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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beaches Turks and Caicos - Ultimate Family Vacation


Beaches Turks is nothing short of amazing. There is something for everyone and that's just scratching the surface. Let me start by explaining each section of the resort.

First of the all the resort sits on an amazing beach of white sand and clear water. There are 4 villages which make up the resort:

Caribbean Village
This is the oldest but still kept up part of the resort. It has a fun bar a night called Turtles, a nice large gift shop, some really good restaurants and this is also the least expensive section to stay in.

Italian Village
This part is gorgeous. Huge pool area with sections for toddlers and a great swim up bar. It is surrounded by cabanas for Butler service room categories. This is where the rooms that you see with the triple bunk for kids in the family suites that are perfect for families of 5. Great restaurants in this section including a British Pub open pretty much all night with karaoke and random fun for adults.

Key West Village
This is the "new" section. It was a different resort separated by a fence and now it runs seamlessly into the Italian Village. I was kind of nervous thinking it would seem "so far away" but not at all. This is where they have concierge rooms all the way to huge 4 bedroom villas . A couple of restaurants and a mini spa where there are basically just treatment rooms. There are little pools throughout so people who seemed to want to be away from the crowds would love it in Key West.

French Village
I was so skeptical of this one because it sits back from the beach but I really liked it! The beach is not that far of a walk at all. The pool area was huge and not super busy like the Italian pool. There were lots of little restaurants and it looked like Europe. There was even a little pastry shop open at night, all ready with to-go boxes so you could indulge in private (ha!). This is where the stage for the Sesame Street show was and it's right next to the water park. This would be an ideal place to stay for a family.









Other points of interest -

WATERPARK

The water park was really nice. They had 4 main slides that fed into the lazy river which is ideal. Tons of inner tubes to use and lots of chairs all over. They had a toddler area with a splash pad, a swim up smoothie bar and a 50s style cafĂ© with burgers and Caesar salads and amazing onion rings. If you have ever been to Atlantis,  I'm not talking water park like that. Beaches Water Park is big enough to entertain but not huge enough that you can't find your friends or kids for that matter.

FOOD

The food was pretty good. Of course it's semi hit and miss since it is a Caribbean island but overall I was very impressed. Coming from the state of Oklahoma, I wasn't too impressed with the steak or Mexican food but that goes for every restaurant out of the Oklahoma/Texas area.  The seafood was awesome, the teppanyaki restaurant was awesome, the Caribbean jerk and curry and pizza was well, awesome. You get the idea.
The drinks were good. The bartenders very helpful and eager but not overly eager like sometimes I've experienced in Mexico where every time you walk by they are insisting on a tequila shot. It's not like that here. It's very family oriented. The drinking age (18) is posted at all the bars hopefully making kids think twice about trying to order an alcoholic beverage. They had great non-alcoholic drink options posted. I would feel comfortable sending non-drinking family groups here no problem.

SERVICE

The service was great. They seem to understand the wow factor needed to really get a repeat guest. Just an example, I was escorted to my room by one of the employees. As we walked by the kids club I mentioned that I had a 1 year old at home. Later that day she came by my room and dropped off a stuffed Elmo and a beach towel to bring home to him and said she hopes he gets to return with me.
It was stuff like this all the time. We ordered pizza one day and it was going to be about 20 minutes. The waiter said "Why don't you guys go sit in the hot tub and I'll bring it to you when it's ready."
I was way impressed we didn't have to tip to get this kind of service. Most employees had no idea we were travel agents checking the place out. We just had great service every time we turned around.


A beautiful, safe island. There are currently non stop flights on American Airlines from Dallas so fairly easy to get to. You don't have a long ride from the airport to the resort (maybe 15 minutes?). There's great food, service, your kids can hang out with Elmo and Big Bird, a spa, golf nearby, 19 restaurants.......I could keep going.
So if you get my message on this blog you will be calling me by the time you are reading this sentence to book your family to this awesome resort. It's worth every penny and you will be glad you did!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ever heard of Huatulco?



I just returned from a 4 night trip to the beach town of Huatulco. Ever heard of it?
It's on the Pacific side pretty much as far south in Mexico that you can get. They said "well we are almost Guatemala".
 
We stayed at Dreams. It's an all inclusive resort, part of the AM Resort chain which are one of my favorites.
 
We had 35 total in our group. Everyone was game for somewhere new and a great deal.
We arrived on a Saturday and there was this amazing Mexican wedding that night. Probably 200 people at the wedding and this gorgeous supermodel looking bride and a  shorter, less attractive groom with a entourage of runway looking guests. We were all in awe.
Most of the wedding group left on Sunday and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Summer thru fall is their off season. They have charter flights that leave from Canada all winter and those were starting right as we were packing up to leave.
 
Here are some pictures of my room. We had a preferred club oceanfront jr. suite with Jacuzzi. We come upon a steal of a deal and I don't think this room would be worth paying regular price but we were glad to have it.



Preferred club Jr. Suite ocean front with Jacuzzi at Dreams Huatluco

 
These rooms have Jacuzzis out on their balcony which aren't exactly private, esp. if you have your light on your balcony. Some people in our group said they could also see the Jacuzzi of the next room so unless you are an exhibitionist- beware!
One couple told me the jets were full of ants and one couple said black muck came flowing out of there's. I did not partake in the Jacuzzi experience. Another reason this room might be a waste of your moola.

Balcony on our jr. suite oceanfront room at Dreams Huatulco
 
 Mini-bar is included with the all inclusive plan. I love the bottled cokes and sprites in Mexico. Something I don't normally buy in the US so it's always fun.
Mini bar. Preferred club comes with mini liquor bottles and snacks



The beach at the resort was pretty spectacular. Lots of rock and it was on a bay so there was nothing that washed up on the beach. I have been to way too many that have constant seaweed and junk washing up but this one - seriously nothing. I kept watching for it too. The rocks on the side had crabs crawling all over them and we could see blow fish swimming just from standing on the beach.

 
 
The food was pretty good at the resort. I wonder if it would have been better if the occupancy would have been higher. They only had 2 restaurants (1 being a buffet) open during the week. I did like the Mexican restaurant. The refried beans were so amazing. Wow. I wish I could find some like that in the US. ( I don't even normally like them!) They even served them on the breakfast room service menu.  (Oh and just an FYI, over easy eggs or fried eggs, this is still sunny side up to them)
On the authentic plate at the Mexican restaurant they served grasshoppers. That was a little too authentic for me.
Chicken enchiladas at Mexican Restaurant at Dreams Huatulco

Tortilla bowl of grasshoppers
 

We went into town one morning just to check it out. There really wasn't anything to check out. There are a few local souvenir shops with people that harass you to buy their stuff. There's some overpriced silver stores where you feel like you never know if it's even real silver and some restaurants that would probably guarantee the plague if you ate at them. I did feel safe though. Everyone was very nice. I didn't see any army guys with machine guns like in Cancun. It was a little town but really a waste of time. They said the whole city of Huatulco is 17,000 people.
 

 
Some of our group did a snorkel trip and I was kicking myself for not going with. Huatulco has 9 bays. The guy that took them was a local guy from the beach. He took them to pristine beaches where there was no one. They dove down and snorkeled in caves and they said the water was so clear. Sounds like pretty amazing snorkeling for the Pacific Ocean.
 
The road to the airport was a tad scary. They are working on building a road and it was this dirt stretch with a severe drop off. I was planning my escape route from the bus in my head because I was pretty sure we weren't going to make it but we did!
 
All in all, it was great seeing a new place. Will I go back? Probably not but the people were very nice, the fishing was quite impressive (so deep sea fishing people must go here!) and the scenery will be hard to beat.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sandals Royal Bahamian for the day

We spent the day at Sandals Royal Bahamian - one of the perks of my job so my review is just based on about 7 hours there.

The resort is located kind of off my itself on cable beach. There are some random local places right outside the gate but nothing to make an effort to go to. It was a $20 cab ride each way from Paradise Island.
The breakfast buffet is simple but nice. They had real orange juice! This is not common at all inclusives so it was a nice suprise (usually it's a kool-aid orange juice mix). There was an omlet station and lots of fruit and french toat. They had really good oatmeal with brown sugar and sliced almonds for the top. Yum! Service was decent. Nothing impressive.

 
The first boat out to their private island fills up. The line was super long and started at like 930. The boat leaves at 10 and if you are not on the first boat over you will not get one of the prime locations. They have limited beach beds and chairs around the pool. If you are willing to camp out and get on the boat first (sit in the back so you can be first off) then there are some really neat beach beds with amazing views.


One thing that I think is kind of lame about their "private" island. It's only kind of private. They have about 60% of the island and the other part is owned by cruise ships so they can do their shore excursions to a "private" island. It was still under construction when I was there so I dont know how many people they are going to bring there or how many screaming kids or what but seems kind of misleading. I wonder how much $ Sandals got for that part.
There is a restaurant on the private island that does like sandwiches and wraps during the day. It was decent. They do curly fries instead of chips. I am just so use to Mexico with the chips and guacamole by the pool that curly fries really throws me off. The waitress was pretty indifferent. She had a blank stare on her face the entire time and would speak the absolute bare minimum to me like te 1 word answers type thing. I thought Sandals was suppose to be the wow factor on their service? Maybe she was just having a bad day.
The back of the island has amazing snorkeling. There's lots of rocks and it's calm enough to snorkel right there but bring your own equipement! They will not let you use the snorkel equipement from the free snorkel trips they offer. Someone even said they saw a lobster back there.
The loud pool as they referred to it was fun during the day. They had an entertainment team that hassled everyone into playing silly games. I was talked into a beer drinking competition and a competition called "Super Wife" which ended with Chris having to give me a lap dance. It was hilarious and we won 1st place. I wish we had it on video. I have my prize snow globe in my room displayed proudly.

Overall, Sandals was a really nice resort. I don't like how they nickel and dime for things like wifi ($14.99 a day??!) and the mini bar if you don't book a high enough room category. Their nice resorts and good food outweigh these annoyances for me though.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Atlantis - Super fun if you don't need to talk to an employee

This hotel is my husband and I's ultimate place. Tons of things to do, good food, water park and pretty scenery. The employees on the other hand kind of shocked me. The could care less if they gave good customer service. This was the case at the check in points, the guys operating the water slides, at the restaurants, at the gift shops ETC! Of course there was also an exception to the rule person and my husband and I would look at each other in shock when someone would smile and be friendly.
I would also like to say that we are usually overly friendly. I despise rude Americans. I am not sure what the Bahamian's problems are.

We tried several different restaurant while we were there. Seafire Steakhouse in the marina (the waitstaff was good, hostess not so much). We had the crab and lobster cake for the appetizer - amazing. We split the caesar salad (it's way big enough). I ordered the pork chop with Bearnaise and crab and Chris ordered the surf and turf. Surf and turf here is short ribs and 6 oz lobster tail for $62 (no sides included. shesh!). We split the sides which was mashed potatoes (I was against this since we live in Oklahoma and I was right - nothing special) and cheesy cauliflower. The cauliflower is amazing! They broil it and then inside is all this fall apart cheesy goodness. Oh wow.


The other fine dinning restaurant we tried was Mesa Grill. This is at The Cove - the most exclusive tower on site at the Atlantis. We pulled up in a cab and I asked the bell hop where Mesa Grill was. His response was "Down there to the left". No smile, nothing. Really? This is people's first impression of The Cove which is usually $1000+ a night? Not impressed. We ordered the Goat Cheese dip which was pretty good and I just kept thinking "I've had better at places like Cheevers (their queso dip is amazing) or at 1492 in Oklahoma City". It wasn't bad but for a famous chef's restaurant I wasn't that impressed. I order the shrimp tamale for my entree even though it was on the appetizer menu. AMAZING! Chris had the mahi mahi. I stole a bite and it was good but I didn't steal another bite. We did the Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie for dessert. This was actually really good but I was so full that I didn't eat much. Maybe just go there for a tamle and pie?

Another thing we tried while we were there was Snorkel the Ruins. This is where you take a guided snorkel in Atlantis's aquarium. For me I thought it was a big fat waste of $109 per person. The reason it is guided it because you can't dive down and you can't touch anything. You can see all the ruins from the windows of the aquarium. It was short and the water is cold and I say SKIP THIS!
The people at the check are crazy rude. We went about 20 minutes before it was suppose to start and they are like "You cant check in until your start time" (I found this super weird because I could have sworn they told me to check in 30 minutes early to get the wet suit on to be ready). When they would finally let us check in they were like "Go stand by that mail box and someone will come for you." It was just cold and unfriendly. A lot of people that come and do this snorkel might be coming off a cruise ship. This is their first introduction to Atlantis and this could make or break whether they would come back. What's the deal?

We loved the marina area. Lots of restaurants of all levels from a Quiznos to fancy schmancy steakhouses. The huge yachts were there to gawk at and lots of performers or little jazz bands. The shops stayed open too. There's a Ben and Jerry's that was super popular.


The water park is awesome. We were there the first part of April and it was crowded but not over the top. The lazy river was our favorite. Its a mile long and then at one point it's a fork where you can pick the rapids or to do this big slide. It was neat. I could have stayed in there all day. There were all different levels of slides. The lockers were $9 to rent for the day for the cheapest one. At the end of the day when the cruise ships left, it cleared out (and I'm sure people were getting ready for dinner) but we could go down the slides over and over without waiting. The wait wasn't that bad during the middle part of the day.
The Cove beach is the best beach. The Atlantis beach slopes down really bad and it's super choppy. They charge cruise ship people $69 per person to come sit on their beach (not worth it!) or $129 for the water park.

All in all, it's a fun hotel. They told me they are 2nd to Disney as far as family destination resort. I say they need to visit Disney and see how their customer service and friendliness is far superior.
 



Riu Palace Paradise Island - Better food than Mexico but needs to be updated

How's that for a long title to a post?
I was kind of pessimistic about this resort. I have been to Riu's in Mexico and did not like their food at all. It was a pleasant surprise that the Bahamas had good food! Everything else was slightly lacking though:

We checked in and took our bags to the room (they don't have a bell hop that offers to do this for you) and the rooms are old! They had redone little parts like the sink in the bathroom and the bedding but the carpet had holes and the furniture looks 15 years old. All the rooms are ocean view which is nice but you also have a view of Atlantis's oldest tower and some big rusty thing.
The mini bar was decent. No juice but pretty decent. I like that it's regular Diet Coke and not Coca-Cola Light like in Europe or Mexico.


The resort is very Spring Break. It has 1 pool with 1 swim up bar and just tons of chairs. The beach is a public beach with lots of jet ski operators waiting to sell you a ride. The water is very choppy. Not the Paradise Island water I was picturing. If I was 10 years younger and a hard core party person I would be all over it. The Riu's do have a minimum check in age during March and April though so it wasn't high school students.



Although the food is good, having to make dinner reservations is not so good. They let you make 2 reservations at a time but they only take reservations from 8 - 9am each morning. I don't know anyone who likes to get up at 8am to stand in a line. Ridiculous. (So I sent my husband. Ha!)

They have several different styles of food to pick from and the buffet each night has a different theme. I didn't realize until I went to the Bahamas that it's all import island (Duh!) so this is why everything tastes very American.


They had some fun stuff at the resort - similar to all other Riu Palaces. They had a theatre/club room and had dancing or karaoke or a band each night. There was also a sports bar with several tvs and video games. They also had snacks in a refrigerator you could re-heat 24 hours a day. They had plastic containers of fresh fruit which worked out perfect when we had to leave before breakfast opened one day.

This resort is right next to Atlantis Beach Tower. Like you walk out of the lobby and around the hedge and you are in the Beach Tower lobby. Super convenient. You can walk through the Beach Tower and Coral Tower lobbies and be right at the marina which was awesome at night. Musicians and multi million dollar yachts to entertain everyone.

There aren't many all inclusives in the Bahamas. The service was mediocre and the hotel needs updating but since there is only 1 on Paradise Island I guess they don't care!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Now Amber Puerto Vallarta and Secrets Vallarta Bay!

This is the new resort in Puerto Vallarta. It's really close to downtown. Cabs were like $5 - $7 which was great because I love going into the flea market and walking down the Malecon.

Sand Santa on the Malecon!


This is two resorts in one. When you arrive you are directed to which lobby to enter.

  Both resorts look very similar and sit up high with an amazing view of the ocean. The bell hops greet you with champagne and cold towels. We were in the preferred club tower so as soon as they saw that they took us straight over there so we didn't have to wait in line. You sit down at the desk and the check in process was easy. The longest part was when we realized  my parents were "upgraded" to the Secrets side but we didn't want them all the way over so we upgraded them back to a Master Swim up suite so we could be right next door to each other.

And this is extra why I loved this resort: my room category. Clients make comments all the time like "I'm not in my room very much so it doesn't matter." Oh it does matter! It matters if it sucks (I will hear about it!) and it totally makes it better if it's awesome!  The room had 2 bathrooms with a huge living room and the best part - a huge balcony with a pool! The pool is just for the swim out suites in the preferred club section. I think there was about 8 rooms. There are 2 "garden view" mater swim out suites right next to each other. You could totally still see the ocean from them. This was the balcony. And one of my favorite parts is they have that middle part so you can lay in the water and the waitstaff would walk right up the side of the pool and bring drinks or guacamole. This is vacation to me!
 
 
And check out the mini bar:
 
 
 

The resort is kind of like a cruise where they put a daily activity schedule in your room each night with their turn down service. They had dancing lessons, archery, black jack (which I won a bottle of tequila at BTW), beach volleyball and the list goes on. I love places like this because it gives you options of being involved or not.
The NOW Amber side is the side that allows kids. The week we were there (our anniversary week) is when school is in session so there was probably about 10 kids at the whole resort. They had an awesome kids program (or at least it looked awesome). Big kids camp area with tons of stuff to do.

There are lots of restaurants to choose from. Some of the restaurants are in the main building kind of between Secrets and Now so they share. I was skeptical about all of this esp thinking if I was paying to stay on the Secrets side but I ended up really liking it. It made it so all the restaurants were open every night. I've stayed at several Secrets Resorts and it would be like only the main restaurant and one other option was open each night. They had an Asian teppanyaki style restaurant which was adults only and a Mexican one in the middle. Each resort had a seafood/steak restaurant which was sooo good. I had the mahi mahi and they said they buy it fresh at the docks. Then there was also the main buffet restaurant which was just so/so. As good as buffets come I guess. I'm never a buffet's biggest fan. Seafood restaurant with my parents and husband:

Asian restaurant:


The NOW had live music in the big open air lobby and the waitstaff appeased my husband's interest in having a drink that could be lit on fire:

Lunch at the seafood restaurant and notice the drink! It's called a Bob Marley. So good!


Ok and on to my second favorite part besides my room category:
THE SPA!
A big bonus with being right next to a Secrets is you get the amazing spa. They had lots of plunge pools and water treatments you did before your treatment you bought. There was an attendant that brought you cookies, almonds, cucumber water or hot tea. They had a sauna and steam room.
I did a facial one day and a seaweed wrap the other day. I loved both of them. So professional and my mom kept saying "Lets go back to the spa". We both loved it.
Most of the time when you book you get coupons for the spa too which helps with the price and they really were not that overpriced for everything you get with it. This is a must do.




All in all I'm a huge fan of Now Resorts! It's part of the AM Resort chain so: Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Now and Sunscape.

Marival Residence and World Spa Trip

Let me start with saying this all inclusive has the best food of any all inclusive that I have visited and I have been to a ton of them! With that being said here's my full review.......

This resort is "across the street" from the beach. Brochures and online descriptions seem to make it seem like it's just right across the road but it's across the street up on the hill and down from the main resort. You wouldn't be able to walk there but there is golf cart service down there. It runs all the time so ended up not a big deal.
The driver drops you off at the entrance to where you can walk down to their special area on the beach. This wasn't like the "special" areas at other resorts where they just have a rope and it's the same as everyone elses. It was actually really nice. There are nice beach beds and teak wood looking pathways. The waitstaff was eager to help and bring drinks or snacks. The waiters even brought me an ice cream sundae one day. The resort had a basket of sunscreen and magazines which I realized when I forgot my sunscreen one day I had just donated it to the basket. This was one of the days (we went at Christmas time):
 
 


Back at the resort there's a nice pool but no swim up bar. There is a private jacuzzi with a neat waterfall. It was suppose to be adults only but people still had their toddlers over there and no one did anything about it. I'm a rule follower for the most part esp with things like that so that kind of stuff bugs me. There's a restaurant on this island type thing in the middle of the pool with amazing food.

The really popular restaurant was the one on the roof top and they had tapas from all different continents. It was so fun and we ordered a ton and watched the sunset. (and they were sooo good, if you didn't notice they have good food  theme). This was at the main restaurant and Chris said it was like the best grilled cheese ever!
 
I loved this curry mahi mahi:

And I'm a sucker for pretty much any caprese salad but this one was extra good:

Dessert tapas on the rooftop:


 

The rooms were excessively huge. Totally unnecessary but kind of fun. We had a one bedroom ocean view room. It had 2 bathrooms and a huge kitchen which I have always found bizarre at an all inclusive. The bed was super hard. I'm a little spoiled though with my bed at home.
  Pepsi products stocked in the fridge (bleh). Room service was not free. They said the fee was suppose to be like a tip (it wasn't expensive) but then there's always still a line for a tip even when you are on the all inclusive so it makes you feel a little obligated. We only tipped if there was amazing service or they went out of their way.

The spa at this resort is awesome. All the treatment rooms were different countries with the furniture and everything all from that country. The Italy room even had where you smash grapes before you get in the wine barrel looking jacuzzi before your massage. I'm giddy just thinking about it.
 
I dont know if I would do the Thailand lay on the mat and be stretched room:
 

India room (I want to go to India so bad!)

The Turkey room was the couples room complete with "sharing the experience of bathing" (this is what their website says) Kinda weird!


 

All in all this is a really nice resort. Perfect for upscale travelers that like good service and to not be around tons of people. You do have access to the main resort which has a little nightlife. This resort is not action packed. It's good food, service and very read a book by the pool style place.

 
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