Posted by: vacationdesigners | November 7, 2010

Lori & Carla’s Trip to Jamaica, Oct 2010

Visit to Jamaica

For more pictures visit our Facebook page:

Posted by Carla Johnston,

The purpose of this trip is for Lori and I (both sisters and co-workers) to check out (and stay at) a new Secrets resort in Montego Bay and take a day trip to Negril to tour two Couples resorts… my secret purpose is test several rum punches to ensure quality control.

Welcome to Jamaica!

We arrive in Montego Bay after 9pm, we have been traveling since 6:00 this morning.  We are quite travel weary.  Upon arriving at our resort, the beautiful Secrets Wild Orchid, we are greeted warmly by a concierge.  He takes our bags, hands us a cool towel and sets us down on comfy armchairs with a glass of champagne.   Ahhh what a grand entrance, mind you we are not special guests getting special treatment, this is how all guests are welcomed.  The resort is lovely; I would describe it as warm modern with an understated elegance.  The dark woods and marble against white backdrops make the décor feel spa-like.  Our room boasts (in our case) two four-post beds of dark wood, white crisp sheets, and draped in a dark fringe for romance (in your case).  Warning: the bed posts are dark wood… try not to run into the post on your way back from the bathroom in the middle of the night.  Yes this did happen to one of us, I can’t say who (but it wasn’t me).

Oh! de Toilet

Here is where I must share the one negative we found at Secrets… the bathroom.  Don’t get us wrong, it was well appointed with a Jacuzzi tub, marble shower with rain head, and double sink all done in modern finishes.  Here is the kicker; the bathroom has no wall to separate it from the room… just a mesh curtain!  This means when you are in the tub and your partner is in bed… you could hold hands.  It sounds romantic enough, unless your partner wants to watch TV and you want to turn on the tub jets (too loud), or you need to use the restroom at night, but can’t turn on the light because it will illuminate the entire room.  While the “throne” has its own stall with frosted glass door (and weirdly enough, a telephone) there is no noise barrier.

Day at the beach… bar

Here we are next morning just LOVING this zen-like resort.  Our room overlooks the beach and a gorgeous wedding gazebo built over the water.   We head to the breakfast buffet which is very inclusive and delish.  Have a made-to-order omelet, choose from fresh fruits, yogurts, pastry, and Jamaican dishes.  Lori and I love the coffee, strong brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain.  Heaven!  A tough day of “research” at the pool beckons.


The BEST food in Jamaica: jerk chicken of course!  Today we had a special treat when the Jamaican jerk chicken cart made its way through the resort.  A wood-fired grill and the best spices around, this chicken was savory and spicy (without making me cry) and is so tender it melts in my mouth.  Want authentic?  How about a Jamaican man with a machete who chops the top off a coconut, inserts a straw (rum if you like) and you drink the coconut milk straight from the nut!  (for those who are wondering it tastes like skim milk)

Day Trip

Today we drive from Montego Bay to Negril, just over an hour’s drive.  I’ve been to Negril before and was not looking forward to the harrowing drive, (usually a crazy taxi driver passing cars while careening around corners and narrowly missing the wandering goats.)  Happily, new highway infrastructure has made this drive far less exciting (terrifying), while still allowing us to get an inside glimpse at the Jamaican towns.  The drive to Negril: no problem, mon!

Couples Resorts (Negril)

We tour two Couples resorts today and I am thinking, how can they even compare to the serenely stunning resort we are staying at?  Will they look dated?  I am walking in with a bit of pessimism.  I LOVE that I have been proven wrong!  Upon entering Couples Negril, I am swept up in its Jamaican charm.  From the art and décor, to the wash on the walls, to the glorious lush grounds, and the attitude of the employees, the Couples resorts exemplify what it is to be Jamaican.  Local artists handcrafted many of the items from light fixtures, baskets, rugs, and even a chandelier of shells hand-beaded by a local Rastafarian.  The entertainment will feature local vocalists and a steel drum band, I wish I could stay!  Both Couples resorts offer an all-inclusive program the likes of which you don’t often see.  In addition to meals and drinks, they include several day-trips and water sports and instruction.  The two Couples resorts we visited have some differences, while the over-all feel was similar.  Couples Negril had hotel-style rooms and a focus on entertainment.  Couples Swept Away features bungalow rooms (with huge verandas) and a 10 acre sports and wellness complex.  When it really comes down to it, choosing the resort depends on the person, in this case whether you prefer Zen-like luxury (Secrets) or Jamaican Charm (Couples)… but I would recommend ANY of these resorts.


Posted by: vacationdesigners | August 25, 2010

Lori’s Bucket List – Venice

The other day I was looking at my travel bucket list.  This list has been ongoing and ever-changing since I started in this business 23 years ago.  I keep trading it in for larger buckets in order to keep if from overflowing.

Sometimes I ask myself why I need to travel so much.  Yes, I have to do a certain amount of travel for my job.  Who wants to work with a travel agent that doesn’t travel? But traveling to foreign lands and experiencing different cultures is just something I have to do.  I’d rather drive my car one car for one more year and hold off on new carpeting in order to take off on another jet plane.  I figure when I’m old and wrinkled I’d rather have the travel memories.

One place that’s been on my list for a long time is Venice, Italy.  I’ve been to Florence and Rome but not Venice.  How have I managed to elude this wonderful city for so long?  After reading yet another article on Venice I decided last week that I just couldn’t take it anymore and I booked a ticket to Italy.  Now the fun part comes in, planning my week in this fabulous country.  The possibilities are endless but I know that I’ll end my adventure in Venice.

Posted by: vacationdesigners | July 20, 2010

Flying with kids

Lori’s 8 “kid travel” tips:

Traveling from Madison may be the most convenient for those of us in the Dane County area, but many destinations require a plane change en route.  Flying nonstop out of Milwaukee or Chicago can be more convenient in the end and may save you money with the competition of low-cost carries.  When making a connection it is best to have a good amount of time, at least an hour at most major airports.  If you have the choice of 39 minutes or 105 minutes, go for the 105 minutes.  Roaming around an airport for too long can cost money, at least with my kids.  Hunger starts to make its self shown and we end up buying food at airport prices.  Boredom can lead us into airport shops.  Next time you travel at least consider all your options.

Travel at a time of day that works best with your child’s schedule, especially with little ones.  If you are making a connection avoid the last flight of the day in case you get delayed.

Be sure to bring enough supplies.  For babies this means diapers and food.  For young children coloring books, hand-held games and sticker books work well.  Teenagers can keep themselves occupied pretty well with an iPod or similar device.  We play a card game with our kids that we usually just play when traveling.  Not only does the time pass quickly, it’s great bonding time.

Bring a small pillow or blanket along for each child so that they can sleep comfortably on the plane.  Many airlines have done away with this free service.

Dress for comfort and be sure to layer.  One minute it can be freezing and the next very warm.

Have each child bring a reusable water bottle in their carry-on.  Once you pass through security you can fill it up at the bubbler and have access to water anytime during your flight.  Make sure to pack some snacks as well.

Ear pain – my kids sometimes have a tough time with the pressure during landing.  I’ve found that giving them Afrin prior to take off and Motrin or Tylenol 1 hour before landing really helps ease the pain.  Before you do this please seek the advice of your child’s physician to make sure they approve.

The last thing is pack your patience and sense of humor.  Travel can be trying for anyone but its all worth it when you arrive and the vacation begins!

    If you have tips that work well for you we’d love to hear them.

    Posted by: vacationdesigners | March 30, 2010

    Review of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro, Punta Cana

    Golf Lesson from JuanEnjoying a Drink before Dinner
    Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro Lobby

    Bavaro Beach

    Room with queen beds. Kings also available.

    My last visit to Punta Cana was about 7 years ago and I was curious to see how the area has evolved.  At that time of my first visit very few people, with the exception of the front desk staff, spoke more than a few words of English.  The majority of vacationers were from Europe and the ride from the airport was a bit bumpy and seemed to take forever.  It felt more like Mexico 20 years ago and you knew you were in a foreign country.

     A few weeks ago my sister-in-law, Carla, and  I visited the island again.  Although our time there was short, just 3 nights, it was enough to get a feel for the area and witness the changes. Most notably, almost all the staff spoke English, the exception being the maids and cooks who have little guest interaction.  In fact, those whose jobs were customer care related spoke nearly perfect English. On this visit, there were just as many, if not more, visitors from North America as from across the pond.  The road from the airport was very smooth and it was only 25 minutes before we reached the resort.  I should also mention that I had a direct flight from Milwaukee of about 4.5 hours, which really cut down on travel time.  These charters are offered during the winter travel season.  Otherwise, travel to Punta Cana requires a plane change.

     The one thing that hasn’t changed in Punta Cana is the shockingly beautiful sugar-white beach.  The water is so brightly blue, it doesn’t seem real. While Punta Cana is on the Atlantic Ocean, the sand and beach are reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea.  The Punta Cana area is often referred to as the “coconut coast” due to its hundreds of swaying coconut palms scattered along the 30 miles of super fine white sand.  If you love to spend time on the beach and be able to walk for miles it’s the perfect destination.  The local tour operators offer a handful of day trips around the area but it is mostly known as a beach destination with very few towns to visit and explore.

     We had the pleasure of staying at the beautiful Iberostar Grand Punta Cana –  The Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro opened in October of 2008 and is an adult only property.  Most of the guests were couples but a fair percentage were golf groups and friends on vacation together. The resort has 260 suites and every room has butler service.  The rooms have a casual elegance that is extended throughout the resort.  Five restaurant choices and 24 hour room service ensure that you’ll never go hungry.  Reservations are required at the restaurants and can be made upon your arrival for the entire stay.

     The resort includes golf at its own 18-hole P.B. Dye Golf Course.  The number of complimentary rounds is dependent on how many nights you stay. I don’t golf but wanted to see the course.  The staff at the golf course was very gracious and picked us up to give us a tour of the course.  We even got to take a few swings.  If you are a golfer this course and the Punta Cana area is well known for its golf courses.  

     I do “spa” however. The two-story oceanfront spa is one you won’t want to miss.  You also have the option to get a massage on the beach in a thatched-roof semi private terrace, where you can hear the ocean waves.  I choose the beachside massage and was not disappointed.  The sound of the waves blended with the general beach noise and I had no trouble relaxing.

     The entertainment staff did an outstanding job.  Several staffers, all of whom would know you by name within the first day, are employed for the sole purpose of making sure you are entertained and enjoying your stay. The pool was active and there were some contests and games you could partake in, but it was all done with a touch of class and you were never hassled to join in.  I can attest that the mojitos at the swim up pool bar are very delicious.

     The entertainment continued into the evening, sometimes with music outside or karaoke in the nightclub.  I was just getting up my courage to sign up for karaoke and they closed it down for the night.  Whew, I just escaped that one!

     The Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro is situated next to 3 other Iberostar resorts.  The Grand Bavaro is the most luxurious of the resorts, and it offers use of all three adjoining resorts.  You can walk for miles and miles in either direction.  For those that want to do a little shopping for souvenirs, there is a little market just down the beach.

     I would recommend this resort to anyone looking for an upscale experience that isn’t stuffy or formal. 

     Lori Derauf

    Posted by: vacationdesigners | March 25, 2010

    Welcome to our blog.

    Thank you for visiting Vacation Designers Blog.  We will update this blog with current travel trends and notices along with reports about our travels.

    « Newer Posts