Tag: Vacations / Resort Travel

Feb 21

Beware of the Hidden Mega Resort!

Looks like a beautiful Resort, But beware, it is larger than you think!

Looks like a beautiful Resort, But beware, it is larger than you think!

I am finding a disturbing trend in the resort industry. It’s been known for awhile now that most people don’t really like a resort with 2,000 plus rooms in it. In fact the perfect maximum size seems to be between 6-750 rooms. If you find a resort with say 1-200 rooms, many people would expect to pay a premium for this type of location.

This is creating a dilemma for the resort operators that want to have as many people as possible per square metre of ground space as this means maximum revenues can be achieved. So what is “their” solution? It seems the trend is to still put up these mega resorts, but to simply divide them into smaller sections called … wait for it … Resorts!!

That’s right; they have a layout of say 2,000 rooms, running down to the beach. It has a centre pool area and specialty restaurants at the top and somewhere near the bottom. You know the ones I am talking about. Here is the Steak, the Italian, the Japanese, the Seafood, etc.

So here is what is happening. All the rooms to the left of the pools are called Resort “A” and the ones to the right of the resort are called Resort “B”. Now they can advertise a resort of 1,000 rooms instead of the 2,000 rooms. But wait, it gets better. This number is still too large for that magic figure, so they take the rooms closest to the beach and make them Premium and … you guessed it, these are now another Resort. Let’s say “C” and “D” of 250 rooms each. These rooms are usually “Adult Only” and come with Premium drinks a private small, sometimes very small private pool area and so on.

You are looking at 6 different resorts when advertized to you.

You are looking at 6 different resorts when advertized to you.

Now the main two resorts are now reduced to that magic number of 750 rooms each. Here is where it get’s nasty in my books. If, for the entire 2,000 rooms, there are say 7 specialty restaurants, they are available to everyone at all the “Resorts”. The same goes for the main pool area and sometimes the one pool swim up bar and other bars. So, what is advertised to us, the buyers of these rooms? They will tell the tour operator the following

  • 750 rooms
  • 7 specialty restaurants
  • 2 buffet restaurants
  • 8 bars (only one open at night in the main lounge area)
  • 1 large swim up bar
  • 1 Gym
  • 1 Spa
  • Beautiful beach area.

The problem is that this is all true except all of these services are being shared and sought after by 2,000 room guests or say 4,500 people.

4,500 people competing for

  • Restaurants
  • Seating at the bar areas and show areas
  • Spa appointments
  • And a seat by the pool or beach.

Any experienced traveler knows in these situations, that if you have one person in your party that is an early riser, they are elected to travel to “your” spot and claim your chairs for the day with the old towel and book routine.

But, we, as innocent travelers arrive at our 750 room resort with all of the restaurants and amities, do not feel the need to rush down and select your reservations for the entire week and guess what happens? You are at the buffet for most of your trip, you missed the lobster that you saw in the picture and it takes you 4 days to figure out the towel and book routine.

Of course, the Premium section does not have to go to the main guest services to book the restaurants. They have a special number to call or a private guest services that will either book the restaurants for you or in some cases, sometimes depending on your tip in advance, will watch for a cancellation and get you in whatever night you want.

Have a closer look at the bottom of the map, you will see two of the "lobbies"

Have a closer look at the bottom of the map, you will see two of the “lobbies”

So, what do we do about all of this? Can we boycott it and expect it to change? On a trip I took last year to Mexico, this really became apparent to me and started me on this research. I called the resort and they said this is normal business, I called the tour operator and they said they cannot check on the facts sent to them from every resort and have to assume they are telling us the truth.

Well, that was a year ago and you will still find the same resorts advertized as smaller ones. With a very small amount of work, it is easy to figure out. The resorts do not hid it once you are there, so if you find pictures people take of the resort maps, of the names of the resorts as you drive in, you will pick up on this.  As well all most any resort built more than 10 years ago is most likely a single resort. It is the newer ones that are constructed to take advantage of this.

To give you some examples of this, and yes, I know you are waiting for this part, let look at the Majestic / Colonial resorts in Punta Cana of an example of this done right. Here they have two resorts next to each other. I say next to because everything advertized as being in one resort is in that resort. There are no ads to my knowledge where they include any restaurants from the sister resort.

They have the Colonial and the Elegance resorts. Each has its own pool areas, their own restaurants, etc. but you can walk from on to the other easily.  

In Mexico we have the newer style example. For example, you can book a room at the Grand Sunset Princess but, at least through Canadian tour operators, you cannot book a room or even have a hint that, across the pool the Grand Sunset Riviera exists. I just re-confirmed now and they still advertize that this resort has the following:

Property Amenities : • 672 Room(s) • 12 Pool(s) • Medical Centre ($) • Beauty Salon ($) • Air Conditioned Gym/ Fitness Centre • Jacuzzi • Kids pool • 11 Restaurant(s) • 9 Bar(s)

Once you arrive, you will discover that most of these are shared between over 2,100 rooms. To me, this just does not seem right and YOU need to be aware of this beforehand.

What can we really do? Check out the resorts. I strongly recommend that you read the reviews I have posted here at http://StevesTravelBlog.com and everyone’s reviews at TripAdvisor.com Spend one hour researching the Resort, not for what you want, but what you now know you do not want. Ask questions on blogs and you usually will receive answers quickly.

I hope this has helped you have a great upcoming vacation.

Yes, that is my hand and I was being a "Crazy Gringo!" but having fun at this huge resort.

Yes, that is my hand and I was being a “Crazy Gringo!” but having fun at this huge resort.

On a final note, I am not saying that you will not have a great time at these resorts. Most people have an awesome time, I just want you to get what you pay for. I would guess that up to 80% of travelers go for the fun in the sun, the more the better and only go indoors to grab a bite at the buffet and to sleep. It is for the ones that enjoy the extras and the atmosphere expected that may experience disappointment without this information. At the Resort(s) I am talking about in this article, the staff were all fantastic. 

Enjoy, travel well, and I just might bump into you somewhere this spring season.


Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=211

Jan 18

What to take or not take on your next vacation

No I am not talking the latest fashion trends, but rather some of the things you may not have considered. In this article, I will be talking about some tips for you that hopefully will make your travel better and even more rewarding than ever before.



Yes, here I am at the end of a long day of traveling. and yes, these are my zippered off travel pants 😉

There are different types of trips and your packing needs will vary depending on the trip. Over the years, my wife and I have decidedly downsized our packing style. Yes, the ladies still have their “things” that need to be packed and fashion dress is important. However, when you get down to the average week long get-a-way to an all-inclusive, you will find that you want to grab those extra ½ hours in the fun having fun instead of going back to the room to get dressed for a formal dinner.  Even if you do, and I will only comment from the man’s perspective here, the dress code can be modified slightly and I have never been questioned at any restaurants for these things.

For example, I have a pair of brown pants that zipper off at the knee. I like wearing these comfortable pants with a nice but casual shirt on the plane. One of the main reasons I like this is that I can convert them to a pair of shorts on the plane before that lovely burst of hot island air hits you when the plane door opens. Yes, many of the smaller islands including the DM still disembark onto the tarmac, and it is blessing for those 4-8 minutes you are on the plane after the door opens.

More importantly, by doing this, I have a pair of short pants for the day excursions and if we go out for a meal where men are required to wear long pants, with a simple zip, I once again have long pants.  Now, I know it is a po-pa and some will say that is just not right but here is the second thing I do. It has been over 10  years since I bothered to pack dress shoes for any vacation to the south. I know some will cringe, but I have to say we need to get over the little things in favor of having a good relaxing time.

Again leaving the cold, I dawn my socks and then put on my sandals. My logic for this is twofold, First, once you are on board, you can ditch the socks as you are “indoors” as socks and dress shoes don’t really work with short pants and two, it is enough for me to wear this when going out to dinner where open toed sandals are not permitted. I have to admit I have gone to the steak house many years ago at one resort when it was very hot and humid where they told me I need at least socks. I was determined not to wear my dress shoes for some reason, I went back and put socks on and then my sandals and never looked back.

I tell you this so that you will see it is more important to bring 3 bathing suits a few tops and go and have fun. We have gone from two suitcases, to one large one to one small suitcase, but we also take more with us then we bring back.


All resorts have staff working in different areas, the question is how much do you tip?

Remember I said it depends on your destination on what you will bring? We like to bring presents for the people that work at the resorts. If you do a little research, it is not too hard to figure out what the local employees would appreciate. For example, we may not realize thisand it will only apply for my readers that are allowed to travel to Cuba, but in this country, even things like tooth brushes and toothpaste we very welcome. Even if they have the money to spend on such things, many times, it would just not be something that is available in the local stores.

Although we do leave money as well, be aware that in many places money is not a tip for that person, but for the workers as a whole. I have heard of some very bad reports including the establishment taking and then giving out after their cut.

Each country will have need of different things. Again in Cuba it is the things that they cannot get their as in basic useful things. I remember at a restaurant one night, the fellow cutting the beef could not speak very good English. Word must of gotten around about us because he asked if we had any “smelly smelly” for his wife and daughter. We did have some things and the next day we happy gave what we had. What I was not expecting was the follow up to this.

I have always found the staff great in the resorts.

I have always found the staff great in the resorts.

I saw him several days laterand he was so happy to see us. Sharing that his family was delighted with the giftsand he asked us to come to his station that night. We did soand he produced a small box of cigars, someone in his family owned this small plantation and he wanted me to have this. I have learned over the years to never say no in this situation as it would be considered an insult so I accepted, but still I think about the fact that I gave him something they could not get, but it must of still cost him a lot to gift back what he could.

To finish with Cuba, other things that are hard to come by are Flip Flops, Kids toys, colouring books and crayons. It is also very important to make up little cards where you say that these things (listing them) are a gift from you and write in the name of the person you are giving it too. Without this management may take these things as well.

In my next post I will look at the very different DMR, things that make great gifts everywhere and some thoughts to make that plane ride even better.


Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=190

Dec 02

Canadian Travel Cards, The Good, The Bad and Everything Else


Canadian travel Card
Canadian travel Card

 There have been a lot of changes in the Travel Card Industry, and if you like to collect points, you really have to keep on top of which is the best, for the next two years or more.

Now, we need to cover a few basic things before we get into this. First there are three main types of points to collect in Canada.

  1.  AeroPlan by Air Canada. Yes there are other airlines, but none that are National and apply to all Canadians flying.
  2. AirMiles is a private point collector that has successfully crossed the product line barrier and has been accepted by many store brands as well as Credit Card Companies.
  3. Credit Card Companies. These cards need to be broken down into sections.
    Canadian travel Card

    Canadian travel Card

    1. Traditional cards where they add to your AeroPlan or AirMiles points and

    2. The newer style cards that have their own travel point systems.

 One important point here when we get into the Credit Card systems. I do not endorse or recommend that anyone get a credit card that cannot say they would never, ever carry a balance. The whole point of saving money on travel gets destroyed if you do not pay the entire balance off each and every month and end up paying interest charges. You have been warned and I say this because the newer bank driven travel plans are, simply put, great.

I can remember when, AeroPlan was really the only card and way to get travel miles. Yep, I go that far back. But, over the years, things have changed a lot. Do I still have an AeroPlan account and do I use it? Yes, but no longer for my “basic” travel.

To choose the best card for you depends on 2 things.


  1. The travel points and how much you have to spend to get free travel and
  2. What are the soft costs that still have to be paid to get that travel?

 This second item is a really big point with the newer bank reward systems. With plans like AeroPlan and AirMiles, after you save for a long time to get your points, you still have to pay the taxes and fees. In many cases this can be over $200 per person travelling. A family of four spending $800 in travel frees is not exactly a free plane ticket.

To combat this, Banks started offering their own reward system that could not only be used for air travel, but any kind of travel including Hotels and All inclusive travel packages. This was good, in that, it offered a product outside of the plane travel, but it used to take far more points per dollar value then AeroPlan did.


Canadian travel Card
Canadian travel Card

 Are you confused yet? The 1990’s was a confusing time for travel points. The good news is that Banks have caught on to this need, more and more banks offered their own reward systems and it is getting more and more competitive. This means better and simpler choices for you, the consumer.

There are programs that offer great point value on economy flights and the same points for separate great value on vacation packages. In fact, I have just used up my AirMiles travel points and have basically stopped collecting them through Credit Cards. Yes, I will still use my AirMiles card when merchants offer this. I would be silly not too. But, not for collecting via Credit Cards. The New generation of point systems are just too good. For example, my local grocery chain offers 95 AirMile points when I buy a $200 Gift card. So, we tend to spend a little over $400 a month and by getting two gift cards, I gain and extra 190 AirMile points plus the $400 in points on that Credit Card.

AeroPlan is getting to be the same with one MAJOR exception. For flights 3 hours or less, I don’t mind Economy, but, when I travel for longer time periods I want to be in business class. AeroPlan is the best and really only choice if you want to travel Business or Executive Class on a reasonable number of points. I have never seen a card that has polarized itself quite so badly as this one. I find for any reasonable short-term reservations, booking my travel in less than a month in advance, I really have a hard time getting classic seats in economy and my newer card offer better value in any case. However, the point system leaves everyone else in the dust on Business class seats.

If we speak of AeroPlan Classic Rewards, one long haul ticket is 25,000 points. One business class is 40,000 points. Yes, these levels are changing in 2014, but I see for the small point person, it gets worse, not better. So, 15,000 points to upgrade to Business class. So a 60% increase in points.

Now, all the newer cards are based on the real cost of the tickets. So I looked up the cost from my airport (East Coast)to Vancouver (West Coast). The best Economy price was about $1,500 and the corresponding Business Class (Executive Class Lowest) was $3,500. An increase of $2,000 or a whopping 130% increase. So for any point system that uses the airline ticket price to figure out the points used, they don’t hold a candle to AeroPlan Business Class points. But again, this is the only exception that I can find.

Another way to look at this is you will need to spend $40,000 in purchases for this ticket in AeroPlan plus say $200 in taxes and fees. On the norm for leading bank cards, you would need to spend about $175,000 to $350,000 in purchases to get the same ticket. Again this really only applies to business class travel. Long story short, AeroPlan is still a good choice for those looking for long haul business class flights.

There are features I like in 3 of the newer plans, but really, it all has to come down to, Which plan will me, for my travel needs, travel sooner.


  1. If you are going to be traveling economy, I would recommend a travel card like the new CIBC Aventura MasterCard since they offer special point pricing on airfare only. Unless you live outside of a major metropolitan area like I do. In this case most tickets are over the allowed maximum price.
  2. I do really like the Scotia Gold American Express Card since it is the only one that allow you to book on any site, I.e. Air Canada or Expedia or directly with a hotel, use this card to pay and then call and have them apply the amount to be paid in points. If you hit a great seat sale, you might cash in with this card. My 2 draw backs are that for most purchases, it is still a dollar spent for 1 point and it is American Express. I still find many places that do not accept this card since they have higher costs to the merchant.
  3. But for “package travel” the all-inclusive that so many of us use, right now the choice would have to be the BMO World Elite MasterCard as they offer 2 points instead of 1 for each dollar spent and for packaged holidays, cars, hotels etc. It is a penny a point on all for redemption for mast cards with the exception to the CIBC airline system, so, about 1/2 the points needed from the Bank of Montreal Travel card.

 I am building with BMO for now, being very specific on target amounts going on the card and as these approach, I will once again check the murky waters to the Travel Card business.

I am hoping that the next big card out there will offer 2 or more points on ALL purchases, be a Visa or MasterCard product and allow me to book with anyone and charge it the points on the card. This last point is really huge and will be the next game changer since it is the one thing that will guarantee us that we are getting the best price possible and using the least amount of points to get it. The last thing it needs to have a point for point transfer without penalty to AeroPlan so if you want to be in Business Class … you can.

Hey, this is a travel article, so I am allowed to dream.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=164

Nov 26

Let’s talk Florida!

Let’s talk Florida! — for today, it’s Anna Maria Island!!

I know that as soon as I say “Florida” most people will automatically think of Orlando, International Drive, Universal Studios and of course the place with the mouse, Disney.  Now, don’t get me wrong here. I grew up with Disney and later Universal. I am a coaster freak, and lately I have become a real fan of the simulators like Despicable Me. At the age of 53, I loved being transformed into a Minion and flying through everything. I will talk more on these areas in another article, but just not here.

There is more to the great state of Florida then the theme parks. Although we “travel” we still like to have several trips to Florida each year. This is a great place to really unwind and still have a week of full days with lots of activities, no matter where you are. Well, within reason. There are some places that have really nothing to do, but just relax, and that can be perfect as well.

Anna Maria Island Beach

Anna Maria Island Beach

Today, I want to introduce you to a spot that has great relaxation and yet is close to fun activities in almost every direction toy can travel. Anna Maria Island is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, travelling south from Tampa and St. Petersburg, you will cross the Skyway Bridge and land in the Brampton area. Just turn towards the Gulf of Mexico and over a few island causeways, you will find yourself on Anna Maria Island. A touch of the past. This is actually the first of  three islands connecting to each other call North, Central and South Island, North being the actual Anna Maria Island.

Besides having many locations that you can stay at the give you that million dollar view every evening as the sun goes down, there are a lot of things to do, all within easy reach by car. Wait a minute …

Anna Maria Island Sunset

Anna Maria Island Sunset

Did I almost blow past the sunsets, just like that? As with many locations on the Gulf Coast, the sun sets straight out in front of you on the beach. The sunsets are truly spectacular and can make for a romantic evening, if that is what you are looking for. Just be on the beach at Sunset, and you will see what I mean.

The beach is truly a first class beach. I do like to get my walks in on the beach with the surf lapping on my heals as I walk as far as I want and then head back to enjoy the rest of the day. Some people here end up walking very slowly and spending relaxing hours on the beach doing something that you don’t normally find as an activity. That’s right, “Shark Tooth Hunting.”

I was introduced to this great “sport” by my friend Bill Hall. He dawn’s his bike bandana and start walking, looking intently at the spots where shells would gather and wash up in the eddy’s . He is as happy as a clam and had more relaxation then many would from a good jig saw puzzle.

Miles of Beach at Anna Maria Island

Miles of Beach at Anna Maria Island

I know this may sound strange to some, but for some reason, connected to the currents of the Gulf, Sharks would end up somewhere in the ocean to die. Over time their teeth would become mineralized by the ocean replacing the calcium in the teeth with the minerals found in the ocean. The result is fossilized sharks teeth and again for reasons I do not understand, they are very concentrated on this beach.  Go figure. For people that “want” time on their hands and surf sound the day away, this can be heaven. A treasure for those that do not need to find a treasure.

For others, like my wife, Judy, It is a good 3-5 mile brisk walk to start the day and then on to new adventures. Some days this included popping over to Brampton for a relaxing day of shopping and your Starbucks fix.  If you like flea markets, you have to take a trip to the Red Barn Flea Market in Bradenton.  With 145,000 S.F. of space, it really does have something for just Red_Barn_Flea_Market_3[1]about everyone.  If you are renting a home on the Island for a week, the Red Bard has a great Farmers Market with rows on rows of fresh produce.

If that is not in the cards for the day, you can head on down to the peer and  locate some great food. Either on the peer, but also in many other areas. By tradition, you have to visit Rotten Ralphs for some great eats. With 7 miles of beach front, there are many great choices in the food area.

If you like pancakes, you can fins that as well, right on the beach. A nice walk and then another to work off the carbs. really though it is a very nice social event and well worth taking it all in.

Now if you want to do this, you will need accommodations, and the three islands off three different  distinct choices. The North Island (Anna Maria Island)  is more ritzy and offers some unique choices while the South island is more of the up coming place for clubs and moderate rooms.


While not well known to the public at large, this area is well supported on the Net. Check out these sites to help you chose where you should stay on your next get-a-way or romantic trip.

 The main thing to realize is that at Anna Maria Island, you have a taste of the real old Florida. Sit back, relax, enjoy good food and share the moments with friends. But, remember you are still very close to the modern Florida and yes, i do recommend that you take some day trips. Perhaps up to Tarpon Springs where they harvest sea sponges or into Tampa to the Aquarium or to Busch Gardens and hit a few rides with or without the kids.

If you want to have still another different Florida vacation, I will be sharing on Central Florida in an upcoming post. Heading to the other side of the state, I will have separate posts on the theme parks area of the state. Stay tuned for this. 

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For more information please check out these links


There are rates for every price range. Here is a site that is well maintained and offers a great selection.


don’t forget the Flea Market 🙂


Another great resource. 



Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=137

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