|Ray Hanania, Punta Cana 2009
What I look for in a vacation and what you can expect from this blog.
First and foremost, there are three types of vacations you will read about on this blog. The first is the travel tourist vacation where you I can explore new places, cultures and places. This would include places like New York City’s Times Square, Chicago, where I live, Los Angeles, and other great vacation destinations. It might even include a road trip.
This can be mixed with the others I write about too.
The second vacation is the exotic travel vacation, such as to Paris, Dublin, Beirut, Dubai or Jerusalem, my father’s hometown.
The third vacation is the beach vacation. This one is important and must have a great beach. There are not a lot of great beaches that the average person can afford. You will be influenced into believing you are at a great beach, in many cases because you may not have really been to a great beach. But I can tell you from experience, the best beaches are, first, in the Bahamas. Clear bright white sand and clear blue and teal waters.
The Bahamas used to be a great destination until Atlantis destroyed Paradise Island, which once was a beautiful beach strip with great beaches and lost of room to enjoy. Now, it’s a cash cow for the owners, a casino without one-armed bandits. The place is over-built and the focus is on the water parks, aquariums of sharks, pools and things that you can get at any resort inland in America. You don’t need to spend $10,000 to enjoy a water park with some nice beaches.
Aruba and the Cayman Islands are great destinations. Pricey, but, you get what you pay for, for sure. Aruba has more culture, the Dutch. The Cayman’s offers some nice beach explorations.
In the more affordable division is Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. It has great vacation resorts, although the resorts are built like bowling alleys, something I’ll help you understand. The villas and rooms closer to the beach cost way more than those further away. You have to travel on the resort using a golf cart or a cart train.
Jamaica is a great destination, but most of the beaches suck. The water and beaches are a bit dirty and rocky. Go there mainly for the off-beach culture because Jamaica has a wonderful culture. You’ll want to leave your resort to visit some of the great places like Dunn’s River Falls, or Rick’s Cafe. But, it is costly to travel there and it is not always safe with the country still submerged in socialist remnants of a past political instability.
My first posted review here is about a resort along Jamaica’s northwest coast. Nice place, somewhat costly, but the beaches really were so limited.
Mexico is a coin toss. The prices don’t reflect the growing fear caused by drug gangs that have taken over the country. There is still an unwritten rule that the drug gangs won’t harm tourists, but that isn’t always guaranteed. You have to be careful. It used to be fun to travel to Cancun and leave the resort to visit the shopping malls. But these days, they are not safe.
Europe offers great places for both types of vacations, beaches and exploration and I will write about many of the ones I have taken, including traveling through France without hotel reservations, renting a car and flying up the Cote d Azul from Perpignan through St. Tropez and Monte Carlo to Menton in Italy.
And then drive to Paris where you walk the historic streets and districts, taking a side trip to London through the Chunnel on a Gourmet Dinner Car. Phenomenal.
When you look for a vacation, the first thing to check out is the beach. View the photos and then view a map showing you the resort. Even use GoogleEarth to get a better feel for the real layout of the beach because most resorts with small beaches use trick photography or photos of other beaches to mislead you into believing you are getting more than you will get.
The second thing is to real research the resort because they won’t tell you that the resorts are often divided into sections based on distance from the beach and price. Some in Punta Cana are really three different resorts each sold separately but basically the same resort. The cheaper rooms are the furthest away, although they will make you think they are near the beach. The most expensive will be near the beach, but you may not realize that the resort you are traveling to, doesn’t offer those rooms when you book. You may have to pay to upgrade when you arrive, if there is room.
Finally, always search for a map of the resort in order to get a better feel for where your room or villa will be located. Different roos are located in different areas of the resort and cost more or cost less. You need to see these.
Finally, I do rely on TripAdvisor
to read through tourist postings, comments and photographs. Don’t go by the photos posted by the resorts because they are angled to mislead.
I’m not saying that a resort with some handicaps isn’t worth visiting, but I am staying you should know the good, the bad and the ugly before you book and know what you are getting.
Many resorts post fake comments posted by members of their staff and pay agencies to write up reviews. They pay travel agents to visit their resorts and win many of them over to post excessively positive comments to off-set the negative. But if you read 1 negative for every 10 comments, you can be sure that the negative experience is going to be a 50-50 shot that you should expect.
All inclusives are great, when available. Not all resorts offer all-inclusives. It’s popular in Punta Cana, but not always everywhere else.
I’ll review the food for you, too.
Anyway, take a journal with you and spend a few minutes to jot down your experiences to share with your family. Draw pictures and take pictures. In traveling through France, I took a sketch book and colored pencils and ink and drew — as bad as I am at art — some wonderful memories of places I visited. It took about 30 minutes to sit and sketch out scenes that were memorable. I’ll post some of those pages for you to enjoy and share and find your own inspiration.
Put them altogether and you will always have something precious for yourself and your family to share with others. Vacations are a prize regardless of the experience and I hope you always enjoy yours.
— Ray Hanania
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