Sandals Emerald Bay- Exuma, Bahamas

25 Nov

I had done a day trip to this resort back in 2014 and it impressed me then and again this time! We met our friends from Louisiana there and I just couldn’t wait to really experience this resort, especially with friends!

Facts/Size: Located at Exuma, one of the 356 out islands of the Bahamas with pristine beaches and water. Most commonly known for it’s “swimming with the pigs” excursion. Luxury all-inclusive, adults-only & couples only. Beachfront on 500 acres with 249 rooms that are all club level or butler level. Huge zero entry inviting main pool with a fire pit in it’s center with inviting views! Also a quiet pool in the gardens. Though, the main pool isn’t as loud and active as some. 11 restaurants & 6 full service bars, including a swim up/beach bar. Red lane spa, 18 hole Greg Norman Golf Course.

Star Level/Category: I rate this one 5 stars for the right travelers. Definitely geared toward couples looking to unwind, relax and really appreciate a great beach. Very laid back with a romantic vibe.

Daytime Activities: There’s not a ton but if you’re a true beach lover, you won’t want anything else! There are a variety of included watersports to partake in. Highly suggest taking the “Swimming with the pigs” tour. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Or rent a jeep and explore the islands gorgeous beaches, some with amazingly long sand bars.

Nightly Activities: BYOP (Bring your own party). If you’re looking for a lively nightlife, this is probably not the place. There is nightly entertainment such as the piano bar, themed nights like the Chocolate/White Night party, the Junkanoo (which is actually very lively). The most happening place on the resort is the Drunken Duck Pub but it’s still not an all night-er.

Check-in: Fast & smooth. We had a butler room category so our butler met us in the lobby and whisked us away to our Beachfront Walkout (to the beach) Villa. Our friends had a club level room and their check-in was also brief and simple.

Rooms: All club level or butler level in mainly 2 different kinds of builings- Beach House buildings are set back from the beach but still just steps away. You can book a “walkout” to be ground level (less of a view) or 2nd or 3rd floor for better views. Then there’s the Beachfront Villas which literally sit a few steps from the beach with only some rustic seagrass between. Beach paths to easily access. I love a beachfront walkout but some argue that the higher floor rooms offer the best views of the sea. All of the rooms have fully stocked bars with the staple liquors- vodka, gin, rum and one other- maybe scotch or whiskey? and a mini fridge stocked with beer, juice, water, soda.

Dining: ALL 11 restaurants were good! It’s difficult to choose a favorite. Many say Bombay (Indian), even if you don’t eat Indian food (which we don’t). We loved them all- French, Italian, Hibachi, Sushi, Seafood, Caribbean, Bar food plus more! Even the pizza is good and I’m not a huge fan of most resort pizza.

Beach: SO LOVELY! White powdery sand and the color of the water is so neon blue, it doesn’t look real at times! We had a bit of rain and wind for November so it was red flag most of the days we were there and less calm than I would have liked but I can’t complain. The days it was calm makes up for it. One of my favorite things about the beach is how un crowded it feels. It felt as though we had the whole beach to our self sometimes. With a butler, they can reserve cabanas on the beach with umbrella for you but I don’t see it being a huge problem to find them on your own if need be. My only gripe about the beach is the chairs. They are sling back chairs and pretty uncomfortable. But I get the reasoning behind not having fancy cushion chairs on the beach.

Pools: The main pool is so huge and inviting! The view from the pool is a whole other story! So gorgeous. Blue on top of blue on top of blue. The quiet pool is so relaxing, though it’s harder to see the beach/ocean from there.

Checkout/Departure: Seemless. Our butler told us what time to meet for our departure transportation to the airport. They do require you arrive at the airport quite early though. To rush and then stand in a tiny little airport room. But safer than sorry! I don’t know. I wouldn’t be TOO sorry if I missed my flight from this place. We took the last taxi to the airport and ended up being just the 2 of us. Our friends flight was an hour later so they left an hour later and we met back up at the airport.

Summary: I personally thoroughly enjoyed this resort. It’s right up our alley 🙂 Laid back, not too big, quiet, not crowded (even at full capacity), friendly staff, great food. Drinks could have been better in some cases but so minute compared to everything else. Highly recommend this resort for couples that don’t need a lot of entertainment and just really want to unwind and if you appreciate an amazing beach!

 

 

Advertisements

Carnival Sunshine Southern Caribbean Cruise May 6-14, 2017

20 May

I hate to start off a blog on a negative note but after this cruise, we have vowed to never cruise again 😩 Except for Alaska, we will cruise to Alaska. Don’t get me wrong. We have sailed something like 17 times and it is what sparked my interest in traveling to begin with. BUT, now that we’ve had our share of all-inclusive vacations, we have just decided we prefer that better. There are still many pros AND cons to cruising. More about that later.

 

Pre-Cruise– We drove down the day before our sailing to stay at a hotel in Port Canaveral/Cape Canaveral. We booked Radisson Resort at the Port. For about $225/night, we got complimentary parking while we were away (we still had to pay parking for the one night we actually stayed $6) and complimentary roundtrip shuttle to the port for 2 people. We booked my son and his fiancĂ© in a room here as well but without the package so we had to pay for their shuttle- $6 per person each way. The hotel was a good choice, very convenient to the port, shopping, restaurants, etc. They have a nice pool area with a bar and food options. We had dinner at Preacher Bar, not even a block walk and it was amazing! It was Cinco De Mayo so we enjoyed a round of tequila shots to get us in the mood for a cruise 🙂 Great atmosphere and superb fish tacos!

We had pre-arranged our shuttle time for 11am but when we arrived to the lobby in the morning, we learned the shuttles were running late. It was a bit of a cluster as there were 2 ships departing this day from Port Canaveral- Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Magic’s Eastern Caribbean cruise. About 45 minutes late, we were on our way to the port and had to sit a bit in the drop off line but still making good time. The kids were ultimately able to join us in platinum priority check-in, which was a plus for us all.

Cruise-

We had originally booked 3 cabins. Cabin 1- Balcony for myself & husband. Cabin 2- Interior cabin for my son and his fiancĂ©. Cabin 3- Interior cabin for my other son and a family friend. My son and family friend had to cancel because of job obligations. So, there were 4 of us. We also purchased the “Bottomless Bubbles” soda package for my son and fiancĂ©. And the “Cheers” package for myself & husband (which also includes soda package, specialty coffees & shakes). We thought it was a good idea to not have to worry about a large drink bill at the end. But we found it a challenge to use all of our allowed drinks (15 per person per day- and there are other limits such as wait 5 minutes between ordering, etc.) It was kind of annoying because my husband couldn’t go order us drinks at the same time without me being present and vice versa. Also, since gratuity is included with the initial purchase, we found it difficult to get service and later caught on that if we tipped additional, it was easier but this meant we double tipped! We would probably not purchase it again.

Check-in/Day 1– My husband talked to a nice lady who allowed the kids to join us in priority check-in, since we are platinum level and they are not, we thought we’d have to wait on them. But it was a breezy check-in and in no time, we had our keys and were boarding Carnival Sunshine. We went directly to our cabins, which were already ready, to put down our carry on luggage (we carried on the maximum allowed amount of soda & wine for the 4 of us, so we had quite a bit). Cabin checked out ok but was a bit warm. We blew this off as just moving around a lot! (We later discovered our AC was in fact not working but a visit to the guest services desk and TA-DA it was fixed very quickly! Whew! Cause it was hot!). We took a quick tour of the ship, had lunch and and went back to our cabin to see if our luggage had been delivered yet. Most of it had so we unpacked and then relaxed until time for the muster drill. When the siren sounded for muster drill, we headed to our station for a brief safety briefing. If you’ve ever done this, you know, they line you up like sardines outside for this and it’s unpleasant. But this time, I completely & literally passed out for the first time in my life! Right at the tail end of the drill! In just a few short minutes, a ship nurse came to check me out and my blood pressure had dropped and she said it wasn’t uncommon for this to happen during these drills! Scary though! I took it easy the rest of the day. After the muster drill, we quickly checked for our one bag that was missing and then met the kids for sail away. After sail away, we finally had all of our luggage. We chilled out a bit on the balcony and then got ready for dinner in the main dining room (late dining- 8:30pm). I believe we caught a show or 2 this evening and thought the entertainment was consistently good.

Day 2– Fun Day at Sea!

My husband and I got up early to try to get lounge chairs in a good spot. We grabbed breakfast then proceeded to take a nap in our chairs. However, it was so noisy, after about 30 minutes, we went back to our cabin to catch some zzz’s. After a nap, we eventually met up with the others and enjoyed playing some fun games together- ping pong, foosball, cards, etc. I believe it rained this day but we still enjoyed and at some point we got into the very crowded hot tub (only 3 total on a ship with 3000 passengers). It’s our first of 2 formal/cruise elegant nights so we went in to get ready for a show before dinner. The kids met us at dinner. We were disappointed at dinner they didn’t have our traditional pumpkin soup, which is our favorite food on a Carnival Cruise (but good news later about that). Out for dinner & drinks after dinner!

Day 3– Fun Day at Sea!

Today, we decided we weren’t going to get up early to be disappointed with the crowded, noisy lounge chairs. So we slept in. On second thought, this must be the day we met up for games and it rained but I’m foggy on my memory there. We enjoyed dinner in the dining room again along with some evening entertainment. BTW- lunch was pretty good on the ship- lots of choices. Our favorite was Guy’s Burger Joint. But I also had the taco bar at Blue Iguana Cantina and it was good too. LOTS of food variety! As well as the specialty dinner restaurants (upcharges apply).

Day 4– Aruba 1pm-4pm

Odd timing to be in port but nevertheless, we pre-booked an all-inclusive day pass at BarcelĂł Aruba. We slept in and had brunch with the kids, then once again, they were able to join us for priority disembarking. Before heading to BarcelĂł, we decided we better get our souvenir shopping done since shops would be closed when we returned. We did that as quickly as possible as we were all excited to see the Aruba beach- Eagle Beach. It’s the high rise resort area of Aruba. We took the city bus which was way cheaper than a taxi and very simple! ($5 per person roundtrip vs. taxi’s at about $15 per person each way). Check-in at BarcelĂł was pretty smooth except they did not have our wristbands ready. But they told us to come back in 20 minutes. Hubby went back for all of us and brought them back. We had found a shady spot on the beach to enjoy a couple of cocktails and I headed right to the ocean. Very pretty. The resort was a little crowded but not too bad. I’m not sure I would appreciate staying at the resort since they allow cruise passengers to purchase day passes. It takes away from the guests experience a bit. But overall, the resort was a good 3 stars on beautiful Eagle Beach. The kids wanted to jet ski so they found a watersports hut and signed up. Before we knew it, my hubby and I were on the boat with them to go “watch”. Next thing we knew, we were all the way down on Palm Beach (away from our all-inclusive resort!). We had just hopped on the boat with no money, no drinks, no nothing and wished we hadn’t when they stuck us at a public beach to “watch” haha. But luckily, the kids only jet ski’d for about 30 minutes then we were on our way back to our resort with drinks 🙂 Our boat driver was very friendly and I can see why they call Aruba “One Happy Island”. I really look forward to an all-inclusive stay in the near future, though there is great dining outside of the resorts here as well! A little more time on the beach and then we decided to pack up and head to their swim up bar/pool. We enjoyed a few beverages there as well as in their hottub. Then we decided to wrap it up and have our dinner before heading back to the ship. Our day pass was $308 total for the 4 of us and included buffet dinner. However, when we arrived at the buffet there was confusion so we had to straighten that out at the front desk. Most of the day passes do not include dinner but I found one that did include the buffet dinner only (not the other restaurants like the Japanese). The buffet dinner was surprisingly good for a buffet! After dinner, we walked right across the street for the bus station. There is also dining, casino, shopping within walking distance of the resort. The Palm Beach area also has some good resorts and they call this area the “low rise resort area”. We had planned to go to bed early since we have a very early port tomorrow but the kids wanted to do the sail away party so we did for a bit.

Day 5– Bonaire 8am-4pm

Seems the most popular and obvious thing to do here is to snorkel or dive so we had pre-booked a snorkel tour for 9am. We met the kids for breakfast and then got off the ship quickly. Checked in with our snorkel tour and had some time to kill so we shopped a bit for t-shirts and souvenirs. Then off to snorkel. A short bus ride to the pier and then we boarded a SAIL boat. I guess I didn’t realize a sail boat is slow. It seemed to take forever for us to get to the reef, next time I’ll make sure it’s not a sail boat as we prefer to have less time on the boat and more time in the water. The snorkeling was good but we were disappointed we didn’t catch any sea turtles (that’s nature!). Very friendly people with Compass Sailing. After snorkeling, they provided us the option to stay at the resort right at the pier for some beach time or back to the ship. The kids went back to the ship and hubby and I stayed for a bit. It was a nice (but hot) 20 minute walk back to the ship. The beach resort- Plaza Bonaire, had a pretty bad beach (rocky, small)but I’m still satisfied I got to observe it. Once back on board, we watched sail away from our balcony then took a good power nap. We opted to skip the dining room this evening and hit up the buffet instead and met up with the kids for some more good entertainment.

Day 6– Fun Day at Sea!

Today, we met up with the kids to have some waterslide fun and for the sky course challenge 🙂 We had a good time with good lunch and relaxed some too. Hubby and I wanted to see the show before dinner again- Motown. I had high hopes but this was my least favorite of the 3 production shows we saw. Still good though. It’s our 2nd formal/cruise elegant night so we met up with the kids in the dining room. STILL no pumpkin soup 😩 But we had a nice time and enjoyed some more entertainment and drinks after dinner.

Day 7– Grand Turk 8am-4pm

Met the kids again for breakfast at 7:30am then off the ship quickly. Grand Turk has a very large cruise center with a large pool & beach lined with lounge chairs. Very touristy though! The ship is so close, you can see it clearly. First we shopped a bit in their nice little village cruise center then we headed to the beach. It was not hard at all to get lounge chairs. We enjoyed the ocean a bit, which was clear and white sandy beach but a little rocky. I decided to walk down the beach away from the crowd a bit and found a very nice section of beach that hubby and I later went to swim in. Wish we had found that section earlier. Relaxed a bit more then everyone was hungry so we headed over to Margaritiville (steps away from the beach with the swim up pool bar and all). Lunch was good but took a while! After lunch we enjoyed some time in the pool before heading back to ship. It was a hot day! Once back to the ship, we watched sail away and again another nap 🙂 Ok, remember I said more about pumpkin soup? Well my son called to tell me they had found some in the buffet! So I was excited for dinner time now and couldn’t nap no more. We went to the buffet for dinner, the kids met us there. And we headed out to enjoy some nightlife, including the “Epic Rock” show, which I LOVED! The comedy shows were consistently good I thought too. Hubby and I thought we were going to close the nightclub down tonight but when we arrived at about 1:15am, it was already closed! Bummer, the one night us oldies felt like it. Though, we did check it out earlier in the cruise and enjoyed some drinks there. The piano bar, which we normally like to frequent, stayed packed the entire cruise while it was open! We never went in. Too crowded for us.

Day 8– Fun Day at Sea!

We slept in then mosied out for lounge chairs. No problem getting 2 and it seemed less crowded and noisy today. It seemed everyone was tired of the sun and in the casino trying to win their money back, perhaps 🙂 We noticed this when we walked through the casino earlier to get our cafĂ© on. We enjoyed some pretty quiet, relaxing time in the sun. Our son found us and we had a couple cocktails and lunch, then decided to go off to play jackpot bingo. Huge line to buy cards! I’m not a fan of throwing away money like this but I played along! We planned to meet up with the kids in the sushi restaurant (specialty restaurant with upcharge) this evening. It was very good. Even hubby found something to eat there. We went to the Lip Sync Battle tonight and it was quite entertaining. We also went to a comedy show where we got our selfie with “Jay from LA”. Jay from LA was a host onboard and very good. He was doing a selfie challenge to try to beat the record, which was something around 500. Our cruise blew that out of the water with something over 800 was the last I heard. Speaking of Jay from LA, also Emma (Brittish) was the best cruise director I have ever come upon. Others thought she was too “perky”. I have to admit, when I first heard her voice on the intercom and her catch phrase “Hello lovelies!”, I thought she would get on my last nerve. But by the end of the cruise, she really rubbed off on me as I was calling everyone “Lovelies” as well! She did a great job of entertaining and she seemed genuinely sweet!

Disembarkation Day

Well, all good things have to come to an end. We met up with kids one last time for breakfast onboard and had priority disembarkation once again. The power kept going off on the ship so we had to take the steps down from deck 9 to deck 3 with our carry ons because we weren’t risking getting stuck on an elevator, though others were. No known reason for the power to go. I do know, however, that the Sunshine was repositioning today after we disembark. They are heading up to Charleston, guest free to get ready for a 10 day sailing. Because of the power outages, the stairways were a little clustered so it took a little patience getting off the ship but wasn’t too bad. We easily found our shuttle back to the hotel and were on the road in no time.

Pros & Cons

I did start off this blog on a negative note but hopefully am ending on a more positive note. So I’ll start with cons: After having our taste of all-inclusive resorts, we just found the ship to be WAY TOO crowded. It seems like the ships aren’t really getting bigger but they are holding more passengers. There’s a lot of bumping into people everywhere you go. The other main complaint I have is hurrying up to get off the ship and hurrying up to get back on the ship while in ports. I would love to just spend more time in ports. Drink service was difficult as I mentioned. That’s about it but that’s enough to turn us away and gear more toward all-inclusive resorts in destinations we want to spend more time.

Ok, now for the pros: Still, cruising is a very good value, even though drinks aren’t included. If you’re not a drinker, that doesn’t even matter. You still get food galore, accommodations, entertainment under one price. A lot of cruises are convenient for us in South Carolina, several ports within driving distance, which eliminates flying (which I hate to do but bite the bullet anyway). Cruising is an excellent way to see multiple places in one trip, get a little taste of destinations and maybe you’ll stay longer next time 🙂 For example, when we cruised to Hawaii, we saw 5 different islands! I wouldn’t trade that.

Our selfie with Jay from LA

Bonaire

Bonaire

Bonaire

Grand Turk

Grand Turk

 

 

Hard Rock Riviera Maya

20 Nov

Generally, this is not the type of resort my husband and I would choose when traveling alone, just because we prefer much smaller & quieter resorts in Riviera Maya & Caribbean. But this time, I was traveling for travel agent education. Just because it is not our speed, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be perfect for someone else! And I have to say, I was extremely impressed from the moment we stepped out of our private transfer to the moment we drove off! Not only did it meet the expectation of many of my clients, it was also able to please our “smaller style”.

Facts/Size- All-inclusive, beachfront, 2 large resorts in 1 (Hacienda- family side, Heaven- adults only side) totaling 1264 rooms & suites on private beach, large pools dotted all around the resort, all beachfront, 6 bars serving top shelf liquors, access to 12 options to dine, free Wi-Fi just to name a few things.

Star Level/Category- I rate this 5 stars & highly suggest for bachelor/bachelorette parties, weddings, multi-generational families, families with active kids, adventurous couples, company outings. This place can work for just about anyone that doesn’t mind a large resort.

Daytime Activities- Literally, something for everyone! Quiet spot on the beach or pool to just relax, read or sip your cocktail, foam parties & fun activities around certain pools & beach areas, spa, sports, fitness, gaming, golf nearby, rock memorabilia. Kids club with an array of activities. Off site, Riviera Maya is full of excursions!

Nightly Activities- Many to choose from but the most impressive is Club Heaven- huge bar & disco featuring live DJ entertainment, including foam parties in the indoor pool. WE did not make it to the foam party 😉 If you are like us and can’t stay up past 10pm either, there are other options- Nightly shows are decent especially the Michael Jackson show, karaoke, live music, bars & restaurants, beautiful views to just stroll and breath in the ocean air.

Check-In- Seamless! We arrived well after check-in time, it was raining but we never got a drop of rain on us. Bellhop took our bags right away & tagged them. I didn’t pay much attention at the check-in counter to the room type since we had a standard room in the Heaven section. I figured probably garden view. A staff member escorted us to our room, where we were able to test our keyless/cardless entry (by wristband). I wasn’t crazy about having to wear a wristband, even groaned when they told me I had to. But boy, is it nice to not have to fumble for a key to get into your room! As soon as we stepped into our room, I always bee-line for the balcony to see what kind of view we have. While I was amazed by the oceanviews, I heard the staff member say to my husband “You know you have a sky terrace?” Um no, I didn’t. We were apparently upgraded. It was great with 2 loungers and a 2 person jetted hottub.

Rooms- There are 9 buildings total (5 on family side, 4 on adults side). We were in building 2, perfectly close to Eden Beach (the quiet beach- more about that later) & not far from the lobby/restaurants either. All of the buildings sit vertical offering the best oceanviews the closer to the front of the building your room is. Our room was about 1/4th back, still offering excellent oceanviews. The rooms toward the back of the building have garden views. 3 floors and we were on the top floor of our building. Though the room itself was slightly small, it was clean & had everything we needed- king bed, nice tv, electrical outlets for charging, small sitting area, double sink, large shower, LIQUOR dispensers, stocked mini fridge, balcony with 2 chairs and a hammock. All of the rooms have a balcony or terrace.

Dining- We made it a point to try every single restaurant, probably gained 5 pounds! We didn’t have a bad meal. Even at the buffets and pool side lunch places, there was plenty for everyone! We only waited once, maybe 20 minutes at ZEN for a hibachi table, probably the most popular restaurant. Our favorite was the Italian- CIAO & we loved Caffetto for morning lattes. The lasagna at CIAO was probably the best I’ve ever had. Room service is good, convenient and included 24 hours!

Beach- There’s a few private beaches surrounded by natural sea coves. The beaches are so pristine, I think they are man-made. We really liked how the beaches are separated so that there are quiet beaches and hopping beaches to choose from. Plus you have family vs. adults side. All of the beaches have white sand and clear blue water with lots of different fish to watch. Snorkel, swim, kayak, relax. Our favorite beach was Eden Beach, the smallest of all on one far end of the resort, adults only, beach drink service with lunch set up every day plus a HUGE infinity pool almost out on the water. The service on the beach was hit or miss, some days our waiter was better than others but the bar was just a hop, skip and jump away. On Saturdays, they have a party at Eden Beach, where it becomes a totally different atmosphere. We hung around for the festivities for about 45 minutes and they really went out of their way to decorate and make it a fun time! Though we loved this beach the most, we did venture off to check out the others. They all seemed great, some have cushioned chairs with umbrellas but shade is harder to come by. There are cabanas that can be rented using resort credit as well. Some of the beaches don’t walk right into the ocean, instead there is rock formed into stairs. Since it is private beach, you cannot just walk for miles either way. I’m a major beach person and was very satisfied.

Pools– Very clean, large and inviting all over the resort including a zero entry kids pool, family pool, adults only pool, lap pool + more! Lively fun or quiet, take your pick. From what I can tell, all of the pools have some ocean view. There is even a pool slide on Hacienda side.

Check-out/Departure– Again, seamless! Bellhop came quick to get our luggage when I called, he even hugged us good-bye & welcomed us back 🙂 Flawless check-out and private transfer by Lomas back to Cancun airport.

Summary– Gorgeous 5 star resort that would be good for just about any walk of life. One thing about service- We were treated like royalty by every single staff member we encountered, shocking since the resort is so large, it felt very personable. The grounds and everything are constantly cleaned and kept immaculate!

img_0434 img_0436 img_0453 img_2184 img_2190 img_2195 img_2198 img_2199 img_2200 img_2206 img_2207 img_2214 img_2215 img_2217 img_2219 img_2223 img_2226 img_2228 img_2231 img_2232 img_2233 img_2234 img_2236 img_2237 img_2246 img_2247 img_2248 img_2249 img_2250 img_2266 img_2271 img_2272 img_2273 img_2285 img_2304 img_2305 img_2306 img_2308 img_2312 img_2315 img_2325

 

 

 

 

Azulik Tulum

20 Nov

We decided to try this place out at the beginning of our stay at Hard Rock Riviera Maya. I stumbled across it on Facebook and fell in love with the photos (just go watch the video on their website!). Only one night here was bittersweet. I could spend forever on the beautiful terrace taking in the views. However, no electricity or shower makes it a little difficult for the squimish. Of course we knew all of this going in. It is a truly beautiful & unique experience to stay at this adult only eco resort in Tulum.

Facts/Size: Ocean/Beachfront, Small & Intimate with only 39 hand-crafted luxury treehouse suites. No TV’s, electricity, phones, etc! There is a quaint beach with a beach bar and food. The ocean is kind of rough but very swimmable with caution. This is a natural (and clothing optional!) reconnection sanctuary with a mayan wellness center.

Star Level/Category: 4-4.5 stars recommended for adult couples with an adventurous and open mind, perfect for honeymooners, couples celebrating an anniversary or simply want to reconnect with each other. Also, gay friendly.

Daytime Activities: Be prepared to relax on property. The beach is good for swimming or sunbathing. The Mayan Spa has a menu to die for. Yoga & Tulum’s first Temazcal (Mayan Sweat Lodge). Off property, Tulum is nearby for great eats with the locals, shopping and adventure. Go for a swim in the Cenotes, visit archaeological sites + more. Mystikal Wonders is an onsite tour company that can assist.

Nightly Entertainment: There is none. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Sip on a glass of wine, enjoy the company of your loved one in a gorgeous candlelit room, let the crashing waves sooth you to sleep. You’ll want to watch the sunrise! Otherwise, a trip to the town of Tulum is simply done.

Check In: Friendly greeting and tour literally through the jungle that opens up to the beach. We were able to get our room well before check-in time. I’m not sure how in the world the nice staff got our heavy luggage to our rooms!

Rooms/Villas: The villas range from intimate jungle tree houses with partial oceanviews to deluxe oceanfront tree houses suspended high above the sea. We had the Luxury Mayan Villa on first level (still above ground level) with breathtaking views that I could just stare at all day. Complete with a private terrace with loungers, Balinese swing bed, outdoor tub/indoor tub, round bed with mosquito netting (with a very good fan above) & private access to the beach. I was a little worried about getting too hot to sleep during the night with no electricity/AC but I was actually chilly because the fan works so well.

Dining: As I mentioned, there is food available at the beach bar, which I cannot comment on. There is also a kitchen with very accommodating chefs. Room service was an experience in itself. There are little wooden balls in your room with a tiny paper pad and pencil. You write your order down on the paper, fold it up tiny, stick it in the ball, go outside your door and drop it in a tube, then listen for the “gong” for confirmation that the kitchen received your order! How neat.

Beach: The beach was much cleaner than I had expected since we had recently been to Riviera Maya and there was bad seaweed at that time. Here, there was very little. The water has pretty big waves, which is not really my speed for ocean but it was fine to cool off. There are beach towels provided in the rooms. There is not any pools.

Check out/departure: The staff were very helpful and friendly for our short time here. Again, the bellhop miraculously got our luggage down to the front desk through the jungle. We were welcomed back and said our good-byes. Our Lomas Travel driver was right on time to pick us up (even though when we were arriving, a different driver couldn’t find the place with a map and had to stop and ask someone! But it didn’t take us long to find it.)

Summary: I absolutely love the concept of this place. I would love to return if we are in the area visiting other resorts, especially at the beginning it is perfect for really unwinding and reconnecting with your mind, body & soul. I would probably not stay more than 2-3 nights (that’s about my max without electricity). I cannot wait to recommend this place to the right couple! If you are intrigued at all, please go to their website and just drool while you are viewing their video & photos! It is even more amazing in person.

img_0418 img_2121 img_2122 img_2123 img_2124 img_2125 img_2126 img_2127 img_2129 img_2131 img_2134 img_2136 img_2137 img_2138 img_2140 img_2141 img_2179 img_2182

 

 

NOW Sapphire Riviera Cancun

19 Jun

Our group of 11 people, family & friends chose this resort for the destination, price point, star level, activities for all. It was a perfect mix for all age groups. Since we traveled in June, the resort was quite populated by a younger crowd but still a good mixture of all ages. The resort is really pretty & clean.

Facts/Size– Beachfront, I would say medium sized at 496 suites all including a balcony or terrace. Not huge and not too small either, perfect for a family/group. 3 Pools including the main HUGE pool, which is gorgeous, the quiet “preferred club” pool and a kids pool with activities such as pool basketball. All-Inclusive- international and domestic top shelf liquor, limitless access to gourmet a la carte restaurants, Wi-Fi, “Sip, Savor & See” program allows dining at other sister properties in the area.

Star Level/Category– I would rate this resort 4-4.5 stars for multi generational families.

Daytime Activities– There’s so much to keep everyone happy! Full service spa, beauty salon, shopping, fitness center, volleyball, hobie cats, kayaks, sailing, tennis, gorgeous main pool never feels crowded, on site tour desk for trips to Xcaret, Playa Del Carmen, Zip lining, Tulum, just to name a few things to do in the area (there’s so many!). Check your “sundial” or the dedicated TV channel for all of the daily scheduled activities. Explorers club for children ages 3-12 and Core Zone for teens ages 13-17.

Nightly Activities– 5 bars including a sports bar/turns dance club late night, lobby bar, beach bar and pool swim up bar (note the beach bar and pool bar close early evenings), preferred club bar. Nightly shows including the fire & water show (shows can change). I would say the entertainment was slightly cheesy but entertaining enough for something to do after dinner. It’s not Las Vegas though 🙂 Karaoke & dance lessons in the dance club.

Check-in– The resort is about 20-30 minutes from Cancun International Airport. We arrived fairly early, around 11-11:30am hoping we could check in early. Upon arrival, the bellhops took our luggage and we were escorted to “The Lounge”, the preferred club VIP check-in lounge since we had 6 rooms, all with “preferred club”. We provided our passports so they could make copies and filled out a form for each room. Then we were told to come back at check-in time (3pm) to get our rooms. So, we headed off for a nice but HOT lunch at Barefoot Grill, where we were sat all together (party of 11) and had wonderful ocean views. The lunch was good. We had some drinks, took a tour of the resort on our own and had more drinks 🙂 About that time, it was time to get our rooms.

Rooms– There are 14 buildings, all 3 floors. Six of the buildings sit beachfront, while the rest of the buildings are set back in the gardens with very, very limited views. Of our six rooms, 5 of them were Preferred Club Tropical View and only one of those was on the second floor, the other 4 were on ground level on the tropical side, which is nice to be on ground level if you don’t have a view. At least no stairs! One of our rooms was Preferred Club Beachfront. This category is guaranteed ground level, whereas the others just got lucky to be ground level. They also have Oceanfront, which means in one of the front buildings on the 2nd or 3rd floor. The type of room depends on preference. Some people prefer higher floor for views, some prefer ground level for easy beach access, some people are just happy to be here and go for tropical view! All of the rooms are spacious, comfortable and clean and include a mini bar with soft drinks, juice, bottled water & beer. Buildings 1 & 2 are closest to all of the restaurants, bars, lobby, main pool.

*Preferred Club- provides preferred room location, VIP check-in, upgraded mini bars with mini liquor bottles and snacks, upgraded room service menu, upgraded bath amenities, private preferred pool access with bali beds, a lounge with fine liquors, hors d’oeuvres, desserts.

Dining– There are 8 dining options plus 24 hour room service. There are no reservations required or allowed except for the hibachi table reservations can be made with concierge only upon arrival at the resort. One a la carte restaurant is closed each night but they only know the dining schedule the week of. We dined at each restaurant at least once in some way and only waited one time, maybe 15 minutes. We did reserve for the hibachi grill for our party of 11 to sit all together one night. Other than that, most of the restaurants were unable to sit us together but close by, with the exception of our arrival lunch at Blue Water Grill. We enjoyed every restaurant, our favorite being the French restaurant where we celebrated our anniversary- the filet was so delicious!, our least favorite probably the Mexican restaurant. Dress is casual-casual elegance at all of the restaurants. There is- Market CafĂ©- international buffet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, Bluewater Grill for lunch or dinner, Cibu (Mediterranean/Italian) for dinner, Fresco (Mexican) for dinner, Lemongrass (Asian/Hibachi) for dinner, Paramour (French) for dinner, Coco CafĂ© (coffee and deli snacks/desserts) all day, Barefoot Grill (pool/beach burgers, dogs)

Beach– The sand is white and powdery, the ocean has minimal seaweed though it did get worse on our last day but still very swimmable. You can walk for miles either way down the beach and see other nearby resorts, condos. There’s a couple vendors that are not pushy at all. The loungers on the beach are plentiful. At first sight, it didn’t look like many but there was never a problem getting a good spot, I think because the main pool is so large, most people hang out there. The loungers are pretty standard and just ok for comfort. There’s a towel hut to replenish towels plus they have some spread out for easy access. No towel cards to keep up with or wrist bands! The beach wait staff is amazing, never went thirsty! And never felt pressured to tip, though we did because they work very hard!

Pools– The main pool is so huge and beautiful with waterfalls, bridges overways for shade, swim up bar in the shade, some (not many) floats to use. The waitstaff around the pool also excellent and even in the pool, waitstaff would take orders from the side. We never used the preferred club pool but everytime we saw it, it looked very lovely, peaceful and quiet. Only thing we didn’t like about it is that it is tucked away in the gardens with no oceanviews. We came to see the ocean! But a great place to read a book.

Check out/departure– It was quite a task to get our transfers set up for the return back to the airport. This is my biggest complaint about the whole trip. As a travel agent and on behalf of my clients, we wish to arrange these transfers in advance, before departing so that we don’t have to worry about it when we get there and can spend every precious vacation time we have doing whatever we want to do. Though it took 3 trips to the tour desk to get our transfer time, flight information correct for our group. This is not uncommon for every all-inclusive resort we have ever been to. Maybe it’s the lack of communication, I don’t know but I plan to submit a comment to our tour operator. The actual check out was quick. They did ask us to complete a survey, which I did while my husband settled up the bill (we bought a bottle of sake one evening- not included in the all-inclusive). They gave us a ticket, stating we were clear to show our transfer company. Our transfer was right on time for departure. Upon arriving at the airport, the process was smooth and we were all having lunch in the airport in no time.

Summary– Though this was a beautiful resort and perfect for our group, I would probably not return to this resort for 2 reasons- we have been to this area so many times, we’d like to explore other Caribbean islands/destinations and also we are very picky about our beach and even with the minimal seaweed, we do prefer an almost perfectly clean beach. I definitely recommend this resort though to friends & family whose criteria fits the bill. We give it 5 stars for the staff/service alone! Not to mention the beauty of the resort. There is very little that makes it just a tad less than 5 stars.

 

Sunscape Curacao

13 Mar

Let me preface this review by saying this..My husband & I were looking for a low key, laid back, no frills resort @ a good value. We wanted to visit somewhere we hadn’t already been. I was a little nervous about booking Sunscape Curacao because it doesn’t always get rave reviews and some sites rate it as 3 stars but we went with low expectations and an open mind. It ended up being such a great relaxing trip on a very cool island! We hardly ever stay at a resort twice (because there are so many to see) but we may be returning to this one!

FACTS:

Size– 341 rooms & suites, 4 pools including a children’s pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, 6 restaurants, 6 bars including one swim up bar. The resort is perfectly spread out so that there is never a long walk to any of the restaurants, lobby, beach, etc. We really like that about this resort.

Star Level/Category- 3 star level, all-inclusive, family-friendly , great for families, couples, friends, groups

Daytime Activities- On-site shopping, Spa, Rock Climbing Wall, Fitness Center, Tennis, Volleyball, Kayaks, Paddleboarding, SNORKELING is great, free shuttle daily @ 9am & 2pm to downtown Willemstad for shopping, sightseeing (see the pretty colorful buildings & swinging bridge).  See your Sundial & entertainment board for scheduled activities. Tour company on site for additional tours such as fishing, horseback riding, dune buggies, city tours, sea aquarium, dolphin swim, Curacao liquer factory + MORE. Mambo beach & the Sea Aquarium are within walking distance!

Explorers Club- For ages 3-12 supervised and led by Red Cross certified personnel with scheduled fun activities

Core Zone– For teens ages 13-17 with day & night activities including sports & games

Nightly Entertainment– Casino, 6 bars including a sports bar, Mambo Beach party on Sundays within walking distance, Entertainment team is great with nightly shows

Check-In- We had a long day traveling because I had found a good price on air from Charlotte with a stop in Miami. We arrived around 3:30pm & the immigration line at Hato International was a decent size but not terrible. We had pre-arranged transfers with Amstar, which we have used many times with no problems but this time they didn’t have our name on their list and it seemed like a big ordeal after I even showed our confirmation but after a few minutes we were on the way to our resort. It’s about 15-20 minutes away. We arrived at the same time as a large group on a bus and I thought it was going to take forever to check-in because the lobby looked like a madhouse but fortunately we were checked in and on the way to our room within 15 minutes. We had booked an Oceanview Deluxe room and requested ground floor because I like to be close to the beach but we were told we were upgraded to an Oceanfront deluxe. A bellhop would have brought up our luggage but I didn’t want to wait so we decided to grab our luggage ourself. On the way to our building, a member of the entertainment staff saw us and helped us find our room and helped us with our luggage.

Rooms–  All of the buildings are 2 or 3 floors with no elevator with the exception of the Royal Tower which was our building and it is 5 or 6 floors with an elevator. The Sun Club buildings are located at the far end of the resort, our building was located on the opposite end facing Mambo beach on one side and facing the resort on the other side. Our particular room was on the 2nd floor corner therefore we had an oceanfront and also faced Mambo beach on one side. The oceanfront side of our room did not have a balcony but had floor to ceiling sliding glass door with standing room only. The Mambo beach side had a decent size balcony that also had oceanviews. Our building was conveniently located to everything. Most of the buildings are easily accessible to everything. The Sun Club building is the furthest from everything on the quieter more private end of the resort. All rooms at Sunscape come with a stocked mini-bar and a balcony/patio. The room was clean and comfortable. Somewhat outdated but not a deal breaker.

Dining–  We dined at every one of the 6 restaurants in some shape or form. There are no reservations required and we never had to wait one time except once for lunch, we didn’t have to wait to be seated but to be waited on at the Bluewater Grill. All of the restaurants are either beach front or at least offer ocean views. Every restaurant is also open-air except for the Italian restaurant which has partial indoor and partial outdoor seating. We liked all of the restaurants fine. Nothing to rave about but plenty of selections and slightly better than expected. Dress is casual to casual elegance. There is World CafĂ©- Buffet, Oceana- Seafood (located in the Sun Club section), Da Mario Italian, Bluewater Grill International/Caribbean beachfront, Himitsu Pan-Asian & Coco CafĂ© serving coffees, teas, pastries, snacks.

Beach– If you have already read other reviews on this resort, yes it is true that entering the water on the beach can be rocky. However some people say you need water shoes to enter but we didn’t find that to be a problem at all. There are many areas to enter that is less rocky and actually quite smooth. The beach is clean with no seaweed and white powdery sand in most areas. We never had a problem getting a great spot in the partial shade under a tree (this became our spot) BUT we were out by 7 am every morning. Even into the late afternoon, there were plenty of loungers to be found, maybe not in the prime spots though. The lounge chairs are standard, not very comfy but fine. There is a rock formation about 50 yards out from the beach that runs along the distance of the resort which is nice for keeping the water calm and the seaweed out if there is any. Also, the rock formation became such a great attribute because the snorkeling is GREAT along the rocks. There is a watersports hut where you can use snorkel gear or bring your own if you don’t want a time limit, kayaks, paddlebards also. There is a towel hut to conveniently change out towels or get new ones, just make sure to return them. They also provide beach towels in your room. Although the weather was HOT in March the water was quite cold to enter!

Pools– There is one pool in the Sun Club section, a kids pool, a lap pool , a main pool where most games/activities are held plus a swimming lap pool. The main pool has a swim up bar. There’s not a lot of shade around the pool deck. The pools aren’t very large but we are more beach people. There is one outdoor Jacuzzi but the water was cool, not even luke warm.

Bars– There are 6 bars evenly spread out so we never went thirsty 🙂 Some of the bars may be inconsistent. For example, we noticed more top shelf liquors at the lobby bar such as crown royal but not at the pool bar. I wouldn’t expect the bar to have my favorite liquor or beer but the drinks were refreshing and nice. Even white zinfandel, which I like sometimes and not a lot of places have. We never felt pressured to tip any of the staff at the resort but they are all friendly and deserve to be tipped.

Check-out/Departure– Check out at the front desk went seamless. They did ask us to fill out a survey but weren’t pressed when we declined because we were in a slight hurry to get lunch before our 1:30 pm transfer to the airport with Amstar again. After lunch, we waited a few minutes for our transfer. When they arrived, they didn’t have our name on the list again! We had to speak up and that took a few to resolve but then we were on our way to the airport. We hated to say good-bye to Sunscape Curacao! The line at the airport to check-in was kind of long but we had plenty of time for our 4:30 pm departure. It was awful when we arrived in Miami and the customs line was so crazy with nobody directing anyone. We won’t make the mistake of going through Miami internationally again. We had an almost 3 hour layover and barely made our connection. It was another long travel day.

Summary– This resort may not be for everyone. I tend to be a bit picky when I travel but going in with  low expectations brought a very nice surprise. If you’re looking for a laid back, beach bum kind of vacation and aren’t too picky about the glitz and glam, love snorkeling and a cool island at a great value this is the place for you!

Additional Notes– Downtown Willemstad was neat and fun to shop for souvenirs with restaurants, cafes and bars all over. The colorful buildings and swinging bridge were neat to see.

Next time we would like to stay in the Plover Building because of it’s proximity to the beach. Ground floor rooms walk right out on the sand in these 2 story buildings (photos below). The buildings don’t look like much but it’s all about the location for me!

There are zero vendors on the beach which is really nice to not get pestered constantly! We encountered one woman sunbathing topless, just a warning if you’re easily offended.

Highlight– By our second day, my husband had discovered how great the snorkeling was along the rock formation (about 50 yards out). I did not want to get  my hair wet! But I vowed to check it out before we leave and I did on the last day. Ok, here we are on day 2- laying in our lounge chairs on the beach, I got up to go to the bar about 50 yards to our right. While I was waiting for drinks, I turned to look at the ocean. I saw a WHALE come out of the water right behind the rock formation! Then it’s tail, just like you would see on TV! Now, this is the Caribbean in March so I certainly didn’t expect to see that. I announced it at the bar “OMG there’s a whale!” Nobody heard me so I started to think I was hallucinating. When I got my drinks, I hurried back to my husband and said “You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you!”. He said “You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you!”. He had seen it too! Thank goodness because I didn’t think he was going to believe me. I still can’t get over it!

Enjoy the photos below!

 

 

 

El Dorado Seaside Suites

30 Oct
Vida Garden Grill

Vida Garden Grill

Grounds

Grounds

Painted Coconuts

Painted Coconuts

Massage Huts

Massage Huts

IMG_1270

Wedding on the Beach

Wedding on the Beach

IMG_1274 IMG_1275 IMG_1277 IMG_1279 IMG_1280 IMG_1281 IMG_1282 IMG_1284 IMG_1286

Gourmet Pub

Gourmet Pub

Front of Resort

Front of Resort

Beachfront Jacuzzi Suite

Beachfront Jacuzzi Suite

IMG_1296 IMG_1297 IMG_1298 IMG_1299 IMG_1300

Facts:

Distance from Airport: About 30-45 minutes

Size: Medium sized resort with 380 suites, spread out and easy to get around with walkways and beach access, 7 restaurants, 7 bars including 2 swim up bars, 3 pools, theatre, spa

Star Level: 5 stars for extremely good service & gourmet inclusive

Category: Adults-only, gourmet all-inclusive, great for groups & couples/wedding parties

Beach: Not really great, not much to it at all really, very narrow and course sand, somewhat swimmable but not recommended for beach lovers

Rooms: Many different great room categories for everyone. We were in a Beachfront Jacuzzi Suite which was oversized with a comfy bed, Jacuzzi in the sitting/living area with a sofa, mini fridge stocked with beer, soda and water. Bathroom complete and very nice with bathtub and shower, double vanity. Our ground floor room was located near the far end from the lobby, several feet from the beach and kind of down hill so the beach view was obstructed by that and trees. Our patio had 2 chairs that were quite uncomfortable and a table. The location of our room was not very convenient as everything was located on the other end of the resort for the most part but it was quiet and somewhat beachfront. 24 hour room service available and quite good.

Activities/Entertainment: An abundance of water and land activities available. The bar scene seems to really be happening here, great for young groups and couples traveling together. Nightly shows including a fire show once a week. There is a spa, yoga, fitness center, tennis courts, kayaks, additional games and activities to name a few

Dining: For gourmet inclusive, we were surprised that we thought the food was just good. But we are not foodies by any means. Someone that knows and appreciates food would probably enjoy the dining much more. We did really, really, really love Gourmet Pub. It is the only restaurant that reservations are required. It was scrumptious and filling! We also enjoyed Sandwicherie for lunch, delicious burgers, hot dogs and pizza! The omelet station and juice bar in the mornings was excellent!

Overall: I would certainly suggest this resort to couples, families, groups, weddings traveling together that are not too much worried about the beach. The pools are gorgeous and there are hammocks, comfy loungers and day beds spread out across the property all over along with many palm trees. The grounds are gorgeous and very well maintained.