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The brand-new Annie’s Escapes web site is finally live!  You can check it out at www.AnniesEscapes.com

All the existing blog posts from this site have been incorporated into the new blog-style web site, and all future posts will be found there.

Leave me your thoughts and feedback below…

Popular travel guide book series Lonely Planet has released their lists of “Top Ten Countries” and “Top Ten Cities” for the coming year.

Some of these “hot” destinations will be out of reach for most of us (Malaysia, Nepal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc.) but some are surprisingly accessible. According to the experts, this just might be the year to visit Germany, Greece, Portugal, Charleston (South Carolina), or Cork (Ireland).

I’m especially pleased to see two of my planned 2010 destinations on the list — I’ll be visiting Cuenca, Ecuador in May and Vancouver, Canada in July!

And, if you’re interested in the “Best Value Destinations” for 2010, Lonely Planet has a list for that too. It includes such popular spots as Mexico, London and Las Vegas. I absolutely concur that there are bargains to be found in all three of those destinations, so give me a call and we’ll have you on your way!

I’m really not that much of a “gadget girl” (my kids can attest to this…they make fun of me all the time), but there are some exciting new “toys” out there this year that have even caught my attention.

Travel and Leisure magazine just ran a great article about some of the best new travel gadgets, from smart phones to netbooks and more, and it got me thinking about my own Christmas wish list. I’m definitely in the market for a new phone, so I’ll be asking Santa to give me one with some nifty available travel apps.

And, for my birthday a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a new Flip video camcorder. I gave it a tryout on my recent trip to San Francisco, and it was really cool! Lightweight, simple to operate (a key consideration for me!), great image quality, tons of memory, and it comes with built-in You Tube software that makes it super easy to upload video to the web. It’s perfect for someone who wants to be able to capture those memorable sights and sounds from vacation and share them with friends and family.

So, what’s on your travel gadget wish list this year?

If once-exotic destinations like Costa Rica, Belize and Panama just don’t do it for you anymore, how about Nicaragua?

As I learned at the Adventure Travel Expo this past weekend, Nicaragua is an up-and-coming hot spot that offers all the nature, adventure, history and culture that you could want — at prices significantly below its better-known Central American neighbors.

Nicaragua volcano

In a country that’s just slightly smaller than the state of New York, you can enjoy Spanish Colonial art and architecture in the historic city of Granada…hike to the rim of an active volcano…flyfish and SCUBA dive among Caribbean islands…surf an unspoiled Pacific beach…explore the only fresh water lake in the world that has sharks….and sand board down the side of a dormant volcano. If that’s not enough, there’s nightlife, wildlife, and resort life.

Worried about getting there? There are daily direct flights from Atlanta, Miami and Houston.

I think that Nicaragua may have just made it onto my “short list”. What about you? Interested in checking it out before the secret is out?

As if you really need ONE MORE reason to travel,  just check out this article from Conde Nast Traveler about how your next vacation could literally save your life!

I agree completely. We Americans work too hard, take too little time off, and need to re-adjust our priorities. We need to spend more time relaxing with family and friends, trying new activities, and exploring other cultures. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the kind of vacation I plan for my clients.

What better way to rejuvenate yourself than a shared adventure with people you love!

I may have blogged about this before, because it’s a pet peeve, but I think it’s worth re-visiting the ridiculous add-on fees that the airlines are charging these days — for everything from checked bags and aisle seats to food, drinks, blankets, pillows, and headsets.  One airline (Ryanair) is even considering installing pay toilets!

With so many constantly-changing fees, it can be hard to keep track of what you’ll really be paying for your flight. Especially when you’re trying to compare a low-cost, low-fee carrier like Southwest with one like JetBlue or Spirit (that can initially appear to be low-cost, until you add on the various surcharges).

Want some help keeing it all straight? USA Today published a nice chart today that summarizes the fees charged by the most popular domestic airlines. Just keep in mind that this information will probably be out of date by tomorrow, so be sure to call the airline directly to confirm the fees before you travel!

It seems I’m not the only traveler wondering why the budget chain hotels can provide free wireless service, while the higher-end properties charge some pretty stiff fees for this convenience.

Days after I mentioned it in my blog post, I came across this article in the New York Times on the same topic. The explanations the hotels give seem pretty weak to me. In this day and age, I think that free WiFi is a requirement, not a luxury, and it’s more important to me than “pillow menus”, “spa-quality bath amenities”, and many of the other special services that these hotels are touting.

What do you think? What hotel services and amenities are must-haves for you?

My “baby” is heading off to Spain tomorrow without me, and I’m bummed.

It doesn’t matter that she’s almost fourteen years old, an experienced traveler, and that this is not her first trip to Europe. I know that she will be with her school group (and her grandmother, if truth be told), but she won’t be with ME.

Can I cram all my professional guidance into her in these last 24 hours before she leaves? Reminding her about exchange rates, airport regulations, and what to do if she loses her passport?

Or should I instead put on my “mom” hat and talk to her about being open minded and polite with other cultures, keeping a close eye on her wallet and other belongings, and maintaining a healthy distrust of strangers (especially boys!)

I’ve tried doing both, but I think she’s already tuning me out and dreaming about cobblestone streets, cathedrals, and cafes. Oh well, I guess I need to just close my eyes and let her go…armed with a camera and a journal so she can share EVERY detail with me when she gets back.

My mom and my two sisters are some of my favorite travel companions!

italy-11

We’ve certainly enjoyed vacations with the whole family (husbands, kids, etc.), and we’ve done some great one-on-one trips (mom and I went to Mexico last year, my sister Megan and I cruised to Bermuda, and mom and Kate went to Ireland together) but the most memorable trips have been our annual Girls’ Weekends.

We’ve been doing this since 1998, when my kids were babies and my younger sisters were still in college and law school, and it’s an annual tradition that none of us would ever give up. With the notable exception of our eight-day “weekend” in Italy in 2007, the trips have all been two- or three-day road trips in and around the northeast.

We’ve shopped the outlets in New Hampshire and Maine, hiked in the Catskills, antiqued in New Hope (Pennsylvania), lounged at the spa in Newport, hit the casino at Mohegan Sun, and taken in a Broadway show in NYC. Really, though, it’s not the destination that makes the trip — it’s the fact that we take time away from jobs/husbands/kids and reconnect with one another for some girl time.

girls-weekend

So what’s next for us? I don’t know. We’ve talked about going to Montauk this spring/summer, since we haven’t done the Hamptons yet. And I’d love to do a weekend cruise out of NY (since my mom has never tried cruising). The other new wrinkle is that my soon-to-be 14-year-old daughter has been asking when she gets to start coming along.

So what do you think?  Where should we go next….should we let my daughter tag along….and where would you love to go with your girlfriends?

Royal Caribbean recently announced a list of new perks and amenities for passengers staying in suites. The new benefits, which include everything from VIP seating by the pool to priority spa reservations and upgraded in-cabin amenities, are pretty enticing. If I were considering a balcony cabin or junior suite, I might upgrade just to get the special treatment…but the move is causing some unintended backlash for the cruise line as well.

Some long-time RCCL customers are expressing annoyance at what they think is a move towards a “class system” like they had on the old ocean liners, and others are pointing out that the timing of this announcement could be better. The cruise line just recently announced a surcharge for late night room service orders, and then decided to promote free 24-hour room service as one of the perks for suite guests.

What do you think?

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