The No. 1 Romantic Hotel

One of Four Pools

One of Four Pools

At the end of our five part series on the most romantic hotels in Costa Rica we bring you to the Four Seasons sitting between two heavenly beaches on the Papagayo Peninsula in Guanacaste.

This bastion of relaxation, beauty and service that is gracious at every turn will wow your senses and envelop you in the blanket of true luxury that is woven into everything they do here to make your stay extraordinary. From the moment you arrive you are greeted with a warm welcome, valet parking, cool tropical beverage and a towel bursting with fragrance fresh and inviting. Check-in is quick and relaxing without lines, just super quick service by caring professionals that want to get you and your luggage to your well appointed room and on to enjoying your vacation as quickly as possible. SeaLife DC1400

Service at the pool is almost dream like with pool attendants bringing welcome unexpected ameinities to you throughout your stay including iced water, chilled towels, Evian spritz, fresh pipa fria and fruit skewers, Pop’s ice cream cart, sunblock, aloe vera – -and any surprises the chef decides to whip up.

Exceptional Amenities Included:

•Separate relaxation areas outside spa and fitness center for men and women that include a steam room, hot and cold outdoor plunge pools, sauna and private locker room;

•Snorkeling equipment, Sea kayaks with a Sunset kayak tour, Stand-up paddle boards, and Boogie boards;

•Birdwatching tours, Morning and sunset nature hikes, Cooking classes, Spanish lessons, Salsa and merengue classes.

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The Beaches

Playa Prieta

Nestled along the palm-fringed sands of Peninsula Papagayo’s Playa Prieta, a short complimentary 7 minutes drive you will discover Prieta Beach Club & Spa. Open guests, this casual oasis is situated in a naturally sheltered cove making it the perfect place to snorkel, playing in the waves or stroll along shore. Facilities include a lap pool, a beachfront bar,and a restaurant

Playa Blanca

SeaLife DC1400On the south side, Playa Blanca faces Bahia de Culebra, where the waves are slightly rougher and the atmosphere is busier. The water sports pavilion can supply equipment and instruction for an enticing array of activities – from snorkeling and sea kayaking to sailing and sailboarding.

Playa Virador

On the north side of the peninsula, Playa Virador faces the Pacific Ocean, yet remains calm with gentle waves. This quiet beach is interspersed with only a few chaises lounges chairs to offer a sense of solitude and seclusion.

The unique location straddled between two beaches gives you more to explore with the one you love – and only a 3 minute walk with the pools located in the middle will give you the time to explore all.

FourSeasFor the ultimate couples retreat choose a one-bedroom plunge pool suite, offering a private balcony, small pool to cool off in, and wide sweeping views of the Pacific ocean all nestled in the hillside of the rain forest.

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Spa

Recognized by Condé Nast Traveler’s 2013 readers’ poll as one of the Top 25 spas in Mexico and Central America your spa experience is guaranteed to be as awe inspiring as your stay at The Four Seasons.

Signature Treatments Include:

♥ Rainforest Aromatherapy Massage
♥ Organic Costa Rican Organic Coffee Scrub
♥ Volcanic Mud Wrap

For the precursor to your ultimate romantic night we suggest a customized experience in Four Seasons exclusive couples retreat suite that includes a shower for two, waterfall whirlpool, dry sauna and powder room. Enjoy romantic candlelight or views of the tree-lined beach. Your experience begins with a relaxing sea salt foot soak and includes a 90-minute customized treatment plus time to savoir the amenities in seclusion. If that doesn’t shout ROMANCE from the roof tops, we don’t know what does!

Many other hotels in Costa Rica can show you all the wonders Costa Rica offers at many price points, so if you have been dreaming of an adventure, call Midwest Travel Solutions design your perfect Costa Rican Vacation from all-inclusive options, to budget hotels, tours of the rainforest, the thrill of zip lining above the canopy of the cloud forest or a night tour to seek out wild life we have the connections and expertise to make your dreams a reality.

Pura Vida!
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Our No. 2 is the 2013 Conde’ Nast Traveler’s No. 1

What a view!

What a view!

Still in the Fortuna area of Costa Rica Midwest Travel Solutions has chosen Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens as the number 2 most romantic hotel in Costa Rica – Conde’ Nast Readers went farther dubbing it the most romantic hotel in Central and South America. SeaLife DC1400

From the standard Casita, to Suites or upscale Villas equipment with your private plunge pool fed by Costa Rica’s famous hot springs your stay at Arenal Nayara Hotel & Gardens will be more than you ever dreamed of. Rich hardwoods, rock paths to wander the beautiful gardens, flowers bursting in huge blooms that almost seem surreal – every turn shows you another wonder in this magical resort. The fantasy is real, no matter where you venture you will find your self surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, the sounds of birds, capuchin and howler monkeys providing a pleasant backdrop that tell your senses that you are not in Kansas any more.

Each spacious casita provides an exclusive, ultra-luxurious retreat, with secluded garden, an outdoor shower and a beautiful terrace to enjoy the splendor. SeaLife DC1400 If being sustainable fuels your passion Nayara scores exceptional high marks here. From the mundane energy saving light bulbs and water saving devices, to the actual design and architecture of the hotel, including using natural light where possible and screens that allow for cross ventilation to further reduce energy consumption the hotel has carefully carved out its home without disrupting all that nature affords this area of Costa Rica.

Still providing the back drop for you is impressive Arenal; the volcano is located at the center of Arenal Volcano National Park an area of rich bio-diversity, in fact Costa Rica is home to more than 500,000 species, which represents nearly 4% of the total species estimated worldwide, making Costa Rica one of the 20 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world. SeaLife DC1400

From the moment you arrive you are treated not just as a valued guest, but a treasured family member, appreciated and well taken car of. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and in keeping with the surroundings the emphasis is always on complete relaxation, pampering, and total enjoyment of your vacation.

Spa

The Spa was as thoughtfully built as the hotel, built on the quasi-vertical slope of the mountain as it gently descends into the adjacent tropical rain forest to avoid impacting the delicate eco-system. This leaves you with impression that the spa is suspended over the rain forest – hung, tramped in space and time.SeaLife DC1400

Out of your league? Only a dream? Only for the rich and famous? No. No. and No. A vacation to Costa Rica and a 5 day stay at the Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens is comparable in cost to a long weekend stay at a luxury suite in Las Vegas ! No matter where you call home in the Midwest, let us help plan your next romantic escape and show you how you can have paradise on earth.

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Back to Arenal

SeaLife DC1400For our 3rd most romantic hotel in Costa Rica we are back to the Arenal area, plunging into Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort.

This is unique not only in Costa Rica but worldwide. Tabacon Resort’s thermal natural springs are 97% rain-based and 3% magma-based giving you rich minerals with low sulfur – no funny smell to get between you and the one you love. There are five different springs that exist throughout the property, with temperatures ranging from 77 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, all flowing in the most beautiful gardens and natural elements that completely engulf your senses whispering, come, relax, be.SeaLife DC1400

Your choice in accommodations range from nicely appointed king suites with cool tile floors and solid hardwood furniture, plush pillows and tastefully relaxing decor to the ultra lush Honeymoon suites complete with flowing curtains cascading off your bed creating a private retreat to ignite your passion.

Come Relax with Me

Come Relax with Me

Dining

At Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort you will enjoy a culinary experience, always changing and exciting, unparalleled among the best restaurants in the Arenal Volcano / La Fortuna Region.

Dining is just part of the experience at Tabacon. From the breakfast buffet and lunch served at Los Tucanes where fresh is key to the casual sandwich menu at the Caña Brava Lobby Bar your palate will be as fulfilled as your soul. Perhaps you would rather stay poolside. No problem, service and snacks are available at the Arenal Wet Bar including nachos, ceviches, hamburgers and other light dishes. In keeping with Tabcon’s theme you will also find healthy spa cuisine offered on each menu.

Here, dinner promises to be an unforgettable culinary experience. Your fine dining experience awaits you prepared master chefs utilizing many local ingredients: Pacific tuna, salmon or sea bass and grass-fed beef. Of course, in-room dinning is available.

The Grand Spa

tabacon-At The Grand Spa you can indulge in a couples massage in an open air bungalow, in fact all therapies in the Grand Spa take place in one of 11 outdoor bungalows. Their dedication is focused on bringing you all the beauty, peace and tranquility Costa Rica offers to your Spa experience. The fresh air and smells of the rainforest along with the soothing murmurings of the hot springs blending with sounds from animals and birds in the rainforest add a true rare element to your chosen spa treatment. When the rain falls, the drops join the chorus providing a backdrop for your spa experience, providing you with a one-of-a kind calming effect.

SHANGRI-LA GARDENS

This adults only hideaway is the icing on the cake, that yes, you get to eat too! In a secluded area in the upper area of the mineral springs complex, Shangi-La Garden is the for discriminating guests and luxury spa vacationers. Enjoy cocktails and refreshments, served to you by the garden’s own butlers surrounded by the lush tropical flowers, the song of birds and of course another six natural thermal mineral spring water pools for you to enjoy.SeaLife DC1400

On a tight budget?

Let Midwest Travel Solutions, your hometown travel agency find you the perfect place to stay on budget and visit Tabacon Springs by purchasing a day pass, or add one or two nights as the highlight of your Costa Rican vacation experience.

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Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

tamarindo-diria-092 The Heights of Love

Day two of our special Valentine’s Day series of most romantic hotels in Costa Rica brings us to the province of Guanacaste, and the town of Tamarindo located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

What is there to do in Tamarindo?

Surfing: you will find many local surf shops offering professional lessons that will have you catching your own wave in no time. How good is the surfing? International competitions are held here several times a year.

How blue am I?

How blue am I?

Scuba Diving and Snorkeling: It is true that diving in Costa Rica is a little bit different than the Caribbean, after all this is the Pacific, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t a great place to explore what is going on underneath the waves. Manta Rays, Sting Rays, White-tipped Reef Sharks, Bull Sharks, Giant Grouper and sightings of immense schools of fish are not uncommon. While staying at a beach resort to the north, I returned after a long day of touring anxious to get in at least a meager half hour of snorkeling before the sunset. As the light was fading I happened upon the largest pair of striking octopi (for you grammer phobes), that I have ever encountered, all dappled in white, browns and grey to blend in perfectly with their rock home I caught them emerging from. An incredible photo would surely be inserted here, but the long day of touring, and the other mundane photos had drained the life out of my now dead battery. Disappointed that I couldn’t share this showy pair with anyone, I lingered floating in the water on the soft waves till the last bit if light faded, then headed in thrilled by my moment of solitude and grace that was all mine.

Nature Walks: A visit to Las Baulas park, so named for giant leatherback turtles, is where you will find beaches home to nesting sites where these magnificent creatures come to lay eggs; night tours are available from September through March, allowing you to view the spectacle of a female turtle digging her nest and laying eggs. Encounter one of these in the water, I would venture a guess that you will believe they belong only in the ocean and not in your soup bowl.

Explore the Water: Come kayak Tamarindo National Wildlife Refuge and experience the soothing pace of this mangrove swamp that was created to protect biodiversity and the vital ecosystem between both land and sea.

So now you know why you should come to the area, but where to stay?

Perhaps 27 is a magical number in Costa Rica as our No. 4 choice for Most Romantic Hotels in Costa Rica also happens to sit on a beautiful 27 acre estate. And, the name? Los Altos de Eros, well the name itself means ‘”the heights of love”. If a blissful stay in a 5 star boutique hotel is what you seek with the one you love, when you come to the area you simply can’t do better than Los Altos de Eros.

banner_boutique_img1 This boutique hotel offers up a welcome as warm as the summer sun, and you will fall in love the ambiance, cuisine, and staff as you experience paradise without all the daily distractions of your everyday life, you will indeed feel new heights of love and be reminded how special your true love is to you.

Did we mention the spa?

Experience a day in heaven by taking part of Los Altos de Eros Signature Spa Day, featuring your choice of three amazing treatments guaranteed to leave you feeling like you just arrived in Nirvana. Go ahead, treat yourself to the best Spa in Costa Rica, after all, don’t you deserve it?banner_spa_img5

Caribbean, Diving, Eco Tourism, Spa Resorts

Costa Rica: Top 5 Romantic Hotels

Costa Rica offers beaches, hiking, cloud forests, bubbling hot springs, lush tropical gardens, and some of the most romantic hotels in the world.

Welcome to Paradise

Welcome to Paradise

In honor of Valentine’s week Midwest Travel Solutions is bringing you a special five part installment highlighting Costa Rica, all it offers and our take on the 5 most romantic hotels that will leave you and your significant other feeling like VIP rock stars.

Costa Rica is vibrant; Costa Rican’s are warm, friendly, passionate and proud. The terrain varies from lush jungles that rival the beauty of Hawaii to hills that could just as easily be a scene from California’s wine or dairy Country. The roads, many of which are dirt are shared by automobiles, buses, pedestrians, motorcycles, and even horseback riding commuters. Don’t be surprised to find Ticos wave to you on the street, or yourself engaged in conversation with a stranger while strolling one of the many parks, or plazas that often sit in the city square providing a gathering place for families to visit while their children play as the day draws to its end. Despite its amazing diversity, all this comes packaged in a country with a footprint a bit smaller than West Virginia. Here you will find your budget goes much further than you would think, making Costa Rica an amazing place to find value, romance, adventure and an incredible vacation experience.

SeaLife DC1400One of the areas that should be on any Costa Rica vacation itinerary is La Fortuna de San Carlos home of Arenal Volcano. The charming town of La Fortuna sits about 4 miles from the Volcano and is the entrance point for the main road connecting the Arenal region, Lake Arenal, and the road to Guanacaste. Arenal Volcano rises almost 5,500 feet over the pastured green hillsides that surround its magnificent base creating an awe inspiring back drop to your Costa Rican Holiday. Not just another pretty face on planet earth, Arenal’s geothermal activity brings a number of hot springs to the area that makes this one of the most romantic places to escape everyday life. Imagine waking up in the morning, slipping into your own private spa and watching the sunrise over Arenal Volcano with the one you love. This is just one of the special experiences that makes Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa our No. 5 on our list of Most Romantic Hotel in Costa Rica.

One of the many pools

One of the many pools

Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa is a small boutique hotel offering up stunning views of the volcano, all nestled on 27 private acres of park land, surrounded by two streams with crystalline waters that begin to flow in the Arenal Volcano National Park. SeaLife DC1400In addition to the exceptional location and private thermal springs you will find exuberant gardens, wonderful food served up daily, service from a staff that really cares about your stay, making this No. 5 on our list.

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the spa for their signature mud therapy – traditional practiced in every indigenous tribe in Costa Rica. This volcanic mud is a blend of natural minerals which glides on in a velvety layer. It cleans, exfoliates, draws out toxins, hydrates and improves the flow of nutrients to the skin’s surface. An experience not to be missed!

Tomorrow we are off to Tamarindo to bring you our choice for forth most romantic hotel in Costa Rica.

Caribbean, Diving, Eco Tourism, Saving Money , , ,

Finding the Best Price

BestPrice How to Find the Best Price on Any Hotel Room in 5 Minutes or Less

What is the best booking engine? Do you have any deals? What is the lowest price? Where can I get the best price? As a travel professional this is by far the number one question I am asked, even if the verbiage varies. Airfare is complicated, but when it comes to hotel rooms, it can be relatively simple if you already know where you want to stay, who is traveling with you, and what type of room you want. If you are flexible on your dates, aren’t sure which property, or have questions about the destination, this post is not for you. But if you know exactly what you want, I can show you how to get the best price without spending hours searching every booking engine out there.SeaLife DC1400

First off you need to find a local travel agent that you can shoot an email or text to, preferable one that has a booking engine like Midwest Travel Solutions.

If you don’t know of any good travel agencies in your area, you can run a Google search, but this often does not find the most qualified local candidates, sometimes only companies that are large, and spend a lot of money on advertising are at the top of the results heap – scrolling through the list can make you feel like you are searching for buried treasure in a dump. To find an local travel agent or agency that is known for stellar service, can provide expert advice when needed, and will care about you and your travel experiences, a better option in your search for a qualified travel professional is by checking with friends, checking you local Chamber’s website, asking a referral or networking group that you or a friend already belong for a recommendation, or even try putting out a public request on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Once you locate a couple of options, call them and explain that you normally book your hotels yourself, but you are looking for more value and would like to give them the opportunity to work with you on an ongoing basis for your periodic trips.

Second identify one discount booking engine you like, Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, it really doesn’t matter, but just pick one and stay away from Kayak.com and the like, they will have you traipsing down the rabbit hole turning your 5 minute search into an hour and five minutes!

Then the next time you are planning a hotel stay, you can follow these three easy steps, that will take less than 5 minutes saving yourself time, frustration, and that nagging feeling that you didn’t get the best deal.

First Step

Search the hotels website; this should take less than a minute. For example if you are looking at a Residence Inn, go to http://www.marriott.com and check their price for your travel dates.

Second Step

Search your preferred discount website; this should also take less than a minute.

Third Step

Send an short email or text message to your travel agent, stating the lowest price you found. Include a copy of the screenshot or webpage where you found the best price. This is not because your agent doesn’t believe you, it is because we need a screenshot or webpage to get a price match and it will ensure that we are searching for the exact room, dates and category you want without wasting your time. If your travel agent finds a better or matching price, they will let you know along with what you need to know to book it. If they can’t, they will tell you. A professional travel agent will not be offended if you book your room elsewhere at a cheaper price, rather they will be glad you gave them an opportunity to earn your business. And let me be clear, by cheaper price I am talking about an amount that is more than you would tip your local barista. Sometimes hotels are a penny off, so that they can claim to be the lowest price, and in fact the fine print you find on all low price guarantees that I am aware of, specify state that the price difference needs to exceed $1.00.

number-3By using these 3 short simple steps, you will free yourself from feeling that you have to check the price on every single website and booking engine, but still feel confident that you did your due diligence.

Along the way you will have cultivated a relationship from a travel professional that will be familiar with your travel tastes and preferences, and the next time you are planning a big trip, that special cruise, or shutter, you get bumped from your connecting flight late one night and think you are going to have to sleep on an airport bench, you have someone you can call that will be happy to go above and beyond to help you out. Sometimes it truly does pay to have friends in the travel business.

A couple words of caution, when comparing prices make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Are taxes included in the quote or is their an extra resort fee? Are the dates an exact match? Is this a prepaid price that gives you a discount, but will charge you the full or a partial amount if canceled.

This method is not the best method if you are looking for a complex itinerary, multiple destinations or a trip packaged with air, tours and other activities, but it is just the ticket to simplify your life when a short hotel stay is all you need and you already know where you want to stay. Also mention any discounts that you think you might qualify for, such as military, AAA or senior as well as loyalty programs that you are a member of. Without this information, your travel professional will not be able to do their best job finding you the best price.

Happy Travels.

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Travel Reviews

A Word on Travel Reviews: Subjective vs. Objective

SeaLife DC1400Anonymous reviews are a point to get information, a good tool, but a bad place to start a search. The resort that is the best possible match to where you are in your life right this minute, your idea of the perfect vacation, along with your budget is not the same as your neighbor. You are unique; each traveler is unique. The most important job of a good travel consultant is learning what is important to you, and what is less important to you. Most travelers, even when splurging, don’t have a truly unlimited budget, so the balance of spending more to get the experience you really want, while not over spending on something that holds no value for you is the art of being a good travel agent. Finding this sweet spot gets easier with each trip we book for a client.

So, what is the problem with travel reviews?

Aside from the problem of fraudulent reviews, it is context that is missing on every online review. If it is your best friend that raves about the newest restaurant, you trust that she is right. Why? Because you know her; you know where she is coming from, and have an understanding of the glasses that she uses every day to peer out into and interact with the world. Not so with anonymous faceless odd named folks with an online presence. Yes even when written with the best of intentions, as they are colored by the author’s perceptions. There is simply no way to remove this filter when you form an opinion of good service, bad service, good food, or bad food. Was it a good view, or a bad view?

Subjective is defined as relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind, own perceptions, and own experiences. This is why one person rates a particular hotel 5 stars and another rates the same hotel only 2 stars. Here are two real world examples:

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“We stayed here at the end of a long trip involving a cruise and a land week in Costa Rica… Although it is beautifully situated and is very modern, overall, for a Four Seasons Resort, this is a very disappointing product…None of the open restaurants were air conditioned, and the climate is still warm and sticky, not what you expect on an evening of fine dining in an exclusive resort… There was no tour of the property, and no tour or explanation of our room upon check-in. Meal service tended to be slow. The two beaches are very nice, but the two pools are about what one would expect …There was just nothing special about this property. This is not a property to which I would return.”
Fivestars “We just got back from a week at the resort. We have never ever experienced this level of service. Perhaps it is the culture of Costa Rica or maybe just this location. We loved every minute. Our suite felt like a tree house. We awoke to howler monkeys every morning. This was just special in every way and we hope to return soon.”

Four Seasons, Costa Rica

Four Seasons, Costa Rica

What I can tell you from being there myself is that this property just blew me away. It was immaculate, charming, ideally located if you want to be away from the action, it would indeed be a poor choice if you wanted night life, and lots of shopping. SeaLife DC1400Offering one of the very best beaches in Costa Rica coupled with a magical “can do attitude” that left me with the impression that if I had requested lunch on a pink rowboat in the middle of the bay at 3:00 a.m., with a violinist playing in the background I have no doubt that Chief Concierge Andrea Arroyo would have arranged my dream lunch as easily as if I had requested a glass of water, no ice please. More special touches can be found in the very unique opportunities to interact with the staff. How about making chocolates, or perhaps dining with the Chef in the kitchen? Yes! The pool concierge’s sole job is to stop by with little pleasant surprises throughout the day.
So use the reviews as a pattern, not necessarily as the gospel.

Objective information is easy to come by, yet if you are not asking, or rather researching the right questions, even this information can be misleading.

Let’s assume you are planning your dream honeymoon. You want to go to the Turks and Caicos and limit your options to smaller resort hoping for lots of privacy. So objectively you select properties with fewer than 100 rooms.

Regent Palms

Regent Palms

You run across Regent Palms, discover it has 72 suites, delight that it was voted one of the top 20 resorts of the Caribbean, the pictures look stunning. It is rated exceptional on Expedia! Trip Advisor fans rave!

How could you go wrong with this resort?
Regent Palms is known for its exceptional large suites with kitchens as well as washers and dryers – -a big draw for families and groups. For this reason I would not recommend this resort to a honeymoon couple seeking seclusion and intimacy, even though this is a stunning resort, and no doubt would make for a wonderful honeymoon, it would not give my mythical couple the best value for their honeymoon dollar. Objectively it hit everything on the dream checklist.

photo-header-parrotI would recommend a lesser known, yet equally magnificent option, Parrot Cay for my honeymoon couple seeking the ultimate romantic escape. First it is adults only, second it is remote, an absolutely great choice for a couple seeking seclusion, romance, and a dream honeymoon that is perfect in every aspect. Choosing this property would also save my clients money over Regent Palms without sacrificing anything and in fact adding more value to their experience.

Objectively they both look quite similar. Both resorts have around 70 rooms, both properties are rated 5 stars, both are well reviewed; both have similar locations at a similar price point. By choosing a travel consultant that is well versed in the personality of various properties you can not only in increase the value of your travel dollar in this instance you would save over $700!!!

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Grand Cayman, Top 3 Excursions

SeaLife DC1400 #1 STINGRAY CITY BY BOAT WITH LUNCH, BY THE BEST, THE ORIGINAL!

Tour includes:
• Round trip transportation from the cruise ship pier
• A boat ride to snorkel destinations
• Visit to Stingray City
• Snorkel at Barrier Reef
• Snorkel at Coral Gardens (or another location depending on weather)
• Lunch/beach break at the lovely Kaibo Yacht Club

Throughout the ins and outs and ups and downs of island life, this company has managed to excel for the last 50 years. Started by the man who “discovered” Stingray City, the company is still family owned and although the founder is not a kid anymore, he will often board the boat and regale guests with tales of life in Cayman’s earlier days. You’ll board a cabin cruiser for the trip to the famous Stingray City sandbar to interact with the stingrays in waist-deep water.

You’ll also stop to snorkel at either the Barrier Reef or Coral Gardens, SeaLife DC1400and a spot for the conch dive (in season). At Stingray City, you can enjoy having the stingrays swim around you or you can don your snorkel and get a little more up close and personal. Food for the stingrays is provided so you can experience the feeling of them grabbing the goodies with their mouths on the underside of their body as they swim over your hand. The gorgeous Barrier Reef will provide you the opportunity to snorkel in waters 8-10 ft. deep inhabited by nurse sharks and moray eels, as well as beautiful coral and thousands of fish. Or you could stop at the Coral Gardens, a cluster of coral formations which is home to thousands of fish and a few stingrays.

You’ll take a break at the beach of the lovely Kaibo Yacht Club, where lunch is served. In season, from November 1-March 31, you’ll also have the opportunity to participate in a “conch dive.” The conch will be served marinated as an appetizer with a full lunch to follow (we promise everything else will be cooked!). We can book this for you, or you can book this 6 hour deluxe excursion with Shore Trips www.ShoreTrips.com

#2- Scuba Diving, of course!

 

SeaLife DC1400Literally the birthplace of recreational when Bob Soto opened the first Grand Cayman dive shop in 1957. You will find over 40 dive operations and almost 360 dive sites marked with moorings, warm, calm waters with 100 ft. plus visibility and breath-taking variety of marine life offer a world of exciting dive sites to choose from. At Little Cayman you will find Bloody Bay Marine Park- one of the world’s truly legendary dive sites: the sheer coral wall begins at 20 ft. and plunges to 6000 ft.

Not a certified Scuba Diver? Let Midwest Travel Solutions book you on a discover dive!

#3 Seven Mile Beach

Named one of the “Ultimate Beaches” by Caribbean Travel + Life, Seven Mile Beach is the ultimate Caribbean destination and the epitome of an island getaway. Located on the western shore of Grand Cayman, here you will find clear waters and coral sands lined with picture perfect palms trees as well as many luxury resorts, however it is all public property. There are restaurants open to the public at most of the resorts and several public beach bars– dreaming of sipping a margarita on the beach? This is the place!7Mile

Bonus Tip
If your wallet is strained from vacation and you want a port that you can really enjoy without shelling out extra money, George Town is a great little town to do some window shopping, with a great snorkel spot just 10 minutes from port.

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Travel Planning

Travel Planning Tips
Travel Planning: With so much information out there, where to start?

First, you must start with your budget. It is a sad fact that you cannot enjoy a week in Bora Bora in an overwater bungalow if your budget is $2500 per person. However that doesn’t mean you can’t take your dream trip. You simply must identify what it is that you really want out of your vacation?

SeaLife DC1400Is your true desire to see Bora Bora, experience all the beauty and excitement that you have read about. Then a great option is swapping out expensive flights for a a sailing that departs from Los Angeles! That will not only get you there, but to Mexico, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Australia! $2500, well maybe closer to $2600 since you still have to get home from Sydney, plus what you spend on the ship. Still an unbelievable bargain; yes that is a real trip sailing August 2014!

Perhaps you fantasy is to spend a week with your true love in an over the water bungalow, the sea flowing underneath you, birds chirping in the background and the steady rhythm of the waves pulling all the stress out of your body. I can swap out Bora Bora for Roatan Honduras and deliver the experience that you are dreaming of, and stay on budget.Antkey

I know what you are thinking; I just want a week in the sun, on a beach and a deal. But the truth is that isn’t what you really want. I can book you at the cheapest hotel, by the best beach in the world, send you there with a package of jerky, and a bottle of rum – you got a deal, and you will have wasted every minute of your precious vacation time. Bad-Hotel

What you really want is to be treated with respect, as a valued guest. You want to be safe, comfortable. You want to enjoy your meals. You want to be treated like you matter in world filled with no-customer-service so much of the time, daily tasks, commutes, frustration, work, and doing for others. You do not want to experience these daily hazards of life on your vacation, no matter what your budget. In short, you want value for your vacation dollar, not just the cheapest deal out there. When planning it is important to keep this in mind, saving $100 for a bad time, inferior food, or poor service is not a deal.

Don’t forget the details; they matter!

When planning your own trip it is critical that you research the hum drum aspects of your trip. Do I need a passport? What currency and how much do I take. When is the best time to go? Do I need a Visa? I am single and am traveling with a minor, what do I need? What is the difference between off season and high season? What is the time change? What is the weather? Most of the critical information for US citizens can be found at http://travel.state.gov/ Any information that is obtained from a source that would not be held accountable when they have posted erroneous information should be verified through a trusted source, government website, newspaper website, or tourism board website.

So once you have your budget, and what it is you really want out of vacation, and those pesky details in mind, you can start the fun part – looking at options. Online can be a great way to get ideas, so can a trip to your local library as well as visiting with friends. Maybe you don’t have a destination in mind, but rather an activity. I want to go dog sledding! This can be a great way to narrow down your options.

Now is the perfect time to contact a trusted travel consultant!

If you prefer to do the research, and make all the arrangements yourself, choose a travel agency that has an online booking engine such as www.midwest-travel.com , you will get the same DIY rates as Expedia, Travelocity or Hotels.com and yet have a real person to call if something unexpected comes up or you just need a quick answer to a question without spending hours looking for the answer online. (You do know that Expedia, Travelocity, etc., are just online travel agencies that get the same commission as local travel agencies, right?) The difference of course is a travel agency owned by a business person in your area cares about you and your experience a lot more than the CSR sitting in a cube in who knows where.

Don’t know a local agent, send me a message and I will put you in touch with an experienced capable agent that can offer you all the benefits of booking online, plus help and advice if needed. Of course at Midwest Travel Solutions we work with clients all over the country and would be happy to assist you no matter where you live.

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Rome – -Highlights, beyond the Legend

Vatican
Rome has lived as a city in one form or another with living, breathing and sometimes dying citizens for over 3000 years of unbroken history. This has left magnificent unique footprints of those that went before around every corner, etched into the history, crafted in the buildings, painted and chiseled into the art making the very landscape of Rome a tapestry of ancient and modern civilization unlike any other place on earth.

Vatican City and Saint Peter’s Basilica

On the North side, not just a city, but a country unto itself, Vatican City cannot adequately be explored in multiple days, although if one is all you have, this needs to be on the list and is included in most tours. Here you will find Piazza San Pietro where thousand’s gather each week to receive the Pope’s blessing, a Vatican museum and library, the papal alter, the Basilica both home and guardian to more art per square foot than most museums in the world, and of course the Sistine Chapel adorned with Michelangelo’s frescoes. SeaLife DC1400Seeing all the Vatican offers is a struggle, stunning artwork with rich histories are so plentiful that in a short period of time your senses feel stunned and dulled; it is akin to arriving at a Tuscan Chateau for an afternoon of wine tasting after a downing a six-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor. You simply can’t appreciate the subtleties after hours of spent browsing such awe-inspiring masterpieces in such close proximity.

ColeseumThe Coliseum and Roman Forum

You have seen the iconic images many times, so the actual structure will present no actual surprise, it is what you expect, although the size is still impressive when you are standing next to the Coliseum, but the violence of the history reaches inside you, standing in both awe and horror this is an experience that you will feel to your core. In the opening days alone over 5,000 animals, and 2,000 men perished for Roman Citizen’s entertainment and pleasure. To collect revenue, and control access, iron gates have been added that detract from what once was.

“The Coliseum is unlike any work of human hands I ever saw before. It is of enormous height and circuit, and the arches build of massy stones are piled on one another, and jut into the blue air, shattered into forms of overhanging rock. . .The copse-wood overshadows you as you wander through the labyrinths, and the wild weeds of this climate of flowers bloom under your feet. The arena is covered with grass, and pierces, like the skirts of a natural plain, the chasms of the broken arches around. But a small part of the exterior circumference remains-it is exquisitely light and beautiful; and effect the perfection of its architecture, adorned with ranges of Corinthian pilasters, supporting a cold cornice, is such as to diminish the effect of its greatness. The interior is all ruin.” Percy B. Shelley 1818

The Forum was for centuries the center of Roman public life; the site of triumphal processions, speeches and elections as well as criminal trials, even gladiatorial matches. Also serving as a nucleus of commercial matters and trade.

The Pantheon

Massive in size with the largest dome ever constructed out of concrete and the most intact building in Rome, completed 125 CE as a tribute to Emperor Augustus’ Son-in-Law, a pagan structure that survived the Catholic purge due to being gifted to the Pope Boniface IV and converted into the present day Church of Santa Maria of the Martyrs under Pope Boniface IV. Thousands of bones were removed from the catacombs and placed beneath the altar as part of the transformation from a pagan shrine to Catholic Church. Located between Vatican City and The Coliseum it is possible to incorporate into a tour even if you have only one or two days in the Eternal City.

Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain

Rome not only has risen and fallen with history, but its geography also rises and falls throughout the city streets. The most famous, and magnificent stairway in the city traversing elevation changes is the Spanish Steps, constructed between 1723 and 1726 with three separate landings honoring The Father, The Son, and Holy Ghost.

Trevi Fountain completed in 1762, a monument defined by the successor to Baroque architecture, Rococo. Rococo architecture styling characterized by excessive ornamenting, and. embellishments. It is hard to classify any of Rome’s pre 19th century buildings as not having excessive ornamentation and embellishments, especially when compared to such ordinary buildings that dapple American cities, however can notice the difference when studying the architecture of the city. Rococo interiors were marked by similar trimmings, tapestries, bravura mirrors, frescoes, and polished parquet flooring.

SeaLife DC1400Both of these landmarks can easily be added while touring the Pantheon as they are located just blocks away.

All of these sights are as magnificent as you have read, but Rome itself is a crowded throng of three million full-time residents, low lying buildings on bustling streets laden with miniscule compact cars, motor-scooters driven by well-dressed professionals donning the latest fashions, designer suits affixed with bright silk scarves and fine crafted leather boots each armed with a gleaming brain bucket and passionate desire to weave through cars, buses and pedestrians alike, blasting off the line at speeds that would make Richard Petty proud. When you throw in the numerous monster buses, motor coaches as well as taxi drivers that are paid by the minute, and drive accordingly, plus a couple hundred thousand absent minded tourists and exceedingly narrow streets, it is little surprise that about every 15 minutes you hear the tell-tale distinct modulating scream of a European ambulance siren signaling another mishap somewhere on the streets of Roma. (In English we call it Italy and Rome, in Italy they call it Italia and Roma.)

With the seemingly unlimited access granted to many of the major monuments of Rome, the streets can seem empty, even spacious by comparison. Lines are everywhere. The halls of the Vatican Museum are one solid throng of humanity stuck together, shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a can. Even off season, the Sistine Chapel becomes so crowded that unless you arrive very early you will have to squeeze yourself off the moving line of people to just pause a moment to appreciate the genius that was Michelangelo. Rome Art

Many tourist destinations around the world, cater to America tourists, however modern day Italians tend to view the mass of tourists in general as superfluous. Further, as a group, American’s are by no means the largest group of foreigners you will find in Italy, and we are ascribed no particular graciousness, yet any English speaking resident is generally happy to answer questions. Do be warned, we found well over 50% of the free advice to simply be wrong, which I attribute to a lack of clear communication skills as oppose to some sort of malice.

Rome does live up to the legend in every respect, yet it is important to arrive with a clear understanding of what you can except while visiting Rome so that you will not be disappointed with the reality you discover.

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