Monthly Archives: April 2016

Affordable Island Getaways in the Caribbean Ideas

unduhan-4As we head into the month of April, we follow yet another turn of winter melting into spring. Whether you’re celebrating the return of the sun or just need a change of scenery, now is the perfect time to consider a Caribbean getaway. Now that the busy winter season is over, there are plenty of incredible spring, summer, and fall hotel deals to choose from.

Here are five of our favorite Caribbean destinations paired with five fun and affordableChoice Hotels® properties!

EAGLE’S BEACH, ARUBA

I’m in love with Aruba. I’ve been here four times and I’m already plotting my next trip back. From lounging on the beach to spending the day with flamingos, there’s something for everyone.

Aruba’s Eagle Beach is one of the most beautiful stretches of white sand beach in the Caribbean, and Aruba’s widest. It’s a perfect place for windsurfing, swimming, and other aquatic sports, and also for viewing sea turtle hatching during parts of the year.La Cabana Beach Resort & Casino, an Ascend Hotel Collection® member, is located directly across from Eagle Beach, and boasts both an on-site casino and spa.

PARADISE ISLAND, BAHAMAS

Famous for being home to the sprawling Atlantis resort including a water park, casino, aquarium, and one of the world’s most expensive hotel rooms (the Bridge Suite costs ~$25k per night!), Paradise Island is a Bahaman resort island in the best way. But you don’t actually have to spend $25k per night to enjoy it; the Comfort Suites® Paradise Island located nearby offers spacious rooms with included access to the Atlantis’ amenities.

GRAND CAYMAN, THE CAYMAN ISLANDS

Explore Grand Cayman and you’ll have access not only to beautiful beaches and activities, but a large number of natural and historical attractions. Scuba diving offers views of large coral reefs and shipwrecks, including the USS Kittiwake, an artificial reef that you can explore inside. The Comfort Suites® Seven Mile Beach puts you right on the waterfront and only a short distance from the Cayman Turtle Farm.

WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO

Make sure to bring your camera with you to Curacao! This Dutch Caribbean island offers both natural beauty and some amazing, colorful architecture—Willemstad’s harbor, with its colonial architecture, has been designated a UNESCO heritage site. TheAcoya Hotel Suites & Villas, an Ascend Hotel Collection® member, offer a number of private family rooms and villas within a short distance to several beaches, as well as the Seaquarium.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

San Juan is a great vacation spot for those looking to get a mix of relaxation, history, and culture. Old San Juan has several self-guided tours of their colonial buildings to enjoy, including one of the famous El Callisto San Felipe del Morro citadel.

After exploring, stop by Casa Bacardi to enjoy a historic tour of the plant and complimentary rum tasting. San Juan is also home to a thriving culinary scene. I had a chance to explore some of the best restaurants in Old San Juan and Condado during a previous trip and was blown away by the food. The nearby Comfort Inn® San Juan is a great home base for exploring the city, and near both Condado Beach and the airport to boot.

The Caribbean is one of my favorite places to visit and you really can’t go wrong with any of these islands. So if you’re itching for some island fun, it’s absolutely feasible to plan an affordable Caribbean island getaway.

Tips to Maui on a Budget

If visiting Maui is your dream vacation, rest assured–you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a trip there. With these tips, you can stay within your budget even as you’re living it up on this fun, friendly island.

SAVE ON CAR RENTALS

It’s necessary to rent a car in Maui, but you don’t have to pay a fortune for it. Rent an economy car–not only is the rental fee cheaper, you’ll get better gas mileage, too. You can search for the best prices at rentalcars.com, and some American Express cards offer further discounts on rental insurance. Also, be sure to check with your auto insurance carrier at home to see if it covers rental cars.

TRAVEL IN THE OFF-SEASON

The off-season and shoulder seasons in Maui are April to May and September to October. Airfare and hotels tend to be cheaper. And for an added perk, it won’t be as crowded. For the best rates on hotels, we always check Booking.com first.

RENT A PLACE WITH A KITCHEN

Renting a condo or apartment through Airbnb is a great way to save money on your Maui vacation. Often the rental price itself is very affordable. Beyond that, having your own kitchen means that you can save money by cooking your own food. If you are new to Airbnb, sign up through our link to get up to $35 off of your first booking!

BUY ALCOHOL AT THE LOCAL MARKET

We always head to the local market on our first day of arrival to Maui. We like to buy any snacks we didn’t bring with us and, most importantly, buy a few six packs to have on hand at our hotel or apartment. We often travel with this insulated tote bag that doubles as an ice chest for the beach or other outdoor activities.

PACK SOME SNACKS

Since it’s an island and 90% of the food has to be imported, packaged food tends to be pretty expensive on Maui. We like to have snacks — like almonds and nature bars — on hand when traveling, so packing these items in our suitcase saves us a ton of money.

EAT AT FOOD TRUCKS

Food trucks are another great budget-friendly alternative. There’s such a variety that you don’t have to miss out on exotic local fare, and you’ll be getting fun, delicious meals for sometimes half the price of a restaurant. Here’s a list of the best food trucks on Mauiaccording to Yelp reviews.

GO DURING HAPPY HOUR

If you are going out to restaurants or buying drinks, take advantage of happy hour! Some restaurants keep happy hour going until late afternoon, so you can turn it into an early dinner and maybe even catch the sunset. Some food trucks have happy hour, too.

BRING YOUR OWN SNORKEL GEAR

Some hotels provide free snorkel equipment rentals, but if you check ahead, and yours doesn’t, bring your own! We found a travel set of flippers that don’t take up too much room in our luggage so we end up dodging rental fees entirely.

Our favorite place to snorkel is Black Rock in front of the Sheraton Maui, which also happens to be our favorite hotel to stay on the island!

EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS

Many of the hiking trails in Maui are completely free, and even the ones that charge fees are inexpensive. Part of the wonder of Maui is its lush and diverse environment, with tropical flowers, bamboo, and waterfall-fed diving pools.

A day at the beach is free, too, and you can avoid the temptation of spending money on cabanas and cocktails by hitting up one of the lesser-known spots. Sunning, swimming, and snorkeling in clear waters–priceless. Incidentally, humpback whales visit the southern shores of Maui from November to May, so even during the off-season you can spot them from the beach.

FIND FREE ENTERTAINMENT

There are many venues for live music and dancing that are completely free. Some well-known ones are Lahaina Cannery Mall, which has free hula shows and even ukulele lessons, and Kaanapali Beach’s bar district for stage performances.

PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR MAUI

Photo Equipment – I highly recommend bringing a GoPro for underwater photos (and a selfie stick!) and a nice camera for land activities. (See our complete travel camera buying guide here.)

Clothing – Sandals or flip flops (I love Rainbow sandals), a couple of swimsuits,sunglasses, and a sun hat are must-haves any time of year. I also highly recommend bringing water shoes.

Rash Guard – I always pack my long-sleeve rash guard on island trips. It protects you from the sun when snorkeling and provides a little warmth if the water is chilly.

Snorkel Equipment – You’ll save a ton of money by bringing your own and you won’t be stuck with old equipment. We brought this mask and these travel size fins.

Reusable Water Bottle – Refilling your water bottle not only saves money, but it’s so much better for the environment! We use this CamelBak water bottle at home, but if you want something more compact, this collapsible water bottle is perfect for travel days and hiking.

Visit in Europe This Summer

unduhan-6One of the most amazing things about traveling in Europe is how incredibly easy it is to get around. That’s why the “whirlwind European adventure” is still such a classic for summer travel. With so much to see and do, a summer trip through top European destinations is a new experience every time you go.

Contiki has recently announced their “Bag Tag” contest, allowing U.S. residents the chance to win a bunch of really cool prizes including a Sony Alpha a6000, iPad Mini 3, GoPro Hero4, and even a free European vacation! All you have to do is guess on social media which fun-packed travel bag is going on which of their amazing European tour packages to be entered to win.

(Note: The Contiki “Bag Tag” contest is only for U.S. residents – anyone outside of the US that clicks on the landing page will be sent to a “Bag Tag” quiz to find out which Contiki bag best identifies them.)

After just returning from a trip to the Mediterranean and as a lover of sun-kissed beaches, I personally love Bag #6. What do you think: is it Croatian Island Escape Plus, the Best of the Balkans, or Balkans Discovery?

Head over to Contiki’s “Bag Tag” contest page to check out all six bags and guess the destinations! And to get you ready for a little summer fun in Europe, here is our list of the 10 best places to escape the crowds in Europe this summer.

Kotor, Montenegro

Hidden in a ria canyon, this beautiful, secluded Mediterranian port is surrounded by history—literally! The Venetian fortifications are only part of its long history, written in the town’s unique blend of architecture. With its Medieval old town, WWII memorials, and Napoleonic gates, it’s a quiet town with a long history to explore.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

One of the 10 most well-preserved Medieval cities in the world, Dubrovnik is more well known for its perfect seaside charm. You’ll definitely want to spend your time outside on its many beaches, in its botanical gardens, and in the Arboretum Trsteno, the world’s oldest arboretum! Bonus for Game of Thrones fans: the town is one of the filming sites for Kings Landing.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

St. Moritz is a big winter destination in Switzerland, but it’s much less crowded in the summer. With an elevation of 1,856 meters, it boasts plenty of sunny days yet it never gets too hot. Outdoor lovers can enjoy the many hiking trails in the area and those looking for a relaxing getaway have plenty of spa resorts to choose from.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s capital is the perfect destination for travelers who are interested in wilderness adventuring but who want to be able to return to the comfort of civilization after a hard day’s hike. Day-trips let you explore the solitary beauty of Iceland’s landscape, and you can keep enjoying it after with a relaxing trip to any Reykjavik spa featuring one of its many hot springs!

Bergen, Norway

If you want to see the fjords of Norway, Bergen is the perfect gateway city. Not only does this charming town offer easy hiking access to a trove of nearby landmarks, it’s colorful houses and cozy charm also make it the perfect place to curl up with a good cup of steaming fish soup. After all, the town is well known for its fishing history!

Gothenburg, Sweden

The Gothenburg Archipelago is a collection of islands, some big and some only large enough for a single house! If you’re into island hopping, Gothenburg is definitely an ideal destination. In the city proper, you can spend an adrenaline-filled day at Liseberg amusement park, walk its many parks, and enjoy its famous music scene.

Tenby, Wales

Amazingly picturesque, this Welsh town is perfect for travelers looking to enjoy a quaint English seaside summer. Between trips to any of its several beaches, you can enjoy visiting some of its gorgeous art galleries and museums, like The Glass Gallery, which specializes in stained glasswork, or the Tenby Museum. Nearby Pembroke Castle looms over the town and was the birthplace of Henry VII.

Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp is the place to go if you’re a fan of Renaissance art. From Reubens House to the Old Museum, there are plenty of museums, tours, and architectural masterpieces to help you get your aesthetic fill. Bike tours of the city are especially popular, as Antwerp is especially biker-friendly, and can be an enjoyable way to get your bearings if this is your first visit.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana (pronounced liu-bliana) is Slovenia’s capital city. Despite being a capital city, Ljubljana still holds a friendly small-town charm, with the benefit of modern amenities like free WiFi. The summer is filled with outdoor events like plays in the park and even an outdoor library, so take your time enjoying the sun and various street festivals.

Tallinn, Estonia

Like Ljubljana, Tallinn is a capital that nonetheless manages to retain a lot of quaint, historical charm. During the summer, its long coastline becomes a popular destination for beachgoers. Nearby Kadriorg Park extends behind the Kadriorg Park, offering beautiful botanical walks with rich history and architectural wonder.

Tips to Choose the Right Caribbean Island for Your Vacation

The Caribbean is an amazing place to visit, partially because there are so many different islands and so many different cultures in such a relatively small area! If you want to relax, there are white and pink sand beaches; there are hundreds of miles of reef to explore if you’re looking to scuba; there are old forts and plantations for the history lovers.

With so many affordable options in the Caribbean — like Choice Hotels — it’s a perfect destination for any type of traveler. Before you choose an island, think about the kind of getaway you’d like to plan—your ultimate destination might just be a surprise!

COUPLES GETAWAYS

If you’re interested in an island couples’ getaway, Puerto Rico might just be the perfect romantic destination for you. This island’s lush natural beauty and old Spanish charm make it a top honeymoon destination for many Caribbean-bound couples. During the day, enjoy lounging on the beach with a glass of Bacardi rum from the distillery in Cataño, or take a walk down the shaded Paseo de la Princessa. At night, salsa dance in the cafés of Old San Juan or take a sunset cruise, complete with champagne.

FAMILY TRAVEL

St. Maarten can be a great and affordable family vacation in the Caribbean, offering fun activities for kids of any age. Orient Beach’s Butterfly Farm is home to thousands of brightly colored butterflies, and nearby the family-friendly Le Galion beach. Downtown Simpson Bay not only offers gelato and duty-free shopping, but a famous carousel!

The Alegria, an Ascend Hotel Collection® member, is right on Maho Beach and within a short distance to all of the highlights above, where kids can watch the planes land and take off (and parents can grab a drink at the swim-up bar).

SOLO TRAVEL

Anyone who’s read our previous articles on Caribbean travel knows how we feel about Bonaire; it’s a great, safe, and welcoming place to visit for solo travelers. The island culture is friendly and laid back, the island itself home to great natural reefs to explore.The perfect place to learn how to scuba! It’s less touristy than many of the more well-known Caribbean islands, making it perfect for travelers who want to enjoy the slower pace of sun, surf, sand, and good company.

WATER SPORTS

The Cayman Islands are home to some of the most amazing dive sites in the Caribbean, ranging from natural reefs to sunken ships from every age. Grand Cayman is also home to “Stingray City,” a collection of sandbars off the North coast which offers adventurous swimmers the chance to swim with, pet, and even feed the rays! Local charter companies offer ski and boat rental, and some hotels like the Comfort Suites® Seven Mile Beach will even help you book fishing, kayaking, or dolphin-sighting tours.

RELAXATION

Sometimes, a getaway needs to be a chance to get away and relax; Curacao’s wonderful adventure opportunities offer travelers plenty of chances to rest and rediscover themselves. In fact, the island’s name comes from “Isla de Curacion,” or Island of Healing, and many of the island’s resorts boast phenomenal restorative spas. The Acoya Hotel Suites & Villas, an Ascend Hotel Collection® member, for example, offers affordable spa, yoga, and wellness sessions and is a great place for a restorative retreat.

THE ISLAND HOPPER

Looking to visit multiple Caribbean islands in one trip? The Bahamas are the perfect destination. It’s very easy to book an island-hopping tour to visit all of the main islands of the Bahamas, and their proximity to both the Florida Keys, Cuba, and Haiti and theDominican Republic make it possible to take a boat or pond hopper to the greater Caribbean area. Still, with over ten unique islands to explore, leaving the Bahamas themselves is hardly necessary!

NIGHTLIFE

Looking to party? Aruba is among the best party islands in the world! With great clubs like the Zombie Room, Club Hipsz, and the infamous Senor Frogs, there will always be somewhere to find a drink and a dance floor. If you’re not as confident in your skills, you can brush up at Aruba Salsa, and then take the Kukoo Kunuku party bus for dinner, an island tour, and a non-stop party!

So whether you are looking for a romantic getaway, a solo journey, or a vacation with the whole family, it’s easy to choose the perfect Caribbean island — and with such a huge range of Choice Hotels options, you can save a little money, too!