Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Surviving a Trip to Greece 101

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A spokesman for Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis confirmed to CNN this morning that Greece will default to the International Monetary Fund, and Greece's bailout agreement with Europe expires tonight at midnight Central European Time. With Greek banks remaining closed today and the country's financial future uncertain, the country's tourism industry is already suffering. If you're in Greece or have plans to go, here's what you need to know. 

1. Bring LOTS of Cash (and be discreet with it!)
Cash is king in Greece right now. The U.S. State Department warned travelers in a security message Sunday that there could be disruption not just to ATM services but to credit-card processing. Currently, ATMs withdrawal limits are capped at 60 Euros. Carrying Euros is the safest bet, but many businesses are accepting U.S. Dollars as well. 

2. Avoid Protest Areas
For security reasons, it's a good idea to avoid popular demonstration locations such as Syntagma Square in Athens, which is in front of the Old Royal Palace where Greek Parliament is located. "Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence," the State Department message says. Check the U.S. Embassy website to learn about upcoming demonstrations. 

3. Get Travel Insurance
If you aren't already on vacation in Greece, it's a good idea to invest in travel insurance before your trip. There are a lot of types of insurance out there, but Trip Cancellation Insurance is probably the most important one to consider if you haven't booked yet -- that way, if things escalate further and you decide you're not comfortable traveling, you can get your money back. Make sure to read our full rundown on the types of travelers insurance available

4. Consider A Package Deal
The advantage of a package deal is that most of your costs -- often including airfare, hotel stays, and even meals -- are paid upfront before you even leave your home country, so there's less of a chance that your hotel or activity guide will ask for your precious out-of-pocket cash. 

5. Know Where Your Embassy Is

It's a good idea not only to know the location of your embassy, but also to enroll with your embassy, if possible, so that they know where you are in the event of an emergency. The U.S. Department of State offers the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for this purpose. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

The In's and Out's of Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico's All-Inclusive Kid Friendly Hotels

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Hotel Riu Jalisco

The Spanish hotel company Riu offers three classes of all-inclusive (there’s one of each in Nuevo Vallarta), and the 700-room Jalisco is the economy option, but you wouldn't guess that upon entry. The entry and lobby are grand, and the grounds are immaculate, with two sprawling pools, beautiful garden areas, and a large, pristine beach. The rooms, however, are small, lackluster, and short on amenities. There are plenty of restaurants, which is a bonus on any all-inclusive plan, plus a handful of fun bars (including a swim-up pool bar), and even a nightclub. The property is far removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown Puerto Vallarta, but it remains an excellent option for a beautiful all-inclusive beach getaway.
            2 huge pools, featuring a swim-up bar and a slide
            Expansive beachfront with bar
            Partial or full ocean and/or pool views from most guest rooms
            Clean spa with sauna and Jacuzzi
            Free Wi-Fi in lobby areas
            Sports bar with multiple TV screens and pool tables
            Good Kids’ Club with outdoor play equipment and wading pool
            Standard rooms are small and short on amenities
            No Wi-Fi or Internet in rooms
            Mostly older tube TVs in rooms
            Long drive to downtown

Occidental Grand

The Occidental Grand is a small beachfront all-inclusive (by megaresort standards) centrally located in Nuevo Vallarta. It has many of the amenities found in larger resorts, including an adults-only pool and a kiddy pool, four restaurants, a supervised kids’ club, and a sandy beach with loungers, straw umbrellas, and a snack bar. However, there’s no spa, Wi-Fi is not free (except for the Royal Club guests), and some king beds are actually two twins pushed together. Rooms have contemporary decor and feel spacious and modern, with flat-screen TVs and iPod docks (in most rooms), but very few rooms have balconies, and room service is only available for Royal Club guests. It’s cheaper than neighboring Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, but it’s worth comparing prices with other resorts in the area.
            On a sandy beach a short drive from golf courses and the airport
            Contemporary rooms with flat-screen TVs and large windows
            4 restaurants, including one exclusively for Royal Club guests
            Two pools, including one for kids
            Supervised kids’ club for children 4 to 12
            Daily multilingual activities and night entertainment
            Small fitness center with up-to-date machines, plus a tennis court
            Striking soaring lobby with floor-to-ceiling windows
            No spa on-site
            Fee for Wi-Fi (except Royal Club guests)
            Few rooms have balconies
            Some king beds are actually two twins pushed together
            Room service available for Royal Club guests only

Marival Resort & Suites Nuevo Vallarta

The 495-room Marival mega-resort takes the “all” in all-inclusive seriously. Just about every imaginable recreational activity is available here, along with the usual pools, kayaks and endless beverages, this hotel has bicycles, a climbing tower, mini-golf, a basketball court, catamarans, beach volleyball, cooking and Spanish lessons, and more. There are multiple dining options, rooms ranging from standard guest rooms up to three-bedroom suites, and more than 900 feet of Nuevo Vallarta beachfront that stretches for miles in both directions. Some rooms in the older buildings of the property, though, are in definite need of an update. And the property itself feels less luxurious (though is more affordable) than its sister property, Marival Residences, just a half mile away.
            Excellent location on 900 feet of pristine beach
            Four assorted swimming pools (including one adults-only)
            Full-service spa and beauty salon
            Large array of fitness-oriented activities, plus large fitness center
            Theater with live shows
            Free use of kayaks, boogie boards, catamarans, and bicycles
            4 tennis courts with night lights
            Extensive kids’ and teens' programs
            Wi-Fi for a daily fee
            Guest rooms and suites in the older section feel worn
            Private VIP Beach Club is reserved for guests of the sister property
            Some balconies feature cheap plastic furniture

Riu Vallarta All-Inclusive

Compared with its more budget-friendly sister property, Riu Jalisco, though, certain areas are lacking. For instance, the grounds aren't nearly as immaculate or impressive, and although the rooms have slightly nicer decor they're not much of a step up (plus, the Master Suites at Jalisco feature flat-screen TVs, while tube TVs come standard here). Jalisco even has slightly more varied dining options, though the ones offered here are varied enough to prevent standard all-inclusive-dining boredom. But the expansive beach and the two large play-inducing pools (with in-pool lounge seating, bistro tables, swim-up bar, and slides) are clearly in a class above.
            Great Flamingos Beach location in Nuevo Vallarta
            Spacious beach with plenty of palm tree-shaded lounge seating
            Large adult-oriented pool with jetted areas, swim-up bar, and in-pool lounge chairs and bistro tables
            Spacious children-oriented pool with three slides and volleyball net
            Nice fitness center with TVs and assorted equipment
            Spa with multiple treatment rooms and a Jacuzzi
            Lively decorated theater with nightly entertainment
            Multiple dining options, from casual to gourmet
            Partial or full ocean views from every guest room and suite
            Wi-fi in lobby areas only
            Old tube TVs
            Guest rooms and suites are blandly decorated and nothing special
            Long drive to Puerto Vallarta
            Short on in-room amenities
            Wall-enclosed showers in some rooms feel a bit claustrophobic

Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta

The rooms here are attractive- cool, with hip furniture, freestanding deep bathtubs, and Jacuzzis on private decks. But you have to specify you want an ocean view, or you may be looking at the mountains (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).
            Sleek ultramodern, stylish design in public spaces and guest rooms
            Multiple restaurant options, including seafood, Mexican, and Italian
            Long stretch of beach with lounge chairs
            Full-service spa with relaxing, Zen features
            Lively activities schedule for guests of all ages, including an ocean trampoline
            World-class golf nearby
            Fabulous rooftop sushi and cocktail bar
            Poolside service from Marlin bar
            Free Wi-Fi (but only if you download the hotel's App)
            One guest room building has no ocean views
            Beach is a few hundred yards from the guest room towers
            Pools and facilities shared with adjacent condominiums
            Pools very crowded with kids; no drinks allowed at pools; no swim-up bar
            Internet usage costs extra (unless you download the hotel's App)
            Room service, though 24-hour, often has long wait

Marival Residences & World Spa

A half-hour drive from downtown Puerto Vallarta and a half mile from the beach, the Marival Residences & World Spa is not the place to go if you're in the mood for a beach-lounging, party-hopping Mexican getaway. It is, however, the place to go for laid-back luxury, residential-style suites, modern amenities, and an impressive array of all-inclusive features. Comprised of 169 suites, penthouses, or private villas, ranging from one to four bedrooms (and all featuring spacious terraces with garden, pool, or ocean views), Marival Residences is an excellent option for families and couples alike seeking a little sun-soaked spoiling.
            Private beach club, with restaurant
            Large pool with ample lounge areas, plus adults-only and kiddy pools
            4 restaurants (2 all-inclusive) plus poolside cafe and bar
            Flat-screen TVs with premium satellite channels
            iPod docks and CD players
            Rooms have private balconies with ocean, pool, or garden view
            All-inclusive or European plan options
            Immaculate spa with unique treatments
            Shuttle required to access the private beach, a half mile away
             Wi-Fi for a fee

Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta

One of the most striking elements of the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta (formerly the Palace Resort Vallarta) is its soaring lobby, with two huge installations made with LP covers and instruments. However, the rest of the resort is no less attractive, with two free-form pools, a spa featuring ocean views, and several restaurants offering a range of cuisines. The hopping bars, nightly entertainment and contemporary rooms with high-tech amenities, funky rock-inspired decor, and double-jetted tubs attract young couples and groups, while the lively pools (including a shallow one for kids), varied dining options, and pretty beach draw families. There’s free Wi-Fi, purified water on tap, and a wide array of amenities, but rooms are a tad smaller than those found in other resorts in the area.
            On an appealing stretch of white-sand beach
            Contemporary rooms with flat-screen TVs, double jetted tubs and liquor dispensers
            2 large, free-form pools, a kiddy pool and 3 whirlpools
            Upscale spa with several treatment rooms, salon services, and ocean views
            Restaurants feature a range of cuisines and extensive wine lists
            Well-equipped fitness center with pool views
            Amphitheater with live entertainment and bar service
            Free Wi-Fi in all rooms and public spaces
            Purified water on tap
            Most rooms have tiny balconies too small for chairs
            Phone fees

Riu Palace Pacifico All-Inclusive

The 445-room Palace Pacifico is the top dog of Riu’s 3 properties located in the are. This is mostly evident in the common areas, which elegantly blend pre-war European opulence with luxury oceanfront resort (the lobby alone exudes more of a palace-like formality than a sandy-feet and beach-shorts sort of vibe). The grounds are immaculate as well, sprawling with lush, towering palms and perfectly manicured garden walkways dotted with high-end lounge seating -- and the expansive pool, with swim-up bar, and in-pool lounges and bistro tables, isn't too shabby either. The rooms, though, are a different story. Decor, while nice, is nothing special -- even dated in some places -- and in-room amenities are no different than those at the more budget-friendly sister Riu properties nearby. Although the dining options are plentiful (always a plus at an all-inclusive), overall this property has no better bang for the buck than its "lower-end" sisters, Riu Jalisco and Riu Vallarta.
            Beautiful beachfront with plenty of palm-shaded lounge seating
            Expansive pool in lush palm setting, with swim-up bar, and in-pool lounges and bistro tables
            Multiple dining options including high-end specialty restaurants
            Nice spa with adjacent fitness center
            Big, comfortable theater with live shows nightly
            Acclaimed golf courses nearby
            Lavish interior decor throughout public spaces
            Wi-Fi available in all rooms
            Massive size of property can make maneuvering the grounds difficult
            A bit far from Puerto Vallarta
            Rooms are uninspiring and lack extra amenities

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

This luxurious, 267-room all-inclusive resort in Nuevo Vallarta is a sophisticated and serene option in the greater Puerto Vallarta area. Every room here is a suite, offering extra living space, a balcony, ocean views, and luxurious touches such as Nespresso machines. The impressive features include an infinity pool with three levels overlooking the beach, a decadent spa with 20 treatment rooms, and four upscale (and pricey) restaurants. There's little wrong with it, except for the fee for Wi-Fi.
            Infinity pool with 3 levels overlooking the beach
            All-suite property with ocean views from private balconies
            Gorgeous spa with 20 treatment rooms and couples' treatments
            4 specialty restaurants serving a variety of international cuisine
            Nespresso coffee maker and 42-inch flat-screen TVs in all suites
            Lush, manicured gardens and grounds
            Separate kids' pool and club with organized activities
            Fees for Wi-Fi