Best Luggage Brands

Looking for new carry-on luggage or need a new suitcase? Just a few weeks ago, the Consumer Reports National Research Center released their survey of nearly 65,000 Consumer Reports subscribers on the best carry-on and midsize and large suitcases. What was the best suitcase of the survey? It was Briggs & Riley, a luggage company that offers a no-strings-attached lifetime guarantee. According to the survey, Briggs & Riley scored higher than most for its ease of carrying, wheelability, ease of packing, and durability. Readers also liked that the brand was easy to stow.

According to Forbes.com, the Briggs and Riley’s Baseline models have a built in compression system that allows you to slightly overpack in expanded mode, then reduce the footprint of your items back to the case’s original size.

Overall, Eagle Creek and L.L. Bean also ranked highly among Consumer Reports surveyors. A whopping 76 percent of respondents were highly satisfied with their midsize or large suitcases.

If you’re looking for new luggage, Consumer Reports also suggests looking at wheelability and durability. Luggage comes with wheels, which makes it easily transportable, but take it for a whirl, or a spin, because the wheels need to stay on and if the ones on your luggage seem wimpy, consider another brand.

Next it’s time to look at the zippers. Imagine closing your suitcase and the zipper comes flying off. You can’t get it closed or open and you’re heading to the airport to catch a flight. You need a reliable zipper. According to this article in Consumer Reports, zippers come in two types: chain and coil. The chain zipper has two sets of interlocking teeth, usually made of metal. Chain is better and stronger than the coil zipper, which slides on two parallel coils usually made of polyester. Chain zippers are much more difficult to break into. Coil zippers can be pulled apart with a ballpoint pen.

Just recently, Damon Darlin, Ask the Wirecutter of The New York Times, put some luggage through its testing, and came out with some favorites. When it came to luggage with great handles, his favorites were the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 22-inch Expandable Rollaboard Suiter for carry-ons and the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 25-Inch Expandable Spinner Suiter for checked bags.

Before you buy, make sure that the luggage suits your needs. Are you traveling frequently or occasionally? Are you traveling internationally where your luggage will need to be bigger or will you be traveling shorter jaunts where you won’t need as much space? Your needs and, of course, your budget, will also help you to decide your final luggage purchase.

Travel Specialist Group

Best Disney World Resorts for a Family of 5

If you’re a family of four heading to Walt Disney World in Florida, it’s pretty easy to find a place to stay that accommodates all of you. Disney resorts definitely come with two queen-sized beds or a king and a queen, which is perfect for two adults and two children. However, if you have a third child, finding accommodations often becomes more difficult. Sure you can ask for a rollaway bed for the third child, but that can take away valuable walking space in the room. Of course, a simple solution is to book two rooms so there’s ample space for everyone, but that can be a budget buster.

There are Disney resorts that can accommodate your family, so be sure to check these out when searching for the right place to stay.

Contemporary Resort: The name says it all. It’s an ultra-modern hotel with rooms that offer two queen beds and one day bed, so you and the kiddies can all stay together. The resort’s suites include one king bed and queen-sofa as well as one day bed. If your family needs even more space, their Bay Lake view two-bedroom suite includes four queen beds and one queen sofa or two queen beds and one king bed and one queen-size sleeper sofa. In walking distance to the Magic Kingdom, this resort is perfect for families with little ones, who may need a nap break in the middle of the afternoon.

Board Walk Inn: This property also offers two queen beds and one queen-size sleeper sofa and is located within walking distance to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The best part of staying on Disney property is the ability to use their free monorail to travel between parks. Resort amenities include childcare facilities and laundry facilities, which are just as important to vacationing parents as that extra sleeping space.

Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa Views: For the most part, Saratoga Springs offers the perfect accommodations for the family of four, but if you have a bigger brood, you might enjoy staying in their treehouse villa. It comes to two queen beds and one bunk bed and one twin-size sleeper chair and one queen-size sleeper sofa. This resort’s look is inspired by the historic Saratoga Springs racetrack in New York.

Finding the right accommodations for your family takes time and research. Work with your travel agent to put together the right Disney vacation for you.

Travel Specialist Group

Planning a Disney World Honeymoon

Do you want your honeymoon to be as magical as your wedding day? Then there’s only one place to celebrate and that’s at the most magical place in the country, Walt Disney World in Orland, Florida. Whether it’s the idea that your wishes come true or that Walt Disney World provides a ton of fun opportunities, planning a Disney World Honeymoon is a must for all newlyweds.

If you’re sold on the idea of planning a Disney World honeymoon, here are a few tips to keep in mind and to make the process much smoother:

Plan early: You can book your Walt Disney World® Resort honeymoon more than a year in advance, so you might want to do that while you’re planning your wedding. Once you know you’re having a Disney honeymoon, mark your calendar for six months before your arrival date. That’s when most dining reservations can be booked. Want to see a dinner show you’re your loved one? You can make those reservations up to a year in advance as well.

Have fun: Let the world know that you’re celebrating the fact that you just got married. You can purchase a pair of bride and groom mouse ears before your trip or ask for a set of “Just Married” buttons when you arrive.

Take photos: Sometimes, it’s okay to put the camera down and just have fun on the rides and at the shows and checking out the many shops and restaurants on the property. But a honeymoon wouldn’t be a honeymoon without a ton of photos. That’s okay, because Disney has a PhotoPass® photography service in the theme parks to help document your adventure.

Take advantage: Consider staying on the property at a Walt Disney World® Resort so that you can enjoy an extra hour at the parks. When you’re trying to jam in a ton of fun on your honeymoon – plus some valuable alone time – this is a great way to extend the festivities.

Use a travel agent: Planning a Disney World honeymoon can be overwhelming, especially when you’re also planning a wedding. A travel agent who specializes in Disney can help you to determine your priorities and plan exactly what you want, find you money-saving deals, make sure all your reservations and accommodations are booked and make sure that your honeymoon is one to remember.

Travel Specialist Group

Popular Travel Destinations

There are some travel destinations that are extremely popular. For example, Cancun, Mexico’s beaches are often crowded with tourists who flock to the area to dig their toes in the sand. Do you want to see where everyone else vacations and what the fun is all about? Here are just a few of the most popular travel destinations and what gives them that distinction:

Italy: This is one country that’s on most bucket lists and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautiful country where you can drink delicious wine, eat amazing food and see breathtaking art and architecture. Don’t miss The Duomo in Siena, and the Accademia Gallery museum, home to Michelangelo’s David. Italy has 20 major grape growing regions, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and more than 2,000 grape varietals, so a little wine tasting is a must. It’s the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and home to Pope Francis and The Sistine Chapel. Italy is also home to the colorful town of Amalfi and you can explore the winding passages of Positano.

Portugal: What makes Portugal popular is that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The country is home to the city of Algarve, known for its many beaches, and the Praia da Marinha, with its crystal clear water. Portugal’s city of Sintra became the first center of European Romantic architecture in Portugal when Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle. Speaking of castles, Portugal is home to Castle of the Moors, a hilltop medieval castle, and Lady of the Rock, a popular wedding destination. Lisbon is a popular tourism spot, especially thanks to the São Jorge Castle.

New York City: The Big Apple should be called the Busy Apple and with good reason. Millions of visitors flock to the city to check out the skyscrapers, shop on Fifth Avenue, head to the top of the Empire State Building, tour the Statue of Liberty, and see a Broadway show. There’s so much to see and do in Manhattan that you can be here for weeks and still not get everything in. No matter what your interest, you’ll be sure to find something in New York City to do.

Disney World: You can’t have a conversation about a popular travel destination without talking about the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney World, located in Orlando, Florida. It’s a family-friendly destination that is popular with children of all ages. The rides, shows and restaurants are perfect activities that please everyone. Orlando isn’t just about Mickey Mouse and princesses though. Orlando is also a very popular travel destination on its own, especially with its other amusement parks and I-Drive, an upscale entertainment and dining district. There’s also CityWalk and Universal’s free dining and entertainment district.

Travel Specialist Group

 

European River Cruises

River cruising is a popular alternative to the large, sometimes overwhelming experience of an ocean cruise. Ocean liners can hold thousands while river cruises are smaller, and more intimate, carrying fewer passengers and offering more opportunities for interacting with your fellow shipmates. River cruises are typically attractive to an older audience without children and offer up more opportunities for interacting with your fellow shipmates. Here are some river cruises available in Europe that you might want to consider while planning your travels:

Rhine River: Europe’s longest river is a natural for a river cruise candidate. Starting from humble beginnings as a trickle of melting snow in the Swiss Alps, the river slowly grew until it reached a length that passed six countries – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands. While traveling the river, look for the statue of Lorelei, a mythical mermaid whose songs are believed to lure men to their deaths.

Seine River: Looking to soak in some French culture? Then you should look for Seine River cruises. You’ll start your tour off in Rouen and head to a fishing village named Honfleur which has been painted by iconic artists like Monet. While the routes vary, a river tour of Seine is guaranteed to stop in the iconic city of Paris for a guided tour to see the sights. There are also stops at various D-Day landing beaches to add to the culture and history of the tour.

Danube River: For a wide variety of European experiences, consider a trip around the Danube River. Areas explored in this river tour typically includes Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Cesky Krumlov, Bratislava and Budapest, while others settled primarily in Hungary and Passau. Activities are varied and exciting, including wine-tasting, touring castles, and walking through monastery libraries. And, of course, there’s always the nighttime entertainment when you’re off the boat.

Rhone/Soane: This river tour is for the wine fans out there. Typically traveling through Burgundy, these river tours guide you through medieval cities and wine capitals like Beaune. After touring the vineyards (with tastings!), guests also get the chance to ancient amphitheaters and maybe even visit the town of Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh famously worked.

Ask your travel agent to help you organize your first river cruise.

Travel Specialist Group

Best Group Travel Destinations

There’s nothing like enjoying a vacation with a bunch of your closest friends, or another family, or a few other couples. With a group, you are not only sharing some memories with your besties, but you’re also sharing some travel benefits as well, including:

  • Saving money: The more people you bring, the more of a discount you can get at various resorts. You can also reduce the cost of tour tickets, accommodations, and even food.
  • Safety: There’s safety in numbers and traveling with others will provide you with some extra protection. There is always someone who can watch your items while you jump in the beach or keep an eye on the kids, while the adults enjoy an off-island excursion.
  • Reducing stress: Going on a trip takes a lot of planning and doing, so the more people who are going, the more the responsibilities can be divvied up. One person can handle the itinerary, while another one books the airfare, etc.

Where are some great travel destinations for groups? Well, to be honest, any place can be a great group travel destination, but there are some that are just primed and ready for you and your closest buddies.

Las Vegas, Nevada: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, true, but what happens here is perfect for you and your friends. The energy in the city is crazy and there are plenty of affordable hotel accommodations where you can divide the cost with your friends. Go to the casinos, see a show or explore hit the nightlife at Fremont Street in downtown Vegas. Your money can go far here, unless you plunk it all down on a pair of aces.

Punta Cana: Part of the Dominican Republic, is a great place for the spring break crowd. Take your friends and go fishing, partying, swimming with sharks, and so much more.

Orlando: The best part about Orlando, Florida is that there is something for everyone, from the wee little ones to the families and for the couples and the singles. There’s everything from amusement parks, clubs, restaurants, and City Walk and Orlando knows how to treat its groups.

Miami: Close by to Orlando is one of the best destinations for groups, and that’s Miami. Like Orlando, there’s so much to do and see, including wine and art festivals, beaches to relax on, and a great nightlife scene.

Before you go anywhere, tell your travel agent that you’re traveling in a group and you’re looking for group discounts.

Travel Specialist Group

Affordable Destination Wedding Locations

Your love for each other is huge, but your budget for the wedding of your dreams is not. That doesn’t mean that you need to give up your dream of a destination wedding for a hot dogs and hamburgers outdoor wedding. However, it does mean that you need to find a destination that’s won’t leave you with an empty piggy bank for your honeymoon.

Dominican Republic: From the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, to the crystal blue waters of Juanillo Beach and the tranquility of Playa Bayahibe, the Dominican Republic is a great destination for your wedding. The numerous all-inclusive resorts provide money-saving options when finding a location for your big day.

Costa Rica: South of the United States lies one of the most beautiful places in the world. Costa Rica, and its beautiful white sandy beaches and parkland, make for the perfect backdrop to your ceremony. Your guests can lounge at Panama Beach, Playa Hermosa, Playa Grande, Pan de Azucar, Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco beaches. They can explore Guanacaste, a town that’s home to Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, a 34,800-acre home to over 300 species of birds as well as cougars, monkeys, and kinkajous. If they are the more adventurous type, they can explore the Guanacaste’s Corobici River or the bat caves of Barra Honda. In addition to having numerous all-inclusive resorts to choose from, Costa Rica is centrally located to Juan Santamaría International Airport, making it both location perfect and picture perfect.

Jamaica: The U.S. World & News Report recently named Jamaica as the #1 most affordable wedding destination. Jamaica is the land of sugar cane, coffee and limestone, and all-inclusive resorts, such as the Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa that are looking to give a financial break to the soon-to-be happily married couple. Jamaica is the third-largest island of the Caribbean, has beautiful white sandy beaches, such as Seven Miles Beach and Cosmos Beach, tropical weather, delicious food, and a wide variety of fun activities and entertainment.

A destination wedding can definitely be a budget buster, depending on your destination and the bells and whistles you choose to put on your bill. But a destination wedding can also significantly cut the cost of your big day because resorts will often provide discounts for a  wedding party because of the extended stay or because of the amount of rooms you have booked.

In addition, all-inclusive resorts provide photographers, music and other components of a wedding in their price, so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Travel Specialist Group

Steps to a Better River Cruise

River cruising is fast becoming a popular way of cruising, but it’s still pretty new to many travelers who are used to vacationing on bigger ocean liners. So if you’ve finally booked your river cruise, how can you make it the best trip ever?

Location, location, location: When it comes to locations, even though Europe is the leading choice for river cruises, there are also cruising options in Asia, Africa and India as well as in the United States. Fearful about taking a cruise overseas? There are river cruises in the United States. The American Queen rides down the lower and upper Mississippi rivers.

Plan ahead: Your vacation should start with some research. The more you know about river cruises, the better. You’ll know when you find a sale and what activities are available.

Pick the right cruise: Which one is best for you depends on a variety of factors, including budget as well as your personality. You can take a regular river cruise or choose one with a theme on the American Queen Steamboat that focus on music, history, politics, wine and liquors and even Mark Twain.

Say hi: River ships carry fewer passengers and are typically on a smaller boat, compared to luxury cruise liners. Less people mean more of a chance of meeting others who you can enjoy the ride with. Whether you share a dinner, drinks on the deck or an off-the-boat excursion, it all starts with saying hi to your neighbors.

Get off the boat: Yes, you’re on a riverboat excursion, but you’ll really enjoy getting off the boat to explore the towns. You can explore local museums and churches, take culinary classes or enjoy any other activity.

Buy a guidebook: Learn about the places you are visiting and what you can expect at each port. Then, let the guides teach you even more.

Use a travel agent: This is especially important if you are a first-time river boater. A professional travel agent can help you to find the right cruise in your budget, set up your activities and make sure you have all of your tickets and transfers. A travel agent can also help you to book your plane reservations and anything else you might need.

Travel Specialist Group

Things You Need To Know When Planning a Destination Wedding

Congratulations! You’re getting married and you always dreamed of having a wedding far away from home, perhaps on a remote island or at an adventure park. Wherever you dreamed of saying your ‘I Do’s, there are things you should know when planning for your big day.

 

  1. Start early: Some popular destinations can book up in advance. Plus, you should spare some time to visit the destination of your choice.
  2. It’s not as expensive as you think: According to The Knot magazine, most couples spend an average of $30,000 on a local’ wedding. A destination wedding with a small circle of your closest friends and family can cost a fraction of that total.
  3. Think about your budget: While it can cost less than a traditional local wedding, you still need to have the funds without depleting your bank account. Decide what’s most important to you as a couple.
  4. Keep your guests in mind: Are you having children attend? Then pick a kid-friendly destination. Want your elderly Aunt Lola to attend, but she struggles with walking? Make sure that your destination is accessible for her.
  5. Location, location, location: Your destination wedding really comes down to the location that you picked. Do not pick a destination because Aunt Lola will be happy or because she told you that she always saw you getting married there. Pick a destination that you both want and that means something to you, whether it’s romantic Tuscany, the beautiful Hawaiian islands or the cold Swiss Alps.
  6. Visit your destination: Don’t take someone else’s word for the destination you want. Go visit it yourself, even if you’ve been there before. You should meet with the vendors, including the photographer, and you’ll want to see the venue at least one more time. Make sure you try the food while you are there too.
  7. Check the paperwork: Depending on your location, you may need special permits for your wedding. Some may take time to get, so give yourself plenty of time to get everything you need.
  8. Use a travel agent: A travel agent can help you plan your wedding from far away. They are more familiar with destinations and local customs and can make sure that your big day is just perfect. They can talk to your vendors, help you to book your reservations and make your day less stressful.
  9. Plan the honeymoon: Planning a wedding is great, but make sure you spend just as much time planning the honeymoon.
  10. Relax: It takes a lot to plan a wedding, especially one that is hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Make sure you spend time relaxing before the festivities and be sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing.

Travel Specialist Group

Best Destination Wedding Locations and Why


The best location to get married is the one that means the most to you and your loved one. Maybe it’s an island where you first said ‘I love you’. Maybe it’s in a country that’s part of your heritage. Or, maybe it’s just a destination that you always dreamed about because it just seems so romantic. Whatever it is, the destination you choose should be the one where you want to say your vows enjoy your big day. Need a few recommendations?

Portugal: With its crystal clear waters, beautiful landmarks and high-towering cliffs, Portugal is one of the most beautiful places in the world and makes an ideal wedding destination. Its city of Algarve is known for its many beaches and Sintra became the first center of European Romantic architecture in Portugal. Portugal is known for its castles including Castle of the Moors, a hilltop medieval castle where you can say your I Do’s.

Italy: Any part of Italy makes a great destination wedding because marrying in Italy is considered one of the most romantic ways to get married. Singer John Legend tied the knot with his wife Chrissy Teigen in Lake Como, known for its deep-blue waters and rugged, forested foothills of the Alps. Of course, there are the rolling hills of Tuscany where you can get married in Florence or Siena or at any one of the hilltop castles, such as the Sala Rossa of Florence, the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena.

Ireland: Speaking of castles, Ireland also makes a great wedding destination site with its more than 30,000 castles across the country, including the 400-acre Dromoland, where you can take a romantic boat ride before you exchange your vows. St. Patrick’s Cathedral located in Dublin is a holy site is created in 1191. The Botanic Gardens, established in 1828, makes a beautiful backdrop to say your vows and, of course, there’s the romantic famous Blarney Castle and sharing an upside down kiss on the Blarney Stone.

Before you plan your wedding keep in mind that, just like in the United States, you need to complete certain paperwork in each country in order to say your ‘I Do’s’ to be considered legal. Check the country’s embassy website or search “getting married in ‘fill-in-the-country’” to find out exactly what you need to do.

Travel Specialist Group