As a travel agent, one of the most common questions I get is “Where are YOU going this year?”
What is that saying about the shoe makers children? Sometimes I am so caught up in planning all of YOUR travel that I forget to make time for my own vacations!
My husband will snort-laugh at that statement because the word “vacation” is a little foreign to me… it’s hard to ever really shut down and relax when you have clients on the go. It’s also hard to be married to a travel agent… no matter where we are, I am peppering concierges with questions, ducking into open hotel rooms for impromptu “inspections,” and constantly saying things like “this resort would be good for families with teenagers.” LOL.
Nonetheless, everyone needs time to relax and recharge. I have a few trips planned this year; a little bit of work and a little bit of leisure mixed in. Here’s a rundown of my own personal travel for 2017 (at least what is planned for today!)
Western Caribbean (Cozumel, Belize, Honduras)
Next month, Alpaca Your Bags Travel is hosting a Whiteman Air Force Base group cruise onboard the Carnival Freedom. I’ve actually never personally cruised Carnival before so I am excited to check it out! We have several fun excursions planned including a waverunner tour of Cozumel, cave tubing in Belize and hanging with the sloths & monkeys at Daniel Johnson’s Sloth & Monkey Hangout in Roatan, Honduras. I CANNOT WAIT TO HOLD A BABY SLOTH!
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This trip is a prize! Last year, I attended a travel agent conference in Playa del Carmen. While we were there, we participated in the first annual travel agents Amazing Race. Imagine 50 travel agents racing down Avenida 5 (Fifth Avenue) in Playa del Carmen, doing crazy things like eating brain tacos and selling coconuts on the beach. Guess who won? THIS GIRL! My team of four won a 3 night stay at any Hard Rock Resort & Hotel property. We are planning to use ours at the intimate, friendly Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta. I love Puerto Vallarta because the scenery is so unique. The combination of beach and mountains reminds me of my time in Rio de Janeiro.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
It’s no secret that I love the DR; my husband and I actually got married there on beautiful Bavaro Beach. This year, I’ll be attending the Romance Travel Forum, an elite travel agent event for travel agencies who specialize in honeymoons, destination weddings and the like. While at RTF, I’ll be visiting several properties to report back for you: the Paradisus Palma Real, Secrets Cap Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, Sanctuary Cap Cana and more.
As of today, this is my only true “vacation” of 2017. Did you know that Bermuda is only 600 miles due west of North Carolina? It’s a great place to visit and (as of today) one of the only tropical Zika-free destinations close to the US. We can’t wait to check out the pink sand beaches. Horseshoe Bay, historic St. George and (hopefully) get our preliminary PADI scuba certification. More to come on this trip!
While not as glamorous as the destinations above, I had to throw this one in. I love Chicago, having lived in nearby Milwaukee for almost 7 years. In August, Christopher, Jen and I will be meeting in Chicago for the first annual Alpaca Your Bags Travel annual meeting.
Did this list inspire any travel plans for 2017? Where do you hope to visit this year?
Let us know in the comments!
Subtitle: No, they are not all the same. I promise.
How about a little geography lesson?
Not everyone will be into this, but I think some will find it interesting.
First, let’s do a little myth busting!
MYTH: All of the Caribbean islands are the same. It doesn’t matter where I go, just find me an island!
BZZZZZ. Insert Annoying Game Show Buzzer Here. I’m sorry, my friend… that is incorrect!
The Caribbean is a rich, diverse landscape. Each island has its own people, resources, political boundaries, history, culture, food … the list goes on. My favorite part of travel agent school was learning the geography and amazing unique qualities of each island. It helps that Geography was one of my favorite subjects in school. Because of this, I tend to focus on the Caribbean quite a bit… it is one of my favorite places and I hope it will be come one of yours too.
Are you ready to get started? Here’s a map:
As you can see, the Caribbean is divided into several zones:
Greater Antilles: Cuba, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico and the island of Hispanola (which is divided into the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
Leeward Islands: This is a big one. The Leeward Islands include all of Virgin Islands, plus several more. The Puerto Rican Virgin Islands are included here (Vieques and Culebra). The U.S. Virgin Islands include St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix and Water Island. The British Virgin Islands include Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada. Finally, we have Anguilla, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Saint Barthelemy (you probably call it St. Bart’s), Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Barbuda, Antigua, Redonda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe and Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic!)
That brings us to the Windward Islands! That list incudes Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada (not to be confused with Grenada, Spain. Wouldn’t this be a mess?)
Note: There is some debate about where Dominica falls. I included it under the Leewards, but some think it could fall in the Windward list. What is history without debate??
And FINALLY, we have the Leeward Antilles. This includes the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire (commonly called the ABC islands). Tourists commonly visit these islands because they are below the hurricane belt and therefore “ hurricane proof”.
Wow. Feeling confused? As a travel agent, I had to learn the geography, but also the distinct personality of each island. Those 38 islands are rich in the history of those who settled there, including influences from the British Commonwealth, the Netherlands, France and Africa.
Over time, I plan to spotlight each of these areas and talk about the rich differences between them.
For example, did you know that St. Martin/Sint Maarten is actually one island divided in half, each half governed by a different country? Did you know that it’s also the culinary capital of the Caribbean?
Do you know where the world’s largest conch farm is?
Do you know which of these islands accepts US currency and which do not?
Do you know where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed? (come on, I know that’s what you want to know).
Did you notice that Bermuda and the Bahamas were NOT included? That's right - they aren't in the Caribbean!
We’ll be covering each island in depth over the coming months. In the meantime, let’s talk about YOUR next trip. If you could visit any of these islands, where would you go?
Hi, I'm Ashley
Ashley (@ashleysmorris) is a freelance writer, virtual assistant and owner of Alpaca Your Bags Travel.
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