This summer I went on a 4 night Jamaica getaway to Secrets Wild Orchid with my friend Libby.
Secrets Wild Orchid shares their property with Secrets St. James. Each resort has their own set of rooms and their own main pool areas but they share the restaurants and the entertainment. You have access to both properties!
There is also a Preferred Club room section at each resort which offers an additional exclusive pool area and some extra amenities. With Preferred Club room status you also have access to the Breathless resort nearby.
I really enjoyed the nightly entertainment at Secrets and the fun activities at the pool. There was always something going on for us to take part in, especially in the evenings. We met a great group of people who we quickly became friends with!! Couldn't complain about the delicious drinks either!
Contact Stacey at (314) 439-5700 Ext. 128 or send her an email to
begin planning an amazing Jamaican vacation with Secrets!
This trip of a lifetime began when my aunt and uncle came to me for help planning their cruise to Alaska. As we got further into the planning process, my cousin and I decided to book our own room and tag along!
We started our trip by flying into Vancouver two days before our cruise was scheduled to depart. We stayed at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel which was in a great location for exploring the city. To see some of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area, we booked a small group tour with a local guide. He took us North to Squamish, where we were able to see Shannon Falls, the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the famous suspension bridges.
Our first full day on the ship was a day at sea. We decided to hangout on the top deck and enjoy the sunny weather while keeping an eye out for whales and dolphins. That evening we cruised through the inside passage, and the crew opened up the bow of the ship so we could all get a great view as we sailed forward! We then went to dinner in the main dining room and got a table next to a window to continue enjoying the passing scenery.
The first port we visited was Ketchikan, where we booked an excursion to go sea kayaking. Ketchikan is known for being the rainiest city in Alaska, and even though there was a light rain falling when we started our tour, the guides were prepared with rain gear that kept us completely dry as we paddled through the peaceful coves! After our kayaking adventure, we walked through the famous Creek Street. The sun came out and we had perfect weather as we did some shopping and sampled local beers. We then returned to the ship and spotted lots of eagles as we sailed on to our next port!
Our next stop was Juneau, Alaska’s capitol city. We started or day by visiting the famous Mendenhall Glacier. We took a leisurely hike down to the lake for a closer view of the glacier and Nugget Falls.
Our next adventure in Juneau was an excursion that I had been looking forward to for months. We had decided to splurge and book a helicopter tour to a dogsled camp on top of a glacier, and it was definitely worth it! The helicopter ride took about 15 minutes each way, and the views from the sky were stunning. When we landed at the dogsled camp, the workers there gave us an insight to their way of life and let us meet some of their sled dogs. (As an animal lover, I was in heaven!) They hooked up a sled and we took off on a ride around the snow-covered glacier. I was happy to see how much the dogs loved running through the snow, and we could see that they were well taken care of by their handlers. This tour was very well done and was a highlight of the trip!
Our next port was Skagway, which is known for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. We had planned to take the famous train excursion, but there was a landslide the night before and the railroad was closed for repairs. Instead, we took a bus tour up the Klondike Highway (which runs parallel to the train route) and had a great time! Our local driver made multiple stops for us to get out and take pictures of the beautiful scenery, and we spotted a family of bears hanging out right next to the highway.
We spent the rest of the day hiking a local trail, sampling the local breweries, and walking around the historic town before heading back to the ship.
When we arrived in Seward, we were sad to leave the ship, but excited to head up to Denali! We boarded a motor coach and began the drive North. We were able to stop at Potter Marsh for some free time and wildlife watching, and then we continued our drive. As we approached the park, our driver stopped at a scenic viewing point and we got our first look at the massive Denali Mountain! We then arrived at the impressive McKinley Chalet, which would be our home for the next 3 nights.
Because we booked a Triple Denali tour, we had another day in the park to do whatever we wanted! We decided to go whitewater rafting, and even though the water was freezing, our wetsuits kept us warm and dry. Our experienced guide told us fun stories about his life in Alaska and kept us safe as we paddled through the rapids. After our exciting rafting tour, we took a relaxing hike that followed a river and led us to a scenic mountainside with a whole family of caribou.
After our adventure in Denali, we boarded the McKinley Explorer for our scenic train ride back to Anchorage. The dome windows gave us great visibility as we traveled through the mountains. There were lots of food and drink options available onboard and we had a guide that gave us information about the areas we were passing through. This was a fun and comfortable way to make the 8-hour journey!
We had one night in Anchorage, and then our flight home was late the next day. We had lots of fun walking around town, shopping, and trying out more local breweries! I was glad that we had free time to explore this unique town before heading back to reality.
Overall, this was an amazing vacation! Holland America did a fantastic job of helping us experience Alaska by land and sea. The transition from the ship to Denali was seamless and very well organized. Each employee we met was so kind and helpful, and I would highly recommend Holland America for anyone who wants to visit Alaska. Many people consider this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but we enjoyed it so much that I know I’ll be back again someday!
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to begin planning your Alaska adventure.
July 21 -The Journey Begins
For the first part of our journey, we flew on Alaska Air to Vancouver. At the airport we got Canadian currency and flagged a cab to our hotel, the Radisson Park Inn on Broadway. Nice place. That evening we walked to Granville Island and enjoyed strolling. The hills going down to the water there like San Fran. Steep! We liked Granville and had fish and chips at a local place called Tony’s Oyster and Seafood. The area on our walk was right by the water and very nice.
July 22 – Bon Voyage
We were both very excited to board Holland America’s Westerdam. All the luggage & transfer to get on board and thru customs went well. It was really exciting getting to our state room on the ship. The Bon Voyage from Vancouver was grand. We stood on the top deck and next to us were two couples. We began to chat and the ladies said they were from St. Louis!
Emilie and I dined that night the first night in the main dining room of the ship, and I had shrimp Diablo. She had apple pie and I had crème Brulee’. After dinner we enjoyed the Main Stage entertainment on the ship. When we came back to our room, we watched a beautiful sunset. As we sailed out, everything seemed so quiet and tranquil. Our first experience on a ship. NICE!
July 23 – A Day at Sea
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up for this full day at sea. Had eggs Benedict in the main dining room and enjoyed meeting a wonderful couple from Tasmania! There was a tour group of around 25 folks from Australia. We loved this couple and ran into them throughout our sea/land journey all the way to Anchorage. We walked through the shops and a lovely art gallery. Had lunch with a couple from Toronto. There were afternoon lectures on the upcoming ports of call and then a 5:00 happy hour called “Sip & Savor”. Always looking for a cheap glass of wine, I personally enjoyed this event. The chief sommelier offers a tasting of the appetizer of the day and a glass of his choice red/white for five bucks. Appetizer – incredible! Wine – very, very good.
We ate in the main dining room and this is when we met Ann & Dennis from Rhode Island. I had escargot as an appetizer and they were incredible! I savored every bite! We enjoyed getting to know Ann & Dennis and a great meal. After the show we hit the main stage show which featured Jim Short, the Australian humorist.. Good show! As we turned in, we knew that we’d gain an extra hour of sleep as we cruised onward in the Inland Passage to our first port.
July 24 – Ketchikan, Alaska
It was neat to wake up, look out our veranda and see that we were docked! We came into port at 7AM. Had a nice breakfast and then had an hour to wander around downtown and look at a few shops. Ketchikan is the salmon capitol of the state and they also get lots of rain. They get an average of 180” of rain a season!
We enjoyed wonderful weather our entire trip. It never went over 74 degrees and we walked around Ketchikan in shirt sleeves. After our walk we got the shuttle to take us to our first excursion which was a one hour walk in the rain forest & a trip to the raptor center. Our guide in the rain forest was great!
After we got back to the city we had time to walk historic Creek Street and look inside the shops. We had a late lunch back on the ship with a lovely French couple from Montreal and then sat on the deck in the sun. It was 70 and an incredible day!
I enjoyed Sip ‘n Savor, and Dennis and Ann asked us to join them for dinner. I had crab legs for dinner and after dinner we saw the song & dance troupe again, on the Main Stage. After that we went to the Lincoln Center State to listen to the string quintet play a while. Turned in for sleep after a GREAT day.
July 25 – Juneau, Alaska
Right after breakfast I went to the Crow’s Nest and watched the ship dock. It was incredible to see how the captain came slowly into the dock and literally turned the ship around and had it bumped exactly parallel up to the dock! Our excursion did not leave until 2:00 so we had time to investigate Juneau. We walked for 2 hours and went into the state office building, walked by shops and spent a little time inside the state capitol. We got a great photo outside the capitol of William H. Seward, the guy who got Alaska from the Russians for $7,000,000. Since Emilie and I met 49 years ago in Seward, Nebraska, we enjoyed seeing the man for whom the Alaska and Nebraska sister cities is named.
We had lunch back on the ship and had time to sit on our veranda before our tour. Weather was perfect and 70 degrees! Our 2nd planned port excursion was a trip to Mendenhall Glacier and then a four hour whale watching trip. We only had about an hour at the glacier, but enjoyed seeing it, had a bear sighting and spent some time in the Park Service Visitor Center there.
Retiring to the ship, I had salmon for supper and then we stood on the deck before retiring. Great day! They say Alaska has 50,000 eagles and that 30,000 of them live in Juneau. We saw a number of eagles on our tour and near the ship. They say they are so plentiful in Juneau that the locals call them “crows”.
July 26 – Skagway
Cruising up the Inland Passage is so peaceful. The water is like a lake. We got right off the ship and hopped right onto a van that carried us out of the city and up a winding highway. We ended up in Frasier, British Columbia in Canada which was the 2nd time we needed our passports. Process was simple. Our guide stayed with us all the way and we saw lots of interesting terrain as we came back over the Dead Horse Pass and wound our way back toward Skagway.
About 5 miles north of town, we were dropped off the train with 15 other folks and three guides. The guides were young and friendly and two were EMT trained. The path into the Denver valley was very rugged with lots of roots and rocks. We had to go slow and watch all the time to avoid stumbling. Em & I ended up at the end of the group and before long the rest of our group was out of sight far ahead of us. One of the guides stayed back with us and walked with us; we really appreciated this young man and it felt like we had a personal guide as we walked at our pace.
That night at dinner I had seared kingfish with risotto and it was great. On the Main Stage we saw an incredible illusionist; he put on a phenomenal show! I’d seen this man on TV and he did some super tricks! My favorite was when he makes it snow like crazy on stage.
July 27 – Glacier Bay
This had to be one of the highlights of the cruise! Sailing into the area of the National Park, the water is like a mirror. The scenery is lovely. Tranquility. We had another picture perfect day for weather and just kept saying, “Wow!” The captain got us to four glaciers and at one of them he simply eased up near it, stopped parallel to it, and let the boat sit. For an hour we listened for the cracks and pops and then got our cameras ready. We saw the glacier calving four times and got great photos. The sound of this is really neat! Early that day, we’d picked up about 6 park rangers. They were on board, making presentations, answering questions and talking about what we were seeing. Before the captain turned the ship around 180, we literally sat on our veranda and watched all this happen.
New friends, Dennis and Ann invited us to their room for a glass of wine, and then we dined together in the main dining room. I just had to do it: steak and lobster! I thought the steak was quite good. After dinner we went to the Lincoln Center Stage where a five person string and piano ensemble played some great music.
July 28 – Day at Sea
We had no trouble with seasickness. Traveling thus far was smooth, you had to look out a window to tell we were moving. This was the day I had worried about…crossing the larger Bay of Alaska. This was the ONLY day we had rain and it really didn’t matter much. It was partly sunny most of the afternoon, 55 degrees and mostly calm sea. We stayed busy on the ship and had no motion problems.
July 29 – Disembark Ship in Seward, Alaska & Head North
We woke up early to have breakfast and to prepare to disembark. After breakfast it was fun standing on our veranda and watching the dock crews begin to unload all the luggage from the ship. They have this down to a science!
Our first stop was just south of Anchorage where we walked a bit at the Potter’s Marsh area…a large bird sanctuary. Having passed through Anchorage, we stopped for lunch at a very nice place in Wasilla. I thought that was some little town, but it is a huge bedroom community for Anchorage. On the way up to Denali, we had one more stop at an Iditarod race crossing. There was a small museum and gift shop, and one musher had his team there. Emilie was quite happy to hold one of the puppies.
July 30 – Day in the Denali National Park
We had a wonderful night’s sleep and awoke to another gorgeous morning. It was 54 degrees. Our wonderful travel agent Stacey Hoehne encouraged us to purchase a meal package at Denali. We did that and had a great dinner last night. Breakfast this morning was super! Emilie said it was the best biscuit she’d ever had; also loved the jam. With her eggs she ordered ham and the slab of ham was an inch thick! It has a huge piece, far more than she could eat. I had a splendid pecan waffle with delightful cinnamon vanilla syrup.
They say only about 30% of the tourists get to see Mt. Denali ‘cause of the clouds. It’d say we say the bottom 2/3 of the mountain. We saw one Dall sheep, a bear in the distance with two cubs, a moose with her baby and 14 caribou. Caribou were much more visible and close to the bus when sighted. In fact, when we stopped for a break, two of them walked down a roadway right behind the bathrooms where we were! We got back to the resort late and went straight to bed.
July 31 – Scenic Train from Denali to Anchorage
The train ride was another real highlight of the trip. If Glacier Bay was the high point of the cruise, this ride was the highlight of the land portion of our adventure. Luxury is the best word to describe them! The entire top of the upper seating area is glass to allow viewing. At the front of the car is a full bar. The dining car is beneath the seating area. White table cloths. First class, like on the ship.
There were hours of forested views and lovely lakes, mountains and vistas. We had a great bar tender and an absolutely fantastic guide in our car. She was a 4th grade teacher from Portland. Her ongoing commentary (along with the scenery) made these 8 hours fly by. This young gal was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. She had us laughing almost as often as that humorist on the ship.
To our surprise our Denali meal package included coupons for lunch on the train, dinner that night in Anchorage and breakfast the next morning. Nice surprise, as we thought we’d bought meals only at the resort! Sandwich in that dining car was fun and tasty.
Motor coaches took us from the train station to our hotel in Anchorage, the Westmark, downtown and owned by Holland. Like magic somehow our luggage again made it from our room in Denali to our new room here at the Westmark!
We had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Great service. Food good, but not out of the ordinary. We walked around downtown after supper and ran into Dennis & Ann. We walked about five blocks to a place called Simon & Seafood. We had a night cap and watched evening fall over the bay. The walk back to the hotel was nice, but then we had to say our final good-byes to our lovely, new friends and feel the sun setting on the last day in Alaska.
August 1 – Fly from Anchorage to Seattle
We enjoyed breakfast and there was light rain this morning. A nice motor coach took us to the airport for our 3 ½ hour Alaska Air flight to Seattle. Everything was on time and Meredith and the girls drove us home. Matt spoiled us with a glass of red wine upon our arrival and grilled steaks for us. Tacoma had lovely weather that evening and we sat by their fire pit and enjoyed talking and making s’mores.
August 3 – Home Again. Home Again…
All good things must come to an end and this was the concluding day of our vacation. Great adventure! Many, many memories. We’d taken over 250 photos, so I know we’re going to have a great photo album as well to remember these blessed and fun days! Great to be with family, to make pleasant new friends and to see so much of God’s beautiful creation!
Contact Stacey at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or send her an email
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“I wanted to let you know how thoroughly we enjoyed our Windstar Cruise to the Greek Islands. By the second day the crew knew us by first names. We are always looking for new places to go so I'm shocked that I say 'I would do this same trip again'. We also thoroughly enjoyed the private tour that our Travel Consultant Mickey Gaona arranged for us in Kusadasi. Ephesus was our favorite part of the trip and I know our fabulous tour guide helped to make it memorable. We plan to do another journey with Windstar Cruises very soon.
Thanks for all you do for us!”
Do you have an upcoming celebration and what a unique way to mark the occasion?
Contact Mickey at 314-439-5700 Ext. 260 or email her to start planning an amazing trip!
This past July, my family and I traveled to one of my favorite places…Negril, Jamaica! This is the 3rd visit for me (check out my review of Couples Swept Away) and the 15th time for my boyfriend Scott. The biggest change for this trip was that we brought our three kiddos along for an adventure to this magical island. During these seven days, our blended family had a chance to come together to form stronger bonds and create amazing memories.
When beginning to plan, we really wanted to find a resort that would cater to a wide range of ages and interests between the five of us. My 7-year old daughter Grace lives to swim. Scott’s 16-year son Simon was interested in doing some water sports. Scott’s other son Oliver was going to celebrate turning 10 and wanted a unique experience to mark the occasion. And Scott and I wanted a place where we could have some time together but knew that the kiddos would be safe. Luckily we had stayed at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay in the past and it was the perfect choice for our diverse needs.
We booked our trip through Apple Vacations which included a charter flight from St. Louis to Montego Bay. Early on Saturday, July 7th we boarded our plan for a direct flight and landed around 12:30pm. We also made the very smart choice of selecting Club Mobay. This is a fast track service and is something we highly recommend whether traveling with your family or just as a couple. We were greeted by a representative with a warm smile and began out next steps through immigration and customs. At one point a very important customs form was torn and luckily for us, our representative caught it in advance. She completed a new one for us before we even got in line. If not for her, our form would not have been accepted and it could have caused a great delay.
Our next step was to board a bus and begin our journey to Negril which is located about 1.5 hours away from the airport. Along the way, I enjoyed watching Grace get her first taste of the scenery as it passed by our window. I could tell each time she saw the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea, her eyes would light up. She was ready to experience all that Jamaica had to offer!
At our resort, we were upgraded to a Junior Suite Oceanfront Connection room. This gave us the option of two rooms that shared a hall way which was a perfect option for us. It gave Scott and I a place to ourselves while our kiddos had their own room with a seperate bathroom (a MUST for a beach vacation). Once we unpacked and got settled in, the ocean was calling our name for an evening of playing in the waves.
The next few days we were able to check off a lot of To Do items from our list. For Grace, that included getting her daily fruit punch from the swim up bar which made her feel very VIP! She also enjoyed all the extra attention she received from the staff, especially an afternoon of making beaded bracelets under the shade of a palm tree.
Simon enjoyed a morning of snorkling along the reef. This optional excursion included a ride on a beautiful catamaran and the opporutnity of diving in two different areas. One spot even had a anchor and cannon from a pirate ship to explore! And for more adventure on the water Scott, Simon, and Grace took out kayaks which were complimentary at the resort for some sightseeing along the bay.
Oliver got his wish of something truly unique with a glass bottom boat ride. We were instructed in advance to bring along bread and bananas to feed the fish which quickly became a food frenzy! He also enjoyed living the life with loungers located directly in the pool. These were the perfect spot to watch the daily pool activities which included everything from games, to dance competitions, and even an amazing synchronize swimming performance!
For Scott and I, it was all about being with the kiddos and having time to relax and really enjoy the moments. Food options were plentiful and easy with the buffets that were available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After the kiddos had a full meal and safely in their room, Scott and I took time to enjoy the specialty restaurants located at the resort. The Italian themed restaurant was cute and served delicious lasagna while the Steak House had a beautiful view and my filet was cooked perfectly! After dinner, we would usually find ourselves in the martini bar to try some new cocktails or take in one of the evening shows such as the beach party complete with fire dancers.
The Hotel Riu Palace Tropical Bay is truly a beautiful property. The decor is bright and colorful and I love the view out the open air lobby straight towards the ocean. Beach access is easy and we always found plenty of lounge chairs and tables for our gear. The resort is centrally located along Bloody Bay (named after a particularly fierce pirate battle) and offers amazing vantage points to soak in the views, especially the picturesque sunsets!
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Martie is a new client for Brentwood Travel but a very experienced traveler with over 20 countries under her travel belt. For her next adventure, she was curious to explore river cruising and visited the Brentwood Travel’s Cruise Expo this past January. During her time at the show and meeting with General Manager Susan Hakenjos, she learned that a Viking River Cruise would be a perfect choice.
Martie and her friend Denise embarked on their 15-day journey from Amsterdam to Budapest this past May.
Their journey started with a three-night stay in Amsterdam which Martie highly recommends to give travelers time to adjust to their new location. Their hotel was perfectly located in the city center where she enjoyed visits to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. Martie and Denise also took a canal tour and visited The Anne Frank House. At the end of the fourth day, they took a quick taxi ride to their boat.
“From the moment we stepped out of the taxi and arrived at our boat, the staff was there to assist in anyway. The crew was ready to help and always pleasant. And this level of excellence service was consistent during the entire voyage."
Martie and Denise choose a balcony suite with two twin beds and felt it was plenty of space. She really appreciated that their room was cleaned three times a day and fresh water was replenished daily. “The boat was beautiful and clean. You just felt you were in luxury.”
The itinerary was well organized and active, and she took part in 12 included excursions that were lead by local guides. When they would arrive back at the boat, the crew would have a list of extra excursions that would be available the following day. An avid art lover and a docent for the St. Louis Art Museum, Martie decided to take part in an excursion about Art and War. Martie recalls “The tour was fascinating and included a tour of a bunker under the city walls."
Martie also had rave things to say about their Program Director David. “David would give a talk every evening about the events for the next day and what we should expect. He had just an amazing attention to every detail.”
In addition to wonderful excursions and amenities on the boat, Martie enjoyed the entertainment that was brought onboard. A piano player was often featured in the afternoon and an accordion player would perform different styles of music including waltz, classical, and contemporary selections. And guest lecturers would also cover a wide range of topics.
In Wurzburg, a glass blower came onboard and Martie couldn’t resist buying a very unique gift. “My daughter loves oil and vinegar on her salads. He had created a bottle which holds both but keeps them separate when pouring. It's like magic!”
Dining on the boat was another highlight for Martie. She enjoyed the free, open seating and the three dining options which included the bar, inside/outside deck, and formal restaurant. There were plenty of food selections to choose and she would often customized her menu between the free choice and fixed menus. “The chef was interactive and joined us several evenings before dinner to discuss the regional aspects of our meal.”
Martie was also a big fan of one of her waiters, Jackson. “He was always there to start my day and quickly learned that I enjoy a cold glass of tomato juice first thing in the morning.”
When clients of Maggie Groene wanted to spend a getaway at the beach, she knew Cancun would be a fantastic choice. Brandon and his roommate Bertin enjoyed 6-nights at the all-inclusive Grand Oasis Sens resort, a beachfront retreat on the Caribbean Sea.
‘I had an amazing time in Mexico! I really enjoyed it and the place was so beautiful and everyone was so kind. Thank you so much for helping us have a great vacation. I know for sure I'll be messaging Maggie soon for the next trip!’
My husband Alan and I are fortunate to have been to Italy a couple of times and I could go back over and over again. We had seen Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Lake Como, Milan, Siena and San Gimignano. I asked Stephanie Turner, President of Brentwood Travel, if she could go back to Italy and had to pick one town to stay in for a week, where would she choose to go? Without missing a beat, she replied “Sorrento”! Little did I know that within the next couple of days I would be booking our trip to this dazzling place.
Sunday, May 13, 2018
We arrived in Naples, Italy around noon after layovers in Minneapolis and Paris. Our luggage arrived with us which always makes me happy. I arranged to have a driver waiting in the arrivals hall. To me there are few things more stressful than showing up in a foreign country after a long overnight journey and not knowing which taxi to trust. He called the hotel to let them know we were on our way and after a fairly short ride we arrived at Hotel Correra 241.
The hotel is located is in the heart of the city so it doesn’t take us long to find a big city square, a couple of churches, and an outdoor café where we sit to enjoy our lunch. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the National Archeological Museum. The main focus here is some of the best pieces from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The two cities were buried in ash or debris when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Many of the pieces here were discovered when Pompeii was excavated in the late 1700’s.
We met up with our tour guide, Elisa, and the rest of the group for a meeting on the hotel patio. We took a short walk around the city, past the Archaeological Museum, before stopping at a nice little place for dinner.
Monday, May 14
Today we headed for Pompeii. After a quick lunch we met up with our official guide for Pompeii. Lino. He is very knowledgeable and told some great stories that helped bring the city to life for us. Pompeii is located about 6 km from Mt Vesuvius. They said that the wind carried ash to Pompeii for days. Not everyone escaped. They estimate the population at the time to have been 6,000-20,000 people. About 2,000 people died. When they were excavating, they discovered food still on tables left behind as people tried to run.
We then made our way to Sorrento which is only about one hour away. We arrived at the Agriturismo di Vigliano – our home for the next 5 days. We were met by the son of our host family, Luigi and his sister Valentina. This place is beautiful! Lemon trees in every direction. The original house was built in the 16th century and has been passed down from generation to generation and remains within the family. All of the rooms are different. There are a few little cottages (Alan and I stayed in one of them) and there are rooms in the house. We took a few minutes to get settled and then met in the dining room for dinner. The family will make our breakfasts and dinners each day.
Our tour guide, Elisa is great. She has meals with us, has fun stories to tell about the places we are seeing, and keeps us organized. She brought a deck of cards with questions for everyone to answer to get everyone talking after dinner (If you could be a Disney character, which one would you be? If you could only choose one, health or love, which one would you choose?) Of course the night isn’t over until we have one last glass of wine and a limoncello (made by the family).
Tuesday, May 15
After breakfast, we were taken on a tour of the farm. They have one cow (which Luigi milks twice each day), 3 pigs, chickens (for the eggs), rabbits, several cats and a dog named Lucky. Valentina showed us how to make cheese from the cow’s milk (of course she makes it look so easy). Luigi showed us how to make limoncello. They made a “light” lunch consisting of homemade cheeses, salami, pasta with light tomato sauce. Valentina serenaded us on the violin while we ate. Perfecto!
The group went into Sorrento for a tour of the town. It has been raining off and on so we grabbed our umbrellas. Elisa took us to David’s Gelateria for a gelato making class. He makes all kinds of crazy flavors (chefs from local restaurants will ask him to make flavors like truffle or salmon or basil to go along with a dish they are serving). I had the ricotta and it was amazing! Again, we were told we can make this at home but somehow I don’t think it will taste the same. We stopped at one of Elisa’s favorite food shops for a little lesson on balsamic vinegar and I bought a bottle of an amazing 12 year old balsamic vinegar…let the shopping begin :)
Back at the farm, Luigi fired up the outdoor pizza oven and they tried to teach us how to work the dough and we made our own pizzas for dinner. Natasha (Luigi’s wife) and Ida (his mom) helped us put them together, Luigi did the cooking. Delish!
Wednesday, May 16
Sunny today. Feels warmer already. Taking a boat ride to Amalfi then visiting Positano. Thankfully the rain has stopped. Luigi and his mom drove us to the marina in Massa Lubrense where we found our boat and captains for the day. Liberto is our driver and Giovanni seems to be the first mate. It was a little chilly and the water was a little choppy but it was still a beautiful ride. They stopped along the way to show us different caves and grottos on the islands and along the coast. The Mediterranean Sea is the most beautiful shade of blue you can imagine.
Our first stop was Amalfi. I have heard many people tell me how beautiful it is and the view is breathtaking! Our second stop was Positano. The climb is steep but was a fun stroll. There are several restaurants along the sea where you can relax with a drink or a bite to eat.
The best part of the day was being on the boat. On the ride back, Giovanni served us some bruschetta and a bread (more like a quiche) that had ham and cheese both he made himself along with some Prosecco and limoncello. He was a lot of fun!
Another wonderful dinner by the family and wine and limoncello and more questions made for a fun evening :)
Thursday, May 17
Today was a free day. Elisa helped everyone come up with a plan and sent us on our way. Alan and I took the bus into Sorrento (thank you to the nice people at the bus stop for telling us we were on the wrong side of the street to catch the bus to Sorrento!). Then we bought tickets for the train to Erculano which was about an hour by train. We were happy to find a private tour guide, Francesca, inside Erculano. She spent about an hour and fifteen minutes walking us around and describing the families who lived here and the homes that have been uncovered. Erculano was a resort town for the wealthy, buried under 16 meters of pyroclastic rock from the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Only about 1/5 of the town has been excavated so far.
Friday, May 18
The weather has been perfect so we spent today out on Giovanni’s boat again. On our way to Capri we stopped at several grottos for a close up view. He prepared a picnic lunch of Caprese Sandwiches for everyone. We passed through Lovers Arch and he played Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and made all of the married couples kiss as we rode through. We were all cracking up. A little awkward for the singles in the group…LOL.
Elisa arranged for a van to take all of us up to Anacapri. We walked around for about an hour. A few brave souls in the group took the chair lift to the very top just as a cloud moved in. It was not like the chair lifts we have in the U.S. We decided to keep our feet on the ground.
Afterwards we drove down about halfway and stopped in the town of Capri. This was a lot of fun. Lots of high end shopping and beautiful people watching. The Rolex Cup sailing competition is in town and the sailboats are beautiful!
After a full day, Giovanni (and Elisa) drove us back to Massa Lubrense at a nice slow pace. The water was calm and beautiful. We didn’t’ want it to end so I asked if he would take us on down to Sorrento so we could see it from the water. He was happy to oblige and I’m so glad I asked…it was gorgeous! We ended the afternoon with some more of his homemade appetizers and limoncello. Our last dinner at the farm was lovely. The group really enjoyed one another and I think there were a few tears shed at the thought of saying goodbye
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Clients of Sue Deibel just returned from the Now Onyx Resort and Spa in Punta Cana and shared a rave review of their experience. Located on a remote beach along the Atlantic Ocean, this sprawling all-inclusive resort features balconies or terraces with hot tubs for an ultra luxurious escape.
“I just wanted to let you know how amazing the Now Onyx resort was last week. From the minute we checked in, to the day we left, the staff, the accommodations and the food were impeccable. We had our room cleaned daily and also in the evening if we preferred. The staff greeted us at every turn and the restaurants were first class! This by far was the best resort I have ever stayed and I've been traveling to Mexico, Punta Cana and Jamaica for years. We will definitely return.
If you want to travel to the Dominican and want to stay at a topnotch resort Now Onyx is the place to be! We cannot wait to book again very soon!”
Hawaii has been at the top of my bucket list for years! When I decided to make this trip happen in 2018 I invited a few friends along and made it the ultimate girls trip; Jenn, Rachel, and Abby joined me on this adventure. Hawaii had everything we wanted in a vacation- perfect weather, beaches, hiking, water activities, and city life. The choice of which two islands to visit was a hard one, but for this trip we landed on Oahu and Kauai.
Oahu was the perfect start to our vacation! Our first few nights were along the famous Waikiki Beach. Here we were able to walk all around our hotel to restaurants, shops, and different sections of the beach. We really enjoyed the beach and the hustle of the Waikiki strip.
Oahu has so much more to offer than just Waikiki. It’s a must to get out of that area whether you rent a car or take a guided tour of the island. Some of our highlights from around the island are below.
Any visit to Oahu isn’t complete without a stop here. It was a very humbling experience to learn about the attacks in such detail and see how much it affected the people of Hawaii personally.
We love to hike, so a trip up Diamond Head was an easy choice for an activity. Even if you are a light to moderate hiker this trip is worth it for the view. The path is paved, but it is mostly uphill so be sure to take your time and bring water.
This private nature reserve is home to the filming location of many favorite movies and TV shows. I enjoyed fangirling over the sites from “Jurassic Park” and “Lost”. Here you can zipline, take ATV tours, horseback rides, or a film bus tour. We decided to go for the 2-hour ATV tour and I’m so glad that we chose that. It was a highlight for our time on Oahu.
These botanical gardens blew away our expectations! The variety of flowers and historical sites leading up to the waterfall was so impressive. Rachel majored in Conservation Biology, so this stop was especially exciting for her.
Polynesian Culture Center
We decided to stay two nights on the North Shore so that we could really enjoy the quieter pace of Oahu and enjoy a full day experience at the Polynesian Culture Center. Our tickets were for the Ambassador Luau Package, which included visiting the villages from noon to 6pm, a dinner buffet show, and the “Ha: Breath of Life” performance. Each village had exhibits on their island and gave special little shows throughout the day. Have the guide was so beneficial because she was able to take us on the best route to maximize our time. My favorite was the Samoa act! I truly recommend spending the full day here from noon until the “Breath of Life” performance!
Kauai was our second island choice because of the amount of natural beauty on the garden island! About 80% of Kauai can’t been seen by car. It can only be accessed by water, air, or hiking—so we decided to do all three!
We really chose to live it up in Kauai and stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. This hotel was gorgeous! Having Club access, we also enjoyed the spa access and use of the club lounge for breakfast.
Na Pali Coast Catamaran Cruise
I love to be out on the water, so the catamaran cruise was the activity I was most excited about and it did not disappoint! We woke up bright and early and made it to the ship in time to sail away just after sunrise. Breakfast was served as we enjoyed the salt water breeze! We had an amazing sighting of dolphins swimming and even a whale tale! First, we stopped in a cove to snorkel. We had a blast seeing the variety of fish and a sea turtle swimming. After snorkeling we set out to get our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast. I can’t even put into words how stunning the landscape is in person. Captain Jeff and his crew shared stories and facts about Kauai along the way. Our deli lunch and beverages really hit the spot for our scenic ride back to Port Allen.
Since so much of Kauai can only been seen from above we decided to spring for a helicopter tour. We saw some amazing waterfalls and the Na Pali Coast again! Our pilot gave some great commentary and played some touring music. If there is any place to take a helicopter tour, Kauai must be at the top of the list.
Another item at the top of our list was hiking. We decided to visit the lookouts of Waimea Canyon and choose a trail there. We ended up on the Canyon Rim trail. This gave us some fantastic, unspoiled views and a few bonus waterfalls. The trails are not very well marked so be sure to read the signs on how long the hike is and bring plenty of water.
This was such a truly spectacular trip and I was so lucky to share it with three friends. Hawaii is perfect for friends, romance, and family! It’s all about the islands and places you choose. I’m happy to share more details about my accommodation, activities, or trip planning!
Start planning your next trip by giving Stacey
a call at 314-439-5700 ext. 128 or send her an email.
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