Planning the Perfect Meeting

MEMBER TRAVEL can assist in planning meetings from 8 to 5,000+.  We make the process fun!  We respond to your needs and to your “dreams and wishes”.  Our company has handled many meetings, retreats and incentive trips for sports teams, radio stations, law firms, medical groups and charitable organizations.  We use top hotels and resorts all around the world, and we are doing an increasing number of meetings at sea.  We also arrange the air transportation if needed, along with land transportation and private tours.  Hawaii is our most popular destination, followed by Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and London.  We handle all aspects of the event planning and execution so it can be truly enjoyed by the attendees.

What could possibly go wrong?

Many people think that meeting and event planning is rather simple.  Sometimes it is simple, but it can also be a disaster.  We have had to bail others out when things went wrong.  Typical challenges we have encountered include airline, hotel and motor coach strikes, hurricanes, plumbing disasters (I’ll spare you the details of that one), overbooking, underbooking, and chefs disappearing before preparing the meal for their guests.  As anybody who travels knows; things don’t always go exactly as planned.  The difference here is that it is much more difficult for a large group to just “go with the flow” and adapt to the changes.  Part of our job is to cover the variables so there is less likelihood of unexpected changes.  The other part of our job is to properly communicate when plans are altered so that any inconvenience is avoided.  Along the way, we handle the stress and negotiations so you don’t have to.

Phase 1 – The Basics

Our initial questions consist of the following:

When, Where, How Many, and Where Will They Be Coming From? The more specific you are with your requirements, the easier it is for us to get started compiling relevant information.  Some people come to our offices in Sherman Oaks to go over the details.  We have a Starbucks right here to keep you supplied with caffeine.  Sometimes we visit you to experience the culture you are trying to replicate for the meeting.  Other times, all arrangements are conducted via telephone and e-mail.

Phase 2 – The Plan

Once we have conducted the research, given you a smorgasbord of choices and our personal recommendations, we begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together.  During this phase we reserve the airline seats, hotel rooms, motorcoach transportation, spa appointments, golf times and guest speakers.  We also finalize the menus for any dining functions.  All costs and fees are clearly outlined so you know what you are getting and how much it will cost.  We also discuss what role our company will have in the entire process.  Some organizations prefer us to handle all details with onsite representation, while others choose to provide their own onsite representative from their company.

Phase 3 – Execution

We try to make the entire process go smoothly for our clients.  To accomplish that goal, we organize all the many elements of the meeting/convention/event and prepare a detailed itinerary.  It is essentially the roadmap for how things “should” go.  We also prepare an alternate roadmap for when things do not go as planned.  Being prepared for the unexpected separates the good meeting planners from the amateurs. Our representatives re-check and verify reservations and specific details with the contracted companies.  Essentially, we catch most supplier errors before they affect your guests.  About a year ago, we had a plane full of corporate guests and families arriving in Honolulu for a meeting.  We were to have each guest greeted with an “Aloha” and flower lei.  Despite promises and contracts, we found out ½ hour prior to our guests’ arrival that the company that was supposed to be there with 82 leis had only 65 leis.  Although they were sorry about their mistake, that was all they could offer.  Our representative scrambled inside the terminal with every other greeting company to come up with the 17 additional leis.  Our clients didn’t have any disappointed guests and we prevented something that could have been a problem from ever becoming one.

Phase 4 – The Extras

Since we are a full service travel agency, we can also arrange any extensions or deviations for the participants.  We want to make our clients happy!  More than anything else, that is how we build our business.  We build relationships that stand the test of time, both with our suppliers and with our clients.

Call or e-mail MEMBER TRAVEL to get the ball rolling for your next corporate meeting.  We think you will be impressed!

Travel Exposés

Most of us are riveted to the TV when we watch the travel exposés.  These stories attract a great deal of attention because of the glamour and excitement of the locations, and because we share a sense of innocence when go on vacations.  We never expect these things to happen to us, so how could they possibly happen to other unsuspecting travelers?

Bad publicity is becoming more common for the travel industry.  With the advent of the Internet, camera phones and other cellular communications, there is no escape from instant coverage.  Some coverage is exaggerated simply to generate ratings.  I am definitely not an apologist for the travel industry.  Since I make my living off of people traveling, I am probably one of the harshest critics when any travel company abuses the public’s trust.  Nevertheless, truth and perspective sometimes gets lost in all the excitement.  Maybe I can bring a little perspective back with this commentary.

Viruses on Ships

The Norwalk or Norovirus is a highly contagious flu-like virus.  It is actually the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis in England.  It occurs mostly in the winter, and it frequently occurs in semi-closed environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships. It has been around for centuries.  There have been outbreaks on cruise ships since they began sailing.  It is nasty.  We wouldn’t want it.  But, it is something we likely have contracted in the past, and may well contract again in the future.  The thing with this happening on a cruise ship is that, as your fellow passengers begin retiring to their rooms in larger and larger numbers, you can see how contagious this virus is.  Until we see our fellow passengers with similar symptoms, we assume it is the stomach flu.  The fact is that cruise lines thoroughly scrub down their ships more than almost any public place you are ever likely to visit.  There is nothing they can do to completely stop this from happening, but they give it their best shot.  Green passengers are bad for business.  It is unlikely that you will get Norovirus on a ship, but you cannot assume total protection from this or any other virus, including the common cold.  You are less likely to get a stomach ailment on a ship than you are visiting the normal places you go to on land.  It is probably not a good reason to avoid traveling on ships!

Cleanliness in Hotels

I admit that this one grosses me out.  Most of us have seen the news reporter with the black light shining on the bedspread.  Yuck!   You never know who occupied the room before you checked-in.  Most hotels keep their rooms quite clean, but I know that a little precaution goes a long way.  We carry a small can of disinfectant or alcohol wipes.  Even in a Four Seasons or a Ritz-Carlton, we wipe off the toilet seat.  We also do the same with the TV remote control since it is rarely scrubbed and is touched often.  While your sheets and towels should be fine because they are freshly cleaned, we don’t sit our naked bodies on the upholstered furniture or on the bedspread or comforter.  Hey, you wouldn’t put your face on a pillow without a cover, would you?  Most of these things are prudent more for psychological reasons than for any actual dangers of getting sick.  This stuff makes good TV and creates paranoid guests!  I speak from experience.

Disappearances and Violence in Foreign Lands and on Ships

Very bad things do occasionally happen while on a ship or in a foreign county.  Violent people exist everywhere, including in our own country.  Some acts of violence are committed by acquaintances and others are random acts of violence perpetrated by strangers.  Disappearances are extremely rare, but when they do happen, you can expect a great deal of coverage.  They are tragedies that deserve to be covered, but getting real facts isn’t always easy.

I think it is fair to say that the USA has a more transparent investigatory process and is less corrupt than many other lands.  There are inherent risks when you venture off to foreign lands.  Keep in mind the realities of risk-taking.  We take chances every time we get into a motor vehicle.   Are you really any safer on our freeways?

Once again, basic precautions reduce your risk.  Avoid going places that don’t seem safe.  If your government warns against going there, it is probably an adventure you should avoid.  Don’t walk alone in dark places (whether abroad or at home).  Do not become intoxicated and potentially lose your ability to make good decisions.  Don’t allow strangers into your room.  Consider very carefully how far you want to veer off the beaten path.  Nothing is completely safe, but make wise decisions and you are likely to avoid any dangerous situations.

You are always welcome to call our offices and share with us any concerns you may have about your travels.  We want you to enjoy your trips, return safely, and book many more vacations with our company.  We don’t hold back on giving you our best advice and honest answers.  We care about our clients!

The Best Luxury Hotels For Families – Central & South America

By Anthony Adler

ARGENTINA
Alvear Palace Hotel
Buenos Aires, Argentina
www.alvearpalace.com

Terrific location for hotel designed in Empire and Louis XVI style with amenities including butler service, flower arrangements and fruit baskets. Nobody in the family will forget this place.

Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina
www.fourseasons.com/buenosaires

Located in the fashionable Recoleta district. Marble bathrooms, amenities for children and adults and service excellence one expects at a Four Seasons hotel. Roman-style pool and Spa Four Seasons.

BELIZE
Turtle Inn
Placencia, Belize
www.coppolaresorts.com/turtleinn

A 25-room seafront hideaway combining natural wonders with luxury style. The coral reef provides wonderful diving and snorkeling. Try a canoe trip up the Monkey River. Ask for the Family Pavilion.

BRAZIL
Hotel das Cataratas Iguassu Falls
Parana, Brazil
www.hoteldascataratas.com

The only hotel located within the Iguassu National Park. Stroll to the amazing waterfalls. Exclusive access in the evening and at dawn when the park is closed to other visitors. Take your family trekking through the jungle.

Copacabana Palace
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
www.copacabanapalace.com

The most renowned hotel on Rio’s Copacabana beach has been welcoming the rich and famous since it opened in 1923. Sophisticated elegance in a wildly exciting city. Rooftop tennis, fine dining and spa.

CHILE
The Cliffs Preserve at Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia (Puerto Varas), Chile
www.cliffspreserve.cl

Experience nature. Located on six miles of Pacific coastline on 8,000 acres of temperate rain forest. Take in a Chilean-style barbeque after horseback riding and trekking. Outdoor pool
and Jacuzzi for relaxation.

Grand Hyatt Santiago
Santiago, Chile
www.santiago.grand.hyatt.com

Lush gardens and lagoon-style swimming pool with waterfall contrast with the action of the city. Situated just an hour away from the coastline and ski resorts. Santiago’s best shopping is nearby.

The Ritz-Carlton Santiago
Santiago, Chile
www.ritzcarlton.com

Located in one of Santiago’s most exclusive neighborhoods overlooking the mountains and city lights. A terrific base for the family while experiencing all Chile has to offer. Check out the rooftop health club.

COSTA RICA
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
www.fourseasons.com/costarica

Pristine setting on a coastal hillside with two unspoiled beaches below. Explore the neighboring dry tropical forest in style. Socially responsible resort has championship golf and excellent amenities for the kids.

Hotel Punta Islita
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
www.hotelpuntaislita.com

Luxury resort offers world-class facilities for fine dining, relaxation, spa treatments, soft adventure and fun beach activities. Try zip-lining in the forest, hiking and horseback riding or just hang in your hammock.

PANAMA
Bristol Buenaventura
Buenaventura, Panama
www.thebristol.com/buenaventura

Nestled on the shores of the Pacific, old world glamour combines with tropical elegance. Two miles of pristine private beach and your own beach butler. Zip-line through the canopy, play golf, and explore Panama.

PERU
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
Machu Picchu, Peru
www.inkaterra.com/machu-picchu

An intimate 85-cottage luxury hotel in a sprawling Andean style village. Indulge at the UNU Spa. Connecting casitas are available for families. Child-friendly guides for visits to the sacred Lost City enhance the experience.

Tambo Del Inka – A Luxury Collection Resort & Spa
Urubamba (Sacred Valley), Peru
www.starwoodhotels.com

The only hotel in Urubamba with a private train station to Machu Picchu. Beautiful emerald lagoon and riverside gardens. Lavish accommodations. Indoor/outdoor swimming pool. Luxury adventure tourism at its finest.

URUGUAY
Four Seasons Resort Carmelo
Carmelo, Uruguay
www.fourseasons.com/carmelo

A serene retreat beside the Rio de la Plata with 20 spacious bungalows and 24 suites. A scenic river bank is at your doorstep, with major cities nearby. One of the best spas in South America. Amenities for the kids.

The Best Luxury Hotels & Resorts For Families – Africa

By Anthony Adler

BOTSWANA
Savute Elephant Camp
Chobe, Botswana
www.savuteelephantcamp.com

Known for its herds of elephants, large lion prides and other wild animals. Family safari packages offered, but children should be age eight or older. Luxury tent accommodations.

Khwai River Lodge
Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
www.khwairiverlodge.com

Luxury tents are housed on raised wooden platforms, offering great views of the wildlife below. Tents have private decks, mini-bars, safes and even discreet air conditioning.

KENYA
&Beyond Baeleur Camp
Kichwa Tembo, Kenya
www.andbeyond.com

Set in the legendary Masai Mara in the path of the annual Great Migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra. Ambiance of a classic Kenyan safari. Elegant tents and pool.

Fairmont The Norfolk
Nairobi, Kenya
www.fairmont.com/norfolkhotel

One of Nairobi’s best luxury hotels. 165 guestrooms and suites, heated pool, health club and gym. Use the hotel as a base for visiting the Elephant Orphanage or the nearby Giraffe Center.

MOROCCO
Amanjena
Marrakech, Morocco
www.amanresorts.com

Amanjena, peaceful paradise, is located just outside the ancient city of Marrakech. Guided excursions by foot, bicycle and private car. Stay in beautiful pavilions or elaborate two-story maisons.

Kasbah Tamadot
Marrakech, Morocco
www.kasbahtamadot.virgin.com

Complete luxury in this Sir Richard Branson owned hotel. Explore the surrounding Berber villages on the hotel’s own mules. Resident camels too. Kasbah Kids program with treasure hunts. Fun!

MOZAMBIQUE
Indigo Bay Island Resort And Spa
Bazaruto Island, Mozambique
www.indigobayresort.com

Idyllic island resort perfect for diving, fishing and various water sports. Land sports include dune-boarding down sand dunes, volleyball, tennis and a form of miniature golf tailored to families.

SOUTH AFRICA
Cape Grace
Cape Town, South Africa
www.capegrace.com

One of our favorite hotels. Located in the historic Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area. Adults shouldn’t miss the world-class spa. Just the right blend of modern luxury and traditional Cape culture.

Ellerman House
Cape Town, South Africa
www.ellerman.co.za

Mountainside setting with panoramic ocean views. For a wonderful multigenerational stay, we recommend the Ellerman Villa in the gardens complete with butler and private chef.

Mount Nelson Hotel
Cape Town, South Africa
www.mountnelson.co.za

Fabulous spa has treatments for adults and families. Indulge at the hotel’s famous afternoon tea. Kids’ program offers a huge variety of activities for children of all ages.

One&Only Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa
www.capetown.oneandonlyresorts.com

Prime waterfront location. Wonderful suites for families. Excellent dining including Nobu signature restaurant. Terrific programs for kids and teens. Your family will be spoiled.

Samara Private Game Reserve
Eastern Cape, South Africa
www.samara.co.za

Only children age eight and older can participate in the game drives, but younger ones will not feel neglected because Samara offers supervised programs designed especially for the little ones.

Camp Jabulani
Hoedspruit, South Africa
www.campjabulani.com

Experience the bush as an active participant on the back of an elephant. The camp has only six luxury suites. Families should consider the Zindoga Villa on the river’s edge for the ultimate in exclusivity.

The Westcliff
Johannesburg, South Africa
www.westcliff.co.za

Cliffside hotel is surrounded by beautiful cascading gardens. You may spot an elephant or a springbok from the infinity-edge swimming pool. Lots of activities offered for children.

Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa
Knysna, South Africa
www.pezula.com

Nestled on the rugged cliffs of the Southern Cape, Pezula is the perfect prelude to your days on safari with a top-rated spa, championship golf, horseback riding and indoor and outdoor pools.

Singita Game Reserves
Kruger National Park, South Africa
www.singita.com

Choose from several lodges in Kruger National Park. Singita Ebony and Singita Boulders both offer family suites. A host of children’s activities including the Mini Rangers Course, trampolines and wildlife shows.

&Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
www.phinda.com

This luxury game reserve offers seven diverse habitats with wildlife virtually everywhere. We recommend The Zuka Lodge with its coastal bush style and the exclusive safari villas at The Homestead.

Tintswalo Safari Lodge
Limpopo Province, South Africa
www.tintswalo.com

The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) literally surround the lodge. Bask in luxury with private plunge pools and air conditioning. Stargaze with Tintswalo’s experienced guides. Safari first, spa later.

MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve, South Africa
www.malamala.com

Famous MalaMala is known for its wildlife. Families of all ages are welcome at the main camp’s luxurious accommodations. Try an after-dark safari through the bush for an adventure to remember.

The Palace of the Lost City at Sun City
North West Province, South Africa
www.suninternational.com

The Valley of Waves water park is an Elite Family Travel award winner. Highlights include Gary Player golf course, huge casino and neighboring Pilanesberg National Park. Don’t feed the monkeys.

Londolozi Private Game Reserve
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

Proud of its ecotourism roots, Londolozi is a family-run and family-friendly operation with luxurious accommodations and fine cuisine. Situated on the Sand River in the heart of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.

Ulusaba Private Game Reserve
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
www.ulusaba.virgin.com

Richard Branson’s fabulous resort offers the Ulusaba Cubs Club – a kids’ program with treasure hunts, storytelling and more. Track the Big Five in open Land Rovers. World-class spa.

TANZANIA
&Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
www.ngorongorocrater.com

The incredible crater is a World Heritage Site and home to 25,000 animals. So many zebra! Often described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Spectacular accommodations and dining. Children over five only.

Singita Grumeti Reserves
The Serengeti, Tanzania
www.singita.com

Children are welcome at the Faru Faru Lodge and the Singita Sasakwa Lodge. Both command a view of the renowned migratory route traversed annually by more than a million wildebeest and the predators that lie in wait.

ZIMBABWE
The Victoria Falls Hotel
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
www.lhw.com/TheVictoriaFallsHotel

The hotel offers spectacular views and a private path to the famous falls. Watch the crazy bungee jumpers from the terrace while enjoying high tea. Try white-water rafting or a vintage steam train excursion.

Africa – Beyond The Best Hotels

By Anthony Adler

A Time for Experts

When planning trips throughout the world, our guides to the Best Hotels for Families, are valuable resources. Yet, certain destinations beg for more. Rating hotels alone for Africa just doesn’t seem sufficient. We recommend you consult with true destination experts for both the planning and flawless execution of a vacation your entire family will remember forever.

Planning Your Visit to Africa

There are so many things to consider. What parts of Africa do you want to visit? What animals do you most want to see on safari? Do you want to stay in luxury tented camps or lodges and resorts? There are limitless possibilities, but to get the most out of Africa, careful planning is essential. This is the time to talk to travel advisors who know the area well. These advisors should be able to help custom-tailor the trip with the features most important to your family. This will often include bringing in tour operators that can pull off almost anything in the bush or in cities. We often recommend Virtuoso travel advisors because they have the connections to the best tour and safari companies in the region. Don’t expect their service to be free, but you should receive great value from their guidance and suggestions.

…But, I Don’t Like Tours!

Maybe you’re thinking about the buses loaded with people in front of the Tower of London or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. An exploration of Africa is quite different. You can choose from tours and safaris that group families together or tours that are exclusive to your family alone. Imagine a day on safari and seeing no wild animals. It happens; but not with the top safari companies. They employ the best guides who know what to show you, when to go and how to take care of your family in style. They arrange the air and ground transportation; the hotels, lodges and tented camps; safaris and game drives; and dinners under the stars. If you and your travel advisor choose the right tour operator, your experience will be enhanced ten-fold over what it would be if you tried to do it yourself.

Africa’s Best Tour Operators

We also understand that the quest for the right tour, whether it’s for seven days or a month, can be overwhelming. To help you make the best choice, Elite Family Travel has compiled a list of the Eight Best Luxury Tour Operators in Africa for Families. You can’t go wrong with any of these companies, but look for the unique elements each one has to offer.

The best tour operators use the properties listed in our guide, so be sure to study-up. Your own research should be part of the fun. Check them out online and with your travel advisor. Look at their websites for ideas, but don’t be hesitant to ask your travel advisor to create a tour especially for your family that takes into consideration your time constraints, as well as the things you most want to see and do. Everything is possible, but keep in mind that a tour that includes helicopters and private planes is going to cost more than one that uses ground transportation and commercial flights. Create the mix that is right for your family. Add in Africa’s romance, mystique and family adventures to make it your personal dream come true.

Elite Advice: Kid-Sitting Can Be Fun

By Anthony Adler

Q: My husband and I would like to travel more with our kids, but sometimes we would like our vacations to also include at least one romantic dinner at a nice restaurant without our children. I feel our kids are too young to leave alone in our suite. Our son is nine and our daughter is only six. What are your thoughts on baby-sitting at hotels and on cruise ships? Leaving my children with strangers scares me!

- Terri Rothstein, San Jose, California

This is one of the questions we get asked most often. As terrific as it can be to spend time with kids, sometimes a romantic dinner for two on a tropical island is exactly what parents need. Fortunately, you don’t have to be denied.

Most luxury hotels have expert concierges who know the best baby-sitters in the city who are fully bonded and licensed. Since the hotel’s reputation is on the line, the staff takes its recommendations most seriously and usually can suggest a specific baby-sitter by name who fits your exact situation. High-end properties tend to offer high-end solutions you can trust.

When our two boys were just a little younger than your children, the concierge at the Four Seasons on Maui suggested we call the owner of The Nanny Connection, the top baby-sitting agency on the island. We told her that we envisioned our boys having pizza on the beach, playing in the sand and ending the evening watching a movie in their room. She recommended a local college boy named Nick, who spent his vacations away from his Ivy-league university earning money taking care of children. Nick arranged for the pizza delivery, took our kids crab hunting and turned out to be the best baby-sitter ever. We used Nick’s services on many occasions, including five nights on one trip. Our kids corresponded with Nick for several years and he left quite an impression on our entire family. The current rate is only $18 per hour for the first child and $3 more for each additional child. What a bargain for the peace of mind!

Parents hire day nannies or sitters for a variety of reasons that go beyond an evening out. For example, a bike trip down the volcano might be too strenuous for the little ones. You might want to visit some museums while in Paris, but your children might be too young to appreciate the cultural experience. It’s no problem when they can be with a responsible “friend” who is there specifically to make sure they are well taken care of and having fun.

We employed the same strategy at home in Los Angeles when we were having trouble finding a baby-sitter. We actually called the concierge at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills to find out who they recommended for their famous guests. It worked out perfectly. We ended up becoming a regular customer of the agency because we knew they thoroughly screened their sitters.

Most cruise lines offer supervised kids’ programs for children in all age groups. They might participate in scavenger hunts, karaoke, computer game competitions, pizza parties and so much more. Often the kids are hard to pull away because they end up having more fun than they ever dreamed possible. For infants, baby-sitting is usually available for a fee with at least 24-hours notice. Check out the specific programs offered for children before booking your cruise.

There are a few things that can help ease your mind when hiring a baby-sitter on land or at sea. First, be specific about what you want for your children. Do you want them to stay in their suite or have an adventure outside? Do you want a young sitter who might relate better to older children or a more mature motherly type for younger children? Do you want them to enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant, have room service or have a pizza delivered? If so, don’t forget to offer the sitter dinner too. It may not be required, but it’s a nice gesture to someone you are entrusting with your children to. Don’t be shy about asking questions of the agency and giving instructions to the sitter. They are used to it!

You’ll have a wonderful evening out, provided you’ve made arrangements for your children to have a good time too.

A Vacation That Enlightened and Entertained – Thailand and Hong Kong Part 3

By Anthony Adler

Arrival at InterContinental

Our Thai Airways nonstop flight from Phuket to Hong Kong took just 3-1/2 hours. Our hotel, InterContinental Hong Kong, had arranged for our transfers in a luxurious 7-seated Toyota Alpha at a cost of about US $125 each way. For a family of four or more, this is actually much more comfortable than a traditional limousine.

The InterContinental’s hotel lobby ranks among the world’s most visually stunning. The windows rise several stories tall and provide a seamless view onto the famous Hong Kong harbor. Our accommodations consisted of a deluxe junior suite and connecting superior harbor-view room. Although Hong Kong was pulling at us to come explore, it was difficult for our family to stop staring out our panoramic windows at the boats and cruise ships sailing by.

Exploring Hong Kong

Our first stops were visits to the finest tailors in Hong Kong for custom-made shirts and suits. Ascot Chang shirt makers are located just across the street from the InterContinental at the Peninsula. The store’s manager, Nelson, and his competent staff showed us book after book of fine fabrics before I splurged and ordered a dozen shirts. At DP Plaza, located in the ritzy K-11 Art Mall, Tommy Hui is an artist in suit making. Tommy had me return to his shop for two extra fittings to make sure the suits were just right. They were tailored perfectly and delivered to our hotel the night before we departed for home.

We became quite familiar with Hong Kong’s transportation system. We rode on the famous Star Ferry many times across the harbor from Kowloon (where our hotel was located) to the Hong Kong side with its many tourist attractions and fine hotels. The price is still just about 30 cents per person. The subway trains were also inexpensive, efficient and clean. We used a few taxis too, but they were much more expensive and nowhere near as much fun.

We walked around Kowloon and were amazed at the amount of money being spent at the luxury brand stores. Hermes, Tiffany and Chanel seemed to have shops on every corner, and they all were busy. Many of the big spenders were coming from Mainland China, but there were also quite a few from Europe, Australia and the United States. We did more window shopping than buying and our boys were ready to go back to our hotel to check their Facebook accounts. My wife and I decided to have a massage at the Peninsula Spa. We could really get used to the lifestyle we were enjoying on this vacation.

The Symphony of Lights is a spectacular laser light and music show that plays out every evening at 8:00 PM on both sides of the harbor. This is a must-see while in Hong Kong. The best way to view the show is on an old junk boat called the Aqua Luna. The one hour ride costs just about US $30 per adult and US $25 per child. Bring your camera!

Macau

Macau is often referred to as the Las Vegas of Asia. The island, a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is dotted with familiar names like the Venetian, Wynn and MGM Grand. One hour ferries from Hong Kong depart continuously throughout the day. We purchased our tickets from the concierge at the InterContinental and were on our way to another adventure. While the short ride was smooth and went by quickly, the half hour wait to clear customs at the pier in Macau seemed to take forever. We looked at a few casinos and were impressed by their large size. People love to gamble in China! While there was a frenetic energy inside, it was more serious than we typically find in Las Vegas. The mood was lightened by a delicious dinner at Belcancao at the Four Seasons, which adjoins the giant Venetian complex.

The casinos were very interesting, as was learning about the island’s Portuguese history, but it didn’t leave us wanting to rush back for another visit.

A Little Sightseeing and Chinese Food

Back in Hong Kong for more sightseeing, we visited Stanley Park, Repulse Bay and The Peak. Stanley Park has beautiful views of the bay below. In the alleys and busy stalls at Stanley Market, we purchased gifts to bring home for some of our friends. Watching my sons choose silk robes for their girlfriends was really quite humorous. Repulse Bay is a coastal enclave with many of the most expensive homes in all of Hong Kong.

The Peak is one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions. Guests board an historic funicular railway for a very steep ride up the mountain that rises to about 1,300 feet above sea level. Once at the top of The Peak, there are dining venues, souvenir stores and a 360 degree panoramic view of Hong Kong below. We only spent a short time at the top of The Peak, as we all found the ride up and down on the funicular to be the real highlight of this excursion.

In the evening, we met friends for another birthday celebration for my son. This time we were having dinner at Man Wah, the famous Chinese restaurant atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Hong Kong Island. Course after course of Chinese food was beautifully presented to us. The food and views were extraordinary. The hotel was impressive as well, with everything from a formal barber shop to bakeries and other fine restaurants. If we were staying on the Hong Kong side of the harbor, Mandarin Oriental would be a top choice.

Our Last Day in Hong Kong

We originally planned on visiting Hong Kong Disneyland, but it’s a smaller version of the California amusement park and geared more toward younger children. We instead decided to visit Hong Kong’s Ocean Park with its marine mammal exhibits, oceanarium and theme attractions. Ocean Park is built on the lower and upper sides of a mountain, connected by a funicular, sky ride and escalators. My wife and kids rode the thrill rides while I took in the animal shows. I think I’m a fun guy, but I’m just not a big roller coaster fan. Besides, the giant panda habitat was especially interesting, as was the Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium.

We had considered dining at Spoon by Alan Ducasse at the InterContinental, but we were exhausted and instead ended up eating at a familiar restaurant from back home, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. We thought the food would be the same as it is in their Los Angeles branch. It wasn’t. The pizza was much more expensive in Hong Kong and our kids concluded that it failed the taste test. Oh well, we had to try.

Our Journey Must End

We had a leisurely breakfast in the Club InterContinental Lounge on the second floor overlooking the harbor before departing for home. It gave us time to reflect on what we had seen and done over the prior 13 days. We were ready to see our cats and dog again, and resume our normal lives, but we were also sad to leave the Asian lands where we had been treated so well. Looking back, it seems like a whirlwind of exploration. A vacation where our smiles were simply reflections of the people we met along the way. It was a joyous time for our whole family. While this was our first trip to Asia with our children, we all agreed it would not be our last.

A Vacation That Enlightened and Entertained – Thailand and Hong Kong Part 2

By Anthony Adler

Raining In Phuket

Our Thai Airlines flight to Phuket in southern Thailand took just over an hour. Although we were visiting during dry season, sometimes the travel gods do not cooperate. Heavy rains were the order of the day, so we had to bypass the beautiful beaches and instead explore Phuket’s many other offerings.

We stayed at the beautiful Amanpuri Resort with its pavilions and villas situated in a coconut plantation overlooking the Andaman Sea. Our children were old enough to have their own pavilion just down the mountain from us. They enjoyed that independence. The rooms generally do not have televisions to keep with the spirit of relaxation and escape, but when I mentioned that I missed my CNN, a TV was quickly brought to our pavilion.

We had the most amazing curries and Thai cuisine at The Terrace Restaurant at Amanpuri. The waiters and chef made every guest, young and old, feel important. Live music played in the background as we watched the rain dance upon their large pool. To celebrate my son’s 14th birthday just a few days early, they presented him with an artistic and culinary masterpiece of a cake. We were happy and content; a complete contrast to the angry tropical weather upon us.

Elephants and Fantasea

Our private tour was arranged by Exotissimo and included rafting, riding elephants and a visit to the Phang Nga Wildlife Breeding Center. Unfortunately, the weather made the river too dangerous, so our tour was modified. We still were able to ride elephants through the jungle, have an ox take us around in a cart, followed by more close encounters with elephants and a demonstration on how farmers grow rice. Along the way, our sons made friends with wild cats. The day was actually perfect. There was no sadness about missing the whitewater rafting.

One of our most enjoyable evenings in Thailand was spent at Fantasea. Fantasea is a giant dinner buffet, spectacular show and cultural theme park all combined into one of Thailand’s premier tourist attractions. Do not miss this if you go to Phuket. It’s even a good reason to add the destination to your Asia itinerary!

Fantasea’s main dining hall has over 4,000 seats, but there were never more than a few people in line at the many serving stations. The food choices were vast, and of a surprisingly high quality. Before seeing the Vegas-style show in the Palace of the Elephants Theater with its 999 elephants, we had pictures taken with tigers and toured some of the cultural exhibits. The show was fun and extremely well produced. Afterwards we went shopping in Carnival Village for a few souvenirs to take home. It was a magical night for our whole family!

Visiting Other Properties

On our final day in Phuket, we hired a car and driver to take us up the coast. We were anxious to see the resort area of Laguna Phuket. It reminded us of resort areas in Scottsdale, Arizona, but with a more tropical edge. We toured the Banyan Tree Hotel and found the giant lobby with its adjoining pool deck to be inviting. The villas were luxurious and fitted with all the modern amenities.

Just about a half-hour drive from Laguna Phuket, the relatively new Trisara Hotel sits within a lush jungle overlooking its own private bay. Its two to five bedroom pool villas play host to top international celebrities and are known for exclusivity and privacy. Honestly, we expected the property to feel too formal and stuffy for our tastes, but it was just the opposite. Warmth permeated from every direction. We had the pleasure of having lunch on their terrace with Anthony Lark, the resort’s charismatic General Manager and part owner. (Anthony had previously been the GM at Amanpuri.) During our lunch, Anthony excused himself on multiple occasions to greet and welcome every guest by name. We were blown away by the level of service and genuine hospitality. We promised to return one day and spend a few nights in this little piece of heaven.

We drove past the airport to another resort area where the JW Marriott and Anantara Hotels are located. The friendly Australian managers at Anantara allowed us to visit a few of their 83 pool villas, and then the sun peaked from the clouds and we were invited to enjoy their beach and pool for the balance of the afternoon. A walk along the beach leads to the JW Marriott. It’s a nice hotel, but we felt that the Anantara was more authentic. We had an excellent dinner and some exotic drinks at one of Anantara’s specialty restaurants – Sea, Fire, Salt. A salt sommelier offers a choice of flavored salt rocks with which to barbeque your meat or seafood tableside. We wonder if salt sommeliers will be the next big “thing” in upscale dining.

When we returned to our pavilions at Amanpuri, there was a soft glow coming from the center of our room. It was created by candles outlining rose petals in the shape of a heart, with more petals leading the way to the bathtub also filled with roses. The hotel knew we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and wanted to provide my wife and me with a little extra romance. I thought this stuff only happened in movies! We’ll definitely miss the Amanpuri.

Click here to read Part 3

A Vacation That Enlightened and Entertained – Thailand and Hong Kong Part 1

By Anthony Adler

A trip to the Far East had always teased our sense of curiosity and wonder, but we had hesitated on several occasions fearing it was just too long a journey for our children. With our kids now in their early teens, we decided it was time to take the plunge, albeit with a little trepidation. We nailed down the parameters first. We had a two-week time frame, and that put certain constraints on the amount of time we were willing to spend in airports. We had to choose our destinations carefully, finally deciding to fly non-stop from Los Angeles to Bangkok, then fly to Phuket, on to Hong Kong and then back home. We would have liked to have also visited northern Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, but that would have to wait for another trip.

I don’t like to fly, though business class on Thai Airways was quite nice. The service was exceptional and the food was surprisingly good. My wife and I had a meeting with tourism officials in Bangkok scheduled just a few hours after our arrival, so we needed to be fresh after an 18-hour flight. I generally don’t advocate the use of drugs, but I must admit that the Ambien prescribed by our doctor allowed our whole family to sleep nearly ten hours on the plane. We were wide awake and ready to go when we arrived. We cleared customs quickly and were whisked away by our private car and guide.

First Day in Bangkok

For our family, how we travel is as important as where we travel to. There are wonderful luxury hotels in Bangkok, and we had the good fortune to stay at the Mandarin Oriental (formerly known simply as The Oriental). We now understand why this hotel is consistently listed as one of the top five hotels in the world. Located on the legendary Chao Phraya River, its location is outstanding. Yet, it is the service we will always remember. We were greeted with genuine kindness and warm smiles. Every floor has a butler. During the three nights at the hotel, we never put our key in the door to our two-bedroom suite. Our butler would literally race to open it for us. While the hotel is a landmark and the grand dame of the Mandarin Oriental chain, our suite and all the rooms were modern with the newest technology and quiet air conditioning.

We began each day with a buffet breakfast at The Verandah restaurant located directly beside the river. It’s truly an idyllic setting filled with businessmen in suits and aristocratic vacationers from around the world. Our family felt like we had stepped into an old movie as we watched the barges and small boats sail by. The buffet seemed to have everything imaginable at its various stations, but the chefs offered to custom make us anything else we might desire. They encouraged us to try exotic beverages, coffees and teas, all which were included in the price. We loved the milky coconut drinks.
We had heard mixed reviews of the tailors in Bangkok. I went for a fitting at a highly recommended tailor. Suffice it to say that it’s best to wait to Hong Kong if you want quality workmanship. It will cost more there, but sometimes you do get what you pay for.

We hopped on the BTS skyway, a terrific monorail system connecting much of the city, and headed over to Pantip Plaza. This multi-story shopping center is a haven for techno geeks like my boys. Hundreds of stores and booths sell everything from computers, printers, cameras, phones and software. CDs and games sell for just $3 and $4. Of course, there is one caveat you should be aware of; much of what you find there is counterfeit. My kids advise that if you do buy any software, make sure you run it through an anti-virus program before installing it on your computer.

Next we purchased inexpensive sim cards for our unlocked cell phones at MBK, a giant shopping center with 2,500 stores. For about US $10, we were able to call back home and call each other for an entire week. For a buck or two more, you can buy the same cards at any of the 7-11 convenience stores located throughout Bangkok.

Now it was my wife’s turn, so we visited one of Bangkok’s more exclusive shopping centers. Siam Paragon is a five-story ultra-modern complex selling everything from Ferraris to Jimmy Choo shoes. Not everything is a bargain here, but it is a lot of fun, even for non-shoppers.

We were beginning to feel the effects of the time change, so we ventured back to our hotel where we had a casual meal under the stars. After our delicious pizza at Ciao, we retired to our magnificent suite not wanting to close the curtains on the moonlit skyline of this incredible city.

Weekend Market, Spa and Real Thai Food

After enjoying another breakfast on the river, we took the subway (MRT) to the famous Chatachak Weekend Market. This is the granddaddy of all flea markets with over 8,000 stalls selling everything from fashions and foods to reptiles and furniture. It’s very busy with over 200,000 visitors on a typical weekend. We were glad it wasn’t a hot day when we went. Nearly every vendor is willing to bargain, so bring your negotiating skills.

Our boys wanted to explore the area around our hotel, and we felt comfortable letting them do it on their own. My wife and I had scheduled a visit to the hotel’s Oriental Spa, known as one of the best in the world. It is located just across the river from the hotel in a restored century-old teakwood house. We chose the 90-minute couples treatment in the dedicated Ayruvedic Penthouse. Ayurveda is the science of healthy living from the ancient and rich traditions of India. You begin by meeting a doctor to design the perfect treatment for your physical and mental states. The next step is a massage to completely relax your body and soul. We liked it a lot!

Spice Market at the Four Seasons Hotel was recommended to us for their great Thai food. The sleek and modern hotel had a big convention going on, so the lobby was bustling with activity. The restaurant is intimate, but still excellent for families. The chef was more than willing to accommodate my food allergies and my son’s vegetarian limitations.

When people think of Bangkok, they often perceive it to be one big red-light district. This simply isn’t true and certainly isn’t fair. While there are adult shows and prostitution, most of it is limited to certain areas, just as it is in other large cities. The most famous area in Bangkok for naughty behavior is Patpong. It’s one of those places that most tourists visit, even if it’s not their cup of tea. The main street is also a busy shopping area at night with souvenir stalls in the middle and Go-Go Bars and adult shows on either side. We were surprised to see many families shopping the stalls there, including those with very young children. We found it a bit uncomfortable when hawkers approached us with adult menus and offers of free peeks. Our kids ignored it and the younger kids we saw didn’t seem to be interested, but I would think twice before bringing preteens and young children. Nevertheless, I must say that the area was clean and that we never felt unsafe. We purchased a laser pen for my older son from one of the vendors and headed back to our hotel.

Cooking School, Grand Palace and Klong Voyage

My wife and younger son had an early breakfast before taking a class at the Mandarin Oriental’s Thai Cooking School. They had a wonderful time and have been trying ever since to duplicate the dishes they prepared in class. My older son and I slept late and then went to lunch across the river at the Peninsula Hotel. Prior to lunch, we were able to tour a few of their guest rooms. We can see why the Peninsula’s reputation is right up there with the Mandarin Oriental’s.

We saved the big sightseeing trip for our last day in Bangkok. First we went to the Grand Palace. This outstanding architectural achievement with its Emerald Buddha is an absolute must-see for tourists of all ages. Then we chose to travel by longtail boat on a four-hour journey through klongs (canals) and waterways, passing government buildings and large temples at the beginning to smaller temples and floating markets as we entered a much more rural environment. It is a tour we would certainly recommend if you like to go off the beaten path.

There were so many things on our list to do in Bangkok and we would not have time to do most of them. Still, we had a sense of euphoria about how we discovered a whole new world, conquered Bangkok’s transportation system, dined like royalty, experienced some culture and developed a kinship with the Thai people.

Click here to read Part 2!

Going The Distance

By Anthony Adler

I love to travel, but I hate to fly. Glamour and excitement can no longer be associated with air travel. So when it was time to plan our family’s spring break trip, I had to ponder long and hard whether crossing an ocean or two was really worth the trouble. I decided we would finally take the Asia vacation we had discussed for years. It was a decision that I’m glad to say I don’t regret a bit!

Our 18-hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok had me quite nervous. I usually get a touch of cabin fever after just a few hours. This was different though. My doctor is a frequent international flyer and suggested we sleep for ten of those hours. I can’t sleep for ten hours when I’m at home; how could I possibly sleep that long on a plane? He prescribed Ambien, one tablet for my wife and me, and a half tablet each for our teenage sons. Taking pills is not something that generally appeals to me, but this doctor was pretty sure about his strategy.

We had the pleasure of flying in the Business Class cabin on Thai Airways. The multi-course dinner began about 90 minutes after takeoff and didn’t end until we were more than three hours into the flight. We then spent an hour playing games and watching shows on their video system. Then, with a little hesitation, we took the pills. Within an hour we were all asleep. We missed one meal served about six hours later, but awoke to the smell of a hearty breakfast several hours after that. By the time we finished our morning meal, completed our customs forms and changed out of our pajamas, the plane began its descent. We arrived about an hour early at 5:30 AM Bangkok time. We were refreshed and ready to go. My fears of how we would withstand such a long flight were unfounded. It was easy and actually somewhat enjoyable. None of us had issues staying awake and we saw a lot of Thailand on that first day. Of course, we all were quite ready for bed at about 9:00 PM.

We now have a whole new perspective. We would not hesitate to explore parts of the world that seemed just too far away to us before. Our experience was both enlightening and invigorating.

Elite Family Travel covers the United States and the world. In this issue, you will find articles about New York, South America and plenty of spots in between. Regardless of where you are going, remember the bottom line is that getting “there” doesn’t have to be so bad. A big part of it is having the right attitude. Certainly it helps a lot to fly Business Class or First Class, but even if you fly in Coach, the rewards of seeing far-off places with those you love make it all worthwhile.