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Disney Cruises

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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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Kid Friendly destinations

If you’re planning a family trip, there are many places across the globe that are kid-friendly. Of course, the popular Mickey Mouse amusement parks are are the top of the list. Disney’s parks cater to your little ones with kid-friendly accommodations, food and activities. Entire books have been written on bringing your kids to the happiest place on Earth, but what other destinations as fun for kids?

Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia Playa Bávaro: Located in the Dominican Republic, this is an all-inclusive family resort that caters to guests of every age. Kids will enjoy the Candyman at check-in as well as games and magic tricks. There’s a Kidsclub and a Teens Club. Bahia Scouts is an entire area designed just for kids, including a nature club and their very own water park.

National Parks: Yellowstone is just one example of a national park in the United States that is perfect for children to see. The National Parks Passport Program also offers a great way for children and families to learn more about each destination and fill their National Parks Passport with stamps. The National Park Service website has a map where you can select the state you live in or want to visit and see a list of parks that are available. For example, in New York you can visit an African Burial Ground, the homes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt as well as the home of Martin Van Buren the Statue of Liberty. These are all designated national parks.

Hard Rock Cancun: Mexican city really is kid-friendly, and so is the Hard Rock Cancun. They offer several packages that parents can choose, depending on the age of the child up to 12 years old. In the Ultimate Playtime Packages, parents of babies up to 18 months old will receive a complimentary toy kit, an in-room crib and highchair, and an electric sterilization machine. The resort also provides Gerber food and cereal as well as 36 diapers and wipes per child. Older children receive a complimentary toy kit and a child-sized robe and slippers. The Hard Rock Cancun offers a Little Big Club, an interactive experience where children are dancing, singing and playing with their favorite characters Barney™, Angelina Ballerina™, Bob the Builder™ and Thomas The Tank Engine™.

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Planning a Destination Wedding With Children


Having a destination wedding comes with its own unique set of challenges, but children can add even more challenges to that list. Whether they are in your wedding party, children of the guests or both, you need to think about their needs while you are planning your wedding. Here are five tips to help make your day easier, so you can worry about what’s really important — saying your I Do’s:

    1. Pick a family-friendly destination: There are many resorts around the world that cater to families, with accommodations, dining and activities for all ages. This takes the pressure off of you to keep the kids entertained and provide proper amenities for them. The staff is also familiar with taking care of families.
    2. Have children-friendly activities: Provide activities that are just for adults, some that are just for the kiddies, some that are just for the teens and tweens and some that are for everyone. It takes some planning, but make sure you keep everyone entertained. During the wedding reception, while the adults (and some kids) are dancing the night away, others can be playing with puzzles, coloring or building with Legos at the table.
    3. Children’s menu: Not all children enjoy fancy, schmancy h’or derves, or chicken cordon bleu or roast beef for dinner, so make sure that you have some children’s menu options available. Macaroni, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets are some perennial kids’ favorites. Remember them for the dessert too. Kids love cake, so the wedding cake might not be a problem, but have some cookies and milk on hand as well.
    4. Peace and quiet: Some kids get overexcited and overtired at big events and need a place to chill out for a little while. If you have any new moms who need a place to breastfeed, they may want a place that’s private and quiet. Even some adults just need to get away from all the noise and celebration for awhile, so make sure you have a spot that’s just meant for quiet time.
    5. Teens: The older kids like to be treated like the adults and do what the adults do, so let them participate in the festivities. They can dance, enjoy the grown-up appetizers and menu options, but if there are several teens on hand, consider letting them have their own table, so they can chat with guests their own age.
    6. Time it right: If you have a lot of children attending your wedding or in your wedding party, consider holding some of the events earlier in the day.

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When Children Should Start Traveling

travel-specialist-groupYou want to share your love of traveling with your children, but when is the right time to take them on the road or to another country?

Infant to toddler: One benefit to traveling with children at a much younger age is that they will already be more comfortable with flying, being on the road for long stretches of time, or taking cruises. Older children might feel nervous if they haven’t traveled before and it’s their first time. However, it’s important to realize that they might not remember a lot at such a young age, but whatever memories they do keep, they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Child to tween: This time period in a child’s life is also a good time to start traveling with them. It’s likely that they will actually remember the trip. It’s also a nice age where a child can keep themselves entertained on a flight — depending on the child – or in a car. It’s also a good age where you can teach them about their destinations and make the trip a learning experience. This is a nice time to just enjoy a family trip together.

Tween to teenager/young adult: Perhaps a lack of money or time has forced you to wait until your kids become teenagers to travel. That’s okay. This can actually have a lot of benefits since, at this age, teenagers are prepared to handle more responsibility. They can help you to plan the trip and to also pick out things to see or do that are specific to their interests, which will make them even more excited for the trip. If they have their driver’s license and some experience behind the wheel, they also might be able to help lighten the load on the road and take over some of the driving.

If your child is more in the “tween” age, this can still be a great opportunity to teach him  how to manage various parts of trips, such as itineraries, reservations, plane tickets, money for souvenirs and food, etc. Learning from you and their firsthand experiences can help them down the line when it comes time to they plan their own trips.

When should children start traveling? Honestly, any time is the right time. It’s all a matter of planning, picking out kid friendly destinations, making it a fun, learning experience and expecting the unexpected. Because, after all, they are kids.

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Top Benefits of Using a Travel Agent

travelspecialistgroupWhen it comes to planning your trips, the most important question you need to ask yourself is — should you book it yourself or use a travel agent?

Just like you leave medical advice up to the doctor and the legal advice up to the lawyers, you should leave the travel planning to a professional as well. Here are the top benefits of using a travel agent to plan your next trip.

Saving money. It’s hard to navigate through the pricing options for planes, hotels, and other accommodations on your own. The websites are often tricky, making you think you’re getting a better deal than you really are. Travel agents are great with working around these tricks and finding you the best available deals for your budget.

Troubleshooting and safety. For first time travelers, it can be nerve-wracking to think of everything that could go wrong on your vacation or trip. Travel agents are there to help. From telling you what to pack before you leave to getting you on a new flight if yours is suddenly canceled, they can ensure your travels go without a hitch.

First-hand experiences. Often times, the travel agent you’re working with has already been to the destination you’re headed to. This is convenient because they can answer any questions you may have in a more detailed explanation than a quick Google search could offer. They can also give you tips on how to navigate wherever you’re headed to.

Deciding where to go. The most important question of all; where do I want to go? For some, that’s a difficult question to answer. With such a wide range of possibilities, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact destination. Travel agents can help you work with your travel needs and preferences to help you decide the best destination for your wallet and your personality.

Getting the newest deals. Much like how they can save you money for plane fare and hotel rooms, travel agents often have insider access and connections with various companies. This means getting the earliest updates on new deals and openings within the industry, giving you access you wouldn’t have on your own.

A travel agent can help you with your trip from the time you come up with an idea to the time you get home and want to share your photos with everyone.

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Make the Trip a Learning Experience for Children

Planning a trip with your children can be a fun and memorable experience, but traveling is also a valuable time to learn about history, and other cultures, languages and destinations. Every time Lisa, a mom of three, plans a trip with her children, she makes sure to include a museum where they can learn about the area. She knows the kids are learning while they travel, but the kids just know it’s fun. Here are five tips to turn your ordinary vacation into an unforgettable learning experience.

Get the kids involved: Before you even leave for vacation, get your kids involved in learning about where you are going. Order brochures online or visit the library and borrow or buy guidebooks on the area. There are also books that are written for children, for example, “Kids’ Travel Guide – Italy & Rome: The fun way to discover Italy & Rome–especially for kids.”

Try a scavenger hunt: You can create your own scavenger hunt for your child to keep them entertained and learning about the cities or use a book such as Mission Rome that guides your child through the local landmarks.

Look for museums and tours: Most local museums offer great interactive experiences for children, but keep in mind you may have to sign up ahead of time. There are also walking and bus tours of the area.

Let them pick an activity: Kids get more excited about learning if they are participating in an activity they want to do. Have them look through the books and on the web for something of interest to them. Set some ground rules ahead of time though. An amusement park is fun, but not educational. A visit to a national park or historic home is perfect.

Download apps: Many sites have apps that you, and your child, can download and read about the landmark or city before you go.

Learn the language: Of course you may not be able to learn an entire language before you go, but teaching your kids some fun words may make the trip more exciting. Let your child pick a word a day that they want to learn.

Buy a journal: Help your child to record their travel experiences by buying a travel journal. There are also apps they can use. Put in pictures, add some description and create a souvenir they will treasure forever.

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