Totem Travel (425) 821-4100   (800) 321-7907

Staying healthy and fit on an all inclusive vacation


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Indulge yourself or diet? You can do both on an all inclusive vacation!  Shape up, warm up , chill out and exercise. On your next vacation you can start the road to fitness with yoga on the beach,  fine tune your golf or tennis game with a pro, keep your sculpted beach bod in perfect form with state of the art equipment or morning run and still have hours to relax and enjoy the good life. It’s all possible on an all-inclusive vacation. But will a never ending supply of beautifully prepared meals and desserts plus fun, fruity, calorie packed cocktails tempt you off your diet? Or will vegetarian meals and low carb restaurant selections be difficult to find? Not if you choose the right resort!

The best all-inclusive resorts cater to a variety of guests and can easily accommodate most dietary needs and restrictions. They also offer health conscious food and drink choices and numerous opportunities to stay fit while enjoying a relaxed getaway. Some resort groups, such as Zoetry, focus on health and wellness as part of their luxury inclusions. Others, including Sandals and Beaches Resorts, guarantee diet and allergy friendly foods at every restaurant. So you’ll find it easy to manage a low cal, low fat diet or enjoy a gluten free resort vacation without extra effort or expense.

So what’s most important to you? An awesome tennis program, the latest pilates equipment or miles of beach for walking or jogging? Here are some of my favorite “stay fit while indulging” choices after decades of vacationing at some of the best all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean:

  • Panoramic oceanview fitness center with state of the art equipment and sunken chaise lounges surrounded by cushy, canopied pool beds at Iberostar Grande Bavaro Punta Cana.
  • Kick your butt Boot camp, fabulous frozen mudslides and hammocks slung over a meandering river pool at Excellence Playa Mujeres.
  • Oceanfront, feet in the sand, feeling the  vibe yoga and gourmet dining with fat grams and calories discretely noted at Zoetry Agua.
  • Zumba with a hunky instructor and 12 miles of beach for long walks plus gluten free brownies and beer at Beaches Turks and Caicos.
  • Health bar with yummy fruit smoothies, an Olympic size pool for laps and breezy oceanfront verandah suites with plantation shutters at Couples Swept Away in Jamaica.
  • Pilates, spinning and decadent crème brulee at The Royal in Playa Del Carmen.
  • Water aerobics, scuba diving and wakeboarding plus low cal and gluten free choices at Café de Paris and a 90 minute East Indian spa treatment at Sandals Whitehouse.

By watching portions, staying active and choosing wisely I’ve returned from dozens of all inclusive resort vacations with nary an extra pound. You can do it too, so happy travels!

 

 

 

Will children enjoy an escorted tour of Europe?


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Will children enjoy an escorted tour of Europe? As a general rule probably not, but there is an exception to every rule and Globus Family Travel has found the magic key to the successful family tour. Many tour companies let anyone join their family vacations, but Globus requires at least one child age 5-17 to be part of every family travel reservation. So your kids are guaranteed to have other kids along and that makes the tour more fun for everyone! Parents will connect with other parents and grandparents can do what they do best:  fawn over the grandchildren!

The love of travel is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children and it’s highly educational too. Kids actually visit the places they learn about in school, so history, art, architecture, even science comes to life with the help of a talented guide and life size props like the Colosseum of Rome, Big Ben in London or a castle in Bavaria!

Globus Tour Directors on the family tours are individuals who truly “get kids”.  They love to pass on their knowledge as well as colorful stories in a funny and engaging way that will capture even the youngest child’s attention.  The emphasis is on connecting:  children with other children, with parents and cultures, scenery and wildlife.

All of the activities and excursions on a Globus Family Tour are geared toward the children.  In London the double decker bus is used for sightseeing and a riverboat will take you to the London Eye.  You will travel from London to Paris underwater via the Chunnel at 150 miles an hour! Show your family Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower then head for the setting of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame where they can try counting the number of gargoyles! In Italy the kids can try straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa, enjoy Venice by gondola, decorate their own Venetian Carnival Mask and watch an amazing glassblower demonstration.

If Europe isn’t in the plans right now, how about a Grand Canyon adventure?  Kids and adults alike will enjoy the many species of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, jackrabbits, and lots of lizards!  Wouldn’t your children love a 4X4 Jeep tour of the Red Rock Country in Arizona…what fun!  Everyone will be in awe taking in the sights from the Grand Canyon Rim. Or you might jump back in history to the “Old West”!  Saddle up and ride a horse into Bryce Canyon retracing the trails taken by the notorious Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid and no visit to cowboy country would be complete without a Rodeo!  The kids are going to love the Bryce Canyon Country Rodeo, with mutton bustin’ and bull ridin’.

These are just a few of the Globus Family Tour options so if your family is looking for a great multi-generational experience they will remember forever please call or email me to discuss an escorted tour designed for families!

Travel medicine and travel health


Most of our clients are headed to destinations like the Caribbean, Fiji, Costa Rica or Belize that require little more than a valid passport, but for an exotic locale like Africa or the Amazon medical precautions are often required and almost always advised.  So where to start? Our suggestion is the CDC web site and a travel medicine clinic such as SafeGard for a comprehensive evaluation based on your individual itinerary and medical history.

Their online questionnaire can be completed in a few minutes and for a minimal fee (mine was $49) you’ll receive a written recommendation covering everything from yellow fever to typhoid, malaria and traveler’s diarrhea with prescriptions that can be filled at your doctor’s office or pharmacy of choice. I was referred to SafeGard by a doctor friend that travels extensively and found their customer service outstanding. Highly recommended!

Helpful Hint – I saved hundreds of dollars by having immunizations done at an “in network pharmacy” rather than my doctor’s office and a nearby Safeway pharmacy carried the hardest to find travel immunizations.

Which Resorts Offer Free Weddings?


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With the cost, stress and hassle of getting married stateside increasing every year, many brides are looking to cut their costs and stress levels and get married in Mexico or the Caribbean.  I can’t say I blame them, as it is pretty hard to turn down a free wedding in tropical paradise!  Yes, I said free.  Sandals Couples Only All Inclusive Resorts which are on the islands of Great Exuma, Nassau, Jamaica, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua offer free weddings to couples without having to book a particular room category or stay for 7 nights. There are no room category restrictions at Sandals and the minimum night stay for the free wedding is only 3 nights.

The resorts take care of everything from flower details to decorations etc. and you can customize your own wedding through Sandals Wedding design website.  You will be given a personal wedding coordinator to work with when you first reserve your wedding space and then when you arrive on property, you will also be assigned a personal wedding coordinator who will hold your hand through the entire process and make sure your dream wedding comes true!  Because there are so many Sandals properties and each couple has different things on their wish list and their own budget requirements, we suggest these steps when you start the planning process:

  • Reach out and give us a call (-1-800-321-7907), shoot us a quick email, or Request A Quote on our website. Let us know your dates of travel, budget, originating city if you need help with air, what things are on your wish list and the target budget you would like to stay under.

We will use our experience at the resorts (we have been to all of them and travel to them often) to match up some of the better options given your wish list, time of year you are travelling and budget.

  • Once you have picked the perfect resort for your wedding, we will get you booked and help you reserve your desired wedding date and time. We will put you in touch with your Sandals Wedding consultant and act as your advocate should you need additional assistance in any way.

Your Sandals wedding consultant will set up a planning session and go over all the legal requirements for getting married (varies with each island) and help you get all that in order.  Then they will help you customize your wedding to make your wedding day and details just how you want them.

  • You arrive at the resort, all relaxed and ready for your special day! Your onsite wedding coordinator will take care of everything for you.  No worries!!

It just takes these three easy steps to plan a free destination wedding.  If you have guests, we can set up group codes for your guests as well. If you want something more elaborate than the basic wedding which is included, you can opt for a fancier package or add things to the basic package. Since Sandals are “Couples Only” Resorts, if you have families with children who might want to share in your special day, then Beaches Family All Inclusive Resorts would make an excellent choice and also offer the same free destination weddings as Sandals Resorts.

Other resorts in the Caribbean or Mexico that offer free weddings require at least 7 nights booked in a specific room category or higher in order to receive the complimentary wedding. This is never the entry level room category so you end up spending more money to save money.  Resorts like Secrets “Adult Only” Resorts or Dreams Family Resorts offer this option, so if you had planned on staying in a nicer room category for 7 nights anyway, these resorts are still a good option in addition to Sandals.  Otherwise, most resorts have basic wedding packages that start around $850 USD, but to get a free wedding, take a look at Sandals or family friendly all inclusive Beaches Resorts.  They often run promos that give you a $1000 Weddingmoon credit. So you get the free basic wedding ($500) and an extra $500 that you can use towards specific things related to your wedding/honeymoon. Government fees vary depending on the island, but you can even use part of your Weddingmoon credit towards your government fees at Sandals. Sandals Resorts run promos all the time and we can help you take advantage of any current promo that comes along.  Our job is to work with you to help find the best Sandals Resort for your wedding and provide counsel and guidance throughout the entire process. Free is great, but we also want your special day to be everything you dreamed it would be without stress and worry.

So if you are thinking about the possibility of a destination wedding, give us a call (800-321-7907) or send a quick email.  We have three Sandals Specialists in the office and we all work with weddings all the time.  We do not charge any additional fees to use our services and we would be both happy and honored to help plan your special day.

 

Off the beaten path and finding romance in Cinque Terre Italy


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Rome is on everyone’s top 10 list for a European vacation but Italy has more to offer than the Colosseum and Vatican so consider a few days off the beaten path in timeless Cinque Terre where you’ll find five tiny villages suspended above the sea and romance in every magical corner.

The Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera, is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s hard to believe these places are hundreds of years old and not just made for human amusement. The villages, dating from the early thirteenth century, are known for postcard perfect views, miles of spectacular walking and hiking trails, historic character, vineyards, olive groves and citrus orchards.

Jaymze Kennedy, a Seattle area photographer specializing in weddings, had this to say about Riomaggiore, one of the five villages in the Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore is one of the few places where it’s everything you thought it would be from the pictures. Small alley ways, small shops, hardly any signs of touristy activity. It’s virtually perfect and the Mediterranean sea kisses it’s shores like you will see many couples doing here.

It did not surprise me to find a couple doing an engagement session here. It’s virtually everything you could want for scenery and ultimately compliments the romantic mood. There is not enough I can say about the Cinque Terre. It was the most peaceful place I visited in weeks of traveling through Europe and the perfect escape after Rome. If you have one place you need to experience in your life…it should be here. And if you are getting engaged, married or are a couple that needs a get away…THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO GO!

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The Cinque Terre  “The Five Lands” is comprised of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Riomaggiore is the closest to La Spezia and major train connections and the beginning of the area’s famous walks. For more information and assistance planning your vacation or honeymoon in Italy please call or email Linda Totem Travel’s Europe specialist.

Non stop flights from Seattle to Cancun Mexico now available!


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Great news for sun seekers in the Seattle area who would love to vacation on the Caribbean side of Mexico but want to get there fast and minimize the hassle factor associated with travel.  Alaska Airlines has started flying to Cancun again and starting in early November, offers a nonstop flight from Seattle to Cancun. Woohoo! The nonstop flights will operate daily during the peak travel season November through April and they are pricing out very competitively with connecting flights offered by other airlines.

The white sand beaches and warm turquoise water in Cancun and Riviera Maya are some of the best anywhere and unlike Hawaii there are many wonderful all inclusive vacations in Mexico.  Some favorite resorts for an adult only getaway or tropical honeymoon include Secrets and Excellence while the Iberostar and Dreams Resorts are some of our top choices for a family vacation with entertainment and activities appropriate for kids and adults plus organized kids clubs to give Mom and Dad a break. There are many more excellent choices including the all inclusive Palace Resorts but each property has its own personality  so the art is in matching your style to the perfect destination.

That’s where I come in ’cause I’m Totem Travel’s Mexico specialist and visit all the resorts regularly. So let me know what’s important to you and I’ll make sure you return home talking about the best vacation you ever had! Mexico is still one of the better vacation values for families or young honeymooners on a tight budget and the new nonstop flights from Seattle to Cancun make it easy to access this fabulous destination!   Give us a call or send me an email and we can advise you on which destination in Mexico and which resort best fits your ideal vacation.  Pretty soon you’ll be pulling out your sunglasses, working on a winter tan and practicing important phrases like “hola” and  “uno mas por favor.

How to choose the best Sandals Resort for your honeymoon


 

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There are many wonderful destinations throughout the world but if an adult only all-inclusive vacation is on your honeymoon list, your best choice may be a Sandals Resort. No kids are allowed at Sandals, everything is included from meals to drinks to scuba diving and golf, and romance abounds with beachfront locations, king beds in every room, gourmet dining, private pools, butler service and luxurious spas. So how do you choose the best Sandals Resort for you?  Let’s start with location – Sandals has 14 all-inclusive resorts on 7 sun drenched Caribbean islands including St Lucia, Jamaica, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Exuma and the Bahamas. So your choice of destination should consider travel time, airfare, weather and what you’d like to see and do while on your romantic adult only vacation.

The shortest flights and lowest fares are usually to Jamaica or Nassau, but St Lucia also has excellent air service from many U.S. cities and if travel time isn’t a major concern, a relatively undiscovered island like Grenada is an exotic destination that should be at the top of most honeymoon wish lists.

Weather is a very important consideration and while all Caribbean islands enjoy sunshine and warm temperatures year round the Bahamas can be too cool for a bathing suit in December and more vulnerable to hurricanes in the fall. Jamaica is in the 80’s and 90’s year round as are the islands of St Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbados and the southern Caribbean islands are also less affected by tropical storms and hurricanes.

The beach is #1 for a lot of couples all inclusive vacations and details matter! Every Sandals Resort is beachfront but if you want to swim in the ocean a calm, shallow entry may be desirable unless of course you wish to body surf and waves are what you’re after! If you’d like to walk or jog on the beach size matters and and if you are worried about too much sun the availability of shade is important. Which Sandals Resort has the best beach will depend on you but two of my favorites would be Emerald Bay and Whitehouse.

Pools are important too and some resorts have much larger and more glamorous settings with fountains, huge swim up pool bars, jacuzzis, even fire pits designed into the pool area. Sandals Grande Antigua, Grande St Lucian and Grenada are a few with stunning pool areas.

Activities will be a deciding factor for many couples choosing an adult only all inclusive vacation and Sandals includes more water and land sports than other resorts like Secrets, Excellence and Couples Resorts. But even within the Sandals group there are important differences so it’s time to be specific.

Snorkeling, daily snorkel trips and scuba diving is included at every Sandals Resort but the colors are simply more vibrant in the turquoise Bahamian waters and healthy reefs off St Lucia and Grenada.You can climb a waterfall, swim with dolphins or go ziplining in Jamaica. Casinos and big name entertainers are in Nassau and golf is free in Exuma, St Lucia and Jamaica. Hiking is best on St Lucia and Grenada and Antigua offers the opportunity to swim with the rays or party with locals while watching the sunset at Shirley Heights. Waterskiing and tubing is offered at Sandals Negril, Sandals Whitehouse, Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Grande St Lucian.

Every Sandals Resort includes complimentary watersports such as sailing, kayaking, standup paddleboards, snorkeling and scuba but conditions vary so ask a Sandals Specialist for more detail. Fitness centers and land sports like tennis and volleyball are also included at every resort but in Jamaica you’ll find Sandals’ only rock climbing wall and squash courts.

Once you’ve chosen a destination it’s time to think about which Sandals Resort is best for you. Are you looking for a casual beach atmosphere with open air dining or a more formal setting under crystal chandeliers? Are you a pool person, beach person or want a bit of both? Do you prefer small intimate resorts or would you enjoy resort hopping with dining, drinking and playing privileges at several locations?

Last but not least, every Sandals Resort has about a million (slight exaggeration) room categories with prices starting under $2.5K for a one week all inclusive vacation for two to more than $10K for a once in a lifetime honeymoon in a fabulous suite with private pool and butler. But whether you choose a garden view room or beachfront villa, every Sandals guest will enjoy a couples only getaway with king beds, fine dining, name brand liquors, activities, entertainment and tips included.

For more help choosing the best Sandals Resort you can email linda@totemtravel.com or call Linda, Sandi or Patty at (800) 321-7907.  We’ve been to all of the resorts and whether you work with a Sandals Specialist or book online you’ll pay exactly the same price and the lowest is always guaranteed!

P.S. Look for more on Sandals newest resort, Sandals Barbados.

How can I find a two bedroom condo in Hawaii?


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Many families vacationing in Hawaii enjoy having apartment style accommodations instead of a hotel room. They like the idea of having the option to prepare some of their meals, having privacy with separate bedrooms, and a more “home away from home” feel. Condominiums which offer this type of accommodation are abundant in Maui, Kauai and on the Big Island of Hawaii but the choices for condominiums in Honolulu are more limited. There are however some quality options.

There are several items to consider before selecting the perfect fit for your family. As the Hawaii Specialist at Totem Travel, I have been helping families choose the appropriate accommodations for more than 18 years, so I would like to talk about how to narrow down your options. One of the best ways to do this is to compile a wish list. Depending upon the age of your children, giving them some input can be helpful, and half the fun of planning.

  • Beach—must be on the beach
  • Pool—must have a swimming pool
  • A two bedroom is essential
  • Washer and Dryer
  • A car
  • Free parking
  • No Resort Fees
  • Staying within budget

Once you have everything on paper, the fun stuff begins: sorting the “must haves” from the “would be nice to have” amenities. Compromise is the name of the game. What is most important for your family, might not be that important for others. Such as a washer and dryer in the unit. If you have 2 children under 5 years old, I would think that would not be a place to compromise, but if you have teens, a coin operated laundry within the complex would be just fine. Two bedrooms is another area for negotiation. Again, if you have small children, and they go to bed early, you would probably enjoy the option of them having their own room. With older kids, and teens, they are just as happy having a sofa bed, and/or roll-a-way, in the living room.

While having a car on the other islands is essential, Honolulu has very good public transportation, as well as having most restaurants and shopping within walking distance. Many of my clients rent a car for just a couple of days of their vacation so that they can explore, but can avoid 7 nights of parking fees. Parking in Honolulu can be very expensive, in the $25-$35 per night range. So having FREE parking is a huge plus, and while it’s out there, it’s difficult to find. Unfortunately, most properties in Hawaii have Resort Fees. These fees are charged by the individual property and are not payable in advance. Resort Fees will be added to your bill upon check-out. The fees to cover several amenities, though, so they are not just an arbitrary fee added to your bill. Amenities covered by the resort fee can include: WiFi, local phone calls, coffee & tea service, daily newspaper, in room safe, and some even include parking. These fees are mandatory, so even if you use none of the covered amenities, you will still be charged. The good news, Resort Fees are generally less at condo properties than full service hotels and resorts.

Staying within your budget is probably one of the most important items on your wish list, and it is very important to let me know what that predetermined amount is. When I ask this question, I am not trying to be nosy, I am trying to narrow down and offer you the best choices for your family. As I said, I have been doing this for a long time, so I have a good feel for what will work best for your family. Having as much information as you can give me: the “wish list”, activities that are important, and ages of your children are all key in helping me assist you in planning a vacation that you and your children will remember for a long time. If a Hawaiian vacation is in your future plans, please contact me to help you plan a seamless family experience. sandi@totemtravel.com.

Private island adult only paradise – Matangi Resort in Fiji


I’ve said it before and will say it again, I am truly spoiled, but on a recent vacation in Fiji, Matangi Private Island Resort set a new high bar for barefoot luxury and pampered guest service. It may have been the ultra private treehouse with outdoor jacuzzi and rock shower, super comfy canopied bed, and stunning oceanview. Perhaps it was the soothing Fijian foot massage with coconut scrub and fragrant oils I received a few minutes after arrival. Or starting each day with a hand crafted latte with secret message in the foam, freshly baked muffins and amazing papaya and pineapple.

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It could easily have been the ever attentive but always discreet Sireli, Matangi Island Resort concierge, who ensured I was able to snorkel, hike, kayak, scuba dive, learn about coconuts, enjoy Horseshoe Bay and Buoma Waterfalls, nap on a swinging bed inches from the sea, and get back to the oceanfront spa for a bone melting Fijian massage. All without detracting from the sense of timelessness, serenity and leisurely island life.

It is possible that the excellent New Zealand wines added to my pleasure and most certainly the treat of three beautifully prepared and presented multi course meals all included at no extra charge. The seafood is fresh from the sea, fruits and vegetables are grown on the island and even the ice cream is homemade. Mmmmmm…. all served in a supremely elegant but barefoot casual, open air setting with gleaming hard wood floors, balmy island breezes and flickering candlelight. Did I mention all day cookies and coffee? But I digress…

Matangi Private Island Resort is a very special place for many reasons but it is not for everyone. You are miles and miles and miles from home. There are no roads on the island and no cars of any kind. There is no town nor stores. There are no televisions in the bures. There is no late night entertainment beyond some Fijian music, cocktails or kava, conversation with another guest. All you have is PRIVATE TIME WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER or travel companion and an awesome Fijian staff whose goal in life is to pamper you in every possible way. This is what makes Matangi Private Island Resort one of the best choices anywhere for a romantic honeymoon or special anniversary.   I’ve been to almost all the islands and resorts in the South Pacific and have traveled all over the world. Trust me, this place is exceptional and if you experience Matangi’s magic you’ll know what I mean!

(425) 821-4100 or linda@totemtravel.com

$1000 off at Sandals newest resort in Barbados


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Sandals Resorts International will be opening their newest Sandals “Couples Only” All Inclusive property on the island of Barbados sometime early in 2015.  On the heels of opening the stunning Sandals La Source, the grand opening of Sandals Barbados has everyone anxiously awaiting its debut. Now is the time to get some great deals on their newest resort.  Space is already filling up, but as of late summer, there is still availability in February 2015.

To kick things off, Sandals is offering a $1000 Air Credit on early bookings at Sandals Barbados.  In order to qualify for the $1000 Air Credit, you need to book at least 7 nights and your travel dates must be 2/14/15 or later.  This means you can stay 7 nights for as little as $3732 during high season!  For travel dates 2/17 onward, Sandals is also offering for a limited time, the $305 Island Routes Tour credit.  Sandals is also offering a generous $500 Air Credit for 3-6 night reservations, so if you don’t have a full week to travel, you can still take advantage of a nice discount. These deals can change at any time so call or email us now!

Some highlights to look forward to at Sandals Barbados are more luxury suites including club and butler level rooms that open up to a meandering crystal lagoon pool, as well as beachfront club and butler suites with tranquility soaking tubs.  Sandals Barbados looks to be following in the footsteps of Sandals La Source Grenada as far as the look and feel of the accommodations.  Add to the list more quality dining choices including gluten free and other dietary needs, grand swimming pools with swim up bars, and all your water sports activities included, put Sandals Barbados on your list of possibilities.

Other great deals and specials out for late summer/fall are more air credits for all the properties, including up to a $755 Air Credit for both their resorts in the Bahamas (Emerald Bay and Royal Bahamian), as well as Sandals La Source in Grenada.  The $305 Island Routes Credit is a fantastic promo for couples looking to explore the island and resort surroundings.   In addition to seeing and vacationing at all the various Sandals Resorts, we have taken many of the tours and can recommend activities to spend your Island Routes credit on.

Call (1-800-321-7907) or email us linda@totemtravel.com and we can tell you when to travel to take advantage of the best promos.  Happy Travels!  Linda, Patty & Sandi

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