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London, Stonehenge, Bath and Beyond


Buckingham Palace, The Changing of the Guard, Big Ben and Tower of London are iconic must do experiences but there is also Churchill’s War Room, Westminster Cathedral, the British Museum, London theater and fabulous and inexpensive walking tours suited to a variety of interests. Outside the city you have a wealth of day trips and options whether you’re a Beatles buff thirsting for Abbey Road and Liverpool, curious about prehistoric civilizations, wish to explore an English castle, visit Oxford University or stroll through charming villages and English Country Gardens. It’s all available a few hours from London.

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Some of my favorite London extensions are Stonehenge, Bath and the Cotswolds. These can easily be done as a day trip from the city but if time permits, a multi day add on is even more enjoyable. Another popular option is to pop over to Paris via the chunnel or combine Ireland, Scotland and England for a more in depth visit to the British Isles.

    

When planning a trip to Europe the best approach is to start by listing what you’d like to see and do, set priorities, think about your overall budget and save trains, planes and automobiles for the next step. Another recommendation is to plan at least 3 nights in each destination and make location your #1 criteria for choosing accommodations. One and two nights stays are OK upon occasion and a few countries, like Ireland, lend themselves to a road trip but the major cities in Europe offer a wealth of interesting sights and you’ll want time to explore and enjoy them before moving on to the next adventure.

If you don’t know where to start, don’t have time to research options, find it difficult to set priorities or are simply constrained by time or money that’s where I come in! With expert advice it can be stress free and easy to travel independently in Europe and as Totem Travel’s Europe specialist I visit the continent every year. I know all the tips and tricks and will design a customized itinerary for independent travel throughout Europe based on your wish list, budget and timeline. I can also organize a city stay, recommend an escorted tour or suggest a river cruise suited to your specific needs so please call or email if you’d like assistance planning a vacation in Europe. It would be my pleasure to help you discover Europe your way!

New River Pool & Oceanfront Swim Up Suites at Sandals Montego Bay


The sexy new swim up suites and river pool at Sandals Montego Bay have been completed, newly renovated butler villas command a gorgeous oceanview and secluded location and affordable entry level and Club Level Rooms are steps from one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. So what’s keeping you from Jamaica mon? For years Sandals Montego Bay has had more returning guests than any Sandals Resort but like all well loved treasures it needed some TLC. Now, with a few million dollars of pampering, the resort is glowing with new life.

Minutes from the airport, Sandals Montego Bay is perfect for sun seekers that want to hit the beach soon after landing. The contemporary, light filled lobby is newly open to the turquoise sea so the moment you arrive you’re tantalized by glimpses of sparking water and beckoned to shed your winter clothes and embrace a barefoot lifestyle. Add a warm Sandals greeting with cool scented towels and tropical drink and you’re off to a great start to a romantic all inclusive honeymoon or vacation.

Beyond the lobby you’ll find a new Islands Routes desk ready book exciting adventures like ziplining or swimming with dolpins, spacious entertainment area and oceanfront bar. Old wood decks have been replaced with tile and incorporate cozy seating areas and romantic firepits overlooking the ocean. Restaurants have also been given a facelift but the big news is the brand new oceanfront river pool with swim out suites, beautiful new butler villas (previously called cottages) and luxurious Millionaire’s Suite. All are stunning and take full advantage of Sandals Montego Bay’s magnificent beach location.

    

On the left below is the view from the gorgeous new Romeo and Juliet Butler Villas at Sandals Montego Bay and on the right, the view from the all new Beachfront Walkout Club Level Room with Tranquility Soaking Tub. With all the enhancements MoBay is looking like a new resort but some things never change so here’s to the beautiful beach you’ve always loved at Sandals Montego Bay, the warm Jamaica sunshine and adult only all inclusive Sandals Resort service. Woohoo!

    

Need help choosing the best island or all inclusive resort for you? Have questions about Sandals pricing, specials and deals? We’ve been to all of the Sandals Resorts, guarantee the lowest price and will gladly help you compare Sandals vs Secrets, Excellence and other top quality adult only all inclusive resorts. Our service is free so call or email a honeymoon and all inclusive specialist and allow us to help you find the perfect spot for your next vacation.

 

Ireland in one week – Dublin, Kerry and Clare


If you crave an in depth Irish experience you’ll need weeks on the Emerald Isle but it’s possible to enjoy a great one week vacation in Ireland as long as you think about priorities and make choices before committing to flights and accommodations.

Rick Steves, Frommers and Fodors suggest different itineraries for a one week vacation in Ireland but we all agree that Dublin is the #1 priority and ideal place to begin your Irish vacation. The very diverse sightseeing choices include Trinity College and The Book of Kells, fascinating and sobering Kilmainham Gaol, fun but not so sober Guinness Storehouse and St Patrick’s Cathedral. You can do all four in one full day (start with jail and end at church) but more time will allow you to enjoy an excellent historic walking tour, National Gallery, St Stephens Green and the nightlife in Temple Bar. Most visitors should plan 2-3 nights in Dublin.

    

My #2 recommendation for first time visitors to Ireland would be County Kerry where you’ll find some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Killarney is an ideal home base to explore the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Killarney National Park, Skellig Michael, Muckross House and Ross Castle. A 3 night stay will allow you to see most of these sights and stop at the Rock of Cashel or Cork en route from Dublin.

#3 on my list is County Clare with the impressive Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and other worldly Burren.  Then, if time permits, add Galway before returning home after your one week Irish vacation. But a word of caution! Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in Ireland weren’t at a tourist attraction. They were listening to live Irish music and sharing tall tales with the locals. So make sure your itinerary includes time for a local pub or two and consider a whiskey tasting tour.  You won’t regret it!

   

If you’d like help planning your trip to Ireland or next European vacation please call or email linda@totemtravel.com. I’m Totem Travel’s Europe specialist and happy to help.

Sandals Overwater Bungalows open in St Lucia May 2017


Hot off the press! Sandals Resorts long promised overwater bungalows will open in St Lucia May 2017.

Jamaica’s first overwater bungalows opened at Sandals Royal Caribbean last fall and I was fortunate enough to see them inside and out shortly after opening. They are gorgeous and, for the moment, the only overwater bungalows in the Caribbean, but in my well traveled opinion Rodney Bay’s calm turquoise water is a far better setting for an idyllic overwater bungalow experience so I am thrilled to see overwater bungalows opening at Sandals Grande St Lucian this year.

Bora Bora still has my vote for the best overwater bungalows anywhere but there are no adult only resorts or truly all inclusive resorts in Bora Bora so that fabulous combination of features has been brought together along with Sandals butler service for those seeking a romantic couples only vacation, luxurious honeymoon or special anniversary.

And speaking of anniversaries… Sandals offers one free night in addition to all the other great deals for couples traveling within 30 days of their anniversary. Restrictions do apply but they are not onerous so call or email if we can help you plan a special getaway. Perhaps an overwater vow renewal ceremony is in order? Check prices and specials or call or email us with questions. We’ll make it happen for you!

Best All Inclusive Resorts for 2017


Caribbean Journal’s article on the Best All Inclusive Resorts for 2017 included many Totem Travel favorites and while their top 25 list includes a mix of adult only and family friendly properties small and large it was dominated by resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. This is great news for clients seeking an all inclusive vacation or honeymoon from Seattle as these destinations have good air service from the west coast as well as other U.S. gateways. Score!

With that in mind here are 10 of our favorites that also made the Journal’s list for best all inclusive resorts in 2017

  • Grand Velas – the service and food at Grand Velas Riviera Maya is at the highest level anywhere and yes, the resort is drop dead gorgeous.
  • Zoetry Agua Punta Cana – an intimate resort with sexy rooms and health conscious gourmet dining
  • Galley Bay Antigua – as Billy Crystal would say the beach is mahvelous!
  • Sandals Royal Caribbean – brand new and stunning overwater villas and bungalows
  • Le Blanc – an upscale choice in Cancun perfect for foodies and nightlife
  • Sandals Barbados – getting to Barbados is a little more difficult but the weather is awesome in the fall when other areas worry about hurricanes
  • Secrets Maroma – great beach, great service, nearby snorkeling, adult only
  • Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Rose Hall Jamaica – one is for families the other for adults and both at Hyatt standards
  • Beaches Turks and Caicos – the Disney standard for family all inclusive. It simply doesn’t get better.
  • Couples Tower Isle – new spa villas include treatments along with all other inclusions.

Still not sure which resort is best for your all inclusive getaway? We have been to them all and go back every year. Our service is free and we always guarantee the lowest price available so please call or email and let an all inclusive resort specialist help you plan the perfect vacation.

 

 

 

Has anyone seen the overwater bungalows in Jamaica and Mexico?


We’ve seen the overwater bungalows in Jamaica and Mexico and with competitors like St Regis and Four Seasons Bora Bora would be hard pressed to choose THE most luxurious overwater accommodation but the new overwater villas at Sandals Royal Caribbean are definitely in the running. They are stunning and with 1800 square feet of luxurious appointments, private infinity pool, indoor and outdoor living areas, two glass viewing windows, fully stocked premium bar and butler at your beck and call it’s hard to imagine leaving once you’ve checked in. This level of pampering compares with 5 star resorts in Bora Bora but the setting, resort and island experience is very different so the Caribbean will appeal to some while Tahiti to others.

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The overwater bungalows at adult only El Dorado Maroma in Playa del Carmen Mexico are also lovely but Patty, our Mexico specialist, feels some guests may be happier in another room category. The same can be said of Likuliku Resort in Fiji where I often recommend deluxe beachfront bures rather than overwater.

So what should you consider when choosing an overwater bungalow for your vacation or honeymoon? In addition to room features and amenities our list would include travel time, weather, planned interaction with the water, preference for all-inclusive or independent pricing, nightlife, activities, off resort tours, language, food and culture. Let’s begin with French Polynesia and its crown jewel, Bora Bora.

Much of what makes Bora Bora exceptional is the physical setting with Mt Otemanu surrounded by a ring of low lying islets called motus. These tiny islands form a barrier to waves and tides creating a calm inland lagoon with shimmering turquoise water.  The lagoon is bathtub warm, almost that clear and home to vibrant coral reefs that feed thousands of brightly colored tropical fish. So a big part of the overwater experience in Bora Bora and the Maldives cannot be replicated in Mexico or the Caribbean because the physical setting is different and if you’re a diver, snorkeler or want to watch tropical fish through a glass viewing window nicknamed “Tahitian TV”, that’s important and you may only be happy in Bora Bora or another South Pacific island. Bora Bora fans also rave about the quiet setting, fabulous French chefs and spectacular sunsets.

But if you value a short flight, prefer an adult only all-inclusive format and plan to cool off in your private pool not ocean you may be happier in an overwater villa at Sandals Royal Caribbean. Your all-inclusive villa comes with butler service, fully stocked bar with premium liquors and espresso machine, choice of 8 restaurants and bars plus dine around privileges at two other resorts. Jamaica is closer, English is the primary language and weddings are easily arranged and free at Sandals Resorts. Nightlife and sports bars are available and there are more activities and off property excursions in the Caribbean than Tahiti. Many dates for the overwater villas with private pool and overwater bungalows at Sandals are sold out but there are pockets with space available in 2017 so please ask if you’d like help with a luxury included honeymoon or vacation.

Think about what’s most important to you then call or email your wish list and questions. Patty and I will be happy to help you choose the best resort for your overwater vacation or honeymoon whether in Mexico, the Caribbean or South Pacific. We’ve seen them all, our service is free and we guarantee the lowest price on everything we sell.

A new Sandals Resort & contender for best adult only all inclusive


Sandals Whitehouse was a favorite all-inclusive resort for years, but things change and I’d heard some complaints so last week I flew to Jamaica to check out 10 resorts including all the Sandals Resorts. The verdict? Sandals Whitehouse, recently reopened as Sandals South Coast, is better than ever and gets my vote for best adult only all-inclusive and best Sandals Resort in Jamaica. But best is in the eye of the beholder and there are great Couples and Secrets Resorts in Jamaica as well, so what makes Sandals South Coast #1?

Here are 5 reasons I choose Sandals South Coast as the best adult only all inclusive resort in Jamaica –

1. The main pool at Sandals South Coast is stunning. It’s the size of a small lake, has a large swim up pool bar, underwater lounges, oversized jacuzzi and beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea. At night this pool becomes a shimmering centerpiece for the romantic Italian inspired piazza and glows with underwater lights and tiki torches. There’s a second oceanfront pool with swim up pool bar and jacuzzi and in between lies one of the largest heated jacuzzis in the Caribbean, Bottom line? Pool people have lots of choices all steps from the beach and ocean. That’s the best of both worlds and the best you’ll find at an adult only all-inclusive resort in Jamaica!

2. Beach beach beach. Did I mention the beach? The beach at Sandals South Coast is back and better than ever. The generous expanse of sand provides room to spread out and plenty of lounge chairs for sun worshippers and shade lovers alike. Walkers and joggers have more than a mile to stretch their legs and though the beach is not technically private, no one else has access so your barefoot strolls remain undisturbed. Negril has 7 mile beach but you’ll share it with dozens of resorts, kids, security guards and vendors so in my beach lovin’ opinion Sandals South Coast newly reclaimed beach takes best prize.

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3. Tropical weather and bathtub warm water calls for lots of watersports and Sandals South Coast offers complimentary snorkel trips, a glass bottom boat, waterskiing, wakeboarding, stand up paddle boards, windsurfing, kayaks, sailing and scuba diving. Land sports also abound including tennis, squash, basketball, shuffleboard, ping pong, billiards and well equipped fitness center. All land and water sports are free and activities another “best in class” for Sandals South Coast.

4. But what about rooms? Sandals Whitehouse was known for 100% beachfront rooms and every room at the new Sandals South Coast is steps from the beach. So every guest can enjoy an ocean view and soothing sound of gentle waves from their private balcony or patio. The new resort adds beautifully remodeled club level rooms and butler suites where the decor is light and airy and feature walk in showers, soaking tubs, fully stocked in room bar, room service and other luxury amenities.

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5. Dining is very important at any all-inclusive resort and Sandals South Coast has 9 restaurants. Whether you crave steak, sushi, seafood, Caribbean specialties, Italian, French, Asian or wood fired pizza you’ll find it and you always have the option to dine indoors in air conditioned comfort or outside in the balmy breeze. Only one restaurant at Sandals South Coast has a dress code and only one requires reservations so you can relax and enjoy an elegant or casual dining experience whenever you’d like. Dining at Sandals South Coast is truly dining your way.

Those are 5 reasons for choosing Sandals South Coast as the #1 adult only all-inclusive resort in Jamaica but there’s more!

  • The service is excellent and every employee from gardener to front desk was unfailingly friendly on my recent visit. Chefs came out to greet us, servers burst into song over dessert and bartenders entertained with their usual flare. There is no shortage of fun at this resort.
  • Sandals South Coast has amazing venues for destination weddings and groups. Weddings are free, the group program starts with as few as 5 rooms and with a brand new overwater bar and overwater chapel, acres of gardens, more than a mile of beach and indoor capacity to seat 350 this resort is one of the best choices anywhere for a destination wedding.
  • The spa is fabulous and the sauna, steam, hot/cold plunge pools are free. Extra special treatments include a one hour couples massage followed by ½ hour soak in a flower filled tub for two. If you’re looking for the perfect honeymoon surprise or wedding gift check it out and don’t forget spa treatments and private candlelight dinners can be part of your honeymoon gift registry.
  • Lush gardens overflow with exotic tropical flowers and walkways meander through greenery and along the sparkling sea so strolling the grounds at South Coast is a sensual pleasure. You’ll find couples hand in hand, lingering in a hammock and photographing peacocks and hummingbirds. Sandals South Coast is a place to relax, unwind and reconnect.

I’ve seen hundreds of all-inclusive resorts and in Jamaica like Couples Swept Away, Iberostar Grand Rose Hall and Secrets Wild Orchid, so what makes Sandals South Coast the best adult only all inclusive resort? Beach, pool, food, activities, service and more. Sandals South Coast hits on all cylinders, checks all the boxes and is the best overall choice for many of my clients.

So what do you need to know before booking a vacation or honeymoon at Sandals South Coast? If you have questions about prices and specials, weather, flights, room choices, off resort tours, scuba diving etc. please call or email and allow Totem Travel’s Sandals Specialists to assist. We’ve been to all the Sandals Resorts on all the islands, always guarantee the lowest price and are happy to help!

 

A white sand beach and all inclusive resort in Fiji!


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On a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific lies one of the most beautiful white sand beaches you’ll find anywhere and it’s not in Bora Bora or French Polynesia. It’s Yasawa Island in Fiji! Just 25 minutes north of Nadi, Yasawa Island is the stuff of vacation and honeymoon dreams, and if beach perfection aint enough to get you packing, consider the private beachfront accommodations and indulgent all inclusive experience you’ll find at Yasawa Island Resort.

With only 18 thatched roof bures on the entire island, Yasawa Island Resort in Fiji is designed for romance and relaxation. Every bure features a king size bed, living area, luxurious bath, beautifully furnished oceanfront terrace. day bed, Fijian style outdoor shower and hammock. Every beachfront bure has a panoramic ocean view and is steps from the silky white-sand beach. But for the ultimate getaway, the Honeymoon Bure is on a secluded end of the pristine beach and has a massive deck and private horizon pool for romantic tropical island living at its finest. There is also a two bedroom bure perfect for 4 adults traveling together.

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All Yasawa Resort guests enjoy gourmet meals, snacks, private beach dinners, snorkel trips, kayaks, windsurfing, stand up paddle boards, weekly 3 hour Blue Lagoon excursion, Fiji village visits, kava ceremonies and other activities free of charge. Extra cost items are deep sea fishing, alcoholic beverages and spa treatments. But wait! If you are a spa junkie it’s only 495 Fijian dollars, about $240 U.S., for a 50 minute spa treatment each and every day you stay at Yasawa Island Resort. Woohoo!

Another awesome inclusion is a private beach picnic. Choose one of 11 white sand beaches, ask the staff to prepare a picnic lunch, grab your flipflops and extra sunscreen for skin that hasn’t seen the sun in a while and off you go! Just you, your special someone and time in paradise by yourselves. I guarantee you’ll return with memories that last a lifetime and you can do it every day at Yasawa Island Resort in Fiji at no extra cost!

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Yasawa kava ceremony

So if you’re planning a destination wedding and want to be married on a white sand beach, call me. The legalities are easy in Fiji and Yasawa Island provides the perfect setting for an amazing ceremony and incredible wedding photos.

Want to be married in the states but looking for a unique and exotic all inclusive honeymoon? Yasawa Island Resort is the perfect choice!

Been married awhile and want to celebrate a special anniversary? You won’t find a better place to celebrate your love and life together than Fiji. The Fijian people are simply amazing and the bula spirit outright contagious. So call, email or request a quote. I go to Fiji often, guarantee the lowest price available and promise to make your Fijian vacation experience exceptional. Vinaka vakalevu!

Impossible to visit the country of England or Scotland


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Planning to visit the country of England or Scotland? Unfortunately that’s impossible, at least not technically and not if you are a purist! That’s because neither England or Scotland is a country, they are part of the country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island. And if that aint confusing enough, the UK is currently part of the EU but won’t be for long and money, or currency, is a whole ‘nother thing.

So for travelers who wish to be in the know, the map above should be helpful and here’s the list in order of smaller to larger geographic entities –

  • England – A division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. in the southern part of the island of Great Britain.
  • Great Britain – Great Britain is an island that consists of three somewhat autonomous regions that include England, Scotland, and Wales. It is located east of Ireland and northwest of France in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The United Kingdom – The United Kingdom is a country that includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Its official name is “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are often mistaken as names of countries, but they are only a part of the United Kingdom.
  • The British Isles – The British Isles is another term altogether and encompasses Great Britain, the island of Ireland, and several other smaller islands, such as the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is not a part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, even though its Lord is the Monarch of the United Kingdom.
  • The European Union or EU – is a politicoeconomic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe

Southern Ireland or more technically correct “The Republic of Ireland” uses the Euro. The UK which we know includes Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales uses the pound sterling.

And now for the really important part. I’ll be exploring the British Isles soon so watch for my posts or follow me on www.facebook.com/totemtravel for more fun and fotos!

2016 list of top 10 honeymoon resorts in the South Pacific


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Brides.com recently published a list of the 10 top honeymoon resorts in the South Pacific and as Totem Travel’s Tahiti and Fiji travel specialist I am happy to report I have stayed at 7 of the 10 resorts and wholeheartedly endorse their selections! I even share their pick of the Four Seasons Bora Bora as #1 and have previously written about Bora Bora’s best honeymoon resorts and my favorite resorts in Fiji including many of these luxurious properties.

  1. Four Seasons Bora Bora
  2. The Brando Tahiti
  3.  St Regis  Bora Bora
  4.  Laucala Fiji
  5.  Le Taha’a Taha’a
  6.  Turtle Island Fiji
  7.  Le Meridien Bora Bora
  8.  Pearl Resort Bora Bora
  9.  Royal Davui Fiji
  10.  Namale  Fiji

There are however a few incredible places not on this list and some offer amazing values so if your Tahiti honeymoon or Fiji vacation plans include a romantic overwater bungalow or beachfront bure with private pool I hope you’ll reach out so I can help you find the perfect spot.

P.S. It’s incredibly easy to be legally married in Fiji and destination weddings for same sex and traditional sex couples are welcome in Tahiti. Mauruuru and vinaka!

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