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Rwanda

Rwanda

A Destination Guide for Your African Safari Vacation
MARIA DIEGO

Rwanda, a country no larger than the size of Maryland, is often referred to as the land of a thousand hills and is located in East Africa. Best known for its gorilla population, Rwanda has a lush terrain of rainforests and farmland, spotted with microclimates of misty haze that hang over the hills like a mystical dream until streams of sunlight break through the grey clouds, exposing a magnificently green landscape that can be viewed from its thousand hilltops. Rwanda shares a border with Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is the second safest country in all of Africa. Rwanda is a country with a painful past and colorful yet complicated history, and the people of Rwanda are deeply connected to each other, having lived through a trauma that left both visible and invisible wounds that will continue to be felt for generations to come. I’ll go into further detail about the Rwandan genocide when I cover things to do in Rwanda, but the most notable highlight of my experience in Rwanda was the joyful hope and resilience that exuded from every Rwandan’s infectious smile. With Micato Safaris, a leading tour operator in Africa for 30+ years and one of Diego Travel’s top travel partners, we are able to plan an unforgettable trip to Rwanda that will change the way you see the world.

Perfect For: Adventure & Thrill Seekers | Destination Weddings | Luxury Honeymoon | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Those Who Have Already Done Safari | Teens Ages 15+

Getting to Rwanda

Getting to Rwanda

Getting to Rwanda isn’t easy, and my total travel time from Miami exceeded 24 hours, but the trip is well worth it. Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, has several non-stop flights from major European airports.

Once in Kigali, I recommend a minimum one night in Kigali in order to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and acclimate to the time change. Unless your time is seriously limited, then you could take a private helicopter from Kigali airport onto One and Only Nyungwe House. One & Only Resorts, a Diego Travel preferred partner, has the perfect pairing of resorts in Rwanda that I cannot recommend enough. You can find out more about my stays under Where To Stay in Rwanda. When you utilize Diego Travel’s trip planning service, we handle all of the logistics of travel to the Rwanda, taking into consideration the number of nights you have, your budget, and facts you may not even be aware of that might add a roadblock to your trip unless you utilize someone in-the-know.

Rwanda

-1.96357,30.1348

Kigali

Rwanda Chimpanzee

The Rwanda Luxury Travel Guide

What to do in Rwanda

Rwanda has four national parks including Volcanoes National Park, best known for its population of gorilla families, Gishwati-Mukura National Park, Nyungwe National Park, which crosses over into Uganda and is home to 4 different species of primates including chimpanzees, and Akagera National Park. The national parks of Rwanda make up nearly 9% of its land, and each national park in Rwanda has a slightly different biodiversity. Volcanoes National Park encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains and is home to a growing gorilla population, all thanks to the work of Dian Fossey and continued conservation work of her foundation. If you’re after more than just gorilla and primate trekking, you can find the Big Five in Akagera National Park, making Rwanda a destination in and of itself. Many people make the mistake of tacking Rwanda onto the end of a larger safari trip as a sort of addendum to quickly see the gorillas, but it’s much more deserving of a minimum 8 nights to properly experience the country.
  • The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

    Dian Fossey was a leading researcher of gorillas and conservationist who spent two decades studying and protecting the gorillas, until her death in 1985.  Her research and activism against the poaching of gorillas was what led to their continued growth, and to this day, Rwanda has the strictest rules in place to protect the gorilla population.  The Ellen Degeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is made up of three buildings – an interactive museum for the general public where you can learn about gorillas, their behaviors and habitat, and also learn about the life of Dian Fossey.  

    The second building is home to a cafeteria for the many schools of children who come through to learn about gorillas, as well as classrooms and lecture halls where future generations can participate in the continued conservation of the species.

  • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND INTERIOR

  • ELLEN DEGENERES CAMPUS OF THE DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

  • The final building on campus houses labs and office space for primatologists and university research students, who study things such as gorilla stressors which they are able to do by measuring cortisol levels in fecal samples, knowing exactly what the gorillas were doing at the moment the fecal sample was collected.  When I asked if exposure to tourists affects the gorillas stress level, Veronica, the modern day Dian Fossey and director of the campus who has spent the last 30 years of her life with the gorillas, smiled and replied, Happily not.  They are unaffected by tourism because we maintain tight control of their exposure.“

    As a Diego Travel client, you can get an insiders tour of the areas that arent open to the public, as well as access to the rooftop viewing deck, where you can sip cocktails and munch on canapés with gorgeous volcano vistas in the background.  The campus also has meeting space, so if your company is thinking of a destination for a small work retreat, Rwanda is ideal and Diego Travel can help you plan it.

  • Gorilla Trekking

    Following the tour of the campus, the main highlight and life-changing experience of your trip to Rwanda will be the gorilla trekking.  There are currently 12 gorilla families that you can observe, all named after the leading silverback gorilla of the group.  Permits to see the gorillas cost $1500 USD per person, with a minimum age of 15 years old.  There is a daily maximum of 90 tourists allowed to enter the national park, broken up into groups of 6 people or less, and accompanied by 1-2 guides.  Once the gorillas are spotted, the group has exactly 60 minutes to observe them.  This guarantees that each gorilla family is exposed to humans for no more than 1 hour on any given day.  

    Gorilla trackers who sleep in the national park forest communicate with the guides via walkie-talkie, providing an estimated location of each gorilla family.  Given the gorillaslocation at time of the tourist groups departure, they can predict whether a trek will be easy, medium or hard, allowing you to choose your difficulty level.  However, because gorillas can quickly change course, it is oftentimes unpredictable, as was the case on one of my treks.  

  • Gorilla Trecking in Rwanda

  • Gorilla Baby

  • Porters will also accompany each group, providing someone to carry your backpack and help you climb what can be a very steep incline.  The guides will lead the group with machetes, creating a hiking path as you cut through what can be thick bush full of stinging nettles.  I highly recommend wearing thicker canvas-type pants, knee-high hiking socks, and ankle hiking boots, and the hotels I recommend for my clients provide gators to protect the lower part of your legs. Even if you feel that you dont need a porter, for just $10, youre providing a salary and supporting the community by utilizing them.  Many of todays porters are also ex-poachers, who have been retrained to earn a living in a sustainable way that supports wildlife instead of harming it.

    Ill discuss my personal experience of the gorilla trekking under the summary of my trip, but going just once wasnt enough for me.  After falling in love with the experience, I returned the following day for a second trek.  Each trek experience was completely different from the other, and Im so grateful that I had the chance to do two gorilla treks.

  • Chimpanzee and Monkey Trekking

    Chimpanzee trekking means a 4 AM wakeup call because catching the chimps just as theyre waking up is key to a good experience.  The chimpanzees were my first foray into seeing the true wildlife in Africa, and to describe the sound of the rainforest at sunrise, with heavy rains falling around us, would be fruitless.  You just have to experience it. 

    As a city girl, I was very poorly equipped to hike in heavy rainfall.  At 4:30 AM, I groggily stumbled into the hotels reception to grab a to-go breakfast and a cup of coffee from the beautifully set up station, only to be given the up and down from a gorgeous South African woman, dressed appropriately in head-to-toe Patagonia gear.  Dont you have any other pants? Those are awfully baggy and will be soaked within minutes,she told me.  I shook my head and self-consciously nibbled on my gluten-free lemon poppyseed muffin as I silently pondered how in the world I got it all wrong.

  • Chimp

  • Rwanda Artisan Community

  • Local Artisan Communities

    Because the majority of the land in Rwanda is farmland, a highlight of your trip will be the farm-to-table dining.  Aside from food, the artisans of Rwanda gather and build co-ops or communities where they sell handwoven baskets, hand-carved gorilla statues, and Imigongo painted traditional artwork, using terracotta, black and earthy color tones with the primary ingredient being cow dung.  We had a chance to create our own, and lets just say Im not going to quit my day job.  I did, however, do enough shopping to fill the handy Tumi Just In Case bag I always pack.

  • KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL

    The genocide of Rwanda was a mass ethnic killing of an estimated 1 million Tutsi.  The division of ethnicities within Rwanda was not based on facts, but rather an invention of the Belgian colonialists since the 1940s, who divided the Rwandans into three groups based on physical traits.  Their plan to divide the population and ultimately rule over them was a slowly seeping process of infiltrating hatred amongst Rwandans.  In 1994, following a series of events that created a perfect storm, there was a 3-month period in which neighbors and friends turned on each other and brutally murdered the entire population of the Tutsi people, or anyone who was associated with them. 

  • Rwanda Genocide Museum

A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a crucial first stop on your trip to Rwanda.  It creates context for your entire vacation, and will allow you to have a 360 degree understanding of who the Rwandan people are, where they came from, and how far they have come.  

While not easy, I am definitely going to recommend a visit to all of my clients at the start of their trip.  The memorial was set up as a place to honorably bury about 250,000 Rwandans who died during the genocide, but also allows families a place to visit and reflect, and honor those who died during this tragedy.  

A Note About Security in Rwanda

While the 1994 genocide is a stain on Rwandas history, present-day Rwanda is a state of security and unity.  I have never felt so safe while traveling, as hotels require several security checkpoints, and even to enter the airport area requires everyone to get out of the vehicle while it is driven through a security scanner.  All the hotels and national forests were patrolled by armed security, making a stay in Rwanda very safe.

One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

Where to Stay in Rwanda

One of the best destinations in Africa for a truly luxury and exclusive experience is in Rwanda.  While there are many beautiful properties around the world and luxury hotels and accommodations, it is the staff at the One and Only hotels and resorts that will make your stay so special.

One&Only Nyungwe House

One and Only Nyungwe House

One and Only Nyungwe House, pronounced young-way with an non the front, is perfect for honeymooners, anniversary trips, bucket list trips, and even great for families.  The property allows children about 10 years and older, but keep in mind that they will not be able to visit the chimps and gorillas until 15-years-old.  One and Only Nyungwe House is 23 rooms and suites set on a 10 hectare working tea plantation.

When we arrived after a 30-minute commercial flight from Kigali, and about a 45-minute safari jeep ride to the property, we were greeted by drummers and dancers, and just like the song of the chimpanzees in the rainforest, their song brought on a wave of emotion that instantly filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.  I cannot describe the experience in any other way, but I know that I never wanted it to end.

Dee, the propertys South African general manager, greeted us with a hand held over her heart, as the rest of the staff lined up with the same gesture and handing us a damp hotel towel and welcome ginger tea.  Dee welcomed us into their homewhere she explained that between our two stays, Nyungwe House is the heart, whereas Gorillas Nest is the arms and legs.”  

As we were led on a tour of the propertys spa, library, pool, and rooms, Dees infectious laugh was sprinkled between stories as she described the Nyungwe experience.  This unique gem of a property certainly felt like a peaceful sanctuary of treehouses nestled into the edge of the forest, where you commonly see Colobus and Mangobee monkeys visiting your terrace.  

Ill discuss some activities we did on property in the summary of our stay, but as a general rule, I would recommend a minimum of 3-nights at Nyungwe House, especially if you plan on doing the chimpanzee tour and really relaxing on the property.  For more time for relaxation after your long journey, youll really need 4 nights for the adventure + relaxation pieces.

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

  • Exclusive One&Only Offers
  • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
  • USD $100 food and beverage credit
  • Welcome note and amenity
  • Priority Upgrade if Available
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using the Travel Planning Service

Diego Travel Recommends One&Only Nyungwe House For: Honeymooners | Small Destination Weddings | Couples Groups | Multi-Generational Families with Older Children | Anniversary Trips | Adventure Seekers | Incentive Trips

One&Only Gorilla’s Nest

One and Only Gorillas Nest

One and Only Gorillas Nest is my favorite hotel in the world.  There, I said it!  Everyone always asks me that question and before visiting this property, I truly didnt have a favorite.  Well, it depends on what style,Id say.  Or Id ask, For a boutique hotel or a resort?”  For One and Only Gorillas Nest, it doesnt matter who you are or what your taste is, I can pretty much guarantee youre going to love it and never want to leave.  

We landed by helicopter on the propertys helipad after a 40-minute helicopter ride from One and Only Nyungwe House, again greeted by tear-inducing African dancers and drummers with the staff impeccably dressed in suits with their hands held over their hearts.  If there ever was a moment when I felt like a celebrity or the President of the United States, this was it.  Speaking of celebrities, Bill Gates was one of the propertys first guests, which speaks to the calibre and privacy that the resort offers.  

The owner of One and Only Gorillas Nest is from Dubai and literally spared no expense to perfect every detail in a way that I have never seen before.   Craig, the area manager who oversees both Rwandan properties, gave us a tour of the locker rooms at Club One, the main pool, gym, and spa amenities area, and I commented how even the mens locker room used dark wood while the ladieslocker room was white and bright.  He paused and raised an eyebrow, saying, Funny you should mention that.  Theres a story behind it actually.”  He went on to tell us that after the installation of the locker rooms was complete, the owner was visiting and realized that the location of the ladiesroom would require them to walk on a pathway with no overhang (for a total distance of about 15 feet).  He didnt like the idea of the ladies getting wet in the rain, so swapped the mens and womens rooms, which required a complete de-installation of cabinetry from each room.  

The interior decorator, Hurburtus Feit, who lives in Paris and primarily does residential projects, incorporated different patterns and textures throughout the hotel and purposely gave it the residential feel for which he is so well-known, creating a cozy retreat that makes you feel like youll never want to leave.

Initially the idea for the resort was to build 42 rooms, but after considering that the property lends itself to privacy and exclusivity, they decided to build just 21, allowing for a sense of place within each space.  The entry level room cannot even be considered entry level, as all rooms have a sitting area with fireplace, great outdoor deck, and outdoor shower.  Some of my favorite details about the Forest View Lodge, where I stayed, was the view, the best bed sheets Ive ever slept in (I looked at the tag and unfortunately they are made exclusively for Gorillas Nest) and the design details like the gorilla doorstop and hand-carved pen, the gluten-free snacks especially made for me and left at the self-serve bar, fully stocked with the finest china and glassware, and the heated bathroom floors.  They even have a Dyson hairdryer in the bathrooms, and speaking from experience, I know that many of my clients will love that!  

Aside from the Forest Lodge, they also have a Double Queen room, which is essentially a 2-bedroom with shared bathroom and living room.  The second bedroom has a powder room off it as well, which would be perfect for older kids.  The property has 5 Virunga suites, with one being in a cluster of 3 rooms, perfect for a family or group traveling together.  The Virunga Suites are gorgeous, and would be a better option if you need more common space.  Finally, the Silverback Suite is the top suite on property, with a full outdoor pool looking over the best view on property.  It also has a kitchen that can accommodate a kosher diet, or for someone who needs to eat their meals in villa, a private chef can prepare their food there.  

What makes One&Only Gorillas Nest so special though is not the property itself, but rather the people and the experiences that they provide.  Everyone is so kind and genuinely happy for you to be there, that every moment, word and action is made with such heartfelt intention.  The staff addresses you by name, and offers a subtle bow with the signature hand over heart as they smile and ask if you need anything.  When the sun goes down and the chilly evening settles in, they pick you up in a golf cart, a heated water bottle wrapped in beautiful African fabric is placed over your lap as they wrap your shoulders in a soft wool blanket.  Post-trek youll be met at the reception as they seat you on a bench where they remove your boots and dirty socks to replace them with your choice of African slides or white flip-flops.  By that evening, your hiking boots magically appear in your room, looking as clean as the day that you bought them.  

One final note about One and Only Gorillas Nest: we stayed 3 nights but I secretly inquired with Micato Safaris about staying on a 4th night.  There are commercial flights that run to Kigali, but unfortunately there wasnt any running the day that I needed it; 3 nights was not enough, especially considering that I did two gorilla treks, so when we plan your vacation to Rwanda, I highly recommend staying on 4 nights if you plan on doing the second gorilla trek.  

 

Book with Diego Travel to Receive the Following One&Only Preferred Partner Amenities:

  • Exclusive One&Only Offers
  • Daily Full American breakfast for up to two people per bedroom
  • USD $100 food and beverage credit
  • Welcome note and amenity
  • Priority Upgrade if Available
  • Priority Early Check-In/Late Check-Out
  • VIP Status
  • Diego Travel Welcome Box when Using theTravel Planning Service

The Retreat Kigali

The Retreat Kigali

One of my favorite hidden gems of the trip was The Retreat in Kigali, a boutique hotel built by two American ex-pats, Alisa and Josh Ruxin, who work with local non-profits and started this project to create a hospitality training program for organizations such as Orphans of Rwanda.  They currently employ a staff of 145 for just 20 rooms, that range from an entry-level Deluxe Room to a Luxury Pool Villa, with rates starting around $300 USD per night.  This quaint property is the 5 star version of its sister hotel next door called Heaven.  A restaurant with excellent food and some more 3.5-4 star accommodations, Heaven is a great option for the more budget-minded traveler.

Rwanda Traditions

Summary of Our Stay

Upon arrival to Rwanda, we had to undergo a PCR Covid test per the current regulations. Diego Travel clients can be set up with VIP Fast Track arrival service to whisk you through customs and have the PCR testing done. Our flight arrived into Kigali at night, so we stayed 2 nights in Kigali upon arrival, visiting both the Genocide Memorial and having lunch at Heaven, located next to The Retreat. While it may seem excessive, we needed additional negative Covid tests to enter the national parks, in order to protect the primates as they are highly susceptible to human diseases. It’s astonishing that we share 98% of the same DNA, so given their small population, we need to protect them from any danger, such as coronavirus, as much as we can.

One&Only Evening

The commercial flight into Nyungwe was not as easy as I would have thought. The Rwandan processing is slow, whether it’s through security checkpoints or checking into hotels. As we were traveling with Micato Safaris, they did a fantastic job of keeping our documents in order and because they provided each destination with our documentation in advance, there was less wait time than what one would typically experience. Some things are unpredictable though, such as our bags taking an hour to get unloaded from the plane upon arrival into Nyungwe, so my advice is to pack your patience when traveling to Africa.

Rwanda

Arriving to this part of the country was the first time experiencing the ‘authentic’ Rwanda, seeing women balancing baskets on their heads and men pushing bicycles loaded up with kilos of potatoes. Seeing little children running behind their older siblings on a tea plantation, and frantically waving at us as our green safari jeep sped by. “Canesa, canesa,” they’d yell in Rwandese. “Wishing you health and happiness,” the greeting Rwandans use. Mothers carrying babies wrapped on their backs, and women and men bent over to pick tea leaves in the fields. The endless hills are astonishing and climb higher and higher as you make your way to Nyungwe House.

Arriving at One&Only Nyungwe House

I already spoke about the arrival to Nyungwe House, but the emotion that overcame me I can neither put into words or ever forget it. The sense of being in Rwanda makes you somehow feel at home, even though you are worlds away.

Much of your stay will be had around the dining table or around a fire. While I started off the trip a complete stranger to all of my travel industry companions, I left feeling more connected to them because of this. We shared conversation, we shared great food, but most importantly we shared the unique experience of witnessing these magnificent animals in the wild together.

One&Only Nyungwe House

To return to the experience of the gorilla trek, since that is the sole reason why most people visit Rwanda, I would like to explain a little bit more about the process so you know what to expect. The allowed hour felt like a blip, and Craig recommend to us, over the glow of the fireplace the night before, to allow ourselves 15 minutes to take photos and video, but then to just set it aside and be present with the animals. This was the best advice I could have gotten, even though it was definitely hard to do. While the permit cost is very expensive, it’s important to note that it’s meant to keep the number of tourists to a minimum and a portion of the proceeds goes toward the conservation of the national parks and the gorillas. For example, 5% goes toward the farmers who surround the national park, as sometimes the gorillas will escape the wall of the national forest and destroy the bamboo or farm crops. This 5% covers that cost to maintain or repair any damage, so that locals are incentivized not to harm them.

Rwanda Gorilla Safari Guide

As I mentioned I did two treks, and while I don’t want to go into huge detail about them, as it was such a special experience that I want to selfishly keep some things for myself, I will say that the two treks were completely different. The first was about a 3 hour hike up steep inclines of thick mud and stinging nettles. When we arrived to the Sabinyo gorilla family, we were in tight quarters with them, all huddled together on the side of the mountain. The proximity was so close that a baby, a mother and the silverback, Sabinyo, all brushed beside me as they made their way through. On my second trek, it could not have been more different. The gorilla family this time was Mahowza, and as we were approaching the national park, the family was migrating down directly toward us. We took about 20 steps inside the wall and there they were. The guides told us to hand over our backpacks and walking sticks to the porters, as poachers used to beat them with sticks and so the sight of them still makes them defensive. Since the backpacks contain food, you keep that away from them as well. We then followed them as they formed a line of about 18 gorillas, who proceeded to walk out of the national park and onto the farmland, where they happily destroyed a field of bamboo, clawing and gnawing and licking it as they rolled, climbed, and played with each other.

Commodore Perry Estate Austin Texas

Aside from the gorilla trekking, the properties arranged other activities so that we could experience it all, such as archery, drum circle, and spear throwing. Have you ever thrown an African spear? It’s not as easy as it looks, and God knows how they ever killed any animals using that method. We painted, we took a course on tea picking and tasting, we had yoga class and massages. While both places were amazing, Delice at One and Only Gorillas Nest was the best massage I’ve ever had in my life, so much so that I asked her if I could take her home with me.

  • Food at One&Only Rwanda

There was one waiter, Jean, at One and Only Nyungwe House whose excitement and happiness was so contagious, you couldn’t help but fall in love with him. Josh, a travel companion, asked him, “Do you love your job?” He beamed ear-to-ear with his wide vibrant smile and said, “I love it too much!” Being there with people like that just made your heart melt, and made me realize that while they have so little, they have more than we will ever know. The key to happiness, or that sense of being that all of us eternally long for yet never attain, belongs to the people of Rwanda. Jean, the Patricks, Esperanz, T, and so many more, have kept a piece of my heart with them. Someday I’ll return to experience it again.

If you are ready for your trip to Rwanda, please contact me here to begin planning your incredible life-changing journey. Book your next Micato Safari with Diego Travel to receive a $200 per person gift credit to the Micato online safari store towards the purchase of  apparel and gear.

Let’s Get Planning!

Rwanda Landscape

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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Orlando

Hotel Review

Four Seasons Orlando

The best resort in Orlando
MARIA DIEGO

The Four Seasons Orlando is the best resort in Orlando and a destination in and of itself. When you stay in this luxury Orlando hotel, you may never want to leave to the Disney parks like Magic Kingdom. You’ll find the magic right there in the resort, whether you’re traveling for a family vacation or an adults-only getaway.

The Four Seasons in Orlando offers the best luxury hotel stay with incredible amenities that make you feel like you’re truly visiting the Happiest Place on Earth! As a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Diego Travel clients will enjoy additional amenities to their stay like added resort credit and complimentary breakfast.

Perfect For: Family fun adventures | Multi-generational family trips | Weekend getaways | Even couples trips

28.3974,-81.5426

Four Seasons Orlando

Location: In the heart of Orlando, Four Seasons Orlando is a 26-acre lakeside paradise located within a gated residential community and conveniently located close to Walt Disney World and the rest of the parks.

Location: In the heart of Orlando, Four Seasons Orlando is a 26-acre lakeside paradise located within a gated residential community and conveniently located close to Walt Disney World and the rest of the parks.

Little Palm Island 4

Vibe: Four Seasons Orlando is a happy, welcoming luxury hotel with elegant finishings.  Whether you’re traveling as a couple, or with your family, there is a space within this large resort that will make you feel at ease.  Their adults-only pool, spa area and large gym, paired with their fine dining options are a great option if you’re traveling sans kids.  But the resort itself, particularly the 5-acre on-site waterpark, is a family-friendly paradise.

Accommodations: 359 rooms and 68 suites ranging from the Golden Oak View Suite to the Royal Suite

Food & Beverage: Four Seasons Orlando Resort has 4 restaurants and 3 lounges.  Capa is the 17th-floor rooftop steakhouse and bar.  PB&G is the lakefront and poolside bar and grill.  Plancha is at the golf clubhouse and the perfect Cuban American eatery.  Finally, Ravello is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and site of the Disney character breakfast that you’ll want to take advantage of if you’re traveling with the kiddos.

Wellness: The spa has 18 treatment rooms to get a massage after a long day of walking at the parks.  My favorite part of the spa?  The fact that they offer the Bippity Boppity Boo boutique experience for your young daughters if they’re in need of the complete princess treatment, but you don’t want to wait in the lines at Magic Kingdom for it.


Activities: An on-site 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed course will keep Dad happy while the kids are running around the 5-acre water park and Mom gets to rest poolside.  In addition to the 18-holes, you’ll have a 16-acre $2.5 million practice facility featuring undulating target greens, an 18-hole putting course, and more.  As mentioned, the on-site gym is huge and offers state-of-the-art fitness equipment. Best of all, the complimentary Kids Camp is available daily from 10 AM to 6 PM, keeping the kids entertained with a variety of indoor and outdoor activities and games.  You literally don’t need to leave this resort to go to the parks if you don’t want to!

What Sets It Apart:  The facilities!  This property is, by far, the best resort option in Orlando.  Oftentimes, clients will ask me why such a big price difference compared to the other hotels in Orlando.  Once you stay here, and utilize all that it has to offer, you’ll realize that the price difference is worth it and the value is there.

 

Plan my trip to Disneyworld/ Orlando


Diego Travel Loves: The Four Seasons Lead With Care safety protocols were the best I have seen for a hotel.  Upon arrival, our children were given their own Four Seasons backpack filled with treasures and a scavenger hunt map, that kept them entertained throughout their stay.  As a Preferred Partner of Four Seasons, the VIP welcome amenity our clients receive is over-the-top impressive!  And of course, the non-stop entertainment for the kids keeps them happy and never asking once to visit a theme park throughout our stay!

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel: 

  • Exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner Rates (excluding character breakfast)

  • Daily full American breakfast for 2

  • $100 spa credit

  • Upgrade of one category at time of check-in, subject to availability

  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

  • VIP welcome amenity

  • Diego Travel welcome box for first-time clients

 

 

Insider Tip: The Four Seasons Orlando concierge can assist with park tickets, fast passes and more. You can utilize these services free of charge to have your trip run smoothly and make sure you don’t miss out on anything you might need.  

Book Four Seasons Orlando Now With Perks

Summary of Our Stay

I planned a 2-night getaway to Four Seasons Orlando during a difficult time in our lives. After many months at home during the pandemic, my father-in-law was hospitalized with Covid for many weeks. While we were nervous about leaving Miami, there was not much we could do anyway, so we purchased travel insurance and hit the road for the Happiest Place on Earth (Ask me about insuring your trip! I recommend it every time). We needed some laughter and a place that would get our minds off the current situation, and our weekend escape did just that.

While we had taken many family vacations to Orlando prior to this trip, we never wanted to splurge on the Four Seasons Orlando because the price tag is usually much higher than the other Orlando resorts. However, I can assure you that after our stay, the hefty price tag is justified, particularly if you don’t plan to visit parks all day, every day. The resort itself is so enjoyable, from its many restaurants to in-house entertainment like kids club and activities program, the water park with water slides and lazy river, and the golfing, that there’s really no need to leave the resort to have fun.

Upon arrival, the lobby is equipped with body thermal scanners with signs reminding guests to maintain social distancing. There are also hand sanitizing stations throughout the resort, that just made us feel more assured. Our children were greeted with Four Seasons backpacks with their scavenger hunt maps inside, that would keep them busy throughout their stay. Upon arriving to our room, we were welcomed by three gigantic bags of candy for the kids, a Preferred Partner welcome amenity that is customized for each my clients.

Long day at Disney

One thing I love most about my job and working with our industry partners is being able to customize the welcome amenity for my clients, and I love Four Seasons properties because they’re always willing to make each arrival extra special. For our kids, there’s nothing better than their own bag of candy (no sharing!) and a child-size plush Four Seasons bathrobe. They changed into their swimsuits and bathrobes faster than we could say, “Mickey Mouse,” and we were down at the water park in a flash.

Because of Covid, the hotel was kept at a maximum occupancy of 50% occupancy, so it felt almost empty and the kids must have gone down the slides a dozen times before we ordered a poolside dinner. The sunset over the water park was a beautiful mixture of fiery oranges and sorbet pinks, the perfect setting where I could finally relax while my kids were happily entertained.

From the next morning’s Disney character breakfast, to enjoying the water park all day, to our youngest getting the princess royal treatment at the Four Seasons salon, it was overall just a really amazing weekend. We enjoyed a more formal dinner at Capa, overlooking the entire property and skyline, which was the icing on the cake of the sweetest family vacation that we so desperately needed. If you’re like me and don’t think that the words “Orlando” and “relaxing” can go together in the same sentence, then you should try staying at the Four Seasons Orlando on your next visit. It truly is a destination on its own and well worth the investment, especially when you book with us! Who doesn’t love getting the Preferred Partner VIP treatment throughout their stay at any of the Four Seasons?!

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Staying in Georgia’s Sea Island Vacation Rentals and Cottages

Vacation Rental Review

Staying in Georgia’s Sea Island Vacation Rentals and Cottages

Where to Stay on Sea Island
MARIA DIEGO

If you’re planning a trip to Sea Island, Georgia, and you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, you like to avoid staying in large hotel resorts, or you’re travelling as part of a bigger group, then staying at one of the Sea Island cottage rentals could be perfect for you.

Perfect For: Families | Traditional Family Gatherings 

31.1997,-81.3333

Sea Island, Georgia

Sea Island, on the coast of Georgia: Less than 1.5 hours by car from Jacksonville (JAX) or Savannah (SAV) International Airports, 20 minutes from Brunswick (BQK) regional airport or only 10 minutes from St Simons Airport (SSI) if flying private.

Sea Island, on the coast of Georgia: Less than 1.5 hours by car from Jacksonville (JAX) or Savannah (SAV) International Airports, 20 minutes from Brunswick (BQK) regional airport or only 10 minutes from St Simons Airport (SSI) if flying private.

Sea Island Cottages: Sea Island vacation rentals and cottages are a great alternative to the main Cloisters building or the Sea Island Beach Club because they offer much more space and give the feel of exclusivity being located a short distance away from the main Sea Island resort buildings. This is perfect for large or multi-generational families on vacation together and also a great option if you’d like to bring your pets along too (select cottages are pet-friendly)!

Location:  A Sea Island cottage rental also allows you to decide how far you would like to be from the main resort. Sea Island cloister cottages are right by the main building, oceanfront rentals are just a short walk from the resort or vacation houses which are a bike or golf buggy ride away. You can be as near or as far as you like from all the action!


Amenities: The self-catering facilities at Sea Island cottages give you complete flexibility for your trip, with their fully equipped kitchen and amenities in each property. The Sea Island house rentals or condos come in sizes, styles, locations and budgets to suit any vacation, and we are happy to advise you on which one is right for you and your trip.

Quality and Cleanliness Standards: A great feature of the cottages Sea Island has to offer is that they are all owned and rented through Sea Island resort itself. This means no scrolling VRBO listings or worrying about the hygiene standards of an Airbnb. Instead, all the Sea Island rentals are prepared to the same high quality standards, safety regulations and hygiene regulations as the main Sea Island Resort and Beach Club. This also means the standard of service you can expect is the same as staying at a hotel and significantly higher than you would receive at a vacation rental listing property.


Additional Value when You Book Sea Island with Diego Travel

Another bonus when you book a Sea Island cottage rental through Diego Travel is the $100 per day resort credit that you’ll receive. If you do the math, that comes to $700 for a week-long stay or $1400 for two weeks! This offer is exclusively for booking Sea Island, Georgia rentals and cottages with Diego Travel and comes at no added cost to you. Plus, you will get the knowledge of a professional to help you book the best Sea Island cottage for you and your family.  Should you want additional travel planning help with scheduling activities or dining reservations, we also offer that service for an additional fee.  

With the extra resort credit to look forward to, why not treat yourself to a few extras? Sea Island cottages all offer daily housekeeping at an additional cost. You can even request that the kitchen and fridge be fully stocked in preparation for your arrival so you can get that high quality service, without having to stay in the main hotel.

Let’s Get Planning Your Vacation to Sea Island

Whether you’re planning a long weekend or a two-week vacation at Sea Island, Georgia, house rentals are a great option for that home-away-from-home feeling but with all the perks of staying at a resort. Reach out today to see how Diego Travel can help you plan the perfect island getaway for you.

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10 Graduation Trip Ideas for Every Budget and Travel Style

Travel + Leisure
April 4, 2024
By Lydia Mansel

When it comes to graduation trips, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how or where you should travel; they can run the gamut from quick beach weekends to week-long, multi-country adventures. It all depends on your preference, budget, and availability. To help narrow down your choices, we spoke with two of Travel + Leisure’s trusted A-List advisors, Maria Diego of Diego Travel and Jean Sanz of JSB Journeys, to curate a list of the best graduation trip ideas.

St. Barts

While Diego notes that she wouldn’t recommend St. Barts for a high school graduation trip, it is a special, celebratory destination that could be a good option for those graduating from college. In Diego’s words, it’s an “island that outshines them all,” and if you visit in the late summer (as opposed to the popular winter season), you’ll often see lower prices and fewer crowds. “Eden Rock is always a popular choice if you want to see and be seen, or if you’re looking for more of a hideaway with an ultra-chic clientele and [a] lower-key beach club, I recommend Le Toiny,” she says.

National Park Road Trip

“A road trip is always a great way to celebrate a milestone. We have some of the most beautiful parks and animals on the planet in our own backyard,” says Diego. If you’re planning an extended graduation trip, spread out over several weeks, you could try to plot out some of our nation’s biggest national parks out West— from the Great Sand Dunes to Zion — and check them all off on an epic road trip. But if you’re only planning on traveling for about a week, and you still want to see some impressive wildlife and scenery, head to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, which are about an hour’s drive from one another. Most travelers fly into Jackson Hole Airport, the only commercial airport within a U.S. national park, and use Jackson Hole as their base camp for exploring Grand Teton National Park over a period of two to three days. Yellowstone takes a bit more time; plan on spending three to four days traversing the park and checking off your top highlights and points of interest.

Rwanda

“I think Africa is the perfect option for a graduation trip, particularly gorilla trekking in Rwanda,” says Diego. “In order to do the chimpanzee and gorilla treks, the minimum age requirement is 18, which would be a fantastic age to have this experience.” She also suggests starting your trip at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital of Rwanda: “While extremely sad, it is very educational and sets a context for the entirety of the trip.  Once you see the history of what this small country has gone through, and overcome, it changes you in a very impactful way.  I can’t think of a better gift to share with a young adult than the entire experience that is Rwanda.”

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10 best babymoon destinations to fit in some last-minute relaxation

Babycenter
March 19, 2024
By Sarah Bruning

Whether you’re craving some pre-kid adventure or just want to lay on the beach and do nothing, these parent-approved options have you covered.

Experts say: “The Alila is one of the only hotels on the water in the area, with a short hike down to the beach. The pool is on the smaller side, but the hotel has an adults-only vibe even though they do welcome children. I love that the spa at this hotel uses all local skincare products, and everything is organic. The property loans out bikes, so you can take your cruiser through Leucadia, Encinitas and even down to Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach to visit local shops and restaurants. For travelers on a budget, I love sister properties the Sea Bird and Mission Pacific. They’re both Hyatt Prive properties in Oceanside, located on the beach right next to the pier. The small house where Top Gun was filmed is situated right between the two hotels. They both have fantastic dining and pools, but Mission Pacific has a slightly more adults-only vibe and a more modern aesthetic. I also love nearby downtown Carlsbad for exploring beyond Oceanside.” – Maria Diego

Experts say: “My favorite hotel for a Miami babymoon is Four Seasons at the Surf Club, located just south of Bal Harbour in North Miami Beach. This historical landmark underwent a massive renovation with new additions to the original Surf Club, and offers a quiet reprieve to the buzz of South Beach. The spa is phenomenal, the service is arguably the best in Miami Beach (I lived there for 20 years and tried them all), and the aesthetic is old-world chic Floridian.”– Maria Diego

Experts say: “Charleston can be experienced in so many ways, so for a babymoon, I really like the location of Hotel Bennett, which is slightly outside of the central tourist district in downtown Charleston but still walking distance to everything. They also have a rooftop pool, which is a nice place to relax after a day of shopping and dining in Charleston’s fantastic restaurants. I also love Zero George, which is a small boutique hotel that has been beautifully restored in a historical building.” – Maria Diego

Experts say: “For upstate New York, I love Wildflower Farms, a new wellness-oriented Auberge Resorts Collection property. It offers 65 free-standing cottages – perfect for privacy and romance – and it’s also easy to get to from New York City. Troutbeck is another Hudson River Valley favorite, which recently debuted The Barns, a wellness center that offers mamas-to-be both massages and an acupuncture-style facial.” – Maria Diego

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Hotel Review: Four Seasons Hualalai

Diego Travel Hotel Review

Four Seasons Hualalai

A Big Island, Hawaii Luxury Resort
MARIA DIEGO

Located on a half-mile stretch of beach along the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, Four Seasons Hualalai happens to be the driest part of the island. The resort features 252 newly renovated rooms and suites, a Jack Nicklaus championship golf course, a world-class spa and fitness center, a marine biology center, tennis, on-site ocean activities, retail shops, eight pools including Kings Pond, cultural experiences, and many restaurant options. Of all the Hawaiian resorts, Four Seasons Hualalai offers the most variety of things to do and see.

Perfect For: Families | Weddings | Multi-Generational Families | Groups | Couples | Golfers | Honeymoons

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai Pool

Location:
  • 19.8278417,-155.991648

    Four Seasons Hualalai Pool

    Four Seasons Hualalai

  • 19.743906,-156.0422959812206

    Kona International Airport

Only a 13-minute drive (or 7 miles) from Kona International Airport (KOA), Four Seasons Hualalai is easily accessible as a non-stop option from many major hubs in the continental Unites States. We recommend renting a car if you plan to explore, or we can set up airport transfers for you, if you’re just looking to relax and stay on property.

Four Seasons Hualalai Location

Vibe:

Four Seasons Hualalai Vibe

The most luxurious resort option on the Big Island, and arguably all of Hawaii, the Four Seasons Resorts have long been a Hawaii-fan favorite of the luxury travel jetsetters. With four crescents and another set of rooms and villas along the 18-hole golf course, the Four Seasons Hualalai feels like four boutique hotels within a resort. There is truly an area for everyone, whether you are traveling alone, with your loved one and want peace and quiet, or with kids and need multiple rooms. At this resort, it’s important to select the right area of the resort that fits your needs, and we are here to do just that.

After a renovation in 2019, the Four Seasons Hualalai is an exclusive enclave for golf, sunbath on one of the many sandy beaches, bike along the black volcanic rock, or dine at one of the five restaurants around the property. While the resort is large, it is spread out, so you will have ultimate privacy and every amenity for the most selective luxury traveler.

ACCOMMODATIONS:

Four Seasons Hualalai Bedroom

There are rooms, suites, specialty suites and up to 5-bedroom villas. The main differences in room view categories – poolside are the ground floor rooms, ocean view will be set back, but still have ocean views, prime ocean view rooms are set on the upper floors of the two-story bungalows, while the oceanfront views will be front and center to the ocean. Rooms are all 635 square feet, so massive by Hawaii standards.

Four Seasons Hualalai Bathroom

We recommend staying in a specialty suite, where you’ll be taken care of by your own concierge team with customized inclusions, and each suite has its own Peloton bike and fitness equipment. My favorite was the 3-bedroom Hawaii Loa Presidential Suite, where you can walk straight out to the beach, or watch passing humpback whales from bed. Perfect for entertaining or for privacy, you’ll receive daily breakfast and a $200 hotel credit with your Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities when you book your stay with Diego Travel.

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FOOD & BEVERAGE:

  • There are five options for dining at Four Seasons Hualalai, which is more than most properties on the Big Island. With an emphasis on local ingredients, more than 75% off what is served comes from a combined 160 local farms. In addition, you have the Hualalai Trading Company, a casual grab-and-go for snacks, morning coffees or afternoon ice cream, and they sell cute apparel and beach items as well.

  • Restaurants La Reserve Paris

  • BookFour Seasons Hualalai

  • ‘ULU Ocean Grill (and sushi bar) is their award winning fine dining, where you can eat under the stars on dishes infusing fresh, local ingredients with flavors found around the Pacific Rim. We loved our poke bowl at Beach Tree, a casual beachside restaurant where you can dine on the sand or at one of the open-air tables on the patio. Finally, Miller & Lux is an intimate seafood and raw bar experience on the golf course, led by Chef Tyler Florence.

ACTIVITIES:

  • One of my family’s favorite things about Four Seasons Resorts is the Four Seasons Kids for All Seasons programming they offer, which incorporates engaging, fun and educational activities included with your stay! For kids ages 5 to 12, they’ll be entertained with arts and crafts, outdoor activities and sports, swimming and meeting kids from around the world. At the Kumu Kai Marine Center, they’ll learn about ocean health and marine life and the team really sparks a passion in your kids’ curiosity. While most resorts forget about the older kids, Four Seasons Hualalai offers ages 9 to 17 time at Camp Manitou, an exclusive partnership with one of the nation’s foremost summer camps, offered during peak family vacation times. Campers will explore beyond the resort to visit secret beaches, exploring lava tubes and waterfalls, and making friends, so they get off their phones and enjoy new experiences.

  • Four Seasons Hualalai Pond

  • Paris Seine River

  • While the kids are playing and entertained, the adults can play pickleball and tennis, golf, bike, hike or enjoy water sports like canoeing, surfing or stand up paddleboarding. The property literally has it all, and if they don’t you’ll find helicopter tours just off property, which can jet you to anywhere on the island in no time for advanced hiking, seeing volcanos, waterfalls or farms.
  • A private boat charter is always one of the highlights of any trip to Hawaii. Four Seasons Hualalai offers both a zodiac for shorter snorkeling trips and an outrigger boat for exploring a bit further to go whale watching, or find private beaches for a picnic lunch.

  • Paris Seine River

  • Hawaii Whales

  • Off property, there is so much more to explore beyond on the Big Island of Hawaii, such as night time manta ray diving, private helicopter tours, or snorkeling in the Kealakekua Bay. You also won’t want to miss the Lu’au that happens every two weeks and is exclusive to Four Seasons guests, so be sure to reserve your dining in advance so you don’t miss out on this cultural experience.

  • Services & Fees

    Services & Fees

WELLNESS:

Perhaps my favorite part of Four Seasons Hualalai is the 28,000-square-foot Spa and Apothecary, which feels decidedly Hawaiian. They offer whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and cold plunges, along with a lap pool, which has become in high demand when the Big Island hosts the annual Ironman competition.

Four Seasons Hualalai Spa
Four Seasons Hualalai Spa

Entering into the spa, you’ll walk through winding paths tucked between lava rock walls and trickling waterfalls, where you’ll be invited into a freestanding open-air cabana. I recommend the signature Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, a sacred healing art handed down from generations. I love that they use local ingredients and fragrance-infused oils in all their treatments. You’ll feel like you’re melting into the earth and never want to leave.

What  Sets  It  Apart:

Four Seasons Hualalai Lagoon

As I already mentioned, King’s Pond is a unique attribute that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Four Seasons Hualalai recently added an elevated, infinity-edge pool that overlooks the pond, where you can marvel over its thousands of fish and resident eagle ray, swimming around the pond. The marine activity center allows you and your kids to become little marine biologists in the making, which is truly a unique experience to Four Seasons Hualalai.

In addition to King’s Pond, Four Seasons Hualalai offers exclusive experiences, such as visiting a local coffee farm with a Hawaiian blacksmith to create a unique, personalized knife, or snorkeling along the Kona Kohala coastline with a champion freediver.

Four Seasons Hualalai Suites

Diego Travel Loves…

In addition to everything already mentioned in this article about Hawaii’s most exclusive hotel, Four Seasons Hualalai, we want to share with you the hotel’s newest bungalows, Kekaha and Kahawai, which has walk-out access to the beach.  These bungalows can be combined to create a 6-bedroom villa, perfect for families traveling together. 

For the ultimate romantic getaway, book a couples nest, which runs you $350/day but includes a dedicated server and cocktails and can include a massage for an additional cost.  Book the Palm Grove Crescent, which is the adults-only area of the hotel.  We can also arrange a special beach dinner for you, which comes with a personalized menu, tiki torches, a blessing from an ‘uncle,’ ukulele player, and hula dancers.

Four Seasons Hualalai Suites

How Much Does it Cost?

Rates start at $1200/night for the poolside room, but as a Four Seasons Preferred Partner client, you’ll have access to exclusive promos like upgrade at time of booking (going on now) or 3rd night free. Before booking, you should always contact me to ask about our promos, which you won’t find direct on the Four Seasons website.

BookFour Seasons Hualalai

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:
  • Daily full breakfast for two people per bedroom, served in a hotel restaurant or through In-Room Dining
  • Hotel/Resort Credit* (based on room category booked):
  • Guest Rooms: USD 100 credit per stay
  • Suites and Specialty Suites: USD 200 credit per stay
  • Private Retreats: USD 200 credit per bedroom per stay
  • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in**
  • Welcome box for new Diego Travel clients with custom trip planning

    Book Four Seasons Hualalai Now With Perks

    Diego Travel Insider Tips:

    Average length of stay is 4-5 nights, but we say 7 is just perfect in order to allow you to completely disconnect and fall into the rhythm of island life.

    When booking your spa appointment, ask for an outdoor treatment room; they can be closed off from the elements, and the open ocean air is divine during a treatment!

    Reef-friendly complimentary sunscreen is offered throughout the resort, so if you forgot your sun protection at home or back in your room, they have you covered.

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    Hotel Review: La Réserve Hotel and Spa Paris

    Diego Travel Hotel Review

    La Réserve Hotel and Spa Paris

    An Insider’s Address Just Off the Champs-Elysées
    MARIA DIEGO

    One of the best kept secrets of in-the-know travelers who frequent Paris, La Réserve Paris Hotel and Spa is the Parisian address you want on your radar. With 40 rooms and suites, this boutique hotel is the smallest of the famed Palace hotels of Paris. Refined without feeling pretentious, elegant without feeling stuffy, every detail of your stay is thoughtfully looked after and ultra-personalized.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that La Réserve had not been on my radar, prior to an invitation to a travel industry event, in which I was invited to stay at this luxury hotel for four nights. With very little prior research before my stay, I can now say that I have never enjoyed myself more in the City of Light than I did while staying here.

    The essence of La Réserve is the combination of warm hospitality from its attentive, yet unobtrusive staff, and the cozy, yet ever-so-chic venues like the Duc de Morny Library and the irresistible Bar Le Gaspard. I found myself returning to my newfound home away from home each evening, exhausted after long days of meetings, yet not wanting to retreat to my suite. Instead, I found myself a velvety-tufted seat alone downstairs enjoying the background buzz of French chatter, live music softly playing in the next room, and the cozy warmth of a crackling fireplace. The bartender managed to get it just right each time I told him to surprise me. After the first night of a midnight solo dinner of filet de bœuf with sauce au poivre, the waiter greeted me every subsequent night with a warm smile and a heavily-accented, “The usual?” I’m hard-pressed to think of a more romantic hotel in Paris, or one that makes you feel so at home.

    Perfect For: Romantic Getaways | The Business Traveler Who Wants Personalized Service | Families | First-Time Visitors to Paris | 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-Time Visitors to Paris | Anniversary Trips

    La Réserve Hotel and Spa Paris

    La Reserve Paris

    Location:

    48.8696988,2.3132448

    Florida Keys

    La Réserve Hotel and Spa Paris

    Midway between Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées, La Réserve Paris – Hotel and Spa overlooks some of the city’s key sights: the Eiffel Tower, the Pantheon, and the Grand Palais. It’s located on the Right Bank of Paris, in the 8th arrondissement.

    La Reserve Paris Location

    Vibe:

    It wasn’t long into my stay before I realized that the well-traveled, and well-heeled guests staying at La Réserve were not your typical first-timers to Paris. Perhaps they’d tried the Hotel George V or The Ritz and wanted something a little less flashy and a lot more discrete.  Perhaps they appreciated the gesture of the extra phone charger left in the room when they had forgotten theirs at home, without ever needing to ask.  Perhaps they all had a mutual understanding and respect for discrepancy and the shared values of the art of sophisticated travel.  Guests seemed they type to appreciate the old-world butler service, where your suitcase is meticulously unpacked, and your shoes are shining when you return to your room after a long day of sight-seeing and shopping.  I loved this subtle sheen that illuminates every surface of your experience at La Réserve.

    During my stay, there was a president of an unnamed country staying at the hotel, along with his large team of security and staff.  Even though it is a small property, their presence did not take away at all from the experience of other guests.  The only nuisance was that the street was closed off by French policy, so was inaccessible to taxis or car services.  The friendly bellman saw to it to personally accompany me the block over to hail and taxi for me, and to carry my bags upon my return. It was very apparent during every moment of my stay that their team truly cares and gets to know their guests, which in turn creates a repeat customer, lending itself to that home-away-from-home feel.

    ACCOMMODATIONS:

    La Reserve Suites Photo Courtesy La Reserve Paris

    The entry level room at La Réserve is quite spacious by Paris standards, boasting 430 square feet. All rooms and suites come with an Italian marble bathroom with double basin sink, bath tub with separate walk-in shower, which bath amenities in the signature La Réserve scent (it might just be worth a stay only to snag a bottle of this heaven scent)! Beyond that, there are 12 different room and suite categories, with 25 of those being suites. Some look onto a leafy and quiet courtyard, while others have panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower. My favorite was the Grand Palais Suite, a palatial suite of 2,153 square feet that sleeps six people. In 1900, the Grand Palais had been built to magnify “French art” at the World’s Fair. Today, this suite also pays tribute to a proud French heritage, with its authentic Napoleon III furniture, its antiques lovingly collected over the years, as well as its historical or contemporary works bridging the centuries. You can have it as your own, and enjoy the stunning views of the Eiffel Tower from your private balcony with personalized butler service.

    La Reserve Paris Rooms Photo Courtesy La Reserve Paris

    Beyond the main hotel, La Réserve also offers Paris apartments, which are perfect for those longer stays or when you’re traveling with the whole family or large group of friends. From 1 bedroom to 4 bedroom options, these apartments in Paris come with a dedicated butler, 24/7 concierge service, valet and indoor parking, 24/7 security, dedicated housekeeping to take care of your daily shopping, laundry and ironing, a gourmet welcome amenity and daily breakfast served in your apartment. I get many requests for apartment stays in Paris, and La Réserve apartments are quite possibly my favorite selection.

    Plan my trip to Paris

    FOOD & BEVERAGE:

    • As I mentioned in the introduction to the hotel, the culinary experience at La Réserve Paris Hotel and Spa is perhaps at the forefront of your stay and a large part of your unforgettable experience. Even the locals frequent the restaurants, as I witnessed myself each night. While each day I opted to have breakfast on the patio of my room, which is always included with your stay when you book with Diego Travel, the options were endless and authentically delicious.

    • Restaurants La Reserve Paris

    • Restaurant La Pagode Paris

    • Led by the Michelin two-starred Executive Chef Jérôme Banctel, Le Gabriel offers a three, seven or nine-course menu, which is great to share amongst friends or for that special celebratory dinner with your loved one. La Pagode de Cos is the more casual and contemporary option, prepared by that same Michelin team. I already mentioned the library and bar in my intro, but it’s important to note that all spaces can be privatized, which I also witnessed with the presidential stay during my time there.

    ACTIVITIES:

    • One of my confessions as a travel advisor is that I am my own worst travel planner. As I always prioritize my clients’ travel needs, I rarely anticipate my own and find myself with unsettled plans wherever and whenever I travel. I suppose it was my own way of testing out the Clefs d’Or concierge service that La Réserve provides to their guests, but I nonchalantly passed by the desk one morning on my way to meetings to request a highly-sought after appointment at a nearby designer boutique. Before 10 AM, I had a text message to my phone, confirming my pre-opening appointment at the famous Chanel on 31 Rue Cambon. Now that’s magic!

    • Chanel

    • Paris Seine River

    • The activity options in Paris are endless and will totally depend on what you’re into – art, culinary, history, fashion, cycling, etc. Typically, I pre-plan my clients’ trips to Paris with a full itinerary of these activities, tailoring each day to their personal needs. However, if you’re just booking your hotel stay with me, I wouldn’t hesitate to use their concierge team to provide exceptional and unique Paris experiences.
    • Another key point I was thoroughly impressed with was their ability to curate your stay, whether you are traveling alone, with a romantic partner or with young children. They customize your welcome amenity each time, and provide personal details and offer activities according to you.

    • Plan my trip to Paris

      Plan my trip to Paris

    WELLNESS:

    The spa at La Réserve offers a 16m indoor pool that is heated to a comfortable temperature year-round, along with a hammam, fitness studio and 3 treatment rooms. While on the smaller side, the emphasis again is on personalization. They offer personalized fitness instructors and can personalize your facial to best suite your needs, using Swiss anti-aging beauty products from Nescens.

    La Reserve Paris Pool-Photo Courtesy La Reserve

    What  Sets  It  Apart:

    Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

    If I haven’t made my point yet, this hotel is all about the personal touch, and making you feel comfortable and at home while at the same time being elegant, sophisticated and Parisian chic. I don’t know if it was just because I was so tired every night from working, but I don’t think I have ever slept in such a comfortable bed. I actually dream of returning to Paris, just to sleep here! While the room, furnishings and finishes were classically beautiful, I think what set it apart was truly the level of service that their team provides.

    Isla Bella-Diego Travel Guide

    Diego Travel Loves…
    La Réserve receives our vote for the most romantic hotel in Paris. From its central yet quiet location, to its lush finishes like silk walls, velvet drapes, and brocade taffeta, the romanticism is an endless experience at this Paris hotel. I also love that there are many interconnecting options for families, which is hard to come by in a historical building such as this one. The authenticity of the La Réserve experience is second to none.

    Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

    How Much Does it Cost?
    Rates start around 1,600 Euros per night for the Prestige Room, which again, based on size, is comparable to a mid-level room at any other hotel. During high season, that same room can go for 2,800 Euros per night. Some suites can go for 21,000 Euros per night. As a member of Virtuoso, our clients receive exclusive access to promotional rates, as well as daily breakfast, a $100 hotel credit, and priority upgrade with your stay. We also have a personal relationship with the hotel, where we can assist in hand-picking the right accommodation for your special time in Paris.

    Diego Travel Extras at La Reserve Paris

    Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:
    • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
    • Daily Full Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
    • $100 USD equivalent Resort credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
    • Complimentary round-trip airport/train private transfers in an E-Class Mercedes
    • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi
    • Welcome box for new Diego Travel clients with custom trip planning

      Book La Reserve With Perks

      Diego Travel Insider Tips:

      Utilize the insider access of the concierge. They will recommend local eateries, entertainment, and the last-minute key to Chanel when needed!

      Some suites include a selection of 30 refreshments in your in-room bar.

      La Reserve Paris-Photo Courtesy La Reserv

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      Hotel Review: Isla Bella Beach Resort

      Diego Travel Hotel Review

      Isla Bella Beach Resort

      A Barefoot Luxury Resort in the Florida Keys
      MARIA DIEGO

      One of the best ways to experience the Florida Keys, Isla Bella Beach Resort is a 199-room resort that is located between Islamorada and Key West, just at the threshold of the iconic Seven Mile Bridge. Completely renovated in 2020, Isla Bella sets a new standard for modern luxury resorts in the Florida Keys, and provides a one-stop shop for your perfect beach vacation.

      Perfect For: Families | Weddings | Multi-Generational Families | Bachelorette and Bachelor Parties | Couples | Boaters | Divers | Fishing

      ISLA BELLA BEACH RESORT

      Isla Bella

      Location:

      24.70539615,-81.1195734631537

      Florida Keys

      Isla Bella Beach Resort

      Only a 1-hour drive (or 45 miles) from Key West International Airport (EYW) or a 2 hour 30 minute drive (or 115 miles) from Miami International Airport (MIA). We recommend renting a car, and when possible, flying into Key West and out of Miami.

      7 Mile Bridge

      Vibe:

      We traveled to the Florida Keys frequently, since my parents lived there for 15 years.  Isla Bella Beach Resort was a welcome addition, as the Keys were sorely lacking in luxury hotel options.  Aside from Little Palm Island, which is adults only, Isla Bella Beach Resort is one of only a handful of resorts that we recommend to our clients traveling to the Keys.

      While this is a nearly 200-room resort, the property is expansive, particularly for the Florida Keys, sitting on one mile of waterfront.  One thing to note is that the Florida Keys does not have any natural beaches, so any sandy beaches you find will have rock retaining walls or be man-made.  Fortunately, Isla Bella Beach Resort has a beach where you can wade into the water.

      With the new renovation, Isla Bella Beach Resort is a premiere beach resort in Florida and the Florida Keys.  With its 5 oceanfront pools, there is a spot for everyone, whether you want to remain with an adults-only vibe, or join the kid-friendly areas of the resort.

      The rooms and common areas are light, white and bright, with blue nautical accents that are perfect for the tropical blues of the Keys.

      ACCOMMODATIONS:

      Isla Bella Rooms

      There are 14 different room and suite categories at Isla Bella Beach Resort, ranging from oceanfront balcony rooms to luxe beachside suites.  They also have a myriad of connectivity options, so when traveling with multiple families or kids, there is something for everyone.  When booking with Diego Travel, we can advise you not only on what room category will be best for you, but also where you’ll be most likely to get upgraded. 

      Isla Bella Accommodations

      We always love the beachside rooms, as you have a larger terrace and direct access to the beach and pools, whereas when you are in a balcony room, you will need to access through the hallway and elevator or stairs.

      FOOD & BEVERAGE:

      • The Florida Keys is not particularly well-known for its cuisine.  A lot of fried catch-of-the-day and a concentrated interest in beverages often referenced in Jimmy Buffet songs, my expectations weren’t high for the food offerings at Isla Bella Beach Resort.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and variety of meal options.   

      • Isla Bella-Restaurants

      • Isla Bella-Food and Beverage

      • Mahina is their Polynesian-inspired and main restaurant, where I loved the Hawaaiian Style Ahi Poke and their crafted cocktails (for me, a mocktail!) at the bar that overlooks the ocean.  They also recently opened a new dining outlet, Sushi Cabana, that seats 55 underneath outdoor palm trees and umbrellas. 

      • The Marketplace is another eatery that provides grab-and-go snacks, drinks, and goodies to take home.  In this 5,000-square-foot open floor plan building, you can grab breakfast and schedule your day’s plan at the Watersports Activity Center, which is conveniently located right on property.

      • Isla Bella-Marketplace

      ACTIVITIES:

      • One of my family’s favorite things about the Florida Keys is getting out on the water. I always tell people that if they’re visiting the Florida Keys for a great beach, they’ve selected the wrong destination.  The Florida Keys is unparalleled for domestic boating – snorkeling, fishing, sailing, scuba diving, kayaking and even stand up paddle boarding in the Florida mangroves.

      • Isla Bella-Boating

      • Isla Bella-Activities

      • Aside from watersports activities and lounging by the pool, we always recommend a day trip to Key West and one to Islamorada.  Clients who book their hotel stay with Diego Travel to use our custom trip planning to create a bespoke itinerary or read our Florida Keys Destination Guide for our dining and activity recommendations for the Florida Keys.
      • Isla Bella also offers an on-property activities schedule that includes fun things like beachfront yoga, sandcastle building, and gelato happy hours.  They also have activities for the adults like paint & sip for those 21 and up.

      • Plan My Trip To Isla Bella

        Plan My Trip To Isla Bella

      WELLNESS:

      The spa at at Isla Bella Beach Resort is light and airy, and they offer a full treatment menu from massages to facials.  They also have a special place for brides and bridal parties to get ready before a destination wedding.  The 4,000-square-foot spa has 5 treatment rooms with a steam room located in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms.  While next to the spa, they have a 1,000-square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment.

      What  Sets  It  Apart:

      Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

      This resort truly makes it easy!  The on-site marina is super convenient, so that you don’t have to drive off property to get to a boat.  In Islamorada, most resorts will require a short drive to a nearby marina, but I really like the fact that Isla Bella’s boat charters are right there. 

      For families, Isla Bella is ideal for its room configurations.  No other property in the Florida Keys compares, and some rooms even have a kitchenette for those extended stays when you want to have some meals ‘at home.’  Rooms have a fresh, clean feel, which you don’t get at a lot of other properties.

      Isla Bella-Diego Travel Guide

      Diego Travel Loves…

      In addition to everything already mentioned in this article about the Florida Keys, we love that this resort is a great destination for those who want a Caribbean vacation without needing a passport.  From the occasional steel drum bands you’ll find in the Keys, to the outdoor, laid-back easy vibe it offers, you can have a great sunshine-filled vacation without breaking the bank or leaving the country. 

      Isla Bella Beach Resort Marketplace

      How Much Does it Cost?

      Rates start as low as $295/night for the entry-level rooms, but during high seasons can go up to $1500/night.  The good news is, as a member of Virtuoso, our clients receive exclusive access to promotional rates, as well as daily breakfast, a $100 hotel credit, and priority upgrade with your stay.  If you’re considering staying at Isla Bella, email us (hyperlink) to ask if there are any exclusive offers that are not available to the public.

      Isla Bella Resort

      Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:
      • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
      • Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant
      • $100 USD equivalent Resort credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
      • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
      • Complimentary Wi-Fi
      • Exclusive offers not available to the public

      Book Isla Bella With Perks

      Diego Travel Insider Tips:

      Request rooms somewhere near the middle blocks. You’re far enough away from the main building to avoid the noisier areas, but not too far away to walk to the main restaurants and marina. 

      You can do a guided run on the newly opened pedestrian stretch of the bridge that spans 2.2 miles. The guide has lived in the Keys for 14 years and while you run or jog together, he can provide insight to his favorite recommendations for the Keys. 

      The cabanas are worth the splurge!  You’ll have poolside service and includes a Pelican cooler with drinks (8 alcoholic, 4 non-alcoholic, and 4 popsicles). The cost is $550 from 9 AM to 6 PM and accommodates up to 4 people.

      Isla Bella Pool


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      The Florida Keys

      The Florida Keys

      Why Your Next Vacation Should Be in The Florida Keys
      MARIA DIEGO

      February 3, 2024 

      The Florida Keys are made up of 5 main keys that start at Key Largo, followed by Islamorada, then Marathon, then the Lower Keys and finally Key West. To drive from Miami to Key West takes about 3 hours, so all the Keys can be covered in one trip. The Florida Keys have had recent renovations to Little Palm Island and Cheeca Lodge & Spa and notable additions to the luxury hotel lineup over the last five years including Isla Bella Beach Resort, Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort and The Islands of Islamorada.

      Perfect For: Romantic Getaways | Honeymoons & Anniversaries | Fishermen | Scuba Divers

      The Florida Keys Family Travel Guide

      SS Truman

      Getting There

      Fly: From 1.5-3 hours by car from Miami International Airport MIA) or fly into Key West International (EYW). Alternatively all of the keys are accesible by private yacht or sailboat..

      Recommended Stay: Weekend getaway to one week.

      Elevation: 0 feet

      Best Time of Year to Visit: March to November

      The Florida Keys
      • 24.9780,-80.5497

        Isla Morada

      • 24.7110,-81.0897

        Marathon

      • 24.6237,-81.4007

        Little Palm Island

      What to do

      The biggest misconception about the Florida Keys is that there are plenty of sandy beaches. I hate to break it to you, but there’s not! The Keys are all about getting out on a boat for fishing, snorkeling, cruises and exploring marine and wildlife. The nightlife can be pretty great too, if you visit at the right times of the year.

      • Snorkeling

        From Key Largo to Key West, the dive spots in the Florida Keys are numerous and plentiful with fish and protected sea life. With dive spots like Hens and Chickens or Looe Key, your best bet is to go with a guide that can take you to a spot where you will see the most fish while snorkeling. Also, there are spots better suited for children if you’re traveling as a family. We also like taking stand up paddle boards with a few masks and snorkels and swimming in shallow areas in the bayside.

      • Fishing

        There are seasons for catching lobster and certain types of fish, and they have to meet size criteria prior to catching them. The local Coast Guard will pull you over and check your cooler, measuring each and every fish – it’s happened to us on more than one occasion – so unless you’re an experienced fisherman with a boat in the Keys, it’s best to leave it to the professionals and hire a company that specializes in fishing while you visit. An expert fishing captain will be able to take you to the right spot whether bottom fishing or trolling, and the Keys is a whole lot of water to take a shot in the dark.

      • Sunset Cruises and Sailing

        Another option if you’re not a huge fan of fishing is sailing or a sunset cruise. I am the black sheep in my family because I am the only one who isn’t a huge fan of spear fishing, free diving and line fishing. I usually stick to the boat, unless the water is over 80 degrees or I’m getting too sea sick from rough seas to stay on the boat. Then I go in for a swim. What I love most about boats is riding at sunset, especially on a calm day. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss while in the Florida Keys, is catching a sunset from either a boat or the view at Pierre’s or Morada Bay (more on that later).

      • Marine & Wildlife Sanctuaries

        If you love animals or are traveling with children, youre not going to want to miss a visit to a Wildlife Sanctuary.  While there are too many to count, the Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area offers a hammock forest, coastal rock and mangroves with hiking, cycling and paddling trails.  The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon are two other must-sees and personal favorites.  Plus, each time you visit one of these places, the entry fee goes toward their maintenance costs so that you can help continue their mission.

      Where to Stay in The Florida Keys

      Little Palm Island

      Little Palm Island

      I wrote a whole blog on Little Palm Island because it’s just that special of a place. Little Palm Island is the only private island resort in the United States and an adults-only hotel, perfect for a weekend getaway, a honeymoon, or to celebrate an anniversary. With 30 suites that dot the perimeter of the island, every suite has a gorgeous ocean view. The resort just underwent a massive post-hurricane renovation and now features all-new cozy, romantic suites. The impeccable attention to every detail in its design is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway and his era.

      What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

      • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
      • Daily Full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in restaurant or via in-room dining
      • $100 USD equivalent Resort or Hotel credit utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
      • Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
      • Complimentary Wi-Fi

      Promotions Available for Diego Travel Clients:

      Stay 4 nights and pay for only 3 nights!

      *Book by February 29, 2024, for stays through December 26, 2024. Exclusions and blackout dates apply.

      Isla Bella

      Isla Bella Resort

      Isla Bella Resort is a new property featuring 199 oceanfront suites. It’s very rare to find a resort with all ocean views, but Isla Bella did it beautifully. With a name meaning Beautiful Island, what more would you expect? The rooms and suites are spacious and airy, decorated bright white with accents of coastal blue. They come in a variety of options, from one and two-bedroom guest rooms to suites with a kitchenette, making an extended stay very practical. What I love most are the first floor rooms that have direct access to the oceanfront sand and pools. You have your own oceanfront porch where you can sit outside, read a book, and watch guests ride back and forth on the property bicycles. These ground floor options also allow for social-distancing, as you wouldn’t need to enter through common areas like the hallways or elevators.

      Isla Bella’s property is large, with a “town square” area that consists of a large marketplace with a cafe, the spa, conference space, and retail shopping with the cutest beach and resort wear and any pool toys and floaties your kids might need. One of the coolest things about Isla Bella is its Watersports Activity Center. Like I mentioned earlier in the blog, if you haven’t gotten out on the water, then you haven’t experienced the Keys. Isla Bella offers all the water sports right there for your convenience with brand new boats, fishing equipment and even jet ski and kayak rentals. They are top-notch professionals and I highly recommend a stay here just to make use of this amazing water sports center.

      What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

      • Priority upgrade to next room category at check in, subject to availability
      • Daily Full breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom, served in the restaurant
      • $100 Resort Credit, Per Stay
      • Priority early check In & late check out, subject to availability
      • Complimentary Wi-Fi

      4th Night Free on Premium Rooms in the Florida Keys

      Isla Bella Beach Resort & Spa is excited to extend Diego Travel clients a 4th Night Free Promotion, on select premium guestrooms & suites, valid for stays through December 19, 2024!

      Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort

      Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort

      Far from the crowds and tourist traps, yet within reach of the area’s best attractions, Tranquility Bay is a tropical escape situated in 12 waterfront acres in the heart of the Florida Keys.

      Located one mile up the road from Isla Bella. Tranquility Bay offers a laid back vibe and an excellent alternative to vacation rentals. The property offers mostly 2 & 3-bedroom water/beach front Townhomes with full kitchens. The resort features 3 pools, minigolf course, beach bar and one of Marathon’s most popular restaurants, Butterfly Café.

      What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

      • Discounted Rates

      • Daily $30 Food & Beverage Credit

      The Cloister at Sea Island

      The Islands of Islamorada

      The Islands of Islamorada are in the heart of downtown Islamorada, close to the best restaurants and shops. I toured them prior to completion and let me tell you, these luxury private villas are guaranteed to be the place to stay in the Florida Keys. Each 3-story private villa has 3 spacious king bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms plus a fourth bunk or twin room. 11 of the villas come with an elevator and the open floor plan with full kitchen, dining and living room look out to the ocean. Swoon!

      The Palm Beach area owners were thoughtful in not only the interior design, but the exterior design and landscape architecture. Each villa has privacy from the others, while all guests can enjoy communal spaces like an open beach, pool, and the Ocean House bar. Soon to be completed will be a restaurant and a new area of smaller 1-bedroom beach villas. I can also help coordinate docking your boat at their private marina during your stay. You’ll have direct ocean access to get out there fishing early each morning!

      This is the perfect chic destination to come with the whole multi-generational family, for an extended family vacation. Each unit has a two car garage and wash machine/dryer, so it’d be easy to stay for a month or longer. Heck, I think I might just move in.

      Ocean residences

      Cheeca Lodge & Spa

      Cheeca Lodge & Spa is one of the better known resorts in the Florida Keys and with good reason.  With an expansive ocean view, a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, spa and now 5 pools, they make it easy and convenient.  The rooms vary widely from golf course view rooms to ocean-front suites, so tread with care and definitely use a travel advisor (that’s me!).  The in-the-know professionals know which rooms to ask for, with one suite in particular that stands out from the rest.  And no, I’ll never tell!  I reserve that suite for Diego Travel clients.  It’s also important to know that only the golf course view rooms are pet-friendly, so if you are planning on traveling with your furry family member, be sure to book this room. 

      Cheeca Lodge & Spa recently purchased oceanfront casitas and bungalows, formerly part of The Moorings property.  These exclusive villas have their own pool, tennis court and beach (yes, actual beach!  On of the few real beaches in The Florida Keys and private too).  Two of these two-bedroom villas are beachfront, while the others are set back further on the property.  The great thing about these casitas is that guests have access to all of the amenities and restaurants at Cheeca, but guests at Cheeca do not have access to this area.  So, think of it as your semi-private VIP area but with additional resort amenities to enjoy like more pool options, golf, restaurants and of course the spa.

      What you get when you book with Diego Travel:

      • Upgrade upon arrival if available
      • Daily complimentary breakfast for 2
      • $100 resort credit
      • Early check-in/late check-out

      Book Your Florida Keys Hotel With Perks

      The Georgian Room

      Where to eat?

      • Key Lime Pie

        Let’s not beat around the bush and get straight to the good stuff – what the Florida Keys is best known for – key lime pie!  You may even want to taste-test your way down the Keys.  My kids and I are gluten-free, so I’d start my list with Key West Key Lime Pie Co.  They ship too!  Other Key West notables are Pepe’s Cafe and Old Town Bakery. 

        Further up the Keys is a locals’ favorite at the Green Turtle Inn, and whether you’re getting the key lime pie on the menu or anything else, you just can’t go wrong.  They are the same owners of the nearby Kayo Grill and SushiKayo Grill and Sushi, that has The best sushi I have had in the Florida.  Back to key lime pie though…A final mention is either of Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen’s two locations near Key Largo.  The key lime pie is to die for!

      • Fresh Fish and Seafood

        When you’re not eating dessert first, you may want to choose the catch of the day off of every menu.  Atlantic’s Edge at Cheeca for a fancier dinner with killer views or Islamorada Fish Company are two favorites for a fresh catch.  Some more casual, only-the-locals-go spots can be found at the Cuban restaurant Habano’s on the Creek (when you’re starving and coming back in from a fishing trip), Made 2 Order Cafe (another pull-up-in-your-boat for a quick lunch), or the Galley Grill between Key West and Little Palm Island. 

      • Restaurants With a View

        If the view is what you’re after, which you should be in the Keys, then you can’t miss these spots.  Hit Morada Bay or Pierre’s for their monthly Full Moon party – it falls on the Saturday nearest to the full moon of each month.  With a sunset view and an area of sand to party post-dinner, you can’t miss this monthly event.  Latitudes at the Westin in Key West has beautiful sunset views as well.

      Plan my trip to the Florida Keys

      A Few of My Favorite Things

      The Florida Keys

      The Florida Keys is different for everyone. Depending on if you want a resort that you land at and never leave, or your prefer to venture out and spend little time at your hotel, will determine the area that is right for you. My family has had a home in the Florida Keys for 15+ years, so the amount of time I’ve spend exploring each Key gives me an advantage while planning travel that is perfect for you.

      Islamorada of The Florida Keys

      My family’s home is located just north of Islamorada, in Tavernier. Islamorada happens to be my favorite spot in the Keys, just because I like the combination of bayside and oceanside boating there, and the array of top-notch restaurants and fun little shops. I’ll never forget bumping into Martha Stewart at Ocean Gardens where you can find Hemingway-era nautical antiques and a vast collection of hard-to-find shells. My dad wasn’t shy and struck up a conversation with her about the Florida Keys and what she loves about visiting. She told us that Ocean Gardens is always a must-see, so there you go!

      Location

      Key Largo is about one hour south of the southern most part of Miami, while Key West takes a full 3 hours to reach. So to drive from the northern-most key to the southern-most key takes about 2-2.5 hours, depending on traffic. The roadway is a 2-way lane, so holiday weekends can see traffic back up for hours. Locations are described by the locals as being at Mile Marker “__”, with the Key West starting at Mile Marker 0 and working its way up. So when you stop to ask for directions and you’re told, it’s at MM 87, you’ll know in which direction you need to head. It’s only North or South in the Keys!

      Activities

      Aside from the daytime activities I already listed, you can’t miss watching a sunset with a live band playing in the background. The Keys food is known for being fried, unhealthy, and yummy, and the drink menu plentiful. So plop yourself down at a bayside restaurant somewhere along the strip (my favorite is Pierre’s, at MM 82), order a drink, and relax. It’s also the perfect spot for a small destination wedding, which I can help you plan! Other activities I love to do with the kids is feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s, visiting the Turtle Hospital in Marathon  and Theater of the Sea for swimming with the dolphins and educating them about marine biology.

      Beyond The Keys

      Because of our network, Diego Travel clients get added amenities to many of the Florida Keys hotels and resorts. Depending on whether it’s your first time or tenth time to the Keys, we’ll make sure to plan your stay based on your needs. We love to combine a trip to the Florida Keys with Miami, the west coast of Florida with stops at places like Marco Island, Naples, or Captiva, or even a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth at Disney World in Orlando. Contact us to help plan your next Florida vacation to elevate your experience, VIP your travel, and make the most of your time at each destination.
       


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      Tips for Booking Your Clients’ Pet Vacations

      Travel Market Report
      September 19, 2023
      By Briana Bonfiglio

      Pet owners love their furry friends and hate to leave them behind when they travel. But while bringing a cat, dog, or other animal along on vacation may sound enticing, some pains come along with it. This can be where travel advisors come in to work out practical solutions and manage clients’ expectations for traveling with a pet. 

      This part is first and foremost, and it means to know your stuff. Every single airline, hotel, and destination (if traveling to another country) has different policies regarding pets. Airlines have limits on the size and breed of the animal, as well as whether they can be in the cabin or need to be in a crate. Hotels, if they allow pets at all, also have restrictions for pets and may or may not allow guests to leave the animal unattended in the room. 

      “Call around to the properties and ask those questions,” Maria Diego, a travel advisor at Departure Lounge, told TMR, in terms of what advisors can do when booking travelers with pets. “It’s important to know what their particular policies are.” 

      Although traveling with a pet has its challenges, certain destinations are particularly pet-friendly and great for dogs. Diego said more of her clients began bringing their pets on domestic road trips during the pandemic. 

      In one case, a client brought their bird along for the ride to Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico – and had very particular requests. 

      “I had a client who traveled with her 26-year-old love bird who had certain temperature and human dietary requirements,” Diego said. “[The bird] could only eat filet mignon and carne asada – those were her two meals. I had to call the hotel and see if the room could be climate-controlled and if the chef could cook those things. She also had to have a balcony room for the bird to get fresh air.” 

      Diego recommends standalone accommodations near nature preserves or beaches that allow dogs and other pets. Her personal favorites are San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California, and the Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. 

      Read the Travel Market Report Article

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      Balancing Motherhood and a Career in Travel Isn’t Easy, But These Advisors Make It Work

      Travel Age West
      March 21, 2022
      By Mindy Poder

      Being a travel advisor is the best career for a working mother. Or, is it actually the worst?

      According to the IRS, independent contractors (ICs) decide “what will be done and how it will be done.” For many moms, this kind of flexibility is a necessity.

      “Prior to working as a travel advisor, I worked remotely on a company that I started with my husband in 2008, which was a Mexico-based tour operation,” said Maria Diego of Diego Travel, an independent affiliate of Departure Lounge. “I needed a career that would allow me the flexibility to always put my kids first, especially because at that time, my husband was still traveling to Mexico every week.” 

      Ultimately, travel advising is a job that lets moms be in the driver’s seat.

      “You can put as little or as much into this career as you want,” Diego said. “You are in control of your schedule, and how you allocate your time for both work and family life.” 

      Diego admits that setting boundaries so that work did not negatively impact her time with her family was difficult for her, but concedes that this is the plight of most working mothers.

      Read the Travel Age West Article

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      Pro Tips For Finding All Your Lost Airline Luggage

      Pro Tips For Finding All Your Lost Airline Luggage

      Forbes 
      July 16, 2022
      By Christopher Elliot

      If an airline loses your checked luggage, how do you find it?

      Don’t rely on the airlines’ unreliable luggage handling systems. That’s the advice of travel professionals like Maria Diego, owner of Diego Travel. She’s been advising her clients to buy a tracker like an AirTag and tuck them into a side pocket.

      Diego speaks from experience. Her airline lost her husband’s surfboard on a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia.

      “After we waited an hour and a half, the baggage desk person had no idea where his surfboard was,” she remembers. But thanks to an AirTag attached to the surfboard, Diego showed the agent the location of the board.

      “They got a hold of the right person to have it put on the plane the next day. Had we not had the AirTag, there’s a huge chance the entire trip would have been ruined for him,” she adds.

      She sticks to three insurance companies: Allianz, Travel Guard and Travelex. “They’re my three main go-tos for travel insurance,” she says, “but each company offers different levels of coverage.” 

      Now comes the hard part: matching your insurance needs to one of the policies you’re considering.

      “There is no one size fits all,” she says.

      She’s right. Even if you work with a travel agent — and this is worth repeating — you need to take the time to pore over the boring fine print on each policy.

      Read the Forbes Article

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      The Best Of Guide to Montecito, California

      Montecito, California

      The perfect combination of beaches and mountains just two hours north of L.A.
      MARIA DIEGO

      My husband and I used to travel annually to Santa Barbara and Montecito, California for his job. For many years, my brother lived in Santa Ynez Valley, a little known slice of wine country and horse ranch paradise just a one hour drive from Santa Barbara. Summers would be spent taking the kids on trail walks, pony rides, berry picking and leisurely afternoons at different wineries. For a few years, my parents rented a house for a month to gather the family and explore the Santa Barbara region. One of our favorite neighborhoods has always been and always will be Montecito.

      This mountainous yet oceanfront town on the California coast is home to celebrities like Oprah and Prince Harry, with sprawling estates and impeccably maintained landscaping with a wildly European feel. All of these factors are why Montecito is such a special destination to me and my family. I want to share with you not only why I love it so much, but also how you can make the most of your trip to this California coastal destination.

      Perfect For: Family Trips | Weekend Getaways | Road Trip | Romantic Getaways | Special Occasions

      Montecito Travel Guide

      Getting to Montecito

      Getting There

      Montecito is just 15 minutes from Santa Barbara airport which has direct flights from major hubs across the USA. Montecito is only a two-hour drive from LA, making it perfect for a weekend getaway from the city, or part of a longer road trip itinerary.

      Fly: 15 min fromSanta Barbara airport (SBA) .

      Recommended Stay: Weekend getaway to one week.

      Best Time of Year to Visit: July to November

      34.4205946,-119.62839097789907

      Rosewood Miramar Beach

      What to Do in Montecito, California

      • Watersports & Beaches

        Visiting the beaches is a must. Butterfly Beach or Miramar Beach are both popular. Although Miramar Beach Hotel services are for guests only, there is access to the beach for locals through the hotel property. Being located on the coast means it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy some watersports like renting a kayak or trying out some surfing. Hotels like the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel offer equipment rental so you can get out on the water on their beaches. Santa Barbara Harbor located nearby is the perfect place to set off on a fishing trip or whale watching tour. 

      • Montecito California-Beaches and Watersports

      • Montecito California-Shopping

      • Shopping

        Montecito is ideal for shopping lovers! There is a range of shops from Maison K to Mate Gallery and my favorite shop in the country – Wendy Foster, which has a couple of locations on State Street, Montecito and Los Olivos in Santa Ynez Valley.

        Don’t miss the Montecito Country Mart where I found some amazing vintage Gucci Glasses! There’s also so many boutiques and shopping outlets in the hotel resorts which are well worth checking out.

      • Missions and Gardens

        Blessed with an ideal Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara is famous for its beautiful gardens including the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Lotusland and Casa del Herrero. Santa Barbara is also home to the Mission Santa Barbara, a Franciscan mission founded in 1776 known as the “Queen of the Missions”.

      • Mission Santa Barbara

      • Montecito Farmer's Market

      • Santa Barbara

        Being so close to Santa Barbara, you can spend an afternoon or even a full day there relaxing on the beaches, getting out on the water, exploring the town’s boutiques and cultural attractions or enjoying the huge range of culinary experiences on offer. Santa Barbara has six weekly farmers markets, fresh seafood coming in daily and not to mention the range of local ranches and vineyards. 

      • Santa Barbara Zoo

        If you’re traveling with kids, the Santa Barbara Zoo is a must-visit. There’s a miniature zoo train ride, giraffe feeding and several other animal encounters to make it a memorable family day out.

        Make sure to ask at your resort about activities and upcoming events too.

      • Santa Barbara Zoo

      • Santa Barbara Wineries

      • Wine Tours or Tasting Experience

        The climate around Montecito and Santa Barbara is perfect for growing grapes and there’s a range of wineries and vineyards you can visit. Alternatively there are tasting rooms in Santa Barbara if you’d prefer to stay closer to resorts. California wines are some of the most famous in the world, making this a great addition to your Montecito itinerary.

      Where to Stay in Montecito California

      Where to Stay in Montecito, California

      Montecito and Santa Barbara are home to some amazing hotels and resorts such as the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, The Bacara Resort, which was recently taken over by the Ritz Carlton, and smaller boutique properties such as Belmond El Encanto and San Ysidro Ranch.

      San Ysidro Ranch

      San Ysidro Ranch

      Set back in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the San Ysidro Ranch is perfect for those travelers who seek out the smaller, more secluded and boutique locations. Setting foot on the ranch, tucked away in 550 acres, you feel at one with nature which is a huge focus of the property.

      The San Ysidro Ranch has been welcoming guests since 1893 and it absolutely capitalizes on that historic charm as part of the luxurious, secluded experience. With 38 vine-covered cottages across the hillside, surrounded by lush gardens buzzing with bees, each cottage comes with its own large stone fireplace, four-poster bed, private patio, sunken spa and outdoor shower. The vaulted ceilings and stone fireplaces bring a touch of mountain chalet style to the easy, open-plan California living.

      San Ysidro offers three dining options which combine farmhouse ranch style decor with award-winning cuisine and a famous wine cellar! Dining under the twinkling lights on the terrace in summer, or by the huge stone fire in the winter, you’re guaranteed a unique dining experience that’s perfect for romantic occasions.

      One of my favorite things about the property is the unique experiences they offer for guests. Their Signature Salon and Spa, Private Dining and Exclusive Wine Tasting are also ideal for couples getaways, romantic treats and special occasions. The amenities on the resort also include a heated swimming pool, fitness studio, yoga classes, live music every night and lawn games and minigolf.

      The Ranch is also a great option for those who prefer a more active vacation. The resort has botanical gardens on the property to explore, plus access to 17 miles of hiking trails on their doorstep. There’s also bicycle rental and access to the private golf course at Montecito Club.

      Book the San Ysidro Ranch with Diego Travel to receive the following:

      • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
      • Continental breakfast daily in the Stonehouse, for two guests per bedroom
      • $100 USD Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
      • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
      • Personalized selection of the right cottage for you, thanks to my personal relationship with the team at San Ysidro Ranch
      • $100 bonus when you book with Diego Travel
      • Complimentary Wi-Fi

      We recommend the San Ysidro Ranch for:

      Couples | Small Weddings | Honeymoon | Anniversary | A Tranquil Escape from the City | Privacy & Exclusivity | Romantic Getaways

      Four Seasons Santa Barbara

      Four Seasons Resort: The Biltmore Santa Barbara

      *NOTE the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort is currently closed for renovations

       Located in Montecito itself and on a property of 22 acres, the Spanish Colonial style, open fires and terracotta tiles give you the feeling that you’ve stepped straight into Europe. The courtyards woven between villas and bungalows give this a relaxed yet luxurious feel which ties in perfectly with the mountainous backdrop.

      The Four Seasons offers a combination of Rooms, Bungalows, Villas and Suites. The entry-level Jungle and Garden rooms are surrounded by leafy greenery, immersing you in a jungle oasis. While the ocean view rooms are the next step up and allow you to enjoy your ocean view from your own private terrace.

      The Bungalows are perfect for four adults or two adults and two children, while the Fremont Bungalow is the ultimate secluded experience with two bedrooms, a large terracotta tile patio, a fire pit and a heated plunge pool.

      The Ty Warner villa offers 180-degree ocean views, a private pool and a large outdoor patio and entertaining area. For just two adults, this is the perfect retreat for couples.

      If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful rooms, the resort offers six food and drink options including the Italian-inspired Bella Vista which offers organic California cuisine with panoramic ocean views. The Coral Cafe and Bar is perfect for families and casual light bites throughout the day.

      The Four Seasons resort at Montecito is home to one of the largest hotel swimming pools in the world at its Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. Here you’ll find a 50m Olympic sized oceanfront pool, fitness centre, yoga classes, sauna and steam rooms, a kids pool and direct access to Butterfly Beach. Plus there is a range of spa and wellness treatments for the ultimate relaxation.

      Book the Four Seasons Santa Barbara with Diego Travel to receive the following:

      • Daily full breakfast for two people per bedroom, served in a hotel restaurant or through In-Room Dining
      • Hotel/Resort Credit* (based on room category booked) enriching your clients’ stay with their choice of experience – from spa and dining to recreation:
      • Guest Rooms: USD 100 credit per stay
      • Suites and Specialty Suites: USD 200 credit per stay
      • Private Retreats: USD 200 credit per bedroom per stay
      • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in**
      • Complimentary standard Internet in all guest rooms and premium Internet in all suites

      We recommend the Four Seasons Santa Barbara for:

      Couples Getaways | Honeymooners | Special Occassions | Business Trips  |  Larger Groups or Incentive Trips

      Rosewood Miramar

      Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel, Montecito

      The first thing that strikes you about the Rosewood Miramar Resort in Montecito is the effortless luxurious beach-living vibe that exudes from the hotel, the decor, its location and the amenities. The Rosewood Miramar was the property I was most excited about visiting and it was without a doubt, the highlight of our California coast road trip.

      With 160 rooms ranging from Guest Rooms to Beachfront Bungalows and the Ambassador Suite, there are accommodation options to suit various price points and group sizes. They even offer the option of Studios to cater for groups of three.

      The Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort is Montecito’s only truly oceanfront resort property and boasts direct access to Miramar Beach. The hotel also offers a range of outdoor activities to complement its beautiful location, including family beach yoga, sunset beach walks, sea kayaking and Hobie Cat rental and even private charters so you can sail the California coastline.

      I love that the Rosewood Miramar Beach resort is also the only 5-star Forbes spa in Santa Barbara, so you can expect nothing but five star treatment at the Sense Rosewood Spa and wellness centre which boasts a fitness centre and adults-only pool as well as a huge range of rejuvenating spa and wellness treatments.

      Our stay at the hotel was incredibly relaxing thanks to its beach location and the amenities on offer, plus the added bonus of six restaurants available at the property, so we rarely needed to venture far for dining. Caruso’s is the gourmet option which we were treated to on the first night of our stay and the food was just incredible.

      Book the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel with Diego Travel to receive the following:

      • Exclusive Rosewood Elite Amenities
      • Complimentary one category upgrade upon arrival, based on availability
      • Daily USD $30 breakfast credit for up to two people per bedroom
      • $125 Sense Spa credit per stay
      • Welcome note and amenity from the Managing Director on behalf of Diego Travel
      • Diego Travel Welcome Box for First-Time Clients

      We recommend the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel for:

      Small families | Honeymooners | Romantic Getaways | An escape from the city

      Belmond El Encanto

      EL ENCANTO, A BELMOND HOTEL

      El Encanto became a hotel in 1918 and as a 105-year-old property, it manages to effortlessly combine historic charm with a touch of Hollywood, perched high in the Santa Barbara Hills of California. Offering unparalleled views of the American Riviera.

      The rooms combine Spanish colonial style with laidback California craft. The resort effortlessly manages to exude glitz and glamour, while giving you the relaxed coastal California vibe as you unwind poolside at the zero-edge pool, enjoy the local wine and cuisine or stroll in their seven acres of secluded gardens. Views of the American Riviera from high in the hills, adds to that feeling of luxury and exclusivity that Belmond achieves to effortlessly.

      The resort offers a great amount of flexibility for groups such as families or small wedding parties, with rooms and suites able to be adapted depending on your group and the number of bedrooms needed. Despite the size of the resort, the luxurious feel of the bungalow-style suites help you feel at home while also exuding glamour and elegance.

      Book El Encanto with Diego Travel to receive the following:

      • Diego Travel is a Belmond Bellini preferred partner and we get our clients access to exclusive promotions that can’t be booked online
      • Additional Belmond Bellini amenities
      • Priority upgrade
      • Daily breakfast included
      • Resort Credit
      • When you book your stay with a minimum spend, you’ll receive a $500 gift card toward a future Belmond Hotels stay
      • Guests who purchase a luxury experience with Belmond worth a minimum of $5,000 USD will receive a $500 USD gift voucher per booking to be used on a future stay at any other Belmond Property

      We recommend the Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel for:

      Groups of Couples | Large Groups of Friends | Families with Older Children | Destination Weddings | Romantic Getaways | Special Occasions

      Where to Eat in Montecito California

      Where to Eat in Montecito, California?

      • Caruso’s

        Caruso’s, Rosewood Miramar’s 1 Star Michelin restaurant offers oceanfront al fresco dinning . Its light and stylish decor is reminiscent of mediterranean beachfront restaurants and offers some of the best ocean views of the American Riviera.

      • Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery

        Jeannine’s has been a Montecito institution for over 30 years. With Cafe menus serving breakfast and lunch, as well as a bakery full of cakes, scones and sweet treats, it’s great for breakfast or snacks on the go while you’re exploring Montecito and beyond.

      • Bree’osh Bakery Cafe

        A sumptuous bakery cafe you have to visit! With pastries, buns and quiches and all available at curbside pick up, Bree’osh is an easy way to grab something to eat on the go.

        They also offer baking and cookery classes if you want to try something a little different!

      • Honor Bar, Montecito

        Open from 11 AM till late, the Honor Bar serves sandwiches, burgers, pizza and light bites during the day and also offers a great range of wines, beers and cocktails in the evening too.

        With a slightly more formal dress code, this is a great option for romantic evening meals if you’re looking for somewhere outside the resort.

      • The Stonehouse

        The Stonehouse is located in the historic 19th-century citrus packing house at San Ysidro Ranch, with creek views and a dining experience that feels as if you’ve stepped into the vineyards of Italy.

        The unique take on American style cuisine is award-winning and consistently voted the top dining experience in Santa Barbara. With open fires and an ocean-view terrace, this is a truly romantic dining experience.

      • Rancho San Ysidro Restaurants

      • Bouchon

        Bouchon is a top choice in Santa Barbara with passionate owners, Amy and Mitchell, catering for any dietary requirements and producing spectacular dishes.

      A Few of My Favorite Things

      • It’s the perfect city escape. Being less than 2 hours from LA, it’s an ideal destination for a weekend break by the ocean.
      • The relaxed vibe. Santa Barbara is a favorite destination for the same reason, but Montecito has something special. Thanks to its smaller size and with hotels like Rosewood Miramar Beach being right on the waterfront, you really have the opportunity to unwind and relax.
      • The Rosewood Miramar Beach Hotel. Being the first truly beachfront resort in Montecito already makes this hotel special. But each detail is so thoughtfully prepared throughout the property that it really was the highlight of our California road trip.
      • With the beach and mountains both nearby, there’s plenty to do in and around Montecito and Santa Barbara for any kind of traveler. Whether you’re a hiker or surfer planning an active vacation, or if you’re looking forward to enjoying some downtime on the beach or by the pool on a more relaxing getaway, Montecito can offer you both.
      Montecito is a great option for families, couples or special occasions. With the choice of hotel resorts, and having the mountains and the beach on your doorstep, there’s enough adventure or relaxation to design your perfect California coastal getaway. Contact Diego Travel today so we can help you book your perfect Montecito vacation.
       


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