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Friday, December 16, 2011

Le Blanc Resort....Very nice but a tad on the boring side

We spent our first wedding anniversary at the Le Blanc Resort and Spa in Cancun. From the moment you step off the shuttle bus into the lobby, the amazing service starts. You are greeted with a cold towel and a champagne glass full of coconut milk. Check in process was quick and painless. (I did hear from some of the non travel agents that they did push the time share presentation a few times so maybe just painless for me)

They showed us to our room. The butler gives you a tour of the to work the shower, how to request additional services (like you can have an aromatherapy scent going thru your room if you want)...etc etc. The rooms are very nice. I wish they had balconies instead of the Romeo and Juliet railing things. There is only 1 sink in the bathroom. I expected 2 but I'm getting very picky these days. The shower has 2 shower heads and on 1 side it has little spray things coming out from the wall. I like stuff like that. The minibar is awesome. It has beer, different juices, Pepsi and Coke and diets and tonic and club soda. I liked how they tried to appease everyone esp with having Coke and Pepsi. That's a  big deal to some people! They also stocked the room with snacks. I haven't had this before in a non-concierge level room. They had chips, spicy peanuts, tic tacs, Snickers, M&Ms and more. I just kept putting them in my suitcase each day and they kept restocking. (I sound like a crazy person. I can't believe I just admitted this)

The restaurants at the resort were very nice and the food was very good. Probably the best all inclusive food I have had. At lunch they had this bar full of different cuts of meat - NY Strip, Rib Eye, Pork Chops, Hamburgers...and more and then they had one of fish and they even had octopus on it. You picked what raw thing you wanted and the got some veggies and took it over to the grill and they grilled it for you. Amazing. I had shrimp and veggies for lunch everyday. For dinner, they had an Italian restaurant, an Asian one and a french one. The Asian one was really good. It was probably my favorite. They had spring rolls with a pineapple salsa and these Vietnamese rolls with a mango sauce. mmmmmmmm.......
The French restaurant was very fancy schmancy. It took almost 3 hours to eat. It was course after course and they would bring you sorbet to cleanse your palate. French is not really my favorite. There are too many weird things on the menu and fancy words that I don't know what they mean. I need to do a Julia and Julia and work thru my Art of French Cooking and maybe I would appreciate it more. I'm just not a duck or frog leg  fan or anything that says "foam" in the description with a meat. Gag me. I wish I had a fancier palate.

So as far as what I said for the "tad on the boring side" .....this is not the resort for anyone wanting any nightlife. They had like a guy making Spanish coffee in the lobby. One night they had a DJ but he played stuff like the YMCA and weird girls got up and danced. I did the electric slide when he played that. It bugged me that no one was doing it right so I had to. ha!
By the pool, they play classical type music. I'm more use to more upbeat music by the pool with maybe an entertainment team. At Secrets Maroma Beach they even had floating blackjack! Le Blanc was more just lay by the pool and read a book. I don't tan and I have a hard time sitting still so it just wasn't my cup of tea but Chrissy was like "I love this!" so it's to each his own.

Anyway, super nice resort, really good food, really good's just "happening". I don't need hard core entertainment and but some peppy music would have gone a long way with me :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Maui, Hawaii with a group

We are back from quite the group trip to Hawaii. If I counted correctly there was a total of 33 people plus an American Girl doll (who participated in a lot of the activities). Everyone had their own agenda and we did have a few things that a majority of the group participated in. 

Here's my personal experience.

We flew United all the way. We got in on this crazy good air special that we couldn't pass up. Chris and I shared a 3 bedroom ocean view condo at Honua Kai with Chrissy and David and their 3 kids - Kelsey, Madison and Kelson. It was placed right next to the Tindalls and Byrds who had the same type.  Honua Kai was very nice. I loved the kitchen that had all Viking appliances, granite, an extra sink on the island, wine cooler, All-Clad cookware....the list goes on. I was all excited about this but we did end up only make a couple breakfasts in there but still!  The condo had 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. It was perfect for our group. The resort had 1 full service restaurant called Dukes which was tropical style food (amazing mahi mahi sandwiches) and then a coffee shop with paninis and salads.

The resort is located on North Kaanapali Beach. According to my phone it was 1.7 miles from Whalers Village which we visited several times. The beach at the resort had waves the first day I guess due to the weather and then it was really calm. Their was a reef really close to shore and the resort rented snorkel equipment for $35/week and the snorkeling was really good. One member of our group said they saw a sea turtle!

Chris did the Maui Downhill bike tour. They had to be there at 3am but said it was totally worth it. He said they were very glad I booked the one without a guide that would ride along with you. He said they go really slow. I think we could have just rented the bikes and put them in the back of the Jeep we rented. The downhill bike tour includes having to do this whole tour and all that which if you just want to ride the bikes it's a bunch of unnecessary stuff.

While Chris and David did the Maui Downhill, Chrissy and I headed to the spa at the Westin Villas next door to Honua Kai. It was a nice spa but they don't go all out or anything. They had a nice outdoor waiting area and a steam room but there weren't different plunge pools and hot tubs which I have experienced before. They didn't have the little almonds and it was lime water instead of cucumber water. (I know I sound overly picky) We both did the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage. It was pretty good. I think I'm still a traditional Sweedish massage person. Each time I try a new one I always wish I would have just gone with the traditional Sweedish. At the Westin Villas they add a 20% service charge which was $27 and then they still had a line for gratuity. Since this wasn't my first rodeo I asked if the service charge was gratuity and they said yes. I think this was misleading. Chrissy said she was glad I asked because she would have wrote in a gratuity. I kinda thought $27 for a tip seemed kinda high. I guess I dont normally tip that much for a 50 minute massage.

Saturday night we did an adults only dinner night while Kelsey and Madison baby sat the little kids. We went to Pacifico in Lahaina. Chris had eaten here before and was excited to go back. I guess they use to have live jazz music but that is no more. I was surprised the town of Lahaina was kind of dead at night. It didn't really seem like Hawaii has much nightlife, at least not in the touristy areas. I guess everyone falls asleep so early because of the time difference from the mainland. Anyway, Pacifico was pretty good. We sat outside and the sunset was beautiful. We got some really good pictures. I had the Ceviche and then a coconut crusted mahi mahi. Chris ordered some sort of curry fish and we were going to share with each other but then he liked his so much he said he no longer wanted to trade plates. The service was just so-so at Pacifico. They were pre-warned that we would all be paying "per couple" and they messed it up on almost every ticket. It was annoying.

A large percentage of the group did the Old Lahaina Luau on Sunday night.
I’ve done a luau before and this one was by far superior. You get the fresh flower leis when you arrive. The wait staff was very attentive. The food was pretty good. (way better than I expected it to be) The show was very entertaining and it didn’t go on and on like I’ve experienced before where you are ready for it to be over. They did the history of Hawaii and explained different stuff. They didn’t have the fire dancers because that is Polynesian. It was all about the history of Hawaii. The group all said they were really glad we all did it.

My favorite was Mama’s Fish House. We did this with the Hammonds on our last night. It’s about 45 minutes from the resort on the North Shore. For sure go to this one. Probably the best food I’ve ever had. The atmosphere reminded us of Swiss Family Robinson and then it was set on the beach with huge waves coming in. We went right before sunset and it was perfect for pictures. I had their signature dish which is lobster and crab stuffed mahi mahi which was macadamian crusted and then it had some sort of pineapple glaze. Wow! They said it had been on their menu for 25 years. As an appetizer we had beef tenderloin that inside of a grilled papaya. It was all very Maui  and had the wow factor with each course that came out. I loved it. as we ate and then Chrissy was like "If the regular menu was that good, what do think dessert is going to be like?" We ordered dessert too. I then had to have one of their mai tai glasses to take home. It looked like a round tiki man.

It was a really good trip. Everyone seemed to get to do what they wanted and then we had good group time. The resort was really set up for groups and families so that worked out. Hawaii was expensive just like everyone warned us but it's not like anywhere else.

Friday, October 7, 2011

LONDON......our trip and my tips

I am back from my girls trip to the amazing city of London. We did a whirlwind 4 day tour of London. I felt the last minute need to go to London because they put Kate's wedding dress on display at Buckingham Palace. They announced it in July and we headed over there in September. The weather was perfect and what I was not aware of - the perfect time to go! They only open places like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle certain times of year and that's exactly when we were traveling.
We stayed at a hotel called the Mercure London Bloomsbury. It was very contemporary and was just recently re-done. So, it was clean and new feeling. I chose this one because there were 3 of us in the room and they have a room category with 3 twin beds. Yay no one has to share and no one is stuck on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It was kind of out of the way from most of the places we wanted to go. I'm not sure if there would have been a perfect spot. We wanted to do things all over the city so everywhere we went meant getting on the underground (Mind the Gap! haha) or taking a cab. The underground was pretty close - about 3 blocks or so. It wasn't too bad.
We were delayed flying out of DC several hours which meant that we landed late...which meant we were late getting to Gordon Ramsey's. I was scared they would yell at us or tell us we couldn't have lunch or something and I was really looking forward to it. They didn't do either. They were super nice and accommodating and let us delay the reservations by an hour so we had time to change. The restaurant is really small. Only 14 tables I think I read. It's a French restaurant and has 3 Michelin stars so thus it is amazing. The portions are small but with the "basic" lunch you get 3 courses with a couple surprises from the chef so it was more than enough. We had about 5 waiters for the 4 of us. They brought us out caviar to start and these ice cream strawberry balls sitting in dry ice at the end. It was all very impressive. Totally a splurge and totally worth it. Make your reservations in advance! It was hard to get in and it was the only slot available during our trip. When we told the front desk where we were having lunch she exclaimed "Oh wow! How did you get a reservation?!" I told her my travel agent :)
On Friday it was the wedding day. We arrived right when Westminster Abbey opened (after looking at Westminster Cathedral and me going "this doesn't look the same as what I remember" Duh Lia!) and we did a semi quick walk thru of the church where William and Kate were married. It's also where Kings and Queens and lots of important people are buried. They had the head sets where you can listen to all that but I have a short attention span so I only could handle listening to that for about 5 minutes. It was totally beautiful. One of our traveling companions Donna went on Sunday to a service and listened to the choir. She said it was great.
Next we headed to Buckingham Palace. It wasn't too far but we still took a cab which ended up being fun because the cabby told us all about things as we drove along and we drove down the The Mall to get there to which I kept telling everything that it was exactly how Prince William and Kate did it.
We saw people gathering for what I thought was going to be the changing of the guards. We sat outside for a good 45 minutes waiting for it and it just never seemed to happen. Now looking at the website, it was only on even numbered days in September and we were there on the 9th. (So check this if you go!) We eventually gave up and went on our Palace Tour which we had pre-ordered the tickets. I'm glad we did because it was sold out.
They didn't allow pictures inside which was kind of a bummer. You got to see more than just her dress. They had a whole Faberge exhibit too which was gorgeous. For part of the wedding stuff, they walked you thru the room that they took their official wedding pictures (lots of red!) and then the dress was displayed in the room that the Queen held the reception. Her shoes, her earrings, the tiara and the cake were all there. The cake was huge! It was like a normal 3 tiered cake but that was each corner holding up the cake. It was huge. I guess they replaced the stuff people ate and it said they saved the top layer for their anniversary. (It's like they are real people! Crazy huh!). Well I was in total Royal Wedding heaven and it was worth the trip for me. I bought a Faberge picture frame and Chrissy got Faberge tea cups. We had them shipped back.
On Saturday we visited Windsor Castle. It was perfect that we picked Saturday. The train station sold us a "Group" rate for the 4 of us and since it was off peak it was only 18 pounds for all 4 of us to Windsor round trip! I thought it was a steal. It left from Paddington Station and they had a stand with Paddington Bear stuff. Super cute.
The town of Windsor was really neat. Lots of little shops and restaurants. I would go back and stay there for a couple days in a second. We pre-bought Kitchen Tour tickets. It was now the highlight of my trip. They took us down back corridors of the castle. They showed us backrooms that the Queens grand kids (William and Harry! Omg...) had their 21st birthday parties. It was crazy. The room didnt look anything more than a banquet room at an old church. Like one you would never want to have your wedding reception in because you would have no idea how to not make it look dumpy.
The kitchen is the oldest working kitchen (like from 1200 or something) They have guest chefs come in so it was not furnished with utensils. I wish they would have let us take a picture. There was a shelf up around the huge room with copper pots from all different castles and palaces. The lady joked that they were all marked and it was a bummer that Windsor's were marked "WC". haha.
We had a traditional English meal our on a side street in the town of Windsor. It tasted like cafeteria food to me. Potatoes and ground beef with a beef gravy over it and peas. It was fun to try it though.
On Sunday we did the traditional high tea and at no where else but The Ritz. The cabby told us that it was the original place. We had tea and little sandwiches and cake and scones with clotted cream (which was biscuits, strawberry jam and whip cream). It was fun and fancy. Kind of a check of my list thing.
We also visited The Tower of London. This is where the Crown Jewels are. America's Hope Diamond does not have anything on this. Wow. I really felt like I was looking at pretend stuff. It was over the top.
We did even more than what I have typed here. We did a cruise down the Thames and tried some different restaurants. I am impressed on how much we squeezed in. Last minute I had to a Harrods run. I could go back and spend a day at Harrods. They even let you pay in dollars. :D
Overall here are my top tips:
1 - Wear comfortable shoes (pain is not beauty here people)
2 - Plan out what is going to be open and when
3 - Buy important tickets in advance (like Buckingham Palace, Windsor, ....)
4 - Make dinner and High Tea reservations in advance (I know alot of people like to just wing it but if you do that you wont get to do these things - I promise!)
5 - Bring snacks (my pop tarts in the morning while we road the underground saved time!)
6 - Make sure your hotel is near the underground (I liked being by the Piccadilly line because it ran diagonally across the city)
7 - Ship the breakable stuff home......
8 - Plan on spending more than an average vacation. Everything is more expensive. 1 pound is going to cost you $1.63 plus an exchange fee if you are using your credit/debit card. So plan on double to be safe.
9 - Look up what kind of adaptor to bring. We just trusted the Best Buy employee and we arrived with the wrong one.
10 - Always use a travel agent! :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Planning a trip to places I can't pronounce......

So how much do I know about Singapore? I remember some teenager in the 90s that was caned in Singapore for a variety of reasons.....I changed planes there once when I was on my way to Jakarta and....well that's about it! I love planning trips for myself to places I know nothing about. Sometimes when I'm bored at work (which nowadays is rare) I pick a random destination, set myself a budget and go about booking myself. It's a great learning tool. It's like dreaming and roll playing at the same time (or maybe those are synonyms?)
Well, this time it was for real. Chris has traveled to more countries than I have. I wanted to plan something to somewhere that would be new for both of us. Singapore is a big hub for flights. The flights were pretty reasonable (well for Oklahoma - Asia standards) and I then I discovered Royal Caribbean has a variety of itineraries during the winter all over Asia that departed from Singapore. Score!
What sold me on this particular itinerary was this canoing tour in Phuket. Check out this youtube:

That's exactly what I want to do. I guess I'm going to need to buy a waterproof camera. I'm even more excited after finding this video realizing they aren't going to expect me to paddle (I know I'm lazy but I was going to still sign up before I saw this!).

The other stops on this trip include Langkawi and Port Kelang which is close to Kuala Lempur. I haven't looked into too much for these destinations yet.....Malaysia. I can confirm that I know nothing about Malaysia. I remember the Malaysian Tourism Board came to a function in Oklahoma City. I kinda feel bad. I didn't retain any of the information she said. I did get a neat little pad of paper that says Malaysia from her.

The Grand Hyatt Singapore gave me a pretty decent travel agent rate (gotta love the Hyatts!) and it's close to this Orchard Road or street where I guess there is mega shopping to be done. This might be a little slice of hell for Chris but maybe in Asia he will be a good sport about it. Maybe? We are staying for 1 extra night after the cruise.  Did you know there's a Universal Studios in Singapore? I had no idea........I wonder if they have Harry Potter World there too......

All I'm hoping for is for it to look like this:

I dont think that's too much to ask.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mmmmm.....Chocolate Melting Cake

I would say the 1 thing my friends reminisce about the most from a group cruise we all did on Carnival in 2007 has to be the Chocolate Melting Cake served in the dining room. It is this brownie like cake in a ramekin served warm and just not completely "done". Ice cream comes along side this little gem.
Carnival has given away this recipe on their Blog, The Funville Times. Here it is:

  • 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
  • 7 eggs, divided use
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of flour
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter and cool for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix four eggs with sugar. Whisk. Then add flour and whisk. Add the remaining three eggs and add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour this entire mixture into individual ramekins. Bake until just done, about 15-20 minutes (interior will be melting). Serve with vanilla ice cream.

I am going to try and make this one of these days. I bought the ramekins and I just haven't gotten around to it. I might just book a Carnival Cruise instead!  The Carnival Magic (their newest ship) is coming to Oklahoma City's closest port (Galveston, TX) this December! It even has a jacuzzi that sticks out over the water. I might be too chicken for that but the ship looks awesome. I'm excited they have decided to bring the newest one so close to home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Travel Agent Poem - "I Am A Travel Agent"

This makes me smile. I love sarcasm.


I am a travel agent.... Of course I remember the reservation you booked six years ago, even though you don't have a confirmation number and you think it was made under a last name that begins with a T.

I am a travel agent.... Its no problem for me to give you seven connecting non-smoking poolside suites with 2 king beds and 4 roll aways in each, and yes it is my fault that the hotel does not have a helicopter pad.

I am a travel agent.... I speak all languages and have visited EVERY destination.

I am a travel agent.... Its obvious to me when you book your reservation for Friday, you really mean you arrive early Saturday morning and want a guaranteed early check in.

I am a travel agent.... My Company has entrusted me with financial information, and yet I cant tell you why your hotel bill for March 1989 has a $50 phone call because, of course, you shouldn't have to pay for calls.

I am a travel agent.... Yes, I am lying when I say there are no more seats left at the lowest price, or all the hotel rooms are fully booked.

I am a travel agent.... No, its not a problem for me to quickly construct several more guest rooms at the hotel you want, and this time I will not forget the helicopter landing pad!

I am a travel agent.... I am capable of checking fares for three people, taking five reservations and answering fifteen calls simultaneously.

I am a travel agent.... I always know where to find the best vegetarian, kosher, and Mongolian barbecue restaurants in every city

I am a travel agent.... I know exactly what to do in all cities without spending money

I am a travel agent.... I take responsibility for airline food, traffic jams, rental car tire flats, weather, hotel locations and the national economy

I am a travel agent.... Don't bother telling me any dates or cities since I am a mind reader and already have the reservation in my crystal ball before you can tell me

The ART of finding a room for 3 in London. This will help you understand my job.

So The Today Show aired a story about the new exhibit coming to Buckingham Palace - KATE MIDDLETON'S WEDDING DRESS! The display including her shoes, tiara, earrings, veil, the cake (less the couple layers they ate) would all be in the room the Queen hosted the reception in until October 3rd. I HAD to go.
Although fully booked with trips I had planned for us, Chrissy agreed to fly to London with me. Within just a couple hours we had our tickets booked and paid for and tickets to the exhibit bought! A couple of hours later Chrissy called with the question that changed where we couple stay...."Can my mom come?" Without hesitation I was like "Sure! I like your mom!" We booked her ticket and entrance and now for the hard part, finding a hotel room that sleeps 3 adults. Sounds easy, right? Nope.
Most hotels in Europe have either a double or a twin bed (sometimes 2 twins). Some luxury hotels have a king bed but it is rare to find one with 2 queens or 2 doubles.  I suppose if I had more advance notice (It's only 6 weeks until we leave) I might have had more options but we didn't.
I hunted and hunted around. A lot of hotels say "triple" allowed but it's 2 adults and 1 child because they are going to bring in a small cot. Some hotels have a triple because there's a "sleeper chair" which is the case at The Melia Whitehouse property which was mentioned on as one of the best Triple rooms in the city. I'm sorry but a sleeper chair does not sound appealing for 1 night let alone 4 nights.
I thought I was in luck. I had points to stay 1 free night at the Fairmont Savoy which is one of the top properties in London. They said on their website they allow 3 in a room. It gave me the rate of 315 pounds a night and with 1 night free I thought this is GREAT! Nope again. When I called (because it was unclear on their website) I was informed it would only have a king bed in the room and they would have to bring in a cot which will be an additional 75 pounds. I'm sorry but this hotel standard rate is around 600 pounds a about $1,000. I'm not sleeping at a $1,000 a night hotel on a cot. It would suck the experience out of it for me. I decided to just save my points for another trip.
I probably spent a good 15 hours just looking online at different hotels, going to trip advisor to see if it was a good deal, emailing the properties to see what the bedding situation is like, etc. Even "American" properties like The Sheraton only had 1 king or 2 twins. I did come across a couple of hotels like The Langham London which would have 2 big beds in the room but it was out of our price range.
We ended up selecting The Mercure London Bloomsbury which offers a room with 3 twin beds! Yay! No one has to sleep on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It is located in Bloomsbury instead Kensington but Kensington was not worth the cot or sleeper sofa in my book.
This hunt really validated my job for me. It is sooo time consuming and I know what I'm doing! I can't imagine working full time and trying to do this for myself in the evening. Travel Agents are worth every penny.

I'm going to be standing right there in 6 weeks!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Viva Las Vegas......but pick the right hotel

I booked a trip to Las Vegas for my big 3-0 months in advance (May 2011)
I won a trip to Las Vegas for being Top 20 Sales in all of the USA and Canada (yay me) with Continental Vacations. (June 2011)
So I am now the self proclaimedVegas expert. I stayed on the 2 ends of the strip, seen Cirque and musician shows, had a mob experience, won a jackpot/lost money, "went clubbing", shopped til I dropped and ate at some really good and some "so so" restaurants.

First trip we stayed at MGM Grand. They had an amazing rate. You get what you pay for. My favorite, almost always true statement. Beds were sooooo uncomfortable and I didn't even have to share a bed with anyone. Originally I had booked a room in the West Wing which are suppose to be an upgrade but then the trip turned into a girls trip since Chris had to work so we moved to the area of the hotel that has 2 beds (West Wing is King only).
MGM is a massive huge resort/casino. I didnt even know parts of it existed until later into the weekend. I might have enjoyed it more if I had realized some of the stuff right there.
The pool complex is also MASSIVE. They have a lazy river and lots of pools and chairs. It's one of the better pool areas I think. The Tropicana says they won best pool but I'm not sure who voted for them. They have tee-pees which is cool, I guess??? Living in Oklahoma the last 12 years have made tee-pees not as novel. Anyway, at MGM pool everything is soooo overpriced. I'm not someone who cringes at vacation prices. I know they are going to be more than in Oklahoma but here's an example. For a strawberry daqurri it was $15. This is from one of those machines and in a 12 oz cup. And this is plus tax and the expected tip. So for almost $20 you get a generic plastic cup with a very processed style strawberry daqurri. IF they were blending it right there with fruit, using top shelf rum and it was going to come with an umbrella and whip cream on top would I spend $20 on a daqurri. I opted out. Instead I paid $7 for a 20 oz bottle of Diet Coke (seriously. Wow.). I could go on and on but I was kind of put out by this.
Another note about the pool is they have this Adults Only pool which is a "nightclub" at the pool. It's called Wet Republic. It's a $20 cover but they seemed to be passing out free passes to cute girls. We made the cut. (Yessssss!) But here's the catch: Once you get up in line you get patted down by security and not just patted down airport style but full on, they think you are going to be sneaking drugs in your bikini top style. We couldnt bring anything in such as eye drops, bottled water, chewing gum......etc etc. "It could have drugs"
I was just looking forward to not being splashed in the pool by people's kids but if they had this big of a drug problem....I opted for being splashed. I guess the pool nightclub scene is very popular now in Vegas. The bartender selling my friends the $20 daqurris told us that they have a big drug problem and people are putting stuff in drinks and they have to have a cop and paramedic on staff. Wooooow.

While in Vegas the first time we saw Beattles Love which is a Cirque show. I was informed by my friends that they didnt think there was enough Cirque going on but I enjoyed it. I have a secret love of music from the 50s and 60s so I sat there happy as a clam and sang along.
Before the show we ate at Kokomos inside The Mirage. They have a pre-set menu that is the appetizer, entree and dessert. It was like $40 for all 3. You have to ask for this. I would put this restaurant in the "so so" category. It was a good deal for dinner time and perfect location for right before a show at The Mirage but I thought the atmosphere was lacking and service wasnt that impressive. Food was pretty good but I dont even really remember what I had so that tells you something right there.

I really liked the sports bar at NYNY. There were huge TVs everywhere and they even had a small tv at the table. Food was good, a little expensive but as expected and service was good. We were there cheering on The Thunder in the playoffs. They lost but we still had fun :)

On the second trip we stayed at The Wynn. amazing room, comfortable beds (still not as comfortable as the W or the Westin) and  this is the casino that I won my jackpot at so it holds a dear place in my heart.
If you sign up for their players club, it's pretty easy to get enough points for the free buffet. They let you use the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dinner is like $45 per person so the most bang for your buck. At dinner they had a HUGE bucket of king crab legs. There was almost always a line but the line goes quick. Their breakfast is also amazing. I'm not a big buffet fan but for The Wynn I make the exception.

The Wynn has shopping at the hotel but it's only going to be your fancy schmancy shopping.....Channel, Rolex, Louis Vuittion, and oh you know, Alexander McQueen who designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress. We had fun window shopping and we made our way to Casears Palace which has a little bit of everything (and a fun show in the middle of the mall).

At Casears Palace they have Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab. This was probably my favorite meal and I would go back in a second. They also have a set meal. Mine came with cole slaw which they make tableside for you (I've only ever had guacamole made tableside for me!) and I love cole slaw so I was very excited. The stone crab was so yummy and the portion was so huge I couldnt finish it all.

My jackpot was on the last night. I found I loved Wheel of Fortune and this old school machine. Chris was off taking roulette class at the Venetian so I was alone when I won so no one to do the victory dance with.

All in all Vegas is still a fun destination. I could go on and on and talk about this great jazz show we saw at Caesars or Ghostbar at The Palms (I think the one in Dallas is better) but if you have more Viva Las Vegas questions, just ask me!

Punta Cana, Dominican my opinion

So for a honeymoon (since we didn't get much of one in PV) we decided to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I had a travel agent deal I couldn't pass up at the Hard Rock Resort so that made the hotel selection for us.

This is what I thought:

It is a large property with lots of walking. They do have the golf cart shuttle trams that run all the time with lots of pick up points similar to the Paradisus. Our room was closer to the main building which is where the spa, casino, and most of the restaurants were. I liked being close to that stuff as opposed to the beach but totally a personal preference.

8 pools that line the ocean and some other ones throughout the property including a kids pool area with slides and a lazy river. The pools toward the middle of the property had lots of activities going and music and the ones on the outskirts were more laid back and quiet so it was nice to pick based on your mood. There are lots of waves in the ocean here. People were having fun jumping over them but it seemed almost dangerous to me but maybe I’m just a chicken. I prefer to just float.

The spa was really nice. They even had these massage huts that sat over the water (not the ocean but this massive man made water thing they had).

The casino was huge! All kinds of gaming available and at the far end was a sports bar with tvs up the ceiling with all kinds of sports betting. It was fun watching the Thunder game there.

It seemed the kids there were having a really good time. So many options and they had an activity board with options of fun stuff to do from baseball on the beach to a dance contest, etc. There was also an arcade and a kid camp that seemed like people were using to drop off the littlest ones during like dinner. They had small tables with activities and fisher price type video games.

Lots of music memorabilia everything seeing that this is the Hard Rock which was neat.

The rooms are nice. They have a large bathroom with a shower only (double heads in the shower) and they have a separate toilet area and double sinks. The rooms had either a king or 2 doubles and then a huge Jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room and you stepped down to where the balcony was with a sitting area. They do offer “family rooms” to book which is just adjoining rooms which is kinda hard to find in an all inclusive!
There were more Europeans there than Americans when I went. There are direct flights from Paris, Moscow, Madrid as well as others so there were quite a bit of Europeans. The food reminded me of being more in Europe with how they put things together and some of the menu options. It seemed to be hit and miss on the food which I guess is pretty typical of all inclusive. I’m kind of a foodie so all inclusive isn’t always my favorite way to go. My husband isn’t picky so he liked everything. For example, the beef tenderloin at the steak restaurant was pretty good. The sirloin was not so good. There was a Japanese restaurant and the chef was entertaining and personable. The food was pretty good. They had chicken, steak and shrimp and then calamari.  I didn’t think the buffet was as good as other all inclusives I have visited. I did like the grill out by the pool. They had really good hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. I opted for this at lunch as opposed to the buffet. There was an ice cream shop on property. The ice cream was different. It was still good but not like Braums.

There is tons of poverty in the Dominican Republic. We did a group tour to Santo Domingo for the day. It was eye opening and interesting but we saw a lot of poverty and trash lining the streets all the way there. Santo Domingo claims to have the 1st church in the Americas and to be where Christopher Columbus first landed and is buried. There was lots of history. It did not seem unsafe at all but just a lot of poverty.
We also did a snorkel day trip and that was really nice. The water is really pretty. Not the best snorkeling in the world but definitely better than a lot of places. They took you out and you snorkeled over to these cages they had set up in the ocean. You then snorkeled into the cages where they had sharks and stingrays. I thought I would be more scared but it was really neat. Then we did a cruise down the coast and stopped at shallow area where they let us all swim and they had drink service in the ocean.

There were a ton of water activities and the sand there was so soft and powdery, that was a definite plus.

Over all, I dont know if I personally would go back to Punta Cana (well unless it was free!) but for people who like affordable all inclusives (but the air for some reason is still expensive) with gorgeous beaches it's a great choice. It's an easy place for Destination Weddings too.

More Mexican Stars at the Mexican restaurant at Hard Rock! Wohooo!

Our Room

Fresh Passion Fruit (It was like tropical sweet tarts)

This was the spinach salad I ordered. Gross.

Chris on the beach in front of Hard Rock.

Planning my own Destination Wedding

Being a travel agent and recommending Destination Weddings to brides 40 hours a week when I got married it only made sense that I plan my own, right?

There's a lot to consider when planning a Destination Wedding. What is important to one couple might not matter at all to another couple.
The most important thing to Chris and I was that all of our friends and family could attend.
This ruled out obscure places in the Caribbean.....Hawaii....Tahiti.....because they would be cost prohibitive for many.
I grew up on the West Coast and dont mind the chilly waters of the Pacific. Compared to the Oregon Coast, anything is bearable! After seeing an article about Puerto Vallarta in a magazine titled "Destination Weddings & Honeymoons" it sealed the deal. An employee from Louis Vuitton chose Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa for her Destination Wedding and her sunset pictures were gorgeous. I thought, "If it's good enough for her, then it's good enough for me"! All the media travel warnings for Mexico might be a turn off to some of my family but I knew my friends would be game. 
We chose the date of 12/11/10....we liked the number thing and it was prime whale season at that!  After researching the decor options at the resort (which I didn't even think about when I booked the wedding - good one Lia) we opted to hire a local design company called "Chic Concepts" to handle the wedding.
My requirements? I wanted the light up dance floor on the beach and Mexican Stars. I had seen these Mexican Stars (or this is what I call them, not sure on their technical name) when I had been in Puerto Vallarta a few years before and hanging in the tree on the patio at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and I couldn't get them out of my head!
I'm not sure how many details people will be interested in. We booked the air/resort packages through Continental Vacations. They had great prices, low deposits and they throw in the airport transportation. I didn't ask for a travel agent "deal", I just went as a regular bride and wanted to see how that all worked out.

Everyone seemed to love the Dreams Resort. Perks of Dreams (which is part of AM Resorts) is the no wrist bracelet policy, no reservations in their ala carte restaurants, service is good and the food is pretty good (for an all inclusive). Everyone who knows me knows I'm pretty picky when it comes to food. I like to plan vacations around food and where I can try new things. The food at Dreams is not as good as their sister Adults only resort "Secrets" but esp if you dont have anything to compare it to, it's pretty darn good.

Chris and I stayed a week at the resort. I wish we would have stayed longer after the wedding. With such a big group coming to the wedding we didn't get much of a "honeymoon" so we booked a week in Punta Cana for April (I guess that's not too bad, right?).

Perks of a Destination Wedding:

No Stress! (well minimal stress)
Amazing memories
Great pictures

Bummers of a Destination Wedding:

You don't get to freeze that top cake layer (Do people really like eating it a year later anyway?)
You can't take your bouquet home with you to dry
Not ALL of your family/friends will be able to attend
Things available at home (like I wanted ranunculus flowers) might not be available in a foreign country (unless you are like Oprah or something)

All in all it was a great trip. Everyone was pleasantly surprised on how safe they felt in Mexico, the value of the all inclusive and the weather!! It was about 78 degrees the whole time. (I totally recommend going to PV in December. The whales where jumping out of the water behind us!)

Are there things I would do different if I got to do it all over again? Sure! But that's the great thing about having a travel agent who's done this before. I have lots of advice I can pass on :)

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