Travel + Leisure 2016 World's Best Awards: Highlights

Travel + Leisure 2016 World's Best Awards: Highlights

Travel + Leisure just released their 2016 World's Best Awards, with dozens of categories including best hotels, best islands, best city hotels, best US cities, best cruise lines, and more. The site requires lots and lots of scrolling, so I've listed the results of some of the most interesting and useful categories below, along with links to the complete lists with comments and photos. 

Click through for the lists!

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Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan

One of my clients, Amy Cohen - one of the most adventurous travelers I know -  just returned from a 28 day solo trip to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This region, located at the border of Asia and Europe, is known as the Caucasus (pronounced CAW-kuss-is, named after the Caucasus Mountains). All three countries were part of the Soviet Union and are now independent. The largest cities in each country are fairly large cities, even by American standards:

Yerevan, Armenia - population 1 million
Tbilisi, Georgia - population 1.4 million
Baku, Azerbaijan - population 4 million

Amy visited all three, plus towns, churches, synagogues, mosques, nature sites, and more throughout the countryside and mountains. Although most travel itineraries for this region are 7-10 days, Amy's extended time there allowed her to see much more than the typical traveler. This was a fun project for me to work on because these were all new destinations for me. They were new to her also, which is why she asked me for assistance with the arrangements. I very much enjoyed seeing her photos and asked if I could share a few of them here. 

Virtuoso Upgrades and Perks

Travel Tip: If you are planning to stay at any of the hotel chains listed below, free perks are available, including daily breakfast, a $100 hotel credit, and a possible upgrade. As a Virtuoso travel consultant, I am able to confirm amenities that are not available to the general public. Contact me for more information. 

Ritz Carlton
InterContinental
St Regis
Sofitel
Rosewood
Viceroy
Shangri-La
Aman Resorts
W Hotels

Four Seasons
Peninsula
Waldorf Astoria
Hyatt Regency
Grand Hyatt
Park Hyatt
Fairmont
Dorchester Collection
Andaz
Belmond

Mandarin Oriental
One & Only
Gansevoort
Taj
Rocco Forte
Small Luxury Hotels
Trump

Happy clients!

Happy clients!

It was a pleasure to work with Rick to plan some special activities for his trip to Barcelona. I organized private tours, a winery visit, a hot air balloon ride over the country, a helicopter ride over the city, and a sunset cruise. Thanks for the great feedback and amazing photos Rick!

We have been going thru our pictures of Barcelona and recapping our 5 day vacation. What a great trip it was - THANKS KEVIN DERN! We covered the city by land, air and sea!! Thanks to Kevin we were able to see all the beautiful and historic sites of this amazing old city with private tours and a helicopter ride. We also experienced the traditional culture in friendly surroundings, took an amazing hot air balloon over the countryside, toured the most wonderful vineyard, and sailed along the coast in a remarkable sail boat (Kevin even made sure I had my favorite scotch on board!). We saw so many things that we would not have been able to see without Kevin’s organizing and expertise. Great job Kevin - our trip was complete and truly memorable!!

Rick Passow
Sheridan, IL

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Intro to Cruise Line Categories: Mass Market, Premium, and Luxury

Intro to Cruise Line Categories: Mass Market, Premium, and Luxury

All cruises are not alike. Most people have heard of the biggies… Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney, etc. But there are many more cruise lines that provide a wide variety of experiences at different price points.

Cruise lines are typically broken into three categories: Mass Market, Premium, and Luxury. (Some writers add a fourth “deluxe” category, between Premium and Luxury, but three categories are most common.)

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TSA PreCheck is soon for members only

TSA PreCheck is the best thing since sliced bread. Even if you're not a member you might have gotten lucky and been sent into the PreCheck line occasionally. Officially you have to apply and pay for membership, but most airports send random people (who are not members) through the PreCheck line to help reduce lines.


The TSA says they are now ending this practice... only PreCheck members will be allowed in the PreCheck line for expedited screening. For members, this means lines should be even shorter and more efficient. Unfortunately for nonmembers, this could mean even longer lines to go through security. 

Applying for TSA PreCheck is easy - here's how. 

Via Travel and Leisure

Trip report: COCA Group Trip to NYC

Trip report: COCA Group Trip to NYC

It was a pleasure working with COCA for their first-ever donor trip to New York City. COCA (Center Of Creative Arts) is a large non-profit organization in St. Louis, MO, offering a multidisciplinary arts program including adult and youth education, performances, and much more. 

The main reason for their trip to NY was to see Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd in their final NY performance with Alvin Ailey. Antonio started dance at COCA as a young teen and they have both been recently named co-artistic directors of dance at COCA - so there’s a lot to celebrate. In addition to Alvin Ailey, it was a great opportunity for the donors and COCA staff to connect, visit some other arts organizations, and visit with COCA alumni in a variety of professional fields in the NY area.

I worked with COCA to help create, arrange, and fine-tune each element of the program, including hotel, transportation, tours, dinners, performances, attendee communication, room amenities, and more. I was also onsite to run the program and make sure all went smoothly.

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Three Great Resources for Researching Destinations

I find online videos to be really helpful in researching destinations. They're a great way to get a sense of what a place is like, whether it's a city, beach, hotel, cruise ship, etc. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good video is worth millions. There are three resources I'd like to share. I use these all the time and often refer clients to specific videos during the planning stage.

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Six reasons why NYC with a baby is hard

Six reasons why NYC with a baby is hard

My wife and I took a short trip to New York City last month. It was our first trip with our son, Jack, who was 3.5 months old at the time. Even after reading lots of info online and getting advice from friends, we really didn’t know what it was going to be like to travel with an infant. What did we learn? It’s hard. Big surprise, right?

We didn’t buy a seat for him on the flights so he was to be on our laps. He didn’t mind that for a while but he wasn’t able to sleep for more than a few minutes here and there, so that meant hours of holding him, changing positions, etc. Jack didn’t cry or scream at all during the flight, so that was lucky.

What I didn’t realize before the trip is that New York City, or probably any large city, is especially challenging. If our first trip was at big beach resort it might have been much easier. (One unrelated issue that made it even harder for us was that all three of us got sick on the trip - but that's unusual!)

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How to Visit Cuba Now

How to Visit Cuba Now

Cuba has been on many travelers' wish lists for years now - it’s certainly been on mine. With recent changes announced by President Obama, the embargo and travel restrictions are starting to change, and it’s likely that Cuba will begin to modernize fairly quickly over the next few years. It's expected that US hotel chains, especially luxury hotels, will open in Cuba as soon as they are able. If you always wanted to see the old Cuba, this is the perfect time - before the corporations arrive. Many in the travel industry believe things will begin to change significantly even by the end of 2015. It’s really an incredible opportunity. If you are interested and able to go, go now.

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Introduction to Amsterdam

Introduction to Amsterdam

When people think of traveling to Europe, their first thoughts are often the biggies: Paris, Rome, Venice, London… maybe even Berlin or Barcelona. There’s another wonderful city that should be considered: Amsterdam! Amsterdam is easy to get to, easy to get around, and packed with tons of things to do.

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Cruise Research Made Easy

Cruise Research Made Easy

Researching a cruise can be overwhelming - even if you know when and where you want to go, there are at least a dozen cruise lines and hundreds of itineraries to choose from. It's hard to even know when you're comparing apples to apples because fares on each cruise line don't always include the same elements: air, gratuities, alcohol, excursions, etc may or may not be included.

That's part of the work I do for my clients... I ask a lot of questions to understand what they're looking for and then bring them only the options that make sense. One of the details I'm particularly proud of is how I take information that is presented differently on each cruise website (ship details, costs, itinerary, etc.) and present them side by side in an organized layout, making it much easier to compare.

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Lovely welcome amenity from the Ritz Carlton Cancun

I love receiving welcome amenities (and love sending them to my clients too)! Check out this amazing amenity I received upon arrival at the Ritz Carlton Cancun yesterday.

Lovely welcome amenity from the sales team at the Ritz Carlton Cancun. Thank you! #Cancun #travelbetter

A photo posted by Kevin Dern (@kevin.dern) on

Interview: Kelly Weber

Interview: Kelly Weber

I recently had the pleasure of working with Kelly Weber and her cousins Sue and Maureen to help plan and book their trip to Ireland. I really enjoyed working with them to find out what their priorities were and put together an plan that they were excited about... their final itinerary included four nights in Dublin, three nights in Killarney, and two nights in Doolin. 

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Interview: Ronit Sherwin and David Komerofsky

Interview: Ronit Sherwin and David Komerofsky

Ronit has been a friend for years, so I was flattered when she and her fiancé David asked me to be their wedding photographer. I was even more flattered when she asked me to help them plan their honeymoon! They both have two kids (two sets of twins!) and busy careers so they wanted to start off their trip with 24-30 hours on a train ride, departing from their home in San Antonio. Their other goals were that they wanted a destination that was beautiful, warm, and that they hadn't been to before. We discussed a few options and Laguna Beach, CA turned out to be a perfect fit. I'm so glad they enjoyed their trip and it was a pleasure working with them. 

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