Reviews

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.”

TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo

TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo – Spring, Texas

If you are looking to experience a Safari in your own backyard and you live in Houston, Texas or surrounding vicinities, we have a recommendation for you. TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo is a family-owned and operated collection of some of the friendliest exotic animals around. The zoo houses over 100 types of animals.

On the day we went, there were 3 private tours taking place. The up-close and personal interaction with the animals made for an unforgettable experience. We met Chaco the Camel, Buffy the Water Buffalo, an ant eater, fast-moving sloths, and an ancient armadillo as well as a bearcat.

The animals have special scratching posts that look like they tumbled out of the Wild West. We were surprised to learn that these “scratching posts” were actually recycled Christmas trees. Each year, people donate their Christmas trees to the zoo. Chaco the Camel sat on his, using it as a cushion. The goats ate the greenery and then used theirs as back scratchers. And most amusingly, Walter the Warthog jubilantly tossed his Christmas tree 9 feet up in the air and played with it for many days before making it into a personalized scratching post as well.

To our surprise and delight, large pigs came charging toward us – and once we started petting them, they fell over on the ground and went straight to sleep, laying there for several minutes. And when we went to see the sloths, one of them was crawling around his cage as fast as a relaxed monkey. We have never seen such a happy or fast sloth.

They really take care of their animals and care about them. It is very apparent the animals are well-loved. They have very amazing creatures who are very responsive to humans. Everything is clean and well-maintained.

The zoo is spacious and each tour is highly personalized. The animals are well-loved and cared for, yet they are not pets. Rather, they are sold to zoos across the country.

Tours last 1 1/2-2 hours. Strollers are welcome. You must wear closed – toed shoes.

During summer and during the year, the camp has the zoo has a camps, programs for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and all kinds of other activities. However, you must register in advance because this is a privately and facility. 6:30 PM is the best tour time for summers.

We highly recommend TGR Exotics Wildlife Zoo as a “best of the best” family outing for summer and year-round fun. It is an animal adventure you don’t want to miss.

Website: www.TGRexotics.com

The wildlife park is located 10 miles east of Tomball, TX in Spring, TX.

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.

Best Rated Galveston Weekend Getaway

Pleasure Pier Galvestion TX

Galveston Weekend Getaway

If you are looking for a great getaway near Houston, Galveston is your
answer. Best known for fun in the sun, Galveston beaches, fishing and
other water activities abound. Yet Galveston is gaining a much-sought-after reputation in tourism for some lesser-known attractions which make it a great weekend getaway, rain or shine.

La Kings Confectionary

What To Do

Many of Galveston’s most popular attractions are located on The Strand and The Seawall.  The Strand offers fine dining, shopping and tours. La King’s Confectionary is Galveston’s historic candy and ice cream shop.  Pier 21 tells the story of the 1900 Hurricane in the wake of Galveston’s glory days.  Harbor Tours offer an educational glimpse into Galveston’s historic harbor and marine life. Find out more here: www.galvestonhistory.org.

The Seawall is a great place to enjoy Galveston’s sun and sand. Galveston beaches are easily accessible along the seawall.  In addition to the beach, Pleasure Pier (www.pleasurepier.com) offers fun for the whole family.  Thrill seekers will be drawn to its array of exciting rides, including the Cyclone roller coaster.   If you are looking for souvenirs, Murdochs Bath House has a little bit of everything Galveston kitch. (www.galveston.com/murdochsbathhouse)

The most economical way to enjoy many of Galveston’s  attractions is by purchasing a Galveston Island Pass. The Galveston Island Pass offers discounts on pre-paid attractions.  Find out more here: www.galvestonislandpass.com.

The Lasker Inn Galveston, TX

Where To Stay: The Lasker Inn

To enjoy Galveston’s most elegant accommodations, we recommend the
Lasker inn (www.laskerinn.com). This six room mansion dates back to 1870. Surrounded by
classic elegance, you enjoy luxurious accommodations With historic
flare. 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.

Our stay there was delightful. We can certainly understand why Lasker
Inn is rated #1 on Trip Advisor. Inn Director Richard Conner truly
made our stay the “best of the best”. The staff takes great joy in giving
you the most memorable experience, including a delectable breakfast and relaxing respite from Galveston’s sun.

Galveston is also a great getaway for nature lovers. Birding
enthusiasts flock to Galveston during April for Featherfest,
Galveston’s annual birding festival. (www.galvestonfeatherfest.com)
Galveston is well-known for great birding. The Sea Turtle Hatchery
gives weekly tours and they regularly release turtles into the wild.
Find out more about the Galveston Nature Tourism Council  here:
www.galvestonnaturetourism.org.

Galveston makes a great weekend getaway, especially for Houstonians.
It is just 1 hour outside of Houston.  To find out more about all Galveston has to offer, visit www.galveston.com

Best Rated Reviews

Best Rated Reviews is the best source on the web for travel, leisure, and product recommendations.  We feature the “best of the best” in Houston, Texas and the world.  Our experienced staff research and review products, events, and places you will love. Our assessments are based on the Best Rated Standard.

Yours for the best!

The Staff at Best Rated Reviews

Best Women’s Wetsuit

Whether you are diving, snorkeling, or just swimming,  it always pays off to bring a wetsuit with you.

Traditionally, wetsuits have been bulky and uncomfortable.  In today’s marketplace, wetsuits are much sleeker than they used to be.  If you are looking to buy a wetsuit, choose one that is lightweight and comfortable.  It will pack well and ensure you are ready for any aqua adventures that await you!

We recommend the Women’s HydroSkin Farmer Jane by NRS.   The Women’s HydroSkin Farmer Jane is exactly what any woman needs who is looking for a lightweight and comfortable wetsuit.

This wetsuit is high-quality and yet low-impact when it comes to the environment!  It is made of Terraprene. Terraprene is made from limestone, which is one of the most abundant minerals available today.  It is a great alternative to Neoprene, which is petroleum-based.

The Women’s Hydroskin Farmer Jane also contains ThermalPlush inner lining for added comfort and quick drying.

We consider it to be the “Best Women’s Wetsuit” available today.  We highly recommend it.

Find the Women’s HydroSkin Farmer Jane wetsuit at www.nrsweb.com.

Rating: 5 stars!  Best!

Best Travel Surge Protector

Share A Watt

Although technology has come an incredibly long way, it has its limitations.  Let’s face it: when your camera battery dies, it dies, and there is nothing you can do to revive it until you can recharge it again.  You could bring a spare battery (which is always a good idea) but you have to make sure it is charged, too.

The best solution?  Why not get a device which charges several electronics at once?  We recently found a great, multi-plug charging device which will quickly become a “must have” for travel.  It’s called Share A Watt.

Share A Watt is a portable surge protector with built-in three-pronged and USB plugs.  It is ideal for travelers.  It is light weight (7 oz.) and compact.  The best part about it is that it will truly save you time and it is reasonably priced ($19.99).

Find this great travel surge protector and more at www.nationalgeographic.com

Rating: 5 Stars!  Best!

Best Travel Pillow

Travelrest Travel Pillow

“The Travelrest Travel Pillow is truly the best of the best!” ~ Best Rated Reviews

Looking for rest when you travel but can’t find it? Now you can. We recently discovered what is, in our opinion, the best travel pillow on the market: the Travelrest Travel Pillow.

The Travelrest Travel Pillow is shaped like a music note. This unique and innovative pillow shape allows travelers to truly rest because they can comfortably lean on it and cradle it.

The Travelrest Travel Pillow is lightweight and compact. It is a welcome alternative to the traditional neck-brace shaped travel pillows, which are usually neither comfortable nor rest-enabling.

We also recommend the Travelrest Micro-Fleece Pillow Cover. This specially designed cover adds to the comfort while maintaining the pillow’s slimline shape.

Find these great travel products and more at www.travelrest.net.

Rating: 5 Stars! Excellent! Best of the best!

Note from the Editor:

I went on a 14 hour overseas flight and took this pillow to test it. I have seen many travel accessories through the years and this is the best-designed travel pillow I have ever used. Thanks to TravelRest, I slept 9 hours on the 14 hour flight. All of our reviewers love this pillow.  It is a must-have for every traveler. ~Mandy Seymour, Managing Editor, Best Rated Reviews