Girls Getaway 101

20160201_071956

Flamingo Beach – Costa Rica (2016)

I take a 4-night trip, every January, with one of my best friends of over 20 years. We go somewhere warm and tropical to escape our New Jersey winter and spend the time doing not much more than eating, reading, drinking cocktails & soaking up the sun. It’s pure heaven. We catch up on all the happenings since our last trip and laugh like little kids.

Plenty of people over the years have asked me how I “get away with” this annual excursion. I simply tell them, “It’s already on the calendar.” Just as I’m sure you plan family vacations, this friend-cation is really no different. Obviously there is a cost involved, but I’d rather drive my old car and color my own hair, than miss this trip! Everyone needs a break from their daily lives & responsibilities – you just have to make it happen.  So how do we do it?  These are the tips I recommend…

fb_img_1548249367810

2012 in Puerto Plata

1. Find the right partner(s) in crime. Whether you go with a group or a single companion, traveling with friends can be tricky. You all need to want the same thing from this escape, regarding both destination & activity level.  If one of you wants to lay on the beach all day, and your friend wants to zipline, parasail & tour the countryside, it’s generally not going to be as fun. Compromises can be made of course, and some things can be done individually, but for the most part, it’s easier to stick with the same schedule. My girlfriend & I happen to travel incredibly well together. We’re both up early, we both need our coffee right away, food is of the utmost importance & wine is a necessity. We like to relax, with little regard for schedules or planned activities. Our lives at home revolve around this pick-up or that meeting, which sport or what deadline, so when we’re away it’s nice to just go with the flow. But again, it helps if you’re all on the same page.

2. Timing is essential.  Keeping to the same week or weekend every year, makes it unobjectionable for everyone involved. Spouses, kids and caregivers all know when it’s going to happen and there becomes less & less discussion about it. For us, there seems to be the least amount of activity/commitment/obligation in January, so that’s when we go, but you need to find a time that works best for you. Maybe during the summer is better for your schedule, or one of the holiday weekends. Just pick a date and stick with it! Getting everyone on board that first year is definitely the most difficult, but by the 2nd year, you may only hear, “You’re doing that again?” After that it becomes routine and one of the most looked forward to events on your calendar!

20190123_081414

Our beach in Antigua – 2017

3. Length of Trip.  This one depends on how long you can be away from home, how much you want to spend and how flexible your schedule is. Work, childcare, vacation time, pets, etc., will all play a part, but it’s not impossible. If you’re flying, try to find direct flights and don’t stay too far from the airport – you want to maximize every second of your time. Four nights seems to work the best for us, but I have another friend that I only do one night a year with and that works too! I The key is simply getting away, even if it’s only for 24 hours.

4. The Destination. Beach? Mountains? Wine country? A night in NYC? The options are endless. We prefer long days in the warm sun, but your trip can take you anywhere! I will say, however, that all-inclusives or prepaid packages make everything easier – no splitting checks or trying to figure out who drank more at the bar, lol… your transportation and room fees are all covered, including incidentals like wifi & airport transfers. It’s one less thing to worry about as this trip should be as stress-free as possible.

screenshot_20170204-172437

If you only knew how long it took and how hard we laughed, making this sign!

So pick your travel mate(s), find a date, and select a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit! We started our annual getaway in 2011, for only 3 nights, at an unfamiliar high-rise in Cancun. We got a good deal and had a blast, despite cooler temps and such a short stay.  We decided right then that this needed to be an annual tradition, and in less than a week, we’ll be leaving for Aruba – our 9th trip! When all’s said and done, it doesn’t matter where you go, how much you can spend or what you eat & drink, it’s a little “escape” that every woman deserves at least once a year!

Here’s a little slideshow of the incredible resorts we’ve visited so far!  We’ve lucked out with amazing beaches, incredible views and great weather (except for that one year in Puerto Plata!). We are very fortunate to have this friendship, and to have kept this tradition alive… Eventually we’ll be the two old ladies at the swim-up, but with so many years of crazy stories to share!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Antigua… Another Great Getaway!

20170201_094549

Our 7th Annual Girls Getaway to the Pineapple Beach Club in Antigua (pronounced An-TEE-gah) was another successful endeavor! This totally relaxed resort (they actually describe themselves as “the most laid back all-inclusive in Antigua”) is full of breathtaking views, beautiful grounds and an accommodating staff. With only 180 rooms, this intimate spot provides a great getaway for those looking for an adults-only resort to simply unwind.

To start… which room???

If you can splurge just a little, the waterfront rooms are the way to go. This 2-story block provides a feeling of privacy while still being right next to all the action. The rooms themselves are fairly basic, but the unobstructed views just can’t be beat. Second runner-up would be a 2nd floor spot in the Beachfront rooms… though not as private, still a great view and only steps from the sand. You really can’t go wrong with any of the accommodations here as the resort is small and nothing is very far from the beach.

Pool vs Beach… The Great Debate

The beach here wins hands-down. We’re talking the powder white sand & aqua blue water that you travel to the Caribbean for! The surf can pick up a bit on windier days, but most times you’ll be floating carefree. Don’t get me wrong, the main pool is nice with its 2 levels and cascading water features, but it’s on the smaller side and just can’t compete with the open sea!

And of course there are plenty of water sports to take advantage of as well… you can snorkel right off the beach, paddle board, kayak, windsurf and more.

How About the Food?

You know this is an important area for me… and what I will say is that the food was fine. We ate at the buffet for breakfast & lunch and had no problem assembling a nice plate with plenty of options. There is a station at breakfast for fresh eggs and at lunch they offered custom pastas or meats/fish in the same spot. I’m sure it would get a bit repetitive if you were here for a full week, but for a 4 night stay, it was perfect.

As for dinner, we enjoyed the themed buffet on 2 of our nights, ate at the Pineapple Grill one night (reservations required 2 days in advance for this one as well as their other a la carte restaurant, Chef Pietro’s) and one night we paid a preset $35 for a very nice meal at their sister property, the Verandah, right across the street. All were good, although the service was a little spotty at the a la cartes. Overall, I found the food to be more than satisfactory, but just a little on the bland side.

I almost forgot about Mary’s Outhouse! Make sure you take the hike up to Mary’s for lunch one day & enjoy a great BBQ buffet in their rustic picnic area. It’s part of the resort & is located high up on the hill with incredible, panoramic views of the island. For fun, you can create your own “sign” to leave your mark here, along with hundreds of other guests.

Nighttime Fun?
20170125_211703Instead of the usual “shows” put on at most larger all-inclusives, the Pineapple offers nightly entertainment in the main bar area each evening. They had different singers, bands, and even a karaoke night. Most started around 8pm and were finished up by 11pm, which was fine for us after a long day in the sun. There is also a disco, that we really enjoyed one night – but I think that was mainly due to the great group of 10 Canadian girls who were there celebrating their 40th birthdays – otherwise I think it may have been on the quiet side 😉

Cocktails Anyone?
screenshot_20170204-172027Upon check-in, you’re handed the most deliciously strong rum punch… and from there, you’re on your way!  There is one main bar in between the pool, beach & buffet restaurant. This is the central gathering spot for the resort and you’re bound to make lots of friends here, including the bartenders. Cocktails are good (no top shelf liquor though) and the local draft beer, Wadadli, was delicious. They offer a decent white wine and both a Cabernet and a Merlot for the red drinkers, both of which were quite nice for an all-inclusive.

screenshot_20170205-122027“Must-Do” Excursion…
The resort offers its own snorkeling/sightseeing trip on the “Calypso Cat” for only $65 per person. I highly recommend this 1/2 day outing to either Bird Island or Green Island (based on the day). The boat leaves right from the beach at 9am & includes snorkeling equipment, a light lunch & plenty of cocktails. The staff were awesome and we enjoyed our day IMMENSELY! For more on this trip, check out my post with more pics on my Facebook Page.

It’s so incredibly beautiful here… with so many things to see and do. Unfortunately, 4 nights were just not enough. We never made it into St. John’s to go shopping (a 30-minute trip by taxi) or over to Devil’s Bridge (a 20-30 min walk from the resort) which had been on our list, but it only gives us a reason to come back, which I definitely plan to do!

I Love to Cruise, But I Hate the Packing!

ourshipDon’t get me wrong… I love a good cruise.  The blue water, the exotic ports, the amazing food – it’s all fantastic.  There is one thing, however, that I wish I could somehow avoid… THE PACKING!

Packing for a cruise is difficult for several reasons.  First of all, there is some formality to these trips. Eating in the “Main Dining Room,” which I thoroughly enjoy, requires a dress code, and depending on your cruise line, that can vary from nice shorts to a suit & tie.  And if you’re sitting at an assigned table, where you’re going to dine with the same people every night?  That certainly means no repetition of any part of your wardrobe.  Luckily, we choose the flexible dining option where we enjoy a table for 3 and can wear the same black pants a few times without worry.

During the day, there are other obstacles.  Walking around the ship is a bit different than just hanging out at a beach resort.  You really need an “outfit” versus a “cover-up” over your bathing suit.  This is especially true if you’re planning to eat lunch inside or want to hit the casino for a few rounds as you’re passing through (and it always seems like we’re passing through, no matter where we’re going!)

Then there are your Port Days… something to wear while sightseeing, or shopping, and then something for the beach.  You need to pack a beach bag, possibly a few sand toys for the kids and a whole numerical range of sunscreen.  And don’t forget you’ll still need another outfit for dinner that night!

Planning to hit the gym during your cruise?  Add that stack of work-out clothes and those special sneakers to your pile.  And I haven’t even touched on shoes yet!  Dress shoes, sandals, flip flops, water shoes for the beach…  And the toiletries, and the first aid supplies, jewelry, toys, books, cameras, all the chargers, a power strip (cause there are never enough outlets), and don’t forget the “Rum Runner Flasks” to smuggle on a few cocktails!

So as our upcoming cruise rapidly approaches, I’m in that state of packing-hell, with piles of clothes and accessories taking over my home office, and the stress of fitting it all in the suitcase yet to come… oh and did I mention that we’re sailing on Halloween?  And that my son is a Giant Hot Dog?  That’s right… find a place for that costume in your suitcase!

All complaints aside, soon I’ll be on my balcony with my coffee or cocktail in hand, watching the sun rise & set over the ocean… and it’ll all be worth it!!!

By Land or by Sea???

Before my son started kindergarten, our vacation schedule was fairly regular… 1 week away in April (NOT Easter Week) & one week in October (to celebrate our anniversary).  We usually selected 1 cruise and the other trip would be to an all-inclusive in the Caribbean.  Now things have changed… between school, soccer, baseball, my husband’s football schedule – I’m lucky to squeeze in one good vacation a year.  And the question always comes up whether to cruise or to stay put for the week at a beautiful resort.

Our Celebrity ship docked in Charleston, SC

Our Celebrity ship docked in Charleston, SC

IMG_827812518347042

“Aft Balcony” view leaving NYC.

I LOVE to cruise.  To me, there is nothing better than looking out (from a large, stable, floating island) & seeing that beautiful aqua blue water all around me. The food is amazing & the ports provide unspoiled beaches & plenty of shopping.  A real win-win in my book.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten expensive with 3 full price fares, plus 3 higher-than-ever airfares. We’ve sailed on Carnival, Norwegian & Celebrity (our top choice) and usually base our trip on dates & itinerary, not so much on a specific ship.  A balcony cabin has become a “must-have” (the Aft Balcony being ideal) so I can take advantage of that water view the entire time. We eat & drink our fair share, make a few deposits at the Casino, see a couple of shows and my son takes advantage of the pools and the Kid’s Club.  It’s all good, as they say.

FB_IMG_1436197600062

The Ocean Sand & Blue Resort in Punta Cana.

All-inclusives are also amazing… pay for everything up front and then enjoy your week, wallet-free. Our introduction to this vacation style was on our honeymoon (almost 17 years ago) to Sandals in the Bahamas.  It was wonderful, and we went on to try their “Beaches” resorts in both Negril and Turks & Caicos.  Over the years we’ve found many comparable AIs (All-Inclusives) in Mexico and the Dominican Republic that offer the same concept for a whole lot less. The resorts are safe & beautiful, with amazing beaches, pools & activities.  You can literally do everything, or simply relax & do nothing, while looking out over impeccable grounds & a breathtaking seascape.

FB_IMG_1436197341300

Balcony view from the Paradisus Cancun.

FB_IMG_1436197446890

The Melia Caribe Tropical in Punta Cana – so nice I’ve been 3 times!

So how does one choose???  I love the “unpack once & visit multiple destinations” that a cruise offers, but sometimes it’s also nice to visit an island for more than 8 hours & really get a feel for the climate & culture.  The food is amazing either way (cruises – guaranteed, all inclusives need to be higher end).

Both offer entertainment… although a cruise will provide a more professional showing.  As for the beaches?  You can sample multiple spots on a cruise or stay on one beautiful stretch that you can visit all day, every day, while at a resort.  The pools will be a lot more inviting at an AI, although the newer, bigger ships are competing with wave pools, crazy water slides & even surfing.  If you need a spacious room, with a luxurious bathroom and tons of closet space, you’ll be better off with an AI, unless of course you can splurge on one of the cruise lines top notch suites.  You really don’t need to spend another dime once you arrive at your AI (other than a tour or 2 & some trinkets).  Cruises, on the other hand, do not include soda or alcohol, and they add a pre-set, per person gratuity to your final bill, so remember to factor that into your decision.

FB_IMG_1433244619086

Our Carnival Ship docked in Nassau.

It really is a tough call…  I love them both!  My son prefers a cruise & my husband is happy to stay put at one resort.  The winner this time around?  I just booked a cruise for November, on the Carnival Pride, leaving from Baltimore.  It became a matter of the perfect dates, a great price & a few good stops… Can’t  wait!!!