MSC Divina Review (and Why You Need to Stay in the Yacht Club)

lisa.pngThe following post features a review of the MSC Divina from Lisa at Boscov’s Travel. Lisa is the Director of Training and Professional Development at the company’s headquarters, and has over 40 years of travel industry experience.

The MSC Divina Ship

MSC Cruises recently became one of our preferred cruise partners (they deliver great value to clients, are a reputable company and work closely offering training and support to our specialists) so I was eager to experience the cruise line. Our MSC Cruises rep, John, highly recommended the Yacht Club, a specific category of cabins.

Here’s how MSC describes the Yacht Club:
“The epitome of elegance and luxury at sea, The MSC Yacht Club offers a cruise experience like no other. Lavishly appointed suites, exclusive 24-hour butler service and a dedicated concierge are only the start. All-inclusive private restaurant, unlimited drinks in all venues or from your minibar, complimentary beverage selection in all onboard bars and restaurants, and exclusive access to The One Pool Bar & Grill Deck and Top Sail Lounge are just some of the other privileges.”

In early May 2017, my husband, son, daughter-in-law, infant grandson, and I sailed on the MSC Divina. We took John’s advice and booked the Yacht Club by taking advantage of one of MSC’s annual promotions. Needless to say, John’s recommendation was on point and I definitely felt it to be worth the price based on the service and perks we received!

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The Divina is a very attractive, clean, well-maintained ship; we had a relaxing cruise and many times did not realize we were moving.  The Swarovski Crystal staircases are spectacular, especially at night with the lights shining on them…it looked like thousands of sparkling diamonds!  Our sailing was sold-out with a mixture of passengers from the US, Canada, Europe (especially Italians) and South America.

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MSC Divina

Itinerary

May 6 – Miami, Florida
May 7 – At Sea
May 8 – Ocho Rios, Jamaica
May 9 – George Town, Cayman Islands
May 10 – Cozumel, Mexico
May 11 – At Sea
May 12 – Nassau, Bahamas
May 13 – Miami, Florida

Embarkation (Departure for those new to cruising)

Embarkation was a breeze, there was a separate check-in for Yacht Club guests. Because we were in the Yacht Club, we were escorted by a butler to a private lounge at the pier with cool towels, champagne, juice, and light hors d’oeuvres and cookies. We then bypassed the long lines and were taken directly to the Top Sail Lounge and Concierge on the ship to complete our check-in (we registered our credit cards and met our personal butler who explained how the Yacht Club works, etc.).

Living the Dream at the Yacht Club

Our butler escorted us immediately to our cabin and explained how the elevator system worked with our Cruise Cards. There is a separate bank of elevators at the front of the ship that works magic for Yacht Club guests. You insert your Cruise Card in a slot, push some buttons and the elevators come immediately to your floor. You can also insert your Cruise Card in a slot inside the elevator and make it an express elevator to whatever floor you want.

Our cabin, a Yacht Club Family Suite, was in the front of the ship with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows in both rooms. The cabin was 547 sq. ft. and had a separate living room with sofa-bed, a bedroom with a vanity area and walk-in closet, a large bathroom with double vanities, a full-size tub and a separate shower with an amazing shower system (I want one of these for my house!). We had two safes, two flat-screen TV’s, two phones, a small fridge (fully stocked daily with whatever we wanted), a snack cabinet, a double closet in the living room and lots of storage space (we didn’t use it all). We also received 4 bathrobes/slippers, lots of toiletries in the bathroom, and a choice of 4 types of pillows for the beds. Travelers should be aware that most of the outlets were European (our butler brought us a couple adapters). The only two US outlets were at the vanity in the bedroom (I guess this goes back to their European roots).

The Yacht Club Facilities

Anything you would normally take care of at the Guest Services Desk could be done at the Concierge Desk outside the Top Sail Lounge for Yacht Club guests. There was a full-service bar here which also served coffee beverages plus there was always a light buffet spread throughout the day and into the evening.

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Top Sail Lounge

The One Pool Bar & Grill on the 18th deck is exclusively for Yacht Club guests. It has a small pool, two Jacuzzis, lots of chaise lounges, a private bar and a small grill/buffet with some cooked-to-order specialties. This quiet area was never full and noisy like the main pool areas on the rest of the ship and the staff was very attentive.

Dining

We had most of our meals in the Le Muse Restaurant which is the exclusive restaurant for Yacht Club guests. For lunch we tried the One Pool Bar & Grill, the Sports Bar, the Eataly Pizza, the Main Buffet and lunch on our two excursions. I was a little anxious about having a 10 month old infant in Le Muse every evening but no worries. My grandson was great and the staff here was very welcoming…the hostess and our assistant waitress loved him and used to entertain him every time they saw him! This restaurant had a special children’s menu for different age groups including toddlers (they don’t carry commercial baby food). Luckily my grandson is starting to eat table food and they also made some special fruit smoothies for him. He enjoyed his meals very much and I don’t think he’ll want to go back to eating baby food after this trip (LOL)!

Drink Package

MSC just started offering the free drink package to Yacht Club guests for everywhere on the ship starting in April. Prior to that, you could only get free drinks in the Yacht Club area. For the IMG_0908most part this worked well, but there were a few times in the non-Yacht Club bars where we got charged for drinks. When this happened, we told the Concierge who immediately removed it from our account. They said their staff is still in a learning curve because of this new program for Yacht Club guests. This free drink package also included specialty coffee drinks and gelato (which is excellent!).

Port Service

Whenever we were in port, our butler escorted us to the gangway (the ramp connecting the port to the ship) where we were taken to the front of the line. When we returned to the ship, we would show our Cruise Card and immediately be taken to the front bypassing the long lines. We had our own entrance to the ship at most ports and priority tender tickets for Grand Cayman. We were always greeted upon our return with cold water and cool towels.

Entertainment

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Theater

We went to one show, “Pirates”, which was good…it was a mixture of singing, dancing, acrobatics, juggling and magic tricks. They were heavily promoting a Michael Jackson show which we wanted to see but they didn’t schedule it until the last night. We didn’t have enough time to see it with packing and preparing to go home. I wish they would have scheduled it earlier in the week because the previews on TV looked very good. They have a decent size Casino (non-smoking) with slot machines (mostly penny, a few $1.00) and several table games.

Disembarkation

We had a few glitches with disembarking the ship but from what I understand MSC is building a new ship terminal in Miami so hopefully once that’s completed , the process will operate more smoothly.

Overall, we had an excellent vacation on the MSC Divina and I highly recommend the MSC Cruises Yacht Club experience to my clients and colleagues.

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If you’re ready to start planning your getaway, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

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A Week at the Excellence Playa Mujeres

The following post is written by Adam from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department.  Adam recently vacationed at the Excellence Playa Mujeres, and shares his insight into the resort and his overall travel experience booked through Boscov’s Travel.

DSCN0145.JPGAfter spending a week in Mexico two years ago, my wife and I decided to spend our yearly vacation in the land of guacamole again this year. During our previous stay in at the Secrets Silversands resort in Mexico, we enjoyed the beach but it wasn’t ideal for going into the deep waters of the Caribbean. When deciding where to go this year, the beach had to be priority. After much research, discussion and competitive “the resort I found is better than yours” banter we decided on the Excellence Playa Mujeres. And by we, I mean her.

After the flight and breezing through customs we were picked up by AMStar Tours for our private transfer to the resort. The resort was about 20 minutes from the Cancun Airport. Our guide, Carlos, did a fantastic job of providing an update of the Cancun area since our previous visit. During the drop off at the resort, he also provided his contact information in case we needed to change our pick up time or schedule any excursions we wished to take with AMStar Tours.

If you are going to an all-inclusive in Mexico, I would highly suggest using AMStar for airport transfers from the airport to the resort. They are dedicated to providing world-class services and their team is staffed by nothing less than travel professionals. And besides, when you’re stepping into a private vehicle at the airport, it makes you feel like a celebrity. Treat yo self!

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After making it through the city, we finally arrived at the Excellence Playa Mujeres. As always, it’s nice to be greeted with a cold towel and “Complimentary champagne, Sir?” Once inside, it’s always a sight to behold at how large the lobby can be at an all-inclusive resort- three floors and decorated to the nines. After checking in, we were escorted to our room right away. This year we decided to splurge a little more on our room and stayed in a Terrace Suite with Plunge Pool.

This Terrace Suite offers an expansive (807 sq. ft.) private terrace with Plunge Pool, comfortable lounge furniture and an open-air shower. If you decide to spend a vacation at this Excellence resort, stay in this suite. It was nice waking up in the morning and being able to lounge or swim when the sun was coming up. Also, my wife and I would enjoy a cocktail before going down to dinner each evening.

Excellence offers gourmet dining in ten international restaurants and eleven bars; no reservations needed. All meals, unlimited beverages, snacks, and 24/7 room service are included, plus all of the restaurants feature healthy menus and vegetarian dishes.

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We ate at a majority of the restaurants for dinner, the only ones we didn’t eat at were Basmati (Indian), Spice (Asian), and the Flavor Market (Tapas). And the only reasons why we didn’t eat at those places was because we wanted to eat at Chez Isabelle (French) and Agave (Mexican) more than once. I really believe that the menus in the restaurants at the Excellence are designed so that you are able have an appetizer, a salad, the main course, and dessert, and leave satisfied. The meals are portioned well and never disappoint.

Lunch was another experience all together. The Excellence had your standard buffet for breakfast and lunch. In addition to that, the Lobster House and the Grill offered a la carte menus for lunch. But the one we visited the most was Las Olas. Las Olas is located on the beach and has a selection of fast food, salads, wood-oven pizzas, and grilled favorites. The main course they offered was different everyday. One day we ate Seafood Paella, which was prepared in a giant wok, and another day we had Jamaican Jerk Chicken. It was fresh and served buffet style. It was by far the best place to eat lunch.

During our stay in Cancun 2 years ago, we went on a snorkeling excursion that gave us the opportunity to swim with sea turtles. This excursion is no longer available because the sea turtles habitats are now protected, which is a great because it helps the species from becoming extinct. So this year we decided to buy our own snorkeling gear and bring it with us.

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The beach at the Excellence provided more than enough space and ocean for us to explore the waters. We snorkeled at least twice a day and saw Bluefin Trevally, Starfish, Batfish, Sea Turtles, and a Manta Ray. Because of our decision to buy snorkeling gear, we decided we didn’t need to leave the resort to experience an excursion. We also took advantage of the free water sports offered by the resort and took the Stand Up Paddle Boards into the Caribbean a handful of times.

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Overall, our stay at the Excellence Playa Mujeres was by far the best vacation at an all-inclusive we have ever had. The service of the staff, the accommodations, the food, and the overall experience exceeded our expectations and was nothing short of amazing.

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If you’re ready to start planning your getaway, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Travel Cheaper by Knowing When to Book: How to Get the Best Prices on Your Vacation


_0024_Melissa-Wentzel-SeamanThe following post features advice from Melissa at Boscov’s Travel within Boscov’s at Reading Mall. Melissa has been giving expert travel advice for the past 9 years with Boscov’s Travel and has almost three decades of experience in the industry (she was previously a flight attendant). She has the scoop on the best time to buy air tickets, when to book a cruise and how you can make the most of a European vacation. 

When should I book my honeymoon?
Sandals-Whitehouse-European-beach-coupleHoneymoons should be planned 6 to 9 months in advance of your wedding date. We offer a honeymoon registry which allows your guests to contribute to your honeymoon. Because vacations typically need to be paid in full at least 45-days in advance, we recommend that you plan your honeymoon early, then distribute the complimentary “Registered with” announcement cards with your engagement party and/or bridal shower.

How far in advance should I plan my destination wedding? 
Sunscapes-WeddingYou should plan at least a year in advance to secure the space you want, determine the officiant, decide if it will be a symbolic ceremony or nuptial service, and give friends and family ample time to book their trip. Some resorts allow you to book a few years in advance, so the sooner you choose the resort, the better. If air schedules have not yet been released, you can book your resort now and purchase flights at a later date. Luckily we have Honeymoon & Destination Wedding Specialists to help you to navigate every last detail.

How far in advance can I book a European vacation?

Prices for flights to Europe have been historically low in 2017. Summer is the peak for visiting Europe, so you can typically save a few dollars by booking in the late spring or early fall. Typically we recommend you book 9-months out from your departure date.

How far in advance should I book a river cruise?
Rhine_Cologne_Sunset_Twilight_014Because inventory is lower than other categories due to the small sizes of the ships that need to navigate the canals and rivers of Europe and beyond, we recommend that you book a year in advance to get the cabin and dates that you want.

How far in advance is airfare available to purchase? 
The major airlines typically release pricing 330 days in advance, but the prices are incredibly volatile. If you’re not booking for a flight near a major holiday, we recommend that you book 6 to 9-months out from your departure date. Flight prices are relatively high when they are released, then drop around the 6 to 9-month range.
If you’re planning on traveling around a holiday, expect to pay 2 to 4 times the normal rate. Demand is high during these periods as students and families typically travel during national holidays. In this case, book your trip as soon as you can.

Southwest Airlines is the exception. They release their rates in increments. Right now in April 2017, they have dates available to book 7-months out, or the beginning of November.

How early can I plan a Walt Disney World vacation?
Disney-Mine-TrainTravelers typically book Walt Disney World 6 to 9-months in advance. As of the beginning of April 2017, rates for tickets and resorts at Walt Disney World for 2018 were not yet available. There are a few options for booking Walt Disney World vacations with with us due to our Boscov’s Travel Exclusive Charter to Walt Disney World package.  If you are just booking a Walt Disney Travel Company land package (meaning tickets and resorts), you can book in the 6 to 9-month time frame then call us to see if you can take advantage of a future sale or offer through Walt Disney Travel Company.

How early should I look into booking an all-inclusive resort?
Beaches-Turks-&-Caicos-poolWe recommend booking an all-inclusive resort 6 to 9-months from your departure date. It’s also the ideal time to book air, so we can help you purchase it as a package with transfers from the airport to the resort.

How far in advance should I book an ocean cruise like Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, or MSC Cruises? 

Booking opportunities typically become available more than a year in advance. The average lead time is 6 to 9-months for booking a cruise. You may be able to get a good last minute deal if you’re flexible with the accommodations, though you may diminish the difference if you need airfare as rates typically increase for last minute bookings. If you’re driving to a local port like Manhattan, Bayonne, NJ or Baltimore, MD, a last minute booking may help you save a few bucks. Luckily, the cruise industry has changed dramatically over the past few years and almost every cruise line offers exceptional values throughout the year.

When should I plan a Disney Cruise Line cruise?
Disney-Cruise-Line-ShipDisney Cruise Line cruises are a different animal as spaces fill up relatively quickly since there are only four ships (to give you a point of reference, Royal Caribbean International has 25!) in the fleet. Since the ships sell out in advance, we recommend you book at least a year in advance. As space sells, the prices increase. As of April 2017, the 2018 schedule is available and several 2019 itineraries can also be booked.

If you’re ready to start planning your getaway, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or direct message us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

When’s the Best Time to Go to Alaska?

Larger than Texas, Montana, and California combined, there’s so much to explore in America’s last frontier, Alaska. Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast looking to hike a glacier, or you’re hoping to see Orca in their natural habitat, Alaska offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences for all.

The most popular way to experience the best of Alaska is by cruise. Enjoy the comforts of an ocean cruise like Royal Caribbean International or Norwegian Cruise Line, delight in a few extra amenities with Celebrity Cruises, or savor the journey with the cruise line that was first to Alaska – Holland America Line. Alaska cruise season is from mid-May through mid-September when the temperatures range from 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the evenings, to up to the 80’s in the daytime during the peak of summer.

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Because it can be cooler at the start and end of cruise season, cruise prices are typically lower during May and September…

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which is good news since the best time to see wildlife is at the start of the season in May. Dawn and dusk offer the best viewing opportunities for the animals. Expect to see bald eagles, moose, salmon, walrus, polar bears, caribou, and more.

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Though if you are a bear enthusiast, you’ll want to go in late June or early July. Look for salmon swimming upstream and you’ll often find one of Alaska’s 85,000 wild bears looking for his next meal. These bears can gain upwards of 200 pounds from spring through fall before hibernation!

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If fall is your favorite season, you won’t be disappointed if you visit in early September. During this time, expect to see the leaves changing into vibrant colors just before the start of the winter season. Be prepared to bundle up as temperatures get cooler.

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So what other experiences can you expect to enjoy in Alaska? Below are some highlights of excursions available for tourists:

  • Bear Sanctuary, Eagle Rescue and Native Trails
  • Klondike Gold Fields and Gold Panning
  • Discover Sitka, Totem Park and Native Dance
  • Dogsled Adventure
  • Dry Suit Snorkel
  • Rainforest Ropes and Challenge Park
  • Sea Kayak Adventure
  • Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour
  • and many, many more.

If you’re ready to start planning your Alaska experience, call us at 800-755-8020, email travelrequest@boscovs.com or visit us for current deals.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Top 7 Reasons Why MSC is One of Our New Favorite Cruise Lines

We’re proud to introduce our newest preferred cruise line, MSC Cruises. What does it mean to be preferred? It means that we thoroughly researched the brand, our travel specialists have cruised with the line and had great experiences, and that the cruise line is dedicated to provide exemplary service to our clients.

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So what makes MSC so great? Here are our top 7 reasons:

  1. 10 new ships in the next 11 years
    Yep, they have plans to spend BILLIONS almost doubling their current fleet of ships! This means more itineraries, more ports and more opportunities to save on an upcoming cruise.
  2. Stay connected for less
    MSC offers three options for staying connected during your cruise. Whether you’re looking to just connect to social networks and chat apps ($19.90 for an 8-day cruise for 1 device) or you’re ready to have full internet access with streaming ($79.90 for an 8-day cruise for 4 total devices), there’s an option tailored to you so you can keep more Benjamins in your pocket (based on January 2017 pricing).phone
  3. Say hello to upgraded status
    MSC’s innovative Status Match program allows you to join the MSC Voyager’s Club and receive the matching status level of other travel brands (cruise, hotel, all-inclusive), guaranteeing a 5% discount on any booking PLUS similar or higher benefit status on board (see a Boscov’s Travel Specialist to sign up).msc1216352_di_aquapark_lrg
  4. Discounts for Military, Civil Servants and Teachers
    In appreciation of your community service, MSC offers a 10% discount on balcony cabins and 5% discount on oceanview and interior cabins PLUS kids sale free, and you can book multiple staterooms with your discount.
    Eligible civil servants: Teachers, Police Officers, Firefighters, Federal Express, DHL Worldwide Express, United Parcel Service, PLUS, family members are included! Learn more here.
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  5. Cruise like a boss in the Yacht Club
    Described as the “epitome of elegance and exclusivity,” the MSC Yacht Club offers top of the line luxury suite accommodations. Located in the Fantasia class fleet, this distinction carries perks including 24-hour butler service, complimentary select wines, spirits, beers, and soft drinks, private seating at select restaurants on board, exclusive access to the Yacht Club Pool, Bar & Grill, and priority check in. Best of all, this experience is between $1900 and $2500 per person for a 7-night cruise (quoted 1/11/17. View current offers).Butler.png
  6. It’s all in the details on board
    From glass walkways, to exclusive partnerships with Cirque Du Soleil, an all new beach condo design concept on board, a private island set to open in 2018, and cuisines cultivated by celebrity chefs, MSC values every feature on its ships.
  7. Save big with 2-for-1 cruise deals
    Give your wallet a break when you get two cruise fares for the price of one. Book by March 31, 2017, to receive 2 for 1 on MSC Divina sailings in the Caribbean departing now through February 2018. Plus kids sail free on select sailings, and rates start as low as $379.50 per person. Call for details.

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Fall in love with MSC? Don’t mind if we do.

If you’re ready to book your cruise experience with MSC Cruises, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, call 800-755-8020 or visit us.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service, Part 1

As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of preserving the natural wonders of our beautiful country, two of our employees tell their stories of recent visits to national parks. Jennifer planned for two years and traveled with her family spending 9-days exploring the Yellowstone area, while Kristin traveled to the Grand Canyon on a last minute trip with a friend. You can read Kristin’s story here. Below is Jennifer’s story…

Yellowstone 

The following post is written by Jennifer, a seasoned travel specialist from the Boscov’s Travel Camp Hill office.  Jennifer and her family traveled to Yellowstone in August 2016. 

Remember me?  I’m the one who wrote about the best age to take your kids to Disney. My answer in the end was ‘soon, very soon.”  And that’s because waiting for a certain age wasn’t always an advantage to the memories you can make.

I started planning this trip to Yellowstone 2-years ago, initially for a client, and then for my own family. I thought that this scientifically rich, geological park was only for big kids … oh, wait I’m getting ahead of myself!

We were planning a week in Yellowstone and vicinity. I know many see Yellowstone as a stop on the way between two points in a cross-country jaunt, but with three kids, days on end in the car sounded more like purgatory than a vacation. We decided to take it slow.  The “plan” involved four nights in Yellowstone National Park at some of their iconic lodges, thus the reason for the two year head start. These reservations can be made May 1 the year before so if you want to sleep under the roof of the Old Faithful Inn you are going to need to start early!

When it came time to buy airfare the “plan” took a left turn. Fortunately, I’m a professional. Air was just pricing out of range for our original plan of flying into Jackson and staying 3-nights there. So I searched, mapped and settled on flying in to Bozeman, Montana and staying 4-nights in Gardiner, Montana just outside the Northwest gate (because it was less expensive to stay an additional night than to fly back after 7-nights).

Our itinerary:
Day 1 – Fly into Bozeman Montana and drive to Gardiner. Accommodations: 4-nights at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn
Day 2 – No plans
Day 3 – Wildlife tour
Day 4 – No plans
Day 5 – Make our move to the Old Faithful Inn for 2-nights via a fishing trip on Lake Yellowstone
Day 6 – Twilight on the Firehole tour
Day 7 – Move to Mammoth Hotel (originally for 2-nights).
Day 8 – Horseback back ride to Old West dinner cookout
Day 9 – Depart for home

Day 1 – A delayed initial flight left us wondering if we would even make our connection (thankfully we did!). We went big with the car rental and took a brand new Suburban. From Bozeman with a 2-hour drive before us, we were in awe of the notorious “Big Sky”.  It was spectacular. We arrived in Gardiner and were greeted by Trevor at the Yellowstone Gateway Inn. He showed us to our room in this quaint motel and gave us great recommendations for dining. The motel itself was older, but with a lot up updates it was comfortable, clean and by comparison modern. Our first meal at The Raven was in modest surroundings but the food was great. My oldest ordered duck (he was creating his own adventure), my husband had the elk lasagna (because where do you ever see that on the menu?) and  I went with the local fish … you get the idea, we all ate well.

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Day 2 – We had breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to explore Yellowstone with no set plans. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Mammoth and I excitedly signed us up for the junior ranger program, which lasted for about 10 minutes in the car before the youngest found it to be unacceptable! I was the disappointed one. It’s a great program at many national parks and I encourage families to give it a go – it just didn’t suit my kids. The park roads are pretty straightforward; basically two intersecting loops. We ended up doing the upper loop in the car with a stop at Canyon for lunch and a hike. Then we drove up to Tower and across back to Mammoth. I cooked dinner this night and we just walked around town and enjoyed the sites.

Day 3 – This was our crack of dawn tour to wake-up to wildlife at the Mammoth Springs hotel not far from Gardiner. We met our driver at 6:15AM and headed to Roosevelt to pick up the rest of our group. Our guide was knowledgeable and showed us a wolf den, plenty of bison and pronghorns, osprey and a bear and her cub. He took us all the way across the Lamar Valley in the iconic Yellow buses that Yellowstone is known for and we spent the rest of the day seeking wildlife. We explored the Norris Geyser basin at my urging and were transfixed by this living, breathing display of the earth as a living being.

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This guy was right outside of our hotel room door.

Tonight we ate at one of Gardiner’s most recommended restaurants called the Lighthouse and it looked like a place from a small New England town. It had a great back-end story and even better food.  Who knew that Gardiner, Montana would turn out to be a foodie town?!

Day 4 – Today was a day without a previous plan and it turned out to be one of the faves!  We booked an afternoon whitewater rafting trip and then headed down to Yellowstone’s Boiling River for a swim. The Boiling River is really just an intersection where a thermal feature enters the Gardner River (yes, Gardner River outside of Gardiner, MT).  This was like playing Goldilocks and the three bears – trying to find the sweet spot that wasn’t too cold and wasn’t too hot!  We had a great time and met and talked to lots of people. It was one of those experiences that connects you to your destination and the people around you.  This was something the kids really wanted to do again, but we didn’t make it back this trip.10

The rafting was perfect for us.  It was our first time and we used Montana Whitewater. There are several rafting companies in town, but I’m happy that we used them. They took great pictures of us (for purchase) and were quite knowledgeable about the area. I’ve seen rougher white water rafting, and I am pleased it wasn’t. It was a great introduction especially for my youngest who can get nervous and our guide Kevin was a calm presence for her. She wanted to go zip-lining after rafting, but that will have to wait for another time.

11 This night we ate at the Cowboy’s Lodge and Grill. It was a BBQ joint, very casual and tasty. The atmosphere was nice, but this is a tourist town and these eateries aren’t inexpensive so be prepared.

We wandered around Gardiner tonight, enjoyed ice cream and then saw this sunset that almost rendered us all speechless.

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Day 5 – Time to pack up and leave Gardiner and the Yellowstone Inn. We made our way to the marina on Lake Yellowstone where we went fishing. We picked up our fishing licenses, met our guide Dean and headed for a picnic lunch. We cast into Lake Yellowstone trolling for Lake Trout and Cutthroat Trout. The Lake Trout are non-native and are a must keep or kill whereas the Cutthroat must be released. We almost set Dean’s record catching 25 fish … we were only off by 2. We took a few trout to Lake Lodge Cafeteria on a bag of ice and let the chef cook them up for us. They were delicious!

We made it to the Old Faithful Inn while it was still light out and saw a little bit of Old Faithful from the second floor viewing area before heading in for the night. The Lodge is an icon of National Park accommodations. For a family of five, we chose a two-bedroom in the main lodge which meant dormitory style bathrooms … my spoiled family was unprepared!

Day 6 – Today we headed to Grand Teton National Park. The drive was a couple of hours and the kids caught up on some sleep. On the drive we were in awe of the beauty of Jackson Lake and the Teton mountains surrounding it. Photos don’t do it justice.

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We decided to do an easy hike and I checked in with a ranger at the Colter Bay Visitor center for easy hiking suggestions. He suggested Leigh Lake. The lake area was really crowded with kayakers, other hikers and just many enjoying the area … we felt a little unprepared for all that we would see to do when we only had a short time (mental note is to return someday to this place).  We took a wrong turn on our hike and ended up on the String Lake Loop which was a more challenging hike. We ran into hikers along the way that assured us we would come back around.  The trail was marked, I just made the mistake of following the children instead of leading them but it turned into a happy accident. I think we all discovered the meaning of “Rocky Mountain High” when the euphoria of the hike settled in. The view of the lake and the mountains was so close now. The wildflowers and the laughter of my own family just made this experience one of the best days of our trip. It was an unexpected memory created and one we won’t forget.

Off to find food … we just missed lunch time at the Jenny Lake Lodge and were advised to head down to Moose for a bite.  We thought we were going to eat at the grill but they too were about to close, which sent us to Dornan’s Pizza Pasta Company. First: let me say delicious, second: quiet because it was the first wi-fi we had seen in days. I found out very early in the trip that carbs are a necessity to help avoid altitude sickness so this is no place to be focused on a low-carb diet … maybe that added to the enjoyment.

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Time to return to Old Faithful for another yellow bus tour – Twilight on the Firehole. We had already walked the Norris Geyser Basin so we were delighted to have the tour only hit new locations and Fountain Paint Pots. We were also fortunate to have another spectacular guide, Paul, who was full of information about the geysers, hot springs and the history of the park. He peeled back the soft top roof of the yellow bus on the last part of our trip, gave us all blankets and we could watch as the stars emerged.

Each time we went on a tour or activity that guide became my daughter’s new favorite. She still talks about Paul.

We got back late, but just in time for dinner at Old Faithful in the dining room. Some of us had the buffet and some of us ordered from the menu. Remember that adventurous son I mentioned earlier? He order the grilled quail in a cherry glaze. He was continuing his culinary adventure!

Day 7 – Time to pack up and move.  This was a little hard on the group but with traffic and construction on the park roads, it was certainly easier to be in certain locations from a touring standpoint. We headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs and the Mammoth Hotel.  Originally the plan was to stay here 2-nights, but I dropped the last night to stay closer to the airport for our early flight back out of Bozeman. We walked the Upper Geyser Basin by the Lodge and watched Old Faithful again.

We attempted to have lunch at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, but no lunch was being served in the restaurant so we ate one last time at the Old Faithful dining room for lunch and headed to the car for our drive north. On Day 1 of exploration, we had driven down a small one-way side road called the Firehole Canyon loop and saw that there was a swimming hole there. This became a request by the two youngest so we ended up stopping and pulling bathing suits out for them and their dad to test out the water. The oldest and I opted to stay dry, but there was still plenty to enjoy.

We checked into the Mammoth Hot Springs and saw the finest accommodations that Yellowstone has to offer because if you want your whole family of five in one room you have to book the suite and there are only two. It came with snacks, drinks, robes and it’s the only room type that also has a TV – so we did take advantage of it while we cleaned up, napped a little and got ready for dinner.

Our last big dinner was at the Mammoth hotel dining room where three of us ordered the bison steaks. All in all, it was a very nice and comfortable dining experience. After, we turned in for a good nights rest in posh surroundings so that we could spend our last full day exploring the parks.

Day 8 – We were finally going to walk the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. This was our 7th day being inside the park, but it was still amazing.32

I had charted out some possible hikes, but we ended up going horseback riding followed by a cookout. Also, we drove to see the petrified tree as there just wasn’t enough time to hike to the petrified forest (yet another reason to return). We did a couple of hikes behind the Roosevelt Lodge before heading over to the stables to saddle up.

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This horseback riding was a really big deal because my youngest, Claire, is terrified of horses. She did it, the first leg with a lot of support from Kelsey – our friendly wrangler. She made it to the cookout and she was so proud. Now let me tell you about this cookout!  It was a steak dinner and it was also one of the best dinners we had all week!

With Claire in the wagon on the ride back, we were much more focused on the scenery of the ride, the buffalo on the fields around us, the vistas – it was breathtaking.  It took some of the sting out of the fact that riding a horse isn’t all that comfortable when you’re not used to it. We were on horse trails and this was the only way to see the park the way we were seeing it. That made it pretty special.

When the trail ride was over, we climbed into the car and headed back for Bozeman.  The sun was setting as we made out last drive back to Mammoth, back to the northwestern gate and through Gardiner and then into the darkness to our destination.

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We would only be sleeping at the hotel for 4 hours before we had to be up. Not our best nights sleep, but our last in Montana.

So when I was asked to write about my trip (or I offered) I had all these ideas of things to “talk” about. Of course I wanted to tell you what we did, but I also wanted to let you know what we would do differently. I think we did this trip just right for our family.  Does that mean this was the best trip ever? For us it was. In fact, those were my husband’s exact words! But would I do it differently next time? Sure, because we already did this trip. I want to go back and spend more time hiking. There was a hike that was closed just above the Grand Prismatic spring called The Fairy Falls Trailhead. This is a must for next time. I want to hike and spend more time in Grand Teton and get all the way down to (or arrive in) Jackson Hole.  I want to spend more time at the visitor’s centers and do some Ranger talks! There are compromises when planning family trips. I would do two rooms next time since the kids would be older (or not with us) since it would save money and give us more accommodation choices inside the parks.

I also want folks to know that as a travel planner myself I understand that my ideal trip isn’t necessarily your ideal trip. I want to help folks plan what’s best for them. I think the best travel planners get that. The only “formula” to travel planning is to get to know your client and their needs, ask the right questions, talk about it.

I met a family (because I like to strike up random conversations with people and find out about their story) at lunch on our first day in the park. We were at the diner in the Gift Shop in the Canyon area. It was counter style so I was sitting next to the family. They had come in from all over. It was her husband’s family. I think she said he was one of 7, and his parents, and dozens upon dozens of little ones. They were camping. Did I mention it was 90 degrees the day we arrived and then snowed about 24 hours later (in the upper elevations)? This sounded terrible to me! But they were grabbing lunch indoors and they would be cooking over the campfire later – spaghetti for that group!  They were wet and muddy but they were together in a phenomenal place. They were making memories. I don’t know if the youngest in the group would remember Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone but I know they will remember being with their cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents. I know they will remember, because I remember a trip very much like it myself from childhood. It’s bits and pieces and I know when I talk to my mom about it we remember very different things, but I remember.

I hope to help plan many more trips for myself and for my clients that are the things memories are made of.

 

 

If you’re ready to book your next vacation, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.

A Millennial’s Guide to Travel

The following post is written by Adam from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department.  Adam is well traveled and shares his insight and tips for the tech-savvy traveler. 

As a millennial that travels frequently, I wanted to share my tips and advice for traveling in your twenties and thirties. We live in a connected world. We pay bills, get rides, and stay connected to friends and family all because of smart phones. Chances are if you looking to purchase something, you probably do the research necessary to find the best deal.

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The first step in planning a trip is research. Now I know what you are thinking “I have a smart phone, I can find the best deal out there.” But that’s not necessarily the case. Do you know all the deals that a particular travel vendor is offering? Do you know that in some cases offers can be combined? Did you know that traveling to Mexico between January and April is the best time to avoid blistering heat and bad weather? If you cannot answer these questions, and if you are conscious about spending, then it is in your best interest to contact a travel agent. Everyone can benefit from checking with a travel agent when planning their next trip.

I know what you are thinking, “Travel agents cost money.” Actually a travel agent will cost you … nothing. Here’s how it works: you book your cruise with a travel agent on Titanic Cruises for the same rate OR LESS than listed online (or with additional perks), and the cruise line pays the agency for helping you to book. You book a vacation with your local travel agent and the resort pays the agency. A study came out this year reporting that travel agents save consumers an average of $452 per trip!  Booking with a travel agent is a win-win because not only can you save time and money, but you support a local business. Yay you!

But what it really comes down to is knowledge. Millennials want options and flexibility. A travel agent has knowledge across many facets of the travel industry. From the independent traveler who seeks adventure, to the couple who wants to immerse themselves in a new culture, and the young family who is traveling with children for the first time, a travel agent can serve as a guide to find the best vacation for you. Having a travel agent who is well traveled gives you options and flexibility when planning where they want to go and what they want to do. Think of them as an app on a smartphone, free to download and specific to what you need … travel.

Once you’ve booked your trip, the next step is what you should bring. The best rule of thumb is planning with your travel agent. Look at the weather forecast for where you are going to help when it comes to what clothing to pack. It’s best to plan what you will wear day by day. Taking the time to do this will help in avoiding fees if a checked bag is overweight, allow you bring home souvenirs, and allow space for any purchases made at a Duty-Free if traveling internationally.

Apps. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Even all-inclusive resorts have their own apps. When it comes to apps, there are a few that are definitely helpful when it comes to traveling. Most all-inclusive resorts offer free Wi-Fi during a stay. But like I mentioned before, some even have their own app. Secrets Resorts has their Unlimited Connectivity app which allows guests to access Wi-Fi, international calling, hotel information, and make spa reservations during their stay.

Here is a list of some other travel apps worthy of downloading:

  • GateGuru: Try as we might, sometimes you will experience a layover. If it turns out you experience a long layover, GateGuru can be your best friend. This app provides you with a map of the terminals as well as reviews of restaurants within the airport. However, the most helpful features might be the “tips” section and the average wait time at each terminal’s security checkpoint.
  • Free Wi-Fi Finder: Ah, free Wi-Fi. There is a certain level of satisfaction that I as a milennial experience when I connect to free Wi-Fi. As a modern traveler, you can feel stranded and helpless without Internet access. The Free Wi-Fi Finder by JiWire shows where you can find free wireless connections in urban areas. You can search with a directory or simply enable the Wi-Fi scanner to locate the nearest hot spots.
  • Uber: Allows people with smartphones to submit a trip request, and then drivers using their own vehicles come and taxi you to your destination if you’re taking a trip while on vacation. The service is offered in 66 countries and 449 cities worldwide, though restrictions make airport pick up near impossible. This app is perfect if you want to get around any urban area you are unfamiliar with and feel safer than one would in a taxi.

When it comes to flying, airlines are starting to get creative with onboard entertainment offerings. American Airlines is starting to offer on-demand services on their flights. Select flights have a personal screen on the back of the chair in front of you. They offer a selection of free movies and TV shows, and new releases of movies which can be rented during the flight. It’s always best to check the restrictions with a travel agent before you get on your flight. Not all airlines offer free Wi-Fi and if they do, it must meet certain restrictions. For example Southwest offers free Wi-Fi, but it only honors A-List members with the free Wi-Fi aboard any equipped aircraft. jetBlue has a goal to become the first U.S. carrier to provide free high speed Wi-Fi across its entire fleet. So hopefully it is only a matter of time before other airline carries follow suit. Our suggestion: load up the movies and music on your phone or tablet from home before go.

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Let’s explore traveling abroad. Like we mentioned earlier with planning a trip and what you should bring, research is key because of cultural, language and technology differences country to country to name a few. Another reason to use a travel agent! For the tech-savvy millennial, you need to know that the brick for your smartphone cord here in the states could be completely different than what is used in another country. Other countries provide electricity of different voltages through differently shaped electrical sockets. So if you’ll be traveling with electrical appliances or your phone, specific tech accessories are a must.

  • Virtually all travelers need an adapter plug. Adapters are necessary for both electrical devices (e.g., hair dryer) as well as electronics (e.g., laptop) for them to work in the various 220V outlet types found internationally. Adapter types vary by country, so get a multi-adapter or ask your travel agent which type is needed for your destination.
  • A voltage converter or transformer may also be needed if you’re traveling with any single-voltage devices where the voltage is different than the voltage provided by your destination. Read your device’s label to determine this.
  • Data plans with your phone carrier are also important. Getting hit with Roaming charges while using your phone abroad can hurt your wallet. Always check with your carrier in regards to what you can do and if any plans are available that you can use while you are traveling abroad. Or consider using an app like Facebook Messenger or Facetime when Wi-Fi’s available.

So there it is, your guide to travel in your twenties and thirties. Hopefully this will help guide you in the research and planning of your next travel adventure. And remember if you need help, it doesn’t cost you anything to work with a travel agent. Besides it’s easier to make a phone call or send an email to a travel agent, tell them what you want, and have them do the research for you!

 

If you’re ready to book your next vacation, email travelrequest@boscovs.com, DM Boscov’s Travel on Facebook, or call 800-755-8020.

Visit Boscov’s Travel located within select Boscov’s including Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, Colonial Park/Harrisburg, Easton, Lancaster, Lebanon, Neshaminy/Bensalem, Wyomissing, Reading, Pottstown, Pottsville, Scranton, Selinsgrove, Wilkes-Barre), New York (Binghamton), New Jersey (Atlantic City and Moorestown), Delaware (Wilmington), and Maryland (Salisbury).  View our locations here. If you live a little further away, book over the phone by calling us at 800-755-8020. Learn more at boscovstravel.com.