Photo Tips: Portrait Pointers


How to capture your travel companions in their best light.

A good portrait is more than a snapshot—it’s a picture that captures the personality of the subject in a special way. Even better is a portrait of a loved one on vacation, when the subject is relaxed and the setting reminds you of happy times. Here are some techniques to make sure you come home with at least one frameworthy (or Facebook-worthy) shot.

START WITH THE LIGHT

People just don’t look good in harsh light, such as you find outside on a sunny day. So get your subject into some flattering shade before you shoot. Or, if there’s no cover to be had, have him or her face away from the sun. This will eliminate squinting and heavy shadows.

BACKGROUND CHECK

Look for plain backgrounds that let your subject stand out. If the busy background is necessary to the composition (say, to show off a resort’s jungle setting), find a place in the frame where the subject fits without objects like trees that seem to be growing out from behind his or her head. Pros sometimes soften a distracting background by opening up the lens to its widest setting (i.e., the lowest number f/stop) to limit the depth of focus and direct attention to the subject. (This technique works better with digital SLRs than with point-and-shoots.)

GESTURE AND MOMENT

Keep talking once you start to shoot, offering posing instructions and encouraging words that will make your sitter feel comfortable. And try to keep the camera at your eye level, so when you tell your killer joke and your subject responds with a great smile, you’re ready to shoot. Or set the camera on a tripod and use a remote to trip the shutter. That lets you maintain eye contact with the subject, allowing for easier interaction. The whole point is to be ready for that split second when the subject lets down his or her guard and the personality shines through.

THE EYES HAVE IT

A lot of things can be soft and out of focus in a portrait, but not the eyes. If your camera has a moveable autofocus target, make sure it falls right at the subject’s eye level. Try not to compose your portrait with the subject’s eyes in the middle of the frame (where your autofocus target usually rests), as it makes for a very static composition. And remember to fill the frame, even with a headshot.

SHOOT AWAY

Finally, don’t be stingy with the shutter. In the digital age, shooting more costs nothing extra. The sound of shutter clicks will reassure your subject, helping you both to arrive at that one magic moment—and the perfect portrait.

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals


A couples' guide to Sin City

Today’s Vegas can be anything you want it to be: It’s a veritable playground for grownups, from gamblers to gourmets. The challenge is to fit in all you want to do in the (usually) short time you’ve got to do it. That’s why couples often adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy, in which the women and men go their separate ways during the day, then reconvene in the evening for various adventures. Here, the girl’s-versus-guy’s guide to a city that really never sleeps. Keep checking back to the RCI blog for more tips to ensure your Vegas vacation isn't a gamble!

GALS

Channel Your Inner Showgirl

Start with a snakeskin pedicure at Vdara Spa: It’s a gel pedicure in which real (naturally shed) snakeskin is applied to your toes, on top of your choice of color. Then strap on your highest heels and head to X Burlesque University at the Flamingo. During a 75-minute class, you’ll learn the all-important techniques of applying false eyelashes and stage lipstick and working a feather boa, then get schooled in a burlesque routine. After picking up some new skills, have a special cocktail at the Chandelier Bar, set on three floors of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and swagged in crystals. Try the Campfire Delight; it’s like a s’more in a glass, made up of a rum-cream liqueur, two types of chocolate, a graham-cracker-coated rim and toasted marshmallows. Next head to Minus5, a bar carved entirely from ice—the structure, the furniture, even the glasses in which your drinks are served

GUYS 

Be a Kid Again

Around the age of five, boys often develop an obsessive interest in toy cars and heavy construction equipment. In Vegas, an adult male can drive a real Lamborghini and operate a real bulldozer.

At Exotics Racing, you’ll start by getting some driver’s ed on the exotic paddle-shift cars meant for racing. The hardest part will be choosing your ride from a stable that includes a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a Mercedes SLS AMG and an Audi R8.

For those who prefer their machines a little larger, Dig This offers a chance to operate an excavator or bulldozer, just like the ones you see on construction sites, on the company’s “heavy-equipment playground.” Fuel these adrenaline-laced activities at the Burger Bar in Mandalay Place, where you can customize every part of your meaty creation, from protein to bun to garnishes. (The truffled potato chips are a must.) Or, for lunch on the fly, grab a slice at the Pizzeria at the Cosmopolitan.

 

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Acapulco's Second Act


Mexico's original beach town has reclaimed its old-school allure.

Long before Cancún or Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya were even specks on the tourist map, Acapulco reigned as Mexico’s coastal queen. Acapulqueños have recently worked hard to restore Old Acapulco and the Costera, and posh resorts and malls have risen in the newest neighborhood, Acapulco Diamante. The result is a thoroughly modern vacation destination rich in culture and history. Now is the time to visit—or revisit—the place where Mexico’s tourism fame was born.

OLD ACAPULCO

In the early Hollywood days, Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, on the western shores of Acapulco Bay, saw the most action. Today, the ’50s have returned with the restoration of the beachfront Hotel Boca Chica. The designers faithfully retained the mid-century architecture and the tiny Coco Wash disco, which has become the hippest hangout in town. Chef Keisuke Harada creates platters of sushi and Kobe burgers for happy hordes at the hotel’s restaurants; on weekends, locals pull their yachts up to the dock and linger for hours over mescal martinis.

With Boca Chica grabbing attention, travelers are also being lured to the palapa-shaded fish shacks on Playa Caletilla. Here families gather beneath blue umbrellas, and water taxis take swimmers to the clear waters off Isla Roqueta, just 10 minutes away. At the nearby Plaza Alvarez (also called the zócalo), elderly gents study their newspapers at sidewalk cafés as kids scamper around the filigreed bandstand. Across the street, fishermen lay out their nets beside docks where party boats collect passengers for sunset sailings.

In the winding streets high above Old Acapulco, sightseers gather at La Quebrada to witness the famed clavadistas, or cliff divers. During the show, a lone diver poses atop a jagged, precipitous cliff. Below, waves crash against rocks before settling into a small swirling pool. In the blink of an eye, the diver swoops toward the sea. Onlookers applaud as he emerges from the water, and another duplicates his feat.

THE COSTERA

Most visitors to the Costera devote the sunlight hours to lounging poolside, browsing in arcades and malls and playing in the bay. Pint-sized fun-seekers enjoy the rides at Papagayo Park and the waterslides at CICI waterpark.

As evening sets in, families head to the Hard Rock Cafe for burgers and ribs. Partygoers seek out tables at Paradise or Beto’s, among the best of the clubs on the sand, or retire to high-end restaurants and discos in the hills. Horse-drawn calesas (carriages) clomp along the Costera, delivering dancers to Baby ’O, one of the best-known discos. And fireworks and laser beams shoot over the bay from the hilltop clubs until dawn.

ACAPULCO DIAMANTE

Perhaps the best evidence of Acapulco’s resurgence lies in the burgeoning Diamante neighborhood. Stretching from the Costera up the steep, winding Scenic Highway, Diamante has legendary discos, championship golf courses, lavish resorts, a concert hall and a shiny new mall.

Several large timeshare resorts are also found on the beaches of Acapulco Diamante, close to attractions like the La Isla shopping center at Punta Diamante, which has lured some of the Costera’s well-known establishments (including the family-friendly yet rowdy Carlos’n Charlie’s). Kids can head to the mall’s Aqua Planet, with bumper boats and mini-golf, as well as displays that teach about water conservation. And at Mundo Imperial, an enormous development with a convention center and hotel, the stars of today appear at the Forum, a state-of-the-art concert hall. With the three sides of Acapulco all in a state of transformation, Mexico’s coastal queen is once again the biggest star on the map.

 

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Slope Smarts


The safety rules every winter sports enthusiast should know.

The good news is that more American skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets than ever before (67 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association – up 10% from just 3 years ago). The bad news? A helmet can’t save you from everything. Witness pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered severe brain trauma in late 2009 even while wearing the proper gear. Play it safe by following these measures recommended by Jonathan Finnoff, co-chair of the Sports Concussion Program at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic.

KEEP A CLEAR HEAD

“A lot of people start out at sea level, go on vacation at a high altitude and drink a bunch of beer at lunch,” cautions Finnoff. This can result in dehydration, disinhibition and slow reaction times.

STAY TUNED

Finnoff recommends having your bindings checked at a ski shop once a season. “If they’re too loose, they could pop off and hit someone or cause you to crash, and if they’re too tight, you might tear a knee ligament.”

EXERCISE CONTROL

Skiing or snowboarding out of control at high speeds often leads to multiple traumas, according to Finnoff. “Those are the people who get injured,” he says—even when they’re wearing a helmet.

LEARN THE CODE

The National Ski Areas Association’s 7-point “responsibility code” (nsaa.org) lists the important rules of the slopes, such as where (and where not) to stop, and who gets the right-of-way (everyone in front of you).

Helmet Stats

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Mama and Baby


Mama and Baby

While staying at Vacation Village at Weston, we visited Monkey Jungle outside of Miami. This cute mama and baby came up and ate right out of our hands!

-Penelope W. from Guyton, GA

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Cozumel – Island of Swallows


Josef W.Walking down the stone streets of Playa del Carmen, past the numerous vendors and quaint shops, the ferry to Cozumel slowly comes into view. It looks sleek, fast and modern sitting atop the crystal clear blue water of the ocean. As we wait in line with mild trepidation to board, we watch the families play along the pristine white sand beach, bathed in the warm sunlight. Boarding the ship is quite a breeze once the gate opens and we are soon under way heading to Cozumel. As Cozumel slowly comes into focus, small droplets of ocean water cool us off during our complimentary sun tan on the 30 minute ferry ride. Arriving in Cozumel proves to be as easy as boarding was and we are soon on our way to the resort.

One of the first things that we noticed about Cozumel was that it feels like mainland Mexico, yet feels very different as well. There were numerous places to rent scooters on the side of the road, offering adventurous travelers the opportunity to explore the island on their own. They seem to be quite the popular mode of transportation to get around for the tourists and locals alike. We quickly leave the town limits of San Miguel de Cozumel, the capital, and drive along the highway towards our vacation destination. The resort staff is quickly at our service with towels and fresh drinks upon our arrival. We are quickly checked in and on our way to explore the resort. Having the ocean right outside our door along with a convenient ocean-side bar made this stay quite the treat.

The island seems to move at a slower pace than the mainland which makes everything more relaxing. We managed to spend some time exploring the local shops and dining at a quaint restaurant in the heart of San Miguel. The locals are eager to show you their items for sale and are quite friendly.  The food was amazing in both taste and presentation. We truly enjoyed spending a nice evening exploring this charming city. Don’t forget to also spend some time snorkeling at the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, located off the coast of Cozumel. Make Cozumel your next vacation destination and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Mexico!

We hope you enjoyed all of the great photos shared by RCI subscribing members. Be sure to check back with us next week!

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Cozumel – Adventure and Relaxation in One


Kristina W.Walking through the small streets of Playa Del Carmen, the excitement was building. We were heading towards the ferry terminal that would lead to our Cozumel journey. The process of using the ferry as transportation was quite simple and enjoyable. It was a beautiful sight to see the island coming into view as we felt the calm waves of the ocean rocking the ferry. Upon arrival on Cozumel, transportation to the resort was easy. The island of Cozumel is not an overwhelming size as it is roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. There is one main road that circles the island, so if you choose to rent a car it is pretty easy to navigate.

Once you get settled in, be sure to check out the amazing water sport activities, like snorkeling. The largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, the Mesoamerica Reef, can be explored while staying in Cozumel. The ocean is crystal clear which makes for some fantastic sightings such as tropical fish and turtles.

Back on the island, the town of San Miguel offers many unique shopping prospects. While we were visiting, we enjoyed a night out in Cozumel with a phenomenal dinner at a local restaurant. Additionally, Cozumel provides many choices for spa treatments. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation, or an exciting getaway full of adventure, Cozumel offers the perfect trip for any family.

We’re continuing to share RCI subscribing members’ Cozumel photos. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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Cozumel – Easy to Get There; Easy to Enjoy


Melissa V.The combination of great diving, snorkeling and fishing, lovely isolated beaches and a thriving city full of shops, markets and restaurants make Cozumel an excellent vacation destination for people who like some adventure in their lives.

It's very easy to arrive in Cozumel either by plane or a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. I recommend the ferry; it’s cheaper to fly to Cancun, than Cozumel. The ferry is about 20 minutes from the Cancun airport. Once you arrive in Playa del Carmen there is a ticket station where you can purchase tickets for about $25 (USD). Once you purchase your ticket you will hand the concierges your bags, and board the ferry to enjoy the sun on the top deck or take a seat downstairs and enjoy the air conditioning. It's a worry free ride filled with pure enjoyment, and is very relaxing. Sometimes they even have people playing music for you or you can just take a quick power nap.

Once you arrive in Cozumel there is a lot of shopping right where the cruises port with excellent souvenirs that are true to the island. One piece of advice, never pay the full price – always negotiate, they will go down. Once you are finished shopping, check out some of the beautiful beaches.

I really enjoyed my time in Cozumel. Even though it was short and I didn't get to do everything I wanted to, I now have great memories.  I now have to start planning for my trip back there with my husband next Fall!

This week on the RCI Blog we will be featuring RCI subscribing members’ photos from their trips to Cozumel. Be sure to check back soon!

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Winter Getaway


We took a four day weekend to Door County, WI in February and stayed at The Rushes on Kangaroo Lake. We expected to hike around in some of the county and state parks while we were there. What we didn't expect were all of the extra accommodations The Rushes had to offer. They had a separate room with every size ice skate, snow shoe, cross country ski and poles for our family, as well as our 4-year-old. These activities were complimentary. We tried snowshoeing, but got hooked on cross country skiing! My husband and I wondered why we had never tried it before. Our 12-year-old son had a good time too. We could pick between three different trails varying in length and difficulty. The priceless moment was watching our 4-year-old son and the triumph on his face when he could ski too. New experiences as a family, now that's what vacation time is all about!

-Linda A. from Fond du Lac, WI

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Winter is Right Around the Corner!


Dave TWith temperatures beginning to fall and the holiday season right around the corner, it is time to break out the heavy coats and embrace the season. As winter is knocking at the door and Jack Frost is nipping and your nose, I can’t help but think of all the things I love about this time of year. The first snowfall, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, freshly baked cookies, there are too many to name.

While it can be hard to step away from all the distractions and running around that are associated with the season, I find winter to be the perfect time to escape and explore my adventurous side. A snow filled vacation is an awesome opportunity to take part in these activities or even try new ones! Some of my favorite activities include skiing, ice-skating and snow tubing. And after I’m done with the day’s activities there is nothing better than relaxing at a beautiful snow covered resort in a warm outdoor hot tub or in front of a roaring fire.

Some may beg to differ, but winter is my favorite time of year. Whether it’s cruising down the slopes or curling up by the fire with a good book, it doesn’t get much better in my opinion. Check back to the RCI Blog for great stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who also share my love for this time of year!

 

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Destination: A Shopper’s Guide to Chicago


Heading to the Windy City this fall? Check out this article from Endless Vacation® magazine. You’ll find a detailed outline of the city and its top three destinations to get your shop on! From glitz and glamour to hipster-chic, Chicago has it all. Happy travels!

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Destination: Las Vegas Shopping


If you like shopping and are planning a vacation to Las Vegas then you’re in luck! The shopping scene in Las Vegas is booming. From the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace to the CityCenter on the Strip – there’s tons to choose from. Be sure to check out this article from Endless Vacation® magazine before your next trip to Sin City!

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Destination: Shopping, the A1A Way


Heading to Florida to escape from the cold any time soon?  If you find yourself wanting to do a little more than relaxing on the beach or hanging out at some of the hotspots in the area, stop by a few of the trendy boutiques surrounding Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Cocoa Beach, and Orlando. This article from Endless Vacation® magazine lists some of the best places to visit in Florida for your shopping fix.

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Travel the world – in just one weekend.


Every year, late November – I take the vacation of a lifetime (literally).

My world tour (as I like to call it) takes place in the comfort of my very own home as I excitedly put up my Christmas tree. A “vacation” tradition that started by accident – has turned into my favorite weekend of the year.

It began decades ago. Without actually ever planning it, I discovered that I was suddenly scouring every vacation destination I visited for the perfect Christmas ornament. I sought out “special” ornaments – the ones that you could only find at tiny local gift shops. They were often hand painted by a local artist – and in some cases, more expensive than my airfare to get there.

To some, my souvenir shopping has turned into a full blown obsession. On occasion, I have been known to alter activities and arrive late for reservations – all in pursuit of the perfect ornament. I may or may not have also fallen victim to an utter state of frenzy due to a “lack” of ornament options in certain destinations (which I have also made a mental note of a great business opportunity). I now refer to myself as a “collector” as it seems to negate just a little bit of the crazy and serves as a better explanation for why it is physically impossible for me to board a departing flight without my coveted ornament safely nestled in my carry on.

My countdown has begun – in just a few short weeks I will be breathless in front of a Botticelli at the Louvre, island hopping through the Caribbean, river rafting in the Grand Canyon, wine tasting in Napa Valley and searching for my knight in shining armor in London.

I challenge anyone to plan a better trip than that.

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Nassau, Bahamas


Nassau, Bahamas

We started our week vacation on a cruise to Nassau, Bahamas. This picture is a small island we saw just before we entered the harbor.

-Candice G. from Keswick, ON, Canada

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50th Anniversary Cruise


This was a great 50th anniversary cruise to the western Caribbean. Everything on the cruise was absolutely fabulous. The ship's crew was very supportive and friendly. The stewards did a great job of preparing the cabin and left a little memento along with a different "towel animal" each night. The dinner table companions were very friendly and we all shared stories about each others' lives. The visit to Cozumel was like a dream come true. The last evening on board was our 50th anniversary. The head steward presented our table with complimentary champagne and a small anniversary cake. This indeed was a great vacation that we will never forget.

-Fernando H. from San Antonio, TX

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Docking on the island of St. Thomas


Docking on the island of St. Thomas

This was the most awesome seven day cruise imaginable. My wife and I toured the Eastern Caribbean. The experience was magical. The water was beautiful. We went on a snorkeling/rum ride expedition on the island of St. Thomas. The overall cruise experience was absolutely awesome! The food, the entertainment, the amenities, the staff, the list goes on and on, and added up to be the ultimate vacation!

-Efrain V. from Renton, WA

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Plan a great cruise getaway during World’s Largest Cruise Sale!


Catherine SOne of the great things about cruising is that it provides the opportunity to visit so many different destinations.  Whether you enjoy lying on a beach or have always wanted to see a glacier, cruises offer options for almost everyone. 

My favorite cruise vacation toured the Western Caribbean, with stops in Key West, Guatemala, Belize & Mexico.  We toured Mayan ruins, ate lunch beside the gorgeous Lake of the Seven Colors, and visited the polydactyl cats at Hemingway’s Home – and we only had to unpack once!

This is a great time to plan a cruise vacation.  October is National Cruise Vacation Month, and from October 20, 2013 through October 27, 2013, the “World’s Largest Cruise Sale” is taking place.  From discounted sailings to onboard credits, there are lots of ways to save. 

If you’re curious about the offers available during this sale, click here or call 877-RCI-BOAT, where one of our RCI® Cruise Guides will be happy to help you book your cruise vacation!

Come back to the RCI Blog this week for more photos and stories from RCI subscribing members and their cruise adventures!

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Mazatlan


“New Orleans meets Pearl of the Pacific “

I am so excited to talk about Mazatlan I’m not sure where to start. Once we left the airport it was a very beautiful drive of what I would call the Mazatlan country side (the airport being about 25 minutes from the hotel zone). The weather was fantastic arriving in the beginning of November (mid 80’s or so). The town of Mazatlan was great. There are a lot of excellent restaurants, nightlife, a boardwalk and Old Town Mazatlan, which is very similar to the French Quarter of New Orleans. If you are traveling anywhere in Mazatlan, be sure to take one of the Pumonias (open air taxis) as it will make for a wonderful adventure.

If you’d like to explore the area, below are a few ideas of some great activities and attractions:

  • Horseback riding
  • Boat trips to Deer Island
  • Baseball games
  • The Malecon (Mazatlan’s “Boardwalk”)
  • Shopping
  • Deep sea fishing

 

During my visit, I found out that Mazatlan has the third largest Mardi Gras in the world (first Brazil, second New Orleans), now I know where I will be visiting next year! No matter what brings you here you most likely will have a fabulous time.

Mazatlan has much to offer and we hope you enjoyed all of the great photos and stories shared by RCI subscribing members and associates the last two weeks. Be sure to check us out next week! We’ll be talking about cruise vacations!

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Family Holiday Fun in Mazatlan


What better way to connect with family than to spend a week together in Mazatlan, on Mexico's west coast, and with the Christmas holiday as an added attraction. With El Cid El Moro Beach Resort as our base, three generations enjoyed an all-inclusive vacation, which made sure our grandsons never went hungry! The beach itself provided sunny days of swimming, ping-pong, water sports, and parasailing for a perfect view of the city, the coast line and the nearby islands. Shops and restaurants, within easy walking distance, made life easy for the older generation. One day we all boarded a catamaran and sailed to Deer Island, passing sea lions that lazed on the rocks, oblivious to our squeals of delight. We swam, snorkeled, rode the giant banana, kayaked, and picnicked on the beach until the magnificent sunset told us it was time to return to reality.

Christmas Eve is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. We traveled by local bus to Juarez Street in the heart of the city. Over 100 stalls at the outdoor market provided souvenirs, tee shirts, leather goods, pottery, and every food imaginable from goat to chicken feet (not legs)! The Mexicans shop there every day, but for us it was an unusual treat. Nearby the cathedral shone with its majestic spirals and stained glass windows. Christmas carols pealed from outdoor speakers and decorated Christmas trees reminded us of the holiday. A cantina lodged in the park somehow seemed out of place until we remembered where we were!

We slept with our balcony door open to hear the breaking waves and see the gorgeous sunrises. We were up at dawn every day, as we did not want to miss a thing: kids, parents, and grandparents alike.

-Karen I. from Greenwood, SC

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