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