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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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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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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35th Anniversary


My husband and I wanted a vacation to celebrate our anniversary and we wanted something close to home. We chose Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells. We used our resort as a base and took several day trips over the course of our week. Wonderful vineyards that offered wine tasting just a couple of hours away. We visited House on the Rock in Spring Green and spent time at the resort. We had a fireplace in our cottage and made great use of it during the chilly October evenings! What could be better than a warm fire on a cold night with my husband of 35 years? What a relaxing and fantastic trip.

-Lynn C. from Oconomowoc, WI

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Destination: China’s Seaside Escape


When visiting China, be sure to visit the luxurious island of Hainan, home to great surfing, beautiful palm trees, and breathtaking beaches.  This article from Endless Vacation® magazine has tons of interesting information that can help any tourist plan their next trip!

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A Dream Trip to Hainan


Jenny U.As a child, I pictured Hainan as a mysterious and remote island waiting for courageous visitors to reveal its nature. It was not until many years later that my parents planned a spontaneous family trip which uncovered a fascinating and mind-soothing journey in my memory.

We took a ferry to Haikou, the northern point of Hainan. On arrival our family headed directly to a local seafood restaurant where I had steamed red crab meat, juicy shrimps and tender large yellow croaker. Never had I tasted seafood as sweet and luscious. It is said that the pristine south seawater has gifted Hainan with the most delicious seafood. The next morning, we drove alongside the East Coast national road to Sanya Bay. For miles along the road, there were people riding bicycles passing high-reaching coconut trees, cycad and palm trees swaying along the sea breeze.  Behind us, the clear blue sky stretched far to meet the edge of the dazzling seawater.

We arrived at one luxurious resort in Sanya Bay and spent half the day sitting among the sublime tropical plants and vibrant flowers. As far as I could see, I was able to spot two islands amongst thin mist and motorboats sailing around them. People can go angling, a type of fishing, on one island where the best angling club of Sanya rests.  In the afternoon, I took a walk along the bay and touched the warm sea water while fishermen were trawling (another type of fishing) and singing in the distance. People can join in and take trawling lessons, then take their self-caught fish home. Our short stay came to the end as the sun settled below the sea, leaving a golden lining in the sky.

This week on the RCI Blog we’ll be sharing a lot of great information about China. I hope this will help you plan your next vacation to China!

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Relaxation or Adventure? Key West is great for both!


Emily SA few months ago, my boyfriend Blake and I planned a trip down to Key West. After a lot of research (on my part!), we arranged for our accommodations, booked our flights, and began our trip.

We flew into Miami and, at the urging of many articles and reviews, we opted to rent a car to drive to our resort in Key West instead of hopping on another plane – wow, were those authors and reviewers right! The 3+ hour drive on Highway 1 from the Florida mainland to Key West, while lengthy, was incredible! The views of the water were incredible, especially when we went over the Seven Mile Bridge.

After arriving at our resort in Key West, we headed over to a restaurant for dinner and then over to Mallory Square – an open area on the water with all kinds of street performers and vendors – to see an amazing sunset. If you want a front row view, get there early because it gets very crowded!

Our next few days were filled with catching some sun at the resort’s pool, seeing the action on Duval Street and exploring the town. We rented bicycles on two of the days to help us get around quickly to all of the Key West must-do’s: Southernmost Point, the Ernest Hemingway Home, the Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters Museum. Another Key West must-do, in my book, is breakfast at Blue Heaven on Thomas Street – great setting and even better food.

Key West is a wonderful vacation destination. Whether you want to just relax by a pool and watch beautiful sunsets or take small adventures exploring the town – or a combination of both – Key West has it all! Come back to the RCI Blog this week to read stories and see photos from RCI Subscribing members who vacationed in the Florida Keys.

 

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Kauai – a great vacation no matter what side of the island you are on!


Elizabeth D

Hawaii’s island of Kauai easily ranks as one of the most beautiful and tranquil places on earth.  For outdoor enthusiasts, both the North and the South sides of Kauai offer awesome activities.  Having stayed on both the North and the South sides, it's really difficult to say which is nicer as they each have a unique appeal.  Typically people shy away from the North side of the island in the winter because it tends to be rainier.  Nonetheless, it boasts lush, green vegetation, beautiful beaches, panoramic golf courses overlooking the ocean and awesome views of the island's many waterfalls. 

The North side of Kauai is home to the start of the incredible Na Pali Coast that attracts people from around the world to hike its rigorous 17-mile trail overlooking the coastline.  Another North side favorite destination is the Kilauea Lighthouse.  It too has breathtaking and is incredible for bird watching as it is located on a wildlife preserve. 

The South side is about an hour drive from the North side of the island. The South side tends to be less rainy and slightly warmer than the North side and is a perfect destination any time of the year.  The South side is home to magnificent beaches such as the beautiful Poipu Beach Park which is known for its excellent snorkeling.  In addition, it’s common place to see monk seals and sea turtles at this beach.  Families find it a great beach to spend the day at as it not only offers calm swimming conditions, but it is also home to convenient picnic facilities.

Evenings are equally tranquil in Kauai as the island offers spectacular sunsets.  In fact, there is no better way to end the day on Kauai than to take in a sunset from one of Kauai’s many beaches!

If you’d like to read more about Kauai and see some spectacular photos of the area, come back to the RCI Blog. We’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have traveled to this amazing island all week long!

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“Work hard. Believe in yourself. Set goals. Surround yourself with good people."


Becky ABecky A., Director, Christel House Indianapolis

A few weeks ago, I attended the very first graduation for our Christel House Drop Out Recovery School (DORS) here in Indianapolis. It is a program where adults, age 18 and older, can earn their high school diplomas (not a GED) and college credit at a local community college at the same time. We launched the program in August 2012, and in our first year, have approximately 175 students ranging in age from 18 – 53.

Our first graduating class consisted of 5 students, four women and a man. They ranged in age from 19 to 34 and had 9 children between them.  All of them have struggled to make ends meet on minimum wage pay and were searching for better lives for themselves and their families. Life is tough, but even more so when you don’t have a high school diploma. The average high school graduate earns $8,000 more a year than a person without a diploma. That extra $8,000 a year means the ability to put food on the table, buy diapers for babies, put gas in the car and pay the electric bill each month. It also translates into an extra $300,000 in earnings over a lifetime. It has a significant impact on a family’s quality of life and on a person’s own self-worth.

Each of our graduates had a dream to earn their high school diploma. As I watched them march in to “Pomp and Circumstance,” wearing their caps and gowns, I thought about how much courage it must take to return to school after not having a positive experience the first time. All of them juggle jobs, families and school work. It has been an uphill battle, but they didn’t give up. They were not looking for handouts. They were willing to put in the work to improve their lives.  They just needed a place to do that. That place is Christel House.

As I congratulated them, each one told me how hard they worked to achieve this milestone in their lives. The young man told me there were days he just wanted to give up and would think about blowing off class, but his classmates would text him and tell him he needed to come to school. One of the young women told me that she was deeply grateful to our principal, Emily, who was both tough on her and her biggest champion. She gained the self-confidence she needed to understand that she can do anything she sets her mind to do.  That young woman is going on to study at our local community college now.

The commencement speech was delivered by Christel DeHaan, the founder of Christel House and co-founder of RCI.  She shared with the graduates her thoughts on how to live a successful life. Work hard.  Believe in yourself. Set goals. Surround yourself with good people. Good advice coming from anyone, but most poignant because of who was speaking.

I’ve heard Christel DeHaan give that same advice many times before and I’ve seen her live it.  My first job out of college was at RCI and I am fortunate to work with her at Christel House.   You may not know this, but RCI was started in her living room nearly 40 years ago. She set goals, worked hard and surrounded herself with good people. What started as a home-based, fledgling business is now a leader in the vacation ownership industry and a multi-national company that sends millions of people on vacation around the world each year. 

“Work hard. Believe in yourself. Set goals. Surround yourself with good people.” It works. I hope our graduates carry that advice with them throughout their lives.

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The views of Sedona, Arizona


Catherine SI took my first trip to Sedona with my family ten years ago.  From the moment we arrived, I was absolutely in love, and it remains one of my favorite places to visit (and where I hope to someday retire!).

The red rocks are the main attraction in Sedona. There, we took a Jeep tour, which is a fun (and bumpy) way to see the sites up close.  The tour allowed us to get to areas that are off limits for hikers and gave us the opportunity to experience breathtaking views.

Another great place we found in Sedona was the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which sits nestled among the red rocks.  From its perch, it gives a great opportunity to see some of the other well-known formations, including Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock.

Sedona also offers amazing artwork and jewelry from artisans who flock to the area.  I always find something new and unique to bring home when I visit, and need to leave room in my suitcase for my finds!

So until my retirement, when I hope to take up permanent residence, Sedona will remain at the top of my list of vacation destinations, and the place I personally believe to be the most beautiful in the country.

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Colorado: A Great Surprise!


Jenny DBefore my parents-in-law moved to Colorado, I had never visited the state, and believed that the only thing people did there was ski. So when my husband and I planned our first trip to visit his parents a few years ago, I was not very enthusiastic (seeing as my favorite vacation spot is the beach!). Since that first visit, we’ve been back to Colorado many times, and each time there is something new and so very different from my home-state of NJ, that I now very much look forward to our visits.

Once, we visited a little amusement park called Santa’s Workshop, built into the slopes of the Pikes Peak mountain range (that was certainly a first for me).  And don’t be fooled by the name! It is a Christmas-themed amusement park and open from mid-May until December 24. On another visit, we spent time at the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center, an amazing up-close encounter with rescued wolves of all types and sizes, who even treat you to a serenade at the end of your walking tour! And although I’d never imagined standing next to a rock the height of a skyscraper, I was amazed at the beauty of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. The stunning views were like something I’d only seen on the National Geographic channel!

All in all, Colorado has now become a favorite place to visit, and I always leave having seen or learned something interesting and new – and very different from my East Coast roots.

This week on the RCI Blog, we’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have traveled to Colorado. Come back and take a look!

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Our Mexican Memory


For our anniversary many years ago we decided to fly away without our girls and have some special time with just the two of us.

What a grand idea that turned out to be. The resort we stayed at in Cancun offered everything we wanted and needed for the two of us to renew our relationship, in every way.

We relaxed together, we enjoyed the beautiful beach with the soft white sand and clear waters and the fabulous views from our suite, and had delicious food in all of the on-site restaurants! One day we even had our dinner served to us, out on the terrace of our room, while the sun was setting.

All the reasons we married 10 years earlier were remembered and we came home with a renewed commitment to each other and our girls! This year we begin our 30th year together, and vacations are still important to us. Time to relax and renew.

-Donna H. from Wernersville, PA

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Cancun and the Riviera Maya: I dare you to get bored!


When planning your vacation, you first have to ask yourself: what kind of experience am I (are we) looking for? Honeymoon, anniversary, shopping, family-focused, adventure, history, theme parks, good for teenagers, health, relaxation? There are so many kinds. But wouldn’t it be great to have it all in one vacation? Believe me, you will when you visit Cancun and the Riviera Maya!

In Cancun you can stay at a resort surrounded by beautiful turquoise water and soft white sands, combined with the warmth and kindness that Mexicans can offer to their guests. Looking for all day activities? You can swim with dolphins, rent a boat to go fishing, or even sail on a yacht! You can do some shopping at the malls, where you will find major international brands. You can also have lunch or dinner on Kukulcan Boulevard – where you will find restaurants with regional, national, and international cuisine. And if you are looking for a night out on the town, Cancun is home to some of the most unique night clubs in the world!

If you love to have close contact with nature and history, you can stay at a resort in the Riviera Maya or Playa del Carmen, only about 40-50 minutes away from Cancun International Airport. There are so many activities, you are sure to find something that appeals to you and those you are traveling with: snorkeling near the beautiful coral reefs, swimming in underground rivers, or golfing on courses designed by world-famous golfers. You can also visit Xel Ha, an aquatic theme park, great for kids and adults! And don’t forget to visit the famous theme park, Xcaret, and archaeological park where you can enjoy swimming at amazing cenotes, see animals and learn about the Mayan history. You can also travel to Tulum to see ancient ruins –  personally, I don’t think there is any other place in the world where the moonlight reflects brighter off the sea than it does in Tulum. If you are looking for more history, head to the “magical” Chichen Itzá (NOT “chicken and pizza”!), a popular tourist destination where you can see a breathtaking Mayan pyramid. Finally, to end a perfect day, walk through the Fifth Ave. strip where international cultures mix to offer an array of food, wine, shopping, and music.

There’s no place in the world where you can enjoy all this and much more! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have visited Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen and some of the attractions I told you about above. Come back to the RCI Blog to hear about their trips!

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Las Vegas – A place for everyone!


When people say “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” I bet they didn’t think about the fun filled memories they take back with them and never forget.

The place that people once called an adult playground has turned into a vacation spot almost everyone can enjoy! Of course, the main attractions will always be the exciting shows you can see and the card games and lucky slot machines you play, but Las Vegas is the kind of destination that no matter what you, your family, or your friends like to do, there will be something for everyone

Got kids? Las Vegas has taken care of the it’s-too-hot-to go-there-in-the-summertime “blues” with the new water park, Wet’n’Wild Las Vegas, scheduled to open Memorial Day Weekend 2013. This looks like it will be a great place for those looking for an exciting way to cool off.

Looking for more than a t-shirt souvenir to take home with you? There are plenty of malls, shops, and outlet centers for you to visit while there so you can shop for clothing, accessories, and gifts.

So the next time you are planning your vacation and want to try somewhere new, place your bets on Las Vegas and I can almost guarantee it will be a winner!

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Why visit Mazatlán? The food and charm, of course!


We hope you enjoyed reading the stories and seeing the photos of Mazatlan on the RCI Blog the last couple of weeks! And now, to end the week, I’ll leave you with one more story:

The food and the classic charm of Mexico are two great reasons to visit Mazatlán.  Another great reason is the year round great weather and endless beaches.

Let’s start with the food.  Mazatlán’s shrimp is excellent and while visiting the city, there are countless ways to get this local delicacy.  In addition, a big part of the agriculture in Mazatlán is tomatoes.  Finally, Mazatlán is also home of Pacifico Beer.  With these industries all close by, you know you’ll be getting the freshest shrimp, salsa and beer when in Mazatlán!

During the daytime there are many water activities like relaxing on the beach, snorkeling, or taking a boat to Deer Island, the largest of Mazatlán’s three uninhabited islands.  Sport fishing is also a popular activity.

Great evening activities include visiting one of Mazatlán’s great restaurants, going to the Malecón to have fun at one of the many night clubs, or even taking in a baseball game.  Mazatlán’s baseball team, the Vanados, are comparable to any triple A baseball team in the U.S.

Whether you plan to eat, relax, or spend some time on the Malecón, Mazatlán is a great choice for a vacation.

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Mazatlan


I don't know what I would do without my vacation in Mazatlan every fall. My business is very stressful and yet the minute I get off the airplane in Mexico I feel as if a big load has been lifted off my shoulders. The smiling warm friendly people in Mazatlan make me feel like I'm home. The food is wonderful ("shrimp capital" of Mexico). I always come back from there relaxed, happy and can't wait to go next time.

- Dianne from San Diego, CA

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Ahhhhhh....


Several years ago, my husband I took a trip to Mazatlan, Mexico - my first trip south of the boarder! We stayed at the Pueblo Bonito Resort at Emerald Bay, which is one of THE nicest resorts we've ever stayed. A lot of times you go on vacation and you need another vacation when you get home to recover from all the activities you did, right? Well, not this one. We excelled at relaxing on this vacation, which is super easy to do when there's a beach chair, sun, awesome pool, and Victor - the poolside drink waiter. Ahhhh. If ever I need to calm down and think of a happy place I picture myself in our room there, laying on that comfy bed, listening to the ocean waves, with the breeze gently flapping the sliding glass door curtains, staring at the ceiling fan going round and round and I have no place to be.... ahhhhhh.

 

- Kristin F. from Albany, OR

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Shelling Near Sanibel


At the very last minute, my sister, my three children and I hopped in the car and drove for 24 hours straight to get to Florida! I had worked all summer and had missed being a stay at home Mom with my kids. This was a special treat for us to hang out on the beach together. Lehigh Resort Club in Lehigh Acres had plenty for us to do, a cool bed in the wall, and a kitchen so we could save money by eating in. Nearby, was Sanibel Island. We went shelling everyday, and once after a day of thunderstorms we jumped in the waves and found the greatest shells ever.

My husband has had 3 layoffs in three years and we are now trying to build our own business, plus I am back to work...I am so grateful that we were able to book a vacation through RCI and have one week of pure summer fun!

 

- Kristine T. from Lisle, IL

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Cancun, Mexico – Beaches, Shopping, Food, and More!


Carolina Z. - Latin America Destination StoriesIf I were to describe Cancun in one word I would say “FUNtastic!!”

 

Your Cancun vacation experience starts when you get your first glimpse of Cancun’s beaches through the window of your plane. As it is about to land, you start seeing the colors on the ocean and your eyes won’t believe it! It seems like a huge canvas painted with colors that are beyond your imagination and the best part of it is that you are almost there!

 

Many people don’t know that Cancun is basically an island connected to mainland through two small bridges. It’s shaped in the form of a “7” and is surrounded by water. On one side you’ll see the Nichupte Lagoon, which is a perfect area for motorized water activities, and on the other side you’ll have THE most beautiful white sand beaches in the Mexican Caribbean.  The beach is the perfect place to enjoy a frozen margarita, lay back, and feel the cool breeze run through your hair.

 

Besides the beaches, there are plenty other activities you can enjoy around Cancun with your family, your loved one or with friends. Here are just a few:

 

1. Head to the biggest souvenir market called Mercado 28 (Market 28) where you will find all kinds of Mexican handcrafts, souvenirs, Mexican sombreros and many things you will want to take back home. This is a great place to walk among the locals and visit mainland.

 

2. Visit The Tequila Museum within Kukulcan Plaza, which displays more than 500 different types of tequila and offers a brief explanation of the tequila making process and a tequila tasting.

 

3. If you are celebrating something special, then dinner at Restaurante Lorenzillo’s is a must. You will find world class seafood and lobster and dinner is served by the lagoon in a romantic scenery, perfect for an anniversary or any celebration.

 

4. Cancun’s nightlife can be found in the “Party Center” in the hotel zone. You may have a difficult time trying to choose a nightclub so I would recommend Coco Bongo or Mandala – two of the best places, in my opinion, in town where you can dance until the sun rises.

 

Once you’ve been to Cancun it will be difficult to find another place that will take your breath away…trust me.

 

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing photos and stories from RCI subscribing members who have visited Cancun. Be sure to come back to see and read about what they did! And if you have a Cancun story or image of your own, share it here. Maybe we’ll show yours on the RCI Blog!

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Myrtle Beach in August


What a fantastic time in Myrtle Beach, SC this August! We selected a three bedroom resort in Plantation Village so that my entire family could vacation together. We had cousins, aunts and grandparents together under one roof to enjoy each other's company. During the day, we traveled to Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Broadway at the Beach. During the evenings, we'd head home to make a glorious family dinner, share precious memories and enjoy ourselves. We're looking forward to visiting Myrtle Beach and Plantation Village again soon!

 

- Lisa D. from Stanhope, NJ

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