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Don’t Wait To Plan Your Holiday Travel

By Damien Martin

Well, the holidays are over, and we are smack dab in 2016. There are pros and cons to this, of course. As fun as it is to put up decorations, it’s just as sad taking them down. We can’t count on sugary treats to help us power through the afternoons. But on the bright side, we aren’t still shame-eating whole plates of cookies and getting jealous of bears because they can shed pounds while sleeping all winter. What, I’m the only one who does that? Never mind then.

While the short winter days have many of us dreaming of the beach — yes, you should start planning spring break now — it’s also a good idea to start planning this year’s holiday travel. Even though we have an extra day this year, Feb. 29 is a Monday, so I don’t think it counts.

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Did you know studies have shown that looking forward to a trip is one of the things people enjoy most about travel? So on these cold winter days, picture your future self, sitting by the fire at a ski chalet, or close to the fire-breathers at a luau. That will put you right back in the holiday spirit.
Keeping with the theme of a new year, here are some friendly reminders.

Apply For or Renew Your Passport ASAP

If your passport is set to expire, don’t wait until the last minute to renew it. As of Jan. 1, people who are out of empty passport pages can no longer request more. Instead, they have to renew their passports as well, which will delay processing. Plus, there are many people who got passports in 2007 — when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative made them necessary for travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean — and therefore have passports expiring in 2017. So if yours is up for renewal soon, make sure to get your application in before wait times increase.

You’d also better make sure the IRS isn’t after you. The State Department can now revoke, deny or limit passports for people who owe $50,000 or more in back taxes.

Changes In The Air

OK, so you’ve taken all the necessary steps to make sure they let you on the plane. Things will also be different onboard.

Are you looking to book your holiday travel? Here are some great tips and reminders for you!

On Delta, passengers who want the little extras on their summer getaways need to say so in advance. For flights within the U.S. and Canada departing on or after May 16, Delta Comfort+ has to be booked as its own class of service. Up until now, fliers could purchase upgraded seats with more legroom, better snacks and free drinks for those flights after booking regular economy tickets.

What’s that, you value my advice so much that you already booked your flights and bought upgraded seats? Not to worry, Delta will honor all Comfort+ purchases made before Nov. 14, 2015. Not to be outdone, United is now offering Economy Plus packages for a smoother flying experience. The Economy Plus Essentials package gets you a better seat and an extra checked bag at 20 percent less cost than booking those two perks separately. The Enhanced package includes the seat and extra bag, plus Premier Access — priority check-in, security lanes, boarding and baggage handling — at 25 percent less.

Travel Tip

Not sure if it’s the right time to buy? Check out the Hopper app, which lists average fares for specific itineraries, tells you which travel dates have higher or lower prices, and estimates when fares will go up or down.

Mobile Passport

At last, you’re back in the U.S. after a wonderful vacation made all the better by planning ahead and having a comfortable seat. If you happen to be flying into Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Chicago O’Hare, Seattle or San Francisco, even getting through the customs line can be a breeze.

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Mobile Passport is a free app accepted at those six airports (San Jose and Dallas-Fort Worth will be added soon) that allows users to go to a shorter line, much like global entry users. It’s open to holders of U.S. and Canadian passports. It’s also simple and easy — at least in theory: Before you go, download the app, enter your passport information and snap a selfie. Then when you land at a participating airport, log in and start a new trip. Just tell the app who’s travelling, where you landed and on which airline, then answer four quick customs questions.

The app will send your information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and send you a receipt granting you access to the Mobile Passport line. I tested Mobile Passport out when my wife and I flew into Atlanta from Europe in December. The app let us fill out a family customs form, but I never did get a receipt. The customs agents still let us go into the special line, though, so it sort of worked.

So now we have so much planning to do there’s no time to hibernate. Which is good, because we have to wait until March for the Hypnos Hoodie — billed as “the world’s best sleep hoodie” — with an inflatable hood that doubles as a pillow. If you want to pre-order, it’s on Kickstarter until Jan. 11. My resolution for 2016? Using all my vacation days. To make sure I do that, I’m mapping my year of travel out as early as I can. The lesson, as always, is plan ahead. Your future self will thank you for it.

If you’re ready to map out your travel and you need help creating the best experience, contact us at 913-338-2244.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful, But The Fire Is So Delightful

Triple Creek Ranch Photo


Winter Weather Wonderlands

Grab that gorgeous, fluffy throw, cuddle up on that overstuffed couch, and swig that deliciously rich hot chocolate. Maybe you’ve spent the day seeing and being seen on the slopes, or you have been delightfully lazy with your new favorite author, but either way it is that time of year where snuggling up next to the fireplace is not only a luxury but a necessity. So, to take the guess work out of the best places to snuggle up by the fire this winter, we’ve rounded up the most fabulous hotels and resorts whose fireplaces are so nice you’ll think twice before trekking outside.

Winter Weather Option #1: Triple Creek Ranch

Voted the #1 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure readers in 2014, our first pick for hotels perfect for staying by the fire is Triple Creek Ranch located in Montana. In your private log cabin (with your own hot tub) you can pick a plethora of outdoor or indoor activities to fill your day including all your snow sports, skiing, or simply staying in your plush bathrobe for a lazy day. Maybe the most alluring feature of this hideaway, which is situated it the Bitterroot Mountains, is that it boasts an adult-only crowd. Who cares about the weather when you’re enjoying Triple Creek Ranch?

Winter Weather Option #2: Twin Farms

Being one of only 23 lodgings in the USA and Canada that can toot their own horn about having a Twin Farms PhotoForbes 5 star rating since 1996 is our next cozy winter retreat, Twin Farms, which is located on 300 acres in Vermont just north of Woodstock. Enjoy six private ski trails, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, and tobogganing in winter, or relax and unwind in their Woods Spa. Our guarantee is that your waist line will not be ignored (unfortunately or fortunately) while staying at this resort, as Twin Farms’ seasonal meals incorporate the property’s own herbs and is customized for each guest to be complimented by vintages from the 26,000-bottle wine cellar.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler Photo

Winter weather option #3: Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Situated on the base of the Blackcomb Mountain, as one of the world’s premier ski resorts, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a ski-in/ski-out resort that is one hot place to be seen during those cold winter nights. The largest all-inclusive resort constructed in Canada since the turn of the century, has 494 guest rooms with 56 suites. With plenty of fireplaces to keep you warm and cozy, you’ll debate traveling the few feet outside to Whistler Village, but we promise it is worth it.

Winter weather option #4: Montage Deer Valley

The votes are in and ranked as one of the Great Getaways Travel Advisors’ favorite winter retreats is Montage PhotoMontage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. This brand new hotel, opening in December of 2010, is described as one of North America’s finest mountain resort destinations. Another ski-in/ski-out resort with a self-described 35,000 square foot “alpine oasis” in the form of the Spa Montage, this 220 room winter paradise definitely packs a punch with Utah’s famous powder snow at your fingertips. However, if you’re not interested in that famous snow, hunker down in Daly’s Pub & Rec which features an open kitchen, bowling, billiards, and nostalgic arcade games.
Really, no matter what you wish for your next winter escape these four resorts have it all. From winter sports to cuddling up by the fire, we guarantee that your days will be filled with relaxation and pampering if you choose one of these fabulous resorts as your destination of choice.

Top 8 Family Vacations

MK Lauren Jacob Kauai

Here are Great Getaways Travel’s Top 8 picks for family vacations. Believe it or not, we struggled to keep this list a manageable size because we have so many favorites. Here’s what we’ve decided to do: we’ll give you our Top of the Top and we will break it down into categories in future posts.

First, what is a family vacation? Our ideal is a trip planned by the parents with input from the kids, or from all generations if grandma and grandpa are coming, too. We are also bold enough to suggest you can actually have an enjoyable time, yes, all of you, when you jointly create your itinerary. You know the basics, of course: nothing goes as planned so always leave a 15 minute window when scheduling activities; don’t overschedule; allow each generation some activities geared for that age group – including some down time; build excitement by learning about the destination before you go; and don’t waste money on pricey souvenirs that will end up in the back of your child’s closet.

Ground rules set, right? Okay, let’s roll:

All Things Disney

This includes Disney World, Disneyland, Disney cruise, any Disney theme park, hotel, and Adventures by Disney. Book as far in advance as possible for best availability and value. You . Will . Be . A . Hero . Promise . You know that our own Karen Henderson (karen@greatgetaways.travel) is the Queen of Disney vacations, right?


Know which island(s) you want to visit. Maui – great beaches, resorts, some family attractions can be crowded in high season; Kauai – what we picture when we think of Hawaii – lush, tropical, natural. We recommend the South Shore for families. The North Shore is spectacular but it gets a lot of rain (a definite bummer for kids); the Big Island, Hawaii, is very family friendly and great for the active traveler ( a LIVE volcano is a serious memory maker – and fields of black lava rock suggest you’re on another planet); Oahu – home of a Disney resort and a very bustling city – think Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, the famous North Shore surfer paradise, shopping, dining and crowds; Lanai – closed for renovations is Larry Ellison’s island – think Four Seasons uber luxury with a kids program; Molokai – very primitive and we don’t recommend it for most families. Not sure which is best for you? Ask our Hawaii specialist, Shelly Lynch, shelly@greatgetaways.travel.

Ranch Vacations

Think active – horseback rides, hikes, cowboy life, and nature. There are so many options for ranch vacations all over the US. Google “ranch vacations” and be prepared for a herd of options. For the ultimate in ranch vacation (think cowboy with a big helping of luxe style) we recommend The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Kids  from 4 – 12 will love the Little Grizzlies Program. Mom and Dad can choose hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, horseback riding, or schedule some pampering at the Granite Spa.


Where to begin? You have so many options in this city, where English is the native tongue (that would be the Queen’s English, not ours): the Tower of London, The London Eye, a Harry Potter tour, Sherlock Holmes tours for the mystery buff, Buckingham Palace, and Harrods, of course. Miles of parks for kids to enjoy – St. James, Green and Hyde Parks are the most well known and central. And then there was the time we took our 11 year old to London and allowed him to pick a restaurant for dinner. He picked Burger King – we’ve learned to narrow the selection process after that!


We began taking family safaris when our son was 9. I remember packing a box of Fruit Loops because I was sure this picky eater would starve. I was wrong and we ended up pitching the cereal. Both of our kids LOVE going on safari. It is a magical experience. Who wouldn’t fall in love with elephants, lions, leopards, and giraffes roaming freely across the plains? For a first time family safari we recommend South Africa, an easy combination of wildlife viewing and city life.

young elephants friends forever south africa

Our favorite safari camps for families are Londolozi (I want to live there!) and Jabulani, named after an orpaned elephant and where you get to experience an elephant back safari (not for young children). And, just when you think you’ve seen it all, take a drive from Cape Town to the coast and treat the kids to some whale watching (in season) and get up close and personal with penguins. Ask Michael King, Michael@greatgetaways.travel, about family safari vacations. He is the Wiz!

Cruising Big-Ship Style

Nothing compares to the experience a family can have aboard a big cruise ship! Our favorites are the newest Royal Caribbean ship the Quantum of the Seas ( all Royal Caribbean ships are geared to suit all ages), the new Norwegian ship, the Getaway (and we anticipate the Escape, debuting in the fall of 2015 to be equally wonderful), and a Disney cruise delights all ages, too.

National Parks

Talk about a personal decision, this is one category that is difficult to recommend a particular national park! We are all familiar with the popular ones – Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Sequoia – and there are so many other choices. Are you camping or staying in a lodge? Do you want to experience glaciers (i.e. Glacier Bay National Park)? Beaches (Cape Hatteras National Seashore)? Bears (Denali, Yellowstone, Glacier)? Kids today don’t experience nature very much, so vacationing at a national park would offer a welcome change from the concrete of cities and suburbs.

Washington, DC

Need I say why? Didn’t think so! The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Air and Space Museum, American History Museum, Bureau of Engraving, and on and on.

Trust me, we have so many more ideas for family vacations. If I wrote all of our picks, my grandchildren will be grandparents before I finish this post!

What is your number 1 favorite family vacation? Go to our Facebook page HERE to share!


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Finally – A leaf-peeping article that is excellent!

It’s that time of year, the time when the world of nature turns orange, red, yellow and brown in our part of the world. It’s like Mother Nature strolled through the country dotting and dabbing splashes of unbelievably colorful beauty wherever she wanted. I love this time of year (although not as much as spring) because I am reminded how magical life. This time of year is also when I am inundated with articles both online and on dead trees, a/k/a paper, about where to catch the best views of fall foliage. I have come to loathe these articles, yes, loathe. Most of them are a waste of time, written to fill space and accompanied by stock photos. Local magazines seem to predictably feature such articles and I suppose there must be reader demand or they’d find something more original to feature in their October issue.

Just this morning when chatting with Robin Atkins, Publisher of KC Magazine, KC Business, and Good Health KC, I went on a tirade about boring fall foliage articles (and many regional magazines’ travel articles that are space fillers for ad sales, IMHO). Well, the gods of journalism have a great sense of humor because moments after Robin left our office, I opened an email from Huffington Post Travel, which has an outstanding article about fall foliage. I’d go into greater detail but it is hard to type with all the bird feathers cluttering my keyboard because I am definitely eating crow.

Here, read the article yourself and I will give you a hint: you’ll need a valid passport to see this fantastic sight!

Happy Fall, my friends (drats, a feather got stuck on my sp a ce b ar).



Here’s a way to view fall foliage that is of galactic proportions: