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Cancun and the Riviera Maya

                Imagine for a moment that you are sitting in a beach chair, you’re “relaxing your eyes” and you feel a cool ocean breeze on your face.  You open your eyes and stretching before you is one of the prettiest beaches and the sea is crystal clear. You have the beauty of the Caribbean and you are in the land of friendly people and affordable prices – Cancun, Mexico and to the south, the Riviera Maya. For travelers looking for the clubs, restaurants, and shopping of a thriving city, Cancun is the place to be. Most of the hotels are on “the island”, actually part of the world’s second-longest coral reef. One side of each high rise resort faces the Caribbean Sea; the other side faces the Nichupté Lagoon.

Visitors have the choice of all-inclusive resorts as well as hotels that operate on the European plan (no meals) or bed and breakfast plan (only breakfast included). Many travelers prefer to forego the all-inclusive when staying in Cancun so that they can take advantage of the wide variety of restaurants in the area. There are endless opportunities for water sports and beach activities, and even an underwater art museum.  Day trips to the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are easy to arrange on local ferries.

Tourists looking to get away from it all will probably prefer the resorts of the Riviera Maya stretching south from the airport. These resorts are

farther apart and mostly all-inclusives. Some resorts cater to families while others are adults-only. All-inclusives give you the advantage of paying up front for virtually your whole trip. Most have multiple restaurants, multiple pools, swimable beaches, endless activities, and endless food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages) available almost 24 hours a day, and even discos and nightclubs. Some include day trips to local sights. Most charge for tours and spa treatments. Non-motorized sports activities are generally included while there is a fee for motorized.

Activities include jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming in cenotes, swimming with dolphins, zip-lining, horse riding, sailing, and guided jungle tours. Archeology is also a big tourist draw in the area, including the popular archeological sites operated by the Instituto Nacional de Archeological such as Tulum on the coast, and Chichen Itza and Coba located some distance inland. The ecoparks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha also include some smaller archeological ruins as part of their attractions, along with water theme parks, underground rivers for floating, folkloric shows, and other popular activities such as swimming with dolphins.

Cancun and Riviera Maya are year-round destinations, but hurricanes are possible. Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins June 1st and ends November 30th; however, most hurricanes occur August through October. The chances that a hurricane will hit during your vacation are very low. Travel insurance is a good idea, as it is with most trips.

Riviera Maya is a perfect place for honeymoons, weddings, and family reunions. There is a wide variety of activities that should make everyone happy, while the area is beautiful enough for vacationers to take great pleasure in lying on the beach or by the pool doing absolutely nothing.

At FirstWorld Travel and Cruises with over thirty years of experience in the travel business, we are committed to helping you get the most out of every vacation, no matter what your choice. Your dream vacation is only a phone call away.


Cruising for the Holidays

Instead of entertaining the in-laws at Hanukkah or unsuccessfully looking for a party on New Year’s, you could be drinking eggnog poolside; singing carols on deck, while overlooking the sea; eating multi-course holiday meals, prepared by professional chefs and enjoying New Year’s Eve with enthusiasm (and with no worries about driving home).

That’s right. You could be celebrating on a relaxing holiday cruise. Cruising during the holidays is anything but the typical week-at-sea experience you might find during less festive times of the year. Many cruise lines — and officers, staff and crew — embrace the holiday season with a cheery vigor that goes beyond the symbolic Christmas tree, Hanukkah menorah, occasional Santa appearances, elaborate turkey dinners and New Year’s Eve midnight countdowns.

But while celebrating a holiday at sea means you can avoid the associated cooking and cleaning — not to mention escaping from crazy relatives you’ll have the best experience if you put a little effort into planning the best cruise for your brood and setting the right expectations. From choosing the right cruise to packing advice and tips on what to expect onboard and off, here’s everything you need to know about spending a holiday at sea.

In general, Christmas and New Year’s holiday cruises are often more expensive than the rest of the year. Cabins at this time are usually in high demand by passengers because schools are on break, and many families want to take vacations during these weeks. However, with many families cutting back on travel, the holiday season for 2012 will be a little different. As of this writing there are deals on 2012 Holiday cruises to be found. In general, if you want to lock in your preferred itinerary, ship, cabin and dining group and have as much time as possible to look for affordable airfare, book early (six to nine months in advance).

The downside? You might end up paying a premium for this level of security. If price is your foremost concern, you can wait for deals to come out, often within three months of sailing. But you might get stuck in an inside cabin or with your family spread throughout the ship, rather than in adjoining cabins. The holidays are a perfect time to splurge on a balcony, so you can make the most of your holiday escape and have more room in your cabin for presents and decorations.

Families should consider family suites that sleep multiple people comfortably or book adjoining cabins. Large groups might want to book the head of the clan in a large suite that can be a central gathering point and location for private holiday parties. But book early: The best cabins — particularly family suites and anything with a balcony — may be booked way in advance by true holiday cruise aficionados who celebrate this way every year.

SuiteThink about whether you’d like to spend holidays in port or at sea. Ships on a regular weekly schedule are likely to maintain their normal itineraries, so you may end up in a port on Christmas Day where everything’s closed but the cathedral and the beach. On the other hand, cruise lines with vessels that sail varying itineraries will often try to arrange for ships to spend big religious holidays at sea. If you want to be at sea on Christmas and/or New Year’s, take that into consideration when choosing a trip.

Also, think about your preferred balance of sea days and port days. Cruises that last longer than seven days incorporate a lot of at-sea time into their itineraries, while certain lines (Azamara and Oceania to name two) focus on port-intensive itineraries.

Entertain the big-ship-versus-mid (or small)-ship debate. Larger ships — with space for huge playrooms, swimming pools with slides and video arcades — are a great choice for families with school-age kids. However, these ships can sometimes seem overrun with youngsters during holiday sailings and are not always ideal for quiet, adults-only getaways. Mid-size ships are more conducive to parents with young children who want to socialize with other adults or multi-generational groups looking to make everyone happy. Smaller ships like Holland America and Princess tend to have fewer kids and a more mature clientele.

If you’re taking kids of any age, be sure to look into the youth program before you sign up. While most mainstream and premium ships have youth facilities, some offer more creative and large-scale programming than others. Babysitting options vary by line, and options for very young, still-in-diapers tots may be limited.

Packing for a holiday cruise can be a little different from a regular cruise. You’ll want to bring special holiday outfits for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In addition to your tuxes and party dresses, you might consider accessories like Santa hats, reindeer antler headbands, party hats, colorful beads or other festive items you might want to wear.

For Christmas or Hanukkah, consider decorating your cabin to get in the holiday spirit. Creative cruisers have been known to decorate cabin doors with wreaths, holiday cards and photos. If you’re bringing Christmas or Hanukkah presents, leave them unwrapped if you’re flying to the homeport, and pack some scissors (in checked luggage, please), tape and wrapping paper to doll them up once onboard. Families and large groups might want to get into the spirit by printing up matching T-shirts or hats to wear onboard.

In some regions, particularly the Caribbean, the holiday week is a time of islandwide celebrations that can make a trip memorable — and give you a hint of real island life (as opposed to the limited views one normally gets from one day in port). Take a look, for instance, at St.Kitts where the island’s national carnival runs from December 13 through January 2; activities vary, but expect parades, revelry and folkloric performances.

In general, island retailers have gotten savvy to the fact that cruise ship visitors mean big business, and cruise lines know which islands to avoid on holiday. Carnival, for one, tells us that all the islands it visits during the holiday season keep stores open and excursions running so as not to lose out on those tourist dollars. But, before you set your heart on eating at a specific local restaurant or taking a particular tour, check to make sure they’re operating on the day you’re in port.

One last item to consider – airfare! When booking airfare, remember that flights at this time of the year can be outrageously pricey and often are oversold. Try to reserve your flights early and you may want to consider all your options, such as using frequent flyer miles or buying the cruise line’s air package. You might even want to choose a cruise departing from a city close to home so you can avoid flying altogether. Another tip: At this time of year, it’s a very good idea to fly into your departure city a day early. With flights so crowded, a delay or cancellation due to weather or overbooking might cause you to miss your cruise. There’s no guarantee you’ll get on the next flight out if there’s a problem with yours.

We hope you find these tips helpful. Remember, however you choose to cruise; we’re here to help you make your experience hassle-free and happy.