Hot destination – Bradenton & Anna Maria Island, Florida

One of my suppliers is featuring these resorts on the Gulf Coast of Florida this month.  Great area – very laid back.  2 hours drive from Orlando and under an hour from Tampa International Airport and Busch Gardens.

Anna Maria Island earned a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award as one of the Top Ten Islands in the United States. Downtown Bradenton’s Riverwalk received a 1st place award as the top cultural, sports and recreation project by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Commission. Plus six of our beaches now have the prestigious “Blue Wave Certification” from the Clean Beach Coalition. With easy access to three international airports, we’re close to all the major attractions, yet far from the crowds.

Horse Surfing
The Bradenton Area continues to receive nationwide media attention for horse surfing experiences along Palma Sola Bay. Tagged by many as the World Capital of Horse Surfing, we are home to the only horseback riding stable in the State of Florida that offers horseback riding on the sand and swimming with horses.
“The Greenest Little Mainstreet in America”

Florida’s first LEED Platinum and Net Zero Energy Retail Park 

On the quaint island of Anna Maria, history is being made with the first platinum LEED and Zero Net Energy Commercial Park. A collection of Historic 1920’s bungalows have been retrofitted into boutique shops and cafes with a green twist. The historical relics are completely powered by solar energy and geothermics.
Village of the Arts

If you’re an art lover, Bradenton is the place to visit! A national arts magazine has listed Bradenton as one of the nation’s top 10 small cities for art. The June 2012 issue of “American Style,” a lifestyle magazine that focuses on art, artists and galleries, ranked Bradenton as tenth in its nationwide poll of the public arts and cultural amenities in small cities.
Bradenton Riverwalk

As Downtown Bradenton’s showpiece, the riverwalk serves as an outdoor gathering place and host for many diverse events and activities. The stretch is a mile and a half and is one of the longest public Riverwalks in Florida. Running alongside the Manatee River, the Riverwalk includes a Family Fun Zone with a splash fountain and playgrounds, a great lawn for picnics, kayak launch, a day dock for boaters, a botanical walk and the 400-seat Mosaic Amphitheater.
Eco Tourism and Agritourism

When our visitors need a break from the sun and sand, there are several agri-tourism treasures for them to explore, offering entertainment and education for curious minds of all ages. All they need to do is head inland. Here are just a few of the many great places to start:

  • The Bradenton Area boasts not one, but two world-class wineries:
  • Bunker Hill Winery- is a “GREEN” Environmentally Responsible Winery and offers complimentary tours and tastings of their handcrafted wines.
  • Rosa Fiorelli Winery- has a 10-acre Muscadine vineyard and their wines have won more than 100 awards. Tours include your choice of an authentic Italian lunch and wine in a complimentary souvenir glass to take home.
  • Dakin Dairy Farms – A visit to Dakin Dairy Farm is not only fun; it’s good for you! The farm is one of only three dairy farms left in the Bradenton Area.
  • Mixon Fruit Farms- has always been famous for its plump, juicy citrus, its gift shop and Groveside Café. But now, visitors can take a ride on the Orange Blossom Express through the groves past the Children’s Magical Maze and Wildlife Rescue, where the family will delight in an interactive show with rescued Florida animals, reptiles and birds. Our favorite thing about Mixons … their homemade orange swirl ice cream!
  • Robinson Nature Preserve – Robinson Nature Preserve in Bradenton is an exquisite nature preserve that is a popular destination for wildlife photography and bird watching, Tucked into the corner of northwest Bradenton, it includes 487 acres of coastal saltern, marsh, and mangrove habitat.
  • Turtle Watch Tours – In the Bradenton Area, the beaches are shared with Florida’s abundant wildlife and families visiting from May through November can experience “turtle nesting season”.

Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key

Plus some of the best beaches and sunsets you’ll ever see!

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Want to find out more?  Just call Olein on 01252 519669 or email olein@diamondtravel.ltd.uk for more information and prices.

Diamond Travel, agency ref S0466.  We act as The Global Travel Group Ltd in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group Ltd is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

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On the road to Morocco

As the old song put it – “Just like Webster’s dictionary, we were Morocco-bound”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iwFYayeJ3M

A recent trip to Marrakech ticks another destination off my bucket list.  So what did we think?  Once we’d got over the culture shock, it was great!!

We flew with easyJet, via long term parking at Gatwick, the Premier Inn at the North Terminal and MyLounge in the terminal.  Parking was fine.  The hotel surprisingly comfortable and soundproof.  We have used the Airport Lounges the last few times we’ve flown and they offer very good value for money.  MyLounge is the low-cost version of the No 1 Traveller Lounge.  You still get complimentary breakfast and as much coffee/tea as you can drink!  Downside is that it is visible to all walking towards the Gates and there are no toilets in the Lounge.  At 7am, it was a little too early for us to start our journey with the complimentary wines and spirits!!  Maybe next time?  All these products bookable through Olein at Diamond Travel.

Next instalment will look at our time in Marrakech.

Diamond Travel is a member of the Global Travel Group, agency number S0466.  We act as The Global Travel Group in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the Operator, The Global Travel Group is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

More to Florida than Orlando!

There’s much more to Florida than Orlando and Miami.  The beaches on the west coast of the state are on the Gulf of Mexico and many of them win awards every year as some of the best in the world.

One of the tour operators we deal with has nominated Panama City Beach as their destination of the month.  Do you know it?  If no, its worth finding out about.

Located in north west Florida, closer to Alabama than Orlando.  27 miles of beautiful beaches await your bucket, spade and towels.

But it’s more than this –

Meet Roux, a rescued baby bottle-nosed dolphin, at Gulf World Marine Park and learn about their rehabilitation programme of Gulf marine life.

Bike through the winding paths of Panama City Beach’s Conservation Park and enjoy a scenic picnic overlooking the protected wetlands.

Shop the boutiques at Pier Park and reward the kids with an ice cream and rides at the adjacent Miracle Strip amusement area.

Make a splash at Shipwreck Island Water Park on its Pirates Plunge attraction or the 65 foot Tree Drop, then relax and take in the sunshine on the Lazy River.

Cast a line off the Russell Fields Pier or its twin M.B. Miller Pier for Spanish mackerel or flounder.

Dive for treasure in Panama City Beach’s natural or artificial reefs.

Visit Heron Pond nature trail at St. Andrews state park to bird watch for Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons and spot White Tailed deer or the occasional alligator.

Check out the Aaron Bessant Park Amphitheatre, located in the heart of Panama City Beach, where you can enjoy the sounds of many local and international bands.

For more details – just get in touch with Olein at Diamond Travel. 01252 519669 olein@diamondtravel.ltd.uk

Diamond Travel, agency  ref  S0466. We act as The Global Travel Group in connection with the sale of travel products. Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

Always learning!!

We met with various tour operators last night to find out what’s new for 2014 from them. There are so many tour operators out there, it’s hard to keep up sometimes with everything in their brochures so events like this are very useful.

Cox & Kings – they’ve been operating since 1758, so that’s over 250 years of experience!!  They’re known for escorted group tours, but they also do private touring, short breaks, safaris, river cruises and tailor-made itineraries.  It’s an extensive range of products, covering most of the world. 

Attraction World – do you want to spend hours in your holiday queuing to buy tickets or deciding where you want to go?  Why not organise it in advance, booking tickets at discounted prices.  From boat trips around Marmaris, star gazing in Sharm el Sheikh, meeting Mickey and friends in Florida, Thai cooking classes in Bangkok, Auschwitz and Birkenau Tours in Poland, swim with dolphins in Florida or Cancun.  Plus a whole host of tours in the UK.

Explore – not really a new product, but we were reminded that Explore does Cycling Holidays.  Since Bradley Wiggins’s success, cycling has become more and more popular – so if you fancy cycling through Spain, Morocco, Lithuania, Slovakia, Albania, Turkey, Nepal, Thailand, Cuba or many more countries – just get in touch. 

Sunvil – explore the smaller and quieter Greek Islands, Portugal, Madeira, Azores.  They also feature the Ice Hotel in Sweden if you prefer snow to sun!  They have dozens of destinations across the world to explore, in Europe, Central and Latin America,

Hurtigruten – no-one would describe them as a luxury cruise, however no-one goes onboard for the luxury.  You board their ships for the incredible landscapes that they take you to.  Norwegian fjords, Northern Lights, Midnight Sun, Spitzbergen and polar bears, Antarctica and penguins.  The Lights are incredible at the moment, with around 78% chance of seeing them – but hurry, they fade as the days lengthen.  The line also supports local businesses in Norway, buying their food

Crystal Cruises – all inclusive cruising with lots of extras.  They have an enrichment programme so you can attend lectures, learn to play keyboards, supervised children and teens programme, gratuities included, complimentary golf clinics, plus much more – without paying any extra.

Mosaic Holidays – explore the less known areas of Turkey. Cappadocia has amazing landscapes but with beautiful boutique hotels in the ancient cave structures.  If you like Cyprus, but want somewhere less commercialised than the big resorts – Mosaic have a great range of hotels in North Cyprus.

Kirker Holidays – Their cultural tours and music holidays, visiting music festivals and operas throughout Europe, also include garden tours in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.  However one of their newest holidays is to the Champagne Region of France – combine this with a few days in Paris and then you can have a guided tour of the champagne cellars in Epernay or Reims.

Veloso Tours – specialising in Central and Latin America.  Their group tours don’t have minimum numbers   So if your dream tour is not fully subscribed, there’s no need to lose your holiday – it will go ahead with just 2 of you, but slightly different arrangements.  Explore the nature and history of this continent in the company of experts.

Viking River Cruises – venturing out of the rivers next year, Viking are now offering Ocean Cruises.  The cruise ship will be visiting Baltic waters and the Mediterranean.  River cruises are focussed on destination experiences and this will be the same with the Ocean Cruises.  Some great early booking offers available.  

For more details on any of the tour operators shown above and their holidays – just get in touch with Olein at Diamond Travel. 01252 519669 olein@diamondtravel.ltd.uk

Diamond Travel, agency ref S0466.  We act as The Global Travel Group in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

Faking it (or not)…

Quote from Arthur Herzog – “To fake it is to stand guard over emptiness.”  I agree with this, in that it is harder to fake than to be honest – so why make things harder for ourselves!!

I don’t normally do daytime television, but while waiting for some work to be done on my car this morning – I caught Fake Britain on the garage’s TV.  Two holiday/travel stories in the programme which caught my eye (obviously).  There was a third story, but I was already on my way back to the office! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011qhhd

Now I don’t know how old the programme was or how many times it’s been repeated, but the issues are relevant still.

One item was about the perils of booking a holiday villa or apartment online on a private rental site.  These sites do their best to verify all information, but are unable to visit all properties and vet the owners.  In the instance shown, someone had made over £100,000 from renting out fake properties all over Europe (and is now in prison).  How can you insure against this?  The obvious answer is to book through a tour operator who knows the properties – ok, you may not get the personal touches or lower prices that you might get from booking direct.  However I remember a booking for a villa for a client this summer in Spain and the operator was able to tell me how far it was to the beach – easy walk there but steep steps on the way back.  So you can get very detailed information from a company, not just an individual.  And your money and holiday is safe and the properties are great.  I deal with various companies who rent out properties all over the world (but mainly Europe and the USA.)  With both ATOL or Flight-Plus protection for all holidays that include flights (some terms and conditions apply, which I inform you about at the time of booking).

 

The other story was about a holidaymaker who was arrested in Jamaica after luggage containing drugs was checked in under her name on a flight to the UK.  The message here was simple – keep an eye on your luggage at all times and in difficulty, ask for the British Consulate as quickly as possible.  Try and have something in your luggage to show it belongs to you (not addresses or personal details however).

According to the programme website, the final travel story was about a man who was sold a fake airline ticket.  To avoid this, book with a travel agent who is financially protected.  When I book flights, I send a receipt with an ATOL certificate straightaway to the client.  Make sure you get this certificate or query the booking with your credit card company.  Most credit card companies also protect purchases over a certain amount and many debit cards also offer the same level of protection.  If you don’t know the company you’re booking with, don’t pay by cash or bank transfer.

Lots of ways to avoid being conned!  Most involve checking out who you’re booking with, and if in doubt, don’t.  More details on protecting your package holiday can be found on the CAA website who administer ATOL http://www.caa.co.uk/homepage.aspx?catid=1759

Diamond Travel, agency S0466, acts as The Global Travel Group plc in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group plc is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.

www.diamondtravel.ltd.uk

Call Olein on 01252 519669

Email olein@diamondtravel.ltd.uk

Time for Barbados

Barbados Tourism training.  I went to Pennyhill Park Hotel yesterday evening to refresh my Barbados knowledge. Always a great destination – for families and couples alike.  It might be the preferred holiday destination of the rich and famous, but is still affordable for those of us without Simon Cowell’s credit card. 

So what did I learn last night?  It’s a great place for watersports – many hotels offer free watersports.  If you like horseracing, then the Mango Bay Hotel would be a good place for you to stay.  The owner has a box at the racecourse and you might be able to join a party there.  The Amaryllis Beach Hotel has won awards for the quality of its wheelchair accessible rooms.

 

The months of March, April and May are when turtles are nesting on the beach and October is when they hatch – often on beaches frequented by visitors, so you can see the spectacle of the baby turtles heading for the sea. When we were last in Barbados a few years ago, the highlight of the holiday was the trip by catamaran, to swim and snorkel with the turtles.  Make sure this is part of your next trip, it will certainly be part of ours!

 The island is only the size of the Isle of Wight, but with better weather!!

So what are you waiting for – give me a call to book your next holiday in paradise.

Ranch holidays and others in the USA

Having loved our USA road trip this holiday, I’ve started thinking about other types of USA holidays I can offer to my clients.  The ‘road-trip’ is just one of many ideas I have.  As we loved Texas and the wide open spaces in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, I thought it good to start with holidays here.

The obvious one is a ranch holiday – we saw lots of cattle while we were driving and a few cowboys (although not enough!!).  Here at Diamond Travel, we deal with a couple of companies who offer ranch holidays.  For example, we offer ranch holidays to adult-only and family-friendly ranches, there are even ranches with no single supplements. Stay on a working ranch in a guest cabin with those welcome modern touches including Internet and phone access, hot showers and laundry facilities. But you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy your life on the trail, sitting round campfires and swapping stories. For the real cowboy experience, try a cattle and horse drive ranch holiday. Add in extra thrills with a white water rafting trip and you can even combine a ranch holiday with a city break. We can make sure your real life Wild West adventure comes true.

It will take you back to your favourite western films, whether you prefer John Wayne or Clint Eastwood!  If you combine a ranch holiday with a city break, you can even wear your Stetson in the casinos at Las Vegas.  Nothing is ever out of place there.  The picture was taken at the Elk City Route 66 Museum in Oklahoma.  DIGITAL CAMERA

Our favourite memories from the trip in this area – the laid back atmosphere and the friendliness everywhere.  Everyone was very proud of their hometown and eager to tell us more wherever we went.  The Big Texan in Amarillo is a must – even to get picked up in the limo with the cattle horns on the front is part of the experience.  However, you have to be brave to try the 72oz steak!  The roads just went on and on – a straight road as far as the horizon in many areas – fantastic to drive on and beautiful countryside all around us.

As well as ranch holidays, you can relax with city breaks in some places that you might never have considered before – Oklahoma has museums, art galleries and nightlife.  Amarillo is much bigger than we thought – worth exploring the Palo Duro Canyon about 30 miles away.  Santa Fe – great music and art scene, loved sitting in the square listening to music on the band stand. Albuquerque, the Old Town area was lovely and it’s also the Hot Air Balloon capital of the world.  Plus the location for Breaking Bad.  Flagstaff – great for hiking and mountainous scenery, the Grand Canyon isn’t too far away.  Very much an outdoor city.

Just get in touch with Olein at Diamond Travel for more information about ranch holidays in the USA and Canada. All prices quoted subject to availability at the time of booking.  Diamond Travel, agency S0466, acts as The Global Travel Group plc in connection with the sale of travel products.  Unless specified as the operator, The Global Travel Group plc is the agent of ATOL Protected Tour Operators and other principals.