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As I sit here reflecting on our first day in London, one question keeps popping into my mind-why on Earth did it take me so long to get back here? My first visit to London was too long ago to admit, but let’s say more than one decade was involved. At the time I was 18, just graduated high school and starting a 3 week European adventure with my best friend and her family.  I remember thinking, “well this is nice but it’s just like home. Look there is Pizza Hut and KFC! I thought I was in Europe!” After a few days we moved on to Paris and Italy and I finally felt like I was somewhere new and cool and exotic.

Flash forward to the present, I now have a teenage daughter who loves the Royals and a 10 year old son who likes history so London seemed like the perfect fit, but I admit I was more excited about returning to Paris, my all-time absolute favorite city, during the second half of the trip.  Boy was I wrong not being more enthusiastic about this city.

Yes, it reminds me of the US in many ways. But every time I think that, London throws a curveball. The language is obviously the same but different: lift and lorries; chips are crisps but fries are chips.  It’s the perfect segue into travelling to Europe or anywhere abroad.

While London’s historical significance cannot be downplayed, the city is modern and growing. Everywhere you look, there is building going on. From the top of the London Eye, I counted 14 cranes on the horizon. The population is diverse and expanding (some reports shows 35% of Londoners are foreign born)  and most Londoners are embracing this diversity. One block alone housed Indian, falafel, Italian, burger and sandwich shops, along with the traditional English pub and even a Chipotle.

Yes, Royal London is everywhere for the tourist. Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, the Tower of London are all worth seeing, but there is a new modern Royal, arguably started by Diana and carried on through her sons and their families that make the idea seem less antiquated.  The Diana Memorial Fountain near Kensington Palace, where she lived and William and Kate still live, was designed to be splashed in and walked around. It’s full of families splashing, young and old alike. Kensington Palace displays some of Queen Victoria’s jewels, but the gift shop also prominently features the cookbook that Megan Markle spearheaded to benefit the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

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Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain

The Tower of London highlights the Crown Jewels, but even a 10-year-old is impressed by the 1000 year history, which includes the beheading of Henry VII’s wives and an impressive display of Medival weapons and torture devices.  The tour led by the Beefeater describing Henry VII’s wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) captures everyone’s interest.

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Enjoying an ice cream cone by the London Eye with a view of Big Ben and Parliament across the river

And for those whom the history doesn’t impress, Harry Potter is everywhere in walking tours, studio visits and on stage. A high speed boat ride down the Thames is pretty cool too.

A few days in London only brushes the surface. A week is easily doable and leaves time for a more relaxed visit, but any time that can be spared is well worth the flight. That’s it for today..done and dusted!

Did you hear the news? Susan Glover of Favorite Place Travel is now a certified Charleston Vacation Specialist!

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Olive oil flavoring in Tuscany

For those of you who know me personnally, you know that I am NOT a fan of staying home, or have some have so lovingly stated, I have “ants in my pants”. For years BC (before children) I (and then my husband and I) travelled often both in the US and throughout Europe.  Once the kids came along, I thought my days of travelling, especially to Europe, were over for a long time. Thankfully that was not the case.  A little planning can make travelling to Europe with kids of all ages can be as great as travelling without them.

So how do you do it? Here’s a few tips that can help you have an enjoyable trip with kids of any age.

  • Start small. Pick one location with a lot to do. Kids, especially the little ones, require a lot of “stuff”. Lugging that stuff between several stops for a night or two at a time can be wearing. Focusing on one location, like a big city, will give you the opportunity to see the highlights without having to move around a lot. Almost every big city will also have nearby day trip locations that will allow you escape the big city without having to lug your luggage. If you still want to see more than one city or country, then it is imperative to…
  • Plan ahead. Unfortunately winging it is hard, especially if you are travelling in high season which is during the summer, spring break or any school holiday.  A little research goes along way in making sure your trip is as family-friendly as possible.  Dinner at a 5-star restaurant, probably not, but maybe lunch there is an option with little ones.
  • Decide how you want to travel. Do you want to plan everything yourself or use an organized tour? Travelling independently allows you flexibility but you are also on your own.  Running to catch a train last minute is a lot harder with strollers, suitcases and little ones in tow.  If you go it alone, book your hotels, planes and trains ahead of time and allow plenty of time to get there. Consider family suites or connected rooms to give you more room to spread out. Rail passes are great but book your seats ahead of time so you are all sitting together.

What about a tour or cruise? Gone are the days when tours were only for old people or school groups following sweaty tour guides holding big flags with hordes of tired travelers behind them.  Today, many small-group, family oriented tours offer a great way to see Europe without having to worry about logistics.  Picking your location is as hard as it gets and the tour guides do the rest.  Travelling with family focused tours like Adventures by Disney or Tauck Bridges not only give you easy access to highlights of the top spots, but can, in many cases, give you unparalleled access that you just can’t get travelling on your own.  On a recent Adventures by Disney Viva Italia itinerary, stops not only hit Italian highlights like the Spanish Steps and the Vatican, but arranged for a private Sistine Chapel visit with only members of the tour (think 40 people instead of 1500).  Other irreplaceable highlights included an unscheduled stop at the American Cemetery outside Florence just as it was closing for the day.  Members of the tour then got to participate first-hand in the flag lowering ceremony and hear the cemetery manager describe the battles that led to Tuscany being freed from the Fascists.

Family tours also offer the opportunity for some couple time with organized “kids nights” where kids get some time away from their parents while parents get a few hours to themselves for dinner or a wine tasting.

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Pasta making is fun for everyone!

An organized tour does still require stops at various hotels. If the thought of packing and unpacking three or four times per trip is not for you, a European cruise may be the lowest maintenance form of family travel.  Several cruise lines of various price points, including Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, and Princess, offer ocean-based cruises which skirt the entire European continent on different itineraries throughout the warmer months.  River cruises, such as Amawaterways, Viking or Avalon, allow families to experience Europe from its rivers making it easier to visit major cities without long bus rides from ocean cruise ports.    Adventures by Disney has even partnered with Amawaterways to create family-focused Danube River cruise itineraries.  These cruises allow you to traverse the Mediterranean, experience the Norwegian fjords and bike through Amsterdam while only unpacking once per cruise.

3.) Relax and go with it.  Travelling with kids can be unpredictable. Ice cream stops are a must and some museums or highlights will be missed, but so what? Will your 7-year-old remember the Louvre? Probably not. Will your 7-year-old remember splashing around in the fountain outside the Louvre? That’s more likely; and it’s certain that you will never forget it.  Kids have a way of making the most curmudgeonly hotel employee smile and offer you an excuse for ordering that dessert or riding the carousel.

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4.) Let someone else do the work.  Use a travel agent!  Yes, you can spend countless hours researching the best price on that hotel or trying to figure out the best way to get from one location to the other, but why?  Your efforts are best spent enjoying the time with your family, not figuring out what to do now that the French rail employees have declared a strike (and they will, especially on Fridays in the Summer!)

As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Travelling with your kids, either near or far, will instill in them a sense of adventure that no other experience can replicate. Let us help you give this gift to your children. Contact your Favorite Place Travel specialist today to get you and your family on the road.

Susan Glover
sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com
708.966.2344
Expertise: Family and luxury travel specializing in European and US travel, cruises, all-inclusives and itinerary planning.

Stacey Gross
sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com
404.409.4174
Expertise: Disney World, Universal Studios, LEGOLAND Florida, Disney Cruise, Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise, all-inclusive Caribbean vacations, US family travel, travel sports teams, corporate travel-air, hotel, car

 

We are proud to announce that Favorite Place Travel has been voted Best Travel Agency in Gwinnett County, one of America’s fastest-growing counties for the past 20 years.

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Call your Favorite Place Travel agent to book your vacations!

Stacey Gross, sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com, Georgia office

Susan Glover, sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com, Illinois office

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Planning 2018 Travel Over the Holidays with family? 

Click on the link below for some great family vacation ideas!

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Make a call to your Favorite Place Travel Agent the FIRST item on your 2018 To Do List!

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I admit it. I felt like a traitor. I was raised as a Disney fan in a family that is slightly
Disney crazy. But then my daughter became a Harry Potter fan and I knew a trip to Universal Studios Orlando was in our future. We finally made it recently and it was well worth it.

We stayed on property during our visit which is highly recommended. Like Disney,
guests staying at the Universal resorts get into one of the Harry Potter sections an hour earlier than everyone else. If you are visiting during a busy time it’s worth getting out of bed a bit earlier to avoid some of the worst of the lines. Universal has four resorts currently open, Cabana Bay, IMG_6092Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock Hotel. A 5 th hotel, Sapphire Falls, opens later this year.

Of these hotels, all but Cabana
Bay, the value resort,  and the new Sapphire Falls include the Express Pass feature (more on that later).

Two different Harry Potter “lands” are incorporated into the two theme parks. In
Universal Studios, Diagon Alley, the London base for the books’ wizards, is a fully immersive experience that goes beyond the typical ride based attractions to incorporate restaurants, shops, shows and, of course, butterbeer. Diagon Alley’s main ride, Escape from Gringotts, takes riders into the wizard bank, complete with the trolls who run it,Displaying IMG_6105.JPG

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and on a high-speed race to get Harry, Ron and Hermione away from Voldemort. When you’ve had your fill of Diagon Alley, be sure to take the Hogwarts Express train to Islands of Adventure. On the train, you will ride with Harry, Ron and Hermione to Hogwarts but watch out for Dementors! The ride is different each way, so make sure to ride it both to and from Universal Studios. You can only ride Hogwarts Express if you have a park-to- park pass though.

In Islands of Adventure, the second Universal park, visitors find Hogsmeade, the town
where the wizarding school Hogwarts is located. There you can journey through Hogwarts and compete in a match of quidditch, the wizard game. The ride’s line winds through Hogwarts itself going through the dining hall, green house and even Dumbledore’s office. Warning: the ride is intense, I mean very intense, so if you are prone to motion sickness think twice. Dueling Dragons, a family coaster, is a tamer, less intense ride in Hogsmeade. Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade have a location for Olivanders, a shop where you can purchase your own magical wands. At Olivanders, you can go through a wand selection process and one person out of every group gets to have their wand selected by the wand itself. It’s a fun process but can have a long line for the show. Visit the Diagon Alley location where the line is typically shorter than the Hogsmeade location.

If Harry Potter isn’t your thing, maybe the Minions, IMG_6144Shrek, Transformers or the Simpsons are. Each of these favorites has one or more interactive rides or experiences. Minion Mayhem in particular is sure to please everyone in the group. Over at Islands of Adventure, your family’s favorite superheroes and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park find their home. The youngest (and shortest) members of your party will love the Pteranadon Flyers were they can hang glide through the tree tops, but be sure to get there early as the lines can be long. A revamped Hulk coaster comes to Island of Adventures this Summer.

Which brings me to the lines. One thing that Universal is really lacking, in my opinion, is crowd management and how it handles wait times. Universal offers the option for the Express Pass in its attempt to manage its crowds. It works in a similar manner to Disney’s Fast Pass, letting you go through a shorter line than the regular queue. However, there are two HUGE differences between the Express Pass and Disney’s Fast Pass. The first is that you have to pay for it, and it’s expensive (almost as much as the cost of the ticket). If you stay at one of Universal’s premier or preferred resorts, the pass is included in the hotel rate. The second biggest difference from the Fast Pass is that it doesn’t work on the most popular rides. While we were visiting the wait times for both the Gringotts ride and Hogwarts ride were over 90 minutes, yet the Express Pass wasn’t valid on it. This is why the Early Admission benefit offered by all of the Universal resorts is so valuable. Visit these popular Harry Potter rides before the parks fill with people and then spend the rest of your day on the other rides with Express Pass and enjoying the shops and restaurants.

Overall, Universal Studios Orlando will definitely appeal to the movie lovers in your family. For a Harry Potter fan, it’s an absolute must do.

Several of Favorite Place Travel’s agents are certified Universal Studios Resort Specialists. Contact us today to learn more about the options to make the most out of your Universal Studios visit.

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From 32 to 2: A couples’ trip to Disney World

As many of you know, last December 32 of our family members came from near and far at Disney World for one week of family fun. It was fun, busy and full of crazy kids. Not too long after that trip, my husband and I had the opportunity to do something we hadn’t been able to do since our oldest daughter was born 8 years ago- sneak away, ALONE, just the two of us. So where did we go? To Disney World, of course!

WHAT? The first time in 8 years we have the chance for a “grown ups” only trip and we go to Disney World? Not Vegas, New York or New Orleans? Yes, Disney World is the perfect place for a couples get away. Prior to having kids, we had travelled to Disney World several times either alone or with couples. Our favorite time to visit was early Fall during the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. Booths line EPCOT’s World Showcase offering culinary specialties, wine and beer selections from the featured countries as well as other countries and regions exclusive to the Festival. Wine and beer tastings take place daily, some for free and some for a nominal fee. While my personal favorite, dining experiences with world-renown chefs, feature either full meals or cheese or dessert specialties. (Last year’s festival featured dinners with Food Network’s Robert Irvine, Oprah’s personal chef Art Smith and Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmerman.) While some kids may be up for one or more of the dining experiences, the events as a whole are decidedly adult focused.
This trip, however, could not wait for the Food and Wine Festival, but still offered plenty to keep us occupied without kids. We were able to make those dining reservations we avoided when we visited with our kids and stroll around the World Showcase sampling beer and wine from host countries and not rushing from one ride to the next. We went to the dueling piano bar and had drinks after dinner and generally enjoyed each other’s company. Could we have done these things other places? Sure, but nowhere else are we also able to jump on Soarin’ after drinks in Great Britain; watch Fantasmic! after having tapas and wine and the Brown Derby; or see my husband drink a beer in Germany with a giant beer stein hat on his head!

Enjoying a beer in Germany

Overall, our couples experience at Disney World was everything we remembered from our pre-kids days but even better, because we appreciated it even more now! We wouldn’t have picked another place to spend our first “solo” trip.

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

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Disney in the Extreme –Part I Travelling with a Large Group

Everyone thinks of a trip to Disney World as a vacation for kids- maybe take the family a couple of times while the kids are little, check it off your family “to do” list and move on to the next thing. However for many of us who grew up in a “Disney family”, a trip to Disney World feels like coming home.  Over the recent holidays, that’s exactly what 32 members of my family did, we came “home”.

Travelling with 32 people, coupled with the Christmas craziness, led to an experience I like to think of as “Disney in the extreme”.  Travelling with a large group of people, let alone family, can remove any hope of relaxing right out of your vacation plans, but after a few of these trips, I’ve learned a few things that that can help you and your group have a great trip, maybe even with a little relaxation time too.

Family Reunion at WDW

1. Pre-planning is a must. Start thinking about your group vacation at least 3-4 months ahead of time. Whether your trip is to Disney World or the beach or Ireland, when you are travelling with a large group of people, plans are imperative. Restaurants likely can’t take a large group as a walk-in at peak dinner hours, especially at Disney where restaurant reservations can be made up to 180 days ahead of time. Hotels fill up, especially at peak vacation times, and it’s much more difficult to “squeeze in” a large group versus a single family.

 

Families that play together, stay together

2. Discuss your expectations. It’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page. Will you all be travelling together all day, every day, or just meeting up for a few meals or activities during the week? Talking about everyone’s expectations ahead of time can save hurt feelings due to some members of your family having different ideas about what the vacation will be.

3. Don’t overplan. Yes, this tip seems to contradict #1, but really they balance each other out.  While you should have some plans set in stone, leave time to just “hang out” and enjoy each other’s company. Cousins really get to enjoy and get to know each other while playing in the pool. If you have cooking facilities, have dinner in one night where everyone can relax without the pressure of time or worrying about disrupting other guests.

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Taking time to enjoy your family (or whomever your group may be) outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday life can lead to experiencing them in a whole different, relaxed light. Let us assist you in making your trip one full of a lifetime of memories.

 

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

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DIVE INTO BIG SAVINGS WITH THIS SUMMER OFFER!

GoofyWith special benefits and legendary service, Disney Resort hotels are filled with wonder and excitement. And now is a great time for you to take the plunge with huge savings!

Save on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels for stays most nights June 15 – Aug. 28, 2014.

Save up to 30% when you stay up to 5 nights*
Save up to 35% when you stay 6 nights or longer*
Save even more when you stay 6 nights or longer and add minimum 6-day Magic Your Way® Tickets to your room!**Not valid at all WDW Resorts

Book by June 6, 2014

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

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In Part 1 of this series on Nassau, Bahamas, I talked about visiting tourist spots outside of an organized excursion through the cruise line.

The second time I visited Nassau, I was able to stay at Atlantis with my husband.  Atlantis is a behemoth, and it is every bit as amazing in person as it is on all of the commercials on tv.   It is a cross between a popular water park and Vegas.

Atlantis

The beaches are beautiful and the water slides are thrilling!  After going down the Leap of Faith, the slide that goes straight down and through the shark tank, it took me a minute to recover my wobbly knees!  There was competition to get a chair by the large pool due to all of the cruise day-pass traffic, so be sure to go down to the pool early before they arrive.Atlantis Leap of Faith water slide

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Much like a cruise ship, all of the water activities shut down at dark and the nightlife begins.  There is a boardwalk area called the Marina Village at Atlantis adjacent to the resort with family-friendly dining including Ben and Jerry’s and Johnny Rockets, and shopping.  There are many different activities for children in the resort, including a family-friendly restaurant, Sea Grapes. There are also many restaurants and clubs to enjoy if you find yourself without kids for an evening.   There is a movie theater within the resort that shows both kid-friendly movies and popular blockbusters for the older crowd.

My advice for planning a visit to Atlantis:

  • Wait until your kids are old enough to enjoy the bigger thrill water slides.  If your children are small, I wouldn’t make this large of an investment to enjoy a kiddie pool.  The grandeur will be lost on them, and you’ll be captive to the kid areas, preventing you from getting the most bang for your buck.
  • If you want to experience the culture of the Bahamas, you’ll have to leave the resort.  Atlantis strives to provide for your every need so aside from arriving at the airport and driving to the resort, you may as well be in a sunny location in the US…or anywhere.  There is no local color represented here, but you can cross the bridge from Paradise Island and go into Nassau if you’d like to do some local shopping and dining.
  •  Atlantis is not a budget-vacation.  The price of a fully encompassing vacation is steep, so budget ahead of time (and then save more) so you can fully enjoy everything Atlantis has to offer.

There is a way to enjoy Atlantis on a smaller budget by staying at the Comfort Suites Paradise Island Hotel that is located adjacent to the Atlantis Resort.  When you stay at this hotel, you have full use of all the facilities at Atlantis.  This is a fabulous way to enjoy the luxury offered at this opulent resort for less!

The Atlantis Resort is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination for many and Favorite Place Travel would love to help you make this dream vacation a reality!

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

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