Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Back we go again...

This Sunday, we will be off to Punta Cana again for the 7th time.  We will be saying at the Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana attending a friend's wedding.

First impressions of this hotel have been good so far.  Our emails about room requests and other questions have been promptly responded to, which is a good sign from our point of view.  Reviews have been all over the place but that is to be expected with a resort of this size.  We will be going into this trip with no expectations so that we can deliver a non-bias review to our readers.  

We will be live tweeting our experiences while we are at the resort (wifi pending).  Follow us at @BeachJunkies on twitter to get our updates.

Once we are back we will try to post our review up as fast as we can but being that it is the holidays, it may take longer than usual.

Happy Holidays to all our followers! We wish you a safe and wonderful holiday season and all the best to you and your loved ones in 2013.
-Beach Junkies

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Karisma in Jamaica

We have some exciting news to share with you all!  Karisma Hotels which owns various gourmet all inclusive properties in Mexico has now decided to expand its reach to the 7 mile beach of Jamaica!  This will be the first Gourmet Inclusive resort outside of Mexico. 

Since our first visit in 2010, we have fallen in love with this country! The only thing that has been lacking in our opinion is a new experience.  With the gourmet all inclusive service coming, it will be a ground breaking service offered in the now crowded all-inclusive scene in Jamaica.  Our hope is that the menu will highlight the amazing local cuisine that Jamaica has to offer. 

Most of the established all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica are in desperate need of a makeover.  A multi-million U.S. dollar renovation is planned for Seashore Bay Beach Resort, after which it will be rebranded an Azul Hotel.  Following a 60 day transition period, the 128-room Seashore Bay Beach Resort will operate as an all-inclusive property for couples, singles and families. 

It will be ready to welcome guests as of December 1, 2012.  Guests will enjoy an all-inclusive experience with nine categories of rooms and suites with garden and ocean views, two pools, three specialty restaurants, a spa, various activities and entertainment, and a kid’s club.

Reservations can be booked through a preferred wholesaler, or by calling 800-726-3207 (international) or 876-957-5100 (local), or by visiting   Rates start at $181 per person, per night based on double occupancy, which represents a grand opening savings of 53 percent.  Children ages 3- 12 years old are $32 per night; children under three years old are free.

For more information, you can visit the Seashore Bay Resort Facebook page here

Monday, July 9, 2012

RESORT REVIEW: Royal Hideaway Playacar

Trip date: June 7-14, 2012
Location: Playa del Carmen, MX

Beach Junkie rating (based on 5 stars):

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

This resort was never really on our radar but after going to so many resorts through the years, we had to up our choices because we won't settle for less. This trip was for our 6th anniversary and we wanted to stay at a resort that was adults-only and a bit classier than most resorts. After much researching on adults-only resorts, we both settled on this one. We decided we wanted to go to Royal Playacar back in February and did some serious price watching. When we finally saw it for $1500 all in with Air Canada Vacations, we knew that this was the best price (only to find out it dropped $400 per person exactly a week later). At either price, it was still a great price for what we would be getting. Everyone we spoke to at the resort was either a returning guest or was adamant about becoming a returning guest. This review will be an easy but difficult one to write because we want to do it justice. This is THE BEST resort we have ever been to and we want the review to be written perfectly so it will convince you that it's a resort you MUST go to. We can't say enough wonderful things about the resort and basically do not have anything bad to say about it.

But the flight there, that's a different story. It had to be the worst flight ever and by no means the airline's fault. We experienced horrific turbulence and a 50 foot drop. Needless to say, we were glad when we landed. The Cancun airport was a bit of a mess and there was a lot of lining up but once we were on the shuttle bus to the Royal Hideaway Playacar ("RHP"), we began our vacation. After 45 minutes, we arrived to paradise.

Check in
We arrived at 1:30 pm and the bellman took our luggage and directed us to the reception area where we were seated at a desk and greet with a glass of sparkling wine and a cold towel. We were given a map and a quick briefing about the resort. We had made a room request and our dinner reservations for the first four nights in advance. Our room key was handed to the bellman and were told to check in with our concierge at 3:00 pm as our room would be ready then. We made our way to the beach restaurant, The Deck in less than a minute (this resort is tiny, only 200 rooms and the walk from the lobby to the beach is under two minutes).

We were lucky to have our room request accommodated. We requested a top floor with a king bed in building 27 or 31. After lunch we checked in with our concierge, Carolina and she directed us to room 2723. The room was filled with an aromatic scent of oranges. What a beautiful room! The washroom is huge with a tub, stand up shower, two sinks, toilet area and a large walk in closet with an electronic safe. The room has a desk, chair, coffeemaker, fridge (stocked with water, soft drinks and beer), a DVD/CD player that is also a iPod/iPhone docking station and a flat screen TV. I will point out some cool features about the room:
  • Etro products - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, bath foam, and soap
  • Tons of towels
  • Two luggage racks
  • Bathrobes and slippers
  • Clothes line in the bathtub
  • Turn down service with mint chocolate on your pillows, the bed prepared for you to sleep, lights turned down, refresh of towels
  • Washcloths
  • Mini water stocked with bottled water (we requested this)
  • Daily Royal Journal (to find out what restaurants are open and what guests are celebrating a special occasion)
  • 24 hour room service 
  • The electronic safe does fit a iPad (we read on a review that an iPad won't fit, they are wrong)
During our stay our room was spotless. We really enjoyed the turn down service. The resort was kind enough to decorate our room with balloons and left a dessert plate as we were celebrating our anniversary. We were so impressed by this.

In each villa, you have a dedicated concierge who will take care of anything you need, from making your dinner reservations to special requests for your room to taking care of your breakfast order, luggage pick up and wake up call for your departure.

Even though it's a small resort, there are a variety of restaurants to choose from. During high season, Spices and Las Ventanas is open for breakfast. Spices offers a buffet style breakfast and Las Ventanas offers an a la carte menu. For lunch, The Deck has an extensive menu while Spices serves a Mexican fare (sadly, we never made it here for lunch). For dinner, you need reservations, which can be made ahead of time or with your concierge. The restaurants are Spices (Mexican), Palazzo (Italian), Las Ventanas (their signature restaurant), Azia (Asian), The Grill (Grilled Specialties) and Club Royal (a theatre style dinner). All restaurants are a la carte and take about two hours because they serve 5-6 courses. Everything we ate was delicious and did not have one bad experience. What I liked was when you are greeted by the server, they always ask you if you have any food allergies and if you do, they will accommodate it. All servers are polite and will take care of you. Anything you want, they will do for you. An example of the quality of service you will get, they have a name card on your table and the servers will address you as Mr. & Mrs. [last name]. Please note that for dinner, men must be wearing a collared shirt, long pants (jeans are allowed at The Grill and Spices) and close toe shoes. People do dress up here.

Spices (for breakfast) - If you can't find something to eat here for breakfast, then you are truly a picky eater. Items offered: made to order omelets (you can even get an egg white omelet), french toast, pancakes, waffles, smoked salmon, cold cuts and cheese, pastries (mini cinnamon buns and crossiants are delish), mimosas, bacon, sausages, and different items each day like mushroom stuffed potatoes, Spanish omelet, vegetables, chicken mole, there are just too many things to mention.

Las Ventanas (for breakfast) - Unfortunately, we had no idea that they would close down the restaurant midway through our stay so we missed out. If we had known, we would have check it out on our first couple of days.

The Deck (for lunch) - As soon as we arrived at the resort, we were directed to grab some lunch. We were in awe as we sat down on their deck. You are treated to a beautiful view of the beach and pool. There's a lovely breeze too. The menu that they offer is so big that throughout our seven day stay, we weren't able to try out everything. Some of the things we did order: Shrimp cocktails, Shrimp burritos, different kinds of ceviche, fish & chips, beach burger (and 4 other kinds of burgers), sweet potato fries, marlin tacos, baja fish tacos, buffalo wings, caprese salad, calamari, onion rings, several pizzas - this is just a fraction of what is on the menu. For dessert, they have coconut ice cream with an oatmeal raisin cookie. This was a huge favorite!

Spices (for lunch) - We never made it. We really enjoyed eating on the deck, or getting our food delivered pool or beach side.

Club Royal - This theatre style dinner is only offered on Thursdays and Sundays. Since we arrived on Thursday, we decided to celebrate our anniversary with dinner and show. Because the resort knew we were celebrating, they sent over a bottle of sparkling wine and gave us a really nice table. Because the dinner is for the masses, it's a fixed menu - salad, soup, and entree choice of beef or salmon and dessert. Thursday night is the Mexican show, it was a treat to see the dances from the various regions of Mexico. Although we enjoyed the show, the dinner was a bit of a disappointment but it's something that you need to experience. When we return to RHP, we will skip out on this because all the other restaurants have so many dishes we want to try.

Spices - Out of all the restaurants (not including Club Royal), this was our least favorite. I don't know if it's because our entree took over 20 minutes to come out from the kitchen or if we had higher expectations for it being a Mexican restaurant.  The bar here makes different kinds of margaritas, if you are daring, try the tamarind.

Azia - This was our favorite restaurant, so we ate here twice. We are big sushi fans and the sushi here is pretty comparable for Mexico. You can eat from the teppaniyaki tables and enjoy a show, or you can order a la carte (you can still order the teppaniyaki but it won't be cooked in front of you). If sushi and teppanyaki are not your thing, there are other cuisines on the menu - Japanese, Thai and Chinese. Dishes to try: tempura, tuna sushi tempura and any of the nigiri sushi. Unforunately, we ate too much sushi and was not able to order dessert. A little tip - if you like Sapporo when eating Asian food, they serve the beer. We only realized it once we finished eating.

Las Ventanas - This is our second favorite restaurant. The decor has a Miami feel to it. When you look at the menu, it's a bit confusing as they list everything in the dish, you might question why two things would be put together but trust the chef, he knows what he is doing and the flavours of the dishes blend so well together. Beautiful presentation and expectional service. Remember to take your time eating to enjoy it and save room for dessert. If we could go back in time, we would have eaten here twice instead of going to Club Royal. Dishes to try: gnocchi, essence of tomato with lamb ravoli, lamb chops and definitely the desserts.

Palazzo - If you eat here, make sure you go hungry as the portions here are larger than the other restaurants. When we go to an all-inclusive, we never opt to eat at the Italian a la carte. We are sure glad we decide to eat at Palazzo. The food was excellent, the only thing is, we ordered an appetizer, salad, pasta dish and an entree. We were stuffed and couldn't finish our main dish. Dishes to try: gnocchi, black truffle pasta and osso bucco. We would eat here twice and skip out on Spices. There are so much delicious choice on the menu that you would have to come back.

The Grill - This steakhouse has so many options to eat - steak, fish, pork chops, sausage, etc. The food was okay but the view and ambience make up for it. The Grill is basically The Deck all done up with white linens and nice lighting. You also get the nice breeze from the ocean. Dishes to try: scallops and mushrooms and Argentinean grill for 2. A little tip - arrive a little early before your reservation and have a drink at the bar. You can even sit by the pool after dinner with a cocktail.

Bar Allergia - This bar would be considered the main bar. From 9:30 pm to 1:00 am, they have live entertainment and it changes nightly, anywhere from a jazz duo, karaoke, crazy bingo, trio latino, pop duo, crazy trivia game and international duo.

Piano Bar - We only discovered it on our last night. It's right beside Las Ventanas, therefore it's only open when the restaurant is open. They have a classier cocktail menu and a lot more seating than inside of Bar Allergia. We wished that we knew about this bar earlier in the week so we could have had a drink here first before heading to dinner.

High Tea - This is unique feature of RHP, not many resorts offer this and sadly, we missed out. High tea is served been 4-6 pm in the main lobby.

As you may have read in other reviews, the beach at Royal Hideaway Playacar is indeed back.  If you look at pictures from a few years back, you will see how much has been added to this beach.  It is amazing what they've done.  The week we were there, the ocean was flagged yellow to red most of the time but playing in those waves was amazing.  If you know how to body surf, you'll definitely have some fun.

There are lots of beach loungers and beach pods available. I would suggest just asking one of the beach attendants to help you with the beach pods at first cause as simple as it is to set up, if you don't know what you're doing, you can be there for quite a long time as I saw some couples really struggling with this. It's quite funny because once you see how it's done, it's as easy as 1 + 1.  Plenty of tree shade available  towards the back of the beach and it provides a nice cool breezy spot for you to relax or take a nap in. 

If you're too lazy to walk to the bar, the resort does provide beach service where you can order drinks and food (grab a green flag by the shower and just stick it in the sand when you want service).  Just keep in mind that during low season, the resort does cut the staff down so your wait times can vary.  Patience is key.

There are six pools in total at this resort. The main infinity pool is the closest to the beach.  Spots here are at a premium and it's the best view out of all the 5 pools.  We did notice towards the end of our stay that people started to save their spots with towels at this pool.  You'll see why though, the view is just awesome. During your stay, you might get a special treat of a cold towel and fruit kebabs in the morning and don't forget the ice cream cart that comes by the pool around 3 pm. The second pool is directly behind the infinity pool.  It's not as nice as the infinity pool but does provide what you need.  Loungers as well are readily available around this pool but keep in mind that it does get busy towards the weekend.

If you're looking for more of an intimate feel, there are four smaller pools through out the property that may give you the peace and quiet you're looking for.  The spa pool is located closest to the lobby and is directly beside the gym and spa.  An elevated second pool with jacuzzi is located just past Azia. You will also see the third pool just behind this one.  Finally the last pool with jacuzzi is located just before you reach the clearing to the main pool and beach. We love the feel of these pools but wished that they were cleaned more often.  Some of them had alot of debris in it such as feathers, bugs, leaves, seeds which we understand comes with having an outdoor pool but let's be honest, who wants to swim in a pool with all that stuff floating all around it. Keep in mind that the smaller pools do not have anyone to attend to you so if you are planning to stay there for the afternoon or morning, grab a few bottle of waters from the bar or some drinks if you like.

The entertainment is very minimal here at the resort. There are things to do but if you do not wish to participate, the entertainment staff won't be in your face. There is water aerobics in the pool everyday at noon, yoga in the morning and in the afternoon around 4 pm, there is a golf game, cooking class, spanish lessons, towel art...just to name a few. On some nights at Bar Allegria, there is Bingo, Karaoke or trivia game but that's about it. There is also the dinner theatre twice a week that you need to make reservations for but other than that, that's about it. If you are in the mood to party, jump around and be obnoxious, you maybe need to check out some other resorts. The entertainment team does their best to keep people busy (well, those who want to stay busy) but everyone I saw were either people watching on the beach or reading by the pool. The resort has a gym and spa, which we didn't use but we saw lots of guests using the gym. The two couples we met both got massages and raved about it.

The staff at RHP are by far the best team of employees we have ever some across. They are always working hard but have a big smile on their face. They are always willing to please and will bend over backwards for you. They remember your name, what you like to eat and drink and will always tell you "It's a pleasure" when you ask them for something. Juliette and Roxy at the reception did a great job checking us in and out  and ensuring that we had our first few reservations in place. Carolina, our concierge took care of us the whole week. Laura, Veronica and Norma, the lovely hostesses made sure we had the best table and that we always left the restaurant full. Alberto, Luis & Armando at The Deck kept the food and drinks coming. They made sure we were never without a drink in our hands. Isis at Spices who always made our green tea to go for breakfast. Jessie, Christopher, Pierre and Fernando and the lead guy of the entertainment team (we forgot his name), these guys work hard to entertain the guest from morning until night. There are so many others that helped us and made our stay so memorable but I do have to give a big thanks to Sarah-Kim Grune who helped us before we arrived at the resort with all the questions we had.

Check out
Luckily, we caught our concierge before she left for the day. We were able to arrange for a wake up call, luggage pick up and also for breakfast to be delivered to our room early in the morning. Our pick up time was 8:20 am so we were able to eat before heading to the airport. Check out was quite simple but we were definitely upset to be leaving.

We could go on and on forever about this place. It's heaven and paradise all wrapped into one. This is the best resort all around that we have been to. It's well-kept, excellent quality of food and drinks and has wonderful staff. We were lucky that we got a great deal but would definitely spend the regular price to come back because we know it's worth it. I am truly surprised that more people don't choose this place, instead they always go for the brand names and cookie-cutter resorts. It's going to be very hard to find another resort that will top the royal service we got here.

Lastly, our vacation would not be complete without meeting people who make our days more enjoyable. Christin & Jacob from Detroit, it's too bad we met you later in your stay but we had a great time shutting down Bar Allegria with you that one night and spending our last day baking in the sun poolside. Jill & Tim from New Jersey, we hope we didn't ruin your holiday away from the kids. You taught us the art of afternoon napping and waking up to late afternoon drinking while watching the sun go down. We had a blast with you guys and if you ever decide to go back to RHP, give us a holler, we will be there for sure!

Still not convinced? See what others think here

Monday, June 25, 2012

Attention wedding planners!!!

Karisma Hotels is running a wedding designer's contest. They are looking for wedding planners & designers, as well as event planners to create a wedding ceremony and reception setup. You could be one of seven winners of a four night Gourmet Inclusive vacation for two including a $500 air credit. The contest ends on July 15, 2012.  For more details, click here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back from Royal Hideaway Playacar

We are back from Royal Hideaway Playacar. This adults-only, all-inclusive resort is truly paradise. Stay tuned for a full review of our week's stay at this fabulous place. Above is a little snippet of our photos.  If you happen to see a great deal for this resort, don't hesitate, book now. Trust us, you won't regret it and you can thank us later.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beach Junkies on Social Media

You can now find Beach Junkies on different forms of social media. If we can, we will try to live tweet while we are on vacation. We will post photos of where we have been on Instagram and we love to pin all sorts of beach-related photos on pinterest. We would love for you to follow us...

Twitter: @beachjunkies

Instagram: beachjunkies

Pinterest: beachjunkies

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back To Mexico We Go!

It's been a long four years since we've been to Mexico and this year we've decided to go back! This time staying at the wonderful Royal Hideaway Playacar in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico! We have been to a Royal Hideaway before in Cuba back in 2009 and it was one of our favorite vacations to date. Stay tuned for our review of the Royal Hideaway Playacar! In the meantime, here is a wonderful video of the property we found. Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012

How to get to Manhattan from EWR (Newark Liberty Airport)

The hardest part of planning our trip to NYC was getting there once we landed.  Most flights from Toronto fly to either Laguardia Airport or Newark Liberty Airport (though just announced today that Air Canada will start service to JFK.  West Jet also goes to JFK but it uses American Airlines as it's carrier).  This time we decided to fly into Newark.  There are a few ways of getting to Manhattan from EWR as stated here but which option gets you there the fastest and the cheapest?

It really depends what time you go.  There are a few forum threads going on in TripAdvisor asking this same question.  Everyone has their opinion but these are all personal preferences so choosing a way is very difficult.  Originally I had booked for a car to pick us up at EWR and to be dropped off at our hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  It was the only way I knew.  You can take a Taxi there as well but I find that the rates are very similar to taking a Town Car, so I've always opted to take the nicer ride in.  The problem this time around was we were arriving during the morning rush hour the last day before Christmas Break. Traffic suddenly became my worries.

I went back to the drawing board, and luckily I found MoreFFmiles on TripAdvisor and out of everyone, he had given the best advice on how to get to and from EWR.  So, I took his advice and we are so glad we did.  Not only did we save time, he saved us a whole lot of money in the process.


Once we landed, we asked where the AirTrain terminal was and the employee directed us to it's location. When we got there, we went to the kiosk and purchased our tickets which was $12.50 USD per person one way (at this point make sure you keep this ticket as it will be punched once you get on the New Jersey Transit Train.).  Once purchased, we went up the escalator and went to the proper platform that brings you to NEW YORK PENN STATION (there are signs that lead you to the right platform or you can simply ask one of the uniformed employees in the station but just remember, KEEP YOUR TICKET )

There are two Penn Stations on this line.  Make sure you get off the New York one and NOT the New Jersey one.  Once on the train, there will be someone that punches your ticket and he will leave a little white ticket in front of where you are sitting.  If you decide to move, make sure you bring this ticket with you cause there will be another employee collecting these.

After about a 20 min ride, you're at New York Penn Station and from there you can either walk, take the subway or taxi to your hotel.

Honestly it's such a simple process.  It sounds more confusing when you read it, but it's really simple once you go through the motions.

This site is a good tool to use if you're thinking about this route or if you're a visual person like I am, the video below helped us a lot too in our decision.


I find it important to give yourself enough time to catch your flight home.  Last thing you want is to miss your flight at the end of the trip, so for our return to EWR we decided to use a car service.  There are plenty of car service companies out there.  Make sure you do your research before you book one for yourself.  Yelp was a good site and that's how I found WiroLimo.  

There are a few things to keep in mind when booking a car service from EWR.  The one thing to remember is that you are in New Jersey, not New York so these cars to charge for toll fees.  From what I understand, toll fees have increased - the $50 one way car ride that I took with my friends 4 years ago no longer exists. When you see a rate of $45 one way, it really ends up being about $70 or so.

Now WiroLimo charges $90 FLAT from EWR (additional charges are added when using a credit card).  It's a bit more than the other companies but it's the most reliable.  Reading reviews, I saw that people who booked with other companies missed their flight due to the driver showing up late and running into traffic and a whole bunch of other horror stories.  

Booking with William at WiroLimo was painless.  It was fast and quick, and if you need to make adjustments on the fly, you can email him and he quickly gets back to you.  He will email you instructions on how the driver will contact you and give you a confirmation as well.

On our date of departure, Felipe sent me a text saying that he was downstairs waiting for us and look for the SUV with the flashing blinkers on.  He was there 30min before our requested pick up time and he goes at your pace.  He was nice and friendly and to my surprise they are equipped with a GPS and an iPad to get them through the city and avoid all the traffic jams.  He was polite and honestly one of the best drivers I have ever met!

The next time we go to NYC, we will be taking WiroLimo there and back since we plan on bringing check-in luggage with us this time.  The Airtrain option was a good one for us since we only had small carry-on luggage with us but I can't see us maneuvering that way with two big luggages.

I hope this post helps you as I know how confusing and difficult it can be to get to and from Newark Liberty Airport.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us through our email on the side bar or our twitter account.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: Forty Four

Restaurant Name:
Forty Four
44 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036, United States
(212) 944-8844

Cuisine: American
Price Rating: $$$$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 5 / Service: 5 / Drinks: 5 / Atmosphere: 5

One of our main goals was to try as many drinks as we could at Forty Four. After dinner we would walk back to the hotel in anticipation of what drinks we would get that night.  The drinks here are awesome!  Pricey, yes but if you go to other quality bars and restaurants around the city, the price is just right.  There is a range of cocktails and other drinks to choose from, but knowing that Forty Four bar is staffed with awesome mixologists, we knew we were going for their signature cocktails!

Drinks: Please keep in mind that we did not drink all of these in one sitting.  These were the drinks we had throughout our stay.

Creamsicle & Ginger Julep
The Creamsicle is an off the menu cocktail that Matt at Forty Four had done up for "M".  It was clean, tart, fresh and strong. If you like the taste of spirits, this drink is for you. If not, I'd stay away from it as it might be too much for your taste buds.  "A" ordered the Ginger Julep and this is where Matt introduced us to Honey Jack Daniels! Y-U-M!

Seven Spiced Cider & Agave Royale

After sitting on top of a double decker tour bus for 2 hours in the cold, we longed to sit by the fireplace at the lobby of the Royalton Hotel. Seeing that we were chilled to the bone, Jason recommended that we get the Seven Spiced Cider. It was definitely what we needed.  Hot, flavorful, and just a soothing cocktail!  It was perfect for coming in from the cold.  "A" opted to get the Agave Royale, her second crushed ice drink of the trip.  At this point I was getting really jealous of her crushed ice drinks but I'm glad she shared with me.

French Caribbean & Sidecar

I thought this time around it was about time that I ordered a crushed ice drink, so I went with French Caribbean which became my absolute favorite drink of the trip. It's pretty much a Pina Colada on roids.  It's that good.  It also comes in a clear Tiki mask mug that I thought was a perfect touch! The only thing that could've gone better with the drink is if it was called Beach Junkie lol! I definitely recommend it.  As a joke, "A" decided to order a Sidecar since Matt raved about it (inside joke). She should've ordered it when Matt was there but Merritt made one for her instead.

Merritt also made us a bunch of drinks our first night like the Alchemist and the Italian Banana Bread which were delicious as well but unfortunately we forgot to take photographs of them.

Appetizers: We don't remember what they called this bread, but we sure can still taste it.  This was the best bread we have ever eaten!  At first we thought it was some sort of danish.  The outer layer is like a danish but the inside is like bread. You really have to try this. It's unreal

Fresh Mozzarella Salad: A-MA-ZING! The roasted peppers and arugula compliment well with the texture of the mozzarella.  It was really fresh.  We've never eaten fresh mozzarella before and I can see what the difference is.  It's not hard and chewy, it's tender and slightly flakes at a bite.  Just great!

Tuna Tartar: The best tuna tartar you will ever have.  Sushi grade tuna dressed with Kimchi and mixed with Cucumbers and toasted chia seeds.  Fresh.  Flavorful. Fantastic.

Main: 72 Hour Braised Short Rib: This meal was straight from mama's kitchen.  Perfectly cooked baby carrots, peas and pearl onions. The mash potatoes was amazingly soft, fluffy and creamy and the short rib was outstandingly juicy!

As it turned out, our last meal of our trip was the best meal of our trip.  It was amazing and the service was once again outstanding.  The best part about Forty Four is that you don't have to be a guest at the hotel to enjoy this goodness.  You can walk right in and enjoy the drinks and food, like so many people we saw during our stay.  If the food doesn't lure you in, then the drinks should.  It is a bit pricey but there is a reason why and as the saying goes, you get what you pay for and we definitely got what we paid for!

Monday, January 23, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: Bryant Park Grill

Restaurant Name:
Bryant Park Grill
25 W 40th St
New York, NY
(212) 840-6500

Cuisine: American
Price Rating: $$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 3 / Service: 3.5 / Drinks: 3 / Atmosphere: 4

We chose to have our Christmas Day dinner at Bryant Park Grill.  They offered a 3 course pre-fixe menu for $68 per person which was really reasonable considering the other prices we saw in town.  We also wanted to eat somewhere that had a very festive feel and being that the Holiday markets and ice rink were there, it just made sense.

Appetizers: Crab Cakes: We were off to a good start with this meal. It was quite delicious and perfectly cooked.  Unfortunately, this was the best dish of our seating and you'll see why below.

Main Course: Duck with Portobello Mushroom and Mash Potatoes: The duck breast was actually pretty good and so where the cranberries.  However the dark meat portion of the dish wasn't so great.  It had a really gamey taste to it and wasn't desirable to the pallet at all.  Good thing I ate it last cause I almost lost my appetite because of it.

Turkey with cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes and vegetables. I chose to eat traditional turkey for my Christmas dinner. The turkey was moist not dry and there was three huge slices included in my entree (a little too much for me). I barely made a dent in my meal but I was full. I am not use to eating so much carbs.

Dessert: Bread Pudding with coconut drizzle and creme fresh: The savoir of the night.  If it wasn't for this, I would've been really grumpy on Christmas Night since my main meal wasn't satisfying at all.  Then again can't judge it fairly since it could've been good since my duck was so bad.  In any case, it was edible at least.

Mascarpone cheesecake with chocolate ice cream: Being lactose-intolerant, I tried not too eat too much of the cheesecake but it did taste delicious with the cookie crumb base and ice cream.

Overall this was our most disappointing dinner of our trip.  We wanted the ambiance and that's what we pretty much paid for.  The meal wasn't great and the portions were extremely huge that we didn't finish everything.  The service was your typical "get you in and out" as fast as they can. This was a good thing since we didn't wait long for our meal, but it unfortunately showed in the quality of the food.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: Blue Fin

Restaurant Name:
Blue Fin
1567 Broadway at 47th St (at W Hotel, Times Square)
New York, NY
(212) 918-1400

Cuisine: Seafood and Sushi
Price Rating: $$$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 4 / Service: 5 / Drinks: n/a / Atmosphere: 4

We happened to stumble upon Blue Fin on Christmas Day. We were walking around Times Square, noticed it was opened and luckily we were able to get a table. Since it was Christmas Day, they had a special menu but everything on the regular menu looked equally delicious, including the brunch.

We wanted a light lunch, therefore we only ordered two items off the menu. Let me tell you that we did get full just from the delicious warm bread they served. Both of us love seafood so we went with the shellfish tower for 2 people. This tower included maine lobster, empress crab, jumbo shrimp, littleneck clams, ceviche, marinated prince edward mussels and east and west coast oysters. The icing on the cake was the tasty sauces for the oysters: spicy cocktail sauce, mignonette (shallots and red wine vinegar mixture) and the tomato horseradish granite (cocktail sauce and horseradish mixed together, then frozen and scraped). The last sauce was absolutely to die for. We never tasted anything like it but it worked wonders with the oysters and everything else we decided to dip it in.

Balcony Shellfish Tower
We also ordered the spicy tuna maki in case all the that shellfish wasn't enough. The sweet thai chili sauce was a unique addition to the standard tuna maki.

Spicy Tuna Maki with sweet thai chili

Again, we had no room for dessert or maybe it was the fact that Baked by Melissa was across the street and was calling "A"'s name. We will save Baked by Melissa for another post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: La Masseria

Restaurant Name:
Las Masseria
235 West 48th Street
New York, NY
(212) 582-2111

Cuisine: Italian
Price Rating: $$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 4 / Service: 4 / Drinks: 4 / Atmosphere: 4

As mentioned in a previous post, we had all our dinner reservation booked through Open Table. On Christmas, we had reserved at a Sake/Japanese bar but suddenly craved for authentic Italian food. We had no idea where to go and if it was even possible to get a last minute reservation on Christmas Eve, let alone figure out what would be open. What is the best solution? Ask the concierge or front desk at your hotel. Within minutes, we had a 8:45 pm dinner reservation at La Masseria. What wonders the front desk can do - we asked for an Italian restaurant walking distance around 8 pm - and we got it. There was no disappointment at all. We were satisfied and honestly, we would have never found this restaurant on our own.

We were seated almost instantly and since it was Christmas Eve and there were large family parties booked throughout the restaurant, we were seated very close to another couple (who were quite annoying but I tried my best not to let it ruin our dinner. We started off with some sparkling water and a glass of prosecco for "A" and red wine for "M". The waiter announced the daily specials for the evening and let me tell you it was a very long list.

I Cucuzielli Fritti Alla Pino

Appetizer. We were going to start off with salads but decided on trying the I Cucuzielli Fritti Alla Pino, Crispy Fried Zucchini. "A" was a little hesitant in ordering anything fried since we had fried chicken for lunch (see previous post) but after trying these slivers of fried goodness, there was no regrets. "A" had pictured sticks of deep fried zucchini. We have never had anything like it and would definitely recommend it as a starter.

Pasta special of the night - Lobster Ravioli

Mains. There are so many dishes on the menu but both of us are not big eater so we went with an entree each. "A" ordered the pasta special of the night, Lobster Ravioli. It was delicious with large chunks of lobster.
Spaghetti All Spugnito Di Pomodoro

"M" ordered the Spaghetti with cherry tomato sauce and fresh basil. Every time I go to an Italian restaurant, I always order spaghetti.  To me it's a good way to see how authentic the restaurant really is.  The simpler, the better and this was definitely one of the better ones I have had.

It would have been nice to order more dishes if we had the appetite or even if we had a little room for dessert. As you can see the pasta portions are quite large so make sure you don't over stuff yourself with the bread they give you once you sit down. If you want to eat some good Italian food in a family owned restaurant (no Olive Garden please), you must try Las Masseria and be sure to start off with the crispy fried zucchini.

Monday, January 16, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: Bon Chon Chicken

Restaurant Name:
Bon Chon Chicken
325 5th Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 686-8282

Cuisine: Korean
Price Rating: $$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 4 / Service: 4 / Drinks: 4 / Atmosphere: 4
In the same trip I discovered Koi three years ago, I stumbled upon Bon Chon Chicken.  We were at a friend's apartment and were lazy to go out and eat so we wanted something delivered. There in front of us was a menu for Bon Chon and we decided to try it.  It is now my must have while in NYC along with the Crispy Rice from Koi.  Unfortunately, we didn't take much pics of the food here since we were starving by the time we got there. I hope I can describe each thing perfectly.

Drinks: Blue Moon Beer & Coke -  We heard about Blue Moon beer from a friend of mine and thought I'd try it out and I quite enjoyed it.  It paired nicely with the food.

Sides: Kimchi Coleslaw & White Rice - Some of you might be thinking "Rice with wings?" but it's the best thing ever! Kimchi coleslaw was to die for.  Crunchy, gooey and spicy all in one bite. "A" ordered a side of hot sauce but never used it since the coleslaw gave enough kick for her.

Popcorn Shrimp & Onion Rings

Appetizer: Popcorn Shrimp & Onion Rings - This was not bad but it basically was your typical popcorn shrimp and onion rings.  Nothing special about it but the cocktail sauce that came with it had a good kick to it which was great. What we should've ordered here instead were the Bulgogi Tacos! We saw it on the menu after eating and regret not ordering it. Our server said it's her favorite thing on the menu.

Soy Garlic Drumsticks

Main: Small (5pcs) Bon Chon Soy Garlic Drumsticks - When we ordered this, we didn't know if it would be enough for the both of us since we were thinking these would be drumstick wings. Obviously we were wrong. These were the regular drumsticks and they were the larger kind too. The Soy Garlic that they glaze it with is just delicious and the drumsticks are fried to perfection.  Nice crispy layers of skin and soft white meat on the inside. Paired with the Kimchi Coleslaw, this thing will just scream flavors in your mouth.

There are two Bon Chon locations in Midtown, the second one being on W 38th Street. Oddly enough, that was the location we were aiming for but ended up at the one on 5th Ave.  We highly would recommend this place for lunch.  It wasn't busy at all and might have a harder time getting a table during dinner service.  We are definitely returning to try out those Bulgogi Tacos and I won't wait three years to have this again!

Friday, January 13, 2012

How We Ate Our Way Through NYC: Koi Restaurant | Lounge

We were fortunate enough to have found some great restaurants around Midtown NYC.  Just before we left, we had a set plan (and reservations) as to where we were going to eat and when.  Things changed when we got there.  The reality of how much traffic there was around the area was just insane.  This was Christmas weekend after all and after dealing with the crowds all day, the last thing you want to do is sit in traffic just to get to dinner or walk in dress shoes and heels.  By the end of it all, we only kept one of the four reservations we initially made, but in the process, found some excellent ones.

Restaurant Name:
Koi Restaurant | Lounge
Located @ Bryant Park Hotel
40 West 40th Street
(212) 921-3330
Cuisine: Japanese
Price Rating: $$$
Beach Junkies Rating (based out of 5 stars):
Food: 4.5 / Service: 5 / Drinks: 4 / Atmosphere: 4

This wasn't the first time we've eaten at Koi. I first ate at this restaurant three years ago on a trip to NYC with my friends.  We then went to Las Vegas the same year and that was when "A" tried it so we knew what to expect.

We have recommended this restaurant to a few people and all came back with glowing reviews BUT we all tell them to keep it light and share all the dishes.  Koi's hot dishes can be very savory and it can be too much sometimes just to eat that one dish yourself.  Trust us, this is the 3rd time we have eaten at this restaurant and our last visit there was our best experience yet.  Practice makes perfect.

Koi-Tini and Ginger Mojito

Cocktails: Koi-Tini & Ginger Mojito - Three years ago was the first time I tasted the Ginger Mojito. In that one sitting, I ordered four of them.  That's how good they are. Unfortunately, our visits after in Vegas was Ginger Mojito free. They didn't have them on the menu there and when we ate dinner this night, they didn't have it on the menu as well.  I asked the waiter if they served it and he said no.  However, a few minutes later, he came back and said that the bartender that has been at this location since day 1 and said he would make it for me. It was even better than I remembered it. As for the Koi-Tini, it wasn't anything spectacular. It basically was a cosmo but with sparkling wine.

Koi Crispy Rice topped w/ Spicy Tuna

First course: Koi Crispy Rice topped w/ Spicy Tuna - A must order!  Our first introduction to Koi's food was this and it should be everyone else's. An explosion of soft, crispy, juicy and spicy runs through the course of your palate once you take a bite of this goodness. We swear we can go to Koi and just eat this, but of course that won't be fun at all. If there is one thing you must order from their menu, it is this.

Rock Shrimp Ceviche and Yellowtail Sashimi

Second Course: Rock Shrimp Ceviche and Yellowtail Sashimi - We had always seen this on the menu but never opted to order it until now and we're glad we did.  The yellowtail sashimi at the bottom was fresh and delicious, and the rock shrimp was just right, not too soft and not too chewy.  Eating this though can be tricky but "A" figured out a way where you slide the chopsticks at both ends of the yellowtail and as you raise it, close the ends so that the rock shrimp is being cradled by the fish. I know it seems silly, but these dishes are meant to be eaten all at once so that all the flavors combine which makes the dish.

Baked Crab Roll

Third Course: Baked Crab Roll - Tthis was the one dish of the night that we could have done with out.  It didn't have that mix of flavors and textures we were looking for but it was still delicious none the less.

Miso Bronzed Black Cod

Fourth Course: Miso Bronzed Black Cod - Remember what I said that their hot dishes were savory. Well, this is one dish well worth sharing.  The cod is cooked to perfection and the skin was just absolutely wonderful.  It was a great mix of salty, sweet and savory.  This was our favorite meal of the night and having three light dishes before this meal balanced really well.

Japanese Mochi (pistachio and peanut butter/chocolate)

Dessert: Japanese Mochi - I absolutely love mochi.  Any flavor will do it for me. "A" on the other hand hates it and it was surprising to see how much she loved her peanut butter/chocolate mochi.

As I said earlier, this sitting was our best dining experience at Koi to date.  There is much more that we want to try on the menu that we want to try so it definitely won't be our last visit. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

HOTEL REVIEW: Royalton Hotel

Trip Date: December 23-27, 2011
Location: New York City, New York

Beach Junkies Rating: (based of 5 stars)
Location: 5 / Service: 5 / Room: 5 / Ambiance: 5

Royalton Hotel NYC

First Impressions: We arrived at the hotel at 9:30 am after taking the train in from Newark Liberty Airport and walking from New York Penn Station (we will have a separate post of different ways you can commute to and from EWR. There were many different forum posts about this but I thought we would compile all our research into one post).  The one thing you have to remember is that Royalton does NOT have the red door that all the other travel sites show.  As you can see from the picture above, it is a sleek black door framed by beautiful columns supported by a gorgeous overhead with a tonal engraving of its name across it.  This is when you know you have booked at a boutique hotel. 

Location: The hotel is conveniently located on 44th between 5th and 6th avenue.  Steps away from tourist attractions such as Bryant Park, Rockerfeller Center, 5th Avenue, Times Square, Magnolia Bakery, MOMA, FAO Schwartz, Central Park and much much more.  It is close enough to all these locations but you don't get the noise, traffic and overall madness that a Midtown hotel normally gets.  The location is just perfect.

Royalton Hotel Lobby

Once we walked in, we were greeted with what we would call dramatics.  The lobby is just stunning.  This is one of the main reasons why we decided to go with this hotel.  To us, it was classic old New York with the dim lighting, fireplace, deep tones of brown and black leather seating accented with hyde and fur upholstered chairs.  Simply put, it was cozy, classy and sexy.

Sit by the cozy fire in the lobby after a long day

Two of the seating sections on the left was split by a huge fireplace (which came in handy after sitting on top of an open double decker tour bus) and just in front of it on your right hand side is the reception desk.

Check In: Since we arrived pretty early, we knew there was a 90% chance our room wouldn't be ready and we were right.  Royalton has a 12:00 pm check out and 3:00 pm check in.  Most travelers should be acquainted with those times since that is pretty much the standard times at most hotels and resorts.  We were quickly processed and asked for one of our cellphone numbers to notify us if our room would be ready earlier.  We handed off our luggage with the bell boy and off we went to explore NYC.
Room 602 King Loft Suite

Room: We were lucky enough to book a King Loft Suite at the Royalton.  Royalton has several room categories and we were probably at one of the bigger ones.  What many people might not know is that hotel rates in NYC during the Christmas Holidays are amazing and this room was also just that.  AMAZING! Once we walked in, we first noticed the extensive bar on our left hand side.  That is where you will find the electronic safe and iPod / iPhone dock.

Room 602 King Loft Suite
Room 602 King Loft Suite

Straight ahead was the King Size bed with a total of 6 down pillows and the most comfortable duvet we have ever slept with at a hotel.  Instead of night tables, Royalton had designed two tiered ports holes complete with a night light.  We found this most convenient since "A" loves to sleep with a light on and "M" doesn't.  This is where you will also find the phone and remote for the TV.

Room 602 King Loft Suite

Beside the bed is an extremely long sofa which was so comfortable to lie on after a day of walking.  We used this to relax, read or just to watch TV. Our room had a view of 44th street which wasn't that spectacular but the interior design of the Royalton actually made us forget there was an outside world.  At the end of the couch is the TV which can be pulled from the wall and you can angle it towards the bed if you wanted to watch TV there.

Royalton King Loft Suite Bathroom

The other stunner of this room was the bathroom.  The Loft King Suite came with a 5ft soaker tub with a rain shower head right in the middle.  The sink (left side of pic) and the vanity (right side of pic) was at either side of the tub.  We have to tell you.  This tub was definitely worth it.  Think about walking the streets of NYC all day during the winter.  This helped wear off the wear and tear of the day and made our transition from day to night a whole lot easier.  The only thing we wished was that there was bubble bath that we were able to use but we just bought some bath balms from the Lush store near Herald Square and we were good to go.  The one thing I loved about this bathroom was how they stored the hair dryer.  It was in a white garment bag, hung on a hook.  Simple and clean.  Robes can also be found in the closet and honestly were the most comfortable robes I have ever worn.  We wanted to buy two for us but forgot to ask how to during our stay.  The bathroom is stocked with Malin + Gotez products which were wonderful as well.

King Loft Suite Desk

Just outside the bathroom was the desk which had an iPad on it.  This is where you can browse Royaltons amenities and services that are available to you during your stay.  You can also use this to browse the internet and help you find directions on how to get to the places you want to go to.  On a side note internet is not included but can be purchased at $10/day for each device.

King Loft Suite fireplace at Royalton Hotel

Last but not least is the bedside fireplace.  Yes.  Bedside fireplace.  We highly recommend getting one when visiting NYC during the winter.  It made our nights so cozy.  Honestly we forgot we were in a hotel when it was lit.  A simple call to the front desk and they will bring up the engineer to bring up the log and light the fire for you.  The log lasts for about 3 hours so please don't call and have them light it when you are going to leave for dinner in an hour or two.  It's just a waste.  There is a glass barrier in front of the fire to protect any embers from flying out.

Thank you Royalton!

On our second day, we got a call from room service telling us that there was a plate of cookies that were being delivered to the room.  To our surprise it was a treat from Forty Four (the hotel restaurant) and it came with a note welcoming us to their property.  A simple gesture that went a LONG way with us.  "M" doesn't like cookies and he loved them.  That's how good they were.

Overall, we truly enjoyed our stay at the hotel.  This was the first time we ever stayed at a Morgans Hotel and it definitely won't be our last.  We are already planning a trip back to NYC and with no question, we want to return and stay at this hotel.  It felt like home for us and the staff is just wonderful.  They made our Christmas the most memorable one and for that, we would like to thank you.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here.