Turks and Caicos: No Vacation Needed From This Vacation

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For our 15th wedding anniversary, Dave and I traveled to the much buzzed about Turks and Caicos for five days of all-inclusive relaxation. We went against our usual travel style of finding off-the-beaten path, a la carte places and cramming each day to the fullest, in exchange for an easy like Sunday morning experience.

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Getting There

Coming from Asheville, we drove to Charlotte, dropped the kids with their grandparents and took an easy and very affordable non-stop flight to Providenciales. From the airport, there’s really not a spot on the island that’s more than a 20-minute drive. We were up at 6am in North Carolina and on the beach sipping cocktails by noon.

 

Where We Stayed

After way too much research, I booked us at The Beach House, named in 2016 as one of the best all-inclusive Turks and Caicos resorts by Travel + Leisure. We wanted all-inclusive for the convenience and because our bar bill would be astronomical otherwise, but the foodie in me was resistant because I usually love trying local cuisine in all its shapes and sizes when I travel. But “easy” was the key word for this trip, and The Beach House boasts “The only adults-only boutique all-inclusive resort on Grace Bay Beach, with a small culinary obsession” in its Instagram bio. And then there was a 40% off promo due to the off-season. I was sold.

 

The Vibe

The Beach House is a high-end, adults-only resort, meaning we were surrounded by likeminded people who did not want to hear shrieking toddlers — be it screams of delight or terror. Most of these guests were more likely celebrating their 25th anniversaries rather than their 15th (actually one couple was doing just that) but there was one younger couple in their twenties on their honeymoon. They tagged The Beach House in their vacation photo and the resort put it on their official Instagram page and website… but somehow our hashtagged photo didn’t make it?? Whaaaat??? #celestechallengeaccepted

CaicosCouplesWhat I Loved

First, let me say that even with the huge discount, we still spent twice as much on this trip as we have on any other. We are wanderlusters on a budget, but what better excuse to go all out than your 15-year wedding anniversary? My expectations were high, and for the most part they were met if not exceeded.

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The Beach House staff was attentive, friendly, and upgraded us from our one-bedroom poolside no-view suite to a two-bedroom top-floor oceanfront suite. I knew from their website that the rooms were well-appointed, and stocked with beer, wine, soda and water 24/7, but it was a lot cooler to experience it in person.

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The butler, Charles, was friendly, funny, and made a point of knowing us by face and name immediately — this was not his first rodeo. But it was my first time at a resort with a butler and I felt like Lady Gaga at the Oscars (or how I’m guessing she will feel when she goes this year. She’s going to kill it).

The liquor in our all-inclusive cocktails was top-shelf: Patron in our margaritas, Grey Goose in our martinis. We definitely drank our money’s worth.

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My favorite luxury amenity was The Flag. Each suite (which have names, not numbers) has its assigned cushy private beach chairs and umbrella. Ours was Enchanted:) Whenever you want something, be it a cocktail, lunch or snack, you plant your flag in the sand, and a staff member will come by and bring you whatever you want. I thought this was the caterpillar’s kimono. I need a flag at home. I need top-shelf liquor at home. But I digress…

The absolute best thing about our trip was the beach itself. The water was absolutely gorgeous in multiple shades of blue that would make anyone who isn’t there green with envy. I could borrow the resort’s snorkeling equipment, walk literally one minute down the beach and experience some pretty incredible snorkeling at Coral Gardens.

What I Didn’t Love As Much

I know I’m super picky and my expectations were high, but I’m afraid I was let down by the food, and in this case it was more due to the marketing of the food. I feel like I’m not the first one to say this, because since I booked our stay in the summer, I see that the content on the website has changed (no more lionfish ceviche). One of the main draws to this particular place for me was the way they marketed it for the culinary-obsessed — an all-inclusive resort for foodies. If they hadn’t touted that particular part, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. But as it was, the cuisine was akin to cruise food. There was a lot of heavier common denominator crowd pleasers on the menu. For lunch: loaded nachos, cheeseburgers, salad nicoise, things I don’t care to eat in the heat in my bikini. I would’ve loved to see a fish taco on there or a bright, fresh ceviche. And while I love a good conch (enter your conch/cock jokes here), I can only eat conch fritters so many days in a row. Again, bikini and heat. I did LOVE the soups at dinner, both in taste and presentation. Dave said I shouldn’t expect so much from an all-inclusive and that’s what you get, but I disagree. This was really my only issue. But being that for us this was such an expensive trip, and being that I live to eat, it was quite the issue. I think I have a future as a traveling menu consultant. If you’d like to hire me, I’m more than happy to come to your hotel or resort, all expenses paid, eat and drink everything you have, and give you my expert opinion. I’m so not kidding. Did I mention I’m looking for a job?

 

We still had an amazing time, truly relaxed, and we’d totally go back to T+C — although we’ll most likely have kids in tow which means no Beach House. But if you’re looking for a romantic, luxury, no-kids getaway with great cocktails and service, and aren’t an insanely fussy foodie, two tanned thumbs-up for The Beach House.

Recommended links for the Turks & Caicos area: The Beach House, Somewhere Cafe and Lounge, Pelican Beach, Bonefish Unlimited

Where to Hang Your Ear Hat at Disney

After you’ve decided to take the plunge down the Disney rabbit hole, the next big decision is where to stay when you get there. On or off the property? A room at a value resort or deluxe suite inside one of the parks?

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Credit: The Frugal South

How much should you spend?

Now, I LOVE love hotels. In fact when we go on vacation I sometimes wish our destinations were secretly more boring so I had a better excuse to sit in my hotel room all day wrapped in my white hotel robe on the white bed (white does not exist at my house even where it should) and watch hours of HGTV in between my mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps. HOWEVER, when planning our Disney trip, I made an exception to my hotel snobbery for a few reasons, and they are ones I suggest all parents who fall on the Mickey Meh side of the spectrum should consider:

  1. If you are sharing a room with small children, it doesn’t matter if it costs $120 per night or $500 per night. It’s going to be a shitty night’s sleep.
  2. You’re going to be so busy and exhausted from your days at the park that even if you are able to get everyone asleep and stay asleep without major meltdowns and musical beds (see number 1), will you have time to enjoy the amenities at one of the nicer resorts?
  3. If you have a set amount to spend on the entire vacation, more money spent on the hotel means less money spent elsewhere. I dare you to tell your 4-year-old that she can’t have the $25 bubble wand because you wanted to stay at the place that has made-to-order sushi.

I have friends who say it’s worth staying at resorts like the Contemporary because of the convenience of the Monorail. They can hop on and off and quickly get back to the hotel for kids’ naps without losing precious park time. I have other animal-loving friends who have no regrets spending money on the Savanna views at The Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are always packages available that can save you money, so if staying somewhere nice or with a unique ambience is important, ask your Disney Travel Planner if she can work her pixie dust magic.

On or off the property?

I think it’s worth staying on the property simply to avoid parking at the parks. Now mind you we went at Christmas, the most wonderful crowded time of the year, but those driving in from hotels in Kissimmee and Orlando had to park so far away, that if Clark Griswold had imposed his first ones in/last ones out theory at Magic Kingdom, he would’ve been closing in on a marathon. There is transportation from the parking lots, but if I had to wait in traffic, then wait to ride from the lot to the park, then wait in line to get into the park all before waiting in line for rides, food and the restrooms, I think I’d lose my patience before Morning Extra Magic Hours were even over. Which you can’t even get unless you stay at a Disney resort. Which is yet another fun rule you will try not to learn before you go, because you’ll swear you won’t care that much, but then you won’t be able to help yourself and you’ll get. Sucked. In.

Where we stayed

I eschewed my predilection for all things modern, white and mini-bar, and stuck to my budget-friendly guns with a value resort on The Property. My first choice, the Art of Animation Resort, stood out from the other value resorts for its pool, or I should say one of its pools. The Finding Nemo pool is the largest of any at the Walt Disney World resorts with a zero entry and music pumping through underwater speakers. Plus, it has a splash pad, which I prefer every time over petri dishes cleverly disguised as baby pools. I hear their Cars-themed pool isn’t too shabby either. Alas, they were sold out. So we opted for the neighboring Pop Century Resort (and then just snuck over and used the Nemo pool). I should say that aside from amenities, decor and variations in the food court menus, all value resorts boast the same basic model masked in a different over-the-top Disney theme. The “cast members” at each one offer unparalleled customer service and the rooms are clean. At Pop Century, the theme is nostalgia, with each building representing a decade from the ’50s through the ’90s. When I found out that the rooms were getting refurbished at Pop Century, I thought I might be getting the modern room I wanted. Our travel agent said I need not request a refurbished room, because they were all scheduled to be finished way before we got there. I should’ve made the request, because of course they ran behind and we ended up in one of the old rooms. There’s really no comparison. But I’m going to do it anyways:

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Old room
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New room (easywdw.com)

Our room was located in the ’60s section, which was closer to the main building than the already refurbished rooms of the ’80s and ’90s, but I would’ve happily walked a couple of extra hundred feet or so for the obvious upgrades and super cool second Murphy bed (I’ve always wanted one of those, and can we fold the kids up in that when we want privacy?). Then there was the overwhelming decor of the ’60s section. They did a little too good of a job simulating an acid trip. Upon entering the psychedelic pool area with giant water-squirting flowers, yo-yos and a three-story Play-Doh container with a blue elephant popping out the top, I was felt the anxiety rise into my slowly tightening chest and throat as my breath quickened. I could swear I even tasted metal in my mouth. With the help of a frosé from the pool bar, I eventually acclimated. The feeling never went away the entire stay, rather I leaned into it and just went with it. Whether we had started our Disney experience in the ’60s at Pop Century or at the BoardWalk Inn (which I could never, clown-themed pool slide, yikes), I think the drugged feeling was inevitable. Going to Disney is truly entering an alternate universe and you have to adjust and go with the flow or you’re going to have a bad trip.

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Also, if you do stay at Pop Century in the ’60s on the second floor and spot a squirrel with an unnatural amount of bravado lurking around the vending/ice area, be wary. He does not back down.

3 Essential Disney World Planning Tips to Get You Started

 

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My Disney travel tips are for parents like myself, who don’t love Disney. You don’t hate it enough to deprive your children of this overpriced magical rite of passage, but it is indeed all about the kids. You didn’t go to Disney World on your honeymoon or after you won the Superbowl, and before kids, the last Disney movie you saw was when you were a child. You’re going for your children to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That is, unless they decide to go again when they are adults. Because you sure as hell aren’t taking them more than once. This. Is. It.

This is the first in a series of Disney World travel and planning posts, I like to call “I Don’t Give a Flying Fairy.”

Before we even get to the actual Disney experience, let’s talk planning. Learning the ins and outs of Disney World is enough to make your head spin like a giant tea cup: FastPasses, Magic Bands, park hopping, Rapid Fill mugs, snack credits vs. meal credits on your dining plan… Please take this chance to pause and grab a drink, Xanax, or dropper-full of CBD oil. The “happiest place on Earth,” which is the size of San Francisco and the largest single-site employer in the country, is truly a “World” unto itself.

That being said, here are my top 3 planning tips to get the Cinderella ball rolling:

  1. Start planning eight months out. Earlier if you can. Hotels book up fast, especially at Christmas. We got our second choice hotel starting this early, which wasn’t horrible, but still not our first pick. And restaurant reservations need to be made six months out for the popular places at the most popular times, like Christmas.
  2. Don’t go at Christmas. We went over winter break because at the time we were dealing with strict attendance policies at my son’s school. It was either crazy crowds at Christmas, or sweltering heat in the summer. Luckily, we chose Christmas Day as a day off between parks, because Magic Kingdom was so packed, Disney closed its doors for about five hours.
  3. Get a Disney travel agent. Just post on Facebook and ask your friends who they recommend. You will have so many to choose from, but at least it narrows down the field compared to a stone-cold Internet search. It’s unbelievable how many people do this for a living. Thank God they do, though, because it made my head-spinning level drop from giant teacup to Flying Dumbo. I can stomach Dumbo. We used the Frugal Fairy Godmother (can you stand the cuteness of her name?). She knows and loves everything about Disney so you don’t have to.

My next post in this series will talk about choosing where to stay and eat. To meal plan or not to meal plan? Stay tuned!