You may think I am crazy, but I traveled to St Lucia in November. The Caribbean Islands have had very few cases since the start of the pandemic, making it safer than here in the US, in my opinion. Since I work in the travel industry, I have been following closely everything destinations, resorts and airlines have been doing to make travel safe. I believed strongly that if I did not experience it personally, I could not advise my clients and reassure them about the protocols that are in place, so I decided to go when the opportunity arose.
I traveled to St Lucia on Delta Airlines. Delta blocks middle seats in the main cabin and limits first class to 50% occupancy. This policy really makes a difference to how I feel about air travel. Also, I wear two masks. I know this may seem funny to some people, but it makes me feel safer. I also felt more comfortable traveling to Saint Lucia because they require all travelers to take a Covid-19 PCR test within 7 days of the trip date and email the results to them along with completing a travel authorization form prior to travel. Travelers must print out their negative test results and pre-travel authorization forms and have them ready to present when going through the entry process into the country. In addition, during the entry process everyone’s temperature is taken and recorded. They are also very strict about requiring the use of hand sanitizer before encountering anyone.
At the resort, we were warmly greeted and welcomed, and they took our temperatures again. Every staff member always wore a mask. In addition, sanitizer stations were located at all elevators, entrance to shops and bars and restaurants throughout the resort. It is also worth noting that the resort was at 50% - 60% occupancy so it was very easy to social distance. I loved it when we swam in the ocean, we literally had no one around us.
They also changed the way they operated their tours and excursions due to the pandemic. You could not leave the resort and just hop in a taxi to go somewhere. You could only leave on an organized tour with an approved tour operator.
Without a doubt, they took the health and safety of their guests, staff, and community very seriously indeed. I truly felt they raised the bar when it came to their health and safety protocols.
With all these precautions in place, I will say we had an amazing time at the resort. We were able to enjoy ourselves with relative peace of mind knowing everyone had taken part in the strict entry process into St Lucia and followed the protocols at the resort.
If you are considering a trip to St Lucia or another Caribbean island, please contact me and I will be happy to answer all your questions and lead you through the process, so you can fully enjoy your vacation!
I know All-Inclusive resorts sometimes get a bad rap for their dining options. My experience at Le Blanc Los Cabos was that the dining was one of the highlights of my stay here. I love healthy, fresh cooking and enjoy all types of cuisine and this is exactly what Le Blanc delivered! The food was authentic to the region it represented from Mexican to Lebanese to Italian to French and above all it was delicious.
I loved Le Blanc Ocean for breakfast and took in the gorgeous views of the ocean every morning while starting my day with Chilaquiles or a more simple but delicious egg white omelet with vegetables and goat cheese. I made a point of ordering a fresh fruit plate with papaya, kiwi, watermelon, and honeydew melon. Green Juice is also a great addition to give your day a healthy start.
Lunch was usually spent by the pool where we ordered shrimp or fish tacos and quesadillas and guacamole made with the freshest ingredients. They also had pop up food stations by the pools that changed every day. One day was Philly steak and pulled pork sandwiches, the next was hamburgers and hotdogs. My favorite poolside drink was a spicy margarita – not too sweet and definitely spicy!
One day we had Neapolitan pizza which is prepared in an authentic brick pizza oven. The bubbly crust was perfection and the topics range from the classic Margherita to the more varied like Diavola, Carbonara and Shrimp.
There was a churro stand set up every afternoon where we could watch the batter be piped and the churros fried before they were served with cinnamon sugar and caramel sauce. As an alternative, Blanc Cafe had the most delicious homemade ice cream and toppings like salted caramel crispearls and crushed Oreos. They also made Paninis and crepes here which I would have loved to try but ran out of time!
Dinner was always varied and delicious! We started with happy hour at Fire Bar which serves signature cocktails, top shelf liquors and of course, wines from around the world. I enjoyed a very good dirty martini here which still stands out in my memory. The ambiance at Fire Bar is sophisticated and the views of the resort pools and ocean beyond are breathtaking!
We dined at Mezze with authentic Lebanese cuisine including Burrata, Tabbouleh (bulgur, herbs and tomato salad), baba ghanoush (eggplant and tahini dip), calamari, pide and grape leaves. Main courses consisted of grilled octopus, grilled lamb and shrimp kebabs. This is just a sample of the extensive menu here. Being from Turkey, I really enjoyed this offering of Mediterranean cuisine while on vacation and the trip down memory lane of past dining experiences in Istanbul it brought me.
Blanc Asia offers seafood, sushi and nigiri and Lumiere offers a fine dining experience with French cuisine and favorites like Escargot and Beef Tartare followed by Bourguignon, Chicken Provencal, Duck and Cherry or Surf and Turf. At Blanc Ocean, my soft-shell crab taco was an original and delicious starter. This is not even a complete list of the fabulous dining options here. Seriously, the restaurant choices and quality of food will impress even the most demanding foodie.
This resort is sophisticated and elegant. It oozes relaxation, wellness, and quiet luxury. It is the perfect choice for a romantic stay with your significant other or with your best friends and adult family members. If you want to escape, relax and have experiences you will remember well after you leave, this is the place for you!
Recently I went on a travel agent FAM trip (short for familiarization trip) to Le Blanc Spa Resort in Los Cabos. On these trips I get insider looks at everything the resort has to offer from the accommodations to the swimming pools, restaurants, bars, spas, gyms, entertainment and more. I had an amazing time at this luxury adults-only all-inclusive resort. When I arrived at the resort, I was warmly greeted, and immediately offered hand sanitizer as soon as I got out of my private transfer and approached the entrance to the hotel lobby. My driver and the hotel staff were all wearing masks. I felt reassured that they followed these steps with all the guests as a safety precaution during Covid-19. In fact, before every interaction, whether it was waiting to be seated at a restaurant or waiting in the spa for a service, they followed the practice of requesting that every guest use hand sanitizer and had a pump at the ready.
At check in I was offered a refreshing drink and a cool towel as well as a flower which was a nice touch. My butler greeted me at the elevator when I reached my floor and showed me to my room which was sealed and had been sanitized. Everyone has a butler at this resort, and they are so friendly and helpful. They make dinner reservations for you, answer any questions, set up aromatherapy diffusers in your room with a selection of relaxing scents to choose from and they even draw you a bath if you request one, plus anything else you need. Our butler was fabulous and really enhanced our stay.
I loved the ambiance at this resort and enjoyed sitting in my lounge chair by the pool and reading and chatting with the other agents on this trip who became my friends during our time here. We enjoyed fish tacos and quesadillas, guacamole, and margaritas poolside. I was thinking how much fun it would be to come here on ladies' trip with your best girlfriends. Luxury, relaxation, indulgence, and pampering - the ideal escape!
Some of the agents I was with went to the gym where you could work out with a personal trainer or join one of the many classes offered during the day. Appointments are required which you can make directly on the app.
Yoga classes are also offered as well as a variety of workout sessions in the pool. There are so many opportunities to exercise and stay fit that you will surely find the perfect one for you. I enjoyed simply walking on the beach in the morning and watching the stunning sunrises.
In my next post, I will write about the delicious food and restaurant options at this resort so be sure to check back soon!
With the world locking down and isolating, does it seem an odd time to be discussing travel? I totally understand why travel, per se, is not top of mind for you or anyone else right now. But with the time lots of us have on our hands, I want to spend a few minutes explaining why travel is pretty high on the list of things we might contemplate for a few moments.
Firstly, some of our best memories are of travel. The vacations we took as children with our parents, the trips we have experienced with our own families and friends.
Humans are a pilgrim species. Travel is a part of more than our culture, it is embedded in our very DNA. Travel requires us to endure some discomfort, it teaches us tolerance, patience and perseverance.
There is indeed a spiritual aspect to travel. Though travel is outwardly about transportation, a crossing of borders, lodging and logistics, every journey somehow has an internal component as well, as though some of the borders crossed are interior to our psyche. We long for a horizon that moves one step away from us as quickly as we take a step forward. Yet, when we gaze inward, we find that same horizon there. There is something about travel that involves a defiance of the physical act of travel as though we are participating in a quest for understanding and knowledge as much as accruing mileage.
Now, as we find ourselves largely homebound, perhaps it is a good time to evaluate the importance of travel to our psyche, to what it has meant to us in the past to what it will mean to us as things normalize. One way to do so is to use travel to distract us a bit from the day to day routines we are lapsing into in the much smaller world of our homes, and to use the technologies and media to our advantage to visit the world virtually. So for your digital travel adventures over the next few weeks, let me suggest a few of the best opportunities I have encountered as of late:
It’s a big world and we have seen so little of it. Stopping is somehow inconceivable.
Many of you have been asking about your upcoming travel plans. I want to assist you with your questions, but first, a few words about more important matters.
We find ourselves in interesting times, where much of the normal functioning of our daily lives seems out of order. However, there are also a great many certainties. While we are all engaged in our various pursuits to earn a living and raise our families, we are also neighbors and friends. I want to say I am here for you. Things will at some point return to normal, we will get on with the routine we sometimes complain about but for which we are now a little nostalgic. Until then, know beyond being your “travel agent,” you and I are neighbors, friends and family. As we move through the next few weeks, be strong and maintain your conviction in those things that have always sustained you, whether that be your faith, your family, your pets or your own sense of integrity. We will all get through this together.
Stay informed, but give yourself a break from the 24 hour news cycle. Here are a couple of good resources for information:
Coronavirus Information Center CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html
World Health Organization https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
World Health Organization Q&A https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
Now, about those travel plans. Travel suppliers have all been modifying the cancellation policies to assist passengers, waiving fees and penalties for changes. If you had plans about which you have questions, please reach out to me.
A few of you have also inquired about future travel plans. Please reach out to me at any time to discuss and I will provide you with any information you need. As the travel industry regains momentum, there will no doubt be many great opportunities, we can discuss as you feel ready.
If there is anything I can do for you over the coming weeks, or if you just want to check in and talk, know I am here for you. We all want to practice a sound “social distancing” as the medical profession calls it, but that does not mean social disconnection. Stay informed and stay safe. If you need anything, we are a phone call away.
Hang in there, Be strong. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, have faith, and wash your hands!
If you are traveling to London, make it a point to visit Selfridges on Oxford Street. I love this iconic department store for many reasons: the elegant displays, the variety of brands and selections they carry, and the food hall, of course. I can spend an entire day here and never get tired of it...
We arrived just before lunch and did a tour of the ground floor taking in the different displays from the vast cosmetics area to luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. After browsing for a bit, we decided to head to the food hall for lunch. The food hall is a joy to visit. The beautifully wrapped gift items set up around the specialist counters of delicious foods such as cheese, fresh pasta, meats of all varieties, and charcuterie, to name just a few are a pleasure to view! There is also a champagne and oyster bar which always looks so enticing.
We knew exactly what we wanted when we saw the ramen bar. We headed straight for it and while there was a short queue, the time passed quickly before we were seated and excitedly looking at the choices on the menu. Ramen is a favorite of mine and this did not disappoint.
After lunch we headed back to do some shopping. While Selfridges does offer many luxury brands, you can also find more affordable lines like TopShop. We were there at the end of November so the Christmas Shop was set up with delightful decorations and is a great place to shop for gifts and souvenirs to take back home.
We finished our shopping and headed downstairs where there is a tea/coffee shop. Here you can have afternoon tea with delicious pastries or a cappuccino while you rest your feet. Mine were aching and an espresso was the perfect pick-me-up.
Other than the shopping, dining and beautiful displays that are a treat to behold, a real benefit of shopping at Selfridges is that you can combine all your shopping and claim the VAT back in one step. The VAT refunds office is on the fourth floor and it is very efficiently run. It is a vast office and when you walk in, there is a desk where you are greeted and given a number. When your number is shown on the screens in the waiting area, you proceed to that desk and take a seat. You present your receipts and passport or driving license to the agent and they will take it from there. When you walk out you have everything you need to claim your VAT refund at the airport when you are departing the UK.
So whether you buy clothes, cosmetics, shoes or household items, if your purchases qualify for a VAT refund, it is all processed at one time, which is a real convenience. Trust me, I have done it where I have multiple forms and envelopes from many different shops and all that paper is a nightmare to keep track of.
Selfridges is a one-of-a-kind department store and definitely worth a visit. You will surely enjoy browsing, shopping and eating while you are there.
I’m back from London but still have experiences to write about. One of those is dinner at Simpson’s in the Strand. This British institution is such an experience. The dining room is large and elegant with dark wood paneling on the walls. I love the carving trolleys and the delicious choices of roasts that are offered. The night we went there was roast rib of beef with Yorkshire puddings (a favorite in my family), and a choice of turkey or ham with bacon wrapped sausages and roast potatoes. Our family ordered all three and they were all delicious!
Also be sure to leave plenty of time prior to your reservation to have a drink in the upstairs bar. The comfy sofas and chairs offer a lovely place to relax and enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.
There is a lot to do in London and one week is certainly not enough. Nevertheless, we try and fit as much as we can into our trips.
Borough Market is one of the activities we always find time for. For foodies, this is a must do! We take the tube to London Bridge and then look for the exit signs to Borough Market. It takes you right there.
The minute you arrive you will get caught up in the atmosphere of the market. There are traders of every type of food and drink imaginable, from charcuterie, cheeses, and fishmongers to tapas, paella, Turkish/Cypriot/Thai cuisines to name only a few. There are bakers of breads, sweet pastries and savory pies. Vegetarian and Vegan options are plentiful and mouth-watering.
I loved the fresh truffles where you could lift the lids off the jars containing the valuable fungi and the strong, unmistakable truffle scent was overwhelming, but in a good way! They even had rare white truffles. The samples of truffle pate were a yummy treat.
I never miss a chance to buy fresh oysters and they are a steal at 6 for £10.
There are wine and beer merchants and Columbian coffee traders as well as a coffee stand run by homeless workers. My daughter, who is studying in London this year, loves their almond milk latte.
A really fun place to stop by is the Tea 2 You shop. This vendor knows about tea, for real. He proudly displays pictures with Prince Harry and letters from the Royal Family complimenting his teas. He will share their favorites and tell you how to prepare each type of tea. Some are best with milk and honey, but you would never, ever add milk to Darjeeling. As the lady in the shop told us, “it would be a crime to do so.” Lol! Seriously, this is the place to shop if you love tea. They will advise you, help you choose from their large selection and prepare teas for you to sample.
So if you are in London and have a few hours to spare or better yet, half a day, stop by and experience this wonderful place.
Reading about the current flooding of Venice makes me so sad. My family and I were there in July, four short months ago, and we stood in St Mark’s Square, which is now flooded and closed off to tourists. It is hard to believe this is happening to this historic city.
We stayed at a great hotel around the corner from St. Mark’s Square and had drinks every night in this cozy bar. The friendly servers welcomed us warmly and brought over snacks of olives, bruschetta and nuts to enjoy with our cocktails.
We had dinner one night at a quaint restaurant away from the touristy areas. The concierge at our hotel recommended it to us after we said we wanted to eat someplace smaller and more local. Il Nuovo Galeon was the perfect spot. We walked there from our hotel and it was a great opportunity to get away from the tourist spots and see where the Venetians live.
We were there during the Biennale Art Festival and saw a couple of the exhibits on our Grand Canal tour. It was a treat to see Banksy’s artwork, which we were told was his only one in the city.
The highlight of our final dinner on the rooftop of Hotel Daniele were these breathtaking views. I truly hope this city will recover from the damage caused by the flooding and will once again welcome visitors to enjoy its amazing landmarks and historic buildings, but sadly, that will probably take quite some time.
I was in London for a weekend recently. I stayed at a charming hotel called The Montague On The Gardens and loved the ambiance of this traditional English boutique hotel. The staff were so warm and welcoming, I felt like I was among friends.
I enjoyed a traditional English tea with my daughter who is studying in London for the year. I loved that we could smell the different tea leaves they offered and we sat for two hours enjoying several different varieties as well as salmon and egg finger sandwiches and lovely pastries and of course, scones.
There is also a hot chocolate cart where you can create your own custom hot chocolate with a variety of toppings including marshmallows, chocolate drops, sprinkles, whipped cream and peppermint straws.
The leopard bar was another feature of this hotel that is not to be missed. The chic and elegant decor makes this the perfect place to relax and have a couple of drinks.
What I loved about this hotel is that while you are in the center of London, walking distance to the British Museum, Oxford Street and Covent Garden, this is a sanctuary of calm and quiet where you can slow down and unwind after taking in all the excitement and buzz that this world-class city offers.
Brook Bramley is a travel agent and the owner of TripBoutiq. She loves to share her passion for travel and exploring the world!