Due to personal circumstances, the Travel Diva will be on a temporary haitus for several weeks. Feel free to enjoy the archives until new items can be posted.

5 reasons to book an all-inclusive resort for your next vacation

If you’re looking to spend a vacation in the Caribbean or Mexico, you will find that teh all-inclusive resort is a popular option. With 500+ resorts offering this type of pricing structure, many travelers are finding the practice to be favorable. But how do you know if an all-inclusive is right for you? Read on to find out.

  1. All-inclusive rates are easy
    With nearly every expense included, you don’t have to worry about calculating costs for every little thing, adding tips (see #2 below), carrying cash around, etc. You can stay up and party all night, eat all day long, relax at the pool or beach, enjoy entertainment and join in activities without bringing your wallet – just go and do what you want!
  2. There’s no need to worry about tipping
    This is only partially true. Although the price usually includes tips and gratuities, savvy travelers know to reward a worker who gives them great service. Not only are you showing appreciation, but word gets around and soon you will find that you are given the very best treatment from the staff.
  3. All-inclusive properties are full-service
    There are usually a myriad of facilities to choose from at an all-inclusive resort. Typical amenities included in the fee are your nightly room accomodations, airport transfers, buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, alcoholic beverages, watersports, nightly entertainment and dancing clubs, unlimited use of the hotel’s facilities (pools, spas, fitness room) and all taxes and gratuities. Guests usually have to pay an additional fee for premium services such as spa treatments and golf.
  4. You are content to spend most of your time at the resort
    If you are the type of traveler who likes to explore the area and sample the local fare every day, an all-inclusive may not be for you. Because guests at all-inclusive resorts feel they need to get their money’s worth, they typically spend most of their time on the resort grounds. This is actually recommended for some locations, where venturing out into the local area can be an issue of personal safety. But if you’re the type who wants to get a taste of the surrounding area on a daily basis, you might want to reconsider.
  5. All-inclusive rates can save you money (but sometimes they don’t)
    Before booking an all-inclusive vacation, be sure to do your research and do the math. Estimate what you would spend on all meals, drinks, entertainment and activities without going all-inclusive. Then, compare the cost of the all-inclusive with that figure, taking into consideration that you may want to have dinner out a few times, and maybe take an excursion or two which won’t be included. How does it balance out?

As with any major investment, be sure to do your research before reserving an all-inclusive vacation. What exactly does the rate include? What doesn’t it include? How many restaurants are there to choose from (unless you’re content to eat at the same one seven nights in a row)? Knowledge is the key to avoiding suprises and disappointment, and ensuring you have the experience of a lifetime.

May is the Month of Festivals in Aruba

by Justin Burch

Just as more tourists are discovering the beautiful island of Aruba, the number of entertainment and sightseeing options has increased each season. This Memorial Day holiday Aruba will host a pair of world-class festivals, each welcoming plenty of locals and tourists. Music lovers can enjoy excellent concerts from award-winning Soul and R&B acts, while those with curious palates will have an opportunity to sample world-class cuisine from local and international chefs. With top-notch entertainment and dining on display this May, visitors will have a chance to see why Aruba is considered one of the most exciting destinations in the Caribbean.

In recent years, the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festivalhas featured scores of both legendary and up-and-coming Soul and R&B artists. Fans of classic acts have been able to enjoy performances from The Gap Band, Chaka Khan and Maze at the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival, while recent Grammy-winner Alicia Keys and platinum-selling artists such as Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Boyz II Men and Sean Paul have entertained music lovers of all generations. With such star-studded lineups, it is easy to see why the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival is considered not only the island’s premier musical event, but also one of the best annual festivals in the Caribbean.

The performances of Friday, May 23 – Comedy Night at the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival – will be headlined by longtime festival favorite Sinbad. The concerts scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25 will feature a number of world-renown Soul and R&B artists, as well as local musicians and performers from throughout the Caribbean. Though plenty of musical acts will be added to the lineups leading up to the festival, visitors can already make plans to enjoy the exotic sounds of Erykah Badu as part of Sunday’s music showcase.

The Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival opens officially on Wednesday, May 21 with a number of parties at hotspots throughout the island. The late-night excitement continues throughout the festival with daily nightclub performances and promotional events. Visitors to the Festival can also take part in daytime beach events from Thursday to Sunday. Featuring live music and plenty of great food, the daytime beach parties at the Festival offer a great way for families to experience the island’s beautiful beaches and impeccable weather.

Tickets for the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival can be purchased during the festival or ordered before traveling. To ensure that preordered tickets don’t get lost in the mail or left behind by travelers, the Festival will hold all purchased tickets at will call until festivities begin. Visitors will also have a chance to purchase day passes for the special events held Friday through Sunday or discounted tickets for all of the festival’s events.

Families visiting Aruba over the Memorial Day Weekend will also have an opportunity to enjoy world-class cuisine at the Aruba Food and Wine Festival. Now in its fourth year, the Aruba Food and Wine Festival brings together all of the island’s best chefs, while also welcoming several international culinary experts. Though the Festival will feature several top chefs and gourmet cuisine, the event is not reserved for the rich and glamorous. With plenty of special tastings, showcases and opportunities to sample unique foods, the Aruba Food and Wine Festival attracts a number of locals and tourists each year. As has become the custom, this year’s event will conclude with a gourmet banquet and concert honoring the work of a famous musical act. Visitors to this special Sunday event will be able to enjoy gourmet cuisine prepared by a variety of world-renown chefs, the world’s finest wines and champagnes and the music of Frank Sinatra. Taking place on Memorial Day Weekend with the Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival, the Aruba Food and Wine Festival will be delighting the palates of locals and tourists from Friday, May 23 to Sunday, May 25.

Though the height of tourism season is still several months away, the month of May has become an exciting time to visit Aruba. With two fabulous festivals sharing a weekend this Memorial Day holiday, it is easy to see why Aruba is not only one of the most exciting islands in the Caribbean, but also a great year-round destination.


Justin Burch writes articles about travel in Aruba for the Marriott Resorts.

Don’t Forget: All-Girl Getaways airs tonight!

Be sure to tune in to Fine Living TV tonight at 9PM ET (10PM PT) to watch their new show All-Girl Getaways!  Check last week’s post here for more info.

20 Tips for Planning a Successful African Safari Vacation

by Lovemore Ncube

When planning a Safari, the starting point is to think about the time of year you wish to travel, the anticipated duration of your trip, the type of accommodation you prefer, your budget and any special interests you wish to pursue. The more we know about your aspirations for the trip the easier the planning.

Before even contemplating the different safari areas and the camps/lodges within them, it is helpful to consider the broader context within which the safari areas exist. The first question to ask yourself is whether you want the high end exclusive safari destination or a low cost destination. This immediately helps to focus on specific countries:  For instance if you are looking for the high end market you may start focusing on Botswana or Namibia, and if you are looking for bargain safaris you may want to focus on South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe. By comparing the relative strengths between countries, your choice is further narrowed. The final step is to compare the safari areas within specific countries to decide which is/are most likely to provide the safari experience that you are looking for.

1. Do some research

Start by reading articles or books about African safaris and the ‘big five.’ Visit tour operator and travel agency websites to compare information. Make sure as part of your research you get a safari video to have a preview of what to expect. Safari videos are available at www.savannasafaris.com and other safari operator websites. Through your research you will decide if you will go for a packaged tour or a self drive or a combination of both.

2. Cost of a safari

Various factors play a role in one’s choice of safari destination and for most people, cost is one of the many criteria that influence this important decision. The explanation for cost differences between safari destinations and between camps/lodges within the same areas is multi-faceted and complicated. The safari market in southern Africa is highly competitive and driven by supply and demand. For instance, right now Zimbabwe safaris are at a bargain because of the low demand resulting from the political and economic crisis in the country and the uncertainty as to whether or not the general elections will be peaceful. It is important to note that in most cases the cost of a safari excludes international flights to/from Africa, visas, passports, vaccination costs, excess baggage charges, optional excursions, spending money, tips and local and airport taxes.

3. Game concentration

For most people, an African safari is not complete when they do not see the big five – elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo. These animals are concentrated at different places. Please be aware that your trip might bring you into close contact with these wild animals which can be a threat to your safety and your health. Many of the safari camps are unfenced and particular care must be taken. It is essential that you always follow the advice of your guides, do not walk out on your own and do not touch any plants, animals or insects. You should understand the risks involved and take responsibility for your own safety. Please note that most safari lodges will require you to sign a personal indemnity form and you must be prepared to sign these. (Editor’s note: The advice here regarding a traveler’s restraint from having contact with plants and animals is not only a matter of personal safety, but also consider that we should be responsible and respectful tourists by leaving an area unspoiled, untouched and unharmed after our visit.)

4. Camp/lodge experience

The level of style and luxury in accommodation, the quality of food and service, facilities and amenities are all important factors to consider when planning a safari. The more expensive properties invariably excel in these elements of the overall experience.

5. Wilderness and exclusivity

As a rule, the larger and more private the concession/reserve, the higher the premium. Botswana (where private concessions are typically 100,000 acres or larger) is the most prominent example of this model of ‘low volume/high value’ eco-tourism. Zambia is an emerging safari destination heading towards this model.

6. Remoteness

The further from civilization a camp/lodge, the more expensive it is to supply and operate, and the higher the access costs for guests. Zambia’s three major National Parks are very different and fairly far removed from each other. This makes a Zambian safari a very diverse experience, but travel costs are a little higher than in Botswana for example. Namibia, home to some of southern Africa’s most remote camps, is perhaps the most pronounced example of this type of safari.

7. Convenience

Camps/lodges with private airstrips that are close to camp offer increased convenience due to shorter transfer times between the airstrip and camp. This means less time in transit and more time on safari or relaxing. Such airstrips, in addition to being expensive to build and maintain, are desirable to guests and attract a premium.

8. Political situation

The biggest factor influencing the discounted rates in Zimbabwe is the negative perception surrounding the government of Robert Mugabe. Without doubt this regime has had a very negative impact on the lives of local Zimbabweans but, as a safari destination for foreign visitors, it is still a good deal destination. (Editor’s note: Be sure to check with the U.S. Department of State for any travel warnings and information on the general safety of the area.)

9. Passports & visas

A full passport is essential and must be valid for at least six months after your return. Generally, visas are not required in South Africa and Botswana for United States and United Kingdom passport holders. Visas are required for Zimbabwe and Zambia. For detailed information about visas you can go to www.savannasafaris.com.

10. Insurance

It is a condition of booking for most safari tours that all passengers have insurance cover. Your insurance should be fully comprehensive and include 24-hour emergency medical cover and repatriation along with general cover for travel cancellation and theft of valuables and personal items.

11. Health

You should consult your doctor at least six weeks prior to travel. If guests have any medication requirements an adequate supply should be brought from home, as it might not be available locally. Anti-malaria medication is essential. It is recommended that visitors bring plenty of insect repellent and sun cream.

12. Safety & security

In general people in Africa have an enviable reputation for being friendly and welcoming. Along with most countries around the world, mugging can be a problem in certain towns and it is advisable that you do not walk at night unless you know the area well. If you are driving by yourself it is sensible to arrive at your destination before dark as a myriad of animals enjoy lying on the roads at night. It is always sensible when traveling to take precautions against theft. By far the best precaution is to avoid taking valuables with you on holiday. If you do carry valuables ensure you are discreet. Do not leave any valuables or luggage unattended in a vehicle, unless in a locked trunk.

13. Clothing

The dress code at all of the camps and lodges is casual and there is no requirement to dress for dinner. We recommend that you wear neutral colors with a good pair of lightweight walking boots for game walks. Evenings are generally spent around a campfire, so a lightweight jacket is advisable. Early morning and night game drives can get very cold, particularly in June/July, so it is recommended that you bring a warm jacket and woolly hat. During the heat of the day a shady hat is essential. A long sleeved shirt and long trousers offer a degree of protection from mosquitoes.

14. Fitness levels

There is generally no fitness requirement for safaris. On walking safaris the walks are slow and gentle, although the ground is often uneven. Game drives can be bumpy at times and might be uncomfortable for people with back problems.

15. Luggage limits

A luggage limit applies for light aircraft transfers between camps. Soft bags are recommended for these flights. You will normally be advised of the requirements (if any) at the time of booking.

16. Travel in Africa

Part of what makes Africa so special is that it is very different from Europe and the USA. Please accept that things do not always happen the way you would normally expect and you must be prepared to adapt your arrangements as necessary. Whilst tour operators make every effort to ensure that your trip goes smoothly it is recommended that you be patient and understanding, accepting a degree of uncertainty and enjoying Africa as it is.

17. Climate

Although local weather conditions vary, the main weather patterns are the same throughout Southern Africa. Evenings and early mornings can get quite chilly, particularly between May and August. October can be extremely hot and humid although this is the best time for game viewing as animals congregate around the remaining water. The rainy season is normally between November and March.

18. Currency

The local currencies in the major safari destination countries are the Zambian Kwacha, the Botswana Pula, South African Rand, Namibian Dollar, Mozambican Metical and the Zimbabwean Dollar. Tourists are expected to use US Dollars in camps, lodges and hotels. For local shopping for souvenirs and sundries you will need local currency. Banks will generally exchange US Dollars, English Pounds and Euros. US Dollars are required for visas purchased at the border posts (take the correct amount as any change will be given in local currency). In most of these countries, especially Zimbabwe, there are black market currency dealers. Changing currency in the black market is illegal, and you can be robbed of your money and valuables. Always ask your hotel staff about exchanging currency.

19. Time

Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa are all 2 hours ahead of GMT.

20. Memories

Don’t forget to bring a journal book, camera and camcorder to document your experiences.

Happy safari planning and enjoy the unspoiled African wild!

Lovemore Ncube is a native of Africa currently residing in the USA who would like to share intimate knowledge of Southern Africa with people planning to go on an African Safari. Blog: http://savannasafaris.blogspot.com Websites: http://www.savannasafaris.com; http://www.victoriafallstours.net

10 Best Las Vegas Buffets

According to www.10best.com the following are the top 10 buffets to check out on your next trip to Las Vegas:

  1. Cravings Buffet at the Mirage – $16-$30/pp
  2. French Market Buffet (Tropicana) – <$15/pp
  3. Le Village Buffet (Paris Las Vegas) – $16-$30/pp
  4. MGM Grand Buffet – $16-$30/pp
  5. Paradise Garden Buffet (Flamingo) – $16-$30/pp
  6. Ports O’ Call Buffet (Gold Coast Casino) – <$15/pp
  7. Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino) – $16-$30/pp
  8. The Buffet at Bellagio – $31-$50/pp
  9. The Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas – $31-$50/pp
  10. Village Seafood Buffet (Rio) – $16-$30/pp

For user reviews/ratings, cuisine information and additional details, visit www.10best.com.

Nickeled and Dimed to Death by the Airlines

The airlines are at it again. You may have noticed that airfares are going up. Gone are the days that I can get a $99 ticket to Buffalo from Phoenix on Southwest – they seem to think $129 each way is a bargain. But not only are airlines raising their fares, they’re coming up with new ways to charge you for extra stuff.

Remember a few years ago when we started paying for meals aboard the plane? And then came the fees for checked luggage weighing more than 50 lbs. Now a fee charged by all major airlines for curbside check-in not only has travelers griping, it’s affecting skycaps who rely on tips from customers. Either the travelers are cutting tips, or bypassing the service altogether. (though some skycaps are seeking restitution)

As you may have heard, a surcharge as much as $25 is being added for a second checked bag on airlines like Continental, Northwest, US Airways and Delta – who’s next?

Yesterday US Airways announced they will soon “begin offering passengers the option of buying an aisle or window seat in the front of the plane for between $5 and $30 per flight.” (Source azcentral.com) Now really, do they think their PR tactics are working on us? “Offering” to sell us a seat we may have otherwise earned through frequent flyer miles is no deal, any way you word it.

So I ask, what’s next on the list? Charging more for all aisle and window seats? Pay lockers replacing the overhead bins? A charge for soda, water and pretzels? A housekeeping fee when they come to pick up your garbage? Maybe pay toilets???

Airlines, please just raise our ticket prices by a couple bucks and give us back the simple illusion (or should I say blissful ignorance?) that we’re getting these ‘perks’ without paying for them. It makes comparing ticket prices so much easier.