Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A holiday fit for a princess

The Caribbean has always been considered one of the most luxurious and exciting holiday destinations in the world, and now the Duchess of Cambridge has given the islands her royal seal of approval.

Kate Middleton’s choice of holiday destination was always going to be big news. The Middleton sisters have a reputation for style and understated elegance, so it came as little surprise that they chose the super-exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique for their first holiday of 2012.

This week Kate jetted off for a relaxing week in the sun away from royal engagements, winter weather and endless hoards of paparazzi. The Duchess joined her parents, sister Pippa and brother James on the tiny, privately-owned island for what is reportedly a belated 30th birthday celebration. And if one royal isn’t enough, Prince William is also rumoured to be joining the sisters and the rest of the Middleton clan later this week when he returns from RAF duty.

Mustique has long been a favourite holiday destination of the Middletons and it’s no surprise that they keep coming back to this idyllic Caribbean hideaway. The island has been associated with royalty ever since Princess Margaret acquired ten acres of land there in the 1960s and it is a firm favourite with well-heeled celebrities such as Elton John, David Bowie and Mick Jagger.

Mustique is so exclusive it has fewer than 100 private villas, with the Middleton’s choice of accommodation costing an eye-watering £15,000 per week. Whilst this may not weigh too heavily on the royal purse, us mere mortals would do well to look for a slightly less intimidating price tag for a winter getaway.

The good news is that you can still enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, stunning villas and exciting activities without the king-sized bill when you check out. It really is possible to uncover your perfect Caribbean break without shelling out princely sums, and there are many less costly islands which offer the same white sand, sunshine and relaxation for a fraction of Mustique’s A-list prices. With an island for every budget, there’s no need to compromise the next time you want to escape. After all, everyone needs a day off from the paparazzi from time to time…

Friday, 9 December 2011

A holiday is one of the biggest purchases we’ll make all year

For many of us, a holiday is one of the biggest purchases we’ll make all year. Because of this it’s a purchase which is always loaded with expectation.

But the problem for customers is that holidays are intangible. The customer can’t wander around a showroom or testdrive their holiday; they can’t take a guided tour of the trip before they set off; and they can’t try a free sample of their week in the sun before they decide to buy.

Thankfully in recent years tour operators have benefited from the power of the internet to offer customers more information through ever more inventive means. Where in the past we had to make do with holiday brochures, now we have interactive, 360-degree images and online tours.

So what are the major developments we've seen in recent years to help customers understand exactly what they’re booking? How has the internet in particular helped to break down the barrier of intangibility? And what benefits does this bring for customers? Peter Lampkin, managing director of Intimate Holidays, will discuss these quesitons and more in the finished article.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

How to find the perfect Caribbean Holiday

A Caribbean holiday is the ultimate tropical get-away for anyone seeking sun, sea, adventure, and real relaxation in one of the most the world’s most treasured regions.

The problem is that such an idyllic break often comes at a price, and often this can be the only thing holding you back from booking your dream Caribbean holiday. But with a bit of research and planning you could be jetting off on the holiday of a lifetime for less than you might think. Peter Lampkin of Intimate Holidays shares a few tips to make sure you get the best deal on your next trip.

Some people tend to discount the more exotic holiday locations because they automatically assume they’ll be more expensive. With a bit of careful planning this doesn’t have to be the case, and with the euro offering poor value against the pound there’s never been a better time to head further afield.

Even so, it's important to research your trip thoroughly to find the right location and get the best value for your money. People can fall into the trap of considering all the Caribbean islands to be alike, when in reality they all have their own distinct culture and feel. Considering that the region covers over 2.5 million square kilometers, this is hardly surprising! 

Whether you’re looking for the warmth and friendliness of Antigua, the natural beauty of Barbados, carnivals in Trinidad or diving amidst unspoiled coral reef in Tobago, the Caribbean truly has something for everyone.

That said, if you don’t have a particular island in mind there are great savings to be had. Costs can vary depending on destination, the travel operator, the departure airport and even flight times, so spending a few hours comparing your options can lead to major savings.

Travelling outside of school holidays and peak times is a great option for those holidaying without children. Between April and December is the off season in the Caribbean, but thanks to the islands’ location near the equator temperatures in winter don’t drop by more than a few degrees! Some guests also find that the islands are less crowded at this time of year, and an even more peaceful way of life exists. Do beware of the rainy seasons though. These vary from island to island, but storms rarely last long before the blue skies and sunshine return.

Whether you are looking for an all-inclusive package deal or something a little more off the beaten track, it's definitely advisable to check a variety of websites and travel agencies. And don’t overlook independent operators, as they tend to offer a more personal service and still have access to some excellent prices.

Booking your perfect holiday months in advance is a sure fire way of tracking down a great deal. Tour operators offer price incentives for early bookers to keep their revenue streams moving, so book before the rush to access some great early bird offers. Apart from anything else, there's nothing like the peace of mind when all the planning has been done and you can sit back and look forward to your holiday.

At the other end of the spectrum late availability deals can offer some fantastic bargains. Whilst they’re not convenient for everyone, if you can be flexible with your travel dates then why not try booking nearer your intended travel date? This can lead to some fantastic low rates as travel companies clamour to fill up planes and beds at discounted prices.

Finally, shop around for the best deals on foreign currency and you’ll avoid paying over the odds. Try to steer clear of getting currency at the airport where rates are higher than on the high street, or from cash machines at your destination where banks may charge a conversion fee. It’s worth considering prepaid travel cards which can offer favourable exchange rates and do not charge a fee for use abroad. They’re also more secure than cash.

Following these simple guidelines can really help to make your money go further and can transform your dream holiday into a reality. With a bit of research and planning you can save a packet on your favourite Caribbean destination. So what are you waiting for? Your perfect holiday might be closer than you think…

Friday, 7 October 2011

Barbados September 2011

Sunday morning just a little after 10am I check in my bag at the new British Air Ways check-in counters at Gatwick North terminal, wow what a difference from my last visit, a fresh looking, stress free feeling area……………. After an eight and half flight the door of the triple seven aircraft opened at Grantly Adams International I was hit by a 30 degree heat and brilliant sunshine a good deal warmer than the eleven degree’s I left behind in the UK.

It wasn’t long before I cleared immigration and customs; then on to collect my car from Courtesy Cars  There was a warm Barbados welcome from the staff, they knew my name, may well have been a good guess, but I was a good start. The paperwork completed I was soon on my way to my hotel, Coconut Court Beach Hotel Thats a picture of the beach at Coconut Court [jealous or what?]

The trip from the airport to the hotel took only fifteen minutes and the check-in went very smoothly, just the registration and a swipe of my credit card and I’m on my way to the room {Number 83}. First impressions are good: a large room with a fridge/freezer, microwave, kettle, toaster and cutlery for four: a spacious wardrobe, a table and two chairs, and huge bed [very comfortable]. A pair of French Doors led onto a balcony, the view to the sea can only be described as – stunning. On closer inspection the room, whilst basic in the furnishings was obviously cared for and clean.
I awoke very early, still dark; 1am in Barbados is 6am in the UK at this time of the year, my get up time in the UK. Daylight finally comes and I’m on the beach watching the sunrise; beautiful, you have to come and see this.

Breakfast is served from 7am to 10am, the room price included a continental buffet breakfast but you can order other items at extra cost. For example a full “English Breakfast” was BD$29 [£9.70 approx.]  I ordered a “Full English” very good value; I wouldn’t need anything else to eat until the evening. The rest of the menu covered all other meals from the “all day” choices to the evening meal. There was something for everyone at pretty reasonable prices.

A stop at the activities desk on the way up from the restaurant I learn that this area is on the south coast of the island and is known as the ‘The Garrison Historic Area’ I’m going to spend the rest of the day having a good look round. Close by, a ten minute walk from the hotel was all the history I’d ever need; and there is plenty of it. I’ll perhaps make a stop by the museums another day.

To the left of the hotel beach area, assuming you are facing the sea is the ‘Board Walk’. The Board Walk runs parallel to the road and it’s possible to access the shops and restaurants as you stroll along. It took me about half an hour to reach the end at Rockley Beach. In this area there is a good selection of local shops/stalls to by all sorts of local crafts. Just across the road are more conventional shops and a small open air restaurant and coffee shop, very good coffee. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day for my walk, the sky was a deep blue, only the odd cloud and the sun was already hot although the heat of the sun was tempered by a gentle breeze off the sea.  The rest of the day was spent on the beach at Coconut Court dipping in and out of the water. This was punctuated with the odd trip [well maybe more than the odd trip] to the beach bar run by the ever smiling Bradley or Antoniou [he seemed to answer to both, I must ask him which is correct]; absolute bliss. Catamaran trip booked for tomorrow, looking forward to that……..

Breakfast great as usual this morning, had an omelette; again I’ll not need anything more until the evening meal. The pickup time from the hotel was 09:30 for my catamaran trip, can’t wait. We, and my fellow sailors, arrived at the dock [it’s called The Careenage locally] Cool Runnings was the name of the catamaran. The Captain Robert Povey and all his crew were most welcoming with coffee and cake. We pulled out of the careenage and headed into the ocean turning right and heading down the West Coast of the island. The views to the island were stunning as we headed down passing some of the large west coast villas and hotels such as Sandy Lane Hotel [loads of money to stay there]. We had been sailing for about an hour when we pulled in closer to the shore and dropped anchor. This was our stop to swim with the Hawkes Bill Turtles……a much endangered species. We had our safety instructions from the captain and put on mask and bouncy aide. Splashes all-round as one by one we entered the water following a crew member to swim with the Turtles. If you get the opportunity don’t pass it by. Then all-aboard to sail back away to another spot to snorkel over a shallow shipwreck where we were able to feed shoals of tropical fish, a magnificent site. Some of my ‘ship-mates’ enjoyed a walk along the deserted beach or just sunbathed on the deck. At this stop a delicious lunch was served with quite a pleasant red [or white] wine, the traditional Rum Punch, or whatever you wanted as long as it was on board. It was soon time to head back towards Bridgetown and the Careenage; the sale back was as equally stunning, I just sit and absorb the atmosphere, the warm sun and breeze, bliss……………… [a word of caution at this point…….take with you and use regularly a high factor sun screen, especially sailing].

The next few days was spent on the beach a Coconut Court Beach; it was so relaxing sitting/laying on my lounger under the coconut trees with that  gentle sea  breeze wafting over me……………do I really need to go home?
More on my trip later………………
My trip was arranged by Intimate Holidays and my flight was with British Airways

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Visiting the Caribbean

Arriving in Barbados with its modern airport – Grantley Adams International – immigration was a breeze and we were soon on our way by taxi to Coconut Court Beach Hotel. It only took about fifteen minutes which was great as all we wanted to do was get to the beach and into the sea. Coconut Court is a three star hotel on the south coast of the island; the rooms were clean, spacious and functional. The beach was large – plenty of space for every one staying at the hotel - and beautiful. Only a short distance into the sea, no more than thigh high at low tide, are a line of ‘reef balls’ full of tropical fish for you to see and feed.

We just loved the beach at Coconut Court as we found it very safe, our grandchildren played for hours on end (loads of sun screen required) They also have a very good beach bar and restaurant serving local Caribbean and European food.

We pre-booked an island tour with Ted’s Tour, a real must as you get to see the whole island and it is very different, from the rugged east coast to the tranquil Caribbean Sea on the west. Bathsheba on the east coast with its ruggedness and miles of beach was most enjoyable just to stroll along in the warm Caribbean sunshine.

Another must thing to do is a catamaran trip; the hotel activities desk arranged this for us. We were collected from the hotel and taken down to the careenage to board our catamaran. We sailed out of the careenage heading down the west coast of the island to arrive, after a stunning sail along the coast of about one hour, to swim with the turtles an experience not to miss. After swimming with the turtles we headed back towards Bridgetown and moored up close to a wreck to snorkel. On entering the water we were faced with a vista of fish in all shapes, sizes and vibrant colours. Waiting back on board after our snorkel was a great buffet. We pulled into the careenage wondering where the last five hours had gone. This was a truly fabulous day out.

Eating out was varied with a choice ranging from local Caribbean to European, from fast food to fine dining, something for everyone.

Last and by no means least we must not forget the local people, everyone we meet and had contact with could not have been more friendly and helpful. We felt safe at all times walking or driving around the island.

Ten days is not enough, we need a month!