Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NYC Christmas

Here is a video montage on how we spent Christmas this past weekend in New York City.  We are currently working on a review of our AMAZING stay at Royalton Hotel and we will also cover all the restaurants we ate at. For now, please enjoy our  video.

A New York Christmas from BeachJunkies on Vimeo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Article from More magazine

Back in the beginning of the summer, we were contacted by Camilla Cornell for a phone interview. She came across our blog and wanted to ask us some questions, more specificially, she wanted to ask me questions because More magazine is a Canadian women's magazine. In the article, I am quoted on travel insurance and tipping.

Here is a scanned copy of the article. Sorry for the poor quality of scanning but I am sure you will still be able to read it. Please click each image to enlarge.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beach In The City

I have some exciting news! If you're a follower of our blog, you will know that we have gone to the Caribbean for Christmas twice in the last 3 years.  This year we thought we would change it up.  "A" has never been to New York City and I thought the most appropriate way to introduce her to NYC is during Christmas!  You've seen it in the movies, how wonderful and magical the city can be during the Holidays and this is what I want her to experience.

The most important decision of this trip was the hotel.  Location is everything in NYC.  Though they have a great public transit system, I find it best just to walk everywhere and experience what the city is all about. There is a certain energy you feel when you walk the streets of NYC and I wanted "A" to have that.

I want to share with you all how we decided on our hotel.  We found that it was a great way to narrow down your hotel options for a city vacation especially when there are so many wonderful hotels to choose from.
  • Create a personal google map - you can do this if you have a gmail account.  Simply go to maps, then create maps.
  • Mark all the sights, restaurants and shops you want to visit - this can give you an overview of how you want to plan your trip. It will also show you what the most convenient spot is to have your hotel.
  • Search hotels - on the map you will find the most convenient hotels that is within the vicinity of your plans.  Once you've done that, go on tripadvisor and do your research.
Our map for Christmas 2011
I know it seems simple enough but it really helped us on narrowing down our options.

Royalton Lobby
With all that said, I am excited to let all of you know that we will be staying at the Royalton New York! This hotel to me SCREAMS New York.  It's a wonderful boutique hotel located right in Midtown Manhattan, steps away from Times Square, Rockerfeller Center, Central Park and 5th Avenue.  To us this was the perfect hotel.  

When we go on city vacations (which is rare) we love staying at boutique hotels mainly because it feels more intimate. I also find the interior decor of these hotels are just par to none.  Royalton is part of the Morgans Hotel Group which also offers the Hudson, Mondrian and Morgans in NYC as well as a few other wonderful looking properties in LA, San Francisco, South Beach and London.

We booked a Standard Room with a soaking tub. What is a Royalton soaking tub you ask?  See below

Royalton Soaking Tub
Isn't that just awesome?  I figured this was a great feature to have.  I mean who would not want to soak in this wonderful tub after a long day of trekking around the city in Winter?  

Another perk that sold us on this hotel other than the location was Forty-Four. Honestly we cannot wait to eat here and of course, have a cocktail or two.

So please stay tuned for our review of the Royalton, Forty-Four and all the other restaurants and sites that we will visit during our Christmas vacation NYC.  

If you can't wait for our review?  Check out this great review of the Royalton by Oyster

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ADVICE: Room Categories

Often when you are searching for prices for an all-inclusive vacation, you come across something like this:

I will be using for an example. This is a very popular Canadian travel site and it's one we use often when we are searching for prices. This info for a seven nights stay gives you the price, taxes, hotel and flight details. As you can see, there is a tab [+] you can open up to view all options. When you click to expand, you will see this:

It gives you the option of different tour operators (which means different possible flight times) and the most important, the room categories. If you are not picky with your room, then you probably don't care about this. If you like to have a room close to the beach with an oceanview or perhaps you would like a swim-up room, you need to either view these options if you use iTravel as your search engine or speak with your travel agent. Most room categories go up starting in increments of $20 and can start you off with the most basic room and go all the way up to the Presidential Suite. The travel agent we use is very good at letting us know what our options are and the price for each category.

Another option is to book at the lowest room category and upgrade when you arrive at the resort. It may be cheaper but with most resorts, it's better to upgrade at the time of your booking. Some resorts will charge anywhere between $20 to $60 per night. Before you book, it might be a good idea to email the resort to see how much they will charge and then weight out your options to see where you will get a better deal.

With the last trip we went on to Now Larimar, we found that many guests were disappointed and even unhappy with the room category they booked. They were under the impression they would be getting a certain room and when they arrived, there was some kind of confusion. I personally don't think it's the resort's fault, I think it's the lack of information provided by the travel agent or when you book online. Remember that if you are particular about your room, please try and find out what your options are by either speaking with your travel agent or booking the right room category online.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Iberostar Ensenachos & Grand Village Suites

Browsing around I just realized that one of our favorite resorts Royal Hideaway Cayo Ensenachos is being re-branded into Iberostar Ensenachos and Iberostar Grand Village Suites.

Iberostar Ensenachos will still welcome guests aged 13 and over exclusively until Oct. 31, 2011.  After that it will be a family resort.  Iberostar Ensenachos Grand Village Suites will be a resort that welcomes guests aged 14 and over.

This property is one of our favorite resorts.  The best beach we have ever been to is at this resort and it is amazing that families now can come and experience the beauty and snorkeling of this resort.  I'm still glad that Iberostar will be making an Adults Only section since the atmostphere of this property is meant for romance, relaxation and serenity.

Congratulations Iberostar on getting such a wonderful property.

I wonder if we should go back and do our second re-branding post, similar to the one we did for Now Larimar back in June.  I'm very interested to know what changes Iberostar will do to this wonderful property and I hope that they take immense measures to make sure that the beauty of the beaches are kept in pristine condition.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Resort Tour Post: Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana

We had a chance to check out Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana during our stay at their sister resort next door, Now Larimar.  Secrets Royal beach is an adults only resort and shares the majority of the restaurants with Now Larimar.

Walking to Secrets Royal Beach takes literally a minute from Now Larimar. You can access the resort through a pathway just off the courtyard of Now Larimar or from the beach. Our first impressions of Secrets Royal Beach was "WOW! It's really quiet over here!". You don't hear the hustle and bustle of the resort next door and a quiet, relaxation atmosphere is definitely achieved. The courtyard at Royal Beach is a lot wider and in the evenings, is a great place to enjoy a drink and listen to some live music.

The pool is very different form the ones you see next door at Now Larimar. There is a main section where the pool bar is located and a lazy river goes through the middle of the resort.  The palapas are spaced out accordingly and really promotes personal space which is key at an adults only resort.  The only unfortunate thing is that the color of the pool isn't the sea green color that Now Larimar has.  We really love the look and feel of that pool but I'm guessing you can always go next door to use it.

We had a chance to eat lunch at La Riviera restaurant and the restaurant is decorated wonderfully.  It was nice to eat outside while taking in the great ocean breeze and a nice break form the sun.  You can also eat inside but the view is just too good to miss out on.  The selection of the food at La Riviera was a lot better than the Carnival Buffet at Now Larimar.  This was of course expected since it is a 5* resort compared to Now Larimar.  The food was fresh and I really suggest in getting some of the kiwi that they have there.  I swear it was one of the biggest I've ever seen and eaten.  It was awesome.

The beach atmosphere at Royal Beach is much quieter and they offer more relaxing activites such as Yoga and Stretching in the morning and for those that want something more exciting, they have Beach Volleyball twice a day.  I found that it was a bit more competitive than the other side since of course it was all adults that were playing.  The one thing that you don't get at Now Larimar that you do at Secrets Royal Beach is beach service.  They have waiters taking your drink order and bringing it right back to you, but really the beach bar is no more than a 2 min walk from where ever you are.  The left side of the beach is where the majority of the palapas are situated and the right side is where you will find a more open area where you can still get some shade from the abundance of palm trees that are located there.  There are hammocks as well towards the back of the beach if that's what you fancy.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience more so we can't comment on the rooms and the other restaurants since the week we were leaving, it wasn't offered out of Toronto.  You can always do an upgrade once you get there if you run into the same problem as us.  It's a great resort from what we saw and if it does get too quiet, you can always go next door to get more of a different vibe.

Below you can view the 360 videos we took of the resort.  Hopefully this will give future guests better idea of how the space looks.  We are finding these days that videos are a more reliable resource of how a property really is.

For more information on the resort, you can visit the Secrets Resorts website here or to see what other people think, you can visit here

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heartbreak In Jamaica

This is a short little video we put together to show the different animals you can see right off the beach of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton in Lucea, Jamaica.  Definitely one of the best snorkeling off the resort I've seen! Enjoy =)

Heartbreak in Jamaica from BeachJunkies on Vimeo.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Trip date: June 5-12, 2011
Location: Punta Cana, DR

Beach junkie rating (based on 5 stars):

Beach: 5 / food: 4.5 / room: 4 / pools: 5 / snorkeling: n/a

This is our 6th time to Punta Cana and our 2nd time to this resort. Our first time was back in 2009 for Christmas. Back then, it was NH Real Arena. Click here for our previous review. The re-branding of the resort took place May 2011. Everything is the same except the resort is now owned by AMResorts and the resort is now called Now Larimar. The staff remains the same but the restaurant names have changed. The Paradise Club is now the Preferred Club.

My husband and I went to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary. Before we left, we contacted the resort with various requests and all our emails were answered immediately.

We booked through our usual travel agent. The package was with Transat Holidays and the flight with CanJet. I don’t think we will ever want to flight with CanJet again. You cannot check in online, the seats are tight and the aisle is very narrow. Luckily we arrived early, customs was a breeze, our transfer to resort only made two prior drop offs and we were at our resort within a little over an hour of landing.

Check in
Check in was quick and swift.  We first went to the front desk but then got escorted to the Preferred Lounge to check in.  There we were greeted by Johanna who explained everything to us.  Our room wasn’t ready so we ate some snacks in the lounge and grabbed some drinks at the lobby bar and sat in the courtyard till our room was ready. We waited a total time of 30 minutes.

courtyard at Now Larimar
We are going to try to clarify this as much as we can since most of the disappointments and confusion with this resort starts off here.  We had booked a Preferred Club Suite Ocean View with our travel agent. According to the Now Larimar website, these suites feature:

    * Living room and a separate dining area
    * Two flat screen cable TV with remote control
    * Nespresso machine
    * Exterior Jacuzzi on the terrace
    * Two make up mirrors

On the website as well, it states that if you’ve booked this room category, you get the following inclusions with your suite:

    * Personalized check-in and check-out with concierge service
    * Preferred status and amenities
    * Private Preferred Club Lounge
    * Two private, Preferred Club pools
    * Upgraded bath amenities
    * Bathrooms with double sinks
    * Pillow menu
    * Complimentary wireless internet access in suite
    * Complimentary computer access in Preferred Club Lounge
    * Upgraded mini-bar and room service menu
    * Daily continental breakfast service in the lounge
    * Pool concierge & bar service
    * Afternoon hot and cold hors d’oeuvres; exquisite desserts & fine liquors in the lounge
    * Complimentary newspaper in room every day

Many guests we met including ourselves were expecting this since all of us had booked the highest possible category from our travel agents. Unfortunately we were wrong.

Ocean FRONT Suites
We had contacted Roberto at the resort to submit our room request and he cleared up right away that we did not book the rooms facing the ocean and the preferred pool.  Those rooms are the Ocean FRONT Suites, not Ocean View.

Ocean View Suites
 The Ocean View suites were located at the inside part of the resort facing the pools and are all located in the block closest to the beach.  The room view that we got was basically the same view we got 2 years prior but facing South this time instead of North. Instead of having an open concept room like last time, the bathtub with jets was outside in the balcony and the bathroom was enclosed.  The room didn’t have a separate dining area or two flat screen TV’s as stated on the website.

As far as the extra service inclusions, we did received the following

    * Personalized check-in and check-out with concierge service
    * Preferred status and amenities
    * Private Preferred Club Lounge
    * Two private, Preferred Club pools
    * Upgraded bath amenities
    * Bathrooms with double sinks
    * Complimentary wireless internet access in suite
    * Complimentary computer access in Preferred Club Lounge
    * Upgraded mini-bar
    * Daily continental breakfast service in the lounge
    * Pool concierge & bar service
    * Afternoon hot and cold hors d’oeuvres; exquisite desserts & fine liquors in the lounge

The Wireless Internet Access in suite: This is free and complimentary but ONLY if you ask for the user name and password from the concierge.  They also only give you an allotted usage time of 10 hours per ticket which seems to mysteriously go really fast. We used the internet for about 3 hours in total by our 3rd day and by then we got a message saying that we had reached our maximum time allowed. It was no problem getting another user name and password though.

Room Category Names: To stop the disappointment and confusion with future guests, NOW Larimar should consider changing the room category names.  The Ocean Front Suites should be called just that BUT instead of having Preferred Club Ocean View suites, they should rename them to Preferred Club Pool View suites.

During our stay it was clear that the Executive Ocean Front suites were getting all the inclusions and services that were stated on the website. All of the other Preferred Club Ocean View guests did not. Fortunately for us, we knew this coming in and our expectations were lowered but for the other guests that didn’t know, it was a real let down and I don’t blame them.

So the lesson learned, If you want the rooms that are facing the preferred pool and ocean, book an Ocean FRONT Room. To be honest, the preferred club ocean view rooms unfortunately weren't worth it. We could have just gotten a regular room with the same view and expected less which for some maybe more of an enjoyable vacation.

With all that said, our room was clean (no musty smell). We had the electronic safe, a well-stocked mini-bar, amenities in our bathroom, face towels, beach towels and plenty of bath towels. We also got bathrobes and slippers. Some things that were missing was a directory and room service menu. We got both of these by asking for them at the Preferred Club Lounge. We did notice that we were suppose to get turn down service but never received it (probably because we always had the do not disturb sign on when we went out for dinner). The balcony had two chairs and a table, as well as the outdoor jacuzzi. It was really nice to sit on the balcony at night and just read. The pools and building are really well lit at night.

Room 1456

Balcony of room 1456

View from room 1456 at night

Carnival International Café - which is located by the lobby was opened every day for breakfast (7:00 am to 11:00 am), lunch (12:30 pm to 3:00 pm) and dinner (6:30 pm to 10:45 pm). The various themed night are Dominican, Italian, Spanish, American, Gala, Mexican and Asian. We ate at the buffet at the Dominican, Spanish and Mexican night.

Breakfast Buffet sample

Dominican Night desserts
I highly suggest that you make an effort to eat at the buffet on the Dominican night to get a taste of their local cuisine (see photo below). After all, you are in their country so why not take it all in. We found that since the last time we were at this resort, the buffet has changed significantly with much more selections. If you can’t find something to eat, then maybe you are not cut out for all-inclusive resorts. What we enjoyed was that there was a section reserved for Preferred Club members at dinner.

Dominican Night Buffet sample

Asides from eating at the buffet, you can order room service for breakfast, lunch or dinner but note that the menu is very limited. When we ordered breakfast one morning, we got everything listed on the menu and it only took about 20 minutes.

Castaways & Barefoot Grill - both are located close to the main pool and beach. Castaways is open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm and has a small buffet of salads, pizza, paninis, burgers, fries, veggies, rice and some type of meat. They also have delicious, refreshing self-serve vanilla or chocolate ice cream in a cone or cup. Barefoot Grill (open from 12:00 to 3:00 pm) is found just outside of the restaurant and serves grilled red snapper(see photo below), pork chops, chicken and also paella. Right beside it is a fruit bar which offers freshly cut fruits such as papaya, mango, pineapple, etc. You can either eat in the restaurant or take it out to the pool, beach or your room. Please just be courteous and return your dishes and clean up after yourselves.

Grilled Red Snapper, Rice and Beans and Carrots

There are four a la carte restaurants for dinner- Mercure (French), Spice (Asian/Teppanyaki), Bluewater Grill (American) and Capers (Italian). There is always one of the restaurants closed each night. With the switch from NH Real Arena to Now Larimar, there is no longer a reservation system, it’s all first come, first serve. The busiest dinner times are between 7:00 to 8:00 pm.

We ate at the following:

Bluewater Grill - First off, I really think they should change the decor in this restaurant but the food was okay. We had ribeye steak, braised beef in Jack Daniel’s sauce (see photo below), chicken caesar salad, asparagus cream soup, an combo platter of chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas and potato skins. For dessert was cheesecake and a brownie.

Click the menu to expand
Braised Beef

Mercure - this French restaurant was our favorite. The decor is really nice and it’s an adults-only. We had traditional french onion soup, mushrooms & escargot, Atlantic salmon fillet (see photo below), Beef bourguignon, caramel chiboust and apple and cream strudel. We were also treated to a banana flambe.

Click the menu to expand
Atlantic Salmon
Spice - this Asian restaurant gives you the choice of Teppanyaki or a la carte. We went for the Teppanyaki tables with three other couples we met earlier that day. In order to be all seated together, one of the couples arrived at 7 pm to put our name in and we didn’t get seated until after 8 pm. no problem, we just grabbed a drink and waited. If you have had Teppanyaki before, it’s all the same. Fried rice and veggies, along with beef, chicken and shrimp. They serve susi, miso soup and tempura for an appetizer and then tempura ice cream for dessert. The night we ate there, the A/C wasn’t kicking in so we ate dinner fast and got out of there.

Lobster Dinner on the beach - this is a dinner which you have to pay extra for and can be booked with the concierge. On the menu is shrimp cocktail served in a pineapple, a whole lobster with veggies and mashed potatoes and chocolate cake with a fruit platter. You also get one bottle of wine and one bottle of champagne. We did this because we were celebrating our 5 year anniversary. I don't think we would typically do this. It was a lot of food to eat (even though it doesn't sound like it) but was an experience to eat on the beach at night. It wasn't very well lit but we did get to enjoy a lightning storm in the background. Thankfully it didn't rain. There were no bugs but it did get really quiet and one thing we regret was not taking our speakers and played some music while we ate.

Shrimp Coleslaw Salad
Whole lobster with mash potatoes and veggies

There are plenty of bars all over the resort. I won’t name them all but you will find one at the lobby, sports bar, the three pools, by the beach, basically, anywhere you turn, you are able to get a drink. Since we were staying at the Bavaro building, we mainly used the bar, Splash at the Preferred Club pool. Daniela, the server consistently went around taking everyone’s drink order. By the end of the week, she knew my drink order - a bottle of water with either a beer or slushie mojito. The lobby bar, Moments has an extensive drink menu and most of the bars, you can get a delicious cappuccino.

Bavaro Beach is always great!  We love this stretch of beach! It’s wide, and just awesome to be in.  During our stay, we didn’t have any problems getting a palapa on the beach.  There is enough shade and chairs to go around in this resort but you do have to get up early to get the premium spots.  The vendors to the left of the beach don’t bother you really.  They will call for you but a simple “No Gracias” can end that conversation quickly.  There also is a security guard who stands ALL DAY under a palapa and I wish someone would give him a chair.

The beach is lit at night and they play movies for both kids and adults on the beach. This is something new and we unfortunately didn't  take part since none of the movies that were playing interested us. They also showed some NHL and NBA games when we were there.

One suggestion to Now Larimar would be to have a section on the beach for preferred club guests and extend the pool concierge service that is offered to the beach as well. This we believe will make your guests feel like they really did pay for something extra.

Bavaro Beach
During our stay we only used both Preferred Club pools since we figured since we paid for it, we might as well use it.  There was never any lack of chairs around both of these pools and it was a great place just to sit down and read a book. I wish that they did place some umbrellas with some of the loungers since it does get really hot and uncomfortable when the sun is beating down on you. There really is no relief from the sun at these pools .

Preferred Club Pool on the Bavaro Side

The main pool was always rockin’.  Seemed like fun if you’re into that scene.  We enjoyed watching people from our balcony in that pool just enjoying themselves.

Main Pool

The quiet pool (which was the pool we mainly used our last stay) has the same vibe as the preferred pools but it as no bar or waiters to take your orders.

Quiet Pool

I spoke to one guest and he said that there wasn’t enough entertainment during the day. I can’t say I agree with him because we are the type who like to relax on the beach or poolside. Everyday the entertainment staff offers yoga, stretching, water aerobics, beach volleyball, water polo or volleyball and a special activity that changes daily by the pool (bed decorations, vegetable & fruit cravings, painting class, cocktail making, weaving palms, massage clinics and finger painting). In the evenings, you can either watch a show in the Larimar Plaza or Crystal threatre (Dancing Around the World, Galacaribe, White party, Circus of Dreams, the Michael Jackson show or Karaoke night) or listen to live music before the show. There is also movies on the beach or dancing at the Eclipse nightclub from 10:30 pm to 1:30 am. We don’t have kids but they do have the Explorer’s Club with a kids program from 9:30 am to 9:00 pm.

The staff at Now Larimar are so friendly and helpful. They always greet you and smile back when you greet them. Yes, most of them cannot speak English but they try their best to communicate with you. Some outstanding staff we would like to mention - Johanna at the Preferred Club Lounge, Mirabel at Castaways and Bluewater Grill, Luis at the concierge for our lobster dinner, Pasqual our server for the lobster dinner, Ricardo the photographer, the bellboys - Antonio and Henry, Jhonathan at the buffet in the Preferred section, Daniela at the Splash preferred pool bar and Moments lobby bar and Kelvin who was everywhere and served us many times. A special thanks to Tara, the social media coordinator at AMResorts and Roberto, the rooms division manager. They both made our stay a very welcoming one and gave us some perks as returning guests celebrating their anniversary.

Check out
Check out was quick and easy just like the check in.  They actually called us to see if we needed a bell boy to come and pick up our luggage which was nice. The one thing that I want to keep on mentioning is KEEP YOUR CHECK OUT TICKET to give to once you enter your bus.  You cannot leave the hotel with out this.  This is proof that you had checked out and cleared all outstanding business with the hotel. You don’t know how many times I see people scrambling for this ticket.  This is a process done at all the all inclusive resorts I’ve been to.

We spoke to many guests about Now Larimar and most people liked it except for the room category confusion, lack of daytime activities, no reservation policy and lack of selection in room service menu. As mentioned before, this was our second time to this resort. We personally still like the resort but would like to check out other resorts offered by AM Resorts. I will also still recommend this resort to people as it’s a small resort with a selection of restaurants, a gorgeous beach and nice pools. It’s a great first resort to go to since it’s not that big and you won’t spend half your day trying to finding everything. The one thing that I really like about this resort is how it’s laid out and how it looks at night all lit up. One of my favorite things to do was to read on the balcony at night.

The resort does have to iron out a few kinks such as being consistent in what is offered with preferred club rooms, the no reservation system for the a la carte restaurants has many guests waiting during prime time hours, the time share people need to stop calling the guest rooms and chasing people while they exit the buffet. Also the preferred club lounge should be returned to the section where all the rooms are located. It’s easier for the preferred guests to enjoy the premium liquors, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and desserts.

Shout out to all the wonderful people we met at Now Larimar and at the Punta Cana airport:
Mark, Sarah, Lewis and Aston from the UK - you made our last two days enjoyable with great conversation.
Eva and Andru from Montreal, Kat & Ryan and Rachel & Devon from Mississauga - it was a shame we met you too late but we did enjoy our dinner with you at Spice and our impromptu beach party.
Greg and Jane from New Jersey - thanks for hanging out with us at the pool after everyone left.
Shameer and Forzana from Richmond Hill - it's too bad we weren't staying at the same resort but with you guys, you made the plane ride and wait at the airport bearable.
Randy, Mercedes & Angelina from Brampton - you taught us the goodness of karma.

Still not convinced? See what others think here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ACTIVITIES: Macao Surf Camp - 2 years later

I Wanna Go Surfing from openmiQ on Vimeo

December 2009 was the first time I went to Macao Beach and had Macao Surf Camp take me for a lesson.  Back then there was absolutely nothing on the beach.  Rafael would come and pick you up in his car, surfboards strapped on the top of his car and off you went.

We recently just visited Macao Surf Camp last week and boy have things changed!  Business is booming! They now have a Shack on Macao Beach which is their headquarters, they have staff that give you one on one instruction in a group lesson, they have Jack the surfing dog that joins you during your lessons, they have a photographer that takes photos of you which you can purchase and burnt on CD! The vibe here now is awesome!  It has become an amazing community and it's great to watch something grow this much from the very beginning!  I'm so proud of Rafael and his partners for doing this! It's a big hit amongst tourists that come and want to surf.  It's just absolutely amazing what they have done and I can't say enough good things about them! If you really want to learn how to surf with a non intimidating atmosphere and friendly instructors, look no further than Macao Surf Camp.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Punta Cana Photography - Ricardo Vásquez

For our 5 year wedding anniversary, we decided to trash our wedding outfits..otherwise known as "Trash The Dress"

I had looked around for different photographers in Punta Cana to do this shoot for us and I decided that it would be better to use the in house photographer at Now Larimar since you have to pay extra for a day pass for other photographers to come in.

I contacted Ricardo Vásquez through email and we had set up a time to meet and discuss what we wanted.  He is a real friendly and professional guy!

Below is a slideshow I made of the photo session we had with Ricardo or "Richie". His work speaks for itself and if you are getting married at Now Larimar or Secrets Royal Beach, make sure you ask for him.  He is amazing!

Contact Information:
Ricardo Vásquez

5 Years... from openmiQ on Vimeo

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We're headed back

Beach Junkies is off again! This time we are going back to the beach where we got married, Bavaro Beach celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary! We will be returning to NH Real Arena which just got re-branded as NOW Larimar.  This is only the second time we have returned for a repeat visit to any resort. The only other time we did it was 5 years ago for our wedding.

The sister resort of NOW Larimar is Secrets Royal Beach which is right beside the resort. We were lucky enough to schedule a tour of the resort during our stay so we can at least show you all a new resort while visiting an old favorite.

We will also be visiting Raphael again at Macao Surf Camp! I've heard they've added a new camp hut which was under construction when we were there so we can't wait to see that! I hope I have a better performance than last time, which was absolutely dreadful lol!

So stay tuned for our first re-branding edition and first ever resort tour post!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RESORT REVIEW: Melia Cayo Santa Maria

Trip date: April 16-23, 2011  
Location: Cayo Santa Maria

Beach junkie rating (out of 5 stars)
Beach: 4.5 / food: 2 / room: 3.5 / pools: 4 / snorkeling: n/a

First of all, I have to mention that I won this trip a year ago. How? Through Metro News, a local Toronto paper. All I had to do was fill out a form online and that was that. This contest was sponsored by Transat Holidays and the resort itself, Melia Cayo Santa Maria. I was hesitant on booking this resort because of all the cats and outdated room photos I saw on Trip Advisor. But with my year deadline almost up to take this vacation and stress from work, I booked for my husband and I to go from April 16-23, 2011. The flight times were ridiculous - 5:25 pm out of Toronto (our flight was delayed until 6 pm) and we landed at 9:30 pm and by 10:30 we were on our way to the resort. If you have never flown into the Santa Clara airport, please note that all the resorts in Cayo Ensenachos and Cayo Santa Maria are close to 90 minutes away. Therefore we arrive finally at MCSM at midnight. We are not thrilled with this resort and all I can say is, thank goodness it was free.

Check in
The one good thing I liked was that after you land, go through immigration, security and collect your luggage, as soon as you give the tour rep your hotel voucher, they give you your room key and ask you to fill out the registration form on the bus. It was all so easy and I think it is because we were arriving so late. Once we arrive at the resort, we were on our own. Everyone got off the bus and didn’t really know what to do since there were no bellboys there to help us out.We had studied the map before leaving Toronto and knew where our room was. Before heading to our room, we passed by the 24 hour pool snack bar and got hamburger and French fries along with some beers.

Even though many reviews said that the room are outdated, I agree with them but I was pretty impressed with the room. It was clean, no rusty faucets, the toilet was clean and the bed sheets were, for the most part also clean (a few stains here and there). Two week prior to arriving, I emailed the resort (to an email address recommended by many Trip Advisor members), requesting for an oceanview room (with my contest winning, my contact at Transat Holidays graciously upgraded us to an oceanview room) in building 17 on the second floor with a king size bed (preferably room 1725). When we received our room key, I was relieved and surprised we got room 1722. I say this because in the Trip Advisor forums, most members said they received a email confirmation saying their request would be fulfilled. So my request was fulfilled except for we had two double beds instead of a king. I will share with you a little hint when booking rooms in most resort in the Cayos, all second floors rooms are two double beds pushed together and the king size beds are on the first floor. You have to pick your battles and decide what you want more, the second floor or a king bed. In my opinion, go with the second floor (you can avoid ants, cat fighting outside your balcony and other insects coming into your room).

In the room you have your beach towels, a day bed, coffee table, single chair, bed with mosquito netting, two very comfy body pillows and square pillows, a desk, TV, mini-bar (filled with one large bottle of water, one beer, one cola and one orange pop), safe in your closet, ironing board and iron, hair dryer…all your standard room amenities.

Speaking of the mini-bar, it took an arm and a leg to get it re-filled. At first we thought it wasn't getting filled because after our room was cleaned, we would leave on the "do not disturb" sign, so the next couple of days we didn't put on the sign and waited to see if the guys would come to re-stock. No such luck. Water is treated like gold here. You must save the first bottle you receive and get it re-filled at one of the bars. There is no way that you can get a new bottle at the bars, you must get it through the guys who restocked the mini-bars. I called the guest service line (which I think was front desk) and asked them to send the guy with water. No luck again. So we went to our tour rep and he said that we had to talk to customer service. After waiting in line to speak to the customer service person, he said he would send someone. I told him we really needed water and if he could please just give us a bottle (mind you, there was a truck right beside his desk filled with water bottles). I looked over to it and he said, "I shouldn't be stealing it but I will do it for you". I swear it's like pulling teeth to get water. Finally on our second last day, the guys came twice to stock our fridge. Just a heads up to keep your bottles to get re-filled otherwise, you may be out of luck.

Our maid, whose name I never got was very nice and had our room cleaned by 1 pm almost every day. She left us some great towel and blanket art. When we ran into her one day, she thanked us for the little gifts we left for her (toothpaste, lotion, makeup, along with money).

The beds were somewhat hard, a bedspring dug into my hip while I slept but the pillow definitely made up for it. The one thing that I didn’t like in our room was that the balcony door didn’t lock (thank goodness we were on the 2nd floor) and by mid-week, we couldn’t even open it, it would jam and we were too nervous if we opened it, we wouldn’t be able to shut it. We just had to admire our oceanview from the inside.

I must start off by saying that we are NOT picky eaters. We will eat anything but we need to be able to have something to choose from. We found the resort lack tremendously on variety.  I can make due on meat and veggies with rice alone but I could never find rice so I settled for pizza and fries every day for lunch.

Breakfast - you can eat at the buffet from 7-10 am or at the poolside restaurant from 9 am to 12 noon. We ate at the buffet on our first day. I read about these delicious omelettes and french toast but the omelette line was too long and the French toast was no where to be found. I did find these delicious mini donuts. I lost my appetite this morning while sitting by the window and seeing three feral cats hanging out by the door begging and waiting for food. What grosses me out is the amount of people who pet these wild cats before heading into the restaurant and who in turn use their hands to pick up food due to the lack of tongs and serving spoons. We only went back one other day, the other days we ate at the poolside restaurant and got a fried egg and toast every morning.

Lunch - We ate at the buffet and again didn’t find much selection. I noticed that they serve the featured pasta that was served the night before. We ate twice at the beach restaurant but we took the paella, sausage and roasted chicken with BBQ sauce to our room because the place was surrounded by cats begging for food. We heard that at dinner (the seafood restaurant) and lunch, the cats stare at you and sometimes even jump up on the chairs and tables looking for food. So instead of dealing with that, we ate at the poolside restaurant for most days. On the menu, are sandwiches, burgers, hot dog, french fries and tons of pizza.

Dinner - we ate twice at the buffet, on our first night and Tuesday. The buffet is open from 7-10 pm. Thank goodness we only were having 6 dinners at MCSM and four of them at a la cartes. We ate at the Japanese and French restaurants and twice at the Mediterranean one.

"El Portulano" (Mediterranean) - Both the red and white wine is pretty good here, as in all a la carte restaurants. We went to this restaurant twice since we opted to not eat at the Seafood restaurant because of the cats. Portions are small so don't go there hungry. Some dishes we ate were smoked salmon appetizer, rice with squid ink, grilled vegetable appetizer, cod fillet, styled lamb, pork tenderloin with orange, gazpacho and various desserts.

"Sakura" (Japanese) - Go to this place hungry as you will get a lot to eat. First you get cold noodles with pickled cucumbers, then a sushi and tempura appetizer and then your teppanyaki meal (beef, chicken, shrimp and fish, along with fried rice and vegetables). For dessert was ice cream. It's all a bit salty.

"Le Bistro" (French) - This was our favorite restaurant, mainly because of the atmosphere. The food was okay but better than the other two. Some of the dishes we had - smoked salmon appetizer, shrimp cocktail (shrimp with loads of mayo), lobster bisque and lobster with chicken (chicken was dry and there was very little rice). I can't remember what we had for dessert but I was all excited that they chocolate mousse but when I went to order it, they said they didn't have it. 

There are a couple bars around the resort. A 24 hour lobby bar and pool bar, one swim up bar, one beach bar and a nice bar between the Japanese and French restaurants. We drank beer the majority of the time, had wine with dinner and drank a lime slushie when we needed something non-alcoholic. We attempted to get a mojito from the beach bar and it tasted like crap. Considering Cuba is known for the mojito, they sure don’t make a good one. The best was in Jamaica - who would have thought?! Elvis, the bar staff who goes around the pool taking drink ordered was great. He remembered everyone’s drink, so you never had to ask him again.

The beach at Cayo Santa Maria is absolutely wonderful. If you’re lucky enough to experience a green flag day while at the resort, you will get to see the Caribbean at its best! The water is absolutely clear and the color of the ocean is to die for. On yellow and red flag days, you really get to see the power of the ocean.  It’s still beautiful to look at, the waves get pretty big and is fun to play in. The beach does get really windy on these days and if you are near the lip of the sand bank, you will get sand blasted.

The stretch of beach at Melia Cayo Santa Maria is broken up into 2 parts, the East side of the resort has 2 rows of palapas and is where the beach volleyball court is. You will also see the wedding gazebo on this side. The West side of the beach has one row of palapas and a higher sand bank to climb down on to get to the ocean.  The Beach Bar is right of the middle pathway of the beach.

The week we were there (and we are only speaking for the week we were there) it was impossible for us to find a palapa. One of the days, we couldn’t even  find a couple of loungers on the beach.  Even broken ones! Loungers and shade were pretty much spoken for by 6am on the beach. You can get shade and loungers on the beach later on in the afternoon when everyone else was headed back to the pool but that’s usually when the wind picks up.

You can snorkel at Cayo Santa Maria. You will have to walk west towards the Sol Resort and just past the nude beach is where you can snorkel.  We didn’t venture out that far so I cannot speak of the quality of the snorkeling but from people we met, they said it was just okay.

There are two big pools in the resort and one by the spa but you need to book an appointment with the spa to get their water treatment if you want to use that pool. If you are with Transat Holidays, you get one free hour to use the spa facilities (jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and spa pool). We were thinking of doing this when we couldn’t find any seats on the beach or pool but opted not too. The pool is really cold but very refreshing on those hot days. One thing that bothered me about the pool is that the washrooms near the pool side restaurant are disgusting. Out of the three stalls, only two were working but both doors didn't lock. The floor was filthy and there was no soap.

We didn’t watch any shows even though we had late dinners and finished around 9:30-10:00 pm. Our entertainment was mainly watching movies on TV and reality shows on VH1. We came to relax so we went to bed early and slept in. The animation team does a lot of activities poolside - tai chi, merengue ans salsa lessons and scuba lessons. They also have aerobics in the pool in the morning.  The only think I didn’t like was them yelling on the mic, “WAKE EVERYONE, WAKE UP! I get doing it in the afternoon but in the morning when everyone is reading or sleeping is not ideal. They do a great job in entertaining all the guests.

Maybe it was the fact that the resort seemed to be at full capacity (because we went during the Easter holiday) or the rumoured fact that it was going to be the beginning of low season so staff were getting their pink slips but I found the staff not to be so great. Yes, they are hard-working and I appreciate that . We are on vacation and they are waiting on us hand and foot but they didn’t seem all so friendly. Especially the wait staff at the buffet. They were definitely understaffed. The servers at the pool restaurant were great and same with our maid. Raul, the tour rep gave a great  intro to the resort and was quite funny but I didn't find him all too helpful. We tipped when tips were deserved but we also left a tip even if we felt it wasn’t deserved. These people work hard to please us and make our vacation wonderful even if they are miserable.

Check out
Our flight on the way home was at 10:25 pm but luckily our flight arrived early so we left at 10 pm.  Check out is at noon. The day before we paid $35 CUC for late check out at 4 pm. We were able to use our beach towels and soak up the sun until going back to our room to shower. The bus picked us up at 6 pm on the dot. The bus ride was uneventful was we have seen the cities on the way to the airport the last time in 2009. The rep did a wonderful job giving us tidbits about the causeway and the cities we passed through on the way to the Santa Clara airport. Check immigration and security  at the airport was a breeze. Save some CUC’s if you want to buy some alcohol at the duty free shop and if you want to grab something to eat before you board.

The resort was okay. Nothing exciting, we have been to better in general and in the area. The trip was free so we can’t complain. We talked to a lot of people who were on our flight and some who arrive on the flight the day before us. We came to the conclusion that if this is your first time in Cuba or your first time to an all-inclusive resort, you will enjoy this resort but if not, I hope you paid very little to stay at MCSM. A special shout to the lovely people we met - Pam & her family from Richmond Hill, Barry or Gary from Ottawa, Jocelyn & Jason from Niagara Falls, Serena & Graham from Toronto, Glen & Lynn from Brampton and Benjamin & Margaret from Toronto - they made our trip much more enjoyable.

Still not convinced? See what others think here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

RESORT REVIEW (Guest Blogger): Beaches Turks & Caicos

**Beach Junkies Note:  Our friend Kat was so thrilled with her stay in Turks &Caicos so I asked her to write up a review for us (seeing that us Beach Junkies have not been to this island). All photos used in this post belong to Kat**

Trip Date: April 9-16, 2011
Location: Turks & Caicos

Kat's Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 5 / Rooms: 3.5 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: N/A

The Beaches Resort in Turks and Caicos caters to kids and adults. It's a beautiful resort with 3 large "villages" - Italian (newest), French and Caribbean; all within walking distance of each other. There are 16 restaurants and dozens of pools with a large water park for adults and kids. 

Beaches is the only resort that provides complementary shuttle service to/from the airport and they're very efficient; I was expecting to wait around for at least 30mins while they got themselves organized but the minute we were outside with our luggage, we were whisked away into the first shuttle and taken to our room. Beaches is a cashless resort so everything that's outside of the all-inclusive plan gets charged to your room. They don't accept tips either (?!) so the cash we had remained in the room safe for the entire trip. 

Because this resort is kid-friendly, they have tons of kids activities; some which requires an additional fee to be paid. The character breakfast (you dine with Elmo and friends - totally worth it) or the sesame street cruise are extra but activities like baking cookies with Cookie Monster (Wednesdays at 3pm), Elmo's birthday party (once a week) and the Sesame Street camp (open daily - daycare for kids and they get to frolick around with the characters) are all free.

Check in
I think check-in is 3pm but we arrived late and our room was already ready.  I'm not sure why but we had private concierge service so they brought our luggage to our room

We stayed in the Caribbean village in a 1bdrm suite. It was a decent room but I expected more since I paid through the teeth for this trip. However, it was clean, the staff was excellent and we had a great terrace that stretched from the sliding door in the bedroom to the main area. The Caribbean Village is the older of the 3 villages and the most quiet and we booked this area for that very reason since our daughter goes to bed around 8pm. 

The food was awesome. There were 16 restaurants scattered around the resort and you could walk into every one. Some were adults-only but most of them were kid-friendly. They had different 'theme' nights; my favorite was Mario's restaurant - it was huge and the food was really good.

They were pretty good.  The drinks were good and the service was quick.

Fantastic; by far, the most beautiful beach aside from the beaches of anguilla. The water was crystalline blue so those pictures you see on the internet of the turks beaches/ocean are that gorgeous.  I LOVED the beach - it had fine, white, powder sand and the water was so refreshing. 

Beaches resort had tons of pools; they even had a water park with slides and everything. The French village had a children's water park/splash pad that our daughter loved with a lazy river and giant slides for adults. Lots of swim-up bars, great (fake) caves for the kids to play in.

Awesome entertainment for kids.  Every evening, they held a Sesame Street show (free!) or some kid of talent show/dance off, a Sesame Street parade through the entire resort and at the end of the week, they held a beach party complete with a show, amazing local food, lighting, the whole works. It was awesome.

For the most part, the staff was so incredibly nice. The ladies at the bar near our pool were sort of crusty but all the other staff were so nice and friendly.

Check out
Checkout wasn't bad. Because we had private concierge service, we didn't have to wait in line. They have an 11am checkout but our flight wasn't until 715pm!  Luckily, we reserved on of the private cabanas so we chilled out by the pool until we had to leave. They provide a departure lounge where you can shower/get ready for your flight and they also serve refreshments/snacks while you wait for your (complimentary) shuttle to the airport.

Definitely a 10.  We loved it so much, we're planning on going back there next year!