Have the holidays left you dreaming of a vacation in the sun? Pick up the winter travel brochures put out by Transat, Nolitours, Sunwing, Signature, Air Canada Vacations, West Jet, Sunquest and Hola Sun, and dream on.
But also consider the following: You pay for an all-inclusive holiday up front, sight unseen with after tax dollars. There are hundreds of destinations and resorts to choose from, and all the pictures in the catalogues — and online — look gorgeous, so how do you decide?
Fortunately the brochures make it easier each year. Take Sunwing for example. Their 418-page brochure is divided into sections and gives resort feedback from guests. In Air Canada Vacation’s 248-page book, the front section reads like a travel magazine. And they have a nifty "at a glance" chart that rates eight vacation musts.
To make a choice you’ll be happy with, you have some decisions to make before you book. Here are some points to ponder in advance:
1. Establish a budget, and bear in mind prices are higher at peak holiday times.
2. Who is going? Grandma and Grandpa, two kids, and Auntie Sue who is a swinging 22? For a multi-generational group, think about a sophisticated destination such as Cancun, Mexico, where there is night life, golf, shopping, fine dining, cultural sites, and many resorts with kids clubs.
3. Where do you want to go? You have your choice of 52 sun destinations in 24 countries.
4. What do you want to do on that beach? Walk it, swim, snorkel, or just look at it from under a tree? Cuba’s Cayo Santa Maria has a fabulous beach, great swimming, walking and great prices. For pool lovers, check out swim out rooms, where you can swim pretty well whenever you like.
5. Do you want shopping, golf and excursions? Look at the distance between these features and the resort so you don’t spend all of your time driving.
6. Are you happy staying on the resort grounds or do you want to explore?
Nolitours has a free program called "nolizone" in selected resorts for guests who want to meet new people and explore the destination. If your family gets bored in one spot, look at Transat Holidays’ Experience Collection. Packages that allow you to sample two different destinations — such as five nights in Punta Cana and two in Santo Domingo or a few nights in Havana and four to 10 nights in Cayo Santa Maria Cuba — might be perfect.
7. What about the kids? Transat’s Family collection are resorts hand picked by Transat that make it easy to narrow the hunt. For instance, the Melia Caribe in Punta Cana welcomes babies from eight months, while most resorts are for ages four and up.
Beaches Resorts by Sandals are the best in the world according to 13-year-old Katelyn Walker. Auntie Sam loved it, too.
Dreams Resorts have a fabulous kids club for the three to 12 set. Kids love the water trampolines and beach camp-outs in the supervised Explorers Club so Mom and Dad can have a romantic dinner.
Some resorts offers kids’ stay, play and eat free programs, while others have added bunk beds or will accommodate three children and two adults in one room. Memories Resorts are one of the few offering clubs for kids from infancy to 12 years of age.
8. Are you looking for romance? Sandals Resorts are all about romance, so naturally they offer great weddings, too. My husband Tom and I got married at Sandals Whitehouse in Jamaica. Planning took an hour, leaving us to enjoy the pool while someone else did the work. It was perfect.
9. Some people love brands. Take Riu Resorts for example. " I feel pampered," said a miner from Sudbury about a stay at a Riu resort. " I’ll try the Riu in Costa Rica next."
10. Love spas and adult resorts? At the BodyHoliday LeSport in St. Lucia, a daily spa treatment, the Ayurvedic centre, meditation temple, Pilates, tai chi and yoga are included.
And finally, check the Canadian resort reviews on monarc.ca, a site that proves the reviewers have actually stayed at a property before they can review it.