Amsterdam

Amsterdam

This past April I was fortunate to be able to spend some time in one of my all time favorite cities - Amsterdam.

Did you know:

  • Amsterdam has more bridges than Venice?

  • Amsterdam has 165 canals?

  • Monet painted the South Church during a visit to the Netherlands?

I ADORE Amsterdam. I have all the feels for it. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Couples, families, groups of friends…Amsterdam can handle it all.

My stay in Amsterdam was short. But I took the opportunity to meet up with one of my favorite and most trusted suppliers and experienced Amsterdam the way my clients do.

I started my trip with ½ day walking tour that included the Anne Frank House followed by a private, 2-hour canal cruise on the UNESCO protected Canal belt with traditional Dutch snacks to further introduce this jewel of a city. Guys, I work with some of the very best tour guides in Amsterdam and I loved getting to experience them firsthand so much!

Another must do is a visit to Museumplein - home to Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedieliik Museum of Modern Art.

Amsterdam is also one of the finest culinary destinations in Europe. The list is long, varied and ever changing. I am always happy to suggest options based upon my clients’ dining preferences.

Parks, tulip bulb markets and fabulous shopping…and I could go on and on. I’d love to chat with you more about the fabulousness that is the Netherlands.

Amanda’s recommended hotels:

1) Hotel De L’Europe

Situated in the heart of Amsterdam in by the Amstel River the Hotel De L’Europe was my home while in Amsterdam.

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For you movie buffs, Alfred Hitchcock shot “Foreign Correspondent” (1940) in Amsterdam, he chose the Hotel De L’Europe as the backdrop for some of its most important scenes.

The rooms are so stylishly decorated and the entire hotel feels like you are staying in a palace. And not surprising as the Prince of The Netherlands was going to be staying at the hotel the week after my visit. My favorite touch is that, in the larger rooms, there is a “focal piece” replica of a work by one of the Dutch masters. Then, elsewhere in the room, is a smaller piece of art that is just a small portion of the larger piece. So clever.

A wraparound terrace offers waterfront dining overlooking the historic city, and many of the best rooms have private balconies with views of the rooftops.

And you don’t have to go far for extraordinary cuising, Hotel De L’Europe is host to the culinary delights at the two-Michelin-star-rated Bord’Eau Restaurant Gastronomique.

I love this hotel so much. And I’d love to discuss it in more detail with you!

Virtuoso Amenities you get by booking with AWT:

  • Guaranteed upgrade at time of booking (up to Junior Suite)

  • Full breakfast daily, for up to two in-room guests, served in Hoofdstad Brasserie or through room service

  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay

  • For bookings on room category Junior suites and above only: complimentary one-way private airport transfer

2) Sofitel Legeng The Grand Amsterdam

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From a 15th-century convent to royal lodgings to Dutch Admiralty headquarters to the city hall of Amsterdam, the Sofitel Legend the Grand Amsterdam is a historically rich, 177 room hotel located in the city centre. A beautiful interior courtyard is a great place to grab a cocktail and reminisce about your day.

If you are able to get a tour of this hotel, do so! Truly fascinating.

Virtuoso Amenities you get by booking with AWT:

  • Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests

  • $100 USD Equivalent Food & Beverage credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)

  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability

3) Pulitzer Amsterdam

The Pulitzer Amsterdam is comprised of twenty-five 17th century houses, this popular gem fills almost an entire city between two beautiful canals and is located just two short blocks from the Anne Frank House. Simply stated, this hotel is in an excellent location.

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Make sure to dine or have a cocktail in their beautiful and mazelike gardens.

Comprised of twenty-five 17th-century canal houses, the property fills most of a city block between two of the city's most picturesque canals, two blocks from the Anne Frank House.

Amanda Knows Best:

  • It is often said that to really experience the Netherlands, you have to go outside of Amsterdam. And I 100% agree. Make sure you take a day trip to a tulip garden (season dependent). And you definitely don’t want to miss a day trip outside of the city to visit smaller villages where you can see real windmills, visit an authentic wooden shoe factory and partake in a cheese making workshop.

  • You may think it seems cliché. But book a private canal cruise.

  • To visit the Anne Frank House book early.

  • Research the culinary scene and make reservations at least one of its world renown restaurants.

Canal Cruise in Amsterdam

Cabo San Lucas. Luxe Edition.

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Cabo San Lucas is without a doubt the most well known town in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Cabo is also home to some of the most luxurious resorts, prestigious golf courses and decadent restaurants, making it a perfect destination for people who want a true VACATION (a vacation is quite different from a trip!).

A few other super fun Brownell advisors and I recently made an itinerary busting trip to Cabo to check out all Cabo’s luxury properties.

 But, first…

 AMANDA KNOWS BEST:

  • Taxis, Uber and private transportation are very expensive in Cabo. Bring plenty of cash if you will be needing transportation.
  • Speaking of cash, no need to pick up pesos. Virtually everyone takes the U.S. dollar.
  • If possible, visit Cabo between December 15th and April 15th so you can enjoy watching whales frolic in the ocean while you sip your coffee (or Bloody Mary) on your balcony.
  • December 15th – April 15th is also a great time to snorkel with whale sharks. An INCREDIBLE experience.
  • Most of the resorts on Cabo are located on non-swimmable beaches. Ask your trusted advisor (me!) for guidance if you want easy access to a swimmable beach.
  • Skip Cabo Wabo bar. For a more authentic experience spend an afternoon or evening leisurely exploring San Jose del Cabo and its 18th century architecture, lovely boutiques, and quaint restaurants.
  • San Jose del Cabo is a perfect stop on the way to Flora Farms or Acre. Wander the cobblestone streets window shopping and enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail.

Chileno Bay Resorts and Residences

The bathrooms at Chileno are perfection. Outdoor showers. Large soaking tubes. Gorgeous tiling. Dual vanities. Total bathroom goals.

The bathrooms at Chileno are perfection. Outdoor showers. Large soaking tubes. Gorgeous tiling. Dual vanities. Total bathroom goals.

My colleagues and I were so fortunate to have been able to spend two nights at Auberge’s newest luxury resort in Cabo – Chileno Bay Resort and Residence. When a resort opens in late 2016 and is named the best “Best of the Best of 2017” by the RobbReport, you know you are looking at something special.

You are greeted at check in with a cold beer or personalized cocktail, your first sign that you are going to be spoiled. The staff is so friendly and the zero edge three tiered pool begs for you to sit and stay a while. If you can pull yourself away from your palapa, don’t miss the holistic and rejuvanitive spa. And Chileno’s signature restaurant, Comal, will have you swooning.

Chileno Bay is unique among most resorts in Cabo in that it is located on a swimmable beach. You can visit H20 sports activity cave for snorkel and enjoy non motorized sports equipment. 

Perfect for couples, groups of friends and families, Chileno is a must visit.

Please contact Amanda Watkins Travel directly to learn more about the amenities & perks AWT can offer to its clients who book Chileno Bay.

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Esperanza, an Auberge Resort

Hours FLY by when at the gorgeous pool at Esperanza. Relax to the max.

Hours FLY by when at the gorgeous pool at Esperanza. Relax to the max.

My colleagues and I were so thrilled to be invited to stay at Esperanza! The grand dame of Auberge resorts in Cabo, Esperanza is located on the Punta Ballena headland flanked by two rocky and semi private beaches. This resorts keeps a purposefully low profile and focuses on what it does best – pampering its guests. The feeling of secluded luxury is probably why famous faces frequent Esperanza.

And, oh, the rooms! All of the oversized rooms have an ocean view, furnished terrace with hot tub and the bathrooms come with dual vanities, two showerheads and a large soaking tub (with the resorts own blend of soaking salts). 

Score a table on the patio jutting out into the ocean at Cocina del Mar and let your server guide you through an absolutely exquisite experience. 

Perfect for couples, honeymooners, groups of friends looking to chill, golfers, and those looking to ESCAPE.

Virtuoso Amenities you can when booking with AWT:

  • Breakfast for two daily
  • $100 Resort Credit (exclusions apply)
  • Upgrade on arrival (based on availability)

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Grand Velas Los Cabos

Toss any pre-concieved notions you have about all-inclusive resorts OUT THE WINDOW and take a closer look at Grand Velas!

Toss any pre-concieved notions you have about all-inclusive resorts OUT THE WINDOW and take a closer look at Grand Velas!

Because I do a great deal of family travel planning, I was really excited to visit the newly opened Grand Velas Los Cabos. But I was not prepared for how much I would love this property! This is not your typical all-inclusive property. How many all-inclusive resorts can also boast a two Michelin starred chef?  Grand Velas Los Cabos exceeds all expectations with luxury suites, three infinity pools, a golden beach, an AMAZING spa (I am in love with their sensory spa rooms) and gourmet dining. 

With seven restaurants and five bars, you will never need to leave the resort. Seriously, look into their restaurants. The fact that such high level cuisine, service and amenities are included makes this resort a steal! Your kids will beg to go to the teen club (really – they won’t want to leave) or kid club, so you don’t have to feel guilty sneaking away to experience the playful and inventive 8-10 course tasting at Cocina de Autor.

While wonderful for families, Grand Velas Los Cabos also has 6 dedicated spa rooms that are purposefully designated for those looking for a fitness or wellness retreat. 

Perfect for multi-generational travel, groups, families, corporate events, and small groups looking for a fitness/spa retreat.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Complimentary one-way private airport transfer ( From Airport to the Hotel). 
  • $50 USD Spa 
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • $100 USD food & beverage credit toward a private romantic dinner
  • Upgrade upon arrival subject to availability

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Resort at Pedregal

The rooms are a perfect mix of Oaxacan style and true luxury.

The rooms are a perfect mix of Oaxacan style and true luxury.

As exclusive as they come in Cabo, the Resort at Pedregal is a beacon to travelers seeking  privacy along with exceptional food and service. It is no wonder Pedregal is a favorite among honeymooners. Adding to its aura of seclusion is the fact that  - while only a short walk from downtown – the location was unreachable by car until the resort’s developers blasted a private tunnel through the rock, thus creating the only private tunnel in Mexico. Set into the oceanside cliff, you feel as if you are let into a very well kept secret.

Four restaurants (including a swim up sushi bar) and four bars mean you never have to leave this gem. The Auriga Spa is beautifully designed and features 10 treatment rooms, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, exercise areas and lounging space.

Accommodations are in the style of an elegant hacienda and the entry level rooms come in much larger than at  its peer resorts. And all of the 96 units feature a private plunge pool. Lucky us got to stay in a three bedroom casita with an ocean view, spacious balcony and full kitchen.

Dinner at El Farallon is not to be missed. In addition to an unforgettable meal, the experience of being nestled between a cliff and crashing waves is otherworldly. 

Perfect for couples, groups, events, families and multi-generational travel.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Breakfast buffet daily in Don Manuel’s, two per bedroom (including all suites) 
  • $100 USD equivalent Spa Services credit to be utilized during stay 
  • Complimentary VIP airport Lounge Tickets with all Beach Front Suite Bookings
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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Las Ventanas al Paraiso

You never feel like you are part of a crowd at Las Ventanas.

You never feel like you are part of a crowd at Las Ventanas.

Being the first luxury retreat to open in Cabo back in the 90’s gives Las Ventanas some rightly due and serious street cred.  With only 71 suites and villas, their seven pools never seem crowded. When wandering from the lobby, through the meandering pathways, ponds and patios the glittering Sea of Cortez catches your eye like a sparkling diamond.

The rooms are all elegantly appointed with warm and colorful Mexican furnishings and textiles. And all rooms include a kiva-style wood burning terracotta fireplace.

 Las Ventanas excels in providing providing excellent, yet unobtrusive, service while allowing their clients to enjoy their privacy.

Perfect for couples, honeymooners, groups of friends looking to chill, golfers, and those looking to ESCAPE.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Daily Full breakfast for up to two in-room guests per bedroom, available in El Restaurante or through in-suite dining 
  • $100 USD equivalent Spa credit
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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The Cape, a Thompson Hotel

It is always a party at The Cape!

It is always a party at The Cape!

If you are looking for FUN, a great pool scene and killer views of El Arco, The Cape is the place to be.  A boutique hotel in a primo location for exploring Cabo, The Cape is a hotel for the young and young at heart. 

With each guestroom boasting an ocean view, you will wake up to staggering views every morning. 

More jaw dropping views await at their famed restaurant, Manta.  You will learn that fabulous views are par for the course at The Cape.

They have a three-bedroom suite with a rooftop patio and hot tub that screams for a party.

Perfect for fun seeking couples, bachelor/bachelorette parties, girls trips, guys trips, FUN trips.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • A la carte breakfast for two daily for duration of the stay, served in restaurant
  • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay 
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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One and Only Palmilla

One and Only Palmilla has it all without you ever feeling like you are at a mega-resort.

One and Only Palmilla has it all without you ever feeling like you are at a mega-resort.

Built in the 1950’s as a retreat for the President of Mexico, this 115 room resort is still a tropical escape from “real” life. One and Only Palmilla loves to spoil and pamper their guests – welcome tequila, pillow menu, a cell phone to call your butler, and golf courts that are happy to drive you around the property.  Access to a swimmable beach and a Jack Nicklaus golf course further solidify One and Only Pamilaa as premier Cabo resort.

The One and Only Palmilla offers multiple dining options including renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's SEARED restaurant, and chef Larbi Dahrouch's more casual, waterfront spot Agua. 

There are two large, ocean front infinity pools – one for adults only and one that welcomes families.  

Perfect for couples, families, girls trips, guys trips, multi-generational trips.

Virtuoso Amenities you can get when booking with AWT:

  • Daily Continental breakfast for up to two in-room guests 
  • Two 30 minute Virtuoso Exclusive Spa Experiences per booking. (One per person, choice of head and shoulder massage, back massage, or foot rejuvenation)
  • A complimentary round of golf for up to two people, per room, including greens fees and cart rental, once during stay
  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability

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Contact Amanda Watkins Travel to plan your trip to Cabo!

Mandarin Oriental Canouan

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GO NOW!

I am currently with representatives of Mandarin Oriental  visiting the Mandarin Oriental Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Canouan (Carib for “Island of the Turtles”) is accessible by private jet or a short flight from either Barbados or St. Lucia. 

Between now and December 18, 2018, the Mandarin Oriental Canouan is offering a fabulous deal that I seriously doubt will ever be offered again. Plus, by booking with Amanda Watkins Travel, you get EVEN MORE.

If you book a stay for before December 18, 2018, entry level rooms (which are HUGE – see above and my video on Instagram) are approx. $1,300 night. This rate includes all meals (for two people) and air transfer from either Barbados or St. Lucia (for up to two people and a $580/person value!). Plus, if you book with Amanda Watkins Travel, we can offer an additional $100 food/beverage/spa credit, priority upgrade, and a welcome amenity.

This is a FABULOUS option for Thanksgiving!! If you have been considering a holiday vacay,  you and your family could spend turkey day on the island of the turtles.

Contact Amanda Watkins Travel to learn more! We would love to get you there soon so you can be amongst the first to experience this extraordinary resort and island. And read more about it below!

 

The Mandarin Oriental Canouan is a stunningly designed 26 room, 7 villa, 9 restaurant, 18 hole golf course and 3 beach resort located on a 1,200 acre (yes – 1,200 acres!) estate. If you are someone who likes to be on top of emerging hot destinations, then you need to make your way to the Mandarin Oriental Canouan toot de suite.

The rooms and restaurants are elegantly – yet comfortably -  designed. To give you an idea of room sizes…the entry level room is a one bedroom ocean view suite at 1292 square feet! The living area can be closed off  allowing for a separate sleeping area for two children. Or, if you want more space, the two bedroom ocean view suite has two bedrooms, two full baths, one half bath, a kitchenette and is a very spacious 2,691 square feet. Regardless of your room choice, you will be assigned a concierge who will take care of your every need.

The seven villas offer a more contemporary design with an open floor plan, private pools and lovely patio seating. A chef, concierge and golf carts are also included.

The kids club is complimentary and is amazing. Seriously. Your kids will not want to leave. It even has a “teen” area for older kids.

Chef Nonky has recently arrived and has truly elevated the cuisine with her attention to detail and the incorporation of both local offerings and flavors from her native Indonesia.

While the beach in front of the resort is gorgeous,  each day they offer a “beach of the day”. You can be taken by golf cart to one of the other beaches to explore, dine, swim and sunbath. Activities include golfing, hiking, tennis, fishing, boating, snorkeling, spa…and so much more!

Truly, I’d love to chat with you about this resort if you have interest!

Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge

This past summer my family experienced the most extraordinary 5 nights at Tutka Bay Lodge in Kachmak Bay near Homer, Alaska. 

I was looking for an experience that would be educational for the kids, enjoyable for my husband and I, and would allow us to experience unspoiled nature. Alaska appealed to me for numerous reasons…the summer weather, the wildlife, and its remoteness to name a few. We had already experienced an Alaskan cruise and now wanted explore Alaska by land. 

Enter Tutka Bay Lodge, a Virtuoso resort.

Tutka Bay Lodge

Tutka Bay Lodge is eleven-acre property offering a main lodge, six private guest accommodations, a sauna, hot tub and boat house – all connected by a boardwalk. A large deck offers seating, a hot tub and a steam banya - as well as an area for helicopter landing. And, somewhat unexpectedly, a short walk down the boardwalk finds you at the acclaimed Cooking School at Tutka Bay. On the short walk up to the main lodge you pass the spa cabin and the Lodge’s garden which seems to be a favorite chill spot for bunnies, chickens and the resident porcupine.

Upon our arrival at Tutka Bay Lodge via water taxi from Homer (you can also take a water plane from Anchorage) and were shown to Kittiwake Cabin – our cozy home for the duration of our stay. On the first floor there was a king bed, sofa, and bathroom. A spiral staircase let upstairs to a large room with two double beds and one twin. While the décor was charmingly rustic, the linens, robes and toiletries were nothing but luxury.

Shortly after settling in, we met Karyn  - our guide during our stay. Each family is assigned their own naturalist who tends to their itinerary, answers any and all questions and makes sure that every single need is being met. I had no idea at the time that Karyn was absolutely one of the smartest human beings I have had the pleasure of meeting. But I quickly found out. Karyn was not some college kids working they way through summer. Karyn is a physicist who has accomplished some pretty amazing things in her life. She now chooses to spend her summers at Tutka Bay Lodge sharing her knowledge and love of nature with others. In minutes, she had my kids belly down on the pier doing what she called “belly button biology”. They were looking through the wide slats of the pier and she was helping them identify the various anemone and sea life. 

Food is taken very seriously at Tutka Bay. This is because Tutka is the brainchild of Cordon Blue graduate and famed food writer Kirsten Dixon and her husband Carl. Menus are thoughtfully – even lovingly – planned out. Even the music playing in the kitchen while the chefs are cooking seems to pair beautifully with that days menu. Guests are actively involved in the process as they often forage for the berries and catch the fish that is served. The menu is posted each morning and if a guest needs modifications, they are more than willing to accommodate. In fact, this is a fabulous place for travelers with gluten sensitivities. They beautifully accommodate gluten free guests and even make their own gluten free bread and pastries.

Dinner at Tutka is a casually elegant affair. There is a pre-dinner cocktail hour with an assortment of cheeses and appetizers such as gougère with crispy prosciutto and wild herbs or rockfish fritters. You enjoy the company of the other guests while sipping on the wine selected for that evening and sharing your days adventures.  While the adults chatted, the kiddos would play in the garden with the bunnies and look for the elusive porcupine that frequented the area. We would all come together to enjoy dishes ranging from from elk medallions to short rib ravioli to salmon with risotto. Desserts were painstakingly made from scratch by the pastry chef. If you have picky kids – no sweat – they will happily whip up something that your kids will enjoy. 

After dinner activities vary depending on the guests, the weather and whimsy of the staff. One night after dinner we hopped on the boat to go whale watching. Another night they made a bonfire on the beach and we enjoyed homemade s’mores (with homemade marshmallows!). 

Now here is where it gets REALLY exciting. Let me tell you how we spent our days!

Day 1: We kayaked over to a small little island, built a bonfire and had lunch. We explored in the woods, played in the sand and listened to the bald eagles. Later that afternoon, we went out on Tutka’s boat and saw more Orca’s than I could count. 

Day 2: The boys went deep sea fishing for halibut and Hattie and I, along with other guests and guides, picked berries to be included in that evening’s dessert. Later, Karyn took Hattie for a hike and I enjoyed one of the best massages I have ever had!

Day 3: We flew via seaplane and landed on the beach of a very remote area Alaska to view brown bears. We were literally the only people for hundreds of miles. We were able to get so close to the bears – who could have cared less about our presence! Watching them in their own, undisturbed habitat fishing for salmon was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.

Day 4: We took a helicopter and landed on a glacier where we saw wolves and more bears. We drank the glacier water and brought back some glacier ice for our evening cocktails. We were freezing when we got back, so we all raced into the Banya for a steam. 

Amanda Knows Best:

  • Combine your stay at Tutka with 3 nights at their sister property Winterlake Lodge to also experience interior Alaska.
  • If your stay requires overnighting in Anchorage, try to stay at Hotel Captain Cook.
  • Consider renting a car in Homer and driving back to Anchorage. The drive is beautiful and you can make a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

By booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will also get:

  • One $100 resort credit.
  • Welcome gift basket with the Lodge cookbook and snacks.

Want to start planning your trip?

Costa Rica - Pura Vida (Part II). Las Catalinas.

Las Catalinas Resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Recently, my family visited Costa Rica. We split our time between La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast

I am excited to tell you guys about Las Catalinas Resort in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. Located on the pacific coast – a short 1.5-hour drive from the Liberia Airport – Las Catalinas offers something different from the other resorts in the area. Las Catalinas is a planned community – along the lines of Seaside and Watercolor in the Florida panhandle – offering luxurious villas and condos with the amenities offered by a 5-star resort.

Most villas come with a house mom who provides housekeeping services, including laundry. In addition, the house mom will cook you a delicious breakfast to start your day and can make guacamole or smoothies for an afternoon snack. A convenient grocery stocking service will have your refrigerator (and bar!) stocked upon your arrival and they will check in daily to see if you need any additional groceries.

At Las Catalinas, we stayed in Casa Indigo. Available as a three or four bedroom villa, this spacious home also has an office, rooftop terrace with a bar (perfect for sunset cocktails), and a plunge pool. But there are many villas to choose from depending on the size of your party - and all are gorgeous and conveniently located.

The black sand beach is a short walk from all of the villas. The beach is swimmable and you can enjoy snorkeling, boogie boarding, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking. Equipment is not provided but is available to rent.

The Beach Club consists of three infinity pools: one adults only, one shallow for kids/wading and one suitable larger, deeper pool. The Beach Club grill serves delicious cocktails along with lunch and dinner options (I recommend the ceviche and the shrimp quesadillas!).

The other restaurant on site is Limonada and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located on the beach it is an ideal location for a cocktail at sunset. If you are lucky, you may see a howler monkey or two!

As hard as it is to imagine ever leaving this little slice of paradise, you would be doing your vacation a disservice if you stayed on property the whole time! Let the guest services manager arrange for you to go horse back riding, zip lining, snorkeling, fishing or wildlife viewing – to name a few of the options. 

Costa Rica - Pura Vida (Part I). Arenal Area.

Costa Rica is the ultimate destination for active travelers, families and those seeking to soak in a bit of Costa Rica’s famed “Pura Vida” (“pure life”).

Costa Ricans live in the purest sense of the word – Costa Rica’s electricity is produced almost entirely using renewable energy; most of the food is locally and organically sourced; and 25% of the country's land has been set aside and turned into protective parks and reserves.

Costa Rica family vacation

Our family of five, with the addition of one Grammie, recently spent time in Costa Rica. We split our time between La Fortuna, near the Arenal Volcano, and in the Guanacaste region on the Pacific coast. Although, I am sad our time in Costa Rica is over, I am so happy to share our experience.

La Fortuna and the Arenal area

Primarily rainforest, the Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a tremendous amount of flora and fauna. Creatures you may see include sloths, white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys, coati, poison dart frogs and snakes, including the infamous fer-de-lance, pit vipers, parrot snake and boa constrictor.

An “off the grid” destination, there is much to see and do in the Arenal rainforest: hiking, fishing, rafting, hot springs, zip lining, rappelling down waterfalls, and wildlife viewing (to name just a few of the available adventures!) – as well as visiting the friendly town of La Fortuna.

After a long day of adventuring, you can retire to your resort and relax in the hot spring pools while toucans frolic above you and iguanas try to steal the fruit from your drink! 

Where to Stay in Costa Rica: 3 Options

1. The Springs Resort and Spa   

The Springs Resort in Costa Rica

The Springs Resort and Spa is an experience within itself. Located at a higher elevation than the other hotels and surrounded by exquisite tropical gardens and waterfalls, The Springs Resort and Spa offers one of the most luxurious experiences in the area.

The resort is impressively designed and offers stunning views of the volcano. The 28 hot and cold springs are spread throughout a forested expanse with several small pools perfect for those seeking privacy. There is also a small slide that kids love!

If you tire of the springs, you can take the complimentary shuttle to Club Rio – located a mile down the hillside – for fishing, tubing, kayaking, biking and climbing adventures. You can also visit the wildlife sanctuary for close-up encounters with sloths, monkeys and wild cats!

Who? Families (although I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 3); couples; multi-generational trips; adventure seekers.

Pro tip: Request a table close to the window for phenomenal views while dining at Las Ventantas, the resort’s signature restaurant. 

2. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort

Tabacon Grand Spa in Costa Rica

Arguably the most famous hot springs complex in Costa Rica, Tabacon boasts some of the best dining in the region at Los Tucanes and a spa that easily joins the ranks of Leading Spas of the World.

Guests love the sweeping rainforest views from the resort’s 103 eco-friendly guest rooms and suites, which feature handcrafted furnishings made by local artists.

Tabacon is set on 350 hectares of rainforest about 20 minutes outside of La Fortuna. The thermal springs flow uninterrupted through the local rainforest offering the perfect opportunity for relaxation and rejuvenation. Closest to the volcano where water temperatures are hottest, you’ll find an adults-only ‘secret garden’ that features six natural pools, cocoon-shaped hanging cabanas and a full bar.

Fun Fact:  A favorite resort for the celeb set, Will Smith stayed at Tabacon while filming his bomb of a movie “After Earth”.  While a guest, he participated in Tabacon’s now famous “Plant a Tree” program.

Pro Tip: Tabacon is a new member of Virtuoso! So by booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will unlock all kinds of extra goodies!

Who? Weddings, honeymooners, couples, adventure travelers who also want great food and a phenomenal spa; wellness seekers; mutligenerational trips.

3. Arenal Springs Resort and Spa

Arenal Springs Resort in Costa Rica

An ideal location for exploring the Arenal Volcano region, Arenal Springs Resort and Spa offers more moderately priced accommodations than either Tabacon or The Springs. But don’t think you are skimping on your experience by stayed at Arenal Springs Resort. This highly rated eco-resort delivers incredible views, lush tropical gardens and private hot springs exclusive for their guests. The swim-up sushi bar is a great place to park after a long day of adventuring.

The bungalow style rooms offer comfort and privacy and the showers give the illusion of being outdoors.

Walking paths take advantage of the scenery, crossing the stream with small bridges. Eventually, the trail leads to the open-air Yoga Deck, where complimentary morning classes are offered several days per week.

Who? Families (all ages of kids), multi-generational travelers, groups, adventure seekers


The skinny on Costa Rica's Arenal Springs Area

  • Upon your drive (by rental car or private transfer) up to Arenal, take a pit stop at Macadamia’s for amazing views, delicious limonada and a snack/meal.
  • Arenal is in the rainforest. Bring ponchos and be prepared to embrace the rain if it comes!
  • If not staying there, buy a day pass to The Springs and visit their animal sanctuary and take advantage of their many hot springs. The day pass includes one meal – lunch or dinner in their main restaurant. For spa seekers, you can also purchase a day pass to Tabacon.
  • Venture into La Fortuna for dinner at one of the local restaurants and finish ice cream for POPS.

Contact us with any questions about your next Costa Rica vacation!

Book Hotels Online with Virtuoso

Becoming a VIP Virtuoso Traveler Just Got Even Easier! 

Psssttt . . . this is for you my dear DIY’ers

Book your own hotel stay through Virtuoso and enjoy all of the same VIP perks as an Amanda Watkins Travel client. Just sign in and identify Amanda Watkins as your advisor. Once you book, we get an automatic alert, and we follow-up with your hotel as part of our usual VIP hotel booking process to make sure your stay is as enjoyable as possible! 

As my clients know, by simply booking a hotel or resort through Amanda Watkins Travel, you automatically become a VIP guest. In addition, you are also often treated to special perks and amenities such as free breakfast, spa credits and/or complimentary upgrades.

While I love booking hotels for my clients, I know how appealing it is to spend an evening sitting on the sofa, with your computer in your lap, a glass of wine by your side, perusing hotels and resorts (perhaps with This Is Us on in the background).

So listen up all of you travelers who love researching hotels on your own! Through the new Virtuoso online booking tool, you have the ability to research and compare hotels and then, with the click of a few buttons, book your own hotel stay. BUT WAIT FOR IT ... you still get VIP status and all of the fabulous amenities as if I booked the hotel on your behalf. 

Book your own hotel with Virtuoso

Below are a few examples of the amenities you can enjoy by using the Virtuoso hotel booking tool:  

  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Resort credit
  • Complimentary spa service
  • Upgrade upon arrival
  • Early check in/late check out
  • Free Wifi

How to get started with Virtuoso Online Booking

Step 1: Create an account and sign in

Access your personalized Virtuoso booking site here. In the top right-hand corner, either create an account (quick and easy) or sign in. A pop-up will appear, where you’ll choose me as your advisor.

How to book online with Virtuoso
 

Step 2: Book online

If you know what hotel you are interested in, click on Hotels at the top of the webpage and enter your dates and preferences. If you’re wanting to explore more options, click on Destinations and select your country of choice.

After you confirm your hotel booking, I’ll be notified (I’ll probably also be sitting on my sofa with a glass of wine perusing hotels). I will follow up with the hotel, per my usual VIP process. And just like that, your hotel experience will be enriched and enhanced by booking your Virtuoso stay through Amanda Watkins Travel.


Longer Travel Experiences

The self-booking travel system is a handy tool for short hotel stays. For longer trips with multiple destinations, reach out to me directly so that I can help you with all the little details that make a HUGE difference in your travel experience.

I hope you enjoy the new online booking tool and I look forward to seeing your Virtuoso reservation in my inbox. 


Ready to book your getaway?

 

Colombia Part 1: Cartagena

My husband and I had two of our sons at sleep-away camp and our daughter at camp Grammie, so we decided to take off and go somewhere we have never been: Colombia. Boasting beaches on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the stunning Andes mountain region and the legendary Amazon rainforest, Colombia is proud to be the second most biodiverse country in the world. And booming cosmopolitan cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena can impress anyone with their magnificent views, innovative architecture, rich culture, and exceptional restaurants. In short, Colombia is a fascinating destination to explore. Keep reading to learn more about where to stay, eat, and explore in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

We started our trip in Cartagena - just a short 2.5 hour flight from Miami. Located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena was founded in 1553 and served as a major port city. Dripping with history (fantastical and true stories of pirates and Sir Francis Drake terrorizing the city), the walled Old Town boasts cobblestone streets and beautiful examples of colonial, republican and modern architecture. Within the walls, you can spend hours wandering through the town. Whether your interests are shopping, history, culture or cuisine, Cartagena will meet all of your needs. Cartagena is such a colorful city – it literally VIBRATES with energy.

Day One: Tour Cartagena 

I used one of my trusted partner companies in Colombia to help us get the most out of our time there. Our first day, we went on an architectural and history tour with a locally-renowned historian to orient ourselves with the city. He really brought the city alive for us and he knew everything. We were completely unable to stump him with any of our questions. We learned fascinating stories about the Spanish colonization, Inquisition era, and pirate sieges that influenced Cartagena’s history. Also, by doing this tour on the first day, it was a great way to orient ourselves to the city.

Day Two: Explore Getsemani

On our second day we met with a leading expert in all things Cartagena to sample the Cartagena’s street food – which was AMAZING. I am still dreaming about the arepas de queso and papas rellenas we sampled. Our guide also took us outside the walled city to explore the street art in Getsemani. This neighborhood was once a no-go due to drugs and crime, but it has evolved into the cultural epicenter of Cartagena. Internationally renowned for its street art, you can wander the streets and see the history of Cartagena and spirit of its people on the crumbling stucco walls of once majestic Spanish Colonial buildings.

Day Three: Islas del Rosario

On our final day in Cartagena, we hopped on a boat to explore the Islas del Rosario, located 50-minutes from Cartagena. These 30 islands are blessed with white-sand beaches, clear blue waters, magnificent coral reefs, and abundant marine life. We stopped at a couple of the small boutique hotels located in the islands for cocktails, swimming and lunch.

As a special treat, we had a gin tasting where we got to actually MAKE our own gin. Our expert mixologist taught us how gin is processed and learned how to recognized its numerous characteristics. So fun!!

Sleep & Eat & Explore

In between all of that…we wandered the streets and plazas browsing the stores, art galleries and listening to the street music. And we ate truly delicious meals. Colombians love their soups and ceviche and we had much of both. Some of the finest restaurants in South America in Colombia. Carmen has to be my favorite! From first bite to last ... delicious.

While there are several lovely places to stay in Cartagena, we opted to stay at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara. Housed in a seventeenth century convent, the hotel has all of the modern comforts of a five-star resort but the crypts, confessionals and Botero sculptures make you feel as if you are in on a secret. 

Cartagena captured my heart. And I know it will capture your heat. Grab your significant other, your family or a group of friends – you need to check this place out. Trust me.


Who should go to Cartagena

Anyone who loves history, art,  culture and great food. If you like Charleston and New Orleans…you will LOVE Cartagena.

Where to stay

Sofital Legend Santa Clara

Originally built as a convent in 1621, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena is a legendary landmark in the heart of Cartagena's walled city.

Amanda Watkins Travel offers free breakfast, a $100 food and beverage credit, and free wifi for clients.

Casa San Augustin

This small, 30 room hotel Casa San Augustin is a gem. The L-shaped pool passing through an aqueduct cut out is a stunning entry to the hotel.

Amanda Watkins Travel offers free breakfast, a $100 food and beverage credit, and free wifi for clients.

Where to eat

El Boliche Cebicheria

Chef Oscar Colmenares became a true master of ceviches after spending years in the kitchens of Michelin-star chefs— Gaston Acurio, Rafael Osterling, and Martin Berastegui.

Carmen

This top-notch restaurant specializes in mixing contemporary cuisine with traditional Caribbean recipes, prepared with the freshest local ingredients. We loved it so much we ate their twice!

La Cocina de Pepina

This pink-and-orange-walled, six-table dining room restaurant, is a well kept secret in the city which specializes in serving lunch only. Try their mote de queso!

Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in luxury and adventure travel. Our affiliations ensure VIP treatment and amenities on any trip - including local weekend getaways. Plan your trip.

Turks and Caicos: Providenciales

If you are looking for sun, soft white sand, impossibly blue water and delicious food, then the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos perfectly fits the bill. 

The island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos has long been one of my most favorite places for a beach vacation. It is wonderful for couples, families, girl/guy trips, everyone! I first vacationed there 15 years ago when few people had heard of it and there were just a few resorts. That has certainly changed. Now you can find many wonderful fine dining options, a Thai restaurant that is worth the return trip alone, great shopping, and really fun snorkeling/boating excursions. 

The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 islands and cays, eight of which are inhabited. The islands are located 550 miles southeast of Miami, Florida, just below the Bahamas chain and just to the east of Cuba and the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti.) The island of Providenciales (“Provo”) is the island where most all resorts are located.

There are many beautiful resorts on Provo each unique in their own way. All but a few of the resorts on Provo consist of individual owned condo units - meaning the accommodations are more spacious than your would find at most resorts and are often appointed with kitchens and laundry facilities. This is really great when you are traveling family style. I stayed at two resorts and toured several more. It is so much fun thinking about which clients would be best suited for each resort!

While I could go on and on about all of the resorts and how they are different, I am just going to highlight the two I stayed this visit. Please contact me if you want more info on the two resorts discussed below or any of the other resorts in Provo. I will help you find your "perfect fit".


The Shore Club on Long Bay Beach

The Shore Club, the only resort located on Long Bay Beach, is the newest resort on the Island. The resort has 110 rooms and 38 suites. It offers so many flexible room configurations that I can’t imagine anyone not finding a suitable option. The rooms are beautifully appointed and evoke the Caribbean with blue and white hues. My favorite room is the Ocean View One-Bedroom with Study. It has a fully equipped kitchen, large dining area, comfortable living area, king master bedroom, luxury master bath with shower, soaking tub and double sinks, a study area with a sliding door and pull out sofa that is PERFECT for kids, a half-bath and washer/dryer. It is 1500 square feet of fabulousness.

There are three pools – one is adult only – so you can always find the perfect place to perch. The beach is lovely and the water is clear, calm and shallow. In fact, you can WALK three miles out without the water being over your head (assuming you are of average adult height). It's truly amazing!

Virtuoso amenities I can add:

  • Free breakfast for two (per room) daily
  • Free Wifi
  • $100 Resort Credit
  • Upgrade to next room category upon arrival, subject to availability

*The Shore Club is running a fabulous promotion at the time of this post. Contact me for details. 


The Palms on Grace Bay

I was fortunate to also be able to stay at The Palms over on Grace Bay. Grace Bay is where you will find most of the resorts on the island. With 12 miles of wide beach and crystalline water, you may never find yourself by the pool!

The resorts white mansion exterior of cut limestone evokes the feeling of being on a colonial estate. With only 72 rooms and suites, you won’t feel like you are at a mega resort. But you will never lack for amenities, either. There is a delightful shopping promenade that has a darling market where you can grab wine and gourmet goods.  The Palms also boasts what may be the finest spa on the island with 25,000 square feet in which to pamper you to pieces. Parallel 23, the award winning fine dining option at The Palms, is absolutely delicious. I had the best grouper I have had in my entire life.

Virtuoso amenities I can add:

  • Free breakfast for two (per room) daily
  • Free Wifi
  • $100 Resort Credit
  • Upgrade to next room category upon arrival, subject to availability

*The Palms is running a fabulous promotion at the time of this post. Contact me for details. 


The inside skinny and pro tips:

  • Try to make a dinner reservation (in advance) at the Coco Bistro.
  • Take a day cruise from Grace Bay to one of the unpopulated parts of the island to swim and snorkel. 
  • Cabs are easily available but are quite expensive. 
  • If you think about renting a car, be sure to know that they drive on the opposite side of the street as we do in America!

Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in luxury and adventure travel. Our affiliations ensure VIP treatment and amenities on any trip - including local weekend getaways. Plan your trip.