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Travel tips from a family who visited 21 resorts in 2021

Feb. 17, 2022
11 min read
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As luxury family travel experts, Carmen and Serge Sognonvi have spent years traveling the world with their daughters, Sean and Ella.

When COVID-19 complicated travel, they could have easily stored their carry-on bags and hunkered down in their hometown of New York City. Instead, the family of four viewed the situation as a unique opportunity to experience and share what was happening in the upscale resort travel sector when it came to safety protocols, cleanliness standards and family-friendly activities.

Known online as Top Flight Family, the Sognonvis set out with a goal of visiting 21 resorts in 2021.

This family of four kicked off their yearlong project at Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas and wrapped things up at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana. In between, they visited destinations like Kenya, Hawaii and Jamaica to showcase the diverse range of experiences and accommodations resorts have to offer.

(Photo courtesy of Adam Bannister)

We love a good travel tip or two here at TPG. So, we spoke with Carmen Sognonvi to see what she and her family learned while being out on the road during a time when so many other families stepped away from travel. Here are a few to keep in mind when planning your next family vacation.

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Choose the right resort for your family

Many people immediately picture lounging on the beach or floating along a lazy river when they think of resort travel, but quintessential beach resorts are just the tip of the iceberg.

Ski resorts, safari lodges, lake lodges and even theme park and water park resorts all fall under the resort umbrella,” Sognonvi told TPG.

Beach and pool resorts comprised a lot of the Sognonvi family's 2021 travel schedule, but they also sought to showcase the full breadth of resort options available to families.

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As the Sognonvi children grow older, the family prioritizes finding enough space to stretch out when choosing a resort.

When their girls were younger, they could make do with a one-bedroom suite where Carmen and Serge could sleep in the bedroom and the girls could sleep on the pullout couch in the living room. However, growth spurts have made it uncomfortable for the family to stay in one-bedroom accommodations or smaller now that the girls are older.

“As the girls have gotten bigger, they’re just getting too big for those pullout couches,” Sognonvi joked. “Nowadays, we look for either a two-bedroom suite or villa or adjoining rooms. And you’ll never regret booking a swim-up suite, if that’s an option.”

(Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)

Related: How to book two-bedrooms and suites on points

Having access to activities and amenities that are suitable for kids is also important to consider.

If you are traveling with babies or toddlers, Sognonvi recommends looking for a resort that provides cribs, strollers and other baby care items that you can rent or borrow to lighten your load.

Depending on which resort you choose, you may also find that it offers free or fee-based childcare services.

From Sognonvi's experience, bigger properties are not always better.

“You would assume the bigger and splashier a kids club is, the more your kids are going to enjoy it,” she said.

However, Sognonvi has learned from her trips with her family that it’s the care and attention of the staff that matters more than all the bells and whistles.

“The more the staff is really hands on and engaged with the kids, the more they are going to enjoy it.” she said.

The quality of childcare can be tough to determine just by looking at photos on a website, so you'll want to read online reviews and search for articles or videos from travelers who’ve recently stayed at the resort you're interested in visiting to get a better sense of what to expect.

(Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)

Let the resort take the guesswork out of COVID-19 protocols

No matter how or where you travel right now, COVID-19 protocols can vary greatly from country to country.

Determining which test you need to take, when to take it and whether or not you need a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated may be enough to make you want to stay closer to home until travel returns to something closer to normal.

Try not to immediately rule out traveling abroad, though. Based on the Sognonvi family's experience, most international resorts provide on-site COVID-19 testing, oftentimes completely free of charge.

“When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it can be stressful to find a reputable place to get a COVID test,” Sognonvi said. “But when you stay at a resort, you don’t have to worry about it because they do the COVID test right there and the concierge is typically very up to date on the current travel requirements.”

While staying at a resort can certainly erase some of the question marks associated with whether or not you need to test, how far out you should take a test and how to submit your test results or proof of vaccination, the onus is still on you, the traveler, to know the rules. Sognonvi recommends visiting a country’s tourism board website, which will usually have a banner across the homepage with current safety protocols.

Understand that flying with kids can be fun — or, at least, bearable

The Sognonvi family has been on hundreds of flights throughout the pandemic, so they’ve got flying with kids in tow down to a science.

Their tip is to fly early in the day, preferably around 8 a.m., because delays and cancellations are less likely and airport terminals and lounges tend to be less crowded.

“If you get that 8 a.m. flight, very often the plane was already there from overnight, so you’re on and you’re out right on time,” Sognonvi said.

(Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)

The Sognonvi family is also proud to be part of team carry-on, particularly when flying to warm-weather destinations where you only need less bulky items like shorts and swimsuits.

“It saves so much time because you don’t have to wait around for the luggage and you don’t have to worry about lost luggage,” Sognonvi said.

Sognonvi and her husband also loosen up screen time rules for their girls on travel days so that every member of the family (themselves included) can use electronics to pass the time while traveling.

She also recommends downloading music, movies, books and other entertainment onto your devices before you get to the airport so everyone has something fun to do, even without an internet connection.

“A lot of airlines offer inflight entertainment, but you should always prepare your own in case they break or malfunction,” Sognonvi said.

Additionally, Sognonvi suggests packing analog options in case screen time gets boring during a long-haul flight.

“My kids are really into art and drawing. They always bring a sketchbook and pencils, crayons or a notebook to write in,” she said.

Related: Guide to flying with kids of every age

Keep your expectations in check

You may have this fantasy of taking your kids on a dream vacation where they’ll turn to you and thank you for the incredible life experience, but chances are it won’t happen that way.

“As a parent, you have to keep in mind that kids don’t always express everything they are feeling in the moment,” Sognonvi said.

(Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)

This is especially true when kids are dealing with new experiences and being away from home in an unfamiliar place. Sognonvi has learned not to be disappointed by her kids’ reactions (or lack thereof).

“It doesn’t mean they aren’t appreciating the experience,” she said. “They may seem bored or disengaged in the moment, but weeks or months later they may bring up something specific they enjoyed.”

It’s a good reminder that we need to manage expectations because there are different layers to what your child will get out of a trip.

“They’re absorbing more than we realize and there isn’t a single trip they don’t grow from,” Sognonvi said.

Related: The best trips to take with kids of every age

Don't assume you know what your kids’ favorite activities will be

The Sognonvi family has learned that a packed schedule of back-to-back activities isn’t necessary for kids to have a good time on vacation. Sometimes, it’s the little things they enjoy most.

When Sognonvi visited Mexico’s Finest Playa Mujeres with her family last spring, her kids fell in love with the overwater hammock at their swim-up suite.

“The resort had a kids club they enjoyed, but they spent hours ‘surfing’ on the hammock over the pool,” Sognonvi remembers. “Don’t overplan. You have to give kids time to explore and discover.”

(Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)

Follow Top Flight Family as they aim to tackle a new goal in 2022

If you think visiting 21 resorts in one year sounds challenging, try 22 cities in the same amount of time. That's the new goal for the Sognonvi family.

“Serge and I are both city kids," Sognonvi said. "I was born and raised in Hong Kong and Serge in New York City. Prior to 2021, we gravitated more toward city travel. Why? Cities have so much to offer families."

Specifically, Sognonvi loves how many cities both in the U.S. and around the world feature a slew of amenities that cater to families.

"They are inherently very family-friendly because transportation is so easy, there is a wide range of accommodation options and then there are so many cultural institutions and sports venues to visit while you are there,” she said.

Beyond enjoying typical family-oriented activities, the Sognonvis hope to demonstrate that even when you travel with kids, it’s possible to experience a city on a deeper level by looking beyond the surface.

“We’ll show you how to get to know each city in a little bit of a deeper way, and your kids are going to benefit tremendously from that experience,” Sognonvi said.

Want to follow along? You can keep up with Top Flight Family’s adventures on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of Top Flight Family)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more