Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remembering 2010, dreaming of 2011!

As 2010 comes to a close, I find myself reminiscing about the amazing places I visited this year, and getting excited to see where 2011 takes me! With this year's destinations including Savannah, French Polynesia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, South Africa, and Fiji, 2010 is going to be hard to top - but I look forward to trying!

Everyone keeps asking me where I'm headed next, but I actually have no idea! With a few things up in the air in terms of travel agents conferences and my husband's vacation time, I likely won't know for a little while where my next passport stamp will come from. But as usual, I've got a wish list a mile long! So starting today, I'll be posting a few times a week with my top travel picks for 2011, including dream hotels, excursion ideas, and other destination information! First up...the Cook Islands (after the jump)!

I'd also love to hear where 2010 has taken you, and where you're going (or even just dreaming of) in 2011! 
A toast to all of you! (at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa)

And a bit more champagne on the grounds of Villa Monastero in Varenna (on Lake Como), Italy - because who can stop at just one glass?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fiji 2010 day 1: Hotel Novotel Nadi and Sonaisali Island Resort

For background info on this trip:
After landing in Fiji about 5:30AM, all of the agents on the trip were driven to the Hotel Novotel Nadi to eat breakfast, freshen up, have a site inspection, and then eat lunch. Only about 10 minutes from the airport, the Novotel is convenient for those needing a day room for a few hours between flights, but I would not recommend it for a stay longer than a quick overnight.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nicaragua part 5 - Granada

For the last 3 nights of our July trip to Nicaragua, we decided to visit the colonial city of Granada. After a lot of research, we settled on Hotel Spa Granada, which was originally the largest private colonial home in the city, but had recently been renovated and reopened as a hotel. A few days ago, it was actually featured on the Today Show as one of their top hotel bargains for travel this holiday season - you can watch a clip of the show here (HSG portion of the clip starts about 1 minute and 40 seconds in)! We actually spent our last 2 nights (more on that below) in the room they show with the pink bed.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Fiji Me!

Bula Vinaka! 
 Enjoying some kava at Outrigger on the Lagoon on Fiji's Coral Coast
Well, once again I've fallen way behind in my blogging duties. And once again, I enter a defense of "not guilty by reason of travel insanity". I just returned home from a whirlwind trip to Fiji , where I spent time at 17 different resorts over the course of a week! A huge vinaka vakalevu (thank you in Fijian) to Tourism Fiji for putting together this amazing trip for me and the 30 other Matai (Fiji specialist) travel agents who attended!
And an even larger vinaka vakalevu to the extraordinarily warm, friendly, and welcoming Fijian people who so graciously hosted us in their beautiful country!

 Matangi staff (and a couple of the resort's furry mascots!) singing a traditional farewell song
The agents were split up into 4 different groups, each visiting different areas of Fiji for all but the first and last nights of the trip. My group was called "Talei", which in Fijian means "the best", and I would have a hard time disagreeing with that! Our itinerary had us spending time in the Nadi area and Coral Coast on Viti Levu (Fiji's largest island), as well as heading to the Northeast part of the islands to visit Savusavu on Vanua Levu (Fiji's 2nd largest island) and Taveuni (you guessed it - the 3rd largest), as well as the small islands of  Matangi and Qamea which lay right off Taveuni's coast. As I'd not visited the north of Fiji before, I was thrilled to get to see an entirely new part of this gorgeous island nation!
Part of Matangi Private Island Resort's beautiful beach at high tide
It may take me a little while to complete my reviews, but in the meantime, I'll leave you with a list of each of the unique properties I was able to visit on this trip and an invitation to contact me anytime you'd like assistance with planning your own fabulous Fiji vacation!
Hotel Novotel Nadi
Sonaisali Island Resort*
Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa
Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa*
Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort*
Koro Sun Resort
Taveuni Island Resort
Garden Island Resort*
Paradise Taveuni
Matangi Private Island Resort*
Qamea Resort & Spa
Sheraton Fiji Resort*
Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa**
Sheraton Denarau Villas
Radisson Resort Fiji Denarau Island
*Spent a night at this property on this trip
**Spent a night at this property on my trip to Fiji last year, did a site inspection this year

Monday, November 22, 2010

Manava Suite Resort, Tahiti

Manava Suite Resort Tahiti
Janelle and I chose to spend the final night of our March 2010 French Polynesia trip at Papeete's newest resort, and were very pleased with our stay! We were in a Lagoon Suite with an incredible view over the infinity pool and out to Moorea off the large balcony (equipped with 2 chairs and a table).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nicaragua part 4 - Ometepe

After flying from Big Corn Island back into Managua, we were met by a rather surly driver from Adelante Express. After a long wait for another couple who were being dropped off in San Juan del Sur, we finally were on our way to San Jorge, where most of the boats and ferries leave to Ometepe. Two hours and a dash through a rainstorm later, we just barely managed to jump on the boat over to Moyogalpa, Ometepe's main port. There was only a bit of covered space on the boat, and it was already overcrowded so the first part of the ride was a bit damp.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I've been AWOL...

Sorry for the couple of weeks lag time in between posts! I've really been trying to get better about posting more often lately, but at least I have a great excuse...I was in South Africa!

The back-story: a couple of months ago, I entered a contest through one of my travel suppliers, Goway. Their AfricaExperts "Ultimate FAM* Trip" was open to all agents who had recently booked client trips to South Africa. I entered my bookings for a chance to win, and then, to be honest, forgot all about it. Until I arrived at my hotel in Zurich, Switzerland on the last night of my Labor Day European vacation (to be blogged soon) and was handed a phone message telling me I had won and needed to get in touch with Goway ASAP since we were set to leave in exactly 4 weeks!
*FAM is short for "familization", and refers to a trip that travel agents take to get first-hand experience with an area, hotel, etc.

Here is the press release about the trip - if only they'd spelled my last name right (it's actually Caroline Bracewell)! There's an old PR axiom that "all publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right". Since this release can in no way be considered bad publicity, I guess it would fall into the arena of neutral publicity? ;)

But not too worried about that...I'm just thrilled I got to go! It was an amazing trip, and I can't wait to share pictures, reviews, and stories of my adventures on the dark continent. In the meantime, a sneak peak of one of the most amazing things I saw (warning: not for the squeamish!)...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Nicaragua part 3 - Big Corn Island

 Upon arriving back on Big Corn, we grabbed a cab and headed for our hotel, Casa Canada. At $109 + tax per night (including breakfast), this property is a bit pricey by Nicaragua standards, but is also the most luxurious hotel in the Corn Islands.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Nicaragua part 2 - Little Corn Island

We arrived at the La Costena Airlines check in area (a small, smelly, and very crowded room in a building separate from the main part of the airport) and spent the next 45 minutes hoping the long line was not going to make us miss our flight. This fear was unfounded, though, as the flight did not actually take off until 7:30 (in talking to a pilot, this "delay" seems to be pretty typical for this airline/route, as he laughed when we told him the original departure time we'd been given). Note: you do need to pay a small fee (I believe it was $2-$3USD/$40-$60 Nicaraguan Cordobas per person) before going through security, so it's good to have some small bills on hand. Once you get through security, there's a small waiting area with 2 stands selling drinks and food (prepackaged snacks and some "fresh"--I use this word loosely--pastries/rolls).

We finally boarded the plane for the hour or so flight (including a short stop in Bluefields on the Caribbean coast) to Big Corn Island.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Nicaragua? And our first night in Managua...

To take advantage of the fact that my husband's company gives the entire week of July 4th off as a holiday (which we did not discover until the end of May!), we decided to head down to Nicaragua for 10 nights. When we told people we were headed down there, 95% of the reactions we got were either:
"Nicaragua? Really? Um....why?" or the similar but slightly more polite, "Oh. Hmmm. Well, that should"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thanksgiving in Paradise Part 3: Navutu Stars Resort Fiji

For the third leg of our Fiji trip, we chose to stay at Navutu Stars, a boutique resort in the Yasawa island group. The Yasawas are the driest region of Fiji, so we figured they would be a good choice in late November, the beginning of the country's rainy season. And we were right - the weather was perfect there for our entire stay!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thanksgiving in Paradise Part 2: Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa, Fiji

Due to limited transfers between various island resorts, a night on the "mainland" (aka Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu) is often necessary at some point during a Fiji trip. Our trip was no exception, so we spent one night on Viti Levu after Royal Davui and before Navutu Stars. Since our early morning boat to Navutu Stars was leaving out of Denarau Marina, we decided it would make the most sense to spend the night near there. Denarau Marina is the jumping off point for boats to the Mamanuca and Yasawa island resorts, as well as for most day trips from the Nadi area to nearby islands.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Zoetry Agua Punta Cana - Dominican Republic

To celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary, Bob and I decided to try out Zoetry Agua Punta Cana, a luxury boutique all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. We spent our 5th anniversary at one of its sister properties (Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita in Riviera Maya Mexico) and were eager to see how Zoetry's newest offering measured up.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Sonoma and Napa, California

I've recently noticed an upswing in the number of requests for information on California wine country trips, so thought it was about time I posted this review that has been languishing in the "unpublished" section of my blog for over a year! I've also added a bit of information about a day spent in Napa in December '09.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Return to Paradise Part 1: Moorea

Since it had been several years since our last visit to the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora my colleague Janelle and I decided to take a trip to the islands to visit some of the resorts which we'd not yet seen/stayed at or which had undergone renovations since our last visit to these islands.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thanksgiving in Paradise Part 1: Getting there/Royal Davui Island Resort

As my husband Bob and I did not take our traditional Labor Day trip this year, we decided that Thanksgiving would be the perfect time to take a vacation away from the cold Atlanta weather. After looking at quite a few options, we settled on Fiji, an area we'd been wanting to visit for years! We love the South Pacific, and I was eager to see how Fiji compared and contrasted with other countries in that region.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Thinking back and looking forward

Photo taken over Guanacaste, Costa Rica in July 2009.

With 2009 just behind me, and 2010 stretching out in front, I'm remembering my trips over the last year and getting excited for those I'll take this year! Last year took me to some fabulous places, both domestic and international, including French Polynesia, Mexico, Tonga, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, Fiji, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Palm Beach, and Isle of Palms (SC). Now, if I could just get reviews and photos finished and posted here for all of these...


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