Best Rated Latin America: Ecuador

Cruising Galapagos with Quasar Expeditions. Photojournalist Mandy Seymour visits with a sea lion.

Best Rated Latin America: Ecuador

Featuring Quito, The Magic Birding Circuit, and Galapagos

By: Mandy Seymour, Best Rated Reviews September 2012

Latin America is a treasure chest for adventurous travelers and Ecuador is its most prized gem.  Nestled between Colombia and Peru, Ecuador is truly the place to have a “best of the best” vacation.  Ecuador’s extensive biodiversity, geography, and rich marine life make it an ideal travel destination for travelers looking for an authentic “all in one” experience.

There is so much to see and do in Ecuador that it is understandable why travel recommendations abound.  Yet there are three attractions you do not want to miss: Quito Old Town, The Magic Birding Circuit, and cruising the Galapagos.  Each of these experiences are truly the “best of the best” of Ecuador and the only one of their kind in Latin America.

Quito and Surrounding Areas

Independence Plaza, Quito

Quito

When flying into Ecuador, you can fly into Quito or Guayaquil.  Quito is the ideal starting point to make the most of your time in Ecuador.

QUITO: Old Town

Quito’s Old Town is quintessentially Quito.  Visiting Quito puts you in the center of the country’s past, present, and future.

To experience the heart of Quito, present and past, visit the Plaza de Independencia (Independence Square).  Since the 16th century, the Plaza de Independencia has retained an important place in the city’s historic district.  The president’s house is located here.  Currently, President Rafael Correa has made significant strides in strengthening Ecuador’s economy and society. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has implemented measures to improve citizens’ daily lives as well, from instituting minimum wage, social security, and taxation.  He has also significantly reduced crime, poverty, and indigence.  He has also made microenterprise development and literacy a priority.

The governmental changes have really made a difference.  We visited ten years ago, and the change is quite noticeable.  Several citizens told us they were quite happy with the changes.  This quality, alone, is worth a visit to Ecuador.  A genuine reform is happening here on a socioeconomic level that is quite remarkable.

For more information on this, read http://jurist.org/thisday/2012/05/ecuador-voters-approved-judicial-and-social-reforms.php

The La Compania Church is also a must-see in Quito.  This church gives a taste of the splendor of Quito Baroque.  It is one of Quito’s most important landmark heritage sites.

The La Ronda Neighborhood has a charm all its own.  Time stands still as you stroll down these quiet streets and envision life as it used to be.

One of Quito’s most unique attractions is the Capilla del Hombre, “the Man’s Chapel”. (www.capilladelhombre.com).  The “Man’s Chapel” is a collection of artistic works by Guayasamin, the “Ibero-American Painter”, depicting the suffering of man.  Guayasamin’s paintings express the anguish of suffering, violence, and injustice in the 20th century.

A visit to Quito’s Middle of the World Monument (www.mitaddelmundo.com)  is a must.

Where to eat:  La Octava de Corpus (http://www.octavadecorpus.com/)  La Octava de Corpus offers elegant Ecuadorean cuisine in a lovely, romantic setting.  It is truly a memorable restaurant with great attention to detail and service.

Where to shop: Otavalo (http://www.otavalo.com/ ).  But if you can’t get there, fortunately, vendors throughout the city and surrounding areas sell many of the handicrafts from Otavalo.

Where to stay:  Old Town: La Casona de La Ronda Hotel  Best of the Best in Quito: San Jorge Ecolodge Quito.  Editor’s Pick: San Jorge de Tandayapas (Just one hour away but worth it!)

La Casona de La Ronda Hotel

 

La Casona de la Ronda Hotel is a quaint, restored mansion located on the most peacefully tranquil street in Quito, La Ronda.  This boutique hotel combines classic colonial charm with modern elegance to create a memorable ambiance and experience.

The hotel serves delicious meals in its intimate dining room.  The hotel also has a lovely courtyard with a unique arrangement of indigenous plants and vegetation covering the wall from ceiling to floor.  This garden display is a living work of art.  The hotel proudly displays the unique artwork of Olga Fisch. (www.olgafisch.com)   The hotel has 22 rooms.  It is in an ideal location for sightseeing, within walking distance of churches, monasteries, museums, plazas and other historic sites.  My stay here was lovely.  It could not have been better.  The staff was polite, friendly, and accommodating.

Best Hotel in Quito: San Jorge Quito Ecolodge  This hotel was rated #1 by TripAdvisor. Read about it here.

When I visited Hosteleria San Jorge de Quito, I was mezmerized by the tranquility and historic feel it has.  San Jorge de Quito is a magnificent hacienda nestled in the mountains overlooking Quito.  Yet it is remarkably quiet and peaceful.  The romantic charm of this hotel is exactly what I believe anyone who is looking for a quintessential Quito and Ecuador experience would want to stay.

The staff and owners are extremely gracious. If you are lucky, you may get to meet Dr. Jorge Cruz, founder and director of the eco-lodge. I had the privilege of meeting him. He is an extremely knowledgeable birding and biodiversity expert.  Although he has an immense responsibility managing his ecolodges and developing his publications, he prizes his guests above all and will give you a warm welcome and make you feel like family.

Naturalist Jorge Garcia, Magic Birding and Hiking Circuit

San Jorge Ecolodges are truly exclusive, hosting 20 guests at a time, so no matter when you go, whether in high season or low season, you will feel like you have a private reserve. This is an unusually wonderful characteristic of these lodges.  San Jorge Ecolodges give you special access to a one-of-a-kind nature experience that is sure to be the memory of a lifetime: the Magic Birding Circuit.

Magic Birding and Hiking Circuit

The Magic Birding Circuit

Travelers find it hard to believe that a pristine natural paradise awaits just one hour outside of Quito, but it does!  In fact, one of Ecuador’s best kept secrets is a multi-biodiversity nature excursion called the Magic Birding Circuit (also known as the Magic Hiking Circuit) which starts in Quito’s foothills.

Stretching from the High Barren Plains to the Subtropical Rainforest The Magic Birding Circuit is the first of its kind in South America, San Jorge owns 4 private exclusive birding reserves in four different eco-systems throughout Ecuador. Kept in their rich, natural state, all of our exclusive reserves offer the chance to fully immerse yourself in all that is Ecuador, mainly the diverse array of flora, fauna, climate regions and hundreds of beautiful species that await you. Over 800 possible bird species may be reached by way of The Magic Birding Circuit, offering the perfect chance to combine nature, culture and birding at its best.

The Magic Birding Circuit of Ecuador incorporates four private birding and hiking reserves with three birding lodges located inside the reserves. Located 20 minutes from Quito Airport, you can start birding as soon as you arrive to Ecuador, birding Tandayapa Valley Cloud Forest, Tropical Rainforest of Milpe, High Barren Plains, Highland Rainforest and Paramo. With 1,000 species of birds, 60 species of Hummingbirds, wildlife, wild orchids, butterflies and diverse flora and fauna, we offer the best options for birdwatchers, photographers and naturalists

The Magic Birding Circuit is truly magical.  It is the most diverse and complete circuit of biodiversity in all of Latin America.  It is the only one of its kind.

You can find out more about the Magic Birding Circuit here.

Whether you would like to stroll through the gardens and watch the hummingbirds gather at the feeders or explore the four climates of Ecuador (High Barren Plains, Highland Rainforest, Cloud Forest and Subtropical Rainforest), San Jorge is the ideal retreat.

 GALAPAGOS WITH QUASAR EXPEDITIONS

Sea Lion in Garner Bay. Hood Island, Galapagos.
Photo: Mandy Seymour

GALAPAGOS

Cruising The Galapagos

Cruising the Galapagos is one of the most unique vacations of a lifetime. There is nothing else like it. The Galapagos isa unique archipelago of prehistoric proportions.

The best way to get there:

Although apt opportunities abound to fly into Baltra or San Cristobal and arrange land-based tours, the best way to go is by private yacht. All yachts follow the same itineraries due to national park regulations. But if you want to experience the “best of the best”, we recommend Quasar Expeditions.

MY Grace. Quasar Expeditions.

Quasar Expeditions

Quasar Expeditions  charters 2 luxury yachts, MY Grace and MY Evolution. (MY stands for Motor Yacht.)  Quasar Expeditions is truly the “best of the best” for cruising the Galapagos.

 

We traveled on Grace. Grace holds 18 passengers and 12 crew. Evolution holds 32 passeners. She is truly a one-of-a-kind yacht with first-class service and accommodations. She offers the combination of both elegant luxury and classic charm while sailing on an expedition of epic proportions.

This historic yacht was given to Grace Kelly for her honeymoon. To learn more about Grace, click here.

Quasar Expeditions is known for superior quality in yachting.  We found all staff to be extremely professional, knowledgeable, courteous, and attentive to all detail.  The cuisine was scrumptious, plentiful, and memorably gourmet.  The captain and his crew were diligent and yet full of grace.  They all treated vessel and guests with great care.

We were privileged to travel under the tutelage of one of Galapagos’ most experienced naturalists, Jorge Garcia.  He gave informative briefings on both land and sea.  He is also an expert photographer.  Jorge Garcia clearly has a passion for his work and it shows.  His dynamic personality combined with his extensive knowledge of the Galapagos to give us a first-rate experience of the Galapagos in every way.

I met many other guides along the way, but Jorge stood out in a class by himself.  I highly recommend him.  Read more about Jorge Garcia here.

We rate Quasar Expeditions as the “best luxury charter” in the Galapagos.

Mandy Seymour swims with sea lions in Gardner Bay. Hood Island, Galapagos, Ecuador.

Galapagos Highlights: The Unnatural Natural

Although all the fauna, flora, and landscapes were mesmerizing, the highlight of a trip to Galapagos is swimming with sea lions.

These tender-faced, friendly, inquisitive creatures greeted, swam, and played with us on most islands and anywhere we found them. The animals here do not know fear of humans. Birds do not fly away when you approach them. Iguanas do not runaway. Nothing engaged in fight or flight. Of course, little tiny creatures like lizards may run, but for the most part, the animals do not fear humans.

The first day I experienced this, I was completely in awe. It was a wonderous sight to behold a sea lion swimming with me, swiming under me and blowing bubbles up at me and circling me doing ballerina spins in the water.

As the days increased, I had to remind myself “This isn’t normal” because the no-fear atmosphere is so unnaturally natural here in the Galapagos.

Sunset Galapagos, Ecuador.
Photo: Mandy Seymour

Galapagos: A Pristine Paradise in A Prehistoric Land

Each island on the archipelago of Galapagos is distinct in geological landscape, flora, and fauna. These distinctions play a large role in what makes taking a private Galapagos voyage so intriguing.

While the Galapagos Islands are teeming with life, several species are endemic, including Blue-Footed Boobies, the Galapagos Tortoise, and others.

Galapagos: Ecotourism At Its Best

I have traveled all over the world, and Galapagos contains the most pristine version of ecotourism I have ever seen.  In most islands around the world, photojournalists are careful to only take photos of the pristine areas.  They steer clear of photographing trash in the water, litter in the streets, and cluttered tourist attractions.  Yet what’s different about Galapagos is they do not have any of that!  Galapagos is truly the most pristine place I have ever seen.  During my 8-day visit, I did not see one piece of trash in the water, one piece of litter on land, or any other debris.  The meaning and goal of ecotourism is truly fulfilled here.

The National Park Service does an incredible job of enacting ecotourism and locals and visitors respectfully comply en masse.  When you see how clear the water is, how healthy the land animals and marine life are, and how timelessly preserved the landscapes are, you want to do your best to keep Galapagos at its best.

Galapagos park rangers do an incredible job of making sure that visitors to the islands are equally dispersed. Each day we disembarked on an island, we felt as if we had it all to ourselves. OFtentimes, we were the only ship in view. Other times, we were accompanied by one or two others. This is a distinct strategy and benefit of the Galapagos National Park regulations. We have not been on a cruise anywhere else in the world that offers this solitary visitation schedule

ECUADOR:  The Best Destination For The Trip Of A Lifetime

In all my travels, I have never met a country like Ecuador.  Ecuador has so much biodiversity in such a small area.  You don’t have to travel for miles to reach an interesting attraction.  In fact, birds, biodiversity, and beauty are so abundant that most Ecuadoreans do not know what a treasure their country is because it seems so normal to them to be surrounded by nature teeming with life!  So I highly advise you go there while this country is still one of Latin America’s best kept secrets.

Visiting an emerging country with ancient roots, exploring its vast biodiversity on land with the Magic Birding Circuit and then yachting in the Galapagos wth Quasar Expeditions is truly the vacation of a lifetime.

Rating: 5 stars! Best!

Planning Your Visit:

Quito Tourism (www.quito.com.ec) is an excellent resource with hospitable staff who are genuinely interested in helping you make the most of your visit.

Magic Birding Circuit (www.magicbirdingcircuit.com) is a unique nature expedition which traverses 5 different regions of biodiversity.  It is the only one of its kind in Latin America.  It is hosted by nature guides in affiliation with San Jorge Ecolodge.

Quasar Expeditions (www.galapagosexpeditions.com) offers the most elegant, luxurious and intimate cruise in the Galapagos with privatized dining and first-class staff as well as the best naturalist guides in Galapagos.

To see a photo gallery of Quasar Expeditions click here.

 

Mandy Seymour, Managing Editor Best Rated Reviews

Mandy Seymour is the managing editor of Best Rated Reviews, an online publication which specializes in the “best of the best” of travel, leisure, and related products.  Learn more about Mandy and visit her blog at www.mandyseymour.com

Best Place To Stay in Quito, Ecuador – Old Town

La Casona de La Ronda

 

La Casona de la Ronda Hotel is a quaint, restored mansion located on the most peacefully tranquil street in Quito, La Ronda.  This boutique hotel combines classic colonial charm with modern elegance to create a memorable ambiance and experience.

The hotel serves delicious meals in its intimate dining room.  The hotel also has a lovely courtyard with a unique arrangement of indigenous plants and vegetation covering the wall from ceiling to floor.  This garden display is a living work of art.  The hotel proudly displays the unique artwork of Olga Fisch. (www.olgafisch.com)   The hotel has 22 rooms.  It is in an ideal location for sightseeing, within walking distance of churches, monasteries, museums, plazas and other historic sites.

Accomodations at La Casona de La Ronda

My stay here was lovely.  It could not have been better.  The staff was polite, friendly, and accommodating.

website  www.lacasonaderonda.com

Rating 5 stars

 

Espanola Island, Galapagos


The Galapagos Islands are like no place on earth.  The animals know no fear!  They do not run away when you approach them.  Rather, they stand, sit, lay down, or even walk over to you!  They are as curious about you as you are about them.

We recently went on an expedition in the Galapagos with Quasar Expeditions on MY Grace.  We will publish an entire article on our voyage in August.  The entire experience was truly amazing, other-worldly.

Quasar Expeditions provided us with one of Galapagos’ best naturalist guides, Jorge Garcia.  In this video, Jorge Garcia talks about sea lions in Galapagos.  And then he shares his infamous sea lion imitations.

Find out more about the incredible Galapagos and how to have a trip of a lifetime while you are there here.

 

Best Concert Hall In Texas: Round Top Festival Institute

Round Top Festival Institute

If you are looking for a truly unforgettable weekend in Texas, we have a recommendation for you: visit Round Top, Texas.  Round Top is a quaint little town with a hearty character.  But its most prized attraction is the Round Top Festival Institute. (www.festivalhill.org).

We frequent this venue because it is one of the most special and unique places we have seen in Texas.  The Round Top Festival Institute’s main attraction is its concert hall and the world-class musicians who play there.

The Round Top Festival Institute has 18 additional buildings on the grounds.  The property makes one of the best places in Texas for events, conferences, retreats, and receptions.  We attended a party on the veranda.  It was one of our favorite travel experiences of all time.

What we love about Round Top Festival Institute is that it’s only 1 1/2 hours away from Houston or Austin.  You can make a day-trip or weekend-trip out of it.  We recommend spending the night.  The accommodations are comfortable.  An on-side bed and breakfast, the Menke House, makes succulent meals.

The Round Top Festival Institute truly is the best concert hall in Texas.  And it’s an incredible place for a weekend getaway, too.  In addition to a first-rate performance venue, the grounds and gardens are lovely.  It’s just a great place to visit for any occasion.

Find out more at www.FestivalHill.org

Rating: 5 Stars!  Best!

Best Weekend Getaways: Glen Rose, TX

Best Weekend Getaways: Glen Rose, Texas

Best Rated Reviews

Inn On The River

Inn On The River :  Southern Luxury At Its Best

The world is full of amazing places, but some of them are hidden treasures off the beaten path.  The Inn On The River in Glen Rose, TX is one of those treasures.  Nestled in a quaint town square along the banks of the Paluxy river, the Inn On The River is a  hidden gem that sparkles with the uncompromising charm of southern hospitality at its best.

Paluxy River, Inn On The River

The Banks of The Paluxy River, Inn On The River

The  Inn On The River is nestled on the quiet banks of the Paluxy River.  For many years now, travelers and busy professionals have been drawn to the rest and relaxation offered on this beautiful property.  In 1915, George Paul Snyder built a turn-of-the-century health spa called the Snyder Sanitarium, which was in operation until the 1970s.  Today, the Inn On The River carries on the longstanding tradition.

Reception Area Inn On The River

The Inn On The River is truly an oasis of southern luxury at its best.  The reception area is welcoming  The staff is friendly, genuinely hospitable, and attentive.  The décor made us feel as if we were going back in time.  The Inn provides fresh-baked cookies, coffee, and tea for an afternoon welcome.

Accommodations at Inn On The River

 

Accommodations at Inn On The River

Each room is uniquely decorated with simple Southern charm.  Our favorite part: the featherbeds.  If you have ever slept in a featherbed, you know what we mean.  The featherbeds created a gentle cocoon of luxury that gave us the deepest and most restful night of sleep imaginable.  Just as nothing is worse on vacation than a poor night’s sleep, nothing is better than a great night’s sleep.  You will definitely emerge from the Inn rested and rejuvenated.

 

Breakfast at Inn On The River

The Inn On The River surprised and delighted us with the high-quality cuisine they provided during our stay.  Although the Inn On The River is off the beaten path, the fare they offer is five-star quality.  Breakfast was palate-pleasing!  We also enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of gourmet salad,  filet mignon,  grilled salmon, and homemade desserts.

Dinner at Inn On The River

 

Recommendation:  Highly recommended!

Rating: 5-Stars!  Best!

Contact Information:

Inn On The River

www.innontheriver.com

205 S.W. Barnard Street
Glen Rose, TX 76043
(254) 897-2929

Nearby Attractions:

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park offers a look into our Paleolithic past.  This land was once home to dinosaurs.  We enjoyed seeing their fossilized footprints in the riverbeds.  You can read more about this history of this park here.

Dinosaur Tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park

 

This park is fun for the whole family.  This park contains hiking trails, a small swimming area along the river, and campgrounds.

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Dinosaur Valley State Park

1629 Park Road 59
Glen Rose, Texas 76043
(254) 897-4588

Open daily 8am-10pm

Website:  http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/dinosaur_valley/

The Mystery Spot

Fantastic!

Great family value!

Tourist trap, step aside! Your comes the mystery spot! If you were looking for fun for the whole family, we highly recommend the mystery spot. Nestled in a towering redwood forest, this is a place you don’t want to miss.

Mystery Spot is a natural and enigmatic wonder nestled in the side of a beautiful redwood forest in California. People come here from all over the world to experience gravity deifying mysteries.

Water flows uphill, balls roll up not down, and even the towering trees grow toward the gravitational pull of the mystery spot.

Did aliens land here? Many Californians think so. But the rest of us think it has to do with gravitational pull in all its wonders. Or was it caused by a meteor?  Who knows. But one thing we know for sure is that the experience is real and really fascinating.

Before we arrived, we Spoke with local Californians who told us they weren’t sure if it was just an optical illusion. But once we saw the trees pointing in the direction of The Mystery Spot, it became more convincing than ever.

In addition to experiencing the mind-defying gravitational pull and standing on walls like you could never do anywhere else, it’s fun to see other people experiencing the mystery spot.

We highly recommend that you make reservations in advance. Sometimes the wait can be several hours if you don’t have them.

Find out more about this “best of the best” attraction at www.mysteryspot.com

Best of The Best: Caribbean 2016

By: Mandy Seymour, Managing Editor,  Best Rated Reviews

In today’s world of travel, vacations have often become synonymous with a whirlwind tour that leaves you feeling invigorated and exhausted at the same time like you actually need a vacation from your vacation when you return home.

But we believe the” best of the best” vacation is one in which you have scintillating experiences that achieves a perfect balance between invigoration and relaxation.

Achieving a best of the best Caribbean vacation for a reasonable price can be challenging. But it can be done.

When we envision the Caribbean, we imagine a beautiful idyllic beach setting that’s tranquil, tropical, hardly populated and remote.  However, if you are neither extremely rich or famous, then a remote island is hard to come by.  So what’s the best option for someone looking for luxury on a reasonable budget?

If you are looking to find paradise on earth close to home, we recommend cruising  the Caribbean.  The Caribbean is a lush, tropical paradise surrounded by brilliant turquoise and azure waters.  When you see them, they immediately transport you to a place of indomitable relaxation.

This year, we sought out a trip that gave the “best of the best on a budget”.  We used Vacations To Go (www.vacationstogo.com) to plan our cruise.  For as little as $400-$600/pp., you can find a relaxing cruise that visits several ports of call.  Once we decided where we wanted to go, we booked flights through American Airlines. (They had the lowest fare at that time.  However, neither company meet our “best of the best” standard due to repeatedly poor customer service.)

We chose a cruise that disembarked from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Although many cruises disembark from the continental U.S., if you want to maximize your time on the islands, we recommend taking a flight that gets you closer to the places you desire to visit.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO

The first night, we flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We arranged a transfer to our hotel through Fine Line Tours (www.FineLineTours.com.)  Fine Line Tours specializes in airport and hotel transfers and related tours.  We were very pleased with their services.  Our driver was hospitable, friendly, and a safe driver.  He picked us up at the San Juan International Airport and took us to our lodging located 45 minutes away at the edge of El Yunque.

We spent the night at Hacienda Siesta Alegre (www.haciendasiestaalegre).  We enjoyed a great stay there and highly recommend it as the “best of the best” lodging in Puerto Rico.   It is a romantic, Spanish-style inn with open verandas and lovely tropical settings.  Nestled in the rainforest, it provides a welcome respite of solitude, tranquility and beauty.  Hacienda Siesta Alegre has a longstanding reputation as a wedding venue. Yet in recent years, they have added accommodations.  Rates are $155 per night and include breakfast.  Our accommodations were clean, welcoming and looked out onto a beautiful view of Puerto Rican tropical paradise.

THE CRUISE: CELEBRITY CRUISES

We booked a 7-night cruise with Celebrity cruise lines.  Celebrity is a sleekly modern cruise line with luxury amenities and attentive, accommodating hospitality.

If you are looking for classy and not stuffy, invigorating yet relaxing cruise, we recommend Celebrity cruises.  We chose to review Celebrity Summit based on its widely-recognized commitment to quality and guest satisfaction.  We found our experience to be consistent with the acclaimed praise for which Celebrity Cruises is known.

What’s their secret?  We believe it is their heart for what they do.  We asked the key staff, “What is the best part of your job?”  The answers they gave all conveyed a sincere love for cruising as a lifestyle, attentive commitment and conscientiousness to detail, and an underlying desire to share their happiness at sea with their guests.

During a “getting to know you” meeting with the staff, a cruise critic blogger asked them to tell us a  story about the “pasenenger from Hell.”  The staff handled it diplomtically, saying, “We have excellent passengers”.  Yet what I found myself is thinking is, “Why do people look for what’s wrong?  There is so much that is right and praiseworthy – especially here – and everywhere in the world, why spend a moment looking for what’s not?  If more people looked for the good, there would be so many more happy people in the world!  We felt the entire time that Celebrity truly values its customers and focuses on the “best of the best”.  The staff handled this moment with great class and we respect them for it.

{That’s why I like writing for Best Rated Reviews – because we are on a mission to find what is good, noble, praiseworthy and true in the world and make it known. Those are qualities that eminate from the travel, leisure and related products that we review.  Those qualities effervesce from that which is the “best of the best”.  The desire in our hearts to find what is good and praisworthy and to enjoy it and celebrate it attracts people, companies, and experiences that have the same values.  It’s the good ol prinicipal of “like attracts like”.)

First impressions are often lasting ones.  We have found Celebrity to be elegant, classy, relaxing, fresh and clean but not stuffy.   It is energized but not rambunctious.  Staffmembers were consistently attentive, courteous, and sincere in their devotion to guest happiness.  Yet again, we believe it’s because they truly enjoy what they do.  It’s not a mere job to them.  It’s a vocation and a lifestyle.

Yet they do not take their high standards and acheivemet for granted.  Celebrity Summit’s entertainment host said, “We feel we are the best ship in the fleet.  But we want to prove that to you.”

We stayed in a suite.  We found the red and gold color scheme to be romantic yet modernly luxurious.  The rooms were impeccably clean and well-maintained by housekeeping.

Room service is also available and included with your stay on the ship.  This is an extra luxury that is somehow even more enjoyable since it is complimentary.  However, tipping for this service is important, so we advise you keep this in mind.

We enjoyed Celebrity dining.  Highlights included Sunday brunch at sea and elegant, scrumptious dinners in the main restaurant.

PORTS OF CALL AND EXCURSIONS

We visited several ports of call on our 7-night cruise.  However, to keep within our budget, we pre-arranged our own excursions.  While cruise lines offer some great excursions, the magnitude of passengers participating sometimes reduce the experience to impersonal travel and leave very little quality time to truly discover and enjoy the place you’ve come so far to enjoy!

Sometimes participating in excursions through the cruise lines can double the cost of your trip – and be half the fun for the reasons mentioned above – when you are traveling on a budget.  So pre-planning will serve you well, save you money, and give you a better chance at experiencing the adventure you are seeking.

PORTS OF CALL

Ports of Call we visited included:

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas

HIGHLIGHTS:

“Best of the Best” Highlights included:

Swimming with the Turtles and Shipwreck  in Barbados, Antigua Island Tour, and St. Thomas Island Tour

Barbados Best Excursion: Swimming with the Turtles

We booked a Swimming with the Turtles (3 hr.) catamaran cruise with Action Charters. (www.actioncharters.org). Action Charters took us out into the azure waters for a relaxing sail and snorkel with sea turtles.  We also snorkeled above a ship wreck.

On our last full day, we disembarked in St. Thomas.  We took a full-day island tour.  We visited one of the island’s most pristine beaches.  It was truly paradise on earth.  The waters were bathwater-warm, as clear as glass, and quite tranquil.  We didn’t want to leave!

Each day contained adventures which made for lasting memories.  Since we were seeking luxury on a budget, we booked our own excursions when we arrived to the island.  We traveled around St. Maarten on a mophead.  We ate delicious French pastries there on the French side.  We visited beautiful beaches on every island.

All in all, a trip to the Caribbean is a vacation of a lifetime.  We highly recommend it as “best of the best.”

Guanajuato, Mexico

Life is a journey. The best moments in life are the inspired ones, the moments when beauty and magnificence captivate us.  When we travel, we see the world with new eyes. And when we do so, we enrich our souls with an inspired journey.

The greatest joy of any traveler is to experience new lands, their cultures and their people. And the second greatest joy is to inspire others in their own journey.  A life well lived is, ultimately, an inspired journey.  We are made to be inspired and to inspire.

Life is a journey to be embraced.  When you seek beauty, you will find it.  In fact, anything you seek, you will find.  If you seek happiness, you will find it. If you seek goodness, you will find it.  If you seek love, you will find it.

“One of the keys to happiness is striving to live a radiant life, a life of love, joy, peace and the possible impossible,” says Mandy Seymour, Managing editor of Best Rated Reviews.

What is your inspired journey?

The Mansion at Turtle Creek – Best Rated Weekend

Ahhhhh…..Princess For A Day At The Mansion

The Mansion

Enshrouded in luxury, at The Mansion dreaming is reality.  At Best Rated, a Best Rated Weekend is a weekend that consists of luxurious accommodations, must-see attractions, unforgettable places, and delicious cuisine.  And no matter how much or how little money you spend, you always receive value for your money.

A Best Rated weekend is not just an event; it’s an experience.  It is an experience that lives on long after the weekend has passed.

Occasionally we find an accommodation, an  attraction, a restaurant, or a place that epitomizes the Best Rated weekend standard.  The Mansion At Turtle Creek in Dallas, TX is a hotel which epitomizes Best Rated.

The Mansion On Turtle Creek

The Mansion Welcome

When you stay at The Mansion, you will be greeted by genuinely attentive porters and staff who cater to your travel and leisure needs with impeccable service and extravagant attention to detail.  The accommodations are cheery yet regal, plush yet welcoming, and the food is exquisite.  The Mansion welcome includes delicious iced coffee and homemade cookies in the lobby upon your afternoon arrival.  Shortly after you settle into your room, an attendant brings gourmet iced tea and a homemade pastry from the pastry chef.

Accommodations

Luxury bedding and customized soaps and bath salts from Ms. Hunt’s self-created brand, Lady Primrose, add grandeur in little things to this majestic accommodation.  Rooms contain a small balcony that overlooks the Turtle Creek area of Dallas.  The Mansion is located in a quiet, peaceful setting, which makes for great rest and relaxation in the midst of a bustling city.

Accommodations at The Mansion

The Pool

The outdoor pool is reminiscent of an intimate courtyard with a lion fountain spilling into a Jacuzzi adjacent to a relaxing pool in a quaint setting.  The Mansion’s premiere restaurant, The Mansion Restaurant, is a truly memorable occasion on its own.  The restaurant contains both patio and indoor seating.  We recommend dining in the enclosed, air-conditioned veranda which contains great windows to enjoy a view of the patio without perspiring during the hottest times of year.  The historic bar hosts first-rate entertainment in an intimate setting.

Pool at The Mansion

Restaurant and Bar

We enjoyed our stay at The Mansion so much that it felt like being a prince and princess for a day.  And when it was time to leave, I felt like Cinderella when the clock strikes twelve.  The Mansion truly reflects the heart and mind of the very special woman made it what it is: Caroline Rose Hunt.  Caroline Rose Hunt bought the property several years ago at a time when it was futureless.  With her good taste and desire to renovate the Mansion into a premiere accommodation in Dallas, she invested millions of dollars to renovate it.  Thanks to Ms. Hunt, The Mansion is the place to stay in Dallas.

Restaurant At The Mansion

Contact Information:

The Mansion on Turtle Creek

2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, TX 75219

T 214.559.2100

www.mansiononturtlecreek.com

The Lasker Inn

The Lasker Inn

If you are looking for one of Galveston’s best-kept secrets, you will be delighted to know about the Lasker Inn.  The Lasker Inn is an elegant mansion from the 1800s which has been lavishly restored.  Each room is beautifully decorated.  The inn serves a delicious breakfast.  And it is the perfect place to retreat and rejuvenate after a day of enjoying Galveston.  Best of all, we enjoyed the warm hospitality given by the inn’s owners and staff.  Inn Director Richard Conner gave us a warm welcome and saw to it we had every amenity we could possibly enjoy.

The Lasker inn survived the 1900 Hurricane. In the wake of the storm’s devastation, it became a Home for Homeless Children until 1990. In recent years, Linda and Richard Denson purchased Lasker and renovated it into Galveston’s most elegant bed and breakfast inn and Galveston’s most romantic venue for weddings.

We enjoyed our stay here tremendously.  We can understand why the Lasker Inn is the primary choice in Galveston for some of life’s most special moments.  It truly is the “best of the best”.  To learn more, visit www.laskerinn.com.