Why Not?

Katie thought she was being a little bit “extra” with her request for a honeymoon that included a cruise AND an all-inclusive resort, but I said “why not??”  As long as we could make the dates work, it sounded like a fabulous idea to me. As you can see from her note below, the solution we came up with was just right! 🙂

Hi Ann!!

We had an absolute blast on our honeymoon!

Our flight from Boston was on time and we had no problem catching a cab to bring us to the port of Miami. Once we got there, we were able to check in and enjoy the ship [Enchantment of the Seas] for a while. We weren’t allowed to go to our rooms until 1:30pm and we didn’t get our bags until around 5pm. But it was awesome to explore the ship and enjoy drinks on the deck even though we were so early.

Nassau was fun! We did a dolphin encounter and went to senor frogs. We did not have to be back on the boat until 11:30pm!

The next day was Cococay. This was great to have just a chill day. We did a jet ski excursion and chilled on the beach. It was cool that we got to use our sea pass card for everything on that island and they had a buffet set up to feed us. This was our least favorite stop just because you aren’t experiencing a new culture or country. But it was fun to relax.

The next day at Key West I had booked a snorkeling and catamaran excursion.  We walked around exploring Key West as much as we could, went to shops, went to the aquarium. We wished we had more time there. And we definitely want to go back to Key West for a trip someday! So much to do and see there!

The ship was awesome! I had no problem at all finding gluten free foods to eat. The staff was very accommodating. We tried to get on the love and marriage game show. Unfortunately there were about 10 other newlyweds on board. We all competed to audition to get on the show and Mike and I were not selected. ☹️

We booked a coach shuttle bus to take us to the Ft. Lauderdale airport through Royal Caribbean. It was only $30 per person. Our flight to Barbados went smoothly. I was very impressed with Jet Blue. For coach seats, they have plenty of leg room, tv, movies, and great snacks. And I felt that their staff was friendly.

Once we landed in Barbados, we went through customs and found the Sandals desk. They immediately gave us cold waters, and a guy named Ricardo drove us to the resort in a Mercedes.

Once we got to Sandals the staff was super friendly. Had us sit in an AC’d office, gave us cocktails. They took our bags and we got a mini tour of the resort and a staff member was explaining the locations and dress codes of restaurants. Even when we got to the room, she explained how to work all of the new technology in the room. Anything we drank out of the fridge or bar in the room was restocked everyday. The room was huge! And gorgeous! I had been to all-inclusive resorts before, but Sandals really takes the cake. They cater to your every need or want.

honeymooners in a pool at an all-inclusive in Barbados

On the resort, we went to the beach. The beach there is actually very windy and sand blows onto you. The waves are moderate size; fun for swimming. For the most part, the pools were crowded. We would save our spots by the pool around 7:30/8am every day. We were competing against everyone else who has butlers. The only annoying thing about not having a butler, at the restaurant or bar you were ordering from, it would take a little longer for you to get your order. Once, I ordered a GF pizza, they said it would be 30 minutes. Then a rush of butlers showed up. An hour later they apologized because of the rush that came in. Also, the bartenders will stop making your drink and make the butlers orders first, then go back and finish your order. So that part was a little annoying but understandable, you get what you pay for & we didn’t pay for a butler! Overall, we had a very relaxing time by the pools during the day, drank and ate too much! There were plenty of gluten free options for me. Burger buns, fries, pizza, pasta! I ate too much!

We ended up booking an excursion from a local on the beach. His name was “Captain Larry” we paid $195 for an all-day tour of Barbados. This was awesome! Our driver’s name was Kenmore. He told us he doesn’t look at his watch, he looks at our faces. Basically, we let him know when we were ready to go back to Sandals. We met so many people! We drank and ate fresh coconuts, saw Rihanna’s house, beaches, cliffs, shopped from local vendors, even ate at a local fish market. We saw monkeys all over the side of the road! So cool! We headed back to the resort at 4:30pm. We had a 7-hour tour for $195! Other couples on the resort said they booked a 3-hour tour through Sandals and paid the same amount.

The restaurants were awesome! Especially their rooftop pool & bar and their rooftop French restaurant. Amazing dinner views! The staff was amazing! If we weren’t into the shows, there were plenty of games to play in “lovers lane” the bowling alley and bar. And we honestly had some fun relaxing nights just relaxing on our patio with the soak in tub!

Overall, the trip was amazing! 10 days was not too long or too short, just perfect! We loved how much we got to do and see while on the cruise. And enjoyed all of the relaxation at Sandals.

We had an amazing honeymoon, thank you so much Ann for planning this for us and all of your helpful tips along the way!!

Thank you!

Bermuda Blast 2011

We just returned from the second annual Annie’s Escapes Group Cruise and it was a blast! Plans are already in place for next year’s group trip (a food/wine tour to Tuscany in October 2012) but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for details and pricing.

For now, I can tell you all about our Bermuda Blast 2011!  We sailed with 40 people on a 5-day Royal Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas, from Bayonne, NJ to Kings Wharf in Bermuda. The group included a core of Annie’s Escapes clients/friends as well as a destination wedding party for a client who was getting married on the island while we were there. The full photo album (about 75 pictures) can be found here.  And my trip review is below.

Embarkation and Sailaway:

We drove from Rhode Island to Bayonne on Saturday morning (10/8) to board the ship, and it was a quick and easy trip marred only by some confusion over exactly where the entrance to the port should be (and we weren’t the only ones with a “confused” GPS – I think everyone in our group had an issue with finding their way into the port) It was SO nice to leave from a local port, rather than dealing with flights!

We were onboard by about 1:00 pm, with time to check out our cabin, enjoy a buffet lunch, and explore the ship before the lifeboat drill and the sailaway party. What an experience it is to sail out of New York harbor, with the skyline, the bridges, the Statue of Liberty and all the other sights! We were able to watch a handful of other ships sail out with us as well – from the NYC port on the west side of Manhattan and from Princess’s port in Brooklyn.

The ship:

Explorer of the Seas, at just over 1,000 feet in length and accommodating about 3,100 passengers, is smaller than the last two Royal Caribbean ships that I’ve sailed on (the Freedom of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas), but I have to say that the size felt just right. Big enough to have all the “bells and whistles”, like an interior promenade, rock climbing wall, skating rink, etc., but small enough that we knew our way around by the end of the first day (VERY unusual for me!) Two of our favorite spots on the ship were the adults-only solarium pool and the Viking Crown Lounge, where we spent several cozy hours with our books and cocktails enjoying the view (we even saw a school of flying fish from up there!) Our cabin, a category E1 balcony, midship on deck 8, was plenty big for the two of us, although the balcony felt a little more compact than others we’ve enjoyed in the past, and the location was fantastic – convenient to everything.

The food:

We ate in the main dining room every night (8:30 pm seating, tables for ten, in the Magellan dining room) and the food was very good. Some of us thought the portions were small, but once everyone realized that they could order multiple appetizers or main courses if they wanted to sample different things, it was all good! The late seating works well for us, because it leaves plenty of time for an afternoon nap, cocktails, and even a show before dinner on some evenings. The Windjammer buffet had typical buffet food for breakfast and lunch; not the best I’ve ever had, but perfectly acceptable. We had one lunch at Johnny Rockets, which had a small surcharge but was totally worth it for the onion rings! All in all, the dining experience was exactly what I expected, and I have no complaints.

The entertainment:

We saw several production shows, including music, dancing, a comedian and more, and all were very good. We did not make it to the ice show, although I heard it was fantastic. The “Love and Marriage” show was quite funny, and the cruise director did a great job. The only entertainment that disappointed us was the piano bar, which normally would be our regular late night hang out. We went the first night and the music was so disappointing (and the crowd so old and tame) that we never went back. We did, however, participate in a couple of the trivia contests later in the cruise, and we even won a Royal Caribbean hat!

The ports:

This itinerary includes two full days at sea and two (almost) full days in port in Bermuda. Like most modern ships, the Explorer is too large to dock in Hamilton, so it ties up out at the tip of the island, in the Dockyard area. We bought two-day transportation passes (good for unlimited travel on the island’s ferries and buses) and spent the first day exploring St. George (Fort St Catherine, swimming at Tobacco Bay, shopping in town, etc.)  On the second day we went shopping in Hamilton and then took a snorkeling excursion in the afternoon. Everyone agreed that one more day on the island would have been perfect, and I know that I would have loved to have time to show my husband the beaches along the south coast. This was the first time that I’ve docked out at King’s Wharf (Dockyard) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that you could just spend the day there if you wanted to —  there are shops, restaurants, an historic fort, and even a lovely little snorkeling park.


When we returned to port on Thursday (10/13) some of the group elected to try self-disembarkation, where you hold onto your own bags and walk off the ship early in the morning in one of the first disembarkation groups. Those that did it, loved it. Since we did not have anywhere to rush off to, we decided to sleep in a little bit and have a sit-down breakfast in the main dining room before we disembarked. Very civilized!

Post-cruise visit to NYC:

Wanting to extend the vacation a little bit, we had planned to spend one post-cruise night in New York City. We were off the ship by about 9:45 am, hopped in the car, and drove a couple of miles down the road to Liberty State Park in Jersey City. There we boarded the ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The ferries run continuously, and you can explore both sites at your own pace. We enjoyed an audio tour of Ellis Island, and found the ship’s records for my husband’s great grandparents who emigrated from Italy!  Afterwards, we climbed to the pedestal at the Statue of Liberty (tickets to go all the way up to the crown are severely limited, and must be reserved months and months in advance) and took in the view.

We drove ourselves into Manhattan and checked in at the Marriott Marquis, where we were lucky enough to get a 40th floor room with a direct view down into Times Square. The room was spacious and modern, and the hotel is absolutely huge! We enjoyed a delicious dinner down in Chelsea with my brother and sister and their spouses (they live in New York) and spent the next day sightseeing and shopping before driving back home to Rhode Island and the kids. It was a great way to extend the vacation and wind down after the cruise, and I enjoyed being able to catch up with my family too.

My overall thoughts and impressions about the trip? This was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever taken, and we loved travelling with a group of friends. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to take a 7-day Bermuda cruise instead!

Sailing the Southern Caribbean

Jen and Steve just returned from a fantastic honeymoon cruise from San Juan to the Southern Caribbean, and it was great to hear what they liked, what they learned, and what they appreciated about working with a knowledgeable travel professional!  Now, if I could only get my kids to admit that I give good advice 🙂 

The honeymoon was excellent! We had a great time.  Planning was smooth and seamless and the trip was also. 

The flights on American were great!  Delayed on the way home, but it was OK.  Definitely worth driving to Hartford for the non-stop both ways.

Our pre-cruise stay at the El San Juan was nice — very glad we made this choice as opposed to some of the other hotels, it was a great fit for us.  There are many bar options and lots of restaurants as well.   Lots of nightlife, we went to one of the hotel restaurants and nightclubs on our last night there, tons of fun!   The swimming pools and lounge chairs near the pools are great!  There was a large convention going on at the resort while we were there, but it still felt like the place was empty.  Never a problem getting a pool chair, and there were only a handful of people in the pools at any time. 

Upon check-in, they upgraded us to a pool view room since you told them it was our honeymoon, thank you!!!!  Then brought up a bottle of champagne!  We did eat breakfast in their buffet one morning, service was slow and it was $25pp, which was a waste.  Wouldn’t have done that if I  knew how much it cost…can’t eat that many eggs  🙂

Only complaint, which I already told you about was that even though you paid in advance on my Amex, they charged us again when we checked in on my debit card.  They refunded the money to the Amex card, which I did not want.  5 phone calls later to the hotel and Hilton customer service, they still have not corrected the problem.  I have been a Hilton Silver or Blue member for several years and actually will never stay at a Hilton property again because I am so disgusted by their lack of customer service.

While in San Juan, we booked an excursion for the Bacardi factory & Old San Juan tour through the hotel-what a RIP OFF!  It cost us $128 for a FREE tour!  I should have taken a taxi, but it was fun.  Then after the Bacardi factory, the tour guide dropped us in Old San Juan and we stayed instead of going back to the hotel in the hour and half that they gave us.  We went to Senor Frogs, Don Q Bacardi place and ate some tacos and local food off a food truck. 

Walked around the shops and then stopped in a great pizza & beer place…good time!

On our last night there, we walked over to the cock-fight arena, but we missed it, it was already over.  On Sunday after we  arrived back from the cruise, we found an excursion for $20 and the guy was great!!!!  He took us on a tour of San Juan and showed us a lot of things, all the forts, very nice…and he held our luggage all day and then dropped us at airport.  He recommended a place for lunch, Cafe Puerto Rico….real Puerto Rican food, and the BEST sangria I have ever had in my life.

When we first got on the ship (Serenade of the Seas) at 2pm, we checked out our closet-size room (which I was expecting so it was OK) then we did the once-over on the boat.  First impression, thought boat was nice, but both Steve & I wanted to know where the rest of the pool was!!!  It was tiny!!!!  We sailed at 8:30 which was our dinner time, so feeling the boat move, we were both uncertain if this was going to be for us. Steve and I actually said “what island are we flying home from?”….but by the next day when we had adjusted to the boat, everything was fine!!

I know you and I had discussed that I didn’t know how I was going to like sitting at a table with strangers, well I will tell you…that was your best advice!!!  We had the best table on the ship, we were with our tablemates every night and went on excursions with them.  We had 2 other couples on their honeymoon and the other couple was celebrating their 10 yr anniversary. 

On the last day they charged us $100 for towels, but Steve complained and they gave us a credit for $200, so that all worked out.  I guess everyone wants to rip us off!

The cabin was OK, definitely could never do a cruise in a room w/o a balcony.  Also, made friends with the people in the next cabin and they had a handicap room- they told us we need to ask for one of those next time!!! Their bathroom was the size of our entire stateroom.

Our waiter in the dining room was a stiff and we got bad service the first night, but it was better after that for the rest of the cruise.  Food was always delicious.  At peak times, it was very hard to find a seat in the buffet.  But overall fabulous!

Entertainment was awesome!!!  We did something every night….Steve won “Finish that Lyric” and our table won the Quest, which was sooo fun!  Ricki the cruise director was awesome and his staff too.  We went to a magic show, a comedy show and meet the captain night.  Did the nightclub twice and Bingo twice.

When we got to St Thomas, we took a cab to the shopping street, it was all jewelry so we didn’t buy anything…not big jewelry people. Then we went back to the ship for our excursion, we went on a catamaran ride to St John!  It was awesome!!!!  The catamaran itself was fun, and on the way back they had champagne and punch!  Steve went snorkeling at the beach and the guy took me in the little boat to the beach, I have never seen water like that anywhere!!!  We saw a shark in the water, sea turtles and a deer walking on the beach!

In St Kitts we went zip lining and on the way there, the driver gave us a tour. Very poor there….it was depressing, but otherwise we had a great time and I would definitely recommend zip lining there to anyone! 

In Aruba, we decided to wing it and we rented a jeep with our table mates for the day $80- a bargain!!!  We drove to the natural bridge, which fell down apparently, and saw some rock formations.  Then we went to the beach, right in front of the Riu, it was hot!!!  Nice time, then went back to the boat.

Curacao was our favorite island.  We just got off the ship and walked around the shops, they were gorgeous and we stopped and checked out several bars along the way!!  

We felt this was the safest place and really clean!

My tips for someone else taking a similar trip:

  • Make sure they iron their clothes before they go!!!  I found out the night before there was no iron on the boat so I spent all day Sunday before we left ironing everything we brought. 
  • I would also suggest booking excursions off the boat, to save a lot of money.


– Jen and Steve

A sneak peek at the Allure of the Seas

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a two-day cruise on the brand-new Allure of the Seas, and I jumped at the chance to check out this new mega-ship that has generated so much “buzz”.  I’ll admit that I was skeptical about whether I would like such an enormous ship, but I was very pleasantly surprised!

If you want to skip ahead to the photos, here they are.

If you’re interested in my impressions of the cruise, here’s what I can tell you:

The ship is really well thought out, and the layout is very user-friendly.  It normally takes me at least 4 or 5 days into a one-week cruise before I can reliably find my way around without having to stop and think about whether I’m headed forward or aft, or which side of the ship I need to be on, but I actually found my way around quite well on the Allure. Some of that was due to really good signage (they even have computer touch screens that can direct you back to your cabin), but I think the ship layout just makes sense. Entertainment and recreation areas are clustered together into “neighborhoods” (Central Park, the Boardwalk, etc.) which makes it much easier to remember where things are.

Our balcony cabin was very far aft on deck six, near the Boardwalk and one deck up from the main restaurant. It was perfectly fine for the two of us, but I think if we had the kids with us we’d need two separate cabins. And if you’re plus-sized (or claustrophobic) you might be uncomfortable in the plexiglass pod of a shower (junior suites and suites have more spacious bathrooms with tubs and showers).  The balcony itself was a little smaller than what we’ve had on other ships, but the cabin had some nice touches, like an iPod docking station and a nice sized closet.

We toured a number of other cabin categories, and I really liked the fact that there are so many different layouts and locations to choose from.  How about a cabin with a window seat and a picture window overlooking serene Central Park….or a balcony that looks inward to the bustling Boardwalk rather than out towards the sea?  For a special occasion, or a multi-generational “escape”, my absolute favorite was the 8-person suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious living area, and wraparound balconies overlooking the ship’s Aqua Theater and the open ocean beyond.

With only two days onboard, it was impossible to see and do everything, but we did our best!  We saw two different ice shows (one of which – “How to Train Your Dragon” – was part of Royal Caribbean’s new tie in with Dreamworks entertainment), the “Move It, Move It” parade down the promenade, and  a full Broadway-style production of Chicago, which was the best show I’ve ever seen at sea. Definitely a higher caliber of entertainers than the usual cruise ship revue.  We also enjoyed a very entertaining “adult” singalong at the piano bar, cocktails in several venues around the ship, and a late-night disco party on the promenade. In between all this activity, we somehow found the time to lay by the “beach pool”, read a book in the beautiful solarium, watch the high-divers practice for the aqua show, and sit out on our balcony to watch the world go by.

There are LOTS of different dining options on this ship, and not all of them were open during our sailing, but we managed to sample quite a few. The Windjammer buffet was very well laid out, with no waiting in lines (even at peak times) and plenty of staff waiting to take your plate, find you a table, and bring you a hot coffee.  The main dining room spans three decks, and even with that many people eating at once, the service was fantastic. We enjoyed two delicious dinners there, and I think the food was even better than previous RCCL cruises, and on a par with what we had on Princess this past summer.  The really fun thing about Allure, though, is all the smaller restaurants sprinkled around the ship. We ate hot dogs on the Boardwalk, dessert at the Cupcake Cupboard on the promenade, and late-night pizza at Sorrentos. There’s also a Starbucks, a Johnny Rockets, a poolside grill, an ice cream parlor, Rita’s Cantina for Mexican food, Vintages for wine and tapas, and several other casual options, as well as the two specialty restaurants (150 Central Park and Chops Grill) that were not open during our sailing.

Because we didn’t have the kids with us, we did not take advantage of the many family-friendly activities on the sports deck, but we did see people enjoying the Flow Rider (surf simulator), minigolf course, basketball court, and the zip line. If you cruise on the Allure with active teens, you might not see them all week!

My overall thoughts (and some tips) are as follows:

  • The Allure of the Seas is more like a giant floating resort than a typical cruise ship, and there’s so much to see and do onboard that you really should look at it as a destination in and of itself. The ports visited would be a less important consideration.
  • Because of its size, there really is a lot of walking involved, even if you give in and take the elevators instead of the stairs. If you’re not prepared to get a lot of exercise, I would think twice about this ship – or at least make sure you have a cabin that’s mid-ship ( we spent a LOT of time walking down the long hallway to our aft cabin)
  • Cabin selection is key on this ship. Spend some time thinking about what you’ll want to do on the ship, how much time you’ll spend in your cabin, and where you’d like to be located, and then let your travel agent help you choose the best category.
  • The ship was not full when we sailed, but the seating for the various shows still filled up fast. I would definitely suggest that you make advance reservations for anything you know you want to see, so that you don’t end up disappointed.
  • For things where you can’t make a reservation (like the parade), try to show up early to get a good vantage point. We found a great spot on deck 6 outside the photo shop and staked out our spot on the railing overlooking the promenade, and we had fantastic views of everything (but we were there about a half hour early to get that spot)
  • The touch screens located throughout the ship are a really great way to find your way around, and they also allow you to quickly preview the wait times at the various restaurants (without having to walk all the way there and ask)

With all the excitement and hype about this new ship, demand (and prices) will remain high for at least the next year or two. If you have your heart set on sailing on the Allure, book early. Or give some thought to trying the Oasis of the Seas (her sister ship) instead — they’re nearly identical. Either way, give me a call!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)