July 23, 2014

Easy, Last-Minute Summer Getaways

Cruises and all-inclusive resorts
provide hassle-free vacation planning

By Michelle Chumbley

Vacations Magazine: Easy, Last-Minute Summer Getaways
Royal Caribbean International
When life gets busy, sometimes items on our to-do lists -- like booking a vacation -- get put on the back burner. Summer is sneaking up on us, but it's not too late to schedule a getaway. We've rounded up vacation ideas that don't require detailed planning and are simple to budget -- most come with discounts or special offers. All prices are based on double occupancy and do not include airfare.

Cruises feature deep discounts, low per diems and many amenities.

Since 1984, Vacations To Go has specialized in securing the deepest last-minute cruise discounts, offering customers rates slashed by up to 80 percent, and sometimes more. Many lines drastically reduce prices when cabins remain unsold close to the departure date. These markdowns usually occur within three months of the sailing, perfect for those who may have waited too long to make travel plans or have flexible schedules. You can view the best deals in destinations around the world by clicking on Vacations To Go's 90-Day Ticker at www.VacationsToGo.com.

Below are four cruise bargains on ships outfitted with aqua parks, spas, children's facilities, an array of dining options and scores of entertainment venues. To book your own summer break on the high seas, call a Vacations To Go cruise specialist at (800) 338-4962.

A weeklong Alaska sailing with Princess Cruises includes a day in Ketchikan, where guests can check out colorful totem poles and a rain-forest sanctuary inhabited by a herd of reindeer. After cruising through icy Tracy Arm fjord, visit the Alaskan capital, Juneau, and the gold rush town of Skagway. Also showcased is Victoria in Canada's British Columbia province, called the City of Gardens for its bloom-filled green spaces.

Amenities on the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess include a casino, wine bar, poolside movie screen, putting course and multiple dining spots, like Sabatini's for Italian fare and the Crown Grill for steaks. After a day of viewing glaciers or hiking forest trails, warm up with a hot-stone massage in the Lotus Spa.

Discounted inside cabins start at $648 per person for a seven-night, round-trip voyage from Seattle, while ocean-view digs start at $698 per person.

Norwegian Cruise Line's three-night Bahamas voyages sail year-round from Miami. On Great Stirrup Cay, the company's 250-acre private island, travelers can take a WaveRunner excursion to see an 1863 lighthouse, rent a private cabana or paddle a kayak. In Nassau, check out the duty-free shopping or explore the capital city's forts. Four-night jaunts add a stop at Grand Bahama Island, which has sandy beaches, a national park with mangrove forests and a system of freshwater caverns.

The 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sky offers the Balinese-inspired Mandara Spa, a fitness center with floor-to-ceiling windows, a children's club and teen center, two large pools and five hot tubs, including one for kids. Summer sailings start at $239 per person for three nights or $259 per person for four nights (just $65 per night).

Royal Caribbean International makes tropical island-hopping easy with itineraries that take in Caribbean ports. The 4,375-passenger Freedom of the Seas alternates two seven-night routes from Port Canaveral, FL. The first course stops at CocoCay, a Bahamian retreat reserved for Royal Caribbean guests, before continuing on to Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands' St. Thomas, where pirates once trafficked their stolen goods, and Philipsburg in St. Maarten, the capital of the Dutch side of a Lesser Antilles island. (The other half is occupied by French St. Martin.)

The second path explores Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private beach on Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica, a gateway to the layered cascades of Dunn's River Falls; George Town, capital of the Cayman Islands; and Cozumel, a hot spot for snorkeling on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. While at sea, guests can lounge by the pools (one designated for adults only), try out the surf simulator and rock climbing wall or have a treat at the 1940s-style cupcake shop. Summer itineraries start at $604 per person.

Soak up the culture and natural wonders along the eastern coasts of Mexico and Central America on a weeklong vacation with Carnival Cruise Lines. The remnants of 17th-century pirate fortifications can be spotted on the verdant Honduran isle of Roatan, also a prime snorkel and scuba destination. The "Discover Roatan" excursion introduces travelers to Garifuna residents, descendants of Carib Indians and Africans exiled from British colonies in the Eastern Caribbean. Learn about their traditions through dance and music and taste jams made from homegrown fruits and hibiscus flowers.

In Belize, photograph rain-forest wildlife or the ruins of Mayan temples and palaces. Cozumel sits atop a reef off the eastern shores of mainland Mexico, allowing divers and snorkelers to spot vibrant fish and coral in turquoise waters with up to 100 feet of visibility.

Three days at sea provide ample time to experience your host vessel, the Carnival Dream. The 3,646-passenger ship has an action-packed water park, the Cloud 9 Spa with a thalassotherapy pool and the Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Rum Bar (try the Jamaican jerk pulled-pork sandwiches). Seven-night sailings this summer start at $459 per person, about $65 a night, for inside staterooms. A cabin overlooking the Caribbean waves starts at $609 per person.

All-inclusive resort vacations are easy to budget and plan.

One of the most attractive lures of an all-inclusive resort is the single upfront price that covers your food and drinks, accommodations, some land and water sports, entertainment and more. This concept makes for easier trip preparation, too. Instead of having to research area restaurants and activities and carry cash for meals and sundries each day, you can stay put at your all-inclusive haven and do what you are supposed to do on vacation: Take it easy.

At the following all-inclusive tropical spots, food options are diverse, amenities are abundant and rooms usually are within walking distance of a beautiful beach or tempting cool pool. Write the dates on your calendar and let a Vacations To Go resort specialist help with the rest by calling (800) 998-6925 or visiting www.All-InclusiveResort.com.

From therapeutic spa facilities and meditation gardens to a water-sports marina and surf simulator, Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort in Cancun, Mexico, has activities for every style of vacationer. Those who check in here can sample the restaurants and facilities at other nearby Palace Resorts properties as well, though the amenities at Moon Palace make it hard to want to leave. A 27-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course ventures through wetlands, lagoon-style pools have Jacuzzis and swim-up bars, 14 restaurants serve international dishes and evening entertainment ranges from a Michael Jackson-inspired show to a Mexican fiesta.

Recent extensive enhancements to Moon Palace have added the chic, $2 million Noir nightclub and a "dolphinarium," where wildlife lovers can interact with eight of these gentle mammals in a 37,000-square-foot saltwater aquarium. A spruced-up kids area includes a beauty salon, Xbox room, movie theater and eco-friendly activities.

Palace Resorts even will give you some spending money to use during your stay, in the form of resort credits. Receive up to $500 for a three-night stay, up to $750 for four nights and up to $1,500 for five to eight nights. Resort credits are as good as cash and can be used for off-site excursions, room upgrades, spa treatments and more. Unused amounts can be gifted to family or friends staying at a Palace resort or rolled over to your next visit; the balance must be redeemed within 12 months of the original stay. Plus, at certain resorts, two kids 12 and under stay gratis from June 1 to Aug. 31.

The 15 pools at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana embody the musical motif that made the brand famous. The Isla Pool plays Latin tunes, the Family Pool features teen-friendly songs and the Woodstock Pools reverberate with rock. Prefer something more tranquil? The Library Pool lulls with the sound of silence.

The resort is in the Dominican Republic, on the eastern edge of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. At 121 acres, the property is large enough to warrant a tram to transport guests between amenities such as a rock wall, bike path, miniature golf course, shopping center, 45,000-square-foot casino and cutting-edge spa with a sensory pool and an ice room (said to help purify skin and close the pores).

This Hard Rock property boasts a rocking "room service" program called Sound of Your Stay, with Fender guitars, amps and headphones to borrow, in-room video lessons and a downloadable soundtrack.

Kids 12 and under stay free (two per room) between June 1 and Aug. 31 and will enjoy seeing favorite characters like Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina in The Little Big Club children's program. Plus, receive $1,800 in resort credits when you stay for seven nights (resort credits start at $500 for a three-night stay). They can be exchanged for extras like upgraded wine selections, photo packages and golf at the Nicklaus-designed course.

Buffets, beaches and regal-looking accommodations are highlights of the five-star Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica, in the northwestern Guanacaste province. Sprawled on Matapalo Beach, the hotel offers plenty of ways to enjoy the Pacific waters, from kayaking, windsurfing, sailing or snorkeling to settling into a lounge chair and watching the waves. Active vacationers will enjoy the beach volleyball and tennis courts as well as fitness classes offered several times a week.

When not splashing around in the children's pool, young guests can join daily entertainment programs at RiuLand kids club. A la carte restaurants serve up Japanese, Italian, steakhouse and fusion fare, buffets feature themed dinners three times a week and a pastry and ice cream parlor satisfies sweet cravings.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in May/June 2014. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.


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