Tuesday, October 12, 2010

ADVICE: Rainy Days

We all rely on mother nature to give us perfect weather when we are away on vacation.  The expectations of the sun beaming onto your skin,  the ocean looking bright turquoise green.  The sand soft and white on your feet.  It's what dreams are made of!  However, this is not always the case as some travelers know and more often than not, many of us scurry away into our rooms and wait till the sun comes out to enjoy the day.   I'm here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the rain while you're on vacation. 

Assess the storm: If the storm passing through is ONLY rain, stay outside!  The reason why I say rain only is because once you hear thunder and lightning, you SHOULD head inside since it's dangerous.  Sitting out in the rain is awesome!  I've sat under a palapa on the beach while it rained and it was one of the most peaceful experiences I've ever had.  Just this year, we all sat in the pool while it rained and it was such a nice break from the heat!  It's such a calming experience!  I've also done it in the ocean but that gets tricky cause you really have to watch out for the current getting stronger.  So check it out and don't worry about getting wet, you're already in a swimsuit!

Play Games: I must admit that I hate card games but it is such a cheap form of entertainment when the weather outside is frightful.  Sit in the lobby, your balcony, under a palapa and feel the cool breeze from the rain while you play whatever games you decide to do.  It's also a good way to spend some quality time with the person you are traveling with.  Some resorts have game rooms that you can play other games but I usually find that they are filled with kids and teens and it gets noisy so thats not really our cup of tea, but if it's yours go right ahead.

Meet People: When we all travel, there is always this awkward barrier of should I talk to them or shouldn't I?  I love meeting people on vacation and sometimes the easiest way to do so is when it is raining.  Talking about weather is the best topic of conversation when breaking the ice.  It's also easier to talk about it when you and the people you're meeting are stuck under palapas with nothing else to do.  The only thing you have to figure out on your own though is if the other people want to meet or talk to other people.  Not everyone wants to meet people and it's a fun game of hit and miss I always like to play on rainy days.

Be creative.  You are not home so make the most of your day no matter what the weather is.  Experience the other sites a beach can bring in different weather situations. You'll be surprised of what you get out of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Top 5 Beaches (so far..)

Puerto Aventuras - Riviera, Maya, Mexico
Punta Cana Beach - Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Coral Beach - Lucea, Jamaica
Playa Esmeralda - Guardalavaca, Cuba

Playa Megano/Ensenachos - Santa Clara, Cuba

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beach Junkies Wallpaper Wednesday

We have decided to share pictures that we have taken on vacation and share them as wallpapers for everyone.  Please feel free to click on the picture and save it as your desktop picture.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton

Trip date: August 21-28, 2010  
Location: Lucea, Jamaica

Beach Junkies rating (out of 5 stars):
Beach: 3.5 / Food: 5 / Room: 4 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: 5

We found a great deal to Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton for a one bedroom suite flying into Montego Bay with Air Transat. For this trip we were traveling with two other couples, one of them brought along their 22 month old little boy. Our sold out flight left Toronto at 12:45 pm and we arrived on time in Montego Bay at 3:45 pm. Customs and getting our luggage was quick. Let me warn you that there is one washroom before you hit customs but you have to wait because everyone from the plane is trying to use it. There is another one after customs but it is a single stall. We found our bus and had our luggage loaded in a separate trailer truck that would be following the bus. We have never experience so many people going to one resort. There was two buses going to the resort. We arrived at GPLH around 5:30 pm.

Check in
We were greeted with a glass of rum punch. Check in went smooth and quickly. Our group all got rooms in the same building. We got our map, room cards and activities schedule. We grabbed a whole golf cart to bring all seven of us plus our luggage to building 33. When you view the resort map, everything looks so far away but it’s not. After a short ride, we dropped off our luggage, checked out room and the view from the balcony, or should I say two balconies.

We were assigned to building 33. We got room #3330 on the top floor facing Coral Beach and the adult pool. One couple was in the room next to us in room #3331 and the other couple with the child was in room #3318 on the second floor. All of us booked a one bedroom suite. This suite includes a living room area with a pull out sofa, TV, two chairs, table and desk where the mini bar can be found (two bottles of wata, two cokes, two sprite, two diet coke, one bigga orange and two Red Stripe); a bedroom with a king bed, desk and TV; huge closet with a safe, beach towels and bathrobe; a bathroom with stand up shower, toilet and jacuzzi; and lastly, two balconies, one off of the living room and the other one from the bedroom. We loved the location of our room, therefore when we realized the air conditioning wasn’t working, we didn’t complain. We didn’t want to have to move rooms in case it couldn’t be fixed. We endured a very hot two nights but after my hubby turned off the A/C, it stopped circulating warm air and cooled down the room immediately, or it could be that someone came to fix it slightly (we did mention to the front desk and our tour rep but we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it). The sofa bed was a tad dirty, the bed was hard but bearable. We loved the pillows and there were many channels available to watch. There are some standard toiletries in the bathroom and the water pressure in the shower was great, better than my own at home. Building 33 is right beside the adult pool and bar and a very short walk to the beach. It’s about a 5-7 minute walk to the lobby or to Sunset Cove.

The food at the resort is amazing! Anyone who disagrees with me must be the world’s pickiest eater. I did some research ahead of time to find out what the theme nights were at the buffet. In our group, some of us had special requests - to eat at the buffet on Jamaican night and for me, on Mexican night. I’ll explain our favorites for breakfast and lunch and then give you a breakdown of what we ate each night for dinner. Note that if you are booked with Imperial Club with Transat Holidays (white bracelet), you are entitled to five a la carte reservations per week. An added touch is in front of the buffet, they have a listing of what dishes they are offering at the buffet.

Breakfast - made to order, omelettes, french toast, bacon, ackee and salt fish, rice and peas, smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, chocolate donuts, chocolate croissants

Lunch at the Buffet - it just your usually buffet fare. I liked to make made to order panini sandwiches.

Lunch at Poseidon - you must try the jerk pork, it’s super spicy hot but really good. The fish tacos are delicious too. This is an outdoor restaurant so it can get very hot in the place even with the fans going on. There is also an ice cream machine here.

Lunch at the Jerk Hut - The line up is long but worth it. You can either eat your plate of food on the beach or bring it to Poseidon. You can get Jerk chicken, corn on the cob and paella.

Jamaican night at the Buffet - this is the best themed night all week. It’s on Saturday night so make sure you don’t schedule an a la carte dinner, better yet, check with the reservations desk to find out the exact night, just in case they change it. At the buffet you can find, curry goat, jerk chicken and pork, rice and peas, collard greens, coleslaw and yummy banana fritters covered in cinnamon sugar or chocolate.

Lotus - the Asian restaurant had too many items to select from, it was hard to decide. Some of the dishes we ate were: Wakame Salad (a fave), Tempura Soba, Vit Quay (Crispy Duck served with pancakes and Hoisin sauce) and Japanese Fried Rice. Any of the Maki rolls are equally delicious.

Mexican night at the Buffet - yummy steak and chicken fajitas. There was also tacos, Mexican rice, quesadillas and so much more.

Gala night at the Buffet - I was very disappointed with this themed night. In most other resorts, Gala night = lobster or lots and lots of seafood. There was none of this and really, nothing that stood out to make it a gala night. I would make sure to book an a la carte for this themed night.

French night at the Buffet - also another disappointing night. I will admit that the beef bourguignon was good but nothing else. This was the night that we were suppose to eat at the seafood restaurant, Poseidon but we missed our reservation.

Bhogali - this Indian restaurant was probably our favorite restaurant. The service was much slower here but it didn’t matter to us. It was nice to eat at a poolside restaurant. Some of the dishes we ate were Subzi Samosas, Vegetable Pakora, Kerala Shrimp Curry (a fave), Butter Chicken and Tandoori Chicken.

Xaymaica - the Creole restaurant we decided to leave for last. We thought it would probably be the best dinner but it was okay. The salad bar has many conch type salads, breads and ackee with beans so make sure not to fill up on it. Some of the dishes we ate were Cod Fritters, Crab Cakes, Coconut Shrimp, Seafood Gumbo (a fave), Island Rack of Lamb, Rasta pasta and Tilapia Jambalya. The grilled pineapple dessert was a favorite but most of us were not pleased with our main course.

In total, there are seven a la cartes restaurants - the ones we didn’t try were Poseidon (Seafood), El Mariachi (Mexican), Bubba’s Restaurant (Steakhouse) and Pastafarian (Italian). In my opinion, I would make sure to eat at the buffet on the Jamaican and Mexican nights and then book the other nights for a la carte. All of the restaurants are in the main building except for Poseidon, it’s close to Sunset Cove.

One last thing I should mention about food is there is a Sports Bar in the lobby that’s open 24 hours. It’s tucked away in the corner by the theatre on the ground floor. Here you can get fries, jerk pulled pork sandwich, really, really delicious beef and chicken patties (order by the dozen and trust me it’s worth the 20 minute wait), popcorn, nachos and ice cream.

There are several bars located all throughout the resort. Infinity lobby bar, Woogie Boogie disco bar, theatre bar, sports bar, swim up bar, Las Brisas pool bar and Coral pool bar. My favorite bar was Coral Bar by the Coral adults only pool. It’s my favorite for two reasons: 1) the bar is right next to our building and close to our spot on the beach and 2) two of my favorite bartenders worked there, Sedrick and Oneal. They served us mimosas, Red Stripe, Miami Vice, Rum Punch, Mojitos and Sedrick’s secret drink. If you want the most delicious Mojito (even better than Mojitos in Cuba), go to the bar that is between Lotus and Xaymaica restaurants and look for Dexter. He makes the best tasting Mojito ever.

Beach (this part is written by my husband since I don’t snorkel)
La Brisas Beach - Beautiful. This was our main spot for the mornings and the afternoons. Snorkeling is great right off the beach, you see lots of urchins, fish and I saw 6 lion fish in the coral. Closer to the rocks towards the back, I saw some squid as well. The middle part of the beach is rocky so if you want to swim, stay towards the ends of the cove.

Coral Beach - This is the adults-only beach which is next to the adults-only pool. The snorkeling off of this beach is awesome. There are 2 sting rays, and an eel that I saw that live here. There are also a bunch of sea urchins towards the right of the cove so please be careful. The water here is always calm and snorkeling here is easy.

Sunset Cove - This was my least favorite. The beach had a lot of birds, bugs and the water reminded me of a lake. Not my cup of tea but it was for many other people. This is where the water sports center is located and there is some great snorkeling here to the right of the cove. I saw some fish I never saw before and an eel and a VERY VERY BIG Barracuda! There also is an octopus here somewhere but I never did find it.

There are four pools, Roselle Relax pool on the Jamaica side, Coral Adult pool on Lady Hamilton side, a pool at the Spa and Infinity main pool. This main pool is the biggest pool I have ever seen at an all-inclusive resort. There are lots of chairs and palapas surrounding the entire pool and two volleyball nets. We did spend some time here but most of the time we were on the beach. What we liked was that you can exchange towels at any of the pools rather than there just being one place. As I mentioned before, the Coral adult pool was right next to our building (#33). This pool has night swimming so it’s open until midnight. The first night we arrived, we went for a dip. I am 5’2 and after I walked down the first couple of steps, I got to the last step and it had a very big dip. I could not touch the ground. Needless to say, I never went back in, I would only sit on the steps or lie on the loungers. Another reason why we never went back in was because in the next couple of days, a bunch of topless, drunk girls took over the pool. Being topless and drunk does not bother me, we are all on vacation and after all, it is an adults-only pool. What did bug me was when we noticed that they were totally buck naked.  Call me a prude or uptight but I think it’s a bit unhygienic to be chilling in a pool all day naked. There are other resorts that let you prance around naked, it’s called Hedonism.

We didn’t see much of the entertainment that took place by the pool but we know that they did trivia pursuit, had reggae lessons and organized beach volleyball tournaments. The one day we hung out by the pool, we met Smiley. He got everyone around the bar drinking shots. We never made it to the disco as it started late and we were tired from waking up early in the morning to make use of our day by soaking up the sun. The animation team does organize nights out to their local clubs. This info is posted by the pool towel hut. As for nightly entertainment, we missed most of it because we ate dinner at 8:30 pm and by the time we finished dinner, the show was over. On our last night (Friday), we were able to catch the show. It’s the one show I heard a lot about and it was the one I was looking forward to. Not sure what exactly the show is called but it has a steel drum band playing top 40 hits and a bunch of breakdancers. This was so entertaining. There is also live music at the Infinity bar by Miss Lou’s. It was nice to hang out here, enjoy the pool view, grab a drink a listen to the talented band/singers.

The entire staff is awesome. Out of all the resorts we have been to, we find Jamaicans the most friendly and helpful. To those reviewers who complain about the service they get, think about this...if you are rude to them, of course, they will be rude to you. Treat them with respect and they will respect you back. If roles were reversed, wouldn’t you treat someone with kindness if they were kind to you first? Do not make demands to the staff as if you were the Queen. Some of the staff that made our stay wonderful - Sedrick and Oneal at Coral pool bar, Lawrence at Las Brisas pool bar, Romaine at the Negril buffet, Winston at the Infinity pool, the security guards, Brenda and Ian and the bell boy who made our check out a breeze. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name. I also want to thank the GM, Dimitris Kosvogiannis for his warm welcome and attentiveness to my emails. He runs a every tight ship here at GPLH.

Check out
Check out was a breeze. We called the bell boy to pick up all seven of us and he was at our building in five minutes. We brought down all our luggage and didn’t even mind waiting for one of the girls who was running late and letting us say by to the bartenders at Coral pool. When we got the lobby, we checked out, did some shopping at the gift shop and hung out at the sports bar to eat more delicious beef patties. Our bus arrived on time but because there was a torrential downpour, the loading of the two buses got a little chaotic. The team of bellboys handled the situation professional and didn’t lost their cool with all the demanding guests. Everyone who was on our plane rushed to get their luggage onto the separate trailer truck and to board the bus. We patiently waited for the second bus and it all worked to our advantage because since we were the last to board the second bus, our luggage was the last to go on the trailer but first to get unloaded at the airport. We checked in at the airport in no time which left us with an hour to quickly shop. The Montego Bay has great shopping so save some money for it. There is a Havaianas store that sells the flip flops for $16.

I would definitely recommend this resort to everyone. Despite some of the bad reviews it’s been receiving, those should be ignore because those are people who think they are the Queen and should be waited on hand and foot. We paid a good price for this resort and especially for Jamaica. We would definitely come back because the staff made our stay very enjoyable. There is plenty to do within the resort since there is the big main pool, three beaches and lots of restaurants to eat at. Yes, the resort is far from the excursions but if you do your research, you will know this. We booked to stay at this resort because we had no intentions of leaving it.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Foods at All-Inclusive Resorts

We'll admit, we love to eat. We may look strange taking photos of everything we eat but because we took all those photos, we can share with you our top 10 favorite meals at the all-inclusive resorts we have stayed at.

 10) Shrimp teppanyaki at Ikebana (Japanese restaurant), Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya

9) Paella on the beach at Bahia Principe Akumal

8) Duck confit tacos with orange and soy sauce accompanied by pico sauce, guacamole and flour tortilla at Vida Garden Grill (Latin Fusion restaurant), El Dorado Seaside Suites

7) Mushroom and Lobster Penne at Portofino (Italian restaurant), Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado

 6) Fried Calamari at El Mégano poolside restaurant, Royal Hideaway Ensenachos

5) Kerala Shrimp Curry at Bhogali (Indian restaurant), Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton

4) Scrambled eggs with fresh chorizo sausage with fried black beans and tomato sauce and French toast with orange honey, strawberry shaving and brown sugar and cinnamon at Vida Garden Grill, El Dorado Seaside Suites

3) Rotisserie Chicken at Olas poolside restaurant, NH Real Arena

2) Argentinian Steak at El Gaucho (steakhouse restaurant), Bavaro Princess

1) Jerk Pork with rice and peas at Poseidon, Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton

If we had to pick one resort whose food stood out, we would chose, El Dorado Seaside Suites.  We love their gourmet inclusive concept. This means there are no buffets, everything is a la carte  even breakfast and lunch. If you check out their link, you will notice they even post their menus online.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Surf Art

We see art everywhere when we go on vacation.  The cheezy "touristy" kind that you think is an original piece till you walk into the next store that has them.  Seems like a good idea at the time, but when you bring it home, it seems like such a hasstle to get them framed and put up in your house.

Sound familiar?  Then you are exactly like us! =)  It's easy to get caught up in the beauty of the country you are visiting.  Each and everyone of us want to bring back the essence of the culture and scenery and put a little touch in our home to remind us of it.  In my personal opinion,a paintings or renderings that want to capture the feeling of the beach should be soft, fluid and vibrant.  When looking at it, it should bring back that feeling of happiness and relaxation you felt when you were there experiencing it.

To me there are plenty of beach or surf artists out there that do an amazing job.  My favorite out of all of them, is Jay Alders.

I don't know exactly how I found him, but when I did, I was absolutely blown away.  I have to admit I still have to buy a Jay Alders piece, but the reason I haven't bought one is because I can't pick ONE print.  I am close to finding it though and when I do, I will stare at it every morning when the Canadian winter hits to remind me that somewhere out there, the sun is still shining.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ADVICE: Snorkel Gear (UPDATED)

miQ snorkeling in Holguin, Cuba

I always get the question "Is there snorkeling at the resort?".  Most of the time, you won't know how good the snorkeling (if any at all) is until you get there.  Everyone has their own opinion on what "great" snorkeling is.  Great snorkeling for me is to be able to swim out of your resorts beach front without having to pay for anything and being able to see an abundance of fish in their own habitat.  I've been to 4 resorts that have great beach front snorkeling but there are so many out there that you really just have to research it to make a better decision on your choice.

snorkeling picture from El Dorado Seaside beach in Akumal, Mexico

Once you've done your research and figured out what kind of snorkeling there is out near the resort, it's time to ask your self wether or not you should buy the equipment or not.  75% of the time people won't buy it and they will just rent whatever equipment there is at the resort.  The other 25% go out and buy their own gear (like myself) just so they don't have to worry about it when you get down there.

Here are the pro's and con's of each choice.

Renting Snorkel Gear:

  • save on luggage space
  • save on money
  • everyone uses the same mouth piece and mask and only gets washed with salt water
  • most resorts will give you a time limit of an hour to use the gear
  • the equipment is cheap and can cause cuts in your feet and gums
  • dive shops are usually on the other side of the resort where you have to take a hike to get to.
Buying Snorkel Gear

  • sanitary, it's yours and yours only
  • no time limit, use it as long as you want
  • convenient
  • better quality equipment
  • luggage space will be tight
  • will have to spend some money
To me honestly it's a no brainer but I am a snorkeling enthusiast.  So I'm partial to buying my own gear.

If you decide you go ahead and buy your own gear, here are a couple of reviews I have done on some I have owned in the past.

The first snorkeling kit I ever bought was the Dolphino Pro Series Adult Dive Bag.  I saw this at Canadian Tire and said to myself "Wow, it's cheap and the fins are small!  These will work PERFECTLY!!"  Let me tell you, the only thing perfect about this was the fact that it fit in my luggage!  The fins broke after 2 days of using it, it is made out of cheap rubber so the friction of it cut me at the back of my heel, the silicone on the snorkel was so hard that it cut my gums and the mask leaked for days!  The lesson?  You get what you pay for!!

Beach Junkies Rating: 1 out of 5

The second time I went to buy gear was at Costco.  I saw this Body Glove Kit for about $70 and it looked cool!  I was hesitant but I thought I would try it out anyway!  This equipment lasted me 3 years and was one of the best snorkeling kits I have ever bought.  The fins are big enough to efficient propelling in the water but small enough they fit in your luggage or carry on.  The snorkel has a very soft and comfortable mouth piece and the top has a splash guard which prevents water from coming in for you to swallow (otherwise known as a dry snorkel).  The mask was awesome and never leaked!  It does get old though so you would have to replace it with a new set but for the price, I would recommend this for anyone looking to start out snorkeling!

Beach Junkies Rating: 5 out of 5

miQ snorkeling in Lucea, Jamaica

I said I would update this post as soon as I was able to use my new snorkel gear and now I have kept my promise =).

I absolutely love my new gear!!! The mask is better this time around.  It is not split in the middle and is a WIDE mask which makes for better visibility and a greater field of vision compared to masks that are split into two.  It was very comfortable and spending a bit more money on it was not necessary, but I could really tell the difference.

miQ snorkeling in Lucea, Jamaica

The snorkel I bought is a BARE Dry Top Snorkel.  I prefer dry top snorkels because you don't have to worry about inhaling water when the waves get rough.  This was my second dry top snorkel.  Really no big difference in the snorkel other than that the mouth piece gets really heavy compared to my Body Glove snorkel I previously had.  I noticed a significant drag on the bottom while swimming but it wasn't a nuisance, it just took a bit to get used to but overall the quality of the snorkel was excellent and I'll be keeping this for a while.

My new fins are the U.S Divers Blast fins. BIG difference from my old Body Glove fins.  The only draw back with these fins is that they are a bit heavier than my previous fins due to the frame on the outside, but other than that, these are AWESOME!  It took a bit to get used to the open toe shoe but it ended up being more comfortable.  The split fin make maneuvering in the water effortless and you honestly have more control of yourself in the water.  Sprinting in this took less effort than what I was used to and they definitely came in handy when I ran into a MASSIVE Barracuda in Jamaica =).  Lets just say that I left my friend with the Body Glove gear in the dust hahaha!

Overall these three items together worked very well and I definitely can't wait to get back in the ocean!!

Beach Junkies Rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, September 3, 2010

Staying fit while on vacation

Sure, what's the point of maintaining your workout plan when all you really want to be doing is lying on the beach. Well, #1 - you don't want to fall off the wagon, you worked hard to achieve that beach body and #2 - you will most likely be eating at the buffet three times a day. If you don't stay active, you may just pack on the pounds you just lost before vacation.

David Hirsch created a great 10 minute express workout you can do in your hotel room or on the beach. Check out this link and print out the express workout and bring with you on your next beach vacation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado

Trip Date: June 2010
Location: Samana, DR

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 4 / Food: 4 / Rooms: 4 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: 3

My husband and I stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado from June 12 to 19, 2010. We went with another couple and their 19 month old. This was a resort that my husband has always wanted to go to but the price was never right. We thought we were getting a good deal until we found out that we had only paid for a superior room with WestJet Vacations.

Let me point out that WestJet’s taxes a lot lower than other tour operators and their staff are the most friendly bunch you will ever encounter. The flight was good and going through customs and getting our luggage was quick. We met with our Hola Sun representative and to our surprise, our names were not on the list but our friend’s names were. The rep just told us to go ahead on the bus. After an hour and 20 minute bus ride with no A/C, we arrive at the mainland reception.

Check in
At the mainland building, we filled out the paperwork, got our key card and bracelet and then, it was off to the ferry. The transfer time is only about 5 minutes. Once we got to the resort, we were greeted by management and a cocktail. He told us where we can find everything and how to book a la carte dinner reservations. He then directed us to our rooms and told us that we could grab a snack by the pool. I was very impressed how quickly the check in process went.

We got to our room (#217), it’s on the second floor in the main building. We were quite disappointed to open our curtains and find out that we were facing the maintenance building where a lot of employees hang out. The room is a very standard room – closet with electronic safe, hangers, iron and ironing board, bathrobe and slippers; a king bed, tv, desk, sofa, chair and a very large bathroom with a Jacuzzi and separate shower. I have to admit that it’s very dark in the bathroom and room, even with all the lights on but it didn’t bother us. Prior to our arrival, I did email the resort and request villas 2-11 with a king size bed on the top floor, also with an ocean view. I did receive a reply informing me that they could not accommodate my request because it wasn’t the room category we purchased and they also included a price list for upgrades. This is when we realized that we had booked a superior room. Please be careful of this if you plan to go to this resort. After settling into our room and exploring the resort, we came back to the room to find a bottle of champagne, chocolate covered strawberries and crispies (It’s their version of rice krispies with white chocolate). There was a letter from the person I was exchanging emails with. They had been upgraded us to a junior superior suite and they had also made reservations for us that night at the Don Pablo restaurant. Totally unexpected and very thoughtful. Our friends were staying in room #215. They had a superior room. There is not much of a difference except we had a larger window opening from the washroom and bedroom and we had a separate shower and they had a shower head coming out of the wall above their jacuzzi tub. There was no glass or wall anywhere so when they showered, water sprayed everywhere. A few days after our arrival, a glass wall was installed (and they didn’t even file a complaint). The room was cleaned daily and little chocolates were only left once on our pillows. We received towel art every day and the maid lined up all our shoes and fold our clothes into piles that we left on the sofa.

The buffet is located in the main building. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a terrace which we never ate on because it was just too hot outside. I found that they had a good selection to items to choose from. We fell in love with these mashed carrots and potatoes one evening and never saw them again. They had different themed nights (they are listed at the a la carte reservation desk in the lobby) such as Mexican, Spanish, Gala, Oriental, Italian, Barbeque and Dominican. At breakfast, they had the typical spread - made to order omelettes, french toast, pancakes, bacon, sausages, pastries and these delicious donuts covered in sugar (they are my favorite). What I liked was they had a separate section that had fried eggs (this is what I usually order from the omelette guy), poached eggs and hard boiled eggs. There was also a variety of fresh juices, yogurt, cereals and fruits. Lunch and dinner was your typical fare - you can select your meat to be grilled and a pasta station. There is a vegetarian corner and lots of breads. Each night, they put out a display of appetizers according to what the themed night is. The wait staff is very attentive, also refilling your glass, whether it's wine or water.  I can't remember what night it was, I think it was the Mexican night, a guy with a cart of turkey would come around and carve off a slice for you and pour gravy all over. It was delicious and the best turkey I have ever had in my life. For the a la cartes, there are only three restaurants - Gourmet, Italian and Mediterranean. You can make your reservations at the desk oron the 24 hour computer in the lobby.

Don Pablo (Gourmet)
This restaurant is in the middle of the resort. we had trouble finding it on our first night because we arrived at 5 pm and went to the pool, we never got a chance to walk around. It turns out it's very close to the back of the main building. A maintenance guy was kind enough to walk us there. Instead of choosing what to eat off the menu, we decided on the five course set dinner. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact names of each course, but I will do my best to describe it.We started off with crackers with some type of jelly on it, then pumpkin and asparagus cold soup, a tomato topped with deep fried cheese, our main entree was beef tenderloin & lobster on a skewer and for dessert, chocolate fantasy and an apple tartin.

Both these restaurants are located by the pool by the beach. You need to take the elevator to get to them. It's quite a far walk and very dark:

We were not really hungry when we ate here but I wish we were because they had so many items on the menu that I wanted to try (especially since I was craving for pizza the whole week). Some of the dishes we ordered were caprese inssalata caprese, trio of bruschetta, mushroom soup, mushroom & lobster penne (a must for this restaurant, so flavourful and filling) beef medallions (didn't look very appetizing) and shrimp pizza and for dessert, tiramisu.

Mediterraneo (Mediterranean)
The house appetizer is a potato and tuna dish. Very tasty considering I don't like tuna. Some of the dishes we ordered were the greek salad, shrimp cocktail appetizer, the lobster entrée (a must if you are going to eat here), chicken entrée, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. It was very hot in this restaurant. The fans were not helping at all.

There are four bars in the resort, Daiquiri (lobby), Flamboyan (quiet pool), Hibyscus (main pool by the beach) and a bar by the jacuzzi. The bar by the pool makes a very refreshing non-alcohol drink called Very Well. Also, by this pool, they come around very 20 minutes to see if you want a drink. The lobby bar serves a delicious cappuccino. I am not a regular coffee drinker but I had to have a cappuccino every night before retiring to our room. On this trip, we didn't try any of the cocktails, we drank beer (El Presidente) for most of the trip. I did see a cocktail menu on each of the tables and at the bar.

The beach on Cayo Levantado are broken up into 2 beaches.  There is the calm side and the wavy side.  Both have its pros and cons.  I'll start with the calm side.  The water here is very swimmable and the scenery is AMAZING! You can watch a flock of Pelicans fish all day. The only problem we had with the beach was that it was really narrow.  Most of the beach is filled up with trees and you can't really get "personal" space due to the size of the beach.  You're pretty much side by side with strangers.  Since it is also filled up with trees, which amount to an abundance of bugs, leaves and dead fruit falling on you.  Getting a good spot to catch some sun is nearly impossible unless you decide to hang out on the ends of the beach.  The wavy beach is the perfect beach! The water is fun to play in and there is plenty of space for you to get comfortable in.  It is wide and there is a perfect sun/shade ratio.  The problem with this beach is that it is REALLY WINDY. If this doesn't bother you, it is the perfect place, as it was for my husband.  For me however, it was difficult to get comfortable with the wind howling in your ear.  Now if we had to pick the perfect spot on the beach, it would be on the right side of the calm beach near the water sports center.  There is also a public beach which is huge but we never wandered over there since you have to pay for chairs to lounge in.  It is after all an island so you can't really be that picky with the wideness and length of the beach.

There are two pools, a quiet pool that is close to the main building and the main pool by the beach. Both pool close at 7 pm and have plenty of loungers and palapas around them. The quiet pool has beds with draping over them which provide some shade.  At each pool, there is an activities hut where you can pick up some towels, books or board games. At the beginning of our trip, after eating lunch, we would come back to the pool or beach only to find nowhere to sit, because every chair had a towel on it. Later in the week we realized that you didn't have to keep your towels or exchange it at the end of the day. You can just leave it there and it will be picked up later in the evening. You can also pick up new towels whenever you would like a fresh one and you can even get more than one. I am not sure if this is a great system but I must say, there was never a shortage of towels, the huts were always being replenished throughout the day. There wasn't too many pool activities in the main pool, most of the activities took place beside the pool but on the beach. I would highly suggest staying by the quieter pool. If you want to chill out, stay close to the gym as they have some speakers hidden in the grass that plays very relaxing, spa-type music.

This is the one thing I have to complain about. There is a little poster board on top of the piano outside of the main buffet, it lists all the activities throughout the day. I wanted to try participating in the painting or arts & crafts but it did not say where it was taking place.  We all wanted to go to the Sunday ice cream party but again, we didn't know where it was happening.  In the evening, the animation team and manager go around the terrace and lobby to tell guests that the nightly entertainment would be happening at the public beach. We never went to see one show. On our last night, we received a letter saying there was going to be a "white party" by the quiet pool at 8:30 pm. Around 9:00 pm, we went to check it out but only saw it all set up but no guests or staff there.

All were very nice. I really appreciate the letter for our upgrade and a la carte reservation we received upon our arrival. Our maid was always happy to see us in the morning. The waiters at the buffet became good buddies with the little boy who was with us.

Check out
We were given an option for express checkout the night before our departure date but we checked out at 9:30 am and waited for our 10 am boat. When we arrived to the mainland, we had to wait another hour for our bus to arrive. The bus arrived half an hour early but two people were missing when the rep did his count so we had to wait half an hour before leaving, luckily this bus had A/C. We got to the airport and we were the only ones at the airport. The check in counter still issues manual boarding passes and luggage tags so it took some time to for them to write everything down. It was quite annoying but it made for less waiting time at the gate. There is a huge duty free shop and one restaurant that charges $20 for a hamburger and fries. Make sure you eat at the resort before you leave.

This is a beautiful resort but I feel like we didn't fully take advantage of what the resort has to offer because our room was in the main building. The entire resort is well-maintained and runs perfectly. I don't think that we would go back but if we did, we would make sure that we were staying in a villa instead of the main building. In my opinion, the transfer time is too long for me - the 90 minute bus ride and then the boat ride plus all the time in between handling the luggage. It was an experience being on a remote island but since we were not too impressed with the narrow beach, we are crossing this resort off of our to-go list and will probably stick to our favorite, Punta Cana, instead. Click here to check out more photos we took at the resort.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Two vacation this summer...oh my!!!

It's been over a month since we last posted something on this blog. I apologize but over the summer, we will have two new reviews to post up and I promise to write more lists and tips on all-inclusive travel.

We have two beach vacations coming up. One booked and confirmed for June to Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado in Samana, DR and another trip that still needs to be booked but are aiming for the end of August to Melia Cayo Santa Maria in Santa Clara, Cuba.  The second trip is an all-inclusive vacation I won from Transat Holidays.  It's a dream come true winning a trip that's all paid for. I have until April 2011 to book it but we decided to go sooner than later because of our work schedules.

I'll post some photos and information about each resort that we are looking forward to.  Do you have any beach vacations booked for the summer?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ACTIVITIES: Macao Surf Camp

First I would like to say that it has been a dream of mine to try surfing.  It took me a while to finally do it and I can proudly say that I've gone once a year since I've started, which is a total of 2 times =D.

As you may know, we visit Punta Cana A LOT, and after a while you got to do different things to make your trip stand out.  Just this past Christmas I did that.

I contacted Rafel Ferreras from Macao Surf Camp and I'm glad I did.  Honestly it was one of the best experiences I had.  After planning out the details over email, he picked us up form our hotel and drove us to Macao Beach.  Unfortunately the day I went the conditions were rather choppy and BIG.  For some reason every time I go surfing, the conditions always seem to have huge waves.  With that as a challenge, Rafael still was determined to get me going.  He has a lot of patience which is needed when teaching a newbie.  Honestly he was so driven to get me standing up it was awesome!

If you are going to Punta Cana and would like to get some private lessons, give Rafael a call.  Trust me you'll be happy you did.

Here's a little video compilation of my surfing in Macao Beach.

Wipeout! from openmiQ on Vimeo.

Here is a tip though, keep your schedule open.  Don't do what I did and schedule a day when you want to go.  Go when the conditions are good. Rafael will tell you when it will be good during that week.  You will have a better and easier time learning!

If you do decide to go here, please tell Rafael that Mike and Alysia from Toronto say HI!!

Also let me know how your experience was if you did go.  We want to hear all about it!!

Contact Information:

Macao Surf Camp
Rafel Ferreras
Address: Macao Beach
Bavaro Punta Cana
Dominican Republic
Tel: (809) 430-9017
For more reviews go to Macao Surf Camps Tripadvisor Review Page

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vacation Countdown Starts NOW

Beach Junkies has just booked their first vacation of the year.  This June, we are off to Samana, Dominican Republic staying at the Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado.

This resort has been on my list since I've seen it in the brochures. The main thing that I love about this is that unlike all the other all inclusive resorts, this one you have to take a boat to since it's on it's own island holding 3 different beaches.  I think it's awesome and I hope we have an awesome time!  Stay tuned for the review!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

ADVICE: Medicine bag

When away at an all-inclusive resorts, you may encounter all sorts of ailments.  Here is what I carry with us when we travel. I keep all this in a ziploc and bring it in my carry-on:
  • Advil - not only is it good for headaches and muscle pain, you can also take it when you get a sunburn. If you get a bad sunburn, immediately go inside. Take two Advils and a cold shower. Apply lots of aloe and take a nap with the A/C on full blast.
  • Benadryl - I discovered this trick when we stayed at Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya back in 2007. We met a great couple - Michelle and Carl.  While the men were snorkeling, Michelle noticed my heat rash. She went back to her room to get me Aerius. She instructed me to go back to my room for the rest of the afternoon, take the two antihistamines and a cold shower and relax in the comfort of an air-conditioned room. She is one smart cookie because this trick worked (this is the same formula as the Advil and sunburn trick).
  • Lanacane - this is great for instant relief for heat rash and bug bites.
  • Immodium - just in case you have a bad case of BG's (this was a term we came up with when we stayed in the DR with four other friends - BG's stand for bubble gut). Only take one Immodium when it's absolutely necessary.
  • Visine - Mr. Beach Junkie loves to snorkel and also swim in the ocean and pool. He tends to get red eyes after a day in the water and sun. A couple of drops of Visine does the trick right before we go out for dinner.
  • Hand sanitizer - with germs lingering around everywhere, you never know if you will get to wash your hands before eating any food. Always good to have sanitizer on hand.
  • Liquid bandage - water-soaked band-aids are never any fun so spray liquid bandage on your cut or scrape instead.
  • Band-aids - always good to have (just in case you get blisters from your flip flops).
  • Gravol - if you are prone to motion sickness, it's good to have these for the airplane and bus ride (maybe even for a boat ride).
  • After-Bite - another remedy for instant relief of bug bites.
  • Facial lotion and mist - I added these two items because you should hydrate your face on the plane and the facial mist is great for when you are feeling the heat on your face.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

We got new luggage!!!

Both Beach Junkies recently bought new luggage. It appears that we are buying new luggage after two vacations. Hopefully these two will stand the tossing they get from airport baggage handlers.

 His luggage - Gravis Trekker Roller Luggage

Her luggage - Heys Eco Orbis Spinners

FYI: Heys luggage is on sale at Sears until March 5, 2010. Most styles are up to 55% off. For example, I bought the 26" Heys Eco Orbis Spinners which is regularly $274.99 and I got it for $109.99.  If you are in the market for new luggage, I suggest you head out to your local Sears store to take advantage of this awesome sale!!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

MUSIC MONDAY: La Vida Es Un Carnaval

How could I forget this song...it's a staple for a beach vacation!!! La Vida es un carnaval by Celia Cruz.

Celia Cruz - La Vida Es Un Carnaval (Salsa) by hedyl

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ADVICE: Packing your luggage and splitting the contents

After reading our guest resort review in the previous post, it gave me an idea. Let me quote the line in her review that inspired this post:

"We waited on board for over an hour for the luggage trailers to bring our passengers' bags to the plane group by TINY group. The captain advised us that we had to take off due to flight crew schedule restrictions, while 29 of our bags were still somewhere in the airport's luggage system."

Here's a little tip and it's something that Beach Junkies practices for every trip they go on. If you have the luxury of traveling with a companion, we advise spliting what you are bringing between the two suitcases. This way, in case one suitcase gets lost, you will have some of your clothing and toiletries in the other luggage. We also started doing this when a friend told me about her trip to Cozumel with her mom. Her mom's luggage didn't make it to their destination but luckily my friend's luggage made it through. If they had split their stuff, the mom would have had some of her clothes to get her through the week. I would certainly suggest to either pack your bikini/boardshorts in your carry-on or wear it on the plane. It's the most important item you need to enjoy your vacation.