Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Travel Exchange staff members attend the 12th annual Benefit for the Elton John Aids Foundation on October 12th in New York City.

An “Enduring Vision” was the theme of the gala benefit which was held at the famed Cipriani Wall Street.

Since its founding in 1992 as a nonprofit organization in the United States the EJAF has raised more than $300 million. The goal of the organization is to combat stigma, prevent infections, provide treatment & services and to motivate government to end AIDS.

The organization presented awards to Sandra Lee, Howard Rose & Ron Perelman. A special tribute was paid to Hillary Rodham Clinton for her support and contribution to gay rights as well as HIV/AIDS issues. In recognition the EJAF awarded her the very first Founder’s Award.

American Airlines is a strong supporter of the Elton John Aids Foundation. Pictured above is Mary & Tom Mullen of the Travel Exchange along with Natalia Quesada
of American Airlines.

Tom Mullen
Director Edgewood Division
Travel Exchange - A Proud Member of Virtuoso
67 Holly Hill Lane
Greenwich,CT 06830

Monday, October 7, 2013

Punta Mita Four Seasons

This was my first trip to this area and I hope to return as often as possible.   Of course, in true Four Seasons' fashion the trip was made even better with impeccable service, views and accommodations that were provided at the resort.

But before going into detail, I'd like to add a few comments , etc. with regards to getting to Punta Mita.

Before arriving into Mexico, I had researched a few alternatives for transportation.   Punta Mita is approximately 45 minutes from Puerto Vallarta airport (PVR) (60 minutes from Puerto Vallarta Centro)

Four Seasons offers roundtrip transfers for 200USD and there are taxi services also available for approximately 80-100USD each way.  However, I would recommend a car rental for a couple of reasons. Number one, they're pretty reasonable - 5.00-8.00USD daily, but keep in mind insurance can run you a few hundred dollars for a week, but  is a necessity, especially when traveling outside of the US.  Number two - to get to anything outside of the hotel;  like some of the charming villages surrounding the resort complex, or even Puerto Vallarta it will cost you a minimum of 20.00USD daily and 200.00 if going into PVR.  Number three - it is extremely easy to navigate the countryside with basically one road that runs the entire route from the tip of Puerto Vallarta to the tip of Punta Mita - Highway 200.  An easy road with plenty of gas stations, etc. along the way.  Just beware of the speed bumps in the areas surrounding Punta Mita.

Now - on to Four Seasons Punta Mita

The greeting - Welcome Home is most fitting this luxurious slice of heaven.  I've stayed at Four Seasons before, but I do believe that Punta Mita has the warmest staff I've ever encountered.  Accommodations offer breathtaking views of the ocean and all the amenities you come to expect at a five star resort - well appointed rooms, decor is comfortable elegance - with an emphasis on relaxation.  (clearly evident in the hammocks stretched along the balconies, and beaches)

I was so fortunate to have received an upgrade to a Beachfront Casita offering even more space, beach access through your patio, plunge pools, and a separate living room and additional bathroom - absolutely your home away from home.

The resort's dining options are many.  Asian influences, Mexican Flare, Continental - with lounges throughout the resort area and open air lobby that all support the 'comfort' and 'relaxation' theme throughout while providing a simple elegance for evening affairs.

For groups - they've completed a large palapa that is state of the art - offering air conditioning and can hold up to 300 people for a banquet dinner!   In addition, there are areas throughout the resort  tucked into the property strategically where you can sit, lay, float - and relax.  There are three pools, each offering  something a little different.  The adult pool  is elegant, reserved and refined - tucked into the mangroves on the resort.  The lazy river is built right through the lush vegetation and is most relaxing when experienced through an inner tube with a drink in your hand!  Finally, the beachside infinity pool is so well positioned that you really feel as if you're floating at the edge of the world.  Probably one of the optimal places to sip a cool drink and watch the sun fall into the sea.  By the way - once again they've thought of everything and wouldn't want you to exert yourself by walking to the other side of the pool for a drink, so the waiter is happy to wade through the water to serve you inside the pool! - taking the poolside service to a whole new level.

The resort is not short on activities and the staff are always ready and eager to help you get up on a paddle board, kayak, fish, snorkel, scuba dive, etc.   All right from the beach.  You can literally roll from your beach chair into a kayak and back!  Wouldn't want anyone to exert themselves.

For the more adventurous  - there's a yacht that can be rented for the day which will take you deep sea fishing, snorkeling, diving, etc. or the resort offers hikes along the property and beachside for  those who prefer a bit more exercise.

Of course, there are the usual things to do like yoga classes, ceramics, kids club for the young ones you bring along, etc. - really if you feel like doing something - there truly is a plethora of things to choose from.
However, if relaxing is what you've come for - you're in the right place.  The Four Seasons Punta Mita offers the most luxurious of beach beds I've ever encountered.  With ample shading, an abundance of plush pillows and linens - it is so comfortable you would find it hard to ever get up!  To add to the convenience - they stock it with cold waters, bring you your lunch on bed trays, cool towels to wipe away any bead of sweat that may appear and the occasional mojito or margarita of the day! 

Four Seasons staff - from the moment you arrive at the bell stand, to your breakfast in the morning, your beachside relaxation, front desk, etc. you're treated like you've returned home and the staff give the impression that they're not only tops in their fields of service but that they truly enjoy their positions with Four Seasons.  They are always willing to chat and offer assistance when it comes to their resort,  Punta Mita and Mexico.  A true testament to the training and philosophy behind Four Seasons management.
Four Seasons Punta Mita , your home away from home and an experience you must have at least once in your lifetime.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

London Report May 2013

JFK AA Tower
I was one of the lucky agents to be invited on this very special London familiarization trip which took place May 30-June 2, 2013. It all began with our arrival at JFK airport and a personal behind-the-scenes tour of the American Airlines Terminal # 8. Our guide was the Head of Operations for American Airlines at Kennedy Airport. Our tour began with the flight control tower which we reached through a series of restricted access doors, video monitored hallways and a short elevator ride.Once inside we were in the command center for all AA lights in & out of JFK as well as all airport operations in the terminal below. It was a fascinating spot and the people monitoring the computers were very willing to answer our questions.

We then were escorted back out and down to the departures area where we had a chance to see the American Airlines Flagship Lounge which is for the exclusive use of First Class passengers followed by a tour of the Admirals Club Lounge which is open to Business Class passenger as well as Admiral's Club Members. After a quick drink in the Admiral's Club it was time for us to board our flight to London on American's newest aircraft the Boeing 777. Onboard the plane Business Class seating is 1-2-1 all facing forward no climbing over people to get in or out of your seat. The seats do go completely lie-flat and are very well designed and comfortable. Bose noise-canceling headphones and a very nice amenity bag were provided at each seat as well as a large pillow and blanket sealed in a plastic bag.

Service was nicely paced by a very friendly & professional crew. The dinner meal was served one course at a time followed by an elaborate desert cart. Announcements were kept to a minimum and a self-service snack & beverage station was set-up i the forward galley area for late night snackers.. In-flight entertainment was very extensive with multiple choices of movies, TV series, documentaries as well as foreign films.

With a few hours of rest it was time for a quick breakfast as we made our approach to Heathrow Airport and an early arrival at 630am. As Business Class passengers we could  follow the Fast-Track lanes at Immigration & Customs and bypass the longer lines. Once we were through that process we could then experience the joys of the American Airlines Arrival Lounge located just one floor above. It was here that we could enjoy a hot shower in very clean individual compartments. For anyone that was hungry or thirsty there was large spread of breakfast items in the lounge with plenty of hot & cold beverages to choose from. Comfortable seating, television sets as well as quiet areas truly make this spot a welcome refuge after an overnight flight. Once our group assembled after getting refreshed at the Arrival's Lounge we were met by Tri-Star Worldwide Chauffeur Service for our transfer to downtown London and the beginning of our hotel inspections & tours.

First stop the Pelham Hotel    
Buckingham Gate
This stylish boutique hotel in the heart of South Kensington is a good choice for those looking to be close to Buckingham Gate which is a 5 star property operated by the famed Taj Hotel Group complete with a Michelin Starred restaurant. All 86 contemporary rooms are suites from 1 to 9 bedrooms all with fully equipped kitchens and living rooms & luxurious bathrooms. It's a great choice for families as it is truly a home-away-from-home in the heart of Westminster just minutes from Buckingham Palace.Our last stop of the morning was the Four Season's London where we were met by the friendly faces of Marion Ryan and Gesine Hubner who expedited our check-in and got us all squared away into this magnificent hotel in the heart of Mayfair. We were all eager to get out and enjoy the beautiful afternoon so we set off by foot to the nearby Athenaeum Hotel offering hotel rooms, suites and townhouse apartments opposite the Royal Parks and just down the road from major museums & galleries.
Harrods, The Victoria & Albert Museum as well as Royal Albert Hall. There were lots of stylish shops and trendy restaurants in the neighborhood. We then moved on to Westminster and 51

Continuing our trek we ventured over to the West End and took a tour of the recently re-opened Cafe Royal Hotel located on Regent Street. This property would be a good choice for those interested in being close to the theatre district as well as Bond Street & Savile Row shopping.

View from 10th Floor Lounge
Our group re-assembled at 7pm in the 10th Floor Lounge back at the Four Seasons London for cocktails and appetizers. This roof-top lounge serves as an arrivals lounge during the day complete with self-serve food & beverage service as well as private showers and changing compartments for hotel guests arriving in London from overnight flights. It appears to be a welcome refuge for those guests waiting for their rooms to be ready. At night the space is turned into a cocktail lounge with an outdoor deck that has 360 degree views out over the city of London. Our hosts were able to point out all the famous landmarks of London from this commanding spot atop the Four Seasons Hotel. Dinner that evening was at the Amaranto Restaurant located off the lobby of the hotel. The overall theme of the restaurant is Mediterranean and everyone was in agreement that the food & service were fantastic. After a restful sleep in the luxurious accommodations we were ready to begin day 2 with a Thames River boat ride to Canary Wharf and the sister hotel - Four Seasons Canary Wharf. After a top to bottom tour of the hotel we all agreed this riverfront property would be an ideal location for business travelers given the walking distance proximity to so many financial institutions and international firms. The West India Quay is a charming and historic location.

Charlie Chaplin Suite
at The Savoy
Later that day we made our way over to the Savoy Hotel an iconic London institution that has played host to Royalty, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Artists & Movie Stars  for over a 100 years.Located on the banks of the Thames River this landmark hotel really shines in every way. A stay at he Savoy is truly a journey into history & tradition in the best of English style.

5:30pm was our start time for champagne & tour of Claridge's Hotel. Our host for this portion of the evening was the very charming Director of Private Visits & Embassy Relations - Mr Alessandro Bakirtzdis. This property truly holds the claim of Mayfair's Art Deco jewel. It was just a short walk from Claridge's to the Connaught where our  Maybourne hosts Rebecca Sajous and  Head Concierge Corrado Bogni gave us a top to bottom tour of this historic 5 star hotel tucked into a quiet corner in Mayfair.

Enroute to The Dorchester
The following day which would be our last full day in London started with brunch at 45 Park Lane in the Wolfgang Puck award winning restaurant - CUT. Our hosts for the morning were the General Manager - Christophe Hilty and  the Director of Sales for the Dorchester Collection - Victoria White. We had a delicious meal accompanied by the best Bloody Mary's in town. 45 Park Lane is a small 45 room boutique hotel that is very chic and affords all room Hyde Park views. Following brunch and our tour of the property we walked across the block to the flagship hotel of the collection - The Dorchester.The paparazzi was in full-force outside the hotel in the hopes of getting a shot of one of the many celebrities that were in residence that weekend.Our hosts would not divulge which celebrities were actually staying there despite our constant urging.That's reassuring to know that they are truly professional in every sense of the word. The Dorchester is located on Park Lane in between Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch. This property is one of the top hotels in  the world and has a rich history of being center stage for over 50 years and a home-away-from-home to world leaders, royalty and Hollywood celebrities.
View from the Penthouse
at the Corinthia

Our last & final hotel stay was the brand new Corinthia Hotel located close to the Thames and just
moments from Covent Garden & Westminster. This hotel represents state of the art 21st century luxury. The lobby is very contemporary and each guest room is a quiet & peaceful haven that has every high tech amenity one could wish for.

The highlight of our stay was the cocktail party hosted by Marianne Kassapian the Hotel Sales & Marketing Manager which was held on the penthouse terrace. Amazing views out over the London skyline with Big Ben and the London Eye all right there in full view. We were hard-pressed to leave this one-of-a-kind setting. We all tried our best to capture this on film. Dinner that night at Massimo Restaurant located off the lobby was very memorable. Bags had to be packed that night as we had an early wake-up call for our transportation back to Heathrow Airport  and the 1030am departure for JFK.

Tom Mullen
Director Edgewood Division
Travel Exchange - A Proud Member of Virtuoso
67 Holly Hill Lane
Greenwich,CT 06830

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Silver Cloud Baltic Cruise and visit to Berlin - London Four Seasons Park Lane

Hi all...

I have been remiss in not sending this out sooner but the memories are still very vivid in my mind!

Cruising into London
Bill and I were Voyager Club hosts on the Silver Cloud that sailed from Copenhagen through the Baltic and ended up in London at the Tower Bridge! It was a spectacular cruise with a wonderful itinerary. We departed Copenhagen on July 5 then cruised to Tallin Estonia, St. Petersburg (two nights), Helsinki, Stockholm, Visby,  Rostock (East German port three hours from Berlin), Transit Kiel Canal and ended up at the Tower Bridge in  London on July 17. I still have goose bumps thinking about sailing under the Tower Bridge with hoards of Brits cheering and singing Hale Britannia. No doubt there were probably some Americans in the group as well.

Voyager Club lunch Helsinki
It was a delight to be on the Silver Cloud with only 250 passengers with exceptional crew and accommodations. We became easily familiar with the ship and acquainted with many of the passengers. Our Voyager Club group was only 16 and most enjoyable. There were two Dartmouth graduates in the group so Bill was in his element. We dined with them many nights and thoroughly enjoyed their company.  The best feature was to be able to go to any of the three dining rooms and a reservation was not always necessary. We especially loved sitting at the pool deck in the evening and dining at the "Hot Rocks" venue where you cook your own food on a hot lava rock. We had fantastic weather the whole time..even in Russia where they told us it usually rains every other day and is much colder..it was sunny and 70s most of the time.

Our onboard lecturer Corey Sandler made the whole cruise experience that much better. We attended lectures each day preparing us for the next port and informing us of all the history and special places to visit. Corey is a frequent lecturer for Silversea and many passengers go just to hear him. By the way, I was amazed that most of the passengers I spoke with were on their 5th and 6th Silversea cruise..some as many as 20.

When the shore excursions were available to book, I immediately signed up for the full day (12 hours) tour to Berlin. I was encouraged to do so by Barbara and my German friend. Bill was very reticent but decided to go along. It was an excellent program and well worth the time. The bus ride went very quickly as we were given presentations on a TV about the history of Berlin. It was amazing how Berlin has been completely rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII. My best description for Berlin..
is BIG and MIND BOGGLING!        

All of our shore programs were well run and the groups were not too large. As a Voyager Club hostess I was the escort for the tour in Helsinki that Virtuoso offers. We were a small group of 14 and every single person came to me at the end and thanked me and said how much they enjoyed the day. It is a definite perk for Virtuoso members.

When we disembarked in London I arranged to be picked up by our on site and taken to Four Seasons. I was happy that I had done that as it would have been difficult to get a taxi and manage..of course we had four bags plus hand luggage!

Looking down from the London Eye
I had been to Four Seasons about 15 years ago and was overwhelmed with its transformation. We were stunned when we were shown to our suite which I had arranged with Susannah Lurie. It pays to be a Preferred Partner and with the Travel Exchange! The closet was as big as most bedrooms in London. The best part was Bill could watch the British Open on the TV in the bathroom mirror! The room and bathroom had every possible amenity plus we had a lovely outside verandah big enough for a party. The problem was that it was unusually hot in London in the 90s! Bill and I spent two days with relatives in London revisiting the sights and riding the London Eye. One evening we stepped out for dinner and doorman offered the Rolls to take us to our restaurant! Why not?!? When we pulled up to the small restaurant in Covent Garden everyone was looking in to see who we were.. what a disappointment... but I gave them the Royal wave.

View from the London Eye
Thus far our trip had been unfolding like a dream! Our last day in London I had planned to meet some older relatives out in the country. Then we were driving to Heathrow to spend our last night at the airport. So I had decided we would have to rent a car and take all our bags. I went to the Hertz place not far from the hotel (the Rolls took me) and then the problems started. I could not take the car back to the hotel as it is in the restricted area of London and you need to pay a fee...etc...etc.. I had requested a GPS but they told me there was a $50 drop off for the GPS at the airport...are you kidding me!? Auto Europe forgot to tell me but I negotiated it down to $20.

Then the fun began driving out of London on the wrong side of the street. My husband was ready to kill me but after ending up back in the same place three times we made it to the M4. It was a breeze from there with the GPS about two hours total. We had lunch at a lovely place in the Costwolds..Calcot Manor in Tetbury. (It is represented by Rebecca Slater).

Our last lap was driving back to Heathrow which was not bad until I tried to find the drop off for the Hertz car..but of course I had to fill up with gas first. The London Heathrow Hilton is a perfect hotel for anyone departing on Delta. You can actually walk through a tunnel with your bags or they will take you on their cart. It made it so easy for check in the next morning at 8am and our flight back to Florida via Atlanta. Generally speaking I was pleased with Delta. We paid for Economy plus seating but it was a bad choice going over as that seat was next to an exit row and the freezing wind blasted us all night.

I would be delighted to hear from any of you with comments or questions. I would recommend you consider doing a Voyager Club cruise but pick a small ship!

More pictures:

Pam VR Long
Virtuoso Travel Consultant
Travel Exchange
PO box 559
Palm City, FL 34991
860 930 5007 cell
772 781 8099 fax/phone