My year started off with a cancellation on my Royal Caribbean cruise because the pandemic was still an issue to sail. However, that gave me more time to prepare for a heartwarming and unique experience in Honduras. We planned this tour for about six months and were hoping to have a bigger group of volunteers but the ones that came made a huge difference in children's lives in small villages in Honduras.
The Boundless Foundation had built two schools in remote areas of this country and was looking to make a new one in Roatán. Each group member brought gifts and school supplies and was eager to interact with the kids. It was challenging to see so many hungry kids with poor sanitation and little to no access to water. The people were very grateful for our visit and the donations. The foundation continues to work with other organizations and people willing to help provide a better future for the children of Honduras. I made incredible friends there, and those kids stole my heart.
Once I returned from Honduras, I had a production in Knoxville for a few days (yes, I still work on my production company being creative), and at the end of March, I took my husband on a Royal Caribbean cruise to Costa Maya. This was my canceled cruise from January. I had the opportunity to explore the beautiful and newest ship, Odyssey of the Seas. What an incredible floating hotel! There was so much to do onboard, from entertainment, games, delicious food, and gorgeous and colorful decorations to very comfortable rooms. Our itinerary was to stop in Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Coco Cay. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough to dock in Costa Maya, so we spent two days at sea, and the day that we arrived in Coco Cay, it was raining. I need a do-over with Royal! Nonetheless, it was a chance to be onboard and learn about their cruising experience since I already have my Bachelor's certifications with Royal Caribbean.
My next trip was to Punta Cana at the end of April. My partners at Meliá Hotels International had invited me to a familiarization trip to their resorts several times, and I could not make it. But this time, I could go to the Dominican Republic, where the brand has five incredible beachfront resorts. We spent two nights at The Level at Melia Punta Cana and two nights at the Paradisus Gran Cana. However, we got the opportunity to do site inspections of all five hotel brands and experience delicious lunches by the beach. The resorts are all-inclusive and have something for everyone. The family resort is adjacent to The Level at Melia Punta Cana. Paradisus Palma Real was recently renovated, and it just reopened its doors.
I had a short two-day trip to Atlanta for a business conference and educational sessions with travel partners. This is always an excellent opportunity to see what's new with each brand and what new offers are available for my clients.
Then, got back just in time to prepare for sailing to the Irresistible Med onboard Valiant Lady. We flew to Barcelona and spent four days exploring the city. There are so many beautiful buildings and interesting architecture that I could not stop taking photos of them. One of the must-do things in Barcelona is a day trip to Monserrat, a monastery built on top of a mountain over one hundred years old. The train is about a forty-five minutes ride, and then take the lift up to the top of the mountains. Even though I am afraid of heights, I was able to film the experience and capture the most incredible view going up and down the side of this enormous mountain.
Although Valiant Lady is a sister ship of Scarlet Lady, there were a couple of different things on board. I won't spoil it for you in case you have yet to experience her! Still, it's a gorgeous ship with plenty of cozy spaces to hang out, delicious food, and Richard's Roof Top available for those who book one of the suites. The itinerary is excellent because you stop in France twice, in Italy twice, and overnight in Ibiza, and you have plenty of time to explore Barcelona by booking pre and post-stays.
But my adventures did not end there. Even though this was a vacation, it was also a business opportunity to learn about these new destinations. I visited other cities in Italy that I've never been to, once a city in France and the ever-famous Ibiza. When I returned from Europe, I didn't have much time to catch up because I had already planned a Motorcycle tour to Cuba, which was incredible. It was a unique experience for my clients, who had never been to my homeland and biked to Viñales on awful roads. However, they truly enjoyed the experience. Two of my clients could not go because they got sick with Covid, so I had to return to Cuba in September to take them. Fortunately, I got to visit my mom twice within two months.
I had the month of July to catch up and continue planning trips for clients and my business trips. Next was my association ASTA global convention in San Francisco. I was very excited about the conference because I had never been to this city and for the last two years I could not attend because of the pandemic. In 2020 was virtual, and in 2021 the dates coincided with my Amawaterways river cruise to Europe. So, there was no way I would miss one of the most important conferences for my business. I made new connections during the conference, attended great educational sessions about Europe and Latin America, and met other fantastic travel advisors.
September was extremely busy because I had to return to Cuba to take the other sick clients, and I was traveling to Europe for three weeks! I was in a time crunch with all the planning and traveling, but I made it happen. Clients loved the Cuban motorcycle tour and are eager to return to visit other parts of the country. My adventure through Europe was epic. My partners at Celestyal cruises had invited me for a familiarization cruise to the Greek Islands, and my fellow travel advisor had won a three nights trip to Istanbul from one of our travel partners, so we ventured out to do both trips one after the other.
Since I was already in Europe, I could only return to the United States after stopping in Italy to visit my sister. On my way back, all the flights were rerouted through Amsterdam, so why not spend a few days there since I've never been. We stayed at the Sofitel Grand Amsterdam, located right in the middle of the city, with easy access to popular restaurants, museums, shops, and all the happenings.
I could not stop thinking about my adventure in Santorini, as I planned a photography session there, and I just had time to do that at sunset, go have dinner, and return to the ship. I would definitely have to go back and explore the city. Even though the trip to Europe was mostly business, I enjoyed and had a little family time with my sister and explored nearby towns such as Fermo, Torre di Palme, and Ancona. I love Italy, and I can't believe I visited twice this year.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in October, so I planned a photography session to celebrate a milestone in my life in Santorini. My next trip was onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train from Denver to Moab. If you have yet to go out west, this would be an incredible way to see mountains, cliffs, and valleys that can only be seen by train. We were so lucky it snowed when the train was getting close to Glenwood Springs, where we had an overnight stay. It looked like we were in a snow globe. A unique experience for everyone for sure. The crew was amiable. They kept feeding us, giving us drinks, and telling us stories about the towns we went by and how the railroad was built. I wrote a blog about that journey right after, and you can check it out here.
My last two business conferences of the year took place in November and December. My consortia's Signature Travel Network annual conference took place in Las Vegas, and it was extremely full on with workshops, one-on-one meetings with business partners and hotels across the world, and a celebration of the most remarkable comeback in travel. Then to close out the year, we had our last conference onboard Norwegian Prima. What a gorgeous ship! I saw only some of it because of the business meetings, but it's like a labyrinth with hidden spaces, many outdoor lounge areas, delicious food, and great entertainment. I visited a beach club in Cozumel, just 25 minutes from the port called Nachi-Cocom, with plenty of lounge chairs, delicious food, and an all-you-can-drink. It's an excellent option for those who want to stay away from the busy and noisy center of the island.
What's next? Now it's your turn to discover new places and create memories. This year, my intention was to experience these destinations so I could serve you better and know that I have your back. You can see HERE the list of tours planned for 2023. Let's chat soon to save your spot on your preferred destination. I will be here for the next couple of months, creating unforgettable adventures for my clients. Remember, no matter where I might be discovering new places, I can be reached by email, text message, or phone!
Have an adventurous 2023!
About Sheyla Paz
Sheyla was born and raised in Cuba and has been in the United States since 2000. She is a Journalist, Actress, Producer, and Photographer with a passion for travel. Sheyla launched the travel agency out of her desire to share her culture, music, dance, and the architecture of her homeland with others. Her agency provides travel arrangements to Latin countries, the Caribbean islands, and Europe. She is an award-winning short film producer and was recognized as a leading media personality in the Latino community in Tennessee with the award “Beacon of Light” in 2019. Sheyla was one of the few Cuban-American journalists who traveled to Cuba with President Barack Obama in 2016 as part of the White House Press Corps. She is an ASTA Verified travel advisor, Signature Travel Network Luxury Certified Travel advisor, and several destination specialists in the Caribbean and Latin America. She is also certified in Luxury River and Ocean cruises.
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