Another Beach Thursday!

On our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, we had a port stop in St Thomas, USVI.  Wow, St Thomas is so beautiful!  We were lucky that we missed the tropical storm that had come just days before, so the weather we had was absolutely beautiful - sunny and hot just like I like it!  We did a tour around the island and stopped at beautiful Coki Beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  And we were not disappointed!  (Well, until it was time to leave!)  The water was crystal clear, the sand in the water was so soft your toes just squished right in, and the water so warm.  Even though there were a few other tour vehicles there, it didn't feel overcrowded or too commercial.  There was a small snack shop for some light refreshments or a cold drink (We had a Carib beer!), rentals for beach chairs and snorkeling equipment, and a couple small souvenir stands.  There is also a very large community of iguanas that were literally everywhere!  I have never such big lizards up so close, just right out in the trees or walking on the road!  And they can move pretty quick too!  We really loved Coki Beach... I wish we could have stayed longer, both at the beach as well as in St Thomas, but hopefully someday we will be back!



Beach Thursday!

Aug 26th and I'm so, so bummed that it is approaching the end of summer! :(  It has started to turn a bit cooler this week in Chicago and my flowers aren't flowering as much anymore.  But since my daughter is still on summer break, I thought we'd go down to beautiful Lake Michigan to enjoy the day.  Although I used to spend every weekend at the beach or on the Lake through my work at the Yacht Club, I haven't been down there in ages so I thought Beach Thursday would be a great day to go and bring my cute, awesome, fun little girl!  I'll have to actually post a pic while we're at the beach, because I can't find any that I took previously and don't want to use someone else's image from the web (copyright infringement!)  But feel free to post your own favorite beach pics or let me know a great beach that you have enjoyed going to!

Have a wonderful day! =)


Beach Thursday!

Thanks to finally learning Twitter (well, a teensy bit more than I did a few months ago!) I have been reading more travel blogs and making more connections online.  Wow, social networking is pretty cool! It's amazing how things have changed in such a short period of time. Now my daughter even wants a FB account! She's 9. I'm in trouble already. But I digress... I have some other comments on the whole social networking scene, but more on that in a future post I think.

But I was reading a travel blog (Isabelle's Travel Guide - @isabellestravel), and came across the idea of 'Beach Thursday'. So I credit this fabulous idea to her and you can read more here Isabelle's Travel Guide - Thanks Isabelle! So since I am also a beach lover, I thought I would start my own 'Beach Thursday' entry on my own blog. So here goes...

This picture hardly does it justice, but this is the beach at Norwegian Cruise Line's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas.  We stopped here during our 4 day cruise on the Norwegian Sky (you can see the ship in the background of this pic).  As this was the first cruise EVER for my husband and I, we had such a fantastic time!  The private island was on our last full cruise day, and after a ship tour in the morning, we spent the afternoon at this little piece of private paradise.  We had a fantastic BBQ lunch, listened to fun island-y music, lounged on the lounge chairs, and snorkeled in the crystal blue water.  Wow, so fun!

While snorkeling, we saw eel, puffer fish, starfish, clown fish, coral, and lots of other stuff that I have no idea what it was!  After snorkeling, we had some time to relax on the beach and soak up some sun.  The sand was so soft to walk on, and the setting was just beautiful.  Too bad I'm too protective of my camera and getting sand or salt water in/ on it, I didn't take too many pics, but the memories of course will last a lifetime!  Would love to stop here again and spend more time... perhaps another cruise?!

NCL is actually expanding the features and amenities at Great Stirrup Cay and you can read more here:
NCL plans makeover to private island  I will be on the NCL Epic this October, but unfortunately she doesn't make the stop at Great Stirrup Cay :( but I look forward to exploring more beautiful beaches at stops on the Epic Eastern Caribbean cruise.... St Thomas, St Maarten..... Ahhhhhhhh  =)

Review of my stay at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers



My family and I stayed at the Sheraton Chicago, right on the Chicago river and near Michigan Ave., for one night this past weekend and the following is my review of our stay.  

Firstly, the directions from the Sheraton website (http://www.sheratonchicago.com/) for how to get to the hotel were great and very helpful.  Once we got there, we decided to do the self-park option ($35/day self park vs $49 for valet), and the directions to the self-park garage were perfect.  The valet option does offer in and out privileges so that allows you to leave and come back as many times as you want for the same $49/ day, but we weren't planning on leaving again, so the self-park option was fine for us. It was a bit of a walk from the garage to the hotel, but it was indoors through a pedway, so overall not too bad.  

The check-in process was smooth and quick.  The woman who checked me in was great; very nice and professional (I wish I could remember her name!).  We were upgraded to Club level so I was excited about that!  We stayed in room #3222, so we had an excellent view of the city, Chicago River, and Lake Michigan!  We had a fun time watching the boats go by on the river, watching the cars and people, as well as looking at all the different buildings that were nearby.

The room itself was nice overall.  The bed looked super comfy with a very soft duvet and comforter, and the sheets were very soft as well.  There was a small fridge with an assortment of beer, soda and wine, and a few snacks.  In front of the bed, there was an LG flat screen TV with cable and HBO.  Wireless internet was available, though we didn't use it.  There is a daily fee for internet, but free if staying on the Club level, so that is a nice extra little perk! 

The bathroom was nice and clean, had a tub/ shower combo (shower head sprayer attachment-type thing), hairdryer, and make-up mirror, and the bath products were Shine by Bliss (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap).  In the hallway area, there was a small closet with a bathrobe, ironing board and iron, and safe.  Although our room was located near the elevator as well as the stairway door leading to the Club Lounge, we were never disturbed by any hallway noise of any kind and our room was very quiet.

Another extra perk of the Club level, is access to the Club Lounge, which offers snacks and drinks in the evening, and a light breakfast in the morning.  We were looking forward to seeing the Club Lounge, so we went up to have a drink and appetizer.  I have to say it was definitely 'light' in the offerings.  There were some crackers and cheese, some breads and spreads, a little bit of fruit, and water.  There was one waitress taking orders for sodas or cocktails.  She got to us within 5 minutes or so, but I was surprised to hear there was a charge for drinks.  At other hotels' Club Lounges, drinks were free so I wasn't expecting the charge, but so be it.  The waitress was a little frazzled, but she was nice, and she assisted us with dinner reservations to the hotel restaurant, Shula's, for that evening.  She gave us a coupon for a free appetizer as well, so that was nice.  We left after our drink to get ready for dinner.

Our dinner at Shula's Steakhouse was very good!  The service was outstanding!  We were very pleased with the service, as it just seems so hard to come by these days.  The restaurant manager came by as well to introduce himself and to ensure we were enjoying our dinner.  I love that!  I just think good management and good service is so important and I appreciate it so much when we get it! =)  

The steak menu is on a football (a' la Don Shula) so that's pretty unique!  I ordered the 12 oz filet + steak fries to split with my daughter, and my husband ordered the NY strip + baked potato.  I also got the wedge salad which was FANTASTIC! Yummmm.  And we also ordered the shrimp cocktail with our free appetizer coupon from the waitress upstairs.  So much food, but it was ALL de-lish!  Everything was cooked perfectly, and tasted very good!  I only wish we had room for dessert!  I would definitely rate this as a great restaurant, even though it's a bit on the pricey side.  There isn't a kids menu and is probably a bit too fancy for younger kids (under 7 or 8), but our daughter dealt with it ok (and sitting at a table near the city street is great for people/car watching which passed the time quickly for her).  Even though we stuffed ourselves, we still each had half of our steaks left, so we had the leftovers wrapped up and rolled ourselves out of the restaurant. ;-)


So after dinner, we decided to go out and explore the city a little.  The Sheraton is walking distance to Millennium Park (http://www.millenniumpark.org/) so off we went!  It was a beautiful evening, and Chicago is definitely one of the greatest cities to walk around and soak up the city vibe.  It's safe (if you're smart and careful of course), and there are always so many interesting things going on.  



We went to the 'Bean', 

walked through the Pritzker Pavilion (a free concert had just ended), 



and splashed in the 'face fountains', though I'm not actually sure what the real name of this is, but wow what an interesting attraction!  The faces spit out water and the screen also turns into a waterfall, and splashes water down from the top.  So fun!



This is my favorite pic from our walk....


So we had a great time and the Sheraton provided a great location and home base for our Chicago explorations.  After walking back to the hotel, we went down to the pool for a quick swim before going to bed.  The pool was nice, but no hot tub unfortunately and my husband was bummed that the men's sauna was out of order, but oh well.  The pool was attached to the fitness center (also free if staying on Club level) and though we didn't use the fitness center, it was nice with all the latest machines and weights.  The ladies locker room and showers were nice and bath products, towels, and hair dryers were provided there as well.

Overall our stay at the Sheraton was very nice and we had a pleasant time.  Just one thing that I wish hotels would change is the in-room fridge.  I know the hotels want to sell their $4 sodas and $8 cans of beer, but do people really buy those and pay those crazy prices?  Maybe people do or hotels wouldn't offer these convenience items.  But for us to get our leftover box of steak in our fridge, we had to remove 5 cans of soda and 2 cans of Pringles chips..... and even then the box was crammed.  So I just don't understand why these fridges have to be so small and sooo take-out-box-unfriendly.  Maybe most people when traveling don't deal with leftovers, but even still I think it would be nice if these fridges allowed more space for the guest to add things if needed.

So, I just want to give a big THANK YOU to Sheraton Chicago and to Starwood as well.  I would absolutely recommend the Sheraton Chicago to my clients, and if you have any questions about the Sheraton or would like to book your next vacation to Chicago, give me call!  

Thanks for reading!  Have a great day!

Sheraton Chicago - review to come tomorrow!

My family and I will be staying at the Sheraton Chicago this weekend and I will post my review of the property as soon as we are back.  I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this newly designed Sheraton property.  Personally, I really love the Starwood brand (Westin, W, Sheraton, St Regis) and the properties that I have stayed at have been superb.  Sheraton has just completed a $6 Billion renovation of their properties, including adding 56 new hotels, renovated 120 hotels, and redesigned 50,000 guest rooms!  The hotels and the rooms will have a more 'refreshed' and modern look and feel, and even Bliss bath products in the rooms!  I like that! =D

So stay tuned for my review that I will post after my stay.  Until then, have a great weekend and safe travels!!


Norwegian Cruise Line - Freestyle Dash Sales Event - Starting tomorrow!


NCL's Freestyle Dash Event - Preview day March 23rd and sale starts tomorrow! 


The offer provides half-off standard cruise deposits and up to $250 in onboard credit per stateroom, based on cruise length and category, when booked by March 26. NCL has announced plans to increase fares fleet-wide on April 2. The onboard credit can be used to purchase anything from spa treatments to shore excursions and dinners in specialty restaurants. Guests who book sailings of up to six days and longer will receive $250 in onboard credit when sailing in a Garden Villa, $150 for suites, $100 for mini-suites and deluxe balcony staterooms, $75 for balcony staterooms, $50 for ocean-view and $25 for inside staterooms. For sailings of up to five days, guests will receive $100 per stateroom in a Garden Villa, $75 for suites, $50 for mini-suites, $40 for balcony staterooms, $20 for ocean-view and $15 for inside staterooms. 


Book NOW because NCL rates will be going up as of April 2nd! NCL offers a great Family product with Nickelodeon onboard Epic and Jewel. 




Nickelodeon at Sea | Family Cruises | Norwegian Cruise Line

CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

How to Find the Lowest Airfare - SmarterTravel.com

Ok I found this article a little irritating.  The author is attempting to question why a non-stop flight costs more than a connecting flight, but the only thing I found useful was the author's comment 'You've got to do your homework—lots of it—or get a good travel agent."  Why would anybody want to do "lots of homework" searching for good airfare when your travel agent can do this for you?  


Travel Agents and Travel Specialists have access to other booking sites and suppliers that the general public do not and we can do the work at no hassle to you (and probably even find a better deal than what you find online ~ especially on International air tickets)! :D  Isn't that better than stressing yourself out needlessly, only to wonder if you really found the best option?

How to Find the Lowest Airfare - SmarterTravel.com

CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

Merrie Monarch Festival in Hawaii April 4-10



The Merrie Monarch and His Festival of Hula


Ask someone what comes to mind when they think of Hawaii and odds are they will mention hula. Originally a society with no written language, the Hawaiians used hula with its dance, chants and songs as a primary means by which to communicate and teach legends, stories of war and of love. The hula paid homage to their gods through whom everything is connected. It was for this very fact though that hula almost disappeared when missionaries banned it due to the thought that the hula was sacrilegious. It was King David Kalakaua also known as the "Merrie Monarch" for his love of entertainment that revived hula and opened the once male-only dance to women in 1883 at his coronation ceremony.

Today, hula and the "Merrie Monarch" are honored in the world’s most prestigious hula competition, the Merrie Monarch Festival held once yearly in Hilo, Hawaii. 2010 marks the 47th year of the festival and the week of April 4 - 10 will be filled with events culminating with the 3-day competition from Thursday, April 8 with halau (groups) participating from around the world.

While the Merrie Monarch Festival is by far the most recognized hula competition in the world, there are other numerous hula events, concerts and workshops that take place throughout Hawaii on all islands year-round. Why not attend one of these events the next time you visit Hawaii?

For more information on the Merrie Monarch Festival, please visit: www.merriemonarchfestival.org and for a listing of other hula events throughout the year, please visit:http://calendar.gohawaii.com


HVCB EXTP Template

CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

NCL Suites and Villas - save up to $300

If you've ever thought about booking a suite on NCL now is the time! NCL is offering a great promotion with up to $300 savings when you book a suite or villa! Check out the flyer below for more details!



CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

Facebook | Norwegian Cruise Line: @NCLFreestyle's Epic Sea Trial Photos

Norwegian Epic is currently out at sea in the north eastern Atlantic and the trials are going well.

Check back on Monday for more sea trial photos and additional Norwegian Epic construction photos.

CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

Norwegian Cruise Line: Get a Taste of Norwegian Epic This Valentine's Day with the Spiegel Tent's Featured Dessert

Yummmm!!! I think I will give this recipe a try this weekend. I'll report back how it turns out. :D

There will be a choice of 17 dining options on the new Norwegian Epic! Wow, talk about selection! Take a look at this tasty recipe below compliments of NCL!



Chocolate Decadence with Mixed Berry Coulis

Makes 10 servings

Ingredients:
Cooking Spray
1 lb 8 oz Sugar
10 oz Milk
2.5 oz Cocoa Powder
2 oz Butter
2 oz Chocolate Unsweetened
8 oz All-Purpose Flour
1.5 oz Vanilla Extract
½ tsp Salt
5 Egg Whites
15 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
10 Fresh Raspberries
10 Fresh Mint Sprigs
Powder Sugar (for decoration)


Directions:
Lightly coat 4 oz ramekins with cooking spray, and sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon sugar into each of the ramekins, shaking and turning to coat.

Set prepared ramekins aside.

Combine sugar, milk, and cocoa powder in a small saucepan, stirring well with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 30 seconds or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; add the butter and unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.

Cool chocolate mixture for 10 minutes.

Add flour, vanilla, salt, and egg white to chocolate mixture, stirring with a whisk just until blended.

Fill each ramekin to ¾ with chocolate mixture

Top each ramekin with 2 teaspoon of chocolate chips.

Divide the remaining chocolate mixture evenly among ramekins, spreading to cover the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until barely set.

Cool for 10 minutes.

Paint brush the plate and add some drops of raspberry coulis.(per picture - coulis recipe below)

Invert chocolate decadence cake onto dessert plates, place a fresh raspberry and mint sprig and sprinkle some powder sugar

Berry Coulis


Ingredients:
10 oz Raspberry
6 oz Blueberry
8 oz Granulated sugar
Juice of two fresh lemons

Directions:
Put all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes

Place in blender strain trough fine sieve

Cool rapidly

CONTACT ME!!
christy@leo-travel.com
312-339-2208

Norwegian Cruise Line and the Year of the Freestyle Vacation!

NCL will be announcing a new offer each week so stay posted here for more news and deals! If you see something you like, let me know!

This week's deal:
FEATURED DESTINATION: NORWEGIAN EPIC
Booking Period: JANUARY 4-17

All Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings
Up to a 6-category upgrade PLUS, 50% reduced deposit*


NCL has truly beautiful ships and exciting itineraries! The BRAND NEW Norwegian Epic will start sailing in July 2010 and the ship is HUGE with so many amazing features, including entertainment, restaurants, lounges, kids programs and SO much more. I will be highlighting Norwegian Cruise Line as my 'favorite' cruise line with their fabulous amenities and customer service. If you would like more info about NCL or are ready to book your next cruise, please let me know!

Sending thoughts and prayers to the people in the beautiful Bahama Islands, and all those in the path of Hurricane  Dorian along the east...