Tuesday, December 22, 2009

South Florida Style

It was a bit too rainy and cold for my liking this past weekend in South Florida, but that surely didn't stop me from enjoying a few of my favorite luxury hotels. In between time with family and friends, I stopped by the new Eau Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach; had dinner at the best kid-friendly restaurant in the country at The Breakers; and enjoyed Sunday Jazz Brunch and a peaceful evening at The Setai on South Beach.

To say the Eau Spa is about as different as it gets from traditional Ritz-Carlton style is an understatement at best. Here, it's all about indulging and enjoying...guests are encouraged to light candles, make wishes, eat cupcakes, even concoct their own personal "scrub & polish" to be used during a treatment (or taken home in a cute polka-dotted bag). The colors and furnishings are whimsical and fun...silver, purple, green, lots of funky mirrors, non-spa-like lighting fixtures, chic chandeliers, cush chaises & comfy chairs. Treatments themselves are given in one of 19 "Spa Villas", each individually decorated & named (my faves were Villa Naughty and Villa Sassy). Choose your own mood lighting, aromatherapy oils & music genre to totally customize the Eau Spa experience. It's a winning combination for the younger, hipper demographic Ritz-Carlton's been aiming to win over. I only hope that many sister Ritz-Carlton properties follow Palm Beach's lead!

Anyone with kids (or nephews, as in my case) must book at table at The Italian Restaurant at The Breakers Palm Beach. Not only is the food amazing (the chicken parm, veal Milanese, snapper Francese & chicken Marsala were hits at our table), but the service terrific (the entire staff truly seems to love kids). Most notably, you'll never have to worry about whiny hungry kids as they've got an entire arcade, video game room & plenty of toys and other tots to play with at the Family Entertainment Center adjacent to the restaurant (shown) while dinner's cooking and the adults are relaxing over a bottle of wine!. Why aren't there more restaurants using this formula? It clearly works, and the place is perfect for families of all sizes with kids of all ages!

My new favorite place to brunch on Sundays in Florida is at The Setai, a Leading Hotel of the World on the ocean in South Beach. Great music, a gorgeous decor & an incredible range of culinary treats--from traditional breakfast faves like omelettes & waffles to an Asian-inspired spread with signature dishes from Singapore to Indonesia--set the stage for a wonderful afternoon. Brunch is served from 11 am to 3 pm, and the local jazz trio adds to the overall experience. I've loved this hotel since the day I saw a model room (back in 2002 when construction was just underway) and it remains my favorite place to stay--and book--on South Beach. Much of the staff hails from sister GHM properties in Bali, and the level of service far exceeds that typically found at neighboring South Beach hotels. The spacious suites range from 600 square feet with city views to 1400 sq feet plus with full kitchens, two bedrooms and drop-dead gorgeous ocean/beach views. I love the three swimming pools (each a different temperature), the new evening Grill concept, the swanky outdoor Courtyard and chic Zen-inspired decor. Yes, it's true...I fell in love with The Setai at first sight, and I'm still in love.

Contact me about special Virtuoso amenities, best available rates & VIP perks available to our clients at each of these three luxury hotels via email at stacy@elitetravelinternational.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blackberry Addicts Unite...

I knew I'd met my match when I came across someone on a recent trip as addicted to his blackberry as I am to mine. Anyone who knows me on a business or personal level knows my blackberry is simply my lifeline. It's my digital rolodex, my mobile email access, and my main communication tool to clients, friends and family worldwide...something essential for someone who travels internationally as frequently as I do. It allows me to conduct business wherever I am in the world, be it an airport awaiting a flight or in the middle of the Med on a luxury cruise. To me, being able to communicate with my clients while I am on the road previewing hot new properties and familiarizing myself with destinations is just as important as being able to do so from my home office in LA.

Thus, it was beyond refreshing to meet a like-minded business owner who travels frequently in order to stay on top of the latest trends and the newest luxury products...all the while using his blackberry to stay in touch with his home office in Manhattan and clients worldwide.

The blackberry addiction was just the first of many things we discovered we had in common...with the consistent theme being our shared desire to offer a high level of personal service to high-end clients who demand accessibility, expertise and value from the people they choose to trust with their travel plans. Rather than continuing to go it alone on opposite coasts, we've formed an innovative new alliance that allows us to combine our strengths & work together to grow our respective businesses in both NYC and LA.

Stay tuned for lots more news on the affiliation of LA-based Elite Travel International with NYC-based SmartFlyer, as our partnership translates to THE one-stop go-to luxury travel firm for business and leisure travelers worldwide.

For more details, contact Stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or michael@smartflyer.com. Please follow both of us on twitter at @elitetravelgal & @mrsmartflyer as we'll be sharing exclusive news & details of our alliance on twitter in the days to come!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Last Call For XMAS Trips!

Still thinking about spending the holidays in a warm climate or exotic locale? What are you waiting for? Many resorts are fully booked and those that have limited space aren't giving it away (as many did last year!). But, that's not to say we can't help you plan a fabulous last-minute xmas or New Year's getaway...here are a few ideas to keep in mind as the holidays approach:

Families will find a few great options in San Diego, CA--from Four Seasons Aviara to La Costa Resort. At the latter, we've got the inside track on a few family suites priced just under $500/night (a steal for a two-bedroom suite!). Rate includes breakfast, and the location's close to kid-family attractions like SeaWorld, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo. Another great deal can be found at the Four Seasons Aviara: stay 3 nights and the 4th is free.

Also enjoy a complimentary 4th night through year's at one of my fave new Mexico resorts, Capella Ixtapa. In addition to the free 4th night, rates from $475/night include daily breakfast, upgrade if avail at check in, a $100/day resort credit and spa treatment discounts. If you've got Mexico on your mind, also consider St. Regis Punta Mita; xmas week rates start at $1,035/night & our clients enjoy butler service, breakfast, upgrade if avail & a 50-min spa treatment.
Limited space exists Xmas week at another fave warm-weather resort, La Samanna in St. Martin. One-bedroom, 830 square-foot suite rates, priced from $1925, include daily breakfast; upgrade if possible; champagne & additional VIP perks when booked through us. Two bedroom suites also still available & perfect for families.

Want something further afield? Hot hotels in Dubai have New Year's space; we recommend a Club Level room at The Address Downtown, priced from $587/nt including free wifi, Club Lounge access & airport transfers. A few of the fabulous Aman Resorts (like Amanusa, picture) in Bali also have limited holiday space; our clients enjoy daily breakfast, one lunch during stay and priority upgrade/VIP status.

Prefer a city celebration? In London, The Lanesborough ranks high on our list of preferred hotels. Our rates from 475GBP/night through the New Year's period include butler service, priority upgrades, daily English breakfast, free unlimited worldwide calls (ideal for calling friends/family around the globe to wish them Happy New Year!) and priority upgrade upon availability. We also love the chic Baglioni London, where our Virtuoso rates start at 395GBP/nt for jr suite accommodations & include daily English breakfast, upgrade, free pressing of one suit/shirt, 4 pm check out and free high speed internet access.

Last minute holiday space updates are changing daily so please call or email us for the latest news & updates. At presstime, limited space was still available at the following fabulous spots: St Lucia's lovely Cap Maison Resort; Punta Cana's Sivory Resort; the Fairmont Orchid and the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Hawaii; in the Turks & Caicos at The Turks & Caicos Club; in NYC at The Essex House; in Vegas at the brand new Mandarin Oriental; in Arizona at the Four Seasons Scottdale; and in beautiful Beverly Hills at the Montage Beverly Hills.

For more details and help planning your last minute holiday trip, call us at 310 979 9036 or email us at elitetravelgal@gmail.com.

Monday, November 30, 2009

PURE News, Part 2...

As promised, here's the inside scoop on a few more cool, very unique travel experiences I discovered on my recent visit to Marrakech for the 1st annual PURE Life Experiences travel show:

One of the hottest hotel openings this year, hands down, will be The Ranch at Rock Creek, near Philipsburg, Montana. Set for a soft opening this Dec. 17, the all-inclusive, 6,000-acre resort (shown) offers luxe accommodations in heated signature tents, main lodge rooms as well as plush 3- to 5-bedroom log homes. Pricing includes all meals, drinks, airport transfers and most activities, which run the gamut from horseback riding and fly fishing to hiking, biking, clay shooting, archery, river rafting--even bowling at the on-site 4-lane alley! A gorgeous spa plus close proximity to golfing, skiing at Discovery Hill & local attractions (ie, ghost towns, live theater, historical sites) are additional unique selling points. The property is perfect for a destination wedding, a corporate retreat, a family vacation or an active yet relaxing getaway for, well, just about anyone!

In a totally different corner of the world is yet another favorite find of mine: the Saadani Safari Lodge. Billed as a "Safari Lodge on a Beach", this intimate oceanfront property was named "Chic Shack" of the year in 2008 by Elle Magazine and is located just 15 minutes by air from Zanzibar. Activities include both riverboat and walking safaris as well as game drives, which can be followed by a relaxing afternoon at the swimming pool or a walk on the beach (possibly following the footprints of a lion who lives nearby!). Accommodations are tented oceanview cottages swathed in Zanzibar netting, some feature al fresco (screened in) beds for full effect of the amazing natural setting. Also an option: the luxurious Siri Suite, complete with private kitchen, private pool, private beach access, private safaris, al fresco shower & butler service. Coming soon: Saadani River Lodge. Opening next summer, the Lodge's sister property is a 18-room gem that will feature hidden treehouse-style rooms, ideal for those seeking a truly secluded retreat!

Another very cool option for an active, outdoorsy-style getaway is Sonora Resort, an 88-room retreat located in British Columbia, 45 minutes from Vancouver by helicopter. Following an $80 million renovation, the property now features everything from indoor tennis courts to a 12-seat movie theater, a heated oceanview ppol, a putting green, virtual golf, kayaking, world-famous fly fishing and even Grizzly Bear tours! Gourmet meals (prepared by one of the Top Foodies Under 40 according to Western Living) and all drinks, activities, wireless internet, phone service in North America are included in the rates, which range from about $600-$800 (per room, double) depending on the season.

For more information on these incredibly cool properties or to discuss your next getaway, contact Elite Travel International at 310.979.9036 or via email at elitetravelgal@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

PURE News, Part One...

I just returned from a week in Marrakech where I, along with 700 leading travel industry buyers and sellers, attended the first annual, invitation-only PURE Life Experiences global travel trade show. This wasn't just any travel trade show. Over a course of five days, I had the chance to meet & mingle--in Morocco!--with the owners & operators of some of the coolest travel companies in the world.

Here's the first of several posts highlighting some of my favorite PURE discoveries:

One of my favorite new companies is AquaExpeditions , a two-year-old Peru-based soft-adventure specialist run by CEO/owner Francesco Galli Zugaro. Set to debut a sister ship to its 24-passenger, 130-foot custom-built MV Aqua next year, Aqua Expeditions allows guests to enjoy the most unspoiled reaches of the Peruvian Amazon--in comfort--for three, four or seven nights. According to National Geographic Traveler Editor Keith Bellows: "If you want to see the real Amazon, the Aqua is the way to do it." All-inclusive rates run from $2,250 (3 nights) to $5,250 (7 nights) per person.

If you do prefer a Peruvian land adventure, consider the 7-day/6-night Machu Picchu lodge-to-lodge run by Mountain Lodges of Peru. Priced from $2,010/person, this guided small group trip (no more than 12 people) includes 4 to 6 hours of guided walking per day, all meals and comfortable accommodations in four small lodges along the Inca Trail. I highly recommend extending your stay at the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel, a 60-room luxury boutique hotel at the base of Machu Picchu town (20 minutes from the archaeological site). This chic two-year-old property features an outdoor restaurant w/stunning views, locally designed, Andean-style furnishings, a spa, yoga, cooking lessons & gourmet cuisine prepared by one of Peru's top chefs.

For a true respite, a week at one of the wellness retreats I discovered at PURE may be in order. Take your pick: Valencia, Spain or the Kenyan coast? In Spain (just outside Valencia), the Sha Wellness Clinic is a former country house-turned-wellness clinic. Built on the principals of prevention and well-being, Sha is "macrobiotics for modern times," according to its owners, who tell me: "You come here to change your life". The stylish accommodations and setting are just the backdrop for the true purpose of a week's stay at Sha, which include a personalized treatments/stress management program, macriobiotic meals, spa treatments, yoga & accommodations in a seaview suite.

I promised Sabina, the Italian-born, Kenya-based manager of Lion in the Sun Retreat, I will absolutely come visit her next year and I intend to live up to my word. Formerly a private house, this charming property owned by Italian doctor Henri Chenot is definitely where to head when detox + R&R are in order. Set across from a stunning private beach, the Kenyan retreat offers tailor-made wellness programs featuring a mix of Chinese & Western medicine, hydrotherapy, spa treatments, accommodations and delicious healthy meals. Who wants to join me on a Kenyan wellness retreat in 2010?

For more information on any of the companies mentioned, feel free to email elitetravelgal@gmail.com or visit www.elitetravelinternational.com. Look for additional EliteTravelGal posts this week highlighting other cool discoveries from PURE Life!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Lowdown on Luxury Hotels & Why to Book Now Not Later...

A few months ago, I wrote a post stating that I disagreed with MSNBC's article about how 2010 would be "the year of the travel deal". I commented that 2009 was indeed the year of the travel deal, and those who hadn't taken advantage of the deep discounts on offer would likely lose out on the lowest prices we've seen in years.

After spending all of today trying to find space over Xmas at a luxury resort for a family of 11 and nearly coming up empty (with the exception of $3,800/night suites, $2000/night rooms or a private home rental for $75,000/week), I hold fast to my original theory. And I'm not the only one. A report published today by Bestfares.com states: "US airfares are increasing daily, and those who hold out in hopes of travel bargains this winter season are being punished. In fact, some routes are 50 percent more expensive now, compared with their price over the summer.

Does this mean don't travel? OF COURSE NOT. It simply means STOP waiting for the fares and rates to drop, as they already hit rock bottom earlier this year. And, if you're even thinking about taking a holiday vacation--or traveling to a warm weather destination anytime this winter, you'd best make plans sooner than later.

As I stated in this month's Cigar Aficionado article titled "Luxury For Less", we are in fact, still seeing offers for free nights & value adds at luxury hotels (including many that never offered such options in the past). But in order to enjoy them, book soon or risk finding no--or high-priced--airline seats to your resort of choice.

A few of the luxe properties offering post-holiday& high-season specials, including free nights with a minium four-night stay, are: Jade Mountain, St. Lucia; Caneel Bay, St. John; Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda; Pink Sands, Bahamas; Rosewood Mayakoba, Mexico; and Parrot Cay, Turks & Caicos.

And, for those of you who've not yet made your XMAS/New Year's plans, contact us ASAP. Unlike this time last year, space IS limited but we DO have inside scoop on limited last-minute options on St. Barts, Anguilla, Turks & Caicos, Cabo & Punta Mita.

The BEST deal I've seen still on offer for XMAS/New Year's week is the 20 percent discount available at Capella Resorts--in both Cabo and Ixtapa, Mexico. The latter has amazing suites with private oceanview plunge pools priced from just $475 (pre-discount), including daily breakfast. This deal disappears on Nov 15, however, so heed the advice I gave months ago--and BestFares.com gave today. THIS is the year of the travel deal.

For more information on any of the resorts mentioned, or to book an upcoming holiday or winter trip, contact us via email stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or call 310.979.9036.

Friday, October 30, 2009


As if you really needed an extra-good reason to donate to breast cancer research, here's one that's hard to beat: Small Luxury Hotels is donating a FIVE-NIGHT stay at any of its worldwide properties. Yes, you heard correct. The ONLY thing YOU need to do for a chance at winning this incredible free luxury vacation valued at $2,500 is to donate $25 or more, by Monday (my birthday) to my chosen cause. http://bit.ly/SLHBDAYCAMPAIGN

Here's the scoop: Having lost my dad way too young after a long cancer battle, my efforts to raise money for cancer research (specifically the Breast Cancer Research Foundation) are done in his memory. These efforts also honor my mom--a two-time breast cancer survivor. Her ability to live with this dreadful disease--once a likely death sentence--is largely due to the tireless researchers funded by Evelyn Lauder's Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

My primary reason for choosing BCRF as my charity of choice is because nearly EVERY penny raised goes straight to fund the research for the CURE.

My only birthday wish this year is to continue to raise $$$ for BCRF, which like all charities, takes a hit in tough economic times. Helping BCRF fund the research needed to find a CURE in our lifetime is the best birthday gift any of my friends, colleagues, associates & loved ones worldwide could possibly give me.

With over 500 independent hotels in more than 70 countries, the choice of experiences that Small Luxury Hotels of the World offers is infinite. Whether it is a romantic hideaway, safari lodge, city sanctuary or spa retreat, with Small Luxury Hotels of the World you will encounter only the very best as you "Experience the World". **Terms and conditions apply.

Entering the contest is SIMPLE. Just click here for details and to enter: http://bit.ly/SLHBDAYCAMPAIGN. REMEMBER: Anyone who donates more than $25 to my BIRTHDAY BREAST CANCER CAMPAIGN is automatically entered to win. Winner will be chosen at random on my birthday, Monday November 2 at 5 pm PST so get your entries in as soon as possible!

Of course, please do me a special favor and support our amazingly generous friends at Small Luxury Hotels by fanning them on Facebook www.facebook.com/smallluxuryhotelsoftheworld and following them on Twitter http://twitter.com/SLHluxuryhotels.

Thank you, and don't forget to click here http://bit.ly/SLHBDAYCAMPAIGN to donate and earn a chance to win this fabulous free FIVE-night stay at any of the 500+ Small Luxury Hotels in the world!!

Questions? Email me: elitetravelgal@gmail.com, find me on Facebook www.facebook.com/stacysmall and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/elitetravelgal.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peruvian Adventures

No doubt, Machu Picchu is a must see when in Peru but if you don't take time to explore other regions of this fascinating country--like the Colca Canyon (where I'm pictured w/friend Samantha Steckbeck)--you are truly missing out! My first (and surely not last) visit to Peru was a study in a whole different world--one where locals work & live off the land, and where a form of simplicity we never see in the States still exists.

Sure, the city of Lima--where our journey began--is a bustling, growing city. But like any major city it's one of extremes...from the upscale residentials areas like Miraflores to the poorer ethnic neighborhoods. Despite the contrasts, the city is a beautiful one--bordering the Pacific Ocean and boasting its unique architectural style. And, there's no denying that Lima well deserves its moniker the "Food Capital of Peru." The sophistication of the award-winning chefs (Nobu Matsuhisa is half Peruvian!) coupled with the diversity and quality of the food--most freshly grown--is just amazing. Lima's definitely on my list of cities to return to, and recently renovated, all-suite oceanview Miraflores Park Hotel is certainly where I'll stay again (hey, if it's good enough for Depeche Mode, whose bandmembers were in house the night we arrived, it's surely good enough for me!).

From Lima, a short LAN flight took us to Cuzco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire located in southeastern Peru near the Sacred Valley of the Andes. At 11,000 feet, the World Heritage Site's altitude is not for the faint of heart (be sure to book an oxygen-enriched room at the 16th century monastery-turned-Hotel Monasterio). Highly recommend spending a day here adjusting (and sipping coca tea) before taking the famous Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu for the day (or night, should you desire to enjoy the setting sans tourists late eve or early morning). The train ride is just over 3 hours, and includes a meal, drinks and entertainment each way. Should you opt to spend the night, the Orient-Express Hotels-run Sanctuary Lodge is the obvious place to do so. Next time I visit I'll stay the night for sure, if only to have time to join the outdoor yoga class (complete with Machu Picchu views!).

Be sure to leave atleast three or more nights at the end of your trip to experience Peru at its finest & most authentic in the Colca Canyon. One of the most visually stunning destinations I've encountered in my travels, Colca Canyon in the Andes is one of the deepest canyons in the world at 10,725 feet. Las Casitas Del Colca, now topping my list of all-time favorite hotels, is well worth the three-hour drive from the "White City" of Arequipa for its luxurious private casitas (each with backyard terrace/plunge pool, outdoor showers and incredible views--not to mention, frequent visits from the live-in llamas!) and the unbelievable food (most of it grown right on property under the watchful eye of fabulous General Manager Cesar Torres). A visit to hotel's gorgeous Spa Samay for a massage with Giovanna is a must, as is an early wake up call for the hour-long scenic drive to witness the Cross of the Condors. Other than that, nothing is mandatory in this part of the world where it's commonplace to see donkeys and alpaca crossing the roads, families working in the farms and local childrens greeting you with a sonrisa (smile).

Other Peru tips: Drink a few Pisco Sours (the signature drink of Peru), enjoy the fresh local cuisine, and be sure to stop in at the local markets (especially in Cuzco) to pick up hand-knit alpaca scarves, hats & sweaters (I scored a gorgeous sweater for only $10!). Chat with the locals (in Spanish if you can) and be sure to book plenty of downtime at each of the fabulous Orient-Express hotels mentioned above. At Las Casitas, optional activities include horseback riding, cooking lessons & baby Alpaca feedings!

A full Peruvian itinerary can be easily arranged through Orient-Express' Peru Experiences, complete with amazing private guided tours (it's a must to schedule these with my personal favorite tour guide Jack Bytton). One of only 2,500 Jewish people in Peru, Bytton (who lived in the States & worked as a guide at New York City's Holocaust Museum) has an infectious personality and a passion for showing every one of his guests the BEST OF PERU. The South American country is one I cannot wait to visit again, and highly recommend you too will add it to your list of destinations you MUST VISIT SOON.

The best way to travel to and from Peru, of course, is on LAN. The comfy business class seats with lie-flat bed capabilityare among the best in the sky, and the airline's entertainment system tops all others for variety & quality of movie/tv/music choices. Nonstop flights from both coasts with convenient departure/arrival times are another bonus!

For more details, or to plan your visit to Peru, please contact us at 310.979.9036 or via email at elitetravelgal@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Me & Montana: Love at First Sight

Montana's long been on my wish list of spots to visit. After a recent visit to The Resort at Paws Up, it's now on my list of places to return to time and time again. To say I loved The Resort at Paws Up is putting it mildly. Located about 40 minutes from Missoula, MT, this four-year old property is one of the most unique resorts I've ever visited. There's a huge WOW factor when you walk into your gorgeous three-bedroom Estate Home-- each with two floors, fireplace, huge deck w/hot tub, and stunning views of the Great Outdoors....and the aptly named "Big Sky". I enjoyed these views from nearly every room in the house, including my master bath (outfitted with heated floors, double-head rain shower & huge jacuzzi tub).

Built on a 37,000-acre former working cattle ranch, The Resort at Paws Up is the perfect spot for families as well as adults looking to indulge their inner-kid. Anyone who ever spent time at summer camp (as I did!) will adore this grown-ups version, albeit with a full bar and much more fun activities than we had growing up (ie, ATV rides, horseback lessons, fly-fishing, river rafting & spa treatments in heated tents!). Speaking of tents, if you're truly looking for the luxury camping experience, opt to stay at Tent City or River Camp...a small complex each of 6 tents (the latter front the Blackfoot River and has two 2-bedroom tents!).

It's not just the accommodations & activities that make The Resort at Paws Up so special. The owner's own love for animals results in a very pet-friendly environment (dogs are welcome, and they even have a dedicated weekend in April called Wine & Bitch Festival for those who, well, love wine & dogs...).

The Resort's dedication to amazing food and wine is apparent in the extensive wine list as well as the phenomenal meals we had at Pomp, the main dining room (formerly the cowboys' cafeteria). Also loved the hearty breakfasts at Trough, the casual dining spot adjacent to Tank, the cozy, fireplace-heated bar/lounge where I highly recommend the signature "gingeritas".

Rates vary throughout the year, with best values available October & after Jan 5 through May. (NOTE: These are terrific time periods to plan a group/high end incentive program!). There is also still an opportunity to book a fabulous XMAS vacation (5-night minimum) at Paws Up, inclusive of sleigh rides, Santa visits, Xmas-trees & all sorts of special family-focused activities. It's a great option for extended families, especially those who relish the idea of a traditional, snowy holiday vacation!

Should you prefer a spring time visit, consider joining us for the First Annual Elite Travel Gals' Getaway to Paws Up April 14-17 or 14-2, 2010 (both a 3nt and 7nt package available). Our discounted Virtuoso rates start at under $300/night (based on 4 ppl in a home) inclusive of all taxes and meals, plus a $150 activity credit (for those who book by year's end)! I'll be there for sure, with atleast one of my dogs in tow...hope you'll join us!

For more information on vacation options at The Resort at Paws Up or the Elite Travel Gals' Getaway, contact elitetravelgal@gmail.com or phone 310 979 9036.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I Don't Agree with MSNBC: 2009--not 2010--is the Year of the Travel Deal

A recent article on MSNBC.com stated that 2010 will be the "Year of the Travel Deal". Respectfully, I disagree. Rather, 2009 will go down in the books as the "Year of the Best-Ever Travel Deals". As more people realize they can't live without travel, the bargain basement hotel rates, deeply discounted cruises, time sensitive promos & last-minute sales will become a thing of the past--a 2009 kind of thing.

How do I know this? Well, I'm seeing signs of it already. Just yesterday, I checked space for clients wanting to sail in style to Europe (next October!), and the top suites they wanted were totally booked. On several of the top cruise lines, I'm finding limited space still exists for some of the best cabins/coolest itineraries.

The reason? Smart travelers knew that the fares/rates we've been seeing all summer surely wouldn't last. Several cruise lines have even put out press releases--as they see next year's inventories fill--stating that fares will increase as of Oct 1. And don't be fooled by some of the "2-for-1" far promos we're seeing; I've already priced some of them and to be honest, the 2010 sailings still cost more at the end of the day than those in 2009.

As for hotels, how can it possibly get better than what we've seen in 2009? Never before do I recall so many luxury hotels offering free nights and ridiculous low rates. But, looking ahead, you'll see that most of these promos are only in effect from now through Christmas. People are putting 2010 travel plans on the books, leaving hoteliers slightly less panicked about the lack of advance bookings we saw in '09. My feeling is that the "Free Night" frenzy will also go down as a 2009 memory rather than something that lingers into 2010.

If the analysts are correct, and I do believe most of them are, it will take until 4th quarter for the hotel industry to show true signs of recovery. But with recovery is the goal, you certainly can't expect to see crazy creative promos like we have this year--solely to fill rooms.

My advice? There's still 3 months left in 2009. If you haven't taken advantage of the killer luxury travel deals still on offer for the balance of this year, what are you waiting for? There's still space over the holidays (!) at some of our favorite resorts (more on this, next post) and you can find all sorts of amazing deals on last-minute cruises, through the end of the year.

If you've got the time to travel, now's the time to do it. If you wait, you'll find out that I'm right--2009, not 2010, will go down as the Year of the Travel Deal.

For more information or to chat about future travel plans, contact Elite Travel International at 310.979.9036 or via email at elitetravelgal@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter for more talk of luxury travel trends at www.twitter.com/elitetravelgal

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DOWN UNDER DIGS--Where to Sleep in Sydney

We pride ourselves on our ability to match each and every client to the absolute BEST hotel for his/her needs, budget & style. Thus, on my recent trip to Sydney, it only seemed right that I sample not one, not two, but three very different luxury hotels so as to determine first hand, which clients will be happiest where. Read on for my take on where to sleep in Sydney:

For those who adore elegant, intimate boutique hotels, The Observatory is the perfect fit. Part of the Orient-Express Hotels & Resort collection, this 100-room property (pictured) oozes warmth and charm; some say it is reminiscent of a 19th century Australian mansion. I've no way to verify this of course, but I do know that I loved the Observatory's cozy, residential-style suites, with custom mahogany furnishings & huge marble baths. The hotel's Day Spa is one of the best in the city, with La Prairie treatments and a heated indoor swimming pool. The impeccable service & ultra-friendly staff stand out as a reason to return, and for me (and those who enjoy a quiet, peaceful setting), the less than 10-minute walk to City Center was a great way to burn off the hotel's amazing & hearty Australian "continental" breakfast (which could go down as one of the best hotel breakfasts I've ever had!).

Travelers who like to stay right in the middle of the city, within just a few steps of the action (ie, shops, restaurants, bars, Circular Quay, the Opera House, Botanic Gardens, the ferries & more) can't do much better than the Four Seasons Sydney. Formerly the Regent Hotel, the 531-room Four Seasons Sydney is fresh from a room renovation that completely transformed the original rooms & suites into sleek, modern settings with chic furnishings and a bevy of high-tech accoutrements (loved the oversized flat screen in my harbor view corner room!). While in house, I learned that the huge lobby/public space and the restaurants are gearing up for a total redo as well--set for completion before this year's end. Four Seasons Sydney gets my vote for having the most comfortable beds in Sydney, and if you book into a corner room, also the BEST harbour views. Nothing like watching the sunrise over the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge also in view! Most impressive, though, was the kindness of Sam at the front desk who sent complimentary chicken noodle soup up to my room when he learned from my travel pal that I was not feeling well). It's these little things that we notice--and remember--long after our stay in a great hotel.
Fans of hip & trendy boutique hotels will no doubt enjoy Blue, a Taj Hotel located on the Wharf at Woolloomooloo (steps from the famous Harry's Cafe on Wheels and a short cab ride or walk to King's Cross or City Center). The former W Sydney, the 100-room Blue Hotel is part of the much larger Wharf complex which includes trendy indoor/outdoor restaurants (like China Doll & Otto's), a Chakra Spa, apartments (including Russell Crowe's waterfront penthouse) and a full-service marina. The hotel's "blue" theme carries through to the accent colors in the sparse-yet-chic rooms to the bag of all-blue M&Ms in the mini-bar. We prefer the rooms and loft suite on the hotel's western side, as they afford the best views of the marina and city skyline.

Regardless of whether you are staying at Blue, be sure to check out The Water Bar, named "Bar of the Year" by the Sydney Morning Herald and "One of the top 10 bars in the world" by Condé Nast Traveler. (FYI: The hotel is also just across the water from my favorite yoga studio in Sydney, Yoga BC (http://www.yogabc.net/).
Unfortunately, I only had time for three hotel stays on this weeklong Sydney trip or I would have certainly booked a few nights (instead of just stopping by for an amazing lunch) at the newly renovated, harbourfront Park Hyatt Sydney. I'd have also tried the Diamant, the former Millennium Hotel now run by Eight Hotels which has been getting rave reviews from the style & design-conscious fashion/music crowd.
For more information on any of these Sydney hotels, including current pricing, promos & exclusive amenities we can offer, contact stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or call 310.979.9036.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Sydney Scene...Part 1

It's rare that I actually get to spend more than a few nights in any one destination, so a full week in Sydney--one of my top 5 fave cities--has truly been a treat. I thank V Australia for launching a terrific product at an amazing fare for inspiring me to return. Here are just a few of my observations & tips for those considering a trip Down Under.

For starters, spring (NOW) is a great time to come! Days are bright and sunny, temps in the 60s/70s. Perfect weather for walking around town, not too hot, not too cold. Make sure you plan to spend a weekend in Sydney, for several reasons. First, the markets are a dont-miss. From The Rocks and Paddington Markets on Saturday and Bondi Markets on Sunday, you'll find jam-packed stalls of locally made clothes/jewelry (many of Australia's top designers get there start at the markets).

The weekends (Thurs to Sat) are the best eves to enjoy Sydney nightlife (my favorite hot spot is The Ivy, a multi-level, open-air complex of bars/restaurants/lounges w/great music and a fun local crowd). On Sunday afternoons, no better place to be than N. Bondi Italian (the casual sister to famous Icebergs), sipping local wine, grazing on Italian fare and soaking up the views of the world-famous beach just steps away (we met the owner, so be in touch for more details & VIP attention!). Before settling in for the day, start w/an invigorating oceanfront cliffside walk (shown in photo) from surfer-filled Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach and back. IMHO, it puts Newport (RI)'s cliffwalk to shame.
Also try to plan your visit when there's a great show or cool concert at the iconic Sydney Opera House. It's an experience in and of itself... especially if you're as lucky as I was to catch a huge talent like Ben Folds. On a sunny day, spend the afternoon on the harbour with SeaSydney; you'll see & learn about who lives where (ie, Nicole Kidman's former $14 million home is on the waterfront route).

If you're a yoga addict like me, check out Lululemon's website as they have a store on George Street that offers free classes 2x/week. Other fitness fanatics will be in good company--running through the Royal Botanic Gardens is a great way to burn off the meals you won't want to miss. My faves: Jimmy Liks on Victoria Street for flavorful Thai/Vietnamese & creative cocktails and Pony, an indoor/outdoor spot on Argyle Street in The Rocks for delicious tapas, grilled meats and fish. Both hot spots highlight a seemingly new trend--communal dining tables, a fun and different way to meet people while enjoying a great meal.

One of my fave finds in Sydney is The Wine Odyssey. This incredible wine-tasting concept store, allows you to help yourself to as many local wines as you'd like (tastes start at $2) and then graduate if desired to a half or full glass. Located on Argyle St. in a stylishly decorated house, there are multiple rooms/outdoor spaces where you can lounge with your liquor or pair it with light bites. Should you find a wine you love, just walk next door to the retail store. Brilliant. And saves a trip to wine country should you be pressed for time.
Next Sydney Scene post will highlight my thoughts on top Sydney hotels. I've stayed in 3 on this trip, so as to sample a variety of styles & neighborhoods. Stay tuned. And give some serious thought to a trip Down Under!

For more tips/ideas & assistance planning a trip to Sydney, Australia, contact us at elitetravelgal@gmail.com or visit www.elitetravelinternational.com.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Escape the Madness!

As if we need to give you a reason to escape the madness that is 2009 or to ring in the long-awaited arrival of 2010, here's a really good one: Elite Travel International has teamed up with our friends at SeaDream Yacht Club to offer an incredible fare of just $1,799 per person on a pair of 5-night, all-inclusive Caribbean sailings. Applicable dates for this special fare are Dec. 13-18, 2009 and Jan. 3-8, 2010.

Based on double occupancy, this "Escape the Madness" fare includes deluxe accommodations, all gourmet meals, all liquor, beach-side yoga/Tai Chi, watersports, onboard entertainment PLUS a $200/cabin spa credit (a perk of being a Virtuoso client!).

The first sailing departs from St. Thomas on Dec. 13, sails to and overnights in St. Barts (enjoy a full day and a half in our fave port!) before continuing on to St. Martin, Jost Van Dyke in the BVIs and onto San Juan for disembarkation on Dec 18th. Choose this mid-December sail and you'll get home in plenty of time for the holidays!

Or, kick off the New Year in style and sail with us Jan 3-8, 2010 round-trip from San Juan with stops in St. John, St. Barts, St. Martin & Jost Van Dyke.

Consider the value of a SeaDream cruise: One night in a luxury hotel on St. Barts can easily run $1,500...Escape the Madness and enjoy 5 nights of being pampered at sea, wining and dining while island hopping on a gorgeous 56-cabin yacht (max pax count is 112).

These fares are offered for a limited time, on a first-come, first-served basis. Fares do not include port taxes/fees or airfare. Pre-and post-cruise hotels & flights can be easily arranged through Elite Travel International. For more information, call 310.979.9036 or email stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or donald@elitetravelinternational.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

All the VIRTUOSO TravelMart News That's Fit 2 Print

Want to know what's happening in the luxury travel world? Just read on, as the following is a round-up of what's hot & what's new, as revealed at the recent Virtuoso TravelMart in Las Vegas. Out of the five I have attended, this year's TravelMart (showcased on Fox Business News!) was hands down the best. A sense of optimism prevailed as nearly 3000 people involved in luxury travel gathered together to share ideas on how to best achieve our common goal.

Here are just some of the cool things I learned last week from hundreds of Virtuoso travel suppliers:

DAY 1:

All Rocco Forte hotels offer family packages that include a free room for kids when one purchased for parents...Hotel de Rome in Berlin offers teenage programs including DJ lessons & underground bunker tours...The Charles Munich has availability during Octoberfest...the Mandarin Prague offers a free 3rd night from Nov-March...A&K is waiving many single supplements...In 2010 Backroads lowers prices and offers new biking trips to Spain, Bordeaux, Portugal, Arizona & Oregon...Exeter offers sailings from Moscow 2 St Pete on the new Volga Dream, 80 pax, 1st luxury ship, great rates...Gran Hotel Bahia in Tenerife has new 1-2 BR villas, a new Moet & Tapas lounge...Kempinski Hotel in Brugges only 1 hr by train from London or Paris, great spot to visit traditional Xmas markets...Park Hyatt Paris has 3 new prez suites, each 2,500 sq ft with in-room spa/gym. Eva & Tony Parker were 1st guests...Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat is fresh from 70 million Euro refurb (nearly 1 million Euros/per room!)...Villa La Massa outside Florence has new 2 BR/2BA prez suite, nearly 2000 sq feet with huge outdoor terrace...Oceania's newest ship, the Marina, debuts Jan 2010...Horizon & Co offers luxe Master's golf package, $5,750/person includes 3 nts at the Ritz-Carlton, final day at Master's, police escorts & 2 rounds of golf...Hotel Adlon in Berlin is where Brad Pitt stayed for Inglorious Bastards, it's also Obama's Berlin hotel of choice...

DAY 2...

American's new 757-800s will have 110 AC power ports. Plus, AA launches service from LA to Vail this winter...The Portugese investment group that last year purchased Lisbon's Lapa Palace is building 2 new luxury hotels downtown...The newish Grande Real Villa, 45 min from Lisbon, sits seaside and is the former home of an Italian king...Amsterdam's Hotel Pulitzer completed major renovation last fall, still authentically Dutch but more contemporary in style...Virtuoso cruise pax docking in Mykonos should ask me about spending the day at Starwood's Santa Marina Resort. 150E/person gets you transfers to/from the port, a Greek seaside lunch and all day use of the beach...Entry-level rooms on Seabourn's new 450-pax Odyssey are 300+ sq feet with 65 sq ft balcony, spa measures 11,000 sq feet with private spa villas...in 2008, the refurbished (reopened in 2004) King George Palace in Athens upgraded 95 percent of all Virtuoso guests...Tahiti Legends can facilitate legal weddings in Tahiti as of 2010...Baroness Rothschild & Michael Phelps traveled through China with Imperial Tours...Inter-Continental Hong Kong guarantees Virtuoso clients enjoy double upgrades through end of Dec...One & Only Capetown is home to Gordon Ramsay's Maze & the city's only Nobu...Stay 3 nights each at Singita & Ellerman House and the 4th is free in each spot through July 2010...Twelve Apostles just redid its lobby & all rooms, offers free helicopter flight 2 waterfront for those staying 4 or more nights...Taj Mahal Palace & Tower will reopen 70% of its rooms this Dec, the remainder by March. Butler service to be offered in entire Palace...Jumeirah Beach Hotel has 19 new Arabian-style villas, 1-3 bedrooms right on the beach...Diane Von Fustenberg designing her first hotel rooms at Claridges in London...Wilderness Safaris donates a % of every room night booked back into local communities...the Island Shangri-La in Hong Kong will debut its 56th floor Club level in Nov...AmanResorts opens its 34-suite Amagiri in Paige, AZ Oct 15...Four Seasons Chiang Mai debuts 12 new, 1,000 sq ft pool villas this fall, offers 3rd night free.

DAY 3...

St. Regis Shanghai has female-only floors with dedicated female butlers...St. Regis Mexico City just opened, St Regis Princeville debuts Oct 1...All 18 villas at Fregate Island now have private pools...Royal Palms in Scottsdale offers 60 new rooms & a new Spa Villa that sleeps 8...Triple Creek Ranch in Montana to include lift tix/ski rental in rates this winter...All rooms being redone by year's end at Rosewood's Mansion on Turtle Creek...Utah's Sundance Resort undergoing total room renovation and introducing night skiing this winter...Four Seasons Seattle offers comp transfers to cruise port & 3rd night free...Plaza Athenee in NYC debuts newly redone suites this Nov and new spa/fitness center in Jan....New Danny Meyer restaurant to open at Gramercy Park Hotel this fall, a $295 Thanksgiving rate is on offer Nov 19-30...Trump Chicago offers 53 "Spa" rooms w/yoga mat, weights, healthy menu & $50 spa credit...Hotel Hershey just completed $76 million expansion...the redone Pierre, a Taj Hotel in NYC offers totally new rooms with spa-like marble baths...the Four Seasons DC underwent a $40 million renovation last year, including the addition of Bourbon Steak restaurant...Virtuoso clients enjoy 10% off best available rates at Wynn & Encore Hotels, plus breakfast, a $100 dining credit, early check in/late check out...a renovation will start this fall at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota...

Day 4...

Roger Nadal & Venus Williams are fans of the Fairmont Acapulco Princess, home to one of 15 Willow Stream spas worldwide...44 unique hotels & 28 authentic restaurants throughout Mexico comprise Tesoros (treasures) de Mexico...Through Dec 24 the Presidente InterContinental Cancun will offer Virtuoso clients a double upgrade...Maroma Resort & Spa will allow kids to stay with families in its 4BR Villa Karolina; the Orient-Express Mayan Riviera resort recently added Freddy's Tequila & Ceviche Bar to its F&B outlets...Casa Sierra Nevada in San Miguel de Allende offers its gorgeous Presidential Suite for about $450/night and recently added multiple new suites to its inventory...Mauna Lani closes Sept 1-Oct 31 for room/public space renovations, has holiday space available (including one of its famed bungalows) and no min stay is required this year...When Royal Caribbean debuts 2700-cabin Oasis of the Seas this fall, it will have 37 different stateroom categories, including 2-story loft suites, 7-day Caribbean sailings start in Dec...Halekulani Resort will confirm upgrades for Virtuoso clients at time of booking, all rooms now feature HDTV & Mp3 players...David Copperfield's Musha Cay has been undergone a major facelift and now features a Balinese instead of Bahamian decor...Ritz-Carlton Jamaica offers an all-inclusive package priced from $409/night...Ritz-Carlton San Juan offers Virtuoso cruise clients day passes to its beach/pool...Bill & Hilary just vacationed at Cambridge Beaches in Bermuda...the Pan Pacific Vancouver will unveil a new room product in time for the Winter Olympics and will play host to the Today Show throughout the Games...Park Hyatt Beaver Creek has redone all suites, has a new restaurant & bar and offers 70% connecting rooms...Aspen's Little Nell will close in Sept for an $18 million renovation, reopening Dec 1 after donating all old furnishings to Habitat for Humanity. Free ski passes to anyone staying 3 nights this winter...Free skiing also offered this winter to guests of Amangani in Jackson Hole, WY...Fairmont Ghiradelli offers a $100 resort gift card per day for Virtuoso clients plus comp passes to the kids' club...Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles will open downtown on Feb 15, 2010...Miraval Spa offers Virtuoso clients a $150 spa credit per night booked.

For more information or to book your next luxury travel experience, contact the EliteTravelGal at stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or 310.979.9036.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Year, New Rules

In the past, if you hadn't yet booked your Xmas/New Year's vacation, chances are you'd be out of luck. Most of the top resorts typically sold out months if not a year in advance, and 10-14 day minimum stays were the norm. The good news is that there's still plenty of space at some of our favorite properties, and the long-enforced holiday restrictions have relaxed quite a bit.

One of the BEST options we've seen is "Christmas in Kapalua", a 5th night free promotion (yes, even during Xmas week!) offered by the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Our Virtuoso rates start at $715/nt and include such exclusive amenities as full breakfast for two, priority late check out/upgrade if available and a $100 Spa OR F&B credit!

If Hawaii's not on your Xmas wish list, consider "Christmas in Africa", an amazing five-night package offered (for arrivals Dec 22 or 23) at Richard Branson's Ulusaba in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve (pictured). Included in the $6,200 package is five nights' accommodations, all meals and drinks, twice-daily safari game drives plus safari walks, two spa treatments per room, upgrade if available and all taxes.

Or, if you prefer to travel after the holiday rush, Curtain Bluff in Antigua has an appealing offer in its "Power of '10" package. Available Jan 1 through March 31, the 2010 offer gives guests the chance to purchase a sunset sail on the hotel's private yacht, a cooking class, a second spa treatment, personal fitness training session or tennis lesson for only $10! All-inclusive rates from $995/night include all meals/drinks, watersports & 20 activities. Kudos to Curtain Bluff for taking the creative route with this New Year special!

For more information on any of the above specials or for additional holiday travel ideas, contact us at 310.979.9036 or via email: stacy@elitetravelinternational.com.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Return to Virtuoso

A funny thing happened last week. I woke up on Monday and felt the need for change. Now, I've had this feeling before--it's why I've lived & worked in DC, twice in NYC, in Florida and am now calling LA home for the 2nd time. When I get this "need for change" feeling, I know it's time to move up and move on...and so I did. I called up my friend who runs a terrific, high-end, largely entertainment-focused travel agency in the Valley and told her I wanted to have lunch. So we did. And two days later, I made the decision to affiliate with her agency (Third Millennium Travel), marking my return to the Virtuoso network after an 8-month hiatus.

Here are just a few reasons why I decided it was time for a change:

Virtuoso is comprised of the top 1 percent of US travel agencies

Clients of Virtuoso-affiliated agencies are given top priority at top hotels worldwide--this translates to priority upgrades, special amenities/perks and VIP treatment
On luxury cruises worldwide, clients are offered a choice of complimentary shore excursions, on board credit or pre-paid gratuities

Virtuoso is rolling out an amazing new website for its members, putting contact details for luxury suppliers worldwide at my fingertips (we all know, it's who you know right?). The same site, Composer, will also enable us to search super-fast for the best itinerary/product offerings for our clients.

Most importantly, as a luxury boutique travel firm that prides itself on personal service and attention to detail, we love the idea of being affiliated with not only a host agency but a network of luxury agencies that does the same.

As a Virtuoso agency, we can now offer our clients guaranteed upgrades, at time of booking, at dozens of luxury hotels (including: The Peninsula Beijing, Raffles Hotel, Hotel Le Bristol in Paris, Fairmont Whistler, Four Seasons Dublin, Gleneagles Hotel, Montage Hotels in Beverly Hills & Laguna Beach, The Breakers & The St. Regis NY).

The annual Virtuoso TravelMart is just 2 weeks away. Now that our affiliation is official, we'll be there, meeting with hundreds of luxury travel suppliers learning what's hot & what's new around the globe. We'll also be further building our strong relationships with the industry executives with whom we partner to ensure our clients always enjoy the best travel experience...wherever they are in the world.

For more information on Virtuoso and how our affiliation can benefit you on future travels, contact stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or call 310.979.9036.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Twitter/Travel Success Story

If you don't yet believe in the power of social media, especially Twitter, perhaps this story of how Twitter works for small business will change your mind. One of the first emails I received yesterday was from a gentleman requesting assistance with planning his honeymoon. Not just any honeymoon, mind you, but a five-star, first-class honeymoon. He started his email like this: "Social Media led me to your website. Thank Twitter."

A day later, he is reviewing two proposals I sent him and we will be chatting later today to finalize plans for his fabulous December honeymoon, inclusive of first-class flights and a week's stay at one of the top Caribbean resorts.

Back to yesterday: Around 2 pm (or 11 pm in Italy) I received an URGENT "Direct Message" (or DM) from a fellow "twitterer" on holiday in Italy. She is one of my 4,300+ followers, and was reaching out to see if I might be able to help her find a villa on gorgeous Lake Como (pictured above!)...for a week, starting today!!! Seems she booked into an apartment and was horrified upon arrival to find it was not as expected. Even though it was late at night, I was able to reach my top local contact via email, put the two of them in touch and woke up this morning to an email from my follower thanking me for "saving the day, and the holiday." They are now esconced in a beautiful lakeview villa w/private pool, and it's all because of the power of Twitter.

So...the moral of the story is, if you're not yet engaged with your potential customers on Twitter, why not? (As an aside, stay tuned for more news from my sister company, Social Media Mavens...specializing in social media strategy for hotels & travel companies).

For more details on how Social Media Mavens can assist with YOUR Social Media Success, contact info@smmavens.com. For more details on how EliteTravelGal can help with your luxury travel plans, email stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or call 310 979 9036. And be sure to follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/elitetravelgal and www.twitter.com/socialmediamvns

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Once a Traveler, Always a Traveler...

It was bound to happen. Despite all of the talk about the demise of the travel industry during these tough economic times, a fascinating thing occurred: some cruise lines, airlines & hotels actually sold out their inventory for the summer season.

Of course, the reason is obvious...prices dropped so low in the past few months that traveling almost became cheaper than staying home. And talk about getting more for your money. Since when did cruise lines start giving away free shore excursions, thousands of dollars to spend onboard & free flights (not to mentions, sail prices below what we've ever seen before)? Hotels too, coughed up free nights to sweeten the pot, and in many cases, were willing to throw in free meals or really, whatever it took, to put "heads in beds."

But I am here to tell you, the days of the deep deep discounted deals industry-wide are all but over. The flood of daily deals to my inbox has slowed, and while many hotels are still offering terrific opportunities for travelers seeking great value for money, the near give-aways have nearly disappeared.

What does this mean? Well, it means that those who took advantage of the early booking opportunities definitely got the travel deals of the decade. It also means good luck securing a spot on a Regent or Oceania Cruise this summer (both lines were nearly sold out at last check). But...it doesn't mean there aren't still some good deals to be had. Seabourn Cruises, for example, is having a one-week sale (book today through Friday for best prices). Crystal Cruises dropped select fares 25% last week (for 3 days only), and Silversea continues to promote 65% off certain sailings. And many hotels, while working hard to sustain competitive rates, are still willing to throw in some great value adds (note: we've become pros at securing these for our clients in this environment).

But at the end of the day, here's what I believe: once a traveler, always a traveler. And being one myself, there are certain things in life you just can't sacrifice. Luxury travel tops my list...and regardless of what "deals" are out there or who's offering free meals, I am always going to find a way to indulge my passion (as photo taken w/a gal pal on recent trip to St. Tropez illustrates!).
Contact us today and we guarantee we can help you do the same. Suffice it to say, it likely won't be on a Regent Cruise to Alaska this summer, but we do have the inside scoop on incredible options available worldwide. Trust us, there are plenty of great options...and you'll certainly have a better shot of finding them with an expert--and fellow passionate traveler--on your side! For more details and a complimentary trip planning consultation, email EliteTravelGal@gmail.com or phone 310.979.9036.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Most of you who read my tweets on Twitter or follow me on Facebook know that I just spent a fabulous week aboard the beautiful Crystal Serenity. It is one of my favorite ships at sea (love the spacious penthouse suites, the stunning public spaces, the impeccable service, Silk Road by Nobu and Prego by Piero Selvaggio, Valentino's chef), and this recent 7-day Mediterranean sailing from Rome to Barcelona reminded me of why I love cruising Crystal.

If you haven't yet tried the ultra-luxury line, now's your chance. An additional 25 percent off already reduced fares on select 4th quarter itineraries is available, but here's the catch: it's a 72-hour sale and the discount only valid on bookings made July 8, 9 & 10. Note: In addition to the 25 percent off, guests receive a minimum of $500 to spend onboard (for anything but casino gaming & future cruise deposits). Clients of Elite Travel International will receive an additional $100 onboard spending credit, courtesy of EliteTravelGal and, in some cases, prepaid gratuities (inquire for more details!).

Here is a list of the sailings going on sale, for 72 hours, starting tomorrow:

Sept 26-Oct 8: Venice to Athens, from $4,088 per person w/a $1000 per person on board credit. Ports of call include Corfu, Crete, Rhodes, Mykonos & Kusadasi.

Nov 10-22: New York to Miami, from $3,139 per person w/a $500 pp credit. Ports of call include: Bermuda, St. Maarten, Antigua, Curacao, Grand Cayman.

Nov 12-22: Lisbon to Miami, from $2,655 per person, plus $500 per person. Ports of call for this trans-Atlantic sailing include: Ponta Delgada & Grand Turk.

Dec 5-20: Manaus to Buenos Aires, from $4,050 per person, plus $1000 per person. South American ports of call include: Boca de Valeria, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo.

Dec 10-21: Caldera to Miami, from $2,381 per person, with $500 credit per person. Caribbean ports of call on this pre-holiday island cruise include: Aruba, St. Barts (!), St. Maarten and Grand Turk.

All fares include accommodations (fares vary based on level of accommodation chosen); all meals; all non-alcoholic beverages; and a wide range of onboard activities. Penthouse suites also come with butler service and in-room bar set up w/wine or liquor of your choice.

Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy a terrific Crystal Cruise at a much reduced price! Contact us anytime this week to discuss the options, and to book you on the itinerary of your choice before these deals sail away! For more details, email me at stacy@elitetravelinternational.com or call 310.979.9036.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Using a (GREAT) Travel Agent Makes Sense

More than ever, luxury travel consultants like myself need to find ways to sell our clients on the value of our services. We know the public is being inundated with emails, mailers, “twitter-only” deals daily, and unless we have something to offer that sounds better than just a low price, clients may be tempted to simply book direct.

The bottom line: We have so much more to offer clients than just the lowest rate. Our ability to help people wade through all the deals is just one reason they need our help. Case in point: A client came to me asking whether she should book a Bermuda getaway using a time-sensitive hotel promo (in this case, second night free) or if she should go for the $400 credit being offered at participating hotels. After reviewing both deals, she went with the latter since I was also able to get her a confirmed upgrade, daily breakfast, an extra $100 credit and a lunch for two at her property of choice. The first deal was room rate only, with no value added!

Another client called wanting me to find her a “great luxury cruise deal.” We spoke about some of the offers she’d received from the various lines. Turn out one deal is already fully sold out, one of the lines is not really suitable for a family with small kids and one is just too large a ship to suit her husband’s style. For this particular family, an FIT to Europe is a better option and as my client herself says, “There is no way I could possibly plan this on my own. We have no idea where to stay and we definitely want the best private guides.”

It's true, all of the aggressive pricing/promotional deals have definitely stimulated business for many properties and cruise lines. And for me, as I see this as an opportunity to truly prove my worth to my clients. It’s rare than I am unable to match any “deal” they’ve received in their mailbox; I stress to clients they’re best off letting me make the booking for them so that I can ensure the hotel is aware of their arrival, that all special requests are taken care of and that they are VIP’ed throughout their stay.

Often times, once they show me the “cheap” deal they are considering, I counter with something even better—and if not lower-priced, than with more value added. I just call these my “insider secrets.” For clients seeking more than just the cheapest room, these unpublished insider secrets are our best weapon. Once word gets out that not only did I get my clients a great rate at a hotel, but that I also got them breakfast, an upgrade & a free round of golf (valued at $350), it’s amazing how quickly my value is realized.

I always stress my personal relationships with people at the hotels and cruise lines, and my in-depth knowledge of the product. A website may be able to offer a great rate, but it can’t explain why a hotel is not the best choice for any number of reasons (location, noise, small rooms, poor service, dated, etc). These are things only I would know based on a recent visit. Now what website can possibly say that?

For more information or to book your next trip (with our help!), contact elitetravelgal@gmail.com or 310.979.9036.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite....Deals

I don't need to tell you that now is a great time to travel. You can upgrade last year's vacation (ie, stay in suites instead of rooms) for the same price (or maybe less) OR take advantage of the incredible opportunities at luxury hotels worldwide.
Personally, I'm more a fan of those hotels that do more than just drop their price when occupancies are low. True luxury these days, is all about value and the experience you get for your $$. That said, here are just a few of my favorite luxury hotel deals currently on offer (MORE to come later this week!).
The Four Seasons Westlake Village earns kudos for its creative, 2-night "Double the Fun" deal. Basically, two people enjoy a 2 night stay for the price of one, PLUS the second person doesn't pay for spa or f&b charges (equal to those of first person and exclusive of alcohol/gratuities. Best deal is on the weekends, nightly rates through Sept start at $375. As a Preferred Partner, we'll also get you breakfast for 2 and an upgraded room (if available at check in!).

I'm also giving props to the Bermuda tourism department, not for its 2-day, 50 percent off at certain hotels sale, but for its summer long "$400 resort credit" promo. To celebrate the island nation's birthday, stay at hotels like Cambridge Beaches or the Fairmont Southampton Princess and enjoy $400 to spend on food/beverages, spa treatments, etc. Our clients get an extra $100 at Cambridge Beaches, plus daily breakfast & an upgrade!

I LOVE what Orient-Express is now offering at its fabulous Italian properties, including FREE wine-tastings at Hotel Cipriani in Venice, FREE Ligurian cooking lessons at Hotel Splendido in Portofino, FREE personal training sessions at Villa San Michele in Florence & FREE cruises along the Amalfi Coast in the Hotel Caruso's Ercole boat. As a Bellini Club affiliated partner, our clients enjoy complimentary upgrades upon availability & other special perks as well!

St. Regis is also on my radar with its $375 (breakfast inclusive) intro rates at St. Regis Princeville opening October 1. Book now & chances are pretty good an upgrade is guaranteed. Families can enjoy half-off a connecting room for kids this summer at St. Regis Punta Mita when a suite is booked. St. Regis Punta Mita also has a great Golf package with rates from $645 that include greens fees for two and a room upgrade.
Last but not least, for now, two of my new favorite hotels, CordeValle & SandHill Resort (Rosewood Hotel's gems in Northern California) have fantastic summer offerings. Ask us about "free golf" at CordeValle (where our rates also include breakfast) and incredible spa packages at SandHill (the perfect spot for a meeting in Menlo Park, by the way).

I PROMISE! More luxury deals to be posted later this week. For more info on any of the above, to book or learn about the special perks offered exclusively to clients of Elite Travel International, call 310 979 9036, email elitetravelgal@gmail.com or visit www.elitetravelinternational.com.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mexico Madness--Great Deals at Fab Hotels

Mexico's a timely topic here at the annual Advisory Board meeting for Rosewood Hotels, parent company of 2 of my favorite Mexican hotels--Las Ventanas and Rosewood Mayakoba (in Cabo and Riviera Maya, respectively). And as promised, here is a quick run-down on some of the best offerings at luxury hotels in Mexico right NOW (keep in mind...the CDC warning's been lifted and no cases of that flu were reported in Cabo, Ixtapa or Riviera Maya):

Rosewood's Destination Mexico Promotion features rates from $395 at Rosewood Mayakoba and from $515 at Las Ventanas. Included in the rate is full breakfast for two, a $200 resort credit and if you book through Elite Travel International, upgrade priority and additional amenities. There is a three-night minimum stay, valid on stays through October 14.

Fairmont Mayakoba's "Sweet Deal" package definitely is a SWEET DEAL. Rates from $279/night through mid-November include daily breakfast buffet and a $250 f&b credit (per stay), one complimentary access pass to the Willow Stream Spa facilities (valued at $98) PLUS, purchase one 60-minute spa treatment get a 30-min one free. Purchase a round of golf at El Camaleon, play as many rounds as you want. AND, enjoy a complimentary boat tour of the water canals.

At the beautiful Capella Ixtapa, rates through Oct 15th include daily breakfast, free WiFi, afternoon snacks, water/soft drinks, a $100-$250 resort credit (depending on room style booked) and upgrade priority when booked through Elite Travel International.

Kudos to Kor Hotel Group for thinking outside of the box! The Tides Zihuatanejo will actually reimburse you for plane fare (from $500 to $1000/ticket for 2 tickets depending on room category booked) when you book a minimum five-night stay. Or, book one room get the second room free!

As you might expect, there are a lot more luxury Mexico hotel deals currently on offer. We'll update this list regularly and also post new offerings as they come in on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/elitetravelgal) NB: Book your Mexico vacation through Elite Travel International and we'll ensure you are VIP'ed at the hotel of your choice.

For more information, contact elitetravelgal@gmail.com or visit www.elitetravelinternational.com.