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Welcome!

Hello fellow travel-lovers! Welcome to CSB Travel’s Blog, where your Inspired Travel Vacation planners will be posting photos from and writing about various destinations, holding surveys, giving travel tips, suggesting fantastic destinations for different kinds of trips, as well as inviting guest bloggers (our clients) to rave about their experiences with CSB Travel. Enjoy!

Cristina Buaas, President and Travel Advisor

The Romantic Danube on AmaWaterways

By Cristina Buaas 

Last November I was fortunate to embark on my first ever river cruise throughout the waters of the Danube with AmaWaterways.  My big takeaway from this vacation was learning how easy and enjoyable it is to explore multiple destinations on a river cruise. The pace was very relaxing, especially considering how many cities and towns we experienced. Each port of call offered numerous tour options, from laid back walking tours to active bicycle tours, and almost all of them were included in the cost of our cruise! There were a few premium tour options that incurred a supplemental charge however one of them, the tour to Schonbrunn Palace outside of Vienna, was complimentary as a Virtuoso Voyages benefit for CSB Travel clients!  What I really appreciated is that AmaWaterways added local guides as needed based on the turnout for each tour. We never had more than 20 people in our group and AmaWaterways accommodated three different levels of walking for each tour: active, regular and gentle walkers (AKA slower walkers ☺).

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Our journey began with a seamless transfer from the Munich airport to the port of Vilshofen where we boarded the beautiful AmaSerena. This ship was built in 2015 and holds only 164 passengers. Onboard amenities include a heated swimming pool with a “swim-up” bar, fitness center, spa treatment room, complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room internet, entertainment on-demand, and a fleet of bicycles for passengers to use either on their own or for guided bike tours.  Our room, 303, was one of four suites onboard. These luxurious suites measure 300 square feet, versus the staterooms which range from 160 to 290 square feet.  Unlike the other staterooms, suites feature a separate tub and shower, double sinks, more closet space, and a larger sitting area. Suites also come with complimentary laundry and pressing throughout the cruise, 2 splits of champagne, a laptop for guest use, and a coffee maker.  All suites and most staterooms feature AMA’s exclusive twin balconies, with both an outside balcony as well as a French balcony.

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The highlight of the Romantic Danube itinerary for me was the full day and evening in Vienna. It is one of my favorite cities in Europe and I will never tire of visiting it. My husband and I enjoyed lunch and the requisite Sacher Torte with Peter Zwickl from the fabulous Hotel Sacher Wien Vienna and we visited the Albertina Museum.

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We also explored the Melk Abbey in Weissenkirchen, feasted on the delicious Captain’s Dinner with wine parings featuring Hook & Ladder (they were our onboard wine experts), and strolled through the charming town of Salzburg including several stops at the Christmas markets.

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We ended our journey with the Illuminations Cruise along the riverfront in Budapest on the final night.  Even though it was not my first visit to Budapest, the view from the Danube was truly magical.  This is a must for everyone visiting Budapest!

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The next morning as we had our final breakfast and prepared to disembark, it was sad to say goodbye to the amazing staff on-board.  With such an intimate setting, you really get to know the crew. Throughout the entire cruise, they were uniformly nice and provided excellent service, from the wait staff to the cruise director and the jovial captain!

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TRAVEL NOTES: Things to consider for your AmaWaterways river cruise vacation!

  • AMA provides walking sticks, cane/seat combos, bottled water, 2 full-sized umbrellas and listening devices and earphones for hearing the guides during tours.
  • Each evening local entertainers preform in the lounge after dinner.  The talented artists provide a wide variety of performances. On this particular cruise, there was an Australian man who played guitar and sang Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Elvis, etc. in Passau. While in Linz we enjoyed the Sound of Austria from Salzburg, singing opera from the Sound of Music!
  • Lunch and dinner menus were themed to the destination so German, Austrian and Hungarian specialties along with more standard fare like steak or fish, which was always offered as an alternative. Breakfast was a plentiful buffet along with several made to order items like waffles and omelets.
  • Wine and beer are included at lunch and dinner, and mixed drinks at the bar for the hour prior to dinner.  At other times drinks are extra.  On our wine cruise, the wine hosts from Hook & Ladder had two wine tastings (one just before dinner and another just before lunch) as well as the pairing for the final night Captain’s Gala dinner.
  • The Chef’s Table was a nice change of pace from the main dining room. Every guest has the ability to reserve this once during the cruise, but must wait until they are on-board.
  • Passengers must be out of their stateroom by 9:00 AM on departure day, however the ship will store guests bags up until 8:00 PM on the last day if you have a late departure.

I hope my experience has inspired you to embark on your own AmaWaterways river cruise. Contact your CSB Travel advisor today and begin planning your next adventure!

“The (Re)Imagineered Disney Wonder”

By Andrew Butler 

I admit that I have always loved all things Disney.  My friends and I would role-play as Todd and Copper when I was a kid.  I would daydream that I was the red fox version of Robin Hood, fighting the Sheriff’s men to save the vixen Maid Marion.  As I got older, my tastes didn’t change: my wife and I went to Disney World at least once per year before we had kids, and now that we do have kids they endure us dragging them along at least that often.  Alas, I digress.  But all pieces to the puzzle, my friends, because as a Professional Travel Advisor I love to share my love for Disney with my clients.

I recently had the opportunity to inspect the Disney Wonder, two weeks after it left dry dock with some spiffy new upgrades.  My family and I had sailed on the Wonder in the Summer of 2015 on an Alaska itinerary and loved it.  The ship itself was and is lovely and well cared-for, the staterooms are among the largest in the market, the dining and entertainment is excellent, and the service is unmistakably Disney.  I was very excited to see what updates and changes had been made.

When walking into the atrium lobby from the gangplank, the first change that was evident were the holiday decorations!  Every November and December, the four ships in the Disney fleet are decorated for the holidays, and the Very Merrytime sailings as they are called feature a lot of special holiday extras.

Guests at the Walt Disney resorts will be familiar with the gingerbread houses that typically decorate the lobbies of the resorts at this time of year.  Not to be outdone, the Disney vessels also feature gingerbread houses in the lobbies!

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One of the most impressive holiday features has to be the chandelier.  During November and December, the venerable Dale Chihuly chandelier that typically decorates the atrium lobby ceiling is carefully removed and replaced with a piece that compliments the seasonal decor.

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Proceeding from the lobby, we first had the opportunity to tour several of the staterooms from different categories. Staterooms are one of the selling points for Disney over other cruise lines; the rooms are among the largest in the industry, and contain thoughtful touches to maximize space and guest comfort as well as decor that reflects the golden age of ocean travel with a Disney touch.

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Standard staterooms typically contain a queen-sized bed as well as a sleeper sofa.  Most staterooms also contain a pull-down upper berth that is purely Disney magic — during the day this bed disappears as it stows flush with the ceiling; at night it pulls down to form an upper bunk with the sleeper sofa; a ladder is added, and there is a railing on the upper berth to prevent sleep-movement misadventures! Some staterooms also feature a wall pull-down bed to sleep another family member. One of the other Disney touches in the standard stateroom is the split configuration bathroom.  Most bathrooms are actually split into two areas with separate doors and walls, one containing a toilet and a sink, the other containing a shower/tub and another sink.  This allows one multiple guests access to bathroom facilities at the same time — a real plus for those families with kiddos (and adults) that like to linger longer in the shower!

Standard staterooms include inside staterooms and outside staterooms, as well as staterooms featuring a veranda (balcony).

Concierge level rooms include some verandah staterooms as well as one- and two-bedroom suites and Royal suites.  These rooms come at a premium, but are well-appointed, and suites are large with living rooms, larger bathrooms with jetted tubs. and large balconies.  Concierge level rooms also have access to the concierge lounge with a daily selection of complimentary hors d’ oeuvres and drinks, and concierge guests have first dibs on booking shore excursions and onboard activities well in advance of other guests.

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We moved on in our tour to view the dining areas aboard the Disney Wonder.  The Disney Wonder features three main restaurants — Tritons, Animator’s Palate, and the new Tiana’s.  Diners rotate through each of the restaurants at least once during each cruise, with the same (if any) tablemates joining each night. Diners in each of the three main restaurants are also joined each night by their Dining Room Server and Assistant Server — another part of the Disney Cruise difference.  These individuals are outstanding and bring a real face to the Disney Cruise experience.  They will take great care of you and your family, and get to know you individually, along with your preferences. Tiana’s is the newest addition to the Disney Wonder main dining rotation.  Tiana’s replaces Parrot Cay, with ambience reminiscent of  New Orleans in the roaring 1920s — the setting of the Princess and the Frog in which Princess Tiana was introduced.

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Tiana’s features live music nightly on stage, and guests are reportedly visited at times by Princess Tiana herself!

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Triton’s retains it’s more formal, under-the-sea ambiance, while Animator’s Palate has undergone some updates.

Diners if possible should not miss the Animation Magic dinner at the Animator’s Palate — this typically occurs on the second night that you rotate through Animator’s Palate, but be sure to check with your dining team to confirm this. There are additional casual dining options onboard for those who want an alternative to the Main Dining rooms.  Cabanas features a bountiful buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Palo is the adult-exclusive, fine dining option on board the Disney Wonder which is available for brunch and dinner at an additional fee.  Brunch especially tends to book up well in advance — don’t miss it!

While many of the larger cruise liners feature a central casino, Disney takes this space and instead offers extensive child-care facilities.  The child care aboard the Disney Wonder is fantastic.  Options are available according to age group; care is available for the youngest guests in the It’s A Small World Nursery, which exclusively caters to guests aged 6 months to 3 years.

Children ages 3 to 12 have the envious opportunity to hang out at the Oceaneer Lab and Oceaneer Club.  The two facilities are interconnected by a back hallway, and children can move freely from one to another without having to leave the monitored area.  Children are either dropped off or check themselves in by Magic Band; they can then be located by staff anywhere in the two areas.  Once inside, children have a myriad of options available to them, including games, crafts, movies, themed play areas, and character encounters and parties.

New additions to the Oceaneer Club include the Marvel Avenger’s Academy, Frozen Adventures, Andy’s Room and the Disney Junior area featuring Doc McStuffins! For tweens and teenagers there are areas as well: Edge caters to those aged 11-14, while Vibe is an exclusive space for those aged 14-17.

Also new to the Disney Wonder is a space that Disney Parks fans will know and love – the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique! This is where young princesses, princes, pirates, and future ship captians can come to receive the latest fashions in costumes and makeovers.

For adults wanting a space of their own, the Disney Wonder features a newly renovated After Hours area, featuring a lounge/nightclub, a piano bar, and a classic British Pub. Azure, the lounge/nightclub, features adult-exclusive entertainment, shows, and games in the evenings, followed some evenings by a DJ and dance club atmosphere. The Cadillac Lounge is a classically re-imagined piano bar playing homage to classic cars. The Crown and Fin Pub promises to provide the atmosphere of an authentic British Pub.

We also had the chance to tour the refreshed and updated Senses Spa. The Spa is a beautiful, aroma-therapeutic space that offers traditional treatments in treatment rooms as well as Spa Villas designed for couples.  Some Spa villas include a balcony space with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the water with seating and a hot tub — I know where I am going on my next Disney Cruise! The salon overlooks the ocean and looks like a wonderful place for a pedicure! There is also the Chill Spa for teens aged 13-17 featuring exclusive treatments and services.

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Guests can obtain passes good for either one day or the duration of their stay, which grants access to the relaxation area featuring experience showers and steam room. There is also a well equipped gym facing the front of the ship, featuring a range of cardio equipment, circuit training and free weights.

The pool decks have undergone some changes as well.  Still present are the adult-exclusive Quiet Cove pool area. There is also the main “Goofy” pool.

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Aft is newly re-imagined Aqua Lab water area.  This features a new twisty water slide, as well as a water play area where Huey, Dewey and Louie have concocted a series of water “experiments” where the whole family can play:

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A side note for Disney Cruise aficionados: Conspicuously absent are the second Aqua Duck or Dunk water slides featured on the other Disney ships. Another great new addition is Dory’s Reef, a new covered and shaded splash pad area dedicated to infants and toddlers 3 years of age and younger.

Unfortunately after our whirlwind tour, we had to depart the ship to allow guests to embark on their Disney Wonder cruise adventure; I felt a bit jealous and wistful as I walked down the gangplank and saw families walking onto the ship, oohing and aahing as they entered the lobby area and were greeted by the crew; they were off to have a grand adventure. See ya real soon!

Peru

Written by Cristina Buaas

Whether you’re looking for a honeymoon destination or a great place for a family vacation, look no further than the beautiful country of Peru! From exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas to taking cooking lessons in the historic capital Cusco, Peru promises adventure to all who visit. For the outdoor adventurer, the beautiful mountains are full of hiking trails, kayaking in the Huaypo Lake provides an incredible view of the country’s landscape and the unique natural environment of the Amazon. For those who love cultural experiences, the ancient city of Machu Picchu (named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World) is a must-see. In addition, you can tour the remains of the Inca Empire in the Sacred Valley which provides insight into 13th century Inca civilization. If you prefer to focus on relaxation then enjoy the plethora of amenities at many popular hotels and resorts including pools, spas, breath-taking views, great food, and a variety of fun activities.

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The Sacred Valley offers a wonderful selection of lodging options. Here are some of our preferred hotels we experienced:

Sol y Luna Lodge & Spa is attached to the Wayra ranch, providing a unique ranch element and top-notch service. As a member of Relais & Chateaux, cuisine is one of the highlights at Sol y Luna. Activities offered include authentic horse shows, hiking, horseback rides at the stables, and a circus show twice a week. Yoga and Pilates are also offered during high season (April to October). There is also a game room and new pool which is sure to be popular with families.

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Belmond Rio Sagrado is located in Ollantaytambo and has a lovely riverside setting. This property has a very serene and quiet atmosphere, well-suited for anyone wanting a relaxing vacation. Cooking lessons, yoga, and a great spa are offered here. El Huerto restaurant offers delicious meals with good service as well as occasional special events. A beautiful place to stay for those looking for a calm and enjoyable environment.

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Tambo del Inka has excellent rooms and lots of amenities throughout the property. Suites come with butler service and families are able to get connecting rooms if requested. A large spa and game room are available to guests along with a train station at the hotel for added travel convenience. Great for families and those wanting varied activities on site!

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Our Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientas preferred accommodations include the following:

Inkaterra Pueblo Lodge is a wonderful choice for those seeking a rustic, natural feel in their accommodations. The property features two restaurants, a spa, pool, hot tubs and an eco-center where naturalists offer complimentary guided hikes throughout the property. Be sure to stop in their beautiful gift shop as well!

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 Sumaq Hotel offers understated elegance nestled on the banks of the Urubamba River. The restaurant offers delicious, gourmet meals and several tasting menus as well. Activities include spa treatments, cookie making for kids, bird watching, and a Mother Earth ceremony by appointment.

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Two of our favorite hotels in Cusco are as follows:

Belmond Monasterio is a revitalized monastery and former national monument from the 1500s. It combines five-star service with historic Baroque style. This hotel features live music in the lobby four days a week, a main courtyard with outdoor seating for meals, massage rooms, beauty parlor, and a fine dining restaurant where a famous opera singer performs from time to time! There is also a historic chapel on site that dates back to 1650. The rooms here are great for couples or families looking for an authentic and charming atmosphere for their vacation.

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Belmond Nazaraneas is the sister property and next door to the Belmond Monasterio. It was once a palace and convent but has since been restored to a beautiful urban retreat. This upscale hotel has a refined room product featuring butler service for all 52 suites. The pool area is beautiful and the onsite restaurant serves delicious local cuisine. This is a great option for those looking for the “wow” factor!

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Disneyland California

Written by Caitlin Fisher

In May, I had the opportunity to attend an Agent Education Program at Disneyland Resort in California. Through the program, I was able to experience the resorts, parks, and all of the special events surrounding the spectacular Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration.

Resorts

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

This beautiful resort was my home away from home for two nights, and it put me right in the middle of the action. It has the relaxing, homey atmosphere of a mountain lodge, yet it is steps away from the parks; in fact, it has its very own entrance directly into the middle of Disney California Adventure!

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I stayed in a Standard View room with a queen bed and a bunk bed. My balcony provided a lovely, quiet view of the courtyard below, and to my surprise, a nice view of the fireworks at night!

As a mother of three children, I am always on the lookout for rooms that easily accommodate five people. This room would have been perfect for my entire family: not only was there a bunk bed, but there was a trundle underneath the bunks as well!

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This resort is just a few minutes walk away from the parks, and it is the resort that felt the most “Disney” to me. With separate towers for Adventureland, Fantasyland and Frontierland, you feel fully immersed in the theming through amazing artwork and fun touches.

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The monorail pool is amazing as well, and who can turn down an evening at Trader Sam’s, with live music and a tropical atmosphere.

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We toured the E-Ticket Lounge, which is the resort’s concierge lounge, and discovered a gorgeous panoramic view of the entire Disneyland Resort.  If you are planning on spending time away from the parks and relaxing at the resort, this is the perfect choice.

Disney Heritage

All Disney parks are full of endless opportunities for fun and entertainment, but there is something unique about Disneyland Park in California. It is the park that Walt Disney himself built, where he walked and where his influence and vision can still be felt today. I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a Heritage Tour, where we visited Walt’s apartment above the Fire Station on Main Street as well as the Dream Suite.

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Walt used his tiny apartment as a place where he could stay to oversee his park. From his window, he could watch all of the people coming into the park, ready to start their adventure. The lamp that you can see in the window above the fire station is a tribute to Walt. When he was alive, the light was on as a signal to park employees that he was there. Now, it stays on 24 hours a day as a reminder of his legacy.

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The Dream Suite is an incredibly beautiful apartment situated above Pirates of the Carribbean in New Orleans Square. Originally designed to be used for the Disney family, it is now used as accomodations for special contest winners. It has incredibly themed rooms based off of original designs from Lillian Disney, all with special magical touches throughout. What an incredible sight to see each room come alive with Disney magic!

Diamond Celebration

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As part of the 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration, the nighttime shows were reimagined, and they are spectactular! Paint the Night Parade is full of vibrant, beautiful floats full of favorite Disney characters and memorable music.

Disneyland Forever, the nighttime fireworks in Disneyland Park, now includes amazing projections not just on the castle, but down main street, onto the Matterhorn, and on It’s a Small World. It’s a different experience depending on where you are in the park, and you need to see it to believe how beautiful it is.

Last but not least is World of Color. This incredible water projection show has even more impressive effects and new content, including added scenes from Star Wars and Frozen. It is the perfect end to an evening at California Adventure Park.

Overall Experience

I have been an avid Disney fan for a long time, and love vacationing at Walt Disney World in Florida. However, this was my first opportunity to experience Disneyland Resort in California. It did not disappoint! While the overall resort is much smaller than its east coast counterpart, it manages to still fit in all of the Disney magic and fun into the smaller space. It feels easy to navigate and intimate. I found service from the cast members to generally be excellent, and could sense their pride and commitment to honoring the heritage of the original Disney park. A visit to Disneyland Resort is a must do for families, or adults who are big kids at heart.

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The Mayan Riviera

Written by Katie Boydston Rollins

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I figured I would share some of the hottest spots to seek silky sands, authentic experiences and yes… Tequila!  If you love the outdoors you will love Mexico, especially the Yucatan’s northern Caribbean coast.  The Riviera Maya offers stunning beachfronts, hidden cenotes, Mayan ruins, a PGA tour golf course, Xcaret and Xplor Adventure Parks.  Another great thing about traveling to Mexico; the short flight!  In just 10 to 40 minutes, you can have your toes in the sand at one of these authentic luxury resorts…. Arriba, arriba!  Andale, andale!

NIZUC Resort & Spa:  This stunning resort is just minutes from Cancun, yet you could not feel more removed from the frantic pace.  NIZUC is a standout and I will certainly be back to visit on a personal vacation.  The resort has a Mexican heart and a Mayan soul and the natural elements of a hotel reach a level of serenity not typically found in resorts near Cancun proper.  There are 6 restaurants offering international menus and the pools face the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.  It’s the perfect place for even a 3-4 night getaway.  I promise that you will be transformed to a state of bliss!

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Viceroy Riviera Maya:   This is a little “Gem in the Jungle.”  The resort is Mayan inspired and very exclusive, intimate, private, sexy and ideal for couples.  The rooms are beautifully decorated and have heated plunge pools, outdoor showers, and hammocks.  The restaurants serve authentic, local cuisine and both dining venues are resort casual.  The resort is very small so you are always steps from the ocean and activity, but the Yucatan foliage allows guests to enjoy the ultimate privacy.  When you visit, you have to try the pineapple margarita!

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Hotel Esencia:  You will immediately feel like you have been welcomed into someone’s home.  In fact, it was originally built as the private home of an Italian duchess.  The hotel grounds feel organic, chic, laid back, and authentic.  Hotel Esencia attracts the most discerning traveller.  Here luxury is defined by its intimate and relaxed ambiance, which is what brings guests back year after year.  The proximity to Tulum allows for easy access the ruins as well as many restaurants including the famed Hartwood, bars and clubs.

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Rosewood Mayakoba:  The perfect balance between the best in service and a quiet getaway.  What’s unique about the Mayakoba development is that the accommodations are built within the lagoon’s mangroves so upon arrival, guests are transported by boat to their sanctuary.   It is incredibly peaceful and quiet.  Your room has a heated plunge pool where you can sit and look at crocodiles.  Yes this is a warning, do not go swimming in the lagoons!  There is one fine dining restaurant, a beach restaurant and a sushi + tequila library where you can sample Mexico’s finest.

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Banyan Tree Mayakoba:  The Riviera Maya meets the Orient at Banyan Tree Mayakoba.  You are always a bike ride away from the ocean but between the lagoon and your spacious villa, guests can enjoy the ultimate privacy.  A sanctuary for the senses, this renowned spa is not to be missed but neither is the Pad Thai at Saffron, Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant.  On my next visit, I will certainly immerse myself in the Mayan customs and cuisine at HAAB.

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Grand Velas Riviera Maya:  Grab the family and head to Grand Velas!  Although this indulgent resort comes at a price, there is truly something for everyone— kids, teenagers and adults!  This all-inclusive product is one of a kind, offering a unique vacation experience where passion, luxury, and exceptional service merge to create lasting memories.  I had just mustered up the courage to try the fish spa but then had to leave… next time!

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Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa:  An authentic slice of paradise and the most stunning beachfront in the Riviera Maya!  This resort is an old coconut plantation offering genuine Mexican hospitality.  With only 63 spacious guest rooms, you can enjoy a haven of well being.  The Kinan Spa is consistently voted as the Best in Mexico & Latin America.

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Thompson Playa del Carmen:  The newest addition to the heart of downtown Playa del Carmen, this flirty, vibrant, social, and luxury lifestyle hotel is an urban experience.  I know one thing is for sure, that rooftop is all that it’s talked up to be!  Where is the bachelorette party??  The Beach House is it’s bohemian sister with only 27 rooms and a more relaxed beachfront setting.  This is for those in there 20-30s or just youthful minded and playful adults!

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Are you thinking ‘Wholly Guacamole’ what’s the best fit for me?  Don’t worry!  Through my personal experience and knowledge along with our supplier partner relationships, CSB Travel can truly inspire an unforgettable vacation to this vibrant destination.  Our clients are granted exclusive amenities such as early check-in and late check-out, room upgrades, complimentary breakfast for two (see below yummyyy) resort/spa credits and more depending upon each property.  

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Los Cabos: Two Oceans, One Paradise

Written by Cristina Buaas

Looking for more than sun & sand on your vacation to Mexico? Los Cabos provides a terrific breadth of experience for people of all ages to enjoy while still offering beautiful beaches to soak up the sun. While it’s best known for golf and water activities like fishing, the town of San Jose del Cabo exudes culture with its many galleries, authentic restaurants, and shops displaying locally made goods. There are a multitude of activities for the adventure seeker including zip lining, swimming with whale sharks, a camel safari (yes, camels in Mexico!), catamaran half day cruise, and other thrilling ventures. For a more relaxed atmosphere, you can enjoy a sunset yacht cruise, go snorkeling and paddle boarding, or lounge pool-side at one of many authentic luxury resorts.

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Esperanza was the first stop during my trip to Los Cabos. Secluded and perched on a bluff, this resort offers a relaxed atmosphere with sumptuous accommodations. The resort’s beach area is a cove creating a private space for guests to enjoy. Combined with an ocean-view infinity pool and complimentary fitness classes, Esperanza is a great place to unwind. Whether staying in a guest casita or private villa, you will receive Virtuoso amenities through our preferred partnership.

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The Cape is an eclectic and trendy lifestyle resort, generally for younger adults, with a very modern feel. The beach is great for surfing and you can see the famous “El Arco” from every room! Dining at the resort’s restaurant Manta, created by celebrity chef Enrique Olvera, was an incredible experience. If this fresh take on Los Cabos luxury draws you in, let us know so we can add value to your stay with Virtuoso amenities.

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The Resort at Pedregal sits at the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez, aka “Land’s End.” You will be amazed by the dramatic, chandelier-lined entrance when you arrive through their tunnel that connects from the town of Cabo San Lucas. This property has a great design and sense of place. Each room offers a plunge pool and fireplace, perfect for any season. A wonderful option for younger couples or families with teens who value easy access to nightlife or alternate dining options because of the proximity to town. Don’t miss out on their plentiful breakfast buffet, a complimentary Virtuoso amenity offered here.

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One&Only Palmilla is the most historic property in Los Cabos. Built in 1955, it was the first resort in the region and still has that “classic Hollywood” feel. Providing amazing service with bespoke service touches everywhere, this property truly warms your heart. Spacious rooms, lush grounds, and having one of the area’s only swimmable beaches make One&Only Palmilla hard to beat for couples and families. Romance and renewal abound here, and throughout 2016 the resort is offering exclusive spa experiences for Virtuoso guests.

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Las Ventanas Al Paraiso is breathtakingly beautiful on all sides, offering gorgeous views of the Sea of Cortez. Be ready to get pampered whether at the awarded indoor/outdoor spa or being served by the butlers at the infinity pool. Villa guests can even arrange to have the chef prepare an authentic breakfast or dinner in your villa. Beach cabanas are available to rent and include plunge pools on the beach, a wet bar and ample seating and loungers for a group or family. This property is great for couples of all ages looking to relax and enjoy serenity during their stay and of course, we would love to add value through the complimentary Virtuoso amenities.

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In addition to amazing luxury accommodations, Los Cabos boasts of incredible dining from tacos and mescal to haute cuisine. Whether you prefer a local farm-to-table restaurant like the charming Flora Farms or you’re looking for a lively authentic taco dinner at La Lupita, Los Cabos will exceed your expectations. Through my personal experience and knowledge along with our supplier partner relationships, CSB Travel can truly inspire an unforgettable vacation for your family to this vibrant destination.

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Cheers to London!

Submitted by Cristina Buaas

 

This past July, my family and I journeyed to London to see the city and drop off my daughter at the London School of Economics. Our lovely trip started off at the Milestone, a charming, well located hotel with a uniquely British feel. With a delicious breakfast buffet offering plentiful egg and pastry options and a bountiful afternoon tea with champagne, scones, and finger sandwiches it is safe to say that this hotel satisfied our foodie cravings!

 

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In addition, the entirety of the hotel staff were helpful and constantly greeting their guests with a warm welcome. After fighting off our jetlag, we embarked on our first day of touring on a remarkably sunny and warm day for London! With our Blue Badge tour guide driving us around the city and giving us a fabulous tour at each museum or monument, we really got a great feel for the city and our tour was personalized for our family!

 

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From the changing of the guards to the Churchill War Rooms to the British Museum, our guide provided meaningful commentary that would have been missed had we been on our own. With regard to food, London has a plethora of cuisines ranging from traditional British (fish and chips!) to Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, and many more!

 

Furthermore, this walkable city has a multitude of lovely parks to sit and have a picnic or go for a nice stroll. For those who love to shop, check out Oxford and Carnaby Street for blocks and blocks of great shopping! Overall, London is a bustling, international city with something for the history buff, the foodie, the shopper, the theatre lover, or whatever your travel personality.

The Resort at Paws Up – My Kind of Camping!

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Submitted by Cristina Buaas

Have you ever wanted to do something new and different for your next vacation, like visit a working ranch, but been unwilling to sacrifice beautiful accommodations and delicious food that you would find at a typical luxury resort? Well, The Resort at Paws Up is the perfect solution! With gourmet food, a great selection of wines and spirits, top-notch accommodations, and a decadent spa, this ranch-style resort provides a unique experience with its various ranch activities without losing the luxurious feel of a resort. From fly fishing to skeet shooting to ATV driving to white water rafting and more, the activities offered at Paws Up are perfect for the adventurous family or couple that loves the outdoors. Additionally, since it was a working ranch before a resort, you have the opportunity to interact with real cowboys, horses, and cattle during activities like cattle drives and roping! Regarding accommodations, with both Big Timber Homes ranging from 2 to 4 bedrooms and luxury 1 and 2 bedroom tents spread among 5 campsites, couples and families will have a hard time deciding where to stay. Furthermore, for children, Paws Up offers a youth program for children ages 0 to 17 that keeps them happy and busy with activities like visiting the petting zoo, talent shows, float trips on Blackfoot River (for the older kids), and more. Thus, from hiking trails and equestrian lessons to an incredible massage and luxurious accommodations, The Resort at Paws up truly provides a unique, action-filled vacation for families or couples that want an unforgettable outdoors experience.

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Journey to South Africa November 2014

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Submitted by Cristina Buaas

For those who have never been to Africa and have trepidations about the destination, South Africa is the perfect place to start! From Cape Town to Kruger National Park, this country offers cosmopolitan cities as well as varied and beautiful terrain.  There are several options for a direct flight from the United States, including the one I took on South African Airways from JFK to Johannesburg, making the long journey easier. Depending on your interests and focus, your time can be spent exploring the political and historical roots of South Africa in Johannesburg, enjoying the beautiful waterfront, Cape of Good Hope, and nearby Cape Winelands in and around Cape Town, as well as the outstanding safari offerings in Kruger National Park.

Johannesburg served as the perfect start to my South African journey offering historic landmarks as well as cosmopolitan culture. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Saxon Hotel as well as our Soweto cultural tour and listening to live jazz at The Orbit. Lovingly called “the mother of all cities,” Cape Town was next on our itinerary. With its rugged beauty, exquisite cuisine, and so much to see and do, Cape Town proved to be a must-see. For example, the Waterfront in Cape Town is a phenomenal base for experiencing the city, including Table Mountain, going out to Robben Island, driving the scenic route to Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point, and Boulder’s Beach. Additionally, just a short drive from Cape Town, Franschhoek is a charming town with wonderful restaurants, quaint shops, and beautiful hotels such as La Residence. In this area, you can spend your days enjoying tastings at beautiful wineries, one of my favorites was Grand Provence. After a relaxing stay in this area, we flew to Kruger National Park for our safari, which is a breathtaking event that everyone should try to experience at least once in their lifetime. In South Africa, there are multiple game viewing options including open air vehicles, like I experienced, walking and even on elephant back! Within two game drives, I saw the “Big Five”: elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, and leopard! It was amazing how quickly I was able to see all of these majestic animals up close and personal, and our guide Nick and tracker Robert provided unbelievable knowledge about their land and the animals that inhabit it. So, not only was this safari enjoyable and exciting, but also a wonderful learning experience. A typical day on safari will include an early rise, 3-4 hour game drive, as well as an evening drive with a stop for sundowners while viewing a memorizing South African sunset. During our safari we lodged at the Royal Malewane, where we were greeted with refreshing fruit drinks, cold towels, and warm smiles upon arrival. Additionally, today’s safari experience comes replete with as many comforts as you are used to at home including delicious and diverse cuisine, luxurious accommodations, spa offerings, Wi-Fi, etc. while viewing amazing wildlife. You can really tailor your safari experience to your personal desires and tastes!

After my time spent in South Africa I can truly say that this destination lives up to its “Bucket List” status.   Safari is a deeply moving experience that is hard to describe in words.  I am so thankful for my experiences in South Africa and cannot wait to return!

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Sea Island, GA September 2014 submitted by Katie Boydston

For generations, families have gathered at Sea Island to embrace the longstanding tradition, relaxation, and beautiful scenery of coastal Georgia. This luxury destination offers endless family fun and five-star southern hospitality!

I enjoyed the last few days of summer at Sea Island over Labor Day weekend. This destination is an ideal place to disconnect, and connect, as the island tends to be very social. Head to the Cloister’s River Bar and order the “Grace” to properly cheer the start of your vacation as you watch the stunning sunset over the marsh.

There is truly something for everyone at Sea Island. Take a stroll down the moss covered oak streets or five miles of private beach front, relax in the serenity of their Forbes Five-Star Spa, play 18-holes of golf on a championship course at The Lodge, try a variety of outdoor and nature activities while the kids enjoy Camp Cloister.

With casual to five star dining options both on island and off property, you will satisfy your taste buds with regional flavors from freshly caught seafood to southern hushpuppies! You cannot miss Billy Bingo “Rattle the Sack” whether it is your first time playing Bingo or your fiftieth year. You will immediately enjoy the roar of the audience during this game night tradition.

Get away and refresh the spirit in elegance at one of my favorite beach resorts!

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A Desert Spa for Fitness and Fun

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Miraval July 2014 submitted by Cristina Buaas

 

This past weekend, my daughter and I enjoyed a fun and fit few days at Miraval Resort and Spa in Arizona. With the Catalina Mountains surrounding two sides of the property, the views and hikes are spectacular: you are truly surrounded by the beauty of the desert as well as the mountains. Just make sure if you go during the summer to be prepared for some serious heat! Nevertheless, the spa offers a plethora of classes focusing on either exercise, such as spinning, cardio drumming (who knew!!), and Pilates or on increasing mindfulness, such as mindful stress management or mindful eating. The instructors were all top notch- very enthusiastic and invested in what they were teaching- which made the classes all the more enjoyable and fun for us as participants. Although we did not get a chance to try them, Miraval is also known for its equine activities which are said to be eye-opening and memorable. Additionally, while some spas are very strict about portion control, Miraval offers an a la carte menu as well as a buffet for breakfast and lunch, both of which include healthful foods and calorie counts as well as a small dessert option for lunch. Also, they serve alcohol at Miraval (an additional charge) for those who are interested in celebrating a special event or having a glass of wine with dinner. Furthermore, the Spa at Miraval was beautiful and features three different pools (one reflexology pool!) as well as a relaxation room, sauna, Jacuzzi, and various indoor and outdoor treatment rooms where guests (including myself!) could receive one of many different treatments offered. A weekend at Miraval would be a great idea for a couple, family with teenagers or older, group of friends, or individual that loves fitness, does not want to be as restricted with regards to food and drink, and appreciates the unique beauty of this desert location. My daughter and I truly enjoyed our time at Miraval and would love to return in the future!

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A Luxurious Beach Vacation to Remember

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Riviera Maya July 2014 submitted by Cristina Buaas

For our family vacation this summer, we journeyed to the Rosewood Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico. Only a 2-hour flight from Houston and a 40-minute drive to the hotel, it was a quick and easy travel day for an international destination. The Mayakoba development houses three beautiful hotels, the Rosewood, Banyan Tree, and the Fairmont, and there is free transport between the resorts so guests can experience the food and beauty of all three while still in the Mayakoba development. If you are looking for a relaxing family vacation or a romantic couples get away in a very intimate, high service level resort, then the Rosewood Mayakoba would be a perfect fit for you. This breathtaking property only has 130 suites (each with a private plunge pool!), which allows for the top-notch service and experiences at this resort. Foodies that we are, my family truly would wake up eager to begin the day with the delicious breakfast buffet serving fresh fruit, pastries, eggs, yogurt, various meats and cheeses as well as a special section for kids serving delicacies such as giant pink marshmallows and Nutella strawberry sandwiches. Aside from this lovely buffet, the food at the resort’s famous Agave Azul Sushi and Tequila Bar as well as the pool and beachside Punta Bonita was extremely fresh, well-prepared, and scrumptious. Honestly, our experience at the Rosewood Mayakoba was exactly what a beach vacation should be like; we were free to relax on the beach or by the pool (while enjoying poolside amenities like popsicles!), enjoy water activities such as kayaking or parasailing, indulge in Sense, the Spa, or work out in the well-stocked gym. Additionally, to add a little action into our relaxing trip, we journeyed to Xplor, an adventure park where you could zipline through the trees, kayak through underground caves, and ride ATVs through the park. This was a fun and different addition to our normal routine and we are all glad that we tried something new- just be prepared to get wet! Although we stayed at the Rosewood, we journeyed to the Banyan Tree as well as the nearby Grand Velas and feasted on delicious Thai food at Banyan’s Saffron Restaurant and divine French cuisine at Grand Velas’s Piaf. After my relaxing, spectacular weekend at the Rosewood Mayakoba, I would highly recommend this property to those who want a safe and easy vacation filled with true five-star luxury, mouthwatering food, and the breathtaking beauty of the beach and Yucatan Peninsula.

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A Texas Spa Getaway!

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Travaasa Austin – June 2014 submitted by Cristina Buaas

Need a weekend away from the kids, but don’t want to travel too far away? Journey to Travaasa Austin to get your fill of relaxation, fitness, and enjoyment.  With a minimum age of 16, Travaasa Austin is best described as a camp for adults! Each day the activities vary, so every guest can find an activity or class that they will enjoy. Ranging from trail rides, hikes, mat Pilates, yoga, dancing, farm tours, and mountain biking to Travaasa’s signature challenge course, a guest at Travaasa will never be bored! For me, a must do was this signature challenge course. Picture this: climbing up a rope net four stories in the air and then being harnessed in to a line overhead that secures you while you walk across a shaky bridge, a pole, and a tightrope holding on to nothing other than the rope secured to your harness! While it was scary, it was an exhilarating experience and I am so proud to say that I did it! In addition, for those who want a day of relaxation instead of active classes, there is a beautiful infinity pool as well as a full service spa where a guest can enjoy steam saunas, whirlpools, as well as all sorts of massages. In addition to the wonderful classes and spa, Travaasa also offers delicious farm-to-table cuisine as well as desserts and drinks, so it is not a diehard spa in that regard. All in all, this weekend trip was easy as well as fun.  I would highly recommend Travaasa Austin for anyone’s next weekend getaway.

 

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Queenstown, NZ May 2014, submitted by Cristina Buaas

This month, I had the amazing opportunity to journey with 4 other Virtuoso travel advisors all over New Zealand thanks to our amazing Virtuoso onsite partner, Seasonz Travel. Wow, what an exhilarating, beautiful destination. New Zealand is a perfect vacation spot for couples or a family that likes the outdoors, beautiful scenery, soft adventure activities such as fly fishing, bungee jumping, zip line, water activities, golf, and hunting and appreciates eating delicious food and tasting wine at impressive vineyards. Along with these fantastic activities and the astounding natural beauty, what truly makes New Zealand a magical destination is the kind-heartedness and sincerity of its inhabitants, the Kiwi people, and the fascinating Maori culture that is so deeply rooted there.

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While it is no surprise that the flight to New Zealand from the US is unfortunately a long one, Air New Zealand makes up for the long hours with terrific service, food, and lie flat beds in business class on their twice daily flights from LAX to Auckland. It is one of the best airlines I have ever experienced!  They also have a premium economy option and Skycouch seats in economy. 

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Our first stop on the trip was Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand and a must see. It is a true four season destination, offering skiing, snowboarding, golf, fishing, and more.  With accommodations ranging from luxury lodges in incredible settings with amazing food and service to charming city hotels, Queenstown really has something for everyone. The first of the lodges that we toured was the Matakauri Lodge about 10 minutes from Queenstown by car. With remarkable views of the Remarkable Mountains and Cecil Peak on Lake Wakatipu, this property felt like the perfect place to relax after an adventure filled day in Queenstown. One such adventure was our helicopter tour over Milford Sound, where we saw the most amazing scenery including glacial lakes and snowy mountain tops, followed by a speedboat ride down the winding Dart River, a curvy, exciting ride that has been featured in many movies such as The Lord of the Rings! Additionally, for all those foodies out there, Matakauri features all local food and beverages which were absolutely delicious. Along with fabulous New Zealand wine paired perfectly with each course, we indulged in delicious pasta, scallops, chicken, venison, and dessert that showed just how top notch the food in New Zealand is. The Matakauri Lodge truly feels like a home rather than a hotel, and with its peaceful serenity and fantastic service, it would be great for an anniversary or romantic trip.

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Next up on our Queenstown roster was the Blanket Bay Lodge, a rustic country style lodge about 45 minutes away from Queenstown. With its wide open spaces, its game room featuring a pool table and big screen TV, and its farm with horses available to ride at any time, this lodge would be great for a multi-generation gathering with children ages 10 and up. The Lodge is surrounded by soft adventure activities including hiking, jet boating, Funyaking, fly fishing, and more. During our time at Blanket Bay Lodge, we experienced a fantastic dinner in the beautiful dining room, but visitors and wine lovers can also have a private candle-lit dinner in the wine cave for a special occasion. For those wanting to stay in the heart of Queenstown, there are several options ranging from charming and historic boutique properties to full service hotels.  CSB Travel clients receive complimentary amenities at all of these properties. 

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Finally, at one of our last stops in the Queenstown area, we journeyed through the streets, stores, and cafes of Arrowtown, a quaint gold mining town that has turned into a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. Other notable destinations from this portion of our trip were the numerous wineries such as Amisfield as well as the Thomas Brown Gallery, an art gallery housed in an old cheese factory! And no trip to New Zealand would be complete without trying, or in my case just watching, bungee jumping. The Kawarau Bridge is THE original home to bungee jumping since 1988.

After experiencing the magical and multifaceted Queenstown, I can truly say that I have fallen in love with this part of New Zealand! My next post will cover the Northern Island of New Zealand, so be on the lookout for that!

 

A Perfect Vacation for Everyone to Enjoy!

Playa Conchal and Los Suenos, Costa Rica submitted by Cristina Buaas

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Filled with amazing wildlife, beaches, lush forests, and activities, Costa Rica is a fun-filled vacation spot with something for everyone to enjoy!  From dining on delicious local cuisine to ziplining across the forests to relaxing on the beach, our family truly enjoyed this vacation. We stayed first at the Westin Playa Conchal, an amazing all-inclusive resort an hour away from the Liberia airport then drove south about 4 hours to Los Suenos, where visitors can enjoy surfing in nearby Jaco as well as world class sport fishing departing right from the Los Suenos marina, the sloths and other wildlife of Manuel Antonio National Park only an hour away, zip lining nearby and golf and the beach within the resort. Another reason that Costa Rica is on the top of our lists for prime vacation spots? Safety! Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America with its Pura Vida lifestyle, friendly inhabitants, and easy accessibility (there are direct flights from Houston, Boston, and other big cities around the USA!). From the couple that wants a romantic, relaxing getaway, to the adventurous family that loves to be active and on the move, Costa Rica has something for everyone. Pura Vida!

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