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Big changes at Sandals Resorts for 2018


2018 will be an exciting year with big changes coming to Sandals Resorts. The award winning Sandals Specialists at Totem Travel have been to all of the Sandals and Beaches Resorts and after recent visits to Jamaica, Barbados, Turks and Caicos, Grenada and Exuma we are excited about the upgrades and innovations we saw. Major developments to consider when choosing the best destination for your honeymoon, wedding or adult all inclusive vacation include –

  • Sandals newest resort, Sandals Royal Barbados, opens with Sandals first rooftop pool, jacuzzi and bar. Royal Barbados will also have Sandals first bowling alley aptly called Lovers’ Lane and a gentlemen’s only barber shop.
  • A favorite resort, Sandals Grande Antigua, reopens on one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful white sand beaches.
  • Overwater bungalows at 3 resorts on 2 islands will be ready for romantic honeymoons and luxurious vacations. Plus Sandals opened its first ever overwater bar and overwater wedding venue with more to come!
  • An all new destination wedding program replaces Sandals’ free Beautiful Beginnings wedding and $1500 gift with a la carte customizable Aisle to Isle themes, Bells and Whistles.
  • Major enhancements, renovations and rooms debut at Sandals Montego Bay, Sandals South Coast and Sandals Halcyon. Look for swim up suites, beachfront private pools and overwater bungalows.

More changes include

  • New restaurants at many Sandals Resorts
  • Streamlined military, fire fighter and police discount program
  • New scuba and snuba watersports offerings
  • Relaxed dress code – dress jeans, collarless shirts and dress sandals allowed in fine dining restaurants.
  • Discounted insurance when bundled with airfare.
  • Changes to Signature Guest and on site Loyalty offers (P.S. always good but not always the best deal)
  • Expanded resort hopping options
  • More tour and off site excursions

What hasn’t changed?

  • Sandals remains adult only, couples only and ultra all inclusive
  • Sandals remains “best in class” with more inclusions and choices than other adult only resorts like Secrets, Excellence, Couples and more.

For more information or help choosing the best Sandals Resort for your honeymoon or adult only all inclusive vacation we hope you will call, email or come meet us at the Seattle Wedding Show January 13-14. We’d love to help!

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 At Sandals Emerald Bay for 2017


Sandals Emerald Bay “Couples Only” All Inclusive Resort, located on the pristine and quiet island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas, reopened following a brief two month closure due to damage from Hurricane Matthew in early October. In true Sandals fashion, they quickly fixed all damaged areas and took advantage of the unplanned closure to spruce up and enhance the adult only all inclusive resort experience.

New at Sandals Emerald Bay are four more dining options to add to their existing culinary lineup. Emerald Bay now has a Jerk Shack open for lunch so you can enjoy scrumptious jerk pork and chicken right off the Barbie, as you head to the pool or beach. In the evening, Sandals Emerald Bay has added three delicious and diverse A la Carte dining options that will satisfy your palate. Bombay Club featuring flavorful cuisine from India will captivate you with bold and exotic flavors. The new Soy restaurant offers exotic sushi creations and rounding off the additions is the ever popular Kimonos which in addition to tantalizing your appetite, provides delightful entertainment from skillful Chefs who are crafty on the iron.

If you prefer to enjoy a more leisurely meal, Barefoot by the Sea is one of my favorites for a beachfront lunch or dinner and another popular option is Dino’s wood oven pizza which cranks out the ever popular pies by the slice or by the box.  Speaking of pies, the cottage pie at Drunken Duck Pub is absolutely delicious so check that out along with fine dining options at Il Cielo and Le Parisienne when it’s time for an elegant evening.

   

Current Sandals Resort specials for Emerald Bay include 2 free rounds of golf or unlimited golf depending on your stay and room category, and the 18 hole Greg Norman championship course is one of a kind in the Caribbean with the entire back nine oceanfront!  Sandals Emerald Bay is hosting LPGA events in 2017 and you can catch a glimpse of the fabulous course and favorite golfers on the Golf Channel.

Sandals Emerald Bay wowed us when we attended the grand opening back in February of 2010 and after several more visits it remains one of our favorite adult only all-inclusive resorts. Every room at the resort is Club Level or includes Sandals butler service and you simply can’t beat the white sand beach or clear turquoise waters found in the Bahamas. But this resort will not appeal to those wishing a lot of nightlife and you must be careful about weather patterns when traveling in the northern Caribbean. So please call or email if you have questions about the island, off property tours like swimming with pigs or need help choosing the best Sandals Resort for your honeymoon or all inclusive vacation. Both Linda and I are happy to help at no extra cost!

 

Upscale Luxury Family All Inclusive Resort – Review Of Finest Playa Mujeres All Inclusive Resort In Mexico


I really enjoyed this new resort which is located in a new area just 15-20 minutes north of Cancun.  Finest Playa Mujeres is part of the Excellence Group of Resorts which we have been sending clients to for years (Excellence Playa Mujeres, Excellence Riviera Cancun, Excellence Punta Cana and Excellence El Carmen).  Their “adult only” All Inclusive properties offer a quality adult only vacation experience with a high level of service and overall vacation quality.  So when I had the chance to experience their family friendly resort, I had high expectations.  Let’s just say, Finest excelled!  If you are looking for an upscale family all-inclusive resort, Finest Playa Mujeres will meet or exceed all your expectations.

The location is a big plus since it is just a short cab ride into Cancun, but out of the way of all the craziness of the city.  I find it also nice for those who have already been to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen and want to try a new area or for those with limited vacation time, this Playa Mujeres location is ideal.

     

The minute I stepped on property, I knew that Excellence Group had delivered a solid upscale family friendly all-inclusive experience.  All the details were in place from the stunning grounds to the wide variety of dining choices.  I hadn’t even gotten to see any of the rooms, beach or pool and I was already excited about what I was seeing.  As I walked along the pathways, the oasis of pools and landscaping was beautiful and all fringed by a 2 mile white sand beach.

The accommodations offered on property will fit any family comfortably.  You have your choice of regular junior suites with are nice and spacious and can even come with your own private pool or they have Family Suites which are an excellent choice for families with multiple kids.  This type of suite is hard to find in Mexico or the Caribbean. The family suites at Finest have a bedroom with two individual beds and another room with a King bed, so parents can have their privacy.  Of course the resort also offers luxurious story rooftop suites and an Imperial Suite so you can go as upscale as you like.  They also offer their Finest Club experience which gives you private check in and check out, a private lounge with concierge services, private pool bar, VIP toiletries and upgraded minibar, room service menu and more.

When you are not in your room, your kids can enjoy either the Imagine Kids lounge in the main lobby or the Imagine Kids club conveniently located in a central location where you can drop off your kids while you enjoy some “adult only” time.  The kids club has all kinds of activities and of course a water park where your kids can be supervised while they have a fun time.   In addition to all the kids programs and waterpark, you have 12 swimming pools overall and 4 are heated.  In the center of it all, you have the fun Aqua Bar where you can swim up and sip on a margarita or drink of your choice.

And you won’t be bored at the resort because the list of activities available at Finest goes on and on. They have everything from kayaks, windsurfers and paddle boards, to yoga, cooking lessons, beach volleyball, basketball, bicycles, table tennis and more. Or you can get your daily workout in at the Fitness Center which is equipped with all the latest equipment.   Need I mention the fabulous spa?  They have one and if pampering is what your vacation calls for, no problem!

Another quick mention of the dining options because I really think this is a huge asset for this property.  There are 9 various dining options on property and only one is buffet.  You have everything from Duke’s Lobster & Seafood, a Steakhouse, Italian, French, Mexican and Tapas to the spectacular Shoji which feature oriental flavors from Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and China.  Something for everyone, even the pickiest of appetites and Finest can handle dietary restrictions with ease, for example gluten free.

We work with a wide variety of resorts throughout the Caribbean and Mexico including other upscale family friendly resorts like Beaches Resorts, so please call, request a quote or shoot me an email. We can find the best fit for you and your family and do it at no extra cost!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Totem Travel Seattle is Named Best of Best Sandals Agency for 2016


For more than a decade Sandals Resorts has named Totem Travel in Seattle a top travel agency. In 2016 Totem Travel was again honored as Best of the Best and the agency continues as the Pacific Northwest’s only member of Sandals’ prestigious Chairman’s Royal Club. Owner Linda Martindell was awarded a Sandals lifetime achievement award and both Linda and Patty are Platinum Level Preferred Sandals Specialists.  In 2016 Linda also became a Sandals Wedding Specialist.

So what does this mean to guests planning a Sandals honeymoon, destination wedding or adult only all inclusive vacation? You can get expert advice, personal service and Sandals’ lowest price from a travel agent that has been to every one of the Sandals and Beaches Resorts. If you are planning an all inclusive vacation, need help deciding which Sandals Resort is best, have questions about a destination wedding or family reunion group, are not sure if butler service is worth the extra cost or what activities can be found on each of the 8 Caribbean islands we hope you’ll call, request a quote or email and allow a Sandals Specialist to help. We offer all the specials and deals you see online and provide personal service at no extra cost.

 

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.

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