Four Seasons Orlando

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

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.

28.3974,-81.5426

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.

 


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.  

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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?!

Let’s Get Planning!

Four Seasons Orlando

Sea Island Vacation Rentals

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 

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.

31.1997,-81.3333

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.

Let’s Get Planning!


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STAYING IN GEORGIA’S SEA ISLAND VACATION RENTALS AND COTTAGES

Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

Hotel Review: Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

Hotel Review

Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

A Top Luxury Resort Located in the Heart of Cabo San Lucas
MARIA DIEGO

Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It is a 115-room resort that offers a myriad of room configurations that range in size from 1 bedroom to 4 bedroom suites or homes with kitchen and laundry rooms. The resort is built into the rocky cliffside of Pedregal, yet has a wide sandy beach with beautiful ocean views. The nice thing about this resort is that every single room has an ocean view

Perfect For: Large families | Groups of friends | Multiple families wanting their own space but wanting a perfect setting to be together | If you need a kitchen + washer/dryer | Honeymoons and anniversaries

  • Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal

    22.8745,-109.9117

  • Cabo San Lucas International Airport

    22.9489,-109.939

Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Location: Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal is located within Pedregal. The center of Los Cabos, and a short distance into town to visit bars, restaurants and other things to do. However, you may never want to leave your resort, once you drive through the grand entrance to the resort – the only tunnel in all of Mexico that runs through the rocky cliffside of the mountainous cliffs that make up Pedregal. After an extensive replenishment of its shoreline, Waldorf Astoria Pedregal now has a wide sandy beach to enjoy walking, beach dinners and evening bonfires. Unlike other beaches in Los Cabos, there is a pounding shorebreak making the beach at Pedregal not swimmable most of the time.

Getting There: Cabo Mexico flights are easy and convenient, with many non-stop options from cities in California like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, as well as Chicago and Dallas. From Los Cabos International Airport or SJD, it is about 45 minutes drive, and the resort provides its own private cars for your transfers at an additional cost, which are included when booking some exclusive promotions with Diego Travel.

Vibe at Pedregal Los Cabos

Vibe: A fellow travel advisor recently described Waldorf Astoria Pedregal as “Scottsdale meets Cabo,” which I thought hit the nail on the head. It has a fun, lively, cocktail scene with lot of day-drinking and chic, nighttime vibes. For those that want to hang with the family can do so, and if you’re adults-only wanting privacy, then you can do that too. However, I saw a lot of couples hanging poolside, cocktails in hand, or chatting during after-dinner hours while enjoying the lively entertainment around the resort.

Accomodations: Waldorf Astoria Pedregal has 115 rooms, including three residences that are located five minutes up the hill by golf cart. Every single accommodation at the resort has ocean views, and a spectacular view at that. There are many categories that range from ocean view rooms, to one bedroom suites, to beachfront suites and villas, to three 3-4 bedroom cliffside residences located just five minutes from the main resort. My favorites were the beachfront one or two-bedroom suites or Presidential suites, just because they are literally on the beach with their own pool and fireplace. How nice would it be with the kids to have that convenience?!

  • Rooms at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort 2

  • Bathroom at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

  • Rooms at Sunset at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort 1

Food at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

Food & Beverage: One of the best things to do in Cabo, Mexico is eating and drinking of course. Who doesn’t look forward to tacos, guacamole and margaritas on their beach vacation?

While each area in Mexico has its own cuisine, Cabo has some of the best farm to table culinary options as well as fresh fish and seafood from the Pacific Ocean. Don Manuel’s is a great option for breakfast, lunch and dinner – you’ll have breakfast included with your stay when you book with Diego Travel! The Beach Club and Crudo have convenient poolside bites, because let’s face it, lounging poolside and drinking Coronas can really work up an appetite.

Waldorf Astoria Pedregal has arguably the best restaurant in all of Baja California in El Farallon, built into the rocky cliffside and overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Service and food were excellent, but the ambience cannot be beat in any location in Cabo. We were invited to have cocktails on a newly opened sandy space, just beneath the restaurant’s location, to enjoy a private party with stellar sunset views. Ask me about renting this space for a special occasion like an anniversary dinner, proposal or pre-wedding cocktail.

As a final note, I am gluten-free and I’m also allergic to shellfish, so I’m always in tune to my clients’ dietary needs. As someone who takes it very seriously, this resort is on it when it comes to dietary restrictions and allergies. Every meal I felt sure that my gluten-free needs were being met, and they had the most amazing gluten-free options for meals and desserts!

Wellness: The spa at Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Los Cabos cannot be missed, and was worthwhile to book at least one treatment during your stay. While I would say the focus is to be on the beach, poolside, or eating at any of its amazing restaurants, the spa offers an indoor retreat from the sun and its own shaded pool, complete with waterfalls and over-the-water treatment rooms. Every treatment begins with a ceremony of cleansing the feet (foot massage included).

Reserve at least half a day for the spa, as it was quite impressive and would make an amazing activity for your girlfriends getaway or a bachelorette weekend. Or, if you’re like me, and traveling without the kids for the first time in awhile, you’ll want to park yourself in this spa and stay there.

Aside from the spa element, the resort offers sunrise yoga classes, and features special weekends with guest speakers or events like shamans and wellness gurus.

Spa At Pedregal Los Cabos Resort

Things to do In Los Cabos

Things to Do in Cabo San Lucas: From marine life to mountain trails, golfing, farms and wine tasting, Cabo has something for everyone. Most people go to Cabo to relax in a luxury setting with excellent service and food amidst a beautiful view and gorgeous resorts. But if you’re adventurous enough to get yourself up from the pool or the beach, you should reserve a day out on the water for deep sea fishing or a day to golf, if that’s your thing.

What  Sets  It  Apart: Maybe one of the coolest things about Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Los Cabos, besides the amazing suites with stunning ocean views, were the dual sunrise/sunset views each day. They are worth waking up early in the morning for sunrise yoga and dining in the evening at El Farallon.

Rooms at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort
Sunset at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

How Much Does Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Cost? During September, the hottest month in Cabo, Mexico, the lowest rates begin at $550 for their entry level suite, and go as high as $1800 in high season. All suites have an ocean view, so they really don’t have your typical “entry level.” The large 4-bedroom homes can range from $2,500-$5,000/night plus taxes and fees.

Diego Travel Loves: The color palette of terracotta against the ocean blues, the way every room has a pretty great ocean view (if you reach out, I’ll walk you through which ones may have more obstructed views), the welcome bottle of tequila, and the stunning setting of El Farallon. During a special margarita tasting, we learned they make their own in-house rose-colored hibiscus salt to rim the glasses, which you can request at any time (they even offered to make us some to take home)!

Colors At Pedregal Los Cabos Resort
Welcome Amenities at Los Cabos Pedregal

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Breakfast buffet daily in Don Manuel’s for two guests per bedroom
  • $150 USD equivalent Hotel or Resort credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Complimentary VIP airport Lounge Tickets with all Beach Front Suite Bookings
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

Access to exclusive promotions such as:

Stay 7 days or longer and get 30% off your rate

Inclusions:

    • Complimentary Champagne and Salt tasting experience at The Champagne Terrace at El Farallon. 
    • Roundtrip luxury airport transfers for San Jose de Cabo Airport (SJD)
    • Complimentary Private Chef One Night Per Week (excludes alcohol)
    • 20% off treatments and purchases at Waldorf Astoria Spa
    • 20% off Food & Beverage
    • Complimentary daily access to the kids’ club for 2 children
    • Complimentary Butler Service
    • Free Clothing pressing
    • Reliable high-speed wi-fi
    • Technical computer support for remote working/learning
    • Designated learning room

Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Insider Tips:

This luxury Cabo resort offers a ton of flexibility with accommodation configurations for large groups or family vacations.  With options to adjoin rooms, and ranging in size from one bedroom to 4-bedroom vacation homes, they are sure to have an accommodation that will work for you and your family.  The ground floor Dos Mares junior suites have hammocks and the upstairs ones have fire pits.  It’s details like these that make having a travel advisor extra crucial, so that I can ensure you get the exact fit for your needs.  Also, there is a favorite for a honeymoon suite and another suite category that was my personal favorite, but you’ll have to reach out to me to find out more!  

Beach at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal Resort

Summary of Our Stay atWaldorf Astoria Pedregal Los Cabos:

I was honored to be invited to participate in this familiarization trip (better known as a FAM trip in the travel industry) to Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Los Cabos.  This amazing beach vacation was for three nights, to a destination that I knew little about.  I had been only once before, a few years prior, but did not have a chance to see any of the hotels and resorts I had been dying to see in the area of Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas.

Views from Pedregal Los Cabos Resort

The entrance to the resort is stunning, as you drive from the Cabo airport to your hotel, you arrive via a welcoming tunnel that is the ultimate way of letting you know you have arrived.  Upon arrival, I immediately went to lunch with a group of fellow luxury travel advisors and travel industry partners.  Over the next three days, we had a complete tour of the resort and saw every imaginable room category, had a margarita tasting with the aforementioned pink hibiscus salt-rimmed glasses, a glowing beach dinner under the twinkling stars with a fireworks display in the distance, and followed by a late evening surrounding a beach bonfire while we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores.  The hotel staff was so accommodating to my gluten allergy, they even brought me special gluten-free graham crackers so that I didn’t have to miss out.

Todos Santos Mexico

On our second day, we spent the entire day seeing local spots like a blanket weaving factory, a local farmers market (where I bought my husband the most amazing dried mango with chili piquin), and the town of Todos Santos, home to the famous Hotel California.  It was fun shopping and supporting the local artisans who have been so devastated by the global pandemic and hit to the tourism industry.

Our third day was reserved for the spa and relaxing by the pool, getting to know each other better and talk all things travel.  As I’m constantly working on the go, I did spend the better half of the day in my own suite on my terrace overlooking the ocean as I worked from my laptop to plan client trips.

Night at Pedregal Los Cabos

The final night we had cocktails and a fabulous dinner at the popular El Farallon.  If you’re planning a trip to Cabo, even if you don’t plan on staying at the resort, I do recommend booking a dinner here.  They give priority reservations to in-house guests of course, but if you’re able to get a table, it’s a must for a Los Cabos vacation.  

Throughout the weekend, I was able to learn so much about the resort, the travel industry in general, and different ways in which I can make your vacation better for when you do decide to travel to Los Cabos, Mexico.  I am so grateful to my partners at Hidden Doorways and Waldorf Astoria Pedregal for this amazing opportunity to get to know the resort so well, and I’m so excited to work with them to VIP you on your next vacation south of the border!  If you’re planning to go without reaching out to me, I guess my only question would be, “Well, why wouldn’t you?”

Let’s Get Planning!

Pedregal Los Cabos Resort Outside


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Waldorf Astoria Pedregal Los Cabos

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Chable Yucatan

Hotel Review: Chablé Yucatan Resort

Hotel Review

Chable Yucatan Resort

A beautifully modernized historic hacienda
MARIA DIEGO

Chable Yucatan is a masterfully restored archeological masterpiece and little-known health, wellness and spa retreat tucked away in the Mayan jungle of Mexico. The team at this luxury resort’s mission is to not only offer a luxury hotel stay, but to elevate your mind, body and soul by creating luxury experiences in a way that you have never experienced. A stay here will unequivocally connect you with nature and balance your being to embrace the spirit of this enchanting property.

Chable Yucatan

Chablé Yucatan is located about 30-minutes from Merida airport in the Yucatan Peninsula.  Merida has non-stop flights from Miami…

If you’re flying into Cancun, you can still plan a split-stay visit between Chablé Yucatan and Chablé Maroma, as they are about a 3-4 hour drive between them, and the hotels can arrange for transfers.

20.7571,-89.8690

Chable Yucatan Location: Chable Yucatan is located about 30-minutes from Merida airport in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Merida has non-stop flights from Miami.

If you’re flying into Cancun, you can still plan a split-stay visit between Chable Yucatan and Chable Maroma, as they are about a 3-4 hour drive between them, and the hotels can arrange for transfers.

Bicycle at Chable Yucatan

Vibe: A beautifully modernized historic Mexican hacienda, Chable Yucatan, has been a pet-project of a renowned architecture and design team who took 15 years to lovingly restore this property to its current splendor. You may find yourself completely disconnected and elatedly riding a bike through the luxury resort’s winding paths to the soundtrack of chirping birds and jungle wildlife.

Accommodations: Chablé Yucatan consists of 40 casitas, family villas, a presidential villa and a royal villa.  All accommodations have their own private pool, with family villas being a two bedroom with adjoining living room.  The presidential and royal villas are both three bedrooms and offer complete privacy.

  • Chable Yucatan Room Exterior

  • Chable Rooms

  • Chable Yucatan Bathroom

  • Chable Plunge Pool

Ixi’im Restaurant at Chable Yucatan
Wellness Restaurant at Chable Yucatan

Food  &  Beverage: One of the highlights of Chablé Yucatan is the food. It is authentic Yucatecan gourmet food prepared in a fresh way than your typical tacos and guacamole that you’ll find elsewhere in the Riviera Maya and Cancun. Each morning, they deliver your preferred choice of coffee or tea with breakfast pastries that you can enjoy at the hour you indicate upon your arrival. Post wake-up coffee, you’ll have a poolside breakfast and/or lunch at Ki’ol, which translates to healthy in Mayan and has an ever-changing menu of fresh selections from the gardens.  

The Wellness Restaurant next to the spa and fitness center is another healthy option offering vegan, gluten-free, and fresh juices and smoothies. At Ixi’im, which means corn in the Mayan language, is an impressive display of 3,475 bottles of tequila that is as jaw-dropping as it seems. Illuminated by fire and candlelight, this restaurant was a highlight of the trip. 

While I don’t drink tequila, I was definitely tempted to at both nights we had dinner here. Sikar is an after-dinner stop to taste the finest selection in whiskey, cognac, brandy and hand-made cigars.  Perhaps my favorite of all the culinary options at ChabléYucatan was the Casita Maya, where you’ll experience an extended course authentically Mayan and Yucatecan meal prepared right in front of you by two women. It was such a special experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits!

Wellness: The focus of wellness at Chablé Yucatan surrounds the sacred cenote found on property, and every treatment room has its own private balcony overlooking the water. Prior to your treatment, you’re welcome to make use of the circuit, carefully guided by a personal attendant through a series of Mayan rituals that alternate between heat and cold, from sauna and steam room, to ice plunge pool and showers. Each treatment begins with a shamanic ceremony performed inside a large conch shell-like structure, as your therapist describes the 7 elements and their significance. Following this beautiful ceremony, you’ll be guided to your treatment room where you’ll begin with a foot bath and served a rice drink, meant to nourish the mind, body and soul.

Wellness Chable Yucatan

  • Nature Walk at Chable Yucatan

  • Melipona Bees at Chable Yucatan

  • Cenote

  • Uxmal

  • Celestún

Activities: I was surprised by the number of activities available at Chablé Yucatan, having visited the majority of the haciendas in the Yucatan region before and expecting a similar experience. However, Chablé Yucatan offers a 9-course golf course, pickle ball, tennis, miles of nature paths to either walk, run or ride.  

There is a melipona bee sanctuary, one of very few of its kind, meant to preserve this sacred bee and its honey of healing properties. They have a temezcal, used to perform ancient Mayan ceremonies, which I highly recommend. There’s a main pool, a spa pool for adults only, and the private pools that each villa offers. If you’re looking to just relax, eat and drink, then you might enjoy the cigar bar for a post-dinner treat.

Finally, there a multitude of excursions that you can easily do from Chable Yucatan, from enjoying the charm of the colonial city of Merida, to taking a refreshing dip at a one of the nearby cenotes (underground rivers), to visiting flamingos at nearby Celestún to exploring Uxmal, one of the most important prehispanic Mayan cities. 

Perfect For: Honeymooners, anniversary trips, destination wedding, culture enthusiasts, adult groups, and even family trips. Our kids loved it, but they are used to a more adult-friendly vibe and tend to refuse any kids club.  Small business conferences or incentive trips would be amazing here. The property has a convention center with two meeting rooms, one with a maximum capacity for 50 and the other for 100 people, but they can easily combine to host groups up to 150.  

Chable Yucatan Horse Stable
Chable Yucatan Bar

What Sets It Apart:  The setting of the Mayan jungle is truly spectacular, but the way Chablé Yucatan was designed is truly what sets it apart.  The resort could be at full capacity, but you’ll still feel complete privacy.  We felt safe enough to let the kids wander on their own, and the service by every team member was at another level.

How Much Does Chablé Yucatan Cost? The high season for Chablé Yucatan and Merida in general is November through April. The low season will be hotter with periods of rain, which brings more bugs. Rates will really be season-dependent.

Shopping at Chable
Hacienda Chable

Diego  Travel  Loves: Every aspect of Chablé Yucatan was thoughtfully planned, from the soundtrack of chic background music, to the pristine landscape architecture. And the landscape lighting at night! It creates a whole new magical experience that transforms the property into a magical wonderland of illuminated trees under a vast sky of twinkling stars and fireflies. I cannot think of another resort that pairs current and hip design while still maintaining the integrity of a historic restoration quite like Chablé Yucatan.  

Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Full Breakfast daily for two guests per bedroom, served in restaurant
  • $100 USD equivalent Resort/Hotel 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

Paletas at the pool of Chable Yucatan

Chablé Yucatan Insider Tips:

  • Chablé Yucatan lovingly supports local communities by carrying Mexican-made and hand-crafted products in its boutique.  Try to pick up something while you’re there to support Mexico’s artisans, along with a bottle of melapina honey.  
  • I also highly recommend the Mayan dining experience at Casa Puebla, where you’ll be treated to 4-5 courses of authentic Mayan dishes by two women who prepare the meal right in front of your eyes.  We weren’t able to finish the last course, but oh my, was it worth it!  
  • For a large family or group, rent the Royal Suite, which incorporates ruins found on the property in its own private pool.  You’ll be the only ones able to see these ruins, as the villa is completely private to you.

Chablé Yucatan Pool

Summary of Our Stay at Chablé Yucatan:

While visiting Mexico and working remotely for a month, we wanted to do something special for our daughter’s 10th birthday. After the 3+ hour drive from the Riviera Maya, we were greeted with fresh Lima juice, a fragrant blend between lemon and lime, only grown in this region of Merida. There’s no translation in English for this particular fruit, but when you taste it, you’ll know. Upon check-in, we were asked to fill out a form asking our preferences for morning coffee and pastries, preferred activities and dining times, and any dietary restrictions. I’m always curious, as a travel advisor, if this information gets relayed to every staff member, and I can say with certainty that it did.

Let’s get a drink

As they gave us a tour of the property and finally our private villa, the feeling of having arrived overcame us. This is the life! The kids fell instantly in love with the idea of running off on their own to explore by bike, and we felt safe enough to let them do so. On my daughter’s actual birthday, we surprised them with the Ruta Verde tour, which is a guided tour starting at the gardens, where we picked the lettuce, herbs, and vegetables that they would prepare for us at our Mayan lunch. Then we visited the deer, as they foster about 30-40 on property at any given time, before sending them to a deer sanctuary or back into the wild.  After the deer we had a private tour of the bee sanctuary, where we learned about the melipona honeybees and how they were regarded in ancient Mayan times to hold medicinal powers. Our last stop of La Ruta Verde was at an area of trees, where we were each handed a ribbon to tie onto a tree to set an intention. It was such a beautiful and unforgettable experience for all of us.

Chable Yucatan Gardens

We planned to stay at Chablé Yucatan for two nights, but shortly after arrival, we extended our stay another night.  As a travel advisor and seeing so many hotels and resorts around the world, I have to admit that I rarely do this. A 2-night stay at any given property is pretty normal, but it just wasn’t enough for this hotel. I fell madly in love and I think you will too. It really is one of my favorite resorts in the world, and when you book your stay with me, you’ll have access to special promotions like 3rd night free plus your Virtuoso amenities mentioned above. So it’s always worth it to reach out to find out how Diego Travel can help elevate your stay. Contact us now to get started planning your next getaway.

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Blackberry Mountain

Hotel Review: Blackberry Mountain

Hotel Review

Blackberry Mountain

A Wellness Retreat at a Luxury Mountain Resort
MARIA DIEGO

Blackberry Mountain, the sister property of the Tennessee resort, Blackberry Farm, is located in the Great Smoky Mountains just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. This luxury American hotel is the perfect fusion of a wellness retreat, outdoor adventure hub, and gastronomic delight. Whether you’re visiting for a special celebration like an anniversary or honeymoon, enjoying a family vacation, or need a solo getaway to disconnect, this All-American boutique resort is a soon-to-be staple in travel. So dust off your hiking boots and pack your bags because now is the time to visit before its popularity spreads like wildfire. 

Perfect For: Active couples | Fitness-oriented travelers | Adventure-seekers | Family vacation with kids young and old | Wellness retreat | Honeymoons

  • Blackberry Mountain

    Blackberry Mountain is located less than 30 minutes from Knoxville, Tennessee and McGhee Tyson Airport.  Between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, you’ll have about a 30-minute drive if you’re doing a split stay.  You can also fly into Nashville and take a 3-hour drive east.

    35.7305,-83.8162

  • Blackberry Farm

    Blackberry  Farm is a 4,200  acre  estate located on  the  Great  Smoky  Mountains,  30  minutes  outside  of  Knoxville, Tennessee. 

    35.6955,-83.8488

  • Mc Ghee Tyson Airport (TYS)

    Blackberry Farm is easy to get to with direct flights to Knoxville from more than 25 cities and a 25 minute drive fromMc Ghee Tyson Airport (TYS) airport.

    35.8096,-83.9966

Blackberry Mountain Location: Blackberry Mountain is located less than 30 minutes from Knoxville, Tennessee and McGhee Tyson Airport.  Between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, you’ll have about a 30-minute drive if you’re doing a split stay. You can also fly into Nashville and take a 3-hour drive east.

Vibe: Blackberry Mountain is all about wellness activities, outdoor adventures, and holistic wellness.  While you could certainly visit this luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel just to eat well, visit the spa, and enjoy the mountain views, you’ll make the most out of your stay at Blackberry Mountain by taking advantage of its endless on-site activities.  Even though it is the ultimate in luxury travel, the vibe is casual with friendly service and a down-to-earth attitude with guests dressed the part for mountain hikes, not really dressed to impress.

Accommodations: Blackberry Mountain consists of 23 cottages, 6 cabins, 12 two to five-bedroom homes, with an additional 14 tree houses being added by September 2021.

Food  &  Beverage: Three Sisters, named for the Great Smoky Mountain’s three peaks and site of Blackberry Mountain, is the luxury resort’s main restaurant and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It is located in the main building of Blackberry Mountain, along with the reception, Nest spa and the main pool that overlook the vast mountain views.  Three Sisters’ most popular menu items are the avocado toast for breakfast, and the mouth-watering burger with the local Blackberry Farm cheese is the most popular lunch item.  The Firetower is located nearly 2,000 feet further up the mountain at Blackberry Mountain’s highest peak that overlooks the horizon and the town of Knoxville.  Menus change daily at both restaurants and are based on Tennessee’s seasonal ingredients.  During warmer months, you can also take a bag lunch or picnic down to The Valley, or pick up a quick drink or snack inside The Outfitter, Blackberry’s Mountain’s retail shop.

Wellness: The focus of Blackberry Mountain is on wellness and in my opinion, it’s program far exceeds other wellness resorts I have visited. If you want to turn inward, the most recommended activity (trust me, I ask everyone!) was the soundbathing in the yoga loft.  You can attend lectures and workshops that include foundations of health, holistic nutrition, create calm, herbal tea blending, and movement workshops.  Creative presence classes like meditative watercolors, mandala stone painting, mindful clay sculpting, mala making, and guided journaling.  They also have a holistic doctor onsite that can reprogram your nervous system and provide acupuncture therapy.  Yoga classes range from Vinyasa, aerial, aromatherapy, Pranayama, hot flow yoga, and ropes wall yoga.  Convinced yet?  I want to go back!

Activities:  There is something for everyone at Blackberry Mountain, from tennis and pickleball to hiking trails, indoor basketball and rock climbing, a yoga loft and a holistic studio called Embodiment Lab. One of your first stops at the property should be to The Outfitter located at The Hub, where you can pick up food and beverages to-go and map out your day with Blackberry Mountain’s concierge team. Blackberry Mountain’s newest addition is The Valley, where you’ll find a swimming pond with two water slides, the option for waterskiing, a family pool, and an arbor adventure course that will test your fear of heights and have you zip lining through the Great Smoky Mountain’s trees. Sadly, my fear of heights overcame me, but I happily snapped photos of my husband going through the course with both of my feet planted firmly on the ground. For the less adventurous, there is an art studio with pottery and painting classes, different workshops for the culinary arts and writing and of course, there is Camp Blackberry for the kids.

What  Sets  It  Apart:  Blackberry Mountain is defined by the people and the level of service and warm hospitality that they offer.  You won’t find anything like it anywhere else, besides Blackberry Farm.


How Much Does Blackberry Mountain Cost? It’s a common question, and a lot of people might be curious about the cost of Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm.  First off, both properties are almost entirely all-inclusive (save for lunch at Blackberry Mountain, and alcoholic drinks and some activities at both properties).  Prices vary greatly depending on the time of year you plan to go, with October, Thanksgiving, and summer months being peak season.  The most economical time to go is a mid-week stay in early December, late January, or the month of February, with nightly rates starting at $695 plus taxes and fees per couple.

Diego  Travel  Loves: The homes at Blackberry Mountain are a great value and an excellent option if you’re traveling with more than two people.  I have toured nearly all the homes and can point you in the right direction based on your interior design style and room configuration needs.  There are two 4-bedroom homes that sit side-by-side with great views, so if you’re traveling with a large group, these are often the preferred pick. Both 2-bedroom homes, Wild Crab Apple and Linden, actually have an additional 2-bunk (4 twins) room, which allows for two families to comfortably fit into these smaller homes.  If you’re looking for a bit more fun, book Outasite for its downstairs game room with a shuffle board and the only house with a hot tub.


Extras You’ll Get with Diego Travel:

  • 15% off published rates
  • $100 spa credit
  • Upgrade at time of check-in, subject to availability
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability

Blackberry MountainInsider Tips:

  • Goats Hill has the best sunset views and is a little-known spot that is popular for proposals.  As a Diego Travel client, the team at Blackberry Mountain can work with me to set up these private moments that will make your stay all the more special.  
  • Most of Blackberry Mountain’s morning wellness and fitness classes are included with your stay, so get up with the sunrise and take advantage!
  • Hike Cats Paw Ridge and you’ll be in for a surprise!  Allow for two hours to take this beautiful hike.
  • While we didn’t get a chance to do it, sign up for the sound bathing.  It was recommended to us by multiple staff members while we were there, so we’ll take their word for it and sign upnext time.

Summary of Our Stay at Blackberry Mountain:

Ever since my trip to Blackberry Farm last year, I have been dreaming of a visit to Blackberry Mountain.  My clients oftenask me to explain the difference between Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, so the only way to truly know how to answer this question was to experience it for myself.  Since Blackberry Mountain’s opening in February 2019, it has become increasingly popular with the Blackberry Farm fans, and as it turns out, a popular hot spot for celebrities looking for a private mountain retreat.  I knew we were off to a good start when our driver entertained us for the thirty-minute drive with stories of transporting celebrities accompanied with a deep and contagious laugh that would put anyone in a good mood, even after the longest of travel days.

We arrived to Blackberry Mountain with an appetite, and were the only ones in Three Sisters restaurant, named for the three Great Smoky Mountain peaks and site of the resort.  At Blackberry Mountain, the only thing not included in your stay are the lunches, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments, and certain activities.  All the morning activities are included in your stay, so take advantage of this and sign up for your activities of choice prior to your arrival to ensure availability.  We signed up for the Stretch and Release: Hips class because I have chronic hip pain thanks to carrying around three babies for the last decade and a lot of sitting at my desk.  Our private class wasn’t intended to be so, but we got lucky and it allowed us to gain a lot of useful information from our knowledgeable instructor and learn about their holistic and complete health and wellness program.

While a typical stay at Blackberry Mountain is meant to disconnect from your device and reconnect with your loved ones and nature, working while traveling is part of the deal for me, so we spent our first afternoon comfortable in our spacious yet cozy Thunderhead Cottage before heading up to the Firetowerrestaurant to catch the sunset and dinner.  The wind was biting, and there had been a somewhat rare snowfall prior to our arrival, so the stairwell was closed off to the tower, but we still enjoyed 360-degree views from the highest point, nearly 2,000 feet above the main area of Blackberry Mountain.  If you like a perfect sunset view and want a more remote and romantic lumberjack-cabin-in-the-woods vibe, then I would recommend the Watchman cabins.  

The following day we explored the nature trails, ate delicious uninterrupted meals, stopped into The Hub where we chatted with staff about different things to do around the Blackberry Mountain property for those looking for high-energy activity and adventure-enthusiasts, but also those seeking a restorative, peaceful, and restful stay geared toward wellness and health.  Blackberry Mountain seems to marry these two orders seamlessly.  In the afternoon, we took some time in the spa, which felt like a year of Covid-angst and worry melted away with each strong stroke of a hand.  By the time we met each other back in the spa’s waiting area overlooking gorgeous mountain views, we felt like we’d finally disconnected and settled in and could have stayed for another week.

Dinner on our final night was back at the Three Sisters, which does a masterful job of switching up the menu on a daily basis and making things fun and exciting each meal.  When the dessert menu came along and three options were gluten-free (unheard of in the GF world!), I just had to order all three.  And why not?  It’s included in the stay…so indulge we did, just confirming that the Relais and Chateaux status of Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain is well-deserved.

On our final morning we made the most of every moment and woke up with the sun, going for a short hike before breakfast and then taking the golf cart down to The Valley, the newly developed area of the resort offering a swimming pond in the summer with two slides, pickle ball and tennis ball, a swimming pool, and a brand new arbor course.  While I’ve always been afraid of heights, it had been awhile since I’d challenged this fear and though that this would be a great time to do so. The highest point of the course was only 40 feet, and the minimum age requirement is only 8-years-old to participate, so how hard could it be?  I found out once I got up to the first post, after having gone through a 15-minute training on safely harnessing and using the gear. As it turns out, a phobia only gets worse with age (who knew!?) and my phobia of heights is a real thing.  Our guide, Hall, was nice enough to lie to me and told me I was not the first person who had to back down at the last-minute.  Not only was he an expert naturalist, climber, and adventurer, he was a fantastic psychologist as well, who kindly assisted me down without crushing my confidence.


Once my husband bravely completed the course, albeit winded and admitting how challenging it was, we had a full 15 minutes to spare so Hall pointed us toward a hidden waterfall, where we had just enough time to hike down and bask in its beauty.  As we stood there watching the beauty of the relentless flow of water, I couldn’t help but think about the next time we’d return.  Maybe in the summer months with our kids, when the mountains are green and summer activities change the whole experience.  Regardless of the time of year you go, it’ll be worth it to reach out to me to help you plan your trip, not just for the discounted rate and added amenities you’ll get with your stay, but for the insight we can now provide having experienced both properties.

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Austin Texas

Austin, Texas: The Best Hotels and Resorts

Austin, Texas

The Best Hotels and Resorts

MARIA DIEGO

As a home-schooling against my will mom of three, while simultaneously working-from-home travel agent slash advisor, I had been dreaming of a solo vacation by myself since we were all ordered to stay at home in March.  I needed to enjoy the glorious sound of silence and treat myself to a spa and wellness retreat since my kids had seemingly not stopped bickering for months.  I had never been on vacation alone before, but with so many state closures, required testing, and limited flights, I was looking for something accessible and safe.  I landed on Austin, Texas.  There were several excellent hotel and resort choices, so I chose three and went off on my own to explore the best of what Austin, Texas had to offer.  So long, kiddos!  Sorry, husband.

Perfect For: Music Lovers | Foodies | Couples Weekend Getaway | Bachelor/Bachelorette party | Wellness Retreat | Spa

 

About Austin Texas

When most people think of the things to do in Austin, Texas, they might think of its official slogan The Live Music Capital of the World.  With festivals like SXSW music festival (pronounced South by Southwest for those of you who live under a rock) and Austin City Limits, there’s never a shortage of live music and unique venues to be found year-round.  And speaking of year-round, Austin boasts amazing weather for most of the year, which allows you to enjoy everything it has to offer, no matter the time of year.

The other unofficial slogan of Keep Austin Weird refers to its residents’ strong support of small local businesses and desire to keep out massive corporations.  This is apparent as soon as you step off the airplane in AUS, where there’s no Starbucks or Burger King in sight within the terminal, but rather small local restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops.  Aside from the music scene and small shop scene, Austin is known for its foodie and restaurant scene.  You’ll find tons of amazing restaurants, so in combination with the music scene, makes for the perfect pairing for a couple’s weekend getaway or friends and family reunion.

The lesser known of top things to do in Austin is the health, wellness and spa scene.  Lake Austin is home to two of the country’s best wellness resorts, Lake Austin Spa Resort and Miraval Austin Wellness Resort & Spa.  These two resorts are destinations in and of themselves, and I can’t wait to share more about my stays there.

Getting to Austin, Texas

While not quite like DFW International, Austin has plenty of non-stop flights and is easily accessible from all over the country.  My non-stop flight from Miami was only $90 and left in the morning and returned at night, which is ideal for a weekend trip anywhere.  Driving to Austin from Dallas takes 3 hours, and a 2.5 hour drive from Houston, so setting up a multi-city tour through Texas is also a great trip option if you have the time.  I love planning trips for clients who want to discover the best things to do in Texas, combining city options with ranches that lie just beyond city limits.

  • Miraval Austin Resort & Spa

    30.4371,-97.8729

  • Commodore Perry Estate

    30.3001,-97.7223

  • Lake Austin Resort & Spa

    30.3271,-97.9255

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The Best Hotels in Austin Texas

While I didn’t have a chance to see some other fantastic hotels like Four Seasons Resort or Austin Proper Hotel, I’m going to cover three of the best hotels in Austin.  When live music returns, I’ll be sure to be back with my husband and visit the other hotels I missed on Round #1.

Lake Austin Spa Resort

Perhaps the resort that most exceeded my expectations was Lake Austin Spa Resort, which just underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation.  I didn’t know much about this adults-only, dog-friendly, all-inclusive hotel, as most of my clients are coastal and didn’t travel domestically quite like they are now after the pandemic.  What struck me most about this 40-room boutique resort on the edge of Lake Austin that sits opposite a protected bird sanctuary, is its European feel.  It is truly the best kept secret in Texas, and its high-profile clients like the Bush family, Matthew McConaughey, and Drew Barrymore probably prefer to keep it that way.

On the lake, they offer wakeboarding, water skiing, wake surfing, hydro-bikes, and stand-up paddle boards.  They also have an included daily afternoon cruise and a sunset wine cruise for an additional cost.  Magnolia Beach is the perfect setting to enjoy the soft breeze under an embracing Magnolia tree with a good book and southern sweet tea or glass of Rosé in hand.  In addition to the water sports, they have a daily roster of about 25 classes throughout the property, from hiking part of its 22 miles of hiking trails, to fossil hunting, to gardening and culinary events that feature guest speakers coverings topics such as the journey through death, cancer, or divorce to birding and culinary classes.

The rooms range from the entry-level signature rooms that don’t have a view to the lake to the lakeview rooms.  Perhaps my favorite was the Lady Bird Johnson suite, where its namesake stayed many times during her travels to this intimate resort.  It offers a private garden patio and is located on the quieter end of the resort that doesn’t have views of the lake, but experiences less foot traffic.  So, if you’re trying to fly under the radar and avoiding the paparazzi, I recommend this suite most of all. 

The 25,000-square-foot spa has 20 private treatment rooms with over 100 treatment choices including myofascial and craniosacral treatments.  The Bamboo Suite spa package includes a 3-hour private experience in a private outdoor patio with 2 hours of treatments and 1 hour of alone time to enjoy the space.  As an ex-competitive swimmer myself, I really loved the indoor 2-lane 25-yard pool.  There are also two different outdoor pools – one lakefront pool perfect for enjoying the views and sunlight and one spa pool, which offers more shade and an organic shape.

In addition to being the ideal getaway for a wellness and spa retreat, this Austin resort is ideal for larger corporate incentive or family events.  The resort is equipped with plenty of spaces that allow for outdoor events, team building activities, conference rooms, and more.  Even the dock can be converted into a covered outdoor dining space under the stars.  Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway for just you and your partner, or needing a venue for your next corporate event, I can handle all of the details to make your stay personalized for you.  It’s important to note that Lake Austin Spa Resort has a 3-night minimum stay for most of the year.

Book Lake Austin Spa Resort with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Priority upgrade upon arrival if available
  • $100 resort credit
  • VIP welcome amenity
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Diego Travel welcome box for first-time clients

We recommend Lake Austin Spa Resort for:

  • Honeymoon
  • Anniversary Trips
  • Couples Getaway
  • Bachelorette Parties
  • Girls Weekend Getaway
  • Mother/Daughter Trips
  • Solo Female Traveler
  • Corporate Incentive Trips
  • Small Weddings

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Commodore Perry Estate, an Auberge Resort

The hotel I was most excited about seeing is the newest addition to the Auberge Resort portfolio, the Commodore Perry Estate.  If you’ve ever stayed at an Auberge hotel, you’ll understand its level of excellence.  I’m also a sucker for quirky and eccentric boutique resorts, so when I had seen photos of Ken Fulk’s past work featured in Architectural Digest, I was looking forward to see what this interior design visionary came up with for his latest project to restore this historical mansion and treasured landmark that sits on a 10-acre parcel in the center of Austin.

Pulling into the gravel driveway to the welcoming smile of an eager attendant was the first indication that you’ve just left one world to enter another.  Stepping into the reception area, with a wall mural painted by a local Austinite, feels like a mix between a Tuscan villa and an eclectic lounge in hues of deep blue and burnt orange that invite you to sit down by the fire and get lost in a good book.  Your eye can’t help but wander from floor to ceiling, stopping at every detail that Fulk masterfully pairs together in ways one would never think of doing.   As I walked down a long corridor to my room, which is opened by a large brass key, the sales manager led me into the room where I was met with a fully-stocked bar cart and large plate of artisan cheeses and ice-cold grapes drizzled in honey.  “It’s on the honor system,” she casually told me.  “The liquor will be charged on consumption.”  In other words, fix yourself a cocktail and make yourself at home.

The original building of the Estate, where Commodore Perry lived with his family, is five suites in total and done in a different style than the rest of the hotel, which are all new surrounding buildings.  The five suites that make up the Mansion are whimsically appointed and charmingly distinct, named for each of the Perry family members.  The LaVerne Suite is perhaps the most popular, combining the total envelopment of pink floral over the walls, ceiling and curtains with a pink stripe and pink vintage bathroom tiles.  Some might call it tacky.  Most would call it delightful – and it’s Fulk’s whimsy at his finest.   

So how did I spend my alone time at this European-style retreat?  Finishing a book poolside as I sipped on a mocktail, eating a delectable room service dinner in a plush bathrobe and sprawled across fluffy pillows, and people watching at the mansion while I relished in the notable absence of three very needy children.  What I missed: conversation with friends over the punch bowl at the Mansion’s living room bar, a mystical palm reading in the property chapel, live music on weekend evenings, a yoga session or picnic on the grassy green lawn, or lunch at the larger restaurant, Lutie’s, which was not yet open due to the pandemic.  Will I be going back?  Yes.  And if you know me, you know that I will only return to properties I really love.  And I really, really loved the Commodore Perry Estate.

Book the Commodore Perry Estate, an Auberge Resort with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Priority upgrade upon arrival if available
  • Daily breakfast credit for two guests per bedroom ($70 per day, per room)
  • $100 food and beverage credit
  • VIP welcome amenity
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Diego Travel welcome box for first-time clients

We recommend the Commodore Perry Estate for:

  • Honeymooners
  • Anniversary Trips
  • Couples Getaway
  • Bachelorette Parties
  • Girls Weekend Getaway
  • Interior Design Junkies
  • Live Music Aficionados
  • Small Unique Weddings
  • Cocktail Lovers

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Miraval Austin Wellness Resort & Spa

I was really looking forward to my stay at Miraval Austin Wellness Resort & Spa because I felt like I was on the brink of insanity, a sentiment shared by every single mom who survived the challenges of educating kids at home while they can’t play with their friends.  I expected a soulful experience (after all, my company slogan is Curating travel that speaks to your soul), but the delivery fell short.I wavered on how I wanted to present this resort, as their sales team was amazing to work with and I think that for the right person, this resort would be a perfect fit.  It just wasn’t what I was expecting, and here’s why I didn’t like it:

The location: Perched up on a hillside, overlooking Lake Austin, I was expecting expansive views of the lake.  Instead, you can catch a glimpse of the lake from only limited spots on property.  There is a somewhat busy road running between the property and lake as well, which disrupts the feeling of being one with nature, as the sound of whirring vehicles interrupts the ohm of your yoga class.

The classes: While this resort is all-inclusive, many of the classes offered are an additional cost.  I sought out classes geared toward mental health as opposed to physical health, because I had just lost a family member and as I mentioned, I was going through some stuff after being stuck inside with kids for months on-end.  While I thought these classes would be more interactive and therapeutic, my experience was that there was a lead instructor that gave a lecture for an hour where the guests listened and took notes.  Hardly soulful and hardly effective, in my opinion.  Having said that, there was a myriad of physical fitness classes, and I witnessed many small groups of friends enjoying these together.  So, if you want to sign up for every fitness class under the sun and are the type that likes boot camps or a rigorous exercise itinerary, then Miraval Austin would be a great fit for you.

The food: After a flight delay, I arrived later than expected with ravenous hunger.  The main restaurant was closed, so my only option was the grab-and-go pre-packaged options at the smoothie bar next door.  I grabbed a salad, an avocado chocolate gluten free cookie, and a drink and sat down outdoors, overlooking that little sliver of Lake Austin.  The salad was mediocre at best, but I was hungry so I wolfed it down anyway.  That evening my meal was undercooked and did not contain the ingredients that were listed on the menu.  I mentioned it to my waiter and was told that menu items can vary slightly.  However, that was my experience at every meal.  The menu contained mouth-watering descriptions of Michelin-level options, but the delivery was plain and simple food that lacked flavor or variety.  Sorry, Miraval.  I was hungry for a good meal after I left, and I do not consider myself a picky eater.

The vibe: Miraval was recently bought by Hyatt Hotel group, so I did feel that there was a somewhat corporate vibe throughout the hotel.  The rooms felt like any other Hyatt and the service was more standardized and less personable, if you will.  This would be an excellent hotel for corporate retreats, looking for team-building and a property that can accommodate a large group.  As I mentioned, I also think that this is a great property for larger groups of friends who want the most amount of class options available.  As a side note, I have heard from many fellow agents who have been to both Miraval Arizona and Miraval Austin, and it is generally said that the Austin location pales in comparison.  Diego Travel, which is a proud independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel, is also a Hyatt Privé member, which translates to exclusive offers and rates for our clients at both Miraval properties.

Book Miraval Austin Wellness Resort & Spa with Diego Travel to receive the following:

  • Priority upgrade upon arrival if available
  • $100 resort credit
  • Hyatt Privé welcome amenity
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Diego Travel welcome box for first-time clients

We recommend Miraval Austin for:

  • Corporate Groups
  • Large Groups of Girlfriends
  • Bachelorette Parties
  • Fitness Junkies
  • Incentive Groups

Book Now

Austin in a Nutshell

To summarize, whether you’re planning a 2-night couples getaway or a week-long stay to explore and attend Austin City Limits (no pun intended), Austin is a great option for a weekend celebration like bachelor/bachelorette weekend or birthday bash, or couples trip to reconnect for an anniversary.  It’s also an incredible destination for wellness and spa retreats, as we covered at both Lake Austin Spa Resort and Miraval Austin.  I spent three nights total, but felt like I could have spent a lot more, and didn’t even leave the hotels to explore around town.  When you book your vacation with Diego Travel, an independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel, and member of Virtuoso, we provide all the above listed amenities at no extra charge to our clients.  Direct hotel bookings are always complimentary, and when trip planning or concierge service is involved, there is a minimal custom trip planning fee.  Next time you’re planning to travel to Austin, feel free to reach out to see how we can enhance your travel experience.

Austin, Texas. The best hotels and resorts.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach – The Best Hotels and Resorts

Laguna Beach

The Best Hotels and Resorts

MARIA DIEGO

My family lives in Southern California, spread out between the cities of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. We try to visit at least twice a year for a family vacation, and no matter how long we go for, it never feels like enough time. There are so many kid-friendly things to do in Southern California like outdoor parks, hiking, farms with petting zoos, fresh fruits and vegetables, horseback riding, museums and of course, the beaches. One area that had always evaded us was Laguna Beach, which was left for us to discover over our summer vacation.

As most of the country was just reopening and still dealing with restrictions, we planned a long weekend trip to Laguna Beach to discover three new luxury hotels in this Southern California area, known for its beautiful cliffs, great restaurants and shopping, and tons of outdoor activities like surfing and hiking. In this blog, I’m going to highlight where to stay, what hotel will be right for your family vacation, and break down the differences between Montage Laguna Beach, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, and the Monarch Beach Resort.

Perfect For: Romantic Getaways | Honeymoons & Anniversaries | Families | Surfing | Golfers | Shopping

About Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is 7 miles of coastline located between San Diego and Los Angeles, with more oceanfront hotel properties than any other area of California.  The topography of Laguna Beach includes coves, tide pools, unique beaches, sea caves and oceanside bluffs, making it one of the coolest regions to explore with kids.  Laguna Beach is home to some of the world’s most famous surf breaks, making it a favorite of surfers and stand up paddle boarders.  It’s also home to a fun arts and culture scene that includes year-round festivals, galleries, public art exhibits, and fun educational programs for kids.

Getting to Laguna Beach, California

Whether you are planning a honeymoon, a family vacation, or just a beach weekend getaway, Laguna Beach is a great option as a sole destination, or a stopover while visiting the entire California coast.  Laguna Beach is easily accessible by flying into John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is the closest but smallest of the airport options.  Alternatively, you could fly into either San Diego International (SAN) or Los Angeles International (LAX) and make the approximately 1.5 hour drive from either direction, depending on traffic.  If you have never visited California, I would recommend either starting in San Diego or San Francisco and driving the entire coast, if you want to make a fun family road trip and experience the best of California.  However you choose to explore California, we always recommend a rental car so that you can see and do as much as possible.

  • Montage Laguna Beach

    33.5159,-117.758

  • Monarch Beach Resort

    33.4822,-117.715

  • The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

    33.4747,-117.7204

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The Best Hotels in Laguna Beach

While Laguna Beach has a ton of great hotels and resorts for honeymooners, couples getaways, or family vacations, I selected the top three luxury resorts in Laguna Beach that I wanted to compare for my clients.  I am going to break down the differences and pros and cons of my top three resorts in Laguna Beach and let you know which one is right for you.  Without further ado, here are the best hotels in Laguna Beach.

 

The Monarch Beach Resort

This 400-room Monarch Beach Resort is a massive 175 acre property set further back from the beach, but offering gorgeous views of both green hills and ocean.  The 18-hole golf course runs perpendicular and slightly downhill to the beach, which makes it an ideal beach and golf resort.  In 2019, they completed Laguna Beach’s only beach club, which offers a beachside restaurant and private beach access with chair setup and service.  This beach club is only open to hotel guests and club members, which is a nice bonus of staying at Monarch Beach Resort.

For me, the downside was the commute to the beach.  You have to arrive by golf or shuttle cart, which takes about 10-15 minutes, plus the wait time when you’re ready to go.  It’s not a huge deal if you plan to go to the beach and stay put, but if you have little ones and need to go back and forth to the room, it would be a challenge. 

Other important features of this resort is that it is very kid-friendly and dog-friendly.  Dogs have designated run zones and and trails around the property.  Monarch Beach Resort does have a kids club, though it was not open during our visit.  They created outdoor kids activities and even relocated the gym equipment to an outdoor tented area to allow guests the continued use of the ‘gym.’ 

The resort has 3 pools – the 2 main ones are nearly side-by-side, separated by a restaurant and gates with one being the family pool and the other being the adults-only pool.  I did feel the pools were on the smaller side for being such a large resort.  The third pool is located in the Miraval spa, which is also adults-only.

While they have many different types of accommodations, a resort favorite is the fireside junior suites for their ground floor easy access to the outdoor spaces and fire pits that are nice and cozy in the colder months of the year. 

Book Monarch Beach Resort with Diego Travel to Receive the Following:

  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability
  • Daily full breakfast, for two guests per bedroom in AVEO Table + Bar or via room service ($80 credit per day)
  • $100 USD Resort credit, to be utilized during stay (Cannot be used for room, tax, valet or resort charge, not combinable, not valid on retail items, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

We Recommend Monarch Beach Resort For:

  • Large families or family reunions
  • Golfers
  • Corporate or incentive travel
  • Large weddings
  • Large reunions that require large outdoor spaces
  • Those looking for a more lively scene

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The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel

Last, but not least, was our stay at The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, the southernmost hotel of the three.  Just in front of Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point, this spot is a favorite to surfers from around the world.  The team at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel made us feel like rock stars, with a VIP welcome and amazing amenity for our kids that made it feel like Christmas morning.  As an independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel, our clients get the privilege of receiving STARS perks at any Ritz Carlton property worldwide.  What does this mean?  It means VIP treatment, priority upgrades, extras throughout, and white glove “Guardian Angel” service throughout your stay.  Why would you ever book direct, when you can book with us and receive all of the above?

During our visit, California restrictions required any indoor restaurants to remain completely closed.  Due to this, dining options on property were extremely limited, with only 180 Blue, a small outdoor patio with, you guessed it, 180 degree views of the ocean and sunset.  So, this small venue was always to capacity and only allowed for high table seating, which proved challenging with a small 3-year-old.  However, during “normal” times, you would have plenty of indoor dining options.

Here’s a cool fact about this luxury hotel: Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is the only Ritz Carlton in the world that overlooks a natural surf break.  So, if you have a surfer in the family (like we do!), then the Ritz Carlton would be a great choice for you.  It is a hike down to the beach, and once there, the hotel does not provide any chairs or beach service like towels or beverage service.  So, keep that in mind when planning your trip.

The hotel has 396 rooms and suites, with suites recently renovated with beds that have a direct line of vision to the ocean.  Not a bad way to wake up in the morning!  The lobby was renovated in 2018, and standard guest rooms have a planned renovation underway over the next couple of years. 

For kids and adult activities, the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel provides an eco adventure tour, night crawler hike, and whale watching tours to name a few.  They also provide a complimentary 45 minute photography session if you want to get your holiday card photos taken during your stay.  Personally, the downside to the hotel was the pool.  Located in a courtyard, with zero views to the ocean, I felt it was enclosed and for being on a beach vacation, it would be nice to spend time at the pool feeling the ocean breeze.  I also didn’t like that there is no beachside service or chairs.  However, if those aren’t your priorities and you just want the best spot for easiest access to surf, or the closest hotel to Dana Point, or the hotel with the best views from your room, then Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is the best choice.  Just be sure to ask us which room category would ensure you have the ocean view you’re craving. 

Book Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel with Diego Travel to Receive the Ritz Carlton STARS Exclusive Amenities:

  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability
  • The Ultimate Family Beach Vacation Amenity
  • Daily Breakfast for Two at Raya, In-Room Dining, or The Market Place
  • $100 Hotel Credit
  • VIP Status with In-Person Warm Welcome and Note from General Manager
  • First Priority on Wait Lists in Sold-Out Situations
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

We Recommend Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel For: 

  • Surfers- The Ritz Carlton is located directly above Salt Creek, one of Southern California’s iconic surf spots. 
  • Those who love an ocean view but don’t plan to spend much time at the beach or the pool
  • Corporate or incentive travel
  • Ritz Carlton loyalists or Marriott Bonvoy members

 

Montage Laguna Beach

Montage Laguna Beach resort is the Montage brand’s premiere property, the first in its portfolio and the pinnacle in Pacific coastal luxury.  From the moment you arrive to the lobby, the floor to ceiling views of the Pacific Ocean are jaw-dropping.  Throughout the pandemic, Montage Laguna Beach never closed, remaining open for locals and clients who were in-the-know to the property’s standards and exclusive access to the beach. 

This hotel offers 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom suites with three different views.  While all rooms have views of the ocean, the entry level rooms are on the ground floor, or “horizon views.”  One of the advantages of booking your stay with Diego Travel, is you’ll receive an automatic view upgrade at time of booking.  In total, the resort has 258 rooms and suites that underwent a complete renovation in 2019.  The hotel room decor is a soft, neutral, coastal blue palette that feels straight out of the pages of Elle Decor magazine. 

The biggest highlight of the property is the easy access directly down to the beach, albeit down some pretty steep stairs.  Montage Laguna Beach offers beachside service with chairs and towels, so if the beach is your thing and is high on your priority list, then Montage Laguna Beach should be your first choice.

Other highlights, especially if you’re traveling with kids, is the amazing kids club and activities menu they offer.  While it’s not included in your hotel stay, they offer half and full-day programs for kids ages 5-12 years old.  While the kids are enjoying their fun outdoor activities like swimming in the pool with mermaid tails on, you can go enjoy one of the 20 spa treatment rooms or the adults-only spa pool. 

With the option of multiple bedroom units, I love Montage Laguna Beach for family or multi-generational family trips who are looking for the best in service, highest quality accommodations, and al fresco dining with oceanfront views.  It’s also a great options for honeymooners or adults looking to get away for a weekend because you can use the spa pool which also sits in front of the ocean. 

Book Montage Laguna Beach with Diego Travel to Receive the Following:

  • View upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability (applicable to Ocean Coastal & above)
  • Welcome Amenity
  • $60 daily breakfast credit per bedroom at The Loft or Room Service
  • $100 USD Spa Services credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
  • Early check-in, subject to availability
  • 4pm guaranteed late check-out
  • Complimentary VIP Access to South Coast Plaza, Southern California’s Premier Shopping Destination and exclusive shopping offers/discounts at select luxury retailers.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

*for suite stays of 2 nights or more, spa credit is $200.00

We Recommend Montage Laguna Beach For:

  • Families
  • Multi-generational families
  • Honeymooners
  • Celebration Travel
  • Small, intimate, and luxury weddings

Laguna Beach in a Nutshell

To summarize, whether you’re planning a 2-night stay as a stopover or a week-long summer vacation, Laguna Beach is a great option for a honeymoon, family vacation, or couples trip.  We spent three nights, but felt like we could have spent a lot more, and didn’t even leave the hotels to explore around town.  When you book your vacation with Diego Travel, we provide all the above listed amenities at no extra charge to our clients.  Direct hotel bookings are always complimentary, and when planning or concierge service is involved, there is a minimal custom trip planning fee.  Next time you’re planning to travel worldwide, feel free to reach out to see how we can enhance your travel experience.

Laguna Beach- Best hotels and resorts guide

Backberry Mountain vs Farm

The Difference Between Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain

The Difference Between Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain

A Diego Travel agency and Virtuoso client favorite domestic destination has always been Blackberry Farm and more recently, Blackberry Mountain – two luxury resorts in the Great Smoky Mountains of Walland, Tennessee.  If you are undecided between which of these Virtuoso and Relais & Chateaux properties might be right for you, we are here to point you in the right direction.  In addition to helping our clients navigate the differences between these two luxury resorts, as a proud affiliate of McCabe World Travel, we also offer our clients the following benefits:

  • 15% off published rates
  • $100 spa credit
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Priority room upgrade when available
  • Personalized trip planning to make the most out of your vacation
  • Custom Diego Travel welcome box with goodies for new clients

Both Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain are the perfect destinations for a wellness and spa weekend, a girlfriends getaway (see our blog on our moms’ trip to Blackberry Farm), a domestic honeymoon, or even a large family vacation, so how do you make the choice of which one is best for you?  Well, just keep reading…

Getting There

The pastoral Tennessee farm is situated on a 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains, just 25 minutes from the Knoxville airport, also known as McGhee Tyson Airport or TYS, or you can drive 2.5 hours from Asheville, 3 hours from Nashville, or 3.5 hours from Atlanta.  The two sister properties are located just 30 minutes apart, with Blackberry Mountain sitting at an elevation of 2,800 feet.

How to Get to Blackberry Farm & Blackberry Mountain

  • Blackberry Farm

    35.6864,-83.8656

  • Blackberry Mountain

    35.7431,-83.7659

Why you should plan a trip to:

Blackberry Farm

  • There are 68 accommodations/rooms at Blackberry Farm
  • Rooms range from a queen Historic room in the Main House to multi-bedroom homes
  • Blackberry Farm includes breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Home to The Wellhouse at Blackberry Farm (spa) for re-centering
  • Activities include cycling, horseback riding, hiking, boating, water and paddle sports, fly-fishing, bird-watching, sporting clays, carriage rides and archery

Blackberry Mountain

  • There are 18 large cabins and 6 traditional cabins and multi-bedroom homes at Blackberry Mountain
  • Rooms range from a watchman queen cabin to a 5-bedroom private home
  • Blackberry Mountain includes breakfast and dinner, but lunch is not included in the rates
  • Home to Nest, the naturopathic spa focused on self-discovery
  • Activities include diverse hiking options, destination picnics, fitness classes, rock climbing, camping, mountain biking, sporting clays, tree climbing, fly-fishing, boating, water and paddle sports

What Is The Highlight at:

Blackberry Farm

The renowned Relais & Chateaux Foothills Cuisine at Blackberry Farm is literally farm to table and every meal is a savory and indulgent feast for the senses. If you are looking to relax with not much more activity than say, an epicurean adventure, then Blackberry Farm is the right place for you. They have James Beard award winning dining at The Barn, in addition to The Dogwood and The Main House. Summer opens up more opportunities for al fresco dining options and tasting the 30 plus varieties of tomatoes on offer from the gardens.

Blackberry Mountain

The elevated property on the mountaintop is the prime spot to disconnect from your devices and reconnect with your loved ones. In fact, the Watchman Cabins don’t even have televisions. The resort offers a peaceful retreat or an epic opportunity for adventure. Its wellness focus translates to its meals, its activities, its service and its spa treatments. You’ll find everything from aerial yoga, rock climbing, Raku pottery classes, and nature retreats (a la forest bathing).

Who Should Visit?

Blackberry Farm

It’s ideal for large, traditional family gatherings, with special events and concerts scattered throughout the calendar each year. Guests of the farm, or as they like to refer to them, friends of the Farm, tend to return year-after-year, with the draw of seeing their favorite performing artist, or taking a special course, or partaking in a special hobby. It’s not just the unparalleled hospitality that is the hallmark of the Blackberry brand, it is the experience that makes the vacation. Finally, you can’t miss the farmstead tour and a visit to see the Lagotto Romagnolo puppies, or better known as truffle puppies. These cuddly and delicious little teddy bears have a 6-year wait list to purchase one. And while I haven’t gotten myself on the list, I’m seriously considering it. The puppy visit makes the visit to the farm completely worth it!

Aside from large families, Blackberry Farm is really ideal for intimate weddings and honeymooners alike. The property is so expansive and the accommodations offer so much privacy, that even at full capacity, the resort never feels crowded. We have planned small and large celebrations, and work collaboratively between you and the Blackberry team to make your event unique to you. If you feel overwhelmed about putting together your destination wedding, don’t hesitate to reach out to see how we can transform your vision into reality.

Blackberry Mountain

While you’ll find everyone from families with small children, to couples celebrating their anniversary, to newlyweds on their honeymoon, what sets the Mountain apart is that you won’t see much of anyone else if you don’t want to. The point is to disconnect from the everyday grind and dive into your health and wellness to truly emerge more centered, more in tune with nature, and hence, more relaxed. All while challenging yourself as much, or as little, as you’d like with the plentitude of mountain adventure activities

Need Help Deciding Which One Is Right For You?

We are always here to walk our clients through questions, itineraries, and custom trip planning. If you really can’t decide which property you’ll enjoy more, then we say why not enjoy both?! You can easily spend a few days at each, but keep in mind that during peak seasons, there may be minimum stays at each. We also recommend booking at least six months in advance to get your preferred date, and more if you are planning a large group vacation or a wedding. You can Contact Us us to start planning your next escape to Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain. We can’t wait to make your stay extra special!


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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BLACKBERRY FARM AND BLACKBERRY MOUNTAIN

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What to Expect While Traveling During the Pandemic

What to Expect While Traveling During the Pandemic

Ready to Travel?

What to Expect While Traveling During The Pandemic

MARIA DIEGO

Since March 2020, the world was dramatically changed by the global pandemic. The travel industry was virtually shut down overnight, with hotels, suppliers, and travel agencies scrambling to stay afloat while also processing refund after refund for clients who were unable to travel. Upon reopening, hotels have struggled with ever-changing government restrictions, balancing supply and demand, and meeting the expectation of the customer with so many variables that affect the overall customer experience.

In this blog, I’m going to outline what it’s like to travel during this global pandemic based on my personal experiences at seven hotels and resorts in the last three months. My clients have also provided feedback on dozens of hotels and resorts with varying experiences related to social-distancing, health and safety measures, and services provided (or not provided). The travel industry has gone through a radical shift in very little time, so everything from airlines to hotels to tour operators will continue to transform over the coming years to adapt to this new reality. I hope this feedback serves to guide you and your family as you plan future travel, and set your expectations correctly so that you can make the most of travel during this most unusual of times.

5 Things to Remember Before You Travel

1. Expect the Unexpected

Ive always felt the best travelers are those who know how to roll with the punches.  This has never rung more true than when traveling during the Coronavirus pandemic. As a professional travel planner and owner of the luxury travel agency, Diego Travel, an independent affiliate of McCabe World Travel and part of the worlds leading Virtuoso travel network, I like to plan out every detail of my clientsvacations.  That way, from the moment they leave their homes until the moment they arrive back again, they have a pretty clear vision of what to expect from their laid-out itinerary.  That doesnt always mean that everything goes according to plan, so I am always available to help my clients make any necessary changes and adjustments to work through the unexpected. 

In the past, rolling with the punches might have meant accepting a flight cancelation with grace and the challenges that come along with that, or changing a tour date due to rainy weather.  All of these circumstances are generally out of everyones control, but having a travel advisor to rely on is the best way to arrive to a quick resolution.  Today, those punches might feel a lot more frequent and a lot harder to deal with, which makes it especially important to work with a travel advisor, so that you are not left wasting your precious vacation time scrambling to work things out on your own. Having said that, my recommendation is that anyone traveling during this time should go into their trip with an open mind and positive attitude so that you can enjoy and make the most of your trip even when encountering the limitations of travel during these unstable times.

Bummer! Kids club is closed

2. Set Flexible Expectations Prior to Departure

Every state and every country has different travel restrictions and guidelines to follow during the age of coronavirus.  Now more than ever, I am advocating to use a travel professional to plan your travel.  Dont rely on your cousins feedback who visited last month.  A big buzz word during this global pandemic has been fluid.  The rules and regulations are fluid and change on the daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.  So book your travel plans with someone who can coach you on not only what to expect, but also what testing youll need, when youll need it and where to get it.

Dont want to get tested in order to travel?  Thats fine, there are still plenty of options that your travel advisor can help you explore.

Now, choosing your destination is only half the battle.  Each state has different policies for indoor dining, mask-wearing policies, allowed activities (like spa and gym), thereby affecting the functionality of hotels and resorts.  Youll want to be fully aware prior to making your plans of what will be available to you and what will not.  Are you OK with not having limited activities for children and no kids club? If the spa is unavailable, are you okay with that? What about indoor dining?  If the answer is no, then we had better look elsewhere.

Aside from the hotel policies themselves, another factor to consider are other guests and their general behavior.  I have anecdotal feedback from multiple clients that hotel guests in Georgia and South Carolina behave differently than hotel guests in California.  Thats not to say there is a right or wrong, but you have to decide what you feel comfortable with in order to fully enjoy your vacation time. One of the advantages of using a travel advisor is that we can go over the nuances in the travel experience from one destination to another or even hotels within the same destination.  Another suggestion is to read my blog Ready to Travel, which guides you on 5 ways to travel safer.

Expect limited dining option while traveling in the age of COVID

3. Check Destination Policies at Time of Booking and Again Prior to Departure

Policies are changing daily, not just by the hotels themselves, but due to state and county Coronavirus regulations.  In one such instance, housekeeping was provided at the time of booking, but by the time the guest checked in, the service was no longer being offered.  Its also possible that travel requirements change, and the last thing you want is to be taken by surprise when you arrive to the airport.  

In July, we visited three beach resorts in Laguna Beach, California, all offering a pretty unique experience when it came to Covid-measures.  Because California was not allowing indoor dining at that time, the hotel that was most affected by these restrictions was the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point.  All but one of their restaurants offered no outdoor seating, with 180blu being the only option for outdoor patio seating at high tables that were more appropriate for bar food than for gourmet dining.  Their solution was to have all other food and beverage orders placed through private dining, and then delivered in take-out boxes to your choice of Raya, their indoor restaurant space with wide ocean views, or to your hotel room.  For many, this could be cumbersome and uncomfortable after a multi-day stay at this resort.  While I loved the location of this resort, its restrictions made the stay quite challenging in a number of ways.

By contrast, the Montage Laguna Beach had two outdoor dining restaurants, plus poolside dining, which made it feel like a hotel stay reminiscent of pre-Covid times.  The property itself is a much more indoor/outdoor living feel than the Ritz Carlton, however even here dining options were somewhat limited.

At all of the properties we stayed at, including the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Montage Laguna, and the Monarch Beach Resort, Diego Travel clients receive daily complimentary breakfast for 2, a $100 hotel/spa credit, plus a priority room upgrade when available. These additional amenities are combinable with whatever promotion the resort offers, and often times we have access to exclusive promotions for Virtuoso partnerships.  Not to mention booking with a Virtuoso agency guarantees our clients are given the VIP treatment that they deserve!

Checking into a hotel the age of Covid-19

4. Be Patient and Practice Empathy

After the travel industrys economic decimation, we have proven our resiliency in an industry that few people understand unless youve been in it.  Millions of people were laid off or furloughed, and when travel began to return, hotels struggled with rehiring staff and maintaining margins that might lessen the costly blow of a property that had zero income for months on end.

I gently reminded my clients, especially those who traveled to a hotel within weeks of reopening, that it would be an imperfect stay, but certainly filled with people who were trying their hardest to steady a sinking ship. I expect that service may not be up to par to what luxury travelers had come to expect pre-Covid.  I also expect that the issues we will see in the coming months as the world begins to open up will take time to correct themselves.  The travel industry will take time to heal the deep wounds it has been dealt.  So I would just ask all travelers to be patient and gracious during this unsteady recovery, and support small businesses when you can. If you know a travel advisor, use one. Tip generously to the waiter whos dashing between four tables to keep all the customers happy and fed.  Frequent boutique hotels or consider upgrading your room to a suite.  Our industry is one based on customer service, and I have never experienced a more collaborative and supportive group of people who will bend over backward to make their customer happy.

Networking during Virtuoso’s anual conference

5. Relationships Matter

The emergence of online travel agencies (OTAs), such as Expedia, Booking and others, in the early 2000s was the most historically significant thing to happen to the travel industry.  It transformed the way the consumer purchased travel, making it incredibly easy for everyone to directly book flights, hotels and tours. As these OTAs became more and more successful they merged and grew into the two juggernauts that now control most of the online travel industry under the guise of their many subsidiaries. Did you know that Expedia controls Travelocity,  Hotels.com, Orbitz, Trivago, VRBO, etc while Booking controls Priceline, Kayak, Open Table, etc? The power that these OTAs now have has come at the expense of not only travel providers such as hotels and tour operators by dictating exorbitant commissions but also at the expense of travelers who have to pay more so that those same travel providers are able to afford paying the commissions demanded by the OTAs. By working under a different model, Virtuoso travel agents have cultivated strong and lasting relationships with hoteliers and service providers, that allow us to work with our travel partners to go above and beyond for our clients.

Were in the relationship business,says Matthew Upchurch, the CEO of the Virtuoso network, the premiere consortium for travel agencies, suppliers and hotels.  It is the emotional capabilities that make us irreplaceable.”  While an online booking may look like an easy way to book travel, it is not the best means to the end result.  This has never been more true as it is today, when constant changes in policies demand a human connection. If you dont believe me just ask anyone who has spent hours trying to deal with a change or refund from an OTA. My job as a Virtuoso advisor is not just to know my clients and understand what they value, but also to maintain a relationship with the other side – the hotels and suppliers.  In this way, when I book my client with the sales manager at Montage Palmetto Bluff for example, Heather knows my clients value the view over proximity to the restaurants (or vice versa!), they get an automatic upgrade at time of booking, and the general manager greets them by name when they walk into the lobby.  

Gone are the days when OTAs have the leg up on better value.  The hotels shell out exorbitant commissions to these OTAs, so its a better business model for the hotel itself to work directly with travel advisors and travel agencies, particularly those who work with highly-valued clientele like Diego Travel clients.  As a proud affiliate of McCabe World Travel, our preferred partnerships with brands such as Four Seasons, Belmond, Rosewood Hotels, Ritz Carlton, and many more luxury brands, offers access to exclusive rates and value-added amenities.

10 Things to Expect While Traveling in the Age of Coronavirus

  • Reduced airline and airport staff
  • Health and temperature screenings at some airports
  • Limited flight routes and schedules
  • Obligatory use of masks while at the airport and throughout the flight
  • No food and beverage service onboard
  • Limited bellman, room service and housekeeping services
  • Outdoor dining only at some destinations and limited menus and restaurant options
  • Limited access to restaurants, gyms and spas
  • Limited services such as kids club or group classes
  • Significant changes or limitations to group tours

Don’t forget to practice social distancing while traveling during the pandemic

A Note on Travel in 2020 and Beyond

To summarize, these changes to travel are ever-changing and no one knows if they will be here to stay or when things will go away.  How long will the word quarantine be a part of our everyday vocabulary, or how long will we all be required to wear masks in public?  Nobody knows, though I wish I had a crystal ball.  All I know is that those of us who work in travel are committed to getting the world back to it, even if the speed at which is comes back is more of a sputtering rather than a full-speed ahead.  As you look ahead to your vacation days for the rest of 2020, or  begin to plan the momentous trip youre looking forward to for 2021 to make up for lost time, heed my advice on this one.  If you’ve never experienced the professionalism of a well-planned vacation by a travel advisor, or havent used a travel agent since the 1980s, now is the time to venture into a relationship that you wont regret.  Research to find an advisor that understands your needs, takes time to get to know you, and has relationships with the global market.  It may just be the best relationship you establish for 2021.


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What to expect while traveling during the pandemic

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Florida Keys

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys

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

The Florida Keys are made up of 5 main keys that start at Key Largo, then 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.

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

The Florida Keys Family Travel Guide

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.

Getting around Sea Island Georgia

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

INSIDER TIP

The resort offers complimentary use of a BMW X5 throughout your stay on a first-come, first-serve basis. Make use of it to visit nearby sites like the Stables at Federica.

The Florida Keys
  • Isla Morada

    24.9780,-80.5497

  • Marathon

    24.7110,-81.0897

  • Little Palm Island

    24.6237,-81.4007

Where to Stay in The Florida Keys

The Cloister at Sea 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:

  • A suite upgrade if available (the honeymoon suites have outdoor hot tubs on the terrace)
  • Daily complimentary breakfast for 2
  • $100 resort credit (use it toward an unbelievable massage in their quaint yet impressive spa)
  • Early check-in/late check-out

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

Sea Island Cottages

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:

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

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.

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.
 

Florida Keys family travel guide

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