Planning a family vacation; have questions

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    wprager
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    Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by wprager on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:30 pm

    I've got questions on travel requirements (who needs passports), ways to simplify getting a passport, preferable destinations and travel agent recommendations:

    1. Travel requirements. We've got two adults and 4 kids (all under 16). Let's assume we're flying direct (not through the US) since I'd rather drive to Montreal and pay for parking than have to change flights with 4 kids in tow. I assume we need passports (or at least it's strongly recommended) but do I need them for the kids as well? I'm pretty sure you need them for flying *to* the US, possibly flying *through* the US, but what about flying direct to the DR or Cuba?

    2. I've read that the best option for getting a passport is filling in the online application, printing it out and then bringing it in person (with supporting documentation) to the passport office. But the so-called "online" application is just a PDF file. I filled it in and printed it out, but I don't see any options of somehow submitting it online. So is the "best" part because filling it on the computer means less hand-written info? Or is there some other form I'm not seeing?

    I read one of the comments in some blog that implied there was some sort of bar code in the top-right corner that captured your information. I assumed that your info is stored online and the bar-code would simply be used to identify your "file". However my printed form has no bar codes anywhere, although page 1 has this:


    I didn't clip the full image since it just might be encoding something.

    3. We are thinking of either Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Lately we've heard a few people say the food in Cuba was not very good. Although a few years ago a friend of mine raved specifically about the food in Cuba. All we want is buffet style for the kids, with a good mix of fruit and veggies alongside the rest. We are looking for a place that has good (safe, supervised) activities for kids as young as 7, and fun stuff (again, safe) for 12-13 year olds. If we can have 1-2 hours a day in peace and quiet as the kids are all involved in various activities that would be highly, highly desirable. What are the recommendations?

    4. Travel agent recommendations. If I go with Sears and use my Sears card I'll get Sears Club points -- quite a few points. Similarly, if I go through Costco (I believe they have a travel service, although I could not find anything online for Costco Canada) I get 2% cash back if I used the Coscto MC. But perhaps even more important is to get a travel agent that's not going to screw something up.

    Lastly, has anyone attempted a Caribbean family trip with 4 kids? In some places kids under a certain age (10?) stay and eat for free. I'll assume the younger ones would stay with us (maybe upgrade to a suite) and the older ones in an adjoining room, correct? I haven't been able to use the online tools (Sears Travel club) to make those kinds of arrangements -- usually when I enter the ages of all the people (six of us) the search results in an error, saying you can't have that many. Obviously a glitch somewhere -- at worst we'd be getting three rooms at double occupancy (but I'd like to save the room/board on the younger ones). Just curious how it works -- looks like I have no choice but book in person.

    Anyhow, as usual, all help/advice/opinions will be appreciated. Who knows, I might even + you.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by PTFlea on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:37 pm

    Oh man, the food isn't great when I went to Cayo Coco (sp), it was buffet style and the only time I had a decent meal was when we went to the Mexican restaurant.

    Otherwise, Cuba is very, very nice. Fairly easy to navigate and fairly inexpensive (this was 5 years ago though).

    My favourite place is still Ixtapa or Puerto Vallarta. Lots and lots of beautiful places to go.
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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by wprager on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:37 pm

    Cool, that "bar code" is actually doing something. The notes about it that I'd read are actually on the Passport Canad website, not some blog. I just started a new application for my wife. The image change after I entered her name. It certainly is not a "bar" code, but it is some kind of code. And it, apparently, encodes all the information entered. Hopefully my printer is up to snuff though. Good thing I *just* changed my ink yesterday.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:42 pm

    Yeesh. OK. Passport first. I would highly recommend all of you make sure you have passports and I personally would go in to the office in person so as to make sure your personal documentation is safely returned to you after they have looked at it. It also gets the ball rolling more quickly.

    If you want an easy option for selecting a vacation spot at a really good price I would go with selloffvacations.com. I've used them twice and was very happy with them. Seeing as you aren't too picky on the destination it's quite easy to find a good deal. You go as broad as possible and it will give you the best price regardless of destination. Just put ALL SOUTH as your location. You can also click on a price range and a minimum star rating if you want.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Vandelay on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:43 pm

    Back in 2002, I lived in DR for 7 months and did not require a visa to be there. I'm not certain but I believe Brazil is the only country in all of central and south america that requires a visa for Canadians. While I was there, my bro came down to visit for a couple weeks and he flew down without a passport. I'm not sure if he didn't have one at all but I know he didn't use it to get on the plane at the airport.

    I've heard the same thing about Cuba...bad food, not the nicest accomadations but, of course, the beaches are really nice. DR also has very nice beaches and the resorts are quite nice...just don't wander off the resort because the contrasst is ridiculous...I felt incredibly guilty for the 5 days I stayed in one (not that you should).

    Most resorts are quite good as far as providing entertainment. We stayed in the "breezes" resort chain and if you wanted to, adults or children could be kept busy for most of the day. Gotta love being able to drink booze while in the pool...although you also gotta wonder about the people that drink in the pool and don't get out all day...I know my bladdder is not that strong.
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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Vandelay on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:45 pm

    Cap'n Clutch wrote:Yeesh. OK. Passport first. I would highly recommend all of you make sure you have passports and I personally would go in to the office in person so as to make sure your personal documentation is safely returned to you after they have looked at it. It also gets the ball rolling more quickly.

    If you want an easy option for selecting a vacation spot at a really good price I would go with selloffvacations.com. I've used them twice and was very happy with them. Seeing as you aren't too picky on the destination it's quite easy to find a good deal. You go as broad as possible and it will give you the best price regardless of destination. Just put ALL SOUTH as your location. You can also click on a price range and a minimum star rating if you want.

    I concur about the passports. Anything other than going in and droppping it off, you risk a huge waste of time. One tiny mistake or discrepancy and they send it back and you have to start again...huge pain in the butt.
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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:47 pm

    Also, as far as the food goes in both Cuba and Dominican, I was most pleased with the food when I went out to eat at the local restaurents. I've been to Santa Lucia and Santo Domingo in Cuba and to Cabaret in Dominican near Sosua.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Wed Nov 04, 2009 2:51 pm

    Vandelay wrote:Back in 2002, I lived in DR for 7 months and did not require a visa to be there. I'm not certain but I believe Brazil is the only country in all of central and south america that requires a visa for Canadians. While I was there, my bro came down to visit for a couple weeks and he flew down without a passport. I'm not sure if he didn't have one at all but I know he didn't use it to get on the plane at the airport.

    I've heard the same thing about Cuba...bad food, not the nicest accomadations but, of course, the beaches are really nice. DR also has very nice beaches and the resorts are quite nice...just don't wander off the resort because the contrasst is ridiculous...I felt incredibly guilty for the 5 days I stayed in one (not that you should).

    Most resorts are quite good as far as providing entertainment. We stayed in the "breezes" resort chain and if you wanted to, adults or children could be kept busy for most of the day. Gotta love being able to drink booze while in the pool...although you also gotta wonder about the people that drink in the pool and don't get out all day...I know my bladdder is not that strong.

    I agree on the feeling guilty part. People living in aluminum shacks on the side of the road.

    If you were happy with Breezes you can even narrow you search on selloffvacations to specific hotel chains if you want. Sorry, I really don't work for selloffvacations I just really love the functionality.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by wprager on Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:08 pm

    Clutch, I tried out seloffvacations.com but it has the identical interface. Once I fill in the ages of all travelers, select a room occupancy type (tried double, triple and and quad) it gives you an error:
    ERROR :
    PRODUCT NOT AVAILABLE
    USE CORRECT NUMBER OR SORT OF REGULAR PASSENGERS FOR CATEGORY

    I think the s/w just isn't designed to be that flexible. Also, I saw nothing about kids under 10 staying for free. I think I'm going to have to go to Sears/Costco/wherever and do this in person.

    Has anyone used Costco travel services?


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:15 pm

    wprager wrote:Clutch, I tried out seloffvacations.com but it has the identical interface. Once I fill in the ages of all travelers, select a room occupancy type (tried double, triple and and quad) it gives you an error:
    ERROR :
    PRODUCT NOT AVAILABLE
    USE CORRECT NUMBER OR SORT OF REGULAR PASSENGERS FOR CATEGORY

    I think the s/w just isn't designed to be that flexible. Also, I saw nothing about kids under 10 staying for free. I think I'm going to have to go to Sears/Costco/wherever and do this in person.

    Has anyone used Costco travel services?

    Selloffvacations also has an Ottawa travel office. You can try going in there in person as well. Also, another option is GoTravelDirect.com.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by wprager on Wed Nov 04, 2009 3:50 pm

    Clutch, that last one (GoTravelDirect.com) is much better. It lets me enter the kids' ages, told me that the oldest is considered an adult (hmph, I could tell them a few stories ...) and then pick number of rooms and break everything down.

    Unfortunately it comes out a little pricier than I had expected. Oh, well, will have to look for something a little more affordable, I guess.

    Thanks again. I +d you.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by shabbs on Wed Nov 04, 2009 6:55 pm

    For travel requirements, it's always safer to have passports for everyone. With 4 kids, that can add up fast. But I'd rather be safe than sorry.

    This site should give you the info you need: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/index-eng.asp

    I've been to Cuba and Dom Rep several times (as well as Mexico, and even got married on the beach in Mexico) and have stayed at different resorts in all those places. The food comment is accurate. In Cuba it was pretty bland. But we were expecting that and the price reflects this fact. Also, no king size beds in Cuba from what I remember. We stayed at the Iberostar Daquiri in Cayo Coco. For the price, it was pretty good. It's not a top rate all inclusive, that's for sure, and the food was not too bad at that location.

    Compared to all inclusive places that we've stayed at in Mexico (Mayan Riviera, Cancun, Manzanillo) and Dom Rep (Puerto Plata, Punta Cana), Cuba (Guardalavaca and Cayo Coco) is certainly at the bottom. But the prices are very good compared to traveling to the Mayan Riviera, that's for sure. Set your expectations accordingly.

    It's been a while since I've traveled there... so the prices may not be what I recall. We used Trip Central at that time... they had good prices.

    http://www.tripcentral.ca

    Good luck!
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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:03 am

    If I were to go back to Cuba or DR I would probably go with a plan that didn't include meals personally. I found the resort food acceptable but not great. The local restaurants and the food provided on all the tours was excellent though.

    I totally understand wanting meals provided at the resort when you've got 4 kids with you. It would not be fun having to go off resort and head to a restaurant for every meal. It is quite cheap to eat there though.


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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by shabbs on Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:39 am

    I know you have some older kids, but something else to consider is a Disney Cruise. A few of our friends have done that with their kids and they've all raved about it. They watch and entertain your kids all day if you want.

    http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/

    I believe it's all-inclusive except for booze. From what we've seen, it looks pretty amazing.
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    Re: Planning a family vacation; have questions

    Post by Cap'n Clutch on Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:41 am

    Cruises, in general, are quite a bit more expensive than just going to a resort though.


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