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Hard Rock Vallarta I just returned from a 3 night trip to Hard Rock Vallarta with my high school friend, Jenelle.
Here is my full review of the resort experience -
Check in process is easy. Our room wasn't quite ready yet so they took all our info and then we went and had lunch and came back. Buffet is typical above average all inclusive buffet with a wide range. They had cooking stations where they were grilling fajitas or fresh fish or steak and then of course a little bit of everything else.
Once to our room, we has an ocean view room. It was a great view of the pool and the ocean. No complaints from me. This is called "Gold" by the hard rock standard. They don't have full balconies. You have to be concierge (diamond) to have a full balcony but no big deal to me.
The rooms all have huge 2 person Jacuzzi tubs. This hotel use to be Vallarta Palace and this is standard with the Palace Resorts. I don't think Hard Rock would have had these if they built the hotel from the ground up because it's kind of weird when it's not a super couple-y type hotel. Oh well!
Rooms are standard hotel room size. Bathrooms are kind of small. There is a nice full length mirror in the closet and light. The rooms have a mini fridge stocked with cokes, beer and juice. There is also a liquor dispenser (does anyone actually use these?) if you just didn't get enough booze throughout the day. ha!
The hotel is easy to navigate. Some restaurants down by the ocean and some more off the lobby. We ate at the Japanese restaurant and the Brazilian. I thought the Brazilian could use some work. They hadnbsp;a small buffet set up,nbsp;with salads and sides. The mashed potatoes,nbsp;tasted instant which,nbsp;makes me crazy. They had the big skewers of,nbsp;meat that came around. It was ok. It wasn't Texas de Brazil by any means. nbsp;Japanese was good. A wide selection. I had grilled curry mahi mahi which was excellent. The restaurant doesn't have the hibachi grills which everyone seems to have these days so that was a little disappointing. All the restaurants had excellence service.
The pool area at the hotel is great. A good size swim up bar and some activities going on. They had some silly games as well as water aerobics. There are a few slides for kids (one more just for toddlers) and the kids (as well as me) had a fun time with that. There were waterfalls and rocks and it was a pretty pool area. Great service by the pool. They had a wood fired pizza that was open 11am - 6pm with plenty of topping options (but go get ranch at the buffet if you need it!) and there was a snack bar with guac and pico and all the other junk food things you can think of that you need to be eating in your swimsuit.
At night they had different things going on. Each night was different whether they had a live band or karaoke. They had a DJ most nights in the sports bar. The resort was not full by any means so some of these things were a tad on the boring side but would have been more fun if they hotel had more guests.
The resort has a nice salon with spa treatment rooms. I opted out of doing a spa treatment here. I prefer to do them when I can do the whole spa experience. I want to be waited on with cucumber water and sit in the sauna and steam room before while listening soothing music and smelling aromatherapy type stuff. They don't have that. They have a sauna and a steam room at the gym so you can use it everyday if you want so if you like to work out on vacation and use the sauna, you are in luck! Me, not so much.
But (and this is a huge but) if you stay here and have to pay (mine always seems to be free) they give you a resort credit you can use at the spa. If I had a free massage with my room I would still be all over that. I just don't want to pay fancy resort prices for a massage if I don't get the whole spa experience if that makes sense.
The resort is located in Nuevo Vallarta or Vallarta Nayarit. People call it both. It's located right next door to Paradise Village which is the marina where tours leave out of with Vallarta Adventures (my favorite tour company!) so it's a good location if you want to be up there (about 20 minutes from downtown). It's across the street from a pharmacy and a casino. I didn't visit the casino but I know some of the wedding groups at the hotel were doing that. It's literally across the street but it looked small. It was in a strip mall.
So basically it's a nice resort. It's perfect for weddings because it's not too romantic but not too much of a party. It has something for everyone. Good service, pretty good food and pretty beach!
Call me if you want to go! I would love to send you! 405-418-4180
Hard Rock Riviera Maya - the Good and the Bad!
I am actually typing this blog post sitting in my room at Hard Rock Riviera Maya. It's raining today so my blog might turn slightly jaded.
The resort has 2 sides. Hacienda is the family friendly side and Heaven which is adults only. You can walk from one lobby to the other using the pathways along the rooms or down by the beach. The only difference to know when you go from one building to the next is the color of the building changes. They also put up a sign that says "hey you are rocking too close to the adults side" to playfully remind kids and visa versa.
-The food here is very middle of the line for the price you are paying to stay here. They seem to put their money in the entertainment and activities instead of in the quality of the food. It's not horrible but not one of the better food ones in the area from my experience. At breakfast and lunch you only have the option of buffet which is disappointing. I wish they had 1 or 2 options during the day ala carte. They do have cooking stations at the buffet restaurants and I did have really good fresh corn tortillas made into street tacos but I would say that was the only buffet meal I enjoyed. If I was here for 7 nights I would be getting irritated. The restaurants at night are hit and miss like most all inclusives. If they could just master steak (even at Golden Corral level) I would be happier.
-Everything is severely overpriced. When you stay at this resort you get a resort credit. They allow you to use your resort credit for gift shop items, spa, golf, tours and that sort of thing. The prices are jacked up. You still have "free" money (that you pay 20% tax on) but it's not as good of a deal (it never is though, right?) as it makes it seem. The spa prices are more inflated than other equal level properties so when you run out of resort credit the prices are a bit out there.
-The staff here is top notch. They seem to be hustling for your drinks or food and all very personable and friendly.
-There are tons of activities. There's an obstacle course and a rock climbing wall on land. They hand out snorkel equipment and kayaks for the water. There's good music by the pool.
-There's actual nightlife! Most all inclusives shut down at 9:30pm or so or they have a lame fire dancer while everyone sits around and forces themselves to watch or go to bed. Hard Rock has a full blown high end night club that opens every night at 11pm. It's huge and one section has a pool in the middle. It's very Vegas.
-The beach. I think I could put this on Good and Bad but I am choosing Good. There is a huge rock wall that blocks off the waves from coming in. It has created a calm peaceful and really pretty (in my opinion) beach. There are fish and I floated the day away on my little raft. This beach is not idea for someone who likes to play in the waves or is a beach runner (I am neither) so I thought their beach was great.
|Fish swimming in the clear water at Hard Rock Riviera Maya |
It is a nice resort. It's clean and fun but it's just for the right group. Give me a call and I would love to talk to you about the Hard Rock All Inclusive Resorts. I have now been to all of them.
|Adults only swim up pool bar at Hard Rockbet Riviera Maya Heaven|
405-418-4180 or check out my website www.VincentVacations.com
-Weddings here are gorgeous! They have palapas over looking the water and also a Catholic chapel. It is perfect for any size group. They have Collin Cowie designed weddingnbsp;collections or you can choose custom. I was very impressed with the wedding locations. This is an ideal Destination Wedding location for large groups. There is something for everyone and your guests won't be bored in the evenings. Your childless friends and couples can stay on the adults side and the ones with kids on the Hacienda family side. Perfect!
|Wedding palapa at Hard Rock Riviera Maya|
Grand Velas Riviera Maya - Stay Here. You will thank me.
I spent the day doing a site inspection at this resort I had never sold before and never been to - Grand Velas. I'm very sorry about both of those things. I should have been recommending it all this time and I will now make it a point to stay here as soon as I can!
From the moment you pull in from the main road just north of Playa del Carmen you will be impressed. It is lined with perfectly manicured gardens and foliage. It felt a little like Alice in Wonderland.
There are 3 sections to this property, Zen, Ambassador and Grand Class. The first 2 are family friendly while Grand Class is reserved for adults only
This section sits in the mangroves and is very calming. They feature rooms on the ground floor overlooking a koi pond with a small plunge pool. This section has the new sports bar called KOI. It opened in April 2014. Think upscale with a huge TV. They stay open until 3am and they are not within ear shot of the rooms so is perfect for late nights.
To travel between the sections they have 1st class vans that travel back and forth. They seemed to arrive every couple minutes. Normally a resort does a golf cart type system but this was air conditioned and when it started raining we didn't get wet!
They do not allow walking from Zen to Ambassador due to safety with the vans running back and forth and there's only 1 stretch of road. If you are a jogger they have an employee follow you on an ATV with water and cold towels - at no extra cost. Sounds like being part of the Presidential family!
This is the family friendly section with an ocean view.
This section features many restaurants as well as a piano bar and karaoke bar for nighttime entertainment.
For an additional $150 per night, Grand Velas will guarantee adjoining rooms for your family. One room being a King and the other with 2 Queens. A maximum of 4 people (or 4 plus infant) per room with 3 of them being adults.
Traveling with an infant? Grand Velas takes it to the next level and does not only provide cribs in the room but also baby food, strollers, high chairs, bottles, teething rings all at no additional cost.
This is the adults only section that runs along the ocean. They are the most luxurious accommodations with the large patios and some with plunge pools. There are 90 suites that are 1300 square feet.
All the rooms come with luxury amenities including L'occitane bath products and interior Jacuzzi tubs. The bed linens are all top notch. Picky about thread count? Don't worry. You will love their beds.
They stock your in room bar with soda, juice, wine and chocolate milk for the kids. They also have a wide variety of snacks they replenish daily for you.
I loved the little details like a thatch beach bag to use during your stay and mosquito spray. This is something you don't find everywhere else.
|Grand Class at Grand Velas Riviera Maya |
I could make an entire blog post about the food at Grand Velas. It's just wow. I am somewhat of a Foodie. I'm not sitting at home eating Duck Confeit but I like good food.
This is a restaurant where everything is fresh. Even at the buffet, they make everything fresh for that meal. You are not going to find last nights pork chops turned into a casserole for breakfast like at many of the all inclusive properties. At the buffet restaurant they also have the option of ordering off a menu so you never have to eat off a buffet if that is not your thing.
To me here's a reason to stay here: Grand Velas is the only all inclusive in the world to have a AAA 5 Diamond restaurant. This should say something about the level of food this property has. It is a Spanish with Mexican flair. You don't receive a menu. The waiter comes out and tells you about your 8 course experience. This is not for everyone but it is something everyone should try and why not? You're on vacation.
Reservations are required and I can do them for you in advance so it isn't something you have to worry about on vacation.
The Spa is huge and impressive. It was awarded Best Spa in the World in 2010 by Virtuoso. They have a wide variety of services and even have the fish feet service. I stuck my hand in the water with the fish and they came right over to me. I don't think I would enjoy this but some people might want to try it. They package it with a chair massage.
The spa also features a bridal suite which comes at no additional cost to the bride. She just pays for the cost of the services she choses.
I could go on and on about this property. They had a very fun teen club with XBOX Kinect and several game nooks. The kids camp was smaller but seemed to have some fun things.
The grounds were immaculate and the staff was friendly and helpful. The waiters are spot on and are there offering coffee after your meal and bringing chips and salsas to the table.
Please go here. You will thank me! Call me at 405-418-4180 or contact me via my website at www.VincentVacations.com
Atlantis - Super fun if you don't need to talk to an employeeThis hotel is my husband and I's ultimate place. Tons of things to do, good food, water park and pretty scenery. The employees on the other hand kind of shocked me. The could care less if they gave good customer service. This was the case at the check in points, the guys operating the water slides, at the restaurants, at the gift shops ETC! Of course there was also an exception to the rule person and my husband and I would look at each other in shock when someone would smile and be friendly.
I would also like to say that we are usually overly friendly. I despise rude Americans. I am not sure what the Bahamian's problems are.
We tried several different restaurant while we were there. Seafire Steakhouse in the marina (the waitstaff was good, hostess not so much). We had the crab and lobster cake for the appetizer - amazing. We split the caesar salad (it's way big enough). I ordered the pork chop with Bearnaise and crab and Chris ordered the surf and turf. Surf and turf here is short ribs and 6 oz lobster tail for $62 (no sides included. shesh!). We split the sides which was mashed potatoes (I was against this since we live in Oklahoma and I was right - nothing special) and cheesy cauliflower. The cauliflower is amazing! They broil it and then inside is all this fall apart cheesy goodness. Oh wow.
The other fine dinning restaurant we tried was Mesa Grill. This is at The Cove - the most exclusive tower on site at the Atlantis. We pulled up in a cab and I asked the bell hop where Mesa Grill was. His response was "Down there to the left". No smile, nothing. Really? This is people's first impression of The Cove which is usually $1000 a night? Not impressed. We ordered the Goat Cheese dip which was pretty good and I just kept thinking "I've had better at places like Cheevers (their queso dip is amazing) or at 1492 in Oklahoma City". It wasn't bad but for a famous chef's restaurant I wasn't that impressed. I order the shrimp tamale for my entree even though it was on the appetizer menu. AMAZING! Chris had the mahi mahi. I stole a bite and it was good but I didn't steal another bite. We did the Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie for dessert. This was actually really good but I was so full that I didn't eat much. Maybe just go there for a tamle and pie?
Another thing we tried while we were there was Snorkel the Ruins. This is where you take a guided snorkel in Atlantis's aquarium. For me I thought it was a big fat waste of $109 per person. The reason it is guided it because you can't dive down and you can't touch anything. You can see all the ruins from the windows of the aquarium. It was short and the water is cold and I say SKIP THIS!
The people at the check are crazy rude. We went about 20 minutes before it was suppose to start and they are like "You cant check in until your start time" (I found this super weird because I could have sworn they told me to check in 30 minutes early to get the wet suit on tonbsp;be ready). When they would finally let us check in they were like "Go stand by that mail box and someone will come for you." It was just cold and unfriendly. A lot of people that come and do this snorkel might be coming off a cruise ship. This is their first introduction to Atlantis and this could make or break whether they would come back. What's the deal?
We loved the marina area. Lots of restaurants of all levels from a Quiznos to fancy schmancy steakhouses. The huge yachts were there to gawk at and lots of performers or little jazz bands. The shops stayed open too. There's a Ben and Jerry's that was super popular.
The water park is awesome. We were there the first part of April and it was crowded but not over the top. The lazy river was our favorite. Its a mile long and then at one point it's a fork where you can pick the rapids or to do this big slide. It was neat. I could have stayed in there all day. There were all different levels of slides. The lockers were $9 to rent for the day for the cheapest one. At the end of the day when the cruise ships left, it cleared out (and I'm sure people were getting ready for dinner) but we could go down the slides over and over without waiting. The wait wasn't that bad during the middle part of the day.
The Cove beach is the best beach. The Atlantis beach slopes down really bad and it's super choppy. They charge cruise ship people $69 per person to come sit on their beach (not worth it!)nbsp;ornbsp;$129 for the water park.
All in all, it's a fun hotel. They told me they are 2nd to Disney as far as family destination resort. I say they need to visit Disney and see how their customer service and friendliness is far superior.
Riu Palace Paradise Island - Better food than Mexico but needs to be updatedHow's that for a long title to a post?
I was kind of pessimistic about this resort. I have been to Riu's in Mexico and did not like their food at all. It was a pleasant surprise that the Bahamas had good food! Everything else was slightly lacking though:
We checked in and took our bags to the room (they don't have a bell hop that offers to do this for you) and the rooms are old! They had redone little parts like the sink in the bathroom and the bedding but the carpet had holes and the furniture looks 15 years old. All the rooms are ocean view which is nice but you also have a view of Atlantis's oldest tower and some big rusty thing.
The mini bar was decent. No juice but pretty decent. I like that it's regular Diet Coke and not Coca-Cola Light like in Europe or Mexico.
The resort is very Spring Break. It has 1 pool with 1 swim up bar and just tons of chairs. The beach is a public beach with lots of jet ski operators waiting to sell you a ride. The water is very choppy. Not the Paradise Island water I was picturing.nbsp;If I was 10 years younger and a hard core party person I would be all over it. The Riu's do have a minimum check in age during March and April though so it wasn't high school students.
Although the food is good, having to make dinner reservations is not so good. They let you make 2 reservations at a time but they only take reservations from 8 - 9am each morning. I don't know anyone who likes to get up at 8am to stand in a line. Ridiculous. (So I sent my husband. Ha!)
They have several different styles of food to pick from and the buffet each night has a different theme. I didn't realize until I went to the Bahamas that it's all import island (Duh!) so this is why everything tastes very American.
They had some fun stuff at the resort - similar to all other Riu Palaces. They had a theatre/club room and had dancing or karaoke or a band each night. There was alsonbsp;a sports bar with several tvs and video games. They also had snacks in a refrigerator you could re-heat 24 hours a day. They had plastic containers of fresh fruit which worked out perfect when we had to leave before breakfast opened one day.
This resort is right next to Atlantis Beach Tower. Like you walk out of the lobby and around the hedge and you are in the Beach Tower lobby. Super convenient. You can walk through the Beach Tower and Coral Tower lobbies and be right at the marina which was awesome at night. Musicians and multi million dollar yachts to entertain everyone.
There aren't many all inclusives in the Bahamas. The service was mediocre and the hotel needs updating but since there is only 1 on Paradise Island I guess they don't care!
Sandals Royal Bahamian for the day
We spent the day at Sandals Royal Bahamian - one of the perks of my job so my review is just based on about 7 hours there.
The resort is located kind of off my itself on cable beach. There are some random local places right outside the gate but nothing to make an effort to go to. It was a $20 cab ride each way from Paradise Island.
The breakfast buffet is simple but nice. They had real orange juice! This is not common at all inclusives so it was a nice suprise (usually it's a kool-aid orange juice mix). There was an omlet station and lots of fruit and french toat. They had really good oatmeal with brown sugar and sliced almonds for the top. Yum! Service was decent. Nothing impressive.
The first boat out to their private island fills up. The line was super long and started at like 930. The boat leaves at 10 and if you are not on the first boat over you will not get one of the prime locations. They have limited beach beds and chairs around the pool. If you are willing to camp out and get on the boat firstnbsp;(sit in the back so you can be first off) then there are some really neat beach beds with amazing views.
One thing that I think is kind of lame about their "private" island. It's only kind of private. They have about 60% of the island and the other part is owned by cruise ships so they can do their shore excursions to a "private" island. It was still under construction when I was there so I dont know how many people they are going to bring there or how many screaming kids or what but seems kind of misleading. I wonder how much $ Sandals got for that part.
There is a restaurant on the private island that does like sandwiches and wraps during the day. It was decent. They do curly fries instead of chips. I am just so use to Mexico with the chips and guacamole by the pool that curly fries really throws me off. The waitress was pretty indifferent. She had a blank stare on her face the entire time and would speak the absolute bare minimum to me like te 1 word answers type thing. I thought Sandals was suppose to be the wow factor on their service? Maybe she was just having a bad day.
The back of the island has amazing snorkeling. There's lots of rocks and it's calm enough to snorkel right there but bring your own equipement! They will not let you use the snorkel equipement from the free snorkel trips they offer. Someone even said they saw a lobster back there.
The loud pool as they referred to it was fun during the day. They had an entertainment team that hassled everyone into playing silly games. I was talked into a beer drinking competition and a competition called "Super Wife" which ended with Chris having to give me a lap dance. It was hilarious and we won 1st place. I wish we had it on video. I have my prize snow globe in my room displayed proudly.
Overall, Sandals was a really nice resort. I don't like how they nickel and dime for things like wifi ($14.99 a day??!) and the mini bar if you don't book a high enough room category. Their nice resorts and good food outweigh these annoyances for me though.
Now Amber Puerto Vallarta and Secrets Vallarta Bay! This is the new resort in Puerto Vallarta. It's really close to downtown. Cabs were like $5 - $7 which was great because I love going into the flea market and walking down the Malecon.
Sand Santa on the Malecon!
This is two resorts in one. When you arrive you are directed to which lobby to enter.
nbsp; Both resorts,nbsp;look very similar and sit up high with an amazing view of the ocean.,nbsp;The bell hops,nbsp;greet you with champagne and cold towels. We were in the preferred club tower so as soon as they saw that they,nbsp;took us straight over there so we didn't have to wait in line. You sit down at the desk,nbsp;and the check in process was easy. The longest part was when we realized,nbsp; my parents were "upgraded" to the Secrets side but we didn't want them all the way over so we,nbsp;extra why I loved this resort:,nbsp;my room category.,nbsp;Clients make comments all the time like "I'm not in my room very much so it doesn't matter." Oh it does matter! It matters if it sucks (I will hear about it!),nbsp;and it totally makes it better if it's awesome! nbsp;upgraded them back to a Master Swim up suite so we could be right next door to each other.
And this isnbsp;The room had 2 bathrooms with a huge living room and the best part - a huge balcony with a pool! The pool is just for the swim out suites in the preferred club section. I think there was about 8 rooms. There are 2 "garden view" mater swim out suites right next to each other. You could totally still see the ocean from them. This was the balcony. And one of my favorite parts is they have that middle part so you can lay in the water and the waitstaff would walk right up the side of the pool and bring drinks or guacamole. This is vacation to me!
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And check out the mini bar:
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The resort is kind of like a cruise where they put a daily activity schedule in your room each night with their turn down service. They had dancing lessons, archery, black jack (which I won a bottle of tequila at BTW), beach volleyball and the list goes on. I love places like this because it gives you options of being involved or not.
The NOW Amber side is the side that allows kids. The week we were there (our anniversary week) is when school is in session so there was probably about 10 kids at the whole resort. They had an awesome kids program (or at least it looked awesome). Big kids camp area with tons of stuff to do.
There are lots of restaurants to choose from. Some of the restaurants are in the main building kind of between Secrets and Now so they share. I was skeptical about all of this esp thinking if I was paying to stay on the Secrets side but I ended up really liking it. It made it so all the restaurants were open every night. I've stayed at several Secrets Resorts and it would be like only the main restaurant and one other option was open each night. They had an Asian teppanyaki style restaurant which was adults only and a Mexican one in the middle. Each resort had a seafood/steak restaurant which was sooo good. I had the mahi mahi and they said they buy it fresh at the docks. Then there was also the main buffet restaurant which was just so/so. As good as buffets come I guess. I'm never a buffet's biggest fan. Seafood restaurant with my parents and husband:
The NOWnbsp;had live music in the big open air lobby and the waitstaff appeased my husband's interest in having a drink that could be lit on fire:
Lunch at the seafood restaurant and notice the drink! It's called a Bob Marley. So good!
Ok and on to my second favorite part besides my room category:
A big bonus with being right next to a Secrets is you get the amazing spa. They had lots of plunge pools and water treatments you did before your treatment you bought. There was an attendant that brought you cookies, almonds, cucumber water or hot tea. They had a sauna and steam room.
I did a facial one day and a seaweed wrap the other day. I loved both of them. So professional and my mom kept saying "Lets go back to the spa". We both loved it.
Most of the time when you book you get coupons for the spa too which helps with the price and they really were not that overpriced for everything you get with it. This is a must do.
All in all I'm a huge fan of Now Resorts! It's part of the AM Resort chain so: Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Now and Sunscape.
Madrid for Easter in the perfect locationWe spent the week before Easter in the city of Madrid. We traveled with another couple, Chrissy and David Hammond. It was David's first trip across the Atlantic. The reason for my trip started when my co-worker that has been all over the world and I went to London with said Madrid was her 2nd favorite city in the world, after London. This I had to see.
The hotel to stay at is the Westin Palace Hotel. It has a perfect location right in the heart of the city across the street from the famous Prado Museum. I booked the trip for Chris and I complete with the Palace. Chrissy was in and decided to make the trip a Valentines Day surprise for David.
We flew Delta thru Atlanta to Madrid. The flight over went pretty well. On the long flights Delta has done the same as almost all the other airlines where you pay extra for some extra leg room. We realized it was not just the extra leg room, but they took that extra leg room from regular coach. With it being David's longest flight ever, he was extra uncomfortable. Lucky for him Chrissy paid the extra for the leg room on the return.
Our room at the Westin was very nice. The bathroom was complete with a bidet that Chris found super entertaining. The rooms were older but well kept. It wasn't as fancy schmancy as I thought it would be but I didn't have any complaints.
We did the double decker bus tour that drove all over the city. The main pick up is right across from our hotel so that was super convenient too. They give you head phones and you pick the language and it's all pre-recorded. A little different than if you have done similar ones in London or New York. This first glimpse made me realize I knew nothing about Spain. I had not even really thought about it. I knew they ran with bulls and did flamenco shows but all the past Kings and Queens and history, no clue.
We got off the bus at the Plaza Mayor and it was pretty neat. Lots of restaurants with outside seating and street performers. It reminded me of Venice, without the smell. We sat at one of the little tables for some tapas! The boys tried some local beer, Chrissy had Sangria (I was so jealous! I was pregnant on this trip) and I sipped on an over priced bottle of coke. It was great people watching. It looked like some people had apartments in the square. I reminisced about Matt Lauer who was just in the Plaza Mayor for his Where in the World is Matt Lauer 2011. We didn't have Flamenco dancers performing just for us but it was still pretty cool.
We made a stop at the Hard Rock. Hard Rocks always seem to happen on vacation when there is one. It was only a couple blocks from the hotel so when we pulled up in like 2 minutes I understood why the cab driver looked annoyed when that's where we wanted to go.
Our big adventure was to Segovia. Chris really wanted to ride the train so we bought tickets in advance and it's an easy one to get to. I think the cab to the train station cost more than the train tickets. It was a misty rainy day. When we got off the train I asked Chris to ask the information booth where we go to visit the castle and old town. He came back with "we can walk or take the bus". The bus looked like sardines and I was like "let's walk!" So we started walking. It was foggy so we kept assuming it was right around the corner. Nope! We walked and walked and walked. We finally came to a gas station (and nothing around us looked 2000 years old or castle-ish) and with our combined Spanish figured out we had walked 3 kilometers and we were not even close. A cab finally came for us and we were off!
Segovia is also known for the aqueducts. It was a neat town with lots of shops and hills but after our long walk in the rain, we ended up going to a Italian restaurant and biding our time in the warmth before our train went back to Madrid.
The other little town we visited was Toledo. It was old! We did an escorted tour of Toledo and it was a whirlwind. We should have done the full day tour instead of the half day tour. There was 0 time on your own except at the end where they take you to a tourist trap place where they made jewelry. There are pros and cons of doing it on your own and then taking a tour, obviously!
One highlight of our trip was eating at Botins. It is the oldest restaurant in the world (so they claim and so says the Guiness Book of World Records). All I can say is good thing we had a reservation. It was packed and a total zoo but they had their system down. It kind of annoyed me for the prices you paid it was kind of a cattle call. Chrissy was brave and had the suckling pig that they are known for. We all were shocked when we ordered. The biggest tip for this restaurant is split everything and be specific with your waiter. Like they even charged for bread and like 1 euro for a tablet of butter sooooooo when we said we wanted bread and butter for the table we should have thought, "how many of us are actually going to eat it?" I think we had too much of an American mentality at this place.
We did a flamenco dinner show our last night. Chris loved the guitar playing. It was a fun night. It was a small restaurant with a stage. We sat really close (well everyone does).
As we got ready to go home we realized that hotel was at the start of the parade route. And their parades for Easter are intense. People dressed in these long purple robes and people just pack the streets. We had to get up extra early and just take a cab to the airport to avoid the crowd. This picture was from the lobby of the hotel.
All in all it was a good trip. I wouldn't say it's my new favorite city. It was very clean, the people didn't speak much English (except for the people at the hotel and Starbucks), there was lots of history (that I had never heard of) and the food was just ok to me.nbsp;I love going to new places though! I just don't know if I need to go back. I have checked it off my list.nbsp;I do miss the olives and balsamic served at every meal. I even have started buying olives from the olive bars at places like Whole Foods and Sunflower Market. Just thinking about it makes me want to go run to the store right now (but that might be the pregnant girl talking....)
Eating and Shopping Our Way thru TexasMy husband decided we hadn't gone on vacation in a looong time (Dec until February really isn't THAT long but whatever) so we decided to spend President's Day weekend in Texas. We dropped our 6 pound yorkie off at Chris's parents house in the Dallas area and continued onto Austin.
This was my first Austin experience. It totally reminded me of Portland, OR. It even rained the whole time we were there. We stayed at at resort right outside of town called the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. It was not convenient for visiting the city of Austin but it was a really neat resort. When you turn off the main road onto Hyatt Road or something like that it takes about 10 minutes of driving down a tree lined road to get to the resort. They had a golf course and horse stables. The horses weren't out and about because of the rain but it looked really neat. They had trails all thru the woods.
We ate dinner at Sandra Bullock's restaurant, Bess Bistro. It was really good! I had a starter salad and the salmon. Chris went for the shrimp bisque and lamb shepherds pie. I am still anti-lamb since I grew up with neighbors who had sheep and we would play with the babies. It's like eating a cat but I can handle watching someone else do it. Anyway, the atmosphere is great. There were wine bottles everywhere and a big fish tank. You walk down stairs from street level and it's like you are in a cellar or basement. The ceiling wasn't finished and the brick showed thru on the walls. It all added to the ambiance.
After dinner we ventured down to Whole Foods which I guess is the first Whole Foods in the country. It was probably about 9pm and the place was packed. It guess this is the place to be on a Friday night. You park underneath and take a escalator up. It was huge! So many different food stations and a nice wine area where people were sitting around enjoying there in the store. Very impressive. Chris and I bought a bunch of mini desserts from the pastry bar and brought them back to the hotel. Since I was in my first trimester, I pretty much fell asleep when we got back to the hotel and didn't eat them but the next morning they were amazing!
The next day we went to San Marcos, TX and O.M.G. it has the biggest outlet mall I've ever seen (and I am an outlet connoisseur). There were 2 outlet malls right next to each other. The Premium outlets and the traditional outlets. We spent probably 3 hours there and I don't think we hit 10%. My primary goal for this outlet mall was to visit the Pottery Barn outlet which was huge and amazing. Chris said he was surprised I didn't tell him to go rent a U-Haul. I was good though since at this point I don't know exactly where we will be living so it's hard to buy big ticket items without having a spot for them.
We ate at this local restaurant called Garcia's which was rated online as the #1 Mexican restaurant in all of Texas. That's a pretty amazing recommendation. It was very hole in the wall. It was super busy and it was super good. I don't know if I would say "best in all of Texas" but it was really good and cheap! The most expensive thing on the menu (which of course Chris has to get, that's par for the course) was $7.50. I had a chicken fajita salad and the chicken had a really good flavor.
We spent the next 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio. It was really similar to the Lost Pines (minus the horses) but you didn't have a 2 mile drive in from the main road. It was very Texas. Everything smelled like mesquite liquid smoke. They even added it to the food. I'm sorry but creamed corn doesn't need to take like mesquite. Gag me. They had a lazy river and a bunch of swimming pools. It would be a good place to come back in the summer.
We did lots of shopping (well more walking around shopping places, than buying things) while in San Antonio. We went down to the Riverwalk one night and ate at Boudro's. It was pricey but it was really good. They made guacamole table side with oranges in it. I've never had it with oranges so that was a yummy twist.
Anyway, all in all I really like Texas as a state,nbsp;but...since I live in Oklahoma, Texas still sucks :)
Le Blanc Resort....Very nice but a tad on the boring sideWe spent our first wedding anniversary at the Le Blanc Resort and Spa in Cancun. From the moment you step off the shuttle bus into the lobby, the amazing service starts. You are greeted with a cold towel and a champagne glass full of coconut milk. Check in process was quick and painless. (I did hear from some of the non travel agents that they did push the time share presentation a,nbsp;few times so maybe just painless for me)
They showed us to our room. The butler gives you a tour of,nbsp;the room....how to work the shower, how to request additional services (like you can have an aromatherapy,nbsp;scent going thru your room if you want)...etc etc.,nbsp;The rooms are very nice. I wish they had,nbsp;balconies instead of the,nbsp;Romeo and Juliet railing things. There is only 1 sink in the bathroom. I expected 2 but I'm getting very picky these days. The shower has 2 shower heads and on 1 side it has little spray,nbsp;things coming out from the wall. I like stuff like that. The minibar is awesome. It has beer, different juices, Pepsi and Coke and diets and,nbsp;tonic and,nbsp;club soda. I liked how they tried to appease everyone esp with,nbsp;having Coke and Pepsi. That's a ,nbsp;big deal to some people! They also stocked the room with snacks. I haven't had this before in a non-concierge level room. They had chips, spicy peanuts, tic tacs, Snickers, Mamp;Ms and more. I just kept putting them in my suitcase each day and they kept restocking. (I sound like a crazy person. I can't believe I just admitted this)
The restaurants at the resort were very nice and the food was very good. Probably the best all inclusive food I have had. At lunch they had this bar full of different cuts of meat - NY Strip, Rib Eye, Pork Chops, Hamburgers...and more and then they had one of fish and they even had octopus on it. You picked what raw thing you wanted and the got some veggies and took it over to the grill and they grilled it for you. Amazing. I had shrimp and veggies for lunch everyday. For dinner, they had an Italian restaurant, an Asian one and a french one. The Asian one was really good. It was probably my favorite. They had spring rolls with a pineapple salsa and these Vietnamese rolls with a mango sauce. mmmmmmmm.......
The French restaurant was very fancy schmancy. It took almost 3 hours to eat. It was course after course and they would bring you sorbet to cleanse your palate. French is not really my favorite. There are too many weird things on the menu and fancy words that I don't know what they mean. I need to do a Julia and Julia and work thru my Art of French Cooking and maybe I would appreciate it more. I'm just not a duck or frog legnbsp; fan or anything that says "foam" in the description with a meat. Gag me. I wish I had a fancier palate.
So as far as what I said for the "tad on the boring side" .....this is not the resort for anyone wanting any nightlife. They had like a guy making Spanish coffee in the lobby. One night they had a DJ but he played stuff like the YMCA and weird girls got up and danced. I did the electric slide when he played that. It bugged me that no one was doing it right so I had to. ha!
By the pool, they play classical type music. I'm more use to more upbeat music by the pool with maybe an entertainment team. At Secrets Maroma Beach they even had floating blackjack! Le Blanc was more just lay by the pool and read a book. I don't tan and I have a hard time sitting still so it just wasn't my cup of tea but Chrissy was like "I love this!" so it's to each his own.
Anyway, super nice resort, really good food, really good service.....it's just "happening". I don't need hard core entertainment and but some peppy music would have gone a long way with me :)
Planning a trip to places I can't pronounce......So how much do I know about Singapore? I remember some teenager in the 90s that was caned in Singapore for a variety of reasons.....I changed planes there once when I was on my way to Jakarta and....well that's about it! I love planning trips for myself to places I know nothing about. Sometimes when I'm bored at work (which nowadays is rare) I pick a random destination, set myself a budget and go about booking myself. It's a great learning tool. It's like dreaming and roll playing at the same time (or maybe those are synonyms?)
Well, this time it was for real. Chris has traveled to more countries than I have. I wanted to plan something to somewhere that would be new for both of us. Singapore is a big hub for flights. The flights were pretty reasonable (well for Oklahoma - Asia standards) and I then I discovered Royal Caribbean has a variety of itineraries during the winter all over Asia that departed from Singapore. Score!
What sold me on this particular itinerary was this canoing tour in Phuket. Check out this youtube:
That's exactly what I want to do. I guess I'm going to need to buy a waterproof camera. I'm even more excited after finding this video realizing they aren't going to expect me to paddle (I know I'm lazy but I was going to still sign up before I saw this!).
The other stops on this trip include Langkawi and Port Kelang which is close to Kuala Lempur. I haven't looked into too much for these destinations yet.....Malaysia. I can confirm that I know nothing about Malaysia. I remember the Malaysian Tourism Board came to a function in Oklahoma City. I kinda feel bad. I didn't retain any of the information she said. I did get a neat little pad of paper that says Malaysia from her.
The Grand Hyatt Singapore gave me a pretty decent travel agent rate (gotta love the Hyatts!) and it's close to this Orchard Road or street where I guess there is mega shopping to be done. This might be a little slice of hell for Chris but maybe in Asia he will be a good sport about it. Maybe? We are staying for 1 extra night after the cruise.nbsp; Did you know there's a Universal Studios in Singapore? I had no idea........I wonder if they have Harry Potter World there too......
All I'm hoping for is for it to look like this:
I dont think that's too much to ask.
LONDON......our trip and my tipsI am back from my girls trip to the amazing city of London. We did a whirlwind 4 day tour of London. I felt the last minute need to go to London because they put Kate's wedding dress on display at Buckingham Palace. They announced it in July and we headed over there in September. The weather was perfect and what I was not aware of - the perfect time to go! They only open places like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle certain times of year and that's exactly when we were traveling.
We stayed at a hotel called the Mercure London Bloomsbury. It was very contemporary and was just recently re-done. So, it was clean and new feeling. I chose this one because there were 3 of us in the room and they have a room category with 3 twin beds. Yay no one has to share and no one is stuck on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It was kind of out of the way from most of the places we wanted to go. I'm not sure if there would have been a perfect spot. We wanted to do things all over the city so everywhere we went meant getting on the underground (Mind the Gap! haha) or taking a cab. The underground was pretty close - about 3 blocks or so. It wasn't too bad.
We were delayed flying out of DC several hours which meant that we landed late...which meant we were late getting to Gordon Ramsey's. I was scared they would yell at us or tell us we couldn't have lunch or something and I was really looking forward to it. They didn't do either. They were super nice and accommodating and let us delay the reservations by an hour so we had time to change. The restaurant is really small. Only 14 tables I think I read. It's a French restaurant and has 3 Michelin stars so thus it is amazing. The portions are small but with the "basic" lunch you get 3 courses with a couple surprises from the chef so it was more than enough. We had about 5 waiters for the 4 of us. They brought us out caviar to start and these ice cream strawberry balls sitting in dry ice at the end. It was all very impressive. Totally a splurge and totally worth it. Make your reservations in advance! It was hard to get in and it was the only slot available during our trip. When we told the front desk where we were having lunch she exclaimed "Oh wow! How did you get a reservation?!" I told her my travel agent :)
On Friday it was the wedding day. We arrived right when Westminster Abbey opened (after looking at Westminster Cathedral and me going "this doesn't look the same as what I remember" Duh Lia!) and we did a semi quick walk thru of the church where William and Kate were married. It's also where Kings and Queens and lots of important people are buried. They had the head sets where you can listen to all that but I have a short attention span so I only could handle listening to that for about 5 minutes. It was totally beautiful. One of our traveling companions Donna went on Sunday to a service and listened to the choir. She said it was great.
Next we headed to Buckingham Palace. It wasn't too far but we still took a cab which ended up being fun because the cabby told us all about things as we drove along and we drove down the The Mall to get there to which I kept telling everything that it was exactly how Prince William and Kate did it.
We saw people gathering for what I thought was going to be the changing of the guards. We sat outside for a good 45 minutes waiting for it and it just never seemed to happen. Now looking at the website, it was only on even numbered days in September and we were there on the 9th. (So check this if you go!) We eventually gave up and went on our Palace Tour which we had pre-ordered the tickets. I'm glad we did because it was sold out.
They didn't allow pictures inside which was kind of a bummer. You got to see more than just her dress. They had a whole Faberge exhibit too which was gorgeous. For part of the wedding stuff, they walked you thru the room that they took their official wedding pictures (lots of red!) and then the dress was displayed in the room that the Queen held the reception. Her shoes, her earrings, the tiara and the cake were all there. The cake was huge! It was like a normal 3 tiered cake but that was each corner holding up the cake. It was huge. I guess they replaced the stuff people ate and it said they saved the top layer for their anniversary. (It's like they are real people! Crazy huh!). Well I was in total Royal Wedding heaven and it was worth the trip for me. I bought a Faberge picture frame and Chrissy got Faberge tea cups. We had them shipped back.
On Saturday we visited Windsor Castle. It was perfect that we picked Saturday. The train station sold us a "Group" rate for the 4 of us and since it was off peak it was only 18 pounds for all 4 of us to Windsor round trip! I thought it was a steal. It left from Paddington Station and they had a stand with Paddington Bear stuff. Super cute.
The town of Windsor was really neat. Lots of little shops and restaurants. I would go back and stay there for a couple days in a second. We pre-bought Kitchen Tour tickets. It was now the highlight of my trip. They took us down back corridors of the castle. They showed us backrooms that the Queens grand kids (William and Harry! Omg...) had their 21st birthday parties. It was crazy. The room didnt look anything more than a banquet room at an old church. Like one you would never want to have your wedding reception in because you would have no idea how to not make it look dumpy.
The kitchen is the oldest working kitchen (like from 1200 or something),nbsp;They have guest chefs come in so it was not furnished with utensils. I wish they would have let us take a picture. There was a shelf up around the huge room with copper pots from all different castles and palaces. The lady joked that they were all marked and it was a bummer that Windsor's were marked "WC". haha.
We had a traditional English meal our on a side street in the town of Windsor. It tasted like cafeteria food to me. Potatoes and ground beef with a beef gravy over it and peas. It was fun to try it though.
On Sunday we did the traditional high tea and at,nbsp;no where else but The Ritz. The cabby told us that it was the original place. We had tea and little sandwiches and cake and scones with clotted cream (which,nbsp;was,nbsp;biscuits, strawberry jam,nbsp;and whip cream). It was fun and fancy. Kind of a check of my list thing.
We also visited The Tower of London. This is where the Crown Jewels are. America's Hope Diamond does not have anything on this. Wow. I really felt like I was looking at pretend stuff. It was over the top.
We did even more than what I have typed here. We did a cruise down the Thames and tried some different restaurants. I am impressed on how much we squeezed in. Last minute I had to a Harrods run. I could go back and spend a day at Harrods. They even let you pay in dollars. :D
Overall here are my top tips:
1 - Wear comfortable shoes (pain is not beauty here people)
2 - Plan out what is going to be open and when
3 - Buy important tickets in advance (like Buckingham Palace, Windsor, ....)
4 - Make dinner and High Tea reservations in advance (I know alot of people like to just wing it but if you do that you wont get to do these things - I promise!)
5 - Bring snacks (my pop tarts in the morning,nbsp;while we road the underground saved time!)
6 - Make sure your hotel is near the underground (I liked being by the Piccadilly line because it ran diagonally across the city)
7 - Ship the breakable stuff home......
8 - Plan on spending more than an average vacation. Everything is more expensive. 1 pound is going to cost you $1.63 plus an exchange fee if you are using your credit/debit card. So plan on double to be safe.
9 - Look up what kind of adaptor to bring. We just trusted the Best Buy employee and we arrived with the wrong one.
10 - Always use a travel agent! :)
Mmmmm.....Chocolate Melting CakeI would say the 1 thing my friends reminisce about the most from a group cruise we all did on Carnival in 2007 has to be the Chocolate Melting Cake served in the dining room. It is this brownie like cake in a ramekin served warm and just not completely "done". Ice cream comes along side this little gem.
Carnival has given away this recipe on their Blog, The Funville Times. Here it is:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter and cool for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix four eggs with sugar. Whisk. Then add flour and whisk. Add the remaining three eggs and add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour this entire mixture into individual ramekins. Bake until just done, about 15-20 minutes (interior will be melting). Serve with vanilla ice cream.
- 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
- 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
- 7 eggs, divided use
- 6 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 cup of flour
I am going to try and make this one of these days. I bought the ramekins and I just haven't gotten around to it. I might just book a Carnival Cruise instead!nbsp; The Carnival Magic (their newest ship) is coming to Oklahoma City's closest port (Galveston, TX),nbsp;this December! It even has a jacuzzi that sticks out over the water. I might be too chicken for that but the ship looks awesome. I'm excited they have decided to bring the newest one so close to home.
The ART of finding a room for 3 in London. This will help you understand my job.So The Today Show aired a story about the new exhibit coming to Buckingham Palace - KATE MIDDLETON'S WEDDING DRESS! The display including her shoes, tiara, earrings, veil,,nbsp;the cake (less the couple layers they ate) would all be in the room the Queen hosted the reception in until October 3rd. I HAD to go.
Although fully booked with trips I had planned for us, Chrissy agreed to fly to London with me. Within just a couple hours we had our tickets booked and paid for and tickets to the exhibit bought! A couple of hours later Chrissy called with the question that changed where we couple stay...."Can my mom come?" Without hesitation I was like "Sure! I like your mom!",nbsp;We booked her ticket and entrance and,nbsp;now for the hard part, finding a hotel room that,nbsp;sleeps 3 adults.,nbsp;Sounds easy, right? Nope.
Most hotels in Europe have,nbsp;either a,nbsp;double or a twin bed (sometimes 2 twins). Some luxury hotels have a king bed but it is rare to find one with 2 queens or 2 doubles. ,nbsp;I suppose if I had more advance notice (It's only 6 weeks until we leave) I might have had more options but we didn't.
I hunted and hunted around. A lot of hotels say "triple" allowed but it's 2 adults and 1 child because they are going to bring in a small cot. Some hotels have a triple because there's a "sleeper chair" which is the case at The Melia Whitehouse property which was mentioned on Londontoolkit.com as one of the best Triple rooms in the city. I'm sorry but a sleeper chair does not sound appealing for 1 night let alone 4 nights.
I thought I was in luck. I had points to stay 1 free night at the Fairmont Savoy which is one of the top properties in London. They said on their website they allow 3 in a room. It gave me the rate of 315 pounds a night and with 1 night free I thought this is GREAT! Nope again. When I called (because it was unclear on their website) I was informed it would only have a king bed in the room and they would have to bring in a cot which will be an additional 75 pounds. I'm sorry but this hotel standard rate is around 600 pounds a night....so about $1,000. I'm not sleeping at a $1,000 a night hotel on a cot. It would suck the experience out of it for me. I,nbsp;decided to just save my points for another trip.
I probably spent a good 15 hours just looking online at different hotels, going to trip advisor to see if it was a good deal, emailing the properties to see what the bedding situation is like, etc. Even "American" properties like The Sheraton only had 1 king or 2 twins. I did come across a couple of hotels like The Langham London which would have 2 big beds in the room but it was out of our price range.
We ended up selecting The Mercure London Bloomsbury which offers a room with 3 twin beds! Yay! No one has to sleep on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It is located in Bloomsbury instead,nbsp;Kensington but Kensington was not worth the cot or sleeper sofa in my book.
This hunt really validated my jobnbsp;for me. It is sooo time consuming and I know what I'm doing! I can't imagine working full time and trying to do this for myself in the evening. Travel Agents are worth every penny.
I'm going to be standing right there in 6 weeks!
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.....in my opinion
So for a honeymoon (since we didn't get much of one in PV) we decided to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I had a travel agent deal I couldn't pass up at the Hard Rock Resort so that made the hotel selection for us.
This is what I thought:
It is a large property with lots of walking. They do have the golf cart shuttle trams that run all the time with lots of pick up points similar to the Paradisus. Our room was closer to the main building which is where the spa, casino, and most of the restaurants were. I liked being close to that stuff as opposed to the beach but totally a personal preference.
8 pools that line the ocean and some other ones throughout the property including a kids pool area with slides and a lazy river. The pools toward the middle of the property had lots of activities going and music and the ones on the outskirts were more laid back and quiet so it was nice to pick based on your mood. There are lots of waves in the ocean here. People were having fun jumping over them but it seemed almost dangerous to me but maybe I’m just a chicken. I prefer to just float.
The spa was really nice. They even had these massage huts that sat over the water (not the ocean but this massive man made water thing they had).
The casino was huge! All kinds of gaming available and at the far end was a sports bar with tvs up the ceiling with all kinds of sports betting. It was fun watching the Thunder game there.
It seemed the kids there were having a really good time. So many options and they had an activity board with options of fun stuff to do from baseball on the beach to a dance contest, etc. There was also an arcade and a kid camp that seemed like people were using to drop off the littlest ones during like dinner. They had small tables with activities and fisher price type video games.
Lots of music memorabilia everything seeing that this is the Hard Rock which was neat.
The rooms are nice. They have a large bathroom with a shower only (double heads in the shower) and they have a separate toilet area and double sinks. The rooms had either a king or 2 doubles and then a huge Jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room and you stepped down to where the balcony was with a sitting area. They do offer “family rooms” to book which is justnbsp;adjoining rooms which is kinda hard to find in an all inclusive!
There were more Europeans there than Americans when I went. There are direct flights from Paris, Moscow, Madrid as well as others so there were quite a bit of Europeans. The food reminded me of being more in Europe with how they put things together and some of the menu options. It seemed to be hit and miss on the food which I guess is pretty typical of all inclusive. I’m kind of a foodie so all inclusive isn’t always my favorite way to go. My husband isn’t picky so he liked everything. For example, the beef tenderloin at the steak restaurant was pretty good. The sirloin was not so good. There was a Japanese restaurant and the chef was entertaining and personable. The food was pretty good. They had chicken, steak and shrimp and then calamari. nbsp;I didn’t think the buffet was as good as other all inclusives I have visited. I did like the grill out by the pool. They had really good hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. I opted for this at lunch as opposed to the buffet. There was an ice cream shop on property. The ice cream was different. It was still good but not like Braums.
There is tons of poverty in the Dominican Republic. We did a group tour to Santo Domingo for the day. It was eye opening and interesting but we saw a lot of poverty and trash lining the streets all the way there. Santo Domingo claims to have the 1st church in the Americas and to be where Christopher Columbus first landed and is buried. There was lots of history. It did not seem unsafe at all but just a lot of poverty.
We also did a snorkel day trip and that was really nice. The water is really pretty. Not the best snorkeling in the world but definitely better than a lot of places. They took you out and you snorkeled over to these cages they had set up in the ocean. You then snorkeled into the cages where they had sharks and stingrays. I thought I would be more scared but it was really neat. Then we did a cruise down the coast and stopped at shallow area where they let us all swim and they had drink service in the ocean.
There were a ton of water activities and the sand there was so soft and powdery, that was a definite plus.
Over all, I dont know if I personally would go back to Punta Cana (well unless it was free!) but for people who like affordable all inclusives (but the air for some reason is still expensive)nbsp;with gorgeous beaches it's a great choice. It's an easy place for Destination Weddings too.
More Mexican Stars at the Mexican restaurant at Hard Rock! Wohooo!
Fresh Passion Fruit (It was like tropical sweet tarts)
This was the spinach salad I ordered. Gross.
Chris on the beach in front of Hard Rock.
Planning my own Destination Wedding
Being a travel agent and recommending Destination Weddings to brides 40 hours a week when I got married it only made sense that I plan my own, right?
There's a lot to consider when planning a Destination Wedding. What is important to one couple might not matter at all to another couple.
The most important thing to Chris and I was that all of our friends and family could attend.
This ruled out obscure places in the Caribbean.....Hawaii....Tahiti.....because they would be cost prohibitive for many.
I grew up on the West Coast and dont mind the chilly waters of the Pacific. Compared to the Oregon Coast, anything is bearable! Afternbsp;seeing an article about Puerto Vallarta,nbsp;in a magazine titled "Destination Weddings ,amp; Honeymoons" it sealed the deal. An employee from Louis Vuitton chose Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa for her Destination Wedding and her sunset pictures were gorgeous. I thought, "If it's good enough for her, then it's good enough for me"! All the media travel warnings for Mexico might be a turn off to some of my family but I knew my friends would be game.,nbsp;chose the date of 12/11/10....we liked the,nbsp;number thing and it was available....in prime whale season at that!,nbsp; After researching the decor options at the resort,nbsp;(which I didn't even think about when I booked the wedding - good one,nbsp;Lia) we opted to hire a local design company called "Chic Concepts" to handle the wedding. nbsp;
My requirements? I wanted the light up dance floor on the beach and Mexican Stars. I had seen these Mexican Stars (or this is what I call them, not sure on their technical name) when I had been in Puerto Vallarta a few years before and hanging in the tree on the patio at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and I couldn't get them out of my head!
I'm not sure how many details people will be interested in. We booked the air/resort packages through Continental Vacations. They had great prices, low deposits and they throw in the airport transportation. I didn't ask for a travel agent "deal", I just went as a regular bride and wanted to see how that all worked out.
Everyone seemed to love thenbsp;Dreams Resort. Perks of Dreams (which is part of AM Resorts) is the no wrist bracelet policy, no reservations in their ala carte restaurants, service is good and the food is pretty good (for an all inclusive). Everyone who knows me knows I'm pretty picky when it comes to food. I like to plan vacations around food and where I can try new things. The food at Dreams is not as good as their sister Adults only resort "Secrets" but esp if you dont have anything to compare it to, it's pretty darn good.
Chris and I stayed a week at the resort. I wish we would have stayed longer after the wedding. With such a big group coming to the wedding we didn't get much of a "honeymoon" so we booked a week in Punta Cana for April (I guess that's not too bad, right?).
Perks of a Destination Wedding:
No Stress! (well minimal stress)
Bummers of a Destination Wedding:
You don't get to freeze that top cake layer (Do people really like eating it a year later anyway?)
You can't take your bouquet home with you to dry
Not ALL of your family/friends will be able to attend
Things available at home (like I wanted ranunculus flowers) might not be available in a foreign country (unless you are like Oprah or something)
All in all it was a great trip. Everyone was pleasantly surprised on how safe they felt in Mexico, the value of the all inclusive and the weather!! It was about 78 degrees the whole time. (I totally recommend going to PV in December. The whales where jumping out of the water behind us!)
Are there things I would do different if I got to do it all over again? Sure! But that's the great thing about having a travel agent who's done this before. I have lots of advice I can pass on :)
Ever heard of Huatulco?
I just returned from a 4 night trip to the beach town of Huatulco. Ever heard of it?
It's on the Pacific side pretty much as far south in Mexico that you can get. They said "well we are almost Guatemala".
We stayed at Dreams. It's an all inclusive resort, part of the AM Resort chain which are one of my favorites.
We had 35 total in our group. Everyone was game for somewhere new and a great deal.
We arrived on a Saturday and there was this amazing Mexican wedding that night. Probably 200 people at the wedding and this gorgeous supermodel looking bride and a shorter, less attractive groom with a entourage of runway looking guests. We were all in awe.
Most of the wedding group left on Sunday and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Summer thru fall is their off season. They have charter flights that leave from Canada all winter and those were starting right as we were packing up to leave.
Here are some pictures of my room. We had a preferred club oceanfront jr. suite with Jacuzzi. We come upon a steal of a deal and I don't think this room would be worth paying regular price but we were glad to have it.
|Preferred club Jr. Suite ocean front with Jacuzzi at Dreams Huatluco|
These rooms have Jacuzzis out on their balcony which aren't exactly private, esp. if you have your light on your balcony. Some people in our group said they could also see the Jacuzzi of the next room so unless you are an exhibitionist- beware!
One couple told me the jets were full of ants and one couple said black muck came flowing out of there's. I did not partake in the Jacuzzi experience. Another reason this room might be a waste of your moola.
Mini-bar is included with the all inclusive plan. I love the bottled cokes and sprites in Mexico. Something I don't normally buy in the US so it's always fun.
|Balcony on our jr. suite oceanfront room at Dreams Huatulco |
|Mini bar. Preferred club comes with mini liquor bottles and snacks |
The beach at the resort was pretty spectacular. Lots of rock and it was on a bay so there was nothing that washed up on the beach. I have been to way too many that have constant seaweed and junk washing up but this one - seriously nothing. I kept watching for it too. The rocks on the side had crabs crawling all over them and we could see blow fish swimming just from standing on the beach.
The food was pretty good at the resort. I wonder if it would have been better if the occupancy would have been higher. They only had 2 restaurants (1 being a buffet) open during the week. I did like the Mexican restaurant. The refried beans were so amazing. Wow. I wish I could find some like that in the US. ( I don't even normally like them!) They even served them on the breakfast room service menu. (Oh and just an FYI, over easy eggs or fried eggs, this is still sunny side up to them)
On the authentic plate at the Mexican restaurant they served grasshoppers. That was a little too authentic for me.
|Chicken enchiladas at Mexican Restaurant at Dreams Huatulco |
|Tortilla bowl of grasshoppers |
We went into town one morning just to check it out. There really wasn't anything to check out. There are a few local souvenir shops with people that harass you to buy their stuff. There's some overpriced silver stores where you feel like you never know if it's even real silver and some restaurants that would probably guarantee the plague if you ate at them. I did feel safe though. Everyone was very nice. I didn't see any army guys with machine guns like in Cancun. It was a little town but really a waste of time. They said the whole city of Huatulco is 17,000 people.
Some of our group did a snorkel trip and I was kicking myself for not going with. Huatulco has 9 bays. The guy that took them was a local guy from the beach. He took them to pristine beaches where there was no one. They dove down and snorkeled in caves and they said the water was so clear. Sounds like pretty amazing snorkeling for the Pacific Ocean.
The road to the airport was a tad scary. They are working on building a road and it was this dirt stretch with a severe drop off. I was planning my escape route from the bus in my head because I was pretty sure we weren't going to make it but we did!
All in all, it was great seeing a new place. Will I go back? Probably not but the people were very nice, the fishing was quite impressive (so deep sea fishing people must go here!) and the scenery will be hard to beat.
Beaches Turks and Caicos - Ultimate Family Vacation
Beaches Turks is nothing short of amazing. There is something for everyone and that's just scratching the surface. Let me start by explaining each section of the resort.
First of the all the resort sits on an amazing beach of white sand and clear water. There are 4 villages which make up the resort:
This is the oldest but still kept up part of the resort. It has a fun bar a night called Turtles, a nice large gift shop, some really good restaurants and this is also the least expensive section to stay in.
This part is gorgeous. Huge pool area with sections for toddlers and a great swim up bar. It is surrounded by cabanas for Butler service room categories. This is where the rooms that you see with the triple bunk for kids in the family suites that are perfect for families of 5. Great restaurants in this section including a British Pub open pretty much all night with karaoke and random fun for adults.
Key West Village
This is the "new" section. It was a different resort separated by a fence and now it runs seamlessly into the Italian Village. I was kind of nervous thinking it would seem "so far away" but not at all. This is where they have concierge rooms all the way to huge 4 bedroom villas . A couple of restaurants and a mini spa where there are basically just treatment rooms. There are little pools throughout so people who seemed to want to be away from the crowds would love it in Key West.
I was so skeptical of this one because it sits back from the beach but I really liked it! The beach is not that far of a walk at all. The pool area was huge and not super busy like the Italian pool. There were lots of little restaurants and it looked like Europe. There was even a little pastry shop open at night, all ready with to-go boxes so you could indulge in private (ha!). This is where the stage for the Sesame Street show was and it's right next to the water park. This would be an ideal place to stay for a family.
Other points of interest -
The water park was really nice. They had 4 main slides that fed into the lazy river which is ideal. Tons of inner tubes to use and lots of chairs all over. They had a toddler area with a splash pad, a swim up smoothie bar and a 50s style caf� with burgers and Caesar salads and amazing onion rings. If you have ever been to Atlantis, I'm not talking water park like that. Beaches Water Park is big enough to entertain but not huge enough that you can't find your friends or kids for that matter.
The food was pretty good. Of course it's semi hit and miss since it is a Caribbean island but overall I was very impressed. Coming from the state of Oklahoma, I wasn't too impressed with the steak or Mexican food but that goes for every restaurant out of the Oklahoma/Texas area. The seafood was awesome, the teppanyaki restaurant was awesome, the Caribbean jerk and curry and pizza was well, awesome. You get the idea.
The drinks were good. The bartenders very helpful and eager but not overly eager like sometimes I've experienced in Mexico where every time you walk by they are insisting on a tequila shot. It's not like that here. It's very family oriented. The drinking age (18) is posted at all the bars hopefully making kids think twice about trying to order an alcoholic beverage. They had great non-alcoholic drink options posted. I would feel comfortable sending non-drinking family groups here no problem.
The service was great. They seem to understand the wow factor needed to really get a repeat guest. Just an example, I was escorted to my room by one of the employees. As we walked by the kids club I mentioned that I had a 1 year old at home. Later that day she came by my room and dropped off a stuffed Elmo and a beach towel to bring home to him and said she hopes he gets to return with me.
It was stuff like this all the time. We ordered pizza one day and it was going to be about 20 minutes. The waiter said "Why don't you guys go sit in the hot tub and I'll bring it to you when it's ready."
I was way impressed we didn't have to tip to get this kind of service. Most employees had no idea we were travel agents checking the place out. We just had great service every time we turned around.
A beautiful, safe island. There are currently non stop flights on American Airlines from Dallas so fairly easy to get to. You don't have a long ride from the airport to the resort (maybe 15 minutes?). There's great food, service, your kids can hang out with Elmo and Big Bird, a spa, golf nearby, 19 restaurants.......I could keep going.
So if you get my message on this blog you will be calling me by the time you are reading this sentence to book your family to this awesome resort. It's worth every penny and you will be glad you did!
Love Disney Cruises even with a toddler! Right before Christmas my little family decided to take a Disney Cruise. Most people probably said behind our back "Her son is only 1, he won't remember it." or "Her son is not old enough to even participate in the activities". Well, both of these things are CORRECT but WE LOVED IT.
And here's why.......
I have been on many cruises. This was actually Jack's second cruise at the ripe old age of 16 months. We sailed on Carnival when he was 8 months. Carnival does do a good job. I have no problems with Carnival but Disney just does it better, as we all would expect right?
From the moment we arrive there are people there to help. Me, the travel agent didn't have my bags tagged or even my paperwork with me (this is par for the course) and did that matter? Nope! They found us on their list and tagged our bags for us. There were 2 check in lines. One line for regular joes and one for Disney Club members. The lady says "just go to the shorter one since you have him". Sweet.
|Disney Cruise ship |
|Disney Cruise cabin. You can't sit on the couch with a pack n play in the room!|
|Pluto got down on the floor with the kids. |
They had a Pack N Play in our cabin. It did make it tight. I don't think 2 infants/toddlers requiring Pack N Plays would be able to do a standard size cabin. The cabin steward knew our names and esp Jack's name. Little things like "Hi Jack!" when we came out of our cabin each day made us feel special (that sounded a lot sappier than I am normally). Another great thing is the cabins have 2 bathrooms. One is a toilet and sink and the other is a mini bathtub and sink. Normally cruise ships have 1 tiny bathroom that I joke you can sit on the toilet and wash your hands in the sink while leaning over to wash your hair in the shower. This made it possible to give Jack a bath instead of trying to hold him in the shower like on Carnival. Awesome!
Another cool thing they do is wave phones. There are 2 in your cabin. If you drop your kids off at camp they will text you with anything. Like "They want to be picked up" or "can they eat lunch early?" or whatever. You can bring it with you and call your room from wherever. It's pretty sweet. All cruises should have this.
For dinner each night Disney has you move from dining room to dining room. Each one has a different theme so you get to experience them all. The cool part (and this is different from every other cruise line) is your waitstaff comes with you. We got to know our waitstaff, where they were from, one had a 5 year old daughter at home in the Philippines and they got to know us. They would have stuff out for Jack. His high chair all ready with crayons and bring him chocolate milk which was a big treat for him. Some people say they don't want an assigned dining time and I understand it but the experience and memories of making friends with the waitstaff totally outweighed any of that for me. We did go to Palo (the adults only fine dining which was soooo good. Imported balsamic from Italy and oh I could go on and on) one night and the next night they were like "We missed you!" and I felt bad. I wish we could go back and have the same staff!
|Great waitstaff on the ship! |
Disney had a show each night in the main theatre. They did a whole production of Toy Story which was really well done. I was a tad on the bored side and I heard other people say the same thing. Not Disney's fault but maybe Toy Story just wasn't suppose to be on the stage? They also had a magician which was great, very entertaining. They had a show at the end of the week called "Disney Magic" and it had little scenes from tons of different Disney movies. Cinderella, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.....the list goes on and on. It was great. Jack loved it. They even made it snow.
|They had Mickey ice cream bars for dessert for kids. |
One night and they do this on every cruise, was pirate night. Everyone dresses up. Adults, kids, the characters - everyone. Well except for us because I am horrible at my own vacations and did not read up on it before I left. People were having so much fun with it. At the end of the night they had a big dance party on the top deck with a little show and Mickey rides a zipline across the top of the ship and then fireworks went off. Pretty impressive. It wasn't until 10pm so Jack was falling asleep.
They had different fun stuff throughout the week at night. One night I made Jack stay up for the Donald Duck Salsa Dance Party. He wore a sombrero and danced with all the kids in one of the smaller theatre. Adorable. Jack was dancing and was so tired he was falling over so we didn't stay long.
|Selfie with Mickey. Everyone has one, right? |
There were adult comedy nights so always something to do. I didn't attend one due to lack of babysitter but I'm going to guess they were awesome. They had the comedian do family friendly during the day and I can only imagine.
One of my favorite parts was stopping at Castaway Cay. This is Disney's private island. They pull right up. Everything is right there. They even have a kid camp on the island for kids starting at age 3.
They served BBQ and burgers and had ice cream and fruit stands. Everything included. The beach was beautiful. They had specific places to snorkel and renting the equipment was $15 if you did it in advance or $25 day of. This was for all day. There were little shops with beach toys and t-shirts. If you do a Disney Cruise, make sure this port is on the list!
|Castaway Cay had calm water which was perfect for kids!|
|Castaway Cay character photos |
My husband said his favorite part (which I hope is partly a joke) is they didn't have someone in the dining room rationing out the bacon like on Carnival. They let you serve it up yourself and have as much as you want.
Here are my tips -
1. Bring pirate stuff for the family
2. There's not a casino so no worries about having a huge onboard account!
3. If you want to decorate your cabin door, bring magnetic stuff. People did this and it was way cute.
4. Any kids in diapers can only play on the splash pad - no baby pool
5. Bring an umbrella stroller to go around the ship in if you have a little, they don't provide these.
6. There are washing machines and dryers onboard if you need to wash clothes. Bring your own soap if you like the hypoallergenic kind like I do.
7. No babysitting in the cabins, you take them to the nursery which was a disaster cry fest for mine so maybe bring a babysitter :) It's now about $9/hr.
8. If you want a cabana at Castaway Cay - reserve as early as possible. They were full so we didn't get to have one. (about $500 for the day I think)
9. Wait until the end of the week to do pictures with the characters. The line was next to nothing by then.
10. Soda is included in the dining room and at the buffet but not if you order at a bar or at the theatre.
11. Eat as much bacon as you can!
Marival Residence and World Spa TripLet me start with saying this all inclusive has the best food of any all inclusive that I have visited and I have been to a ton of them! With that being said here's my full review.......
This resort is "across the street" from the beach. Brochures and online descriptions seem to make it seem like it's just right across the road but it's across the street up on the hill and down from the main resort. You wouldn't be able to walk there but there is golf cart service down there. It runs all the time so ended up not a big deal.
The driver drops you off at the entrance to where you can walk down to their special area on the beach. This wasn't like the "special" areas at other resorts where they just have a rope and it's the same as everyone elses. It was actually really nice. There are nice beach beds and teak wood looking pathways. The waitstaff was eager to help and bring drinks or snacks. The waiters even brought me an ice cream sundae one day. The resort had a basket of sunscreen and magazines which I realized when I forgot my sunscreen one day I had just donated it to the basket. This was one of the days (we went at Christmas time):
Back at the resort there's a nice pool but no swim up bar. There is a private jacuzzi with a neat waterfall. It was suppose to be adults only but people still had their toddlers over there and no one did anything about it. I'm a rule follower for the most part esp with things like that so that kind of stuff bugs me. There's a restaurant on this island type thing in the middle of the pool with amazing food.
The really popular restaurant was the one on the roof top and they had tapas from all different continents. It was so fun and we ordered a ton and watched the sunset. (and they were sooo good, if you didn't notice they have good food theme). This was at the main restaurant and Chris said it was like the best grilled cheese ever!
I loved this curry mahi mahi:
And I'm a sucker for pretty much any caprese salad but this one was extra good:
Dessert tapas on the rooftop:
The rooms were excessively huge. Totally unnecessary but kind of fun. We had a one bedroom ocean view room. It had 2 bathrooms and a huge kitchen which I have always found bizarre at an all inclusive. The bed was super hard. I'm a little spoiled though with my bed at home.
Pepsi products stocked in the fridge (bleh). Room service was not free. They said the fee was suppose to be like a tip (it wasn't expensive) but then there's always still a line for a tip even when you are on the all inclusive so it makes you feel a little obligated. We only tipped if there was amazing service or they went out of their way.
The spa at this resort is awesome. All the treatment rooms were different countries with the furniture and everything all from that country. The Italy room even had where you smash grapes before you get in the wine barrel looking jacuzzi before your massage. I'm giddy just thinking about it.
I dont know if I would do the Thailand lay on the mat and be stretched room:
India room (I want to go to India so bad!)
The Turkey room was the couples room complete with "sharing the experience of bathing" (this is what their website says) Kinda weird!
All in all this is a really nice resort. Perfect for upscale travelers that like good service and to not be around tons of people. You do have access to the main resort which has a little nightlife. This resort is not action packed. It's good food, service and very read a book by the pool style place.
Viva Las Vegas......but pick the right hotelI booked a trip to Las Vegas for my big 3-0 months in advance (May 2011)
I won a trip to Las Vegas for being Top 20 Sales in all of the USA and Canada (yay me) with Continental Vacations. (June 2011)
So I am now the self proclaimedVegas expert. I stayed on the 2 ends of the strip, seen Cirque and musician shows, had a mob experience, won a jackpot/lost money, "went clubbing", shopped til I dropped and ate at some really good and some "so so" restaurants.
First trip we stayed at MGM Grand. They had an amazing rate. You get what you pay for. My favorite, almost always true statement. Beds were sooooo uncomfortable and I didn't even have to share a bed with anyone. Originally I had booked a room in the West Wing which are suppose to be an upgrade but then the trip turned into a girls trip since Chris had to work so we moved to the area of the hotel that has 2 beds (West Wing is King only).
MGM is a massive huge resort/casino. I didnt even know parts of it existed until later into the weekend. I might have enjoyed it more if I had realized some of the stuff right there.
The pool complex is also MASSIVE. They have a lazy river and lots of pools and chairs. It's one of the better pool areas I think. The Tropicana says they won best pool but I'm not sure who voted for them. They have tee-pees which is cool, I guess??? Living in Oklahoma the last 12 years have made tee-pees not as novel. Anyway, at MGM pool everything is soooo overpriced. I'm not someone who cringes at vacation prices. I know they are going to be more than in Oklahoma but here's an example. For a strawberry daqurri it was $15. This is from one of those machines and in a 12 oz cup. And this is plus tax and the expected tip. So for almost $20 you get a generic plastic cup with a very processed style strawberry daqurri. IF they were blending it right there with fruit, using top shelf rum and it was going to come with an umbrella and whip cream on top would I spend $20 on a daqurri. I opted out. Instead I paid $7 for a 20 oz bottle of Diet Coke (seriously. Wow.). I could go on and on but I was kind of put out by this.
Another note about the pool is they have this Adults Only pool which is a "nightclub" at the pool. It's called Wet Republic. It's a $20 cover but they seemed to be passing out free passes to cute girls. We made the cut. (Yessssss!) But here's the catch: Once you get up in line you get patted down by security and not just patted down airport style but full on, they think you are going to be sneaking drugs in your bikini top style. We couldnt bring anything in such as eye drops, bottled water, chewing gum......etc etc. "It could have drugs"
I was just looking forward to not being splashed in the pool by people's kids but if they had this big of a drug problem....I opted for being splashed. I guess the pool nightclub scene is very popular now in Vegas. The bartender selling my friends the $20 daqurris told us that they have a big drug problem and people are putting stuff in drinks and they have to have a cop and paramedic on staff. Wooooow.
While in Vegas the first time we saw Beattles Love which is a Cirque show. I was informed by my friends that they didnt think there was enough Cirque going on but I enjoyed it. I have a secret love of music from the 50s and 60s so I sat there happy as a clam and sang along.
Before the show we ate at Kokomos inside The Mirage. They have a pre-set menu that is the appetizer, entree and dessert. It was like $40 for all 3. You have to ask for this. I would put this restaurant in the "so so" category. It was a good deal for dinner time and perfect location for right before a show at The Mirage but I thought the atmosphere was lacking and service wasnt that impressive. Food was pretty good but I dont even really remember what I had so that tells you something right there.
I really liked the sports bar at NYNY. There were huge TVs everywhere and they even had a small tv at the table. Food was good, a little expensive but as expected and service was good. We were there cheering on The Thunder in the playoffs. They lost but we still had fun :)
On the second trip we stayed at The Wynn. amazing room, comfortable beds (still not as comfortable as the W or the Westin) and this is the casino that I won my jackpot at so it holds a dear place in my heart.
If you sign up for their players club, it's pretty easy to get enough points for the free buffet. They let you use the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dinner is like $45 per person so the most bang for your buck. At dinner they had a HUGE bucket of king crab legs. There was almost always a line but the line goes quick. Their breakfast is also amazing. I'm not a big buffet fan but for The Wynn I make the exception.
The Wynn has shopping at the hotel but it's only going to be your fancy schmancy shopping.....Channel, Rolex, Louis Vuittion, and oh you know, Alexander McQueen who designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress. We had fun window shopping and we made our way to Casears Palace which has a little bit of everything (and a fun show in the middle of the mall).
At Casears Palace they have Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab. This was probably my favorite meal and I would go back in a second. They also have a set meal. Mine came with cole slaw which they make tableside for you (I've only ever had guacamole made tableside for me!) and I love cole slaw so I was very excited. The stone crab was so yummy and the portion was so huge I couldnt finish it all.
My jackpot was on the last night. I found I loved Wheel of Fortune and this old school machine. Chris was off taking roulette class at the Venetian so I was alone when I won so no one to do the victory dance with.
All in all Vegas is still a fun destination. I could go on and on and talk about this great jazz show we saw at Caesars or Ghostbar at The Palms (I think the one in Dallas is better) but if you have more Viva Las Vegas questions, just ask me!