• Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
sunshine & unicorns: a blog about love, learning, and life in the upper midwest

22 February 2010

vacation considerations

If you recall, the Pink H's are planning on doing some frivolous traveling this summer. I can't tell you how guilty the budgeter in me feels about this. My mom even reminded me that the amount of money we're spending on this trip COULD go toward our house, or car payments, or tuition and school supplies. And she's right. But the next statement she made resonated with me even more: "You won't get a chance to do something like this again." I guess she's half-right. We might. We could make ourselves. But now we have an excuse. Celebration of a marriage, and of a graduation. And in the future, our trips might involve our children, and they will probably take different form. So I took it to heart. Sometimes, the responsible savers -- the people (me) who can't even stand to buy themselves a more costly shampoo than Suave because it's frivolous -- we gotta do SOMETHING fun.

Pink Hubby and I decided to do that to the extreme. Go big or go home, right? So anyway. With lots of searching, here's what we found out.

First, let's talk cruises. Sites like CruiseCritic.com gave me some insight to what happens when one cruises. See, every ship has different amenities. This is actually something I didn't know prior to looking into this type of vacation. Also, some cruise lines are aimed at families and children; others aren't. There are such things as 'adult-only' cruises also. For example, while I'd heard of Carnival, Princess, and many of the other 'big name' cruises, I had not heard of Regent, Silver Sea, Seabourn cruise lines. These were very luxurious cruises, but most were too long in time frame to fit our needs.

After a lot of searching and review-reading, we decided that we should steer away from cruises to the Caribbean or Hawaii. Reviews of various cruise lines and routes were full of complaints regarding overcrowded restaurants and decks, little kids screaming everywhere, and overall poor service. We just didn't want to take the chance.

We started to look at European and Mediterranean cruises. A few dozen options later, Pink Hubby came upon the Cunard cruise line's transatlantic cruises. Cunard has a lot of great reviews, and its transatlantic cruises seem to be especially hailed by travelers. While kids are welcome on board the ships, they don't have a lot of kids' activities. We were also pretty sure that parents considering a family cruise would be more likely to take them on one of the Carnival or Disney cruises -- the ones with on-board water parks and such, that also stop at various beaches and fun spots.

Our favorite Cunard cruise looked like this:

cunard-map
[Source]

13 Days. New York to London and back again. On one day, we'd be checking out another part of the world. And for 11 days we'd just be chilling, experiencing the open ocean and enjoying the ship's many amenities. This ship has a spa, various sports, pools, galleries, a wine bar, a planetarium(!), and more. Reviews insisted we should get a balcony room, so this is what we decided to do. But looking at the travel dates, I determined that I really could not take that much time off of work. So, I came up with another option:

We could do HALF the cruise. The cruise line offers an option of traveling just one way. We could fly to London, spend a few days there, and then depart back to NY for a 7-day cruise. That will actually work!

So that means our finalist #1 is:

2 Days in London, then a 7-day cruise back to the United States on Cunard Cruise Lines Queen Mary 2. We'd have to fly to London, find a nice accommodation there, and would also have to arrange for a way to get from London to the port in Southampton. Then on the ship, we'd have a room with a balcony. Sweet. Back in NYC, we'd catch a flight back to Fargo.

We had some reservations about cruising though. A big one was my tendency to get motion-sick on anything that moves or appears to be moving. And I was a little worried about it being cold on the ocean. I am cold enough here in North Dakota. Don't wanna be cold on vacation. Another concern was the 'bang for our buck'. Sure, you don't take a transatlantic cruise every day, but we just weren't 100% sure. We decided to keep our options open.

Moving on... how about some tropical resorts? Antigua, maybe. I've heard great things about the Galley Bay resort. We checked a few other options in that area too, and were convinced it was the place for us. Then we found out that you can't get there from North Dakota or Minnesota in one day's time. You have to stay overnight in Miami before making the Antigua connection. One of our requirements was that our travel not be drawn out, difficult and generally shitty, and this was all of the above. We canned Antigua.

St. Martin and Bermuda were also on the list. Bermuda looked inviting and peaceful, especially this cute little 9 Beaches resort. But it was quite expensive, and several reviews complained of the sub-par climate control in the cabanas. I am OK with roughing it sometimes, but we want to be pampered on this trip. 9 Beaches didn't seem like it was quite right for us, at least not for our honeymoon. I really liked St. Martin, although I kept seeing the same description in various reviews and resort websites: Clothing Optional. I dunno if I want to see naked strangers on my vacation, I guess. Still, we really liked the idea of a St. Martin vacation. It was a strong contender for a while. We would have stayed here and rented a car so that we could enjoy the various sights, foods and activities the French/Dutch island has to offer. At Pink Hubby's suggestion, I also checked out Brazil. Now let me just say... If I was a rich girl, nanana nanana nananananananana naaaaa. *Whistle*, that's niiiiiiiiiice. Sigh. Maybe someday...

With price of Brazilian paradise just a smidge too high (for NOW... just wait till I make my millions. *grin*), We finally did find two options we loved: Excellence Playa Mujeres in Mexico is one. Like the Galley Bay resort, I had heard great things about this one. Over 90% of Trip Advisor reviewers loved it too. Lots of amenities, tons of stuff included in the "all-inclusive" rate. And we planned to book the Excellence Club-level room too. Those are ocean-front and include a few more perks. We were pretty much sold on this as our #1 resort pick...

jaxtobias-pool-hammocks
A traveler's photo from E.P.M. | source


...And then I found out that two new Secrets resorts are currently being built side-by-side in Montego Bay. Since Antigua would have been a 2-day trip for us, I worried Jamaica (or any Carribean island) would have been as well. But it's not. A long 1-day trip, sure. But we'd still be there at the end of it. These resorts look pretty swanky too. Brand new (as in, they don't open for another month). The amenities rival (or surpass) EPM. The price is nice too, over $1000 cheaper for the package deal at EMP, with a better-appointed room [in the 'Preferred Club'] to boot. For the price, the amenities, and the location (Jamaica is slightly more 'honeymoony'-sounding than Mexico, is it not?), the Secrets Wild Orchid resort is pretty tempting.

wildorchid
[The resort isn't done yet, so all of the photos of it are actually 3D computer renderings. See the funny-looking 'people'? | Source.]


Finalist #2: Either Excellence Playa Mujeres (Cancun, Mexico) or Secrets Wild Orchid (Montego Bay, Jamaica). Similar weather, similar amenities. Hmmm. Both adults-only, both all-inclusive. Hmmm indeed.

What are we gonna choose? Will we take a chance on an unfinished resort that carries a good brand-name (but has yet to actually host a guest)? Or go with a well-reviewed and still fairly new Mexican favorite? Or maybe we should hop aboard a floating paradise after spending a few days in a beautiful (and unknown, to us) foreign city? Which will we choose? Which would YOU choose?