tube through the cave systems they considered to be a sacred underworld? Head to Belize. Want to lay on the beach, stay in a private casita, drive a golf cart around a great little town bursting with shops, restaurants, and beach bars, swim with sharks and rays, see manatees and seahorses in their natural environment, eat fresh-caught lobster, and just have an all-around blast? Head to Belize!
Top resort picks: Victoria House (Ambergris Caye), Hamanasi (Hopkins), Turtle Inn (Placencia) Blancaneaux Lodge (San Ignacio)
Best time to visit: January to May

To start planning your own trip to any of these or other destinations, please don't hesitate to contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com for custom itineraries and pricing!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deal of the day! Huge savings PLUS a free night PLUS air credit at luxe Caribbean resorts!

Elite Island's resorts are some of my all-time favorite all-inclusive properties, so I'm very excited about the new specials they've just announced! Book a trip to one of their resorts before January 10th for travel anytime before December 20th, 2013 and receive up to 45% off rack rates, plus your 7th night absolutely free!

But as legendary informercial host Billy Mays would say, BUT WAIT!! THERE'S MORE!! If you book your trip with me during the same time period as this promotion, I will also throw in a $50 per person airfare credit as a holiday bonus. Since most of Elite Island's resorts are all-inclusive, you likely won't need to use the savings for extra umbrella drinks, but it could be very well-spent on a massage at one of the lovely spas!

My top picks:
 *Palm Island - the Grenadines (full review coming soon)
A gorgeous private island resort, perfect for honeymooners, small groups, and anyone who loves the beach! Accommodations range from garden view rooms to beachfront bungalows to a 3-bedroom villa (which comes complete with it's own golf cart!). Food and service are excellent, and the beach and water are beyond stunning. The view of the mountain on neighboring Union Island is reminiscent of what you'd see from one of Bora Bora's motu resorts, and Palm Island's location is perfect for island-hopping to other Grenadine islands and the spectacular Tobago Cays (where parts of "Pirates of the Caribbean" were filmed). PI is adult-only (16 years and over) between January 3 and April 18. Under-16s are allowed other times of year, but I generally do not recommend this property for families with young children.

*Galley Bay- Antigua (full review here!)
One of Antigua's premier properties, Galley Bay is another fabulous option for romantics of all ages (as long as that age is older than 16!). Offering a variety of beach-front accommodations, private cottages with plunge pools, a gorgeous beach, and easy access to all of Antigua's attractions, it's hard to find a better tropical vacation spot!

Elite Island also offers properties on Barbados, Tortola (British Virgin Islands), Anguilla, and St. Lucia, as well as 2 additional properties on Antigua. You can't really go wrong with any of them, so stop just dreaming of that beach vacation, and contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com to make it a reality!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fabulous deal! Up to $2500 resort credit at Palace Resorts!

Love beach vacations, but don't want to spend the whole trip lazing in the sand? Then Palace Resorts have the deal for you! Book before March 23rd for stays through December 23, 2013, and receive $500-$2500 in resort credits (depending on length of stay; minimum stay 3 nights), to be used for spa treatments, off-property excursions/tours, golf (even lessons at the Jack Nicklaus Academy!), romantic beach dinners, room upgrades, and more!

To book your fabulous all-inclusive stay with resorts credits at one of Palace's 7 luxurious resorts, please contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Nude-a on Barbuda

Ok, so there's not really any nudity in this post...though there are plenty of virgin beaches!

While on Antigua recently, my husband and I decided to do a spur-of-the-moment day trip over to Barbuda, Antigua's smaller, quieter, and much-less-developed sister island. Getting here was fairly easy; a taxi from the resort to the dock, then a ferry (about an hour and a half ride in each direction) to Barbuda! The blue boats in Antigua's harbour mimicked the color of the water...

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Hideaway #1 - Las Cascadas Lodge in La Ceiba, Honduras

I'm starting another new weekly series, this one called Friday Hideaway! Just in time for the weekend, I'll introduce you to very special properties with the following features:

*A secluded and peaceful location
*Under 60 rooms (and generally far fewer than that)
*A gorgeous and relaxing setting
*Luxurious accommodations
*Delectable food and beverages
*Excellent service

For the first edition of this series, I present to you a fabulous little jungle lodge - Las Cascadas in La Ceiba, Honduras!
With just 4 luxury cabins, there are never more than about 8 total guests on property at any given time, so it's the perfect hidden getaway for couples or small groups looking for personalized attention. The managers, Ryan and Maggie, are fantastic - knowledgeable, kind, efficient, and fun, and their obvious happiness and excellent service carry over to the rest of the staff as well.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Steal - romantic Hawaiian dream vacation!

For the second installment of Splurge vs Steal: Hawaii, I present to you the "steal" itinerary!
While this trip is a bit shorter and does not have quite as many high-end room categories and extra amenities as the splurge trip, it still offers 4- and 5-star resorts, ocean views from all of your rooms, and plenty of romantic extras - all for about than 25% the price of the splurge itinerary!

Steal: 9 nights/10 days on 3 incredible islands!
Please don't hesitate to contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com if you'd like to book this trip or have me fully customize your own dream vacation! 

Day 1:
Upon arriving at the airport in Honolulu, you'll be met at baggage claim, lei'd, and whisked off by private car to begin your 2-night stay at the beautiful Outrigger Reef on the Beach.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Splurge vs Steal #1 - romantic Hawaiian dream vacation!

I'm starting a new blog feature called "Splurge vs Steal"! Each week, I will showcase 2 amazing trips or properties; one will be very high-end, the other more moderate (but still with the same general feel, plenty of little luxuries and special experiences). For my first edition, I'll be showing you Hawaii 2 ways. Today's post will be the splurge trip, tomorrow's, the steal!

Splurge - 14 nights/15 days on 4 incredible islands!
Please don't hesitate to contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com if you'd like to book this trip or have me fully customize your own dream vacation! 

Day 1:
Upon arriving at the airport in Honolulu (after a relaxing flight in business class, of course), you'll be met at baggage claim, lei'd, and whisked off by private car to begin your 3-night stay at the incomparable Halekulani Hotel.

Champagne and and other treats will await you in your Diamondhead Oceanfront Room (or Ocean Junior Suite, if you'd like a bit more space to spread out). Toast with a glass of bubbly on your lanai, while taking in the incredible view, before heading down to the pool or beach to soak up the late-afternoon rays and watch the sun sink slowly into the sea.

Later that night, enjoy dinner at Halekulani's celebrated Le Mer, a perennial AAA 5-Diamond awardee.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Galley Bay-dreamin'

For the second half of our trip to Antigua, my husband and I chose to stay in a Premium Beachfront Suite at Galley Bay (another adult-only property, but much more luxe than our previous hotel on the island). I also loved the look of the Gauguin Cottages with their own private plunge pools, but they were sold out for our dates. But with the sand and ocean right outside of back door of our beachfront suite, you can't go too wrong!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spectacular La Samanna on St. Martin

I was lucky enough to get to spend a night at the stunning La Samanna Resort & Spa on St. Martin this summer, and cannot wait to return! This resort (in my opinion the most luxurious on the island) gets my top marks for accommodations, service, setting, food, and amenities.

Check in was quick, smooth, and friendly, and best of all, came complete with a gift bag! La Samanna has partnered with a Martinique rum producer to offer guests La Samanna branded rum. Currently, guests at the resort are presented with a bottle of this delicious elixir, plus a lime, sugar, and a recipe for ti punch (a classic French Caribbean cocktail). Now that's my kind of welcome gift - and I'm not ashamed to admit that the bottle was only half full by the time I checked out the next day!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

50% off at the incomparable Royal Davui Island Resort!

Always wanted to stay at Royal Davui, but could not quite afford it? For stays in February of 2013, this incredible resort is offering an amazing half-off special!

There is a bit of fine print; over the course of the month, they will be doing some construction of new staff quarters and renovations of the existing ones. All of the guest facilities will be open as normal during this time, though! And having stayed at Royal Davui and being familiar with the location of these quarters (see my review and photos here), I am confident that any disturbance to guests will be negligible. This is truly a fabulous deal, and I hope to see many travelers take advantage of it!
To plan your Royal Davui dream vacation, please don't hesitate to contact me at Caroline@easyescapestravel.com!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bora Bora day 1 - St. Regis!

After a quick overnight on Tahiti, it was time to continue on to the second stop of my 2-week French Polynesian adventure! I hopped on one of the most scenic flights you can imagine, and after a quick stop on Huahine, I arrived in glorious Bora Bora!

Greeted by a delightful St. Regis staff member, I boarded the St. Regis’s luxurious boat for the 10-minute ride over to the resort. I was checked in on the boat, so upon arrival there was no paperwork to delay my enjoyment of the resort.

After being greeted upon arrival with a chilled towel and freshly made iced tea, I met the wonderful Marion, who took me on a tour of this stunning property.  The largest resort in French Polynesia in terms of acreage, the St. Regis offers not only fantastic luxury, but also a ton of space and privacy. The staff is also the friendliest I’ve ever encountered in French Polynesia, and I was extremely impressed by how many knew my name immediately and greeted me with it every time they saw me!
A few photos of the resort after the jump...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Early morning in Bora Bora

My first morning at the Bora Bora Pearl, I woke just before the sun, at about 5AM. As the first light appeared over the top of Otemanu, I grabbed my camera and headed out for a sunrise walk down the beach and along the pontoons; one of my very favorite things to do!

Dawn here is so incredibly peaceful, with only the sounds of nature - the gentle ocean lapping at the beach and against the stilts of overwater bungalows; a gentle breeze rustling the fronds of coconut palms; seabirds calling out as they soar and swoop through the sky; thousands of fishing flitting and flopping as they search for breakfast. At this time of day, you’re almost guaranteed to see a stingray glide gracefully through the water – and this morning was no exception.

As the light got a bit brighter, I saw sand-colored flounder slipping over the ocean floor like ghosts, almost impossible to see but for small flickers of movement. Large schools of beautiful butterfly fish danced a water ballet to the music of the flute fish, as they all flitted and flirted and fed.

And a lone Picasso triggerfish stalked me, waiting for the moment when a part of my body would touch the water and he could seek his revenge for whatever the hell it was I did in a former life that has turned this entire species of fish against me.  (Note: for the back story on all this, click here.) Luckily, I thwarted his sneak attack on my ankle from behind at the last second, and even managed to not drop my camera in the water while jumping out of his reach. Caroline: 1, Picasso Triggerfish species: 47. Pleased to have finally gotten on the scoreboard, at least.
 The pink streaks of sky and golden rays of early morning sun accentuate the already unparalleled beauty of this island to make it seem even more like something out a dream – this must be just what heaven looks like!


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