Traveling Mamas

Inspiring you to explore our world

  • TripAlertz, a new site that has been described as “Groupon for travel,” launches today.

    As I told Traveling Mamas readers a couple of weeks ago, I love the TripAlertz concept of harnessing the power of social media to sell vacation packages. As more people buy a particular package, it gets cheaper for everyone. And the TripAlertz folks are offering some clever extras, too. If you refer other people to the site, you earn “TripCash” to be spent on your own vacation. And, TripAlertz members can design their own dream vacation packages for a chance to win the package for free.

    But no matter how fun it is to use the TripAlertz Web site, what really matters is whether or not they are selling a quality product, right? Earlier this month, TripAlertz sent me to the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles, Florida, to check out one of the vacation packages that goes on sale today.

    The package sells for $526. If 65 packages sell, that price drops to $442. The package includes:

    • 2-night stay in a Bay View Deluxe Room
    • Welcome cocktail for 2
    • Daily breakfast buffet for 2 at Neomi’s Grill
    • Two 50-minute massages per stay

    The hotel rooms

    The Trump International Beach Resort is a Mobil 4-star hotel in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, a small beach community in North Miami.

    The Bay View Deluxe rooms have two queen beds. They are extremely spacious, with a large wet bar area that includes a refrigerator (partially stocked as a mini bar) and a microwave. There’s a table and chairs, a spacious desk and a flat-screen TV. The bathroom has a garden tub and a separate walk-in shower.

    The decor is minimal, and, frankly, feels a bit sterile. It’s a room that feels easy to clean. But the resort is on the beach, so we can forgive the sand-colored carpet and spare detail. The room was immaculately clean, after all.

    A sliding door leads to a patio with views of the Intracoastal Waterway and Sunny Isles Beach. The patio is roomy and there are chairs to sit and watch the world go by. We were facing West, and we had a great view of the October sunsets from our patio both evenings.

    The beds were extremely comfortable, with crisp, white linens that felt luxurious and mattresses that offered a good balance between pillowy soft and supportive. The room was quiet, with no detectable noise from neighboring rooms or the hallway. In-room amenities included toiletries by Ecru, as well as a coffee maker stocked with regular and decaf coffee.

    Public spaces

    The Trump International’s public spaces are beautifully designed. I loved the mix of contemporary with a Miami twist – a neutral, glass-tiled wall in the lobby adorned with eye-poppingly bright Brito art, for example.

    The pool and beach areas outside may be the most gorgeous beach resort area I’ve seen in Florida. The resort-style pool with waterfalls offers larger water-play areas, as well as more secluded sections for lounging. There are several hot tubs spread around the pool area, and the options for poolside seating extend beyond chaise lounges to love seats and chairs with ottomans.

    Downstairs at the beach, there are loungers and umbrellas for resort guests, as well as plenty of room to spread out and play in the sand or walk along the water’s edge.

    Welcome cocktails

    After a smooth check-in, we were sent to the pool bar for our welcome cocktails. The bar is fully stocked, and it offers a variety of tropical, frozen concoctions, as all great pool bars should.

    Most of the cocktails are $10, but keep an eye out for the board listing the drinks of the day, which are on sale for $7.

    At check-in, I tried a traditional mojito, which was traditionally made with fresh mint. I am always a sucker for something frozen and frothy poolside, so the next day, I tried a “Drink of the Day” concoction: the pomegranate pina colada. I absolutely loved this twist on the traditional.

    Daily breakfast buffet

    I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the free breakfast offered with the TripAlertz package. I didn’t know whether it was going to be a selection of pastries and fruit, or maybe have a few hot selections thrown in for good measure. Either way, I was going to be pleased with it, because getting breakfast in the hotel included is a great value for this resort.

    But what we got, was well beyond what I had imagined. Neomi’s Grill offers a full breakfast buffet. It included cold cereals, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, hot breakfast meats, and a chef’s station offering made-to-order eggs, omelets, waffles and pancakes.

    Everything was fresh and beautiful. We went down to breakfast fairly late both mornings, and found ourselves skipping lunch after such a great morning meal – another money-saver on the discounted trip that I was not expecting.

    Massages

    It was easy to book the massages that came with our TripAlertz package the morning after our arrival at the Trump International Beach Resort.

    We were given a choice of Swedish or aromatherapy massages. I chose aromatherapy, and my husband chose Swedish.

    The Aquanox Spa was well-equipped. The men’s and women’s areas offer steam rooms and saunas, as well as shower facilities and tranquil areas for relaxation.

    Our service providers were extremely professional. My husband pronounced his massage excellent and said that he did not have any pain at all during his service – a rarity for him.

    I also enjoyed my aromatherapy massage. My massage therapist was very good at maintaining my modesty during my service, which is something that can make or break my relaxation level during a massage.

    Final thoughts

    I honestly cannot believe the value of this TripAlertz package. When I was first approached about sharing TripAlertz with Traveling Mamas readers, I was skeptical until I saw the price on this package. That’s what sold me.

    And once I arrived at the resort, I knew that the package was for real. At a beach resort on par with the Trump International, you would expect to pay nearly the price of the TripAlertz package for the two massages alone.

    I wondered whether or not we would be treated differently because we were there on a discount, but it was never mentioned, and we certainly were not relegated to a tiny room in a corner (an experience I have had with other hotel discount Web sites).

    The level of service in all areas around this resort was excellent. There are tiny touches that made me feel like this is a staff that is well managed and understands customer service. For example, when I inquired at the bell stand about a lobby bathroom, I was not simply pointed down the hall, I was walked there to ensure I found it. Service at our breakfast both mornings was seamless.

    As far as other meals, the pool bar serves sandwiches, salads and snacks, and there is a sushi restaurant at the resort. Directly across the street is a shopping center with several restaurant choices, everything from fast food to upscale. (A couple of the nearby restaurants – including La Terraza, which we tried and would recommend – offer deeply discounted gift certificates on Restaurant.com that you could pick up before your trip to save even more.) There is also a Publix supermarket across the street.

    If you’re flying in, it’s easy to walk and explore the area without a car. Cabs run about $50 from Miami International Airport, $40 from the airport in Fort Lauderdale. Trump International also offers free shuttle service to two nearby, popular shopping areas, and to South Beach.

    If you are driving, parking is valet only, $22 per day. The fee isn’t out of line with other Miami resorts, but it is something to be aware of when you’re planning your vacation budget.

    This Trump International Beach Resort package will be on sale at TripAlertz for the next two weeks, with travel dates available in November and December. You can book more than one package to extend your stay (another TripAlertz feature I love).

    Two more hotel deals are also for sale today, at the Hotel Marina El Cid in Cancun and the Parc 55 Wyndham in San Francisco.

    You can also get a look at upcoming hotel deals, which include some great prices on Walt Disney World stays, as well as a Costa Rican getaway.

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  • New Orleans is the most popular travel destination in Louisiana, and while it is a beautiful city, her reputation overshadows the rest of the state. There are so many places off the beaten path in Louisiana. I do love taking short road trips with my family, but I sometimes go away by myself to drive the river roads or along the path less traveled. One of my favorite places to visit near home is Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana.

    I’ve visited a few times with the kids for a family trip in Louisiana, and we always have a good time playing games as a family in the arcade, swimming year ’round in the heated, indoor lagoon-style pool, or just watching the alligators in the main hotel lobby. Well, this time, I hopped into RedBugg all by my lonesome and set off along the back roads of Louisiana to meet some gal pals and other Louisiana travel writers for a spa visit and gaming lessons. The timing was perfect – I needed some gaming lessons before my upcoming visit to BlogWorldExpo in Las Vegas.

    Blackjack Lessons at Paragon Casino (c) Shannon Hurst Lane

    The Property: Paragon Casino Resort is located in Marksville, Louisiana in the central part of the state. It’s owned and operated by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe and provides income for the reservation. This resort has a casino, hotel, RV park, golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, onsite movie theater, restaurants, bars, workout center, supervised arcade, KidQuest, and a very fabulous spa.

    The Rooms: There are many choices for lodging, including the newest rooms in the Atrium Tower, older rooms (yet undergoing renovation) in the South Tower, an RV resort and cabins at the RV area. I stayed in the Atrium in a King Room. It was spacious and clean with an indoor windoow overlooking the lobby/atrium area. The bathrooms are nice with standard tub/shower combo. Bath amenities are basic, but the alligator soap is a fun, local touch. I appreciated the FREE snack amenities available in every room.

    The Food: I shouldn’t admit this, but I enjoy the diner style food inside the casino so much that I’ve even made stops here while passing through, just to get one of those delicious shakes and an order of sliders at Roxy’s. Legends is a popular, fine dining restaurant that I’ve yet to try out. I did get to sample almost all of the appetizer items on the menu at Big Daddy E’s Oyster Bar and Grill. I have to admit, the fried alligator is probably the best I’ve ever tasted, as it was tender and had a good flavor. There is also an onsite buffet and room service is offered in the hotel. Roxy’s has a great kid’s menu, but since it is in the casino area, there is a bit of smoke in the air.

    Amenities: The golf course is part of the Audubon Golf Trail and had healthy, rolling greens. The pool and workout facility is available for lodging guests through room key access.  Of course, I’ve already mentioned the pools, kid areas, and possibly the best spa resort in Louisiana. There are a few shops in the atrium area, but I really enjoyed the Tribal museum area showcasing baskets and history. There is also a large conference area.

    Pros: This is a one stop getaway conveniently located in the middle of Louisiana, making this a good choice for a family reunion, girlfriend getaway, or conference. It’s also great for a romantic weekend.

    Cons: Well, it is a casino, which means there’s smoking, drinking, and gambling going on. No surprises here.

    My Mama Moment: I was really surprised at Spa la Vie, the onsite spa at Paragon Casino Resort. It was much larger than expected and can handle groups of friends or busy weekends. Fortunately, my visit was during the week and not too busy. I enjoyed my treatment, but I really enjoyed chatting with other writers in the relaxation room.

    Website: ParagonCasinoResort.com

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  • A Summer to Remember 2010
    by Tracey Dillard

    For my family, the summer of 2010 has not been like any other. Traveling is truly one of my passions, but as a full time student and stay at home mom, I don’t get to do it near as often as I’d like, at least not yet. I was anticipating two major trips this summer, one of those being a trip to Washington, D.C. with my mom for an entire week. My mom is lucky enough to have one of those great careers where she has the opportunity to travel to some pretty amazing destinations. Even more amazing was that she was going to take me along! This was going to be a real treat, as neither of us have ever been to D.C. Well, what happened next was something that none of us would have ever imagined.

    We found out in early May that my husband had testicular cancer. He underwent an operation to remove the tumor and soon after we began to prepare ourselves for the two rounds of Chemotherapy he would undergo over the next couple of months. It all happened so fast; we barely had time to process everything. We knew we had to cancel the trip. Disappointing indeed, but there is nothing more important than family.

    The second trip I was looking forward to was a relaxing beach vacation with my entire family. This would be the first time my daughter got to see the beach and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with her! We were planning to take a trip to Orange Beach but because of the oil spill and all the uncertainty with that, combined with the uncertainty of the remaining Chemo treatments, we cancelled this, too.

    Tracey Dillard and Husband at Vibe RestaurantJust a few weeks ago, on a spur of the moment decision, my husband and I decided to take a little three night getaway to Biloxi, MS, just the two of us. I had been eyeing the Hard Rock Hotel and noticed the rates for that particular week significantly drop. This was just what the two of us needed. We booked immediately. Being the Type A personality that I am, I scoped out all the places I wanted to eat at, made the reservations, and booked our spa appointment. This was going to be amazing. We drove the three hours from Jackson to Biloxi and as soon as we pulled into the hotel, my whole state of mind changed to relaxation mode. No kids, no stress, no worries… just me and my hubby.

    Pool view from room at Hard Rock Hotel Biloxi by Tracey DillardWe spent the days poolside of course, just soaking up the beautiful sunshine. The second night we ate at the Hard Rock Café where we were pleasantly surprised with live entertainment via a local rock band that was great! Good food, good music, great times. The third and final night we enjoyed a fabulous meal at Vibe restaurant. I highly recommend this place! It was superb. My dessert recommendation? A decadent little brownie covered in vanilla ice-cream, surrounded with fresh fruit, and covered in -get this- chocolate pop rocks! What’s better than that? On our stay at the Hard Rock, we also enjoyed an hour long couple’s massage at the Hard Rock Spa, which was AH-mazing. Also on our last night, we ventured up to The Ledge to enjoy music and dancing. Let me tell you, we cut loose like we were teenagers again! Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Hard Rock Hotel in Biloxi. The service was excellent and the staff was friendly. Although it was only a few days, we will surely remember it for a lifetime.

    Author Bio: I’m married and we have a smart, beautiful two year old daughter and she is fabulous! I’m a currently a stay at home mom and a full time student at Mississippi College. I feel so blessed to be able to spend this time at home with my daughter and am so thankful to my husband who works so hard to allow me to do so. We live right outside Jackson, MS in a small town.

    This post was submitted as part of the TravelingMamas.com Tripapalooza Trip Giveaway to the Gulf Coast.

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  • With the recent travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department, many travelers have been second guessing their vacation to Jamaica.

    While I am not one to take travel advisories lightly, I do my research and make my decisions accordingly. In this case, the U.S. State Department advised Americans to be cautious when traveling in and around Kingston, Jamaica.

    No foreign travelers were harmed in any of the civil unrest that was taking place in an isolated area of Kingston back in May. In fact, Kingston is quite a distance from the three main tourist destinations– Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril.

    I traveled across the northern coast of Jamaica this past week and not once did I feel unsafe in any area- day or night.

    I believe Jamaica is as safe as any other destination as long as you are aware of your surroundings.

    • Only take a taxi with a red license plate (means they are insured)
    • Travel in groups when possible
    • Avoid wandering the streets at night
    • Book tours and excursions directly though your hotel or other reputable sources
    • Leave your valuables at home, only carry the amount of cash for what you need

    Because of the recent activity in Jamaica, there will be some excellent travel deals from now until the end of the year. It’s a great time to take advantage of these offers at some of the best all-inclusive resorts. Whether you are traveling with your family or on a romantic getaway, Jamaica has something for everyone.

    Special thanks to the Jamaica Tourist Board for hosting my visit. For more travel advice and inspiration be sure to check out TravelingMamas.com travel tips and MommyMusings.com.

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  • I absolutely adore Houmas House Plantation and Gardens and I adore her owner and curator, Kevin Kelly. The grounds are just what I’d have if I were mistress of a plantation back in Antebellum days – a place of peaceful retreat and a showcase of nature and architecture. The food is consistently delicious, be it in Cafe Burnside for lunch or a full dinner inside the main house at Latil’s Landing dining room.

    Honeymoon Cottage at Houmas House Plantation in LouisianaOn one of my last visits, Kevin mentioned his Honeymoon Cottage that’s available for overnight stays. I had NO IDEA that Houmas House offered lodging. He offered to let me check it out whenever I wanted. That was a few months back. Earlier this week, with the kids being out of school, I felt as if I were slowly going insane, between working so much and the kids being just that much too old to go to summer day camp. I needed a serious break away from home. I emailed Kevin on the off-chance that the cabin would be available. Fortunately, it was, so I packed up some trashy romance novels, a bottle of bubbly, and my netbook for writing.

    Picket fence near cottageOn the drive over it stormed, but this did not dampen my spirits. In fact, it made the atmosphere that much more exciting – I would be staying at a plantation (that some people think are haunted) and I would be ALL ALONE. I made it to Houmas House, grabbed the key from the gift shop (after placing my dinner order), and headed to a secluded, hidden drive to the Honeymoon Cottage.

    Interior view of Houmas House Honeymoon CottageThe white picket fence creaked in the misty rain as I carried my bag up to the front porch and unlocked the door of the yellow wooden building. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but if Kevin Kelly had anything to do with it, I knew it would be phenomenal. The first thing I laid eyes on was an oversized antique oval mirror with a comfy-looking bed in the reflection. I later discovered that the mirror is straight out of a Rampart Street brothel from Storyville (New Orleans). An elegant table and twin chairs were placed in front of the fireplace (which had candles all over the place) and there was a fabulous lounge chair with ottoman on the way to the wet bar. The bathroom was gigantic with an oversized jetted soaking tub and shower for two.

    Special Delivery by Chef BrianThe entire cottage had a wonderful feel of being in cozy luxury. It was comfortable elegance, so I did the only thing I could do – I popped open a bottle of bubbly and sat on the front porch watching the rain drizzle, waiting on my gourmet meal to be delivered by the chef who prepared it.

    Fortunately for Chef Brian, the sun came out for a bit. He carried my tray of food up the walkway and placed it in front of me. I will admit, I think I must’ve been a filthy rich lady of luxury in a former lifetime, because I had no problem being spoiled. I inhaled the glorious aroma of my favorite crawfish pumpkin bisque, lobster risotto, and dessert of bread pudding. Of course, after eating all of that rich cuisine, I felt I should walk my dinner off with a stroll around the grounds. I put on my shrimpers (designer rubber boots) and carried my raincoat and a glass of wine. It was one of the most wonderful evenings I’ve had in a very long time.

    wine in the gardens at Houmas House Plantation in LouisianaYou can spend the night in the Honeymoon Cottage for a personal retreat, couples getaway, or just to experience the peacefulness of the beautiful setting. There’s no television, phone, or internet, so plan on going tech free. Call for pricing and availability. This place is a bit of a secret and isn’t advertised on the Houmas House website just yet. There are two packages – basic overnight stay with tours for two at around $200 or you can splurge for the $400 range package which includes Champagne or Sherry and brunch.

    Here’s a little video I put together of my stay, so that you can get a feel for what’s in store for your own overnight visit to Houmas House Plantation and Gardens. And be sure to check out the delightful and touching romance story I found on YouTube of a couple who got engaged and married at Houmas House. It was beautiful and well put together.

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