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Melody Maker – Canun

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Melody Maker, a “multi-sensory experience” as they self-proclaim this resort to be. Read this entire review to find out everything you could ever want to know about this refreshed resort in the heart of Cancun’s hotel zone. There are some positive points here, but for the most part, this resort is claiming to be something it isn’t and most people we talked to, including ourselves were extremely disappointed overall.

First of all, this isn’t the “Melody Maker” they claim to be. Their EDM concerts span a few weeks during Spring Break only. The fact that they give free concert tickets to their bookings doesn’t mean anything unless you’re actually going during Spring Break. The resort gives off the vibe that you can expect a lot of EDM/dance music during your stay, but in reality they play the same elevator music most family resorts will have playing. We weren’t the only ones thinking this as we met lots of other EDM fans extremely disappointed with the music or lack there of at the resort. Also, bear in mind that Melody Maker is an adult-oriented resort. There were some kids there, but they shouldn’t have been. MM needs to limit this, but they aren’t. Please do your children and all the other guests a favor and don’t bring kids here. But, let’s get to the nitty gritty of the resort and what you can expect.

Check-in/Out

Our check-in went relatively smooth, though we did arrive late in the evening when there was hardly anyone else checking in and definitely no one checking out. Like most resorts, you’ll be given a wrist band to indicate that you belong there (that carries a $150 charge if you lose it). The problem with their bands it that they keep getting tighter with no possible way to loosen them. So everyone ends up with a band that’s strangling their wrist by the 2nd day. When we did check out, it was during the busy time and while it wasn’t horrible, it did take 25 minutes of waiting to get through the line just so they could cut off our band.

The Rooms/Suites

Obviously all rooms aren’t equal. Reports before we arrived were complaining a lot about how the rooms wouldn’t cool down and that the A/C just couldn’t keep up. Our room, an Ocean View Junior Terrace Suite had no problem staying cool, as long as we kept the sliding glass door closed. It would cool to 22C (~72F) though. All of their rooms are very spacious and have a few nice touches. New LCD TV’s, rainfall shower heads and for our room, a large balcony with Bali bed and Jacuzzi. The issue here though is that the Jacuzzi does take about 30 minutes to fill up, and you had to refill it regularly because the drain leaked. On top of that, the jets didn’t work at all, so it was really just a tub. Overall, Melody Maker put a lot of polish on an aging building and tried to clean it up, but cut corners in many areas. The rooms also had a mini bar which was restocked occasionally. When they did, they’d remove our own items that we put in there, which was really annoying. On top of that, people from MM would sometimes just come in to your room, unannounced, so we never quite felt like our belongings were safe.

Food

The food we’ve enjoyed while in Cancun has been one of the highlights of all of our trips, until now. If you care about the food at your resort, this is reason enough to never go to Melody Maker. Ignore all the amazing looking restaurants that they advertise on their site. Let’s talk about reality.

  • The Social Buffet Marketplace – This is the buffet at MM and it was open, most of the time. Unfortunately, it was about as hot in here as it is in direct sunlight and the A/C units were constantly dripping in the room, including on some of the food laid out. Breakfast was probably the best option here, though having the same thing ever day does get a little old. One night, it was so hot in there, they set up tables outside by the pools to feed everyone at.
  • Talavera Mexican Restaurant – We only got to eat here once, as it was often closed or serving food from a different restaurant. The beef was surprising good though and probably the best meal we had.
  • Melody Maker Restaurant – This place doesn’t exist. As a restaurant that is. You can go here later in the evening and wait for a single bartender to make a drink for you, but again, expect to wait quite a while. It is not a restaurant, so I don’t know why they have it advertised as one.
  • Botanico – Somehow this “Asian Inspired” restaurant ended up being what we had every night. It was closed one night for a private party, but served in Talavera instead. Our first night eating here we really enjoyed it. The 2nd night it was ok, and by the 3rd night we couldn’t even bring ourselves to eat anything from the menu.
  • Delirio Beach House – We can’t speculate on this as it’s an extra up-charged place to eat but wasn’t even open during our stay.
  • Nespresso Coffee Shop – Usually a huge hit with us, but here expect to pay extra for anymore more than coffee or an espresso. Yes any Nespresso products cost extra, even though it’s the name of the place.
  • Room Service – This is available 24/7 though with a limited menu. Room service is free, but there is a delivery charge of $5 each time you order something. What caught us by surprise is that they expect you to pay that charge on the spot in cash. I was expecting to charge it to the room and had to scramble to find cash when they arrived.

One place not listed on their site is a food truck by the pools during lunch time. This was a nice option, but you could only get as much as a hot dog or hamburger here. Once day they had fries as well, but it wasn’t ever enough to satisfy you.

Pools

There are three pool areas, one up on the first floor of the building that’s difficult to get to as it’s not marked anywhere. Though, once you take the elevator to the 1st floor, head left about 50 feet. On your right will be an unmarked door. One of the ones that doesn’t have a room number. That will lead down a hall to these pools. Unfortunately, they’re mostly for looks, as they’re all cold water and range from a foot deep to 2 feet deep. Kids are not allowed in this area though.

The top pool in the main area is for everyone. This pool is the quieter pool though kids are allowed in. The lower pool is the party pool. It’s kind of quiet during the week and a bit more packed during the weekend, but see below as to why that is. Don’t expect to get served drinks here though. On average it will take 15-30 minutes for you to get served. After watching the bartenders just shift stuff around over and over, not really doing anything it gets really annoying. You’ll have better luck at the top bar. Also, if you want food by the pool or at the beach it comes with a hefty up-charge, something we’ve never experienced in any other resort in Cancun.

One thing we didn’t think of ahead of time is the sheer heigth of Melody Maker. Since the sun sets behind the hotel, the top pools are in shade by 1pm, the middle area by 3pm, and by 4:30pm there is no sun anywhere on the grounds. You have to walk out to nearly the water to get any sun after that.

Entertainment

This is going to be a short section because honestly, there in no entertainment. Nothing is organized, there is no entertainment crew and there is no nightclub. Melody Maker publicizes that they have a “Champagne Bar” and they do, but it was never open once during our stay. This is just another part of the resort that’s just there for looks.

During Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there is a DJ by the pool from noon-10pm. The catch here is that you can’t use any of the beds or lounge chairs as a result. You can however get one of the beds by buying a $20 bottle of liquor for $200. No problem, we just got a bed on the beach and used the pool. Unfortunately, when we tried opening our own bottle of Prosecco (which they don’t offer), we were asked to leave or pay $100. So we took a few steps further onto the beach and drank it on public property. This was after being promised a bed to use, but then being told that they were fully booked. We spent the day around here and noticed nearly half of the beds were never used, while security pushed anyone out who tried sitting on them. Overall, Delirio, their pool club is a complete failure and something the Melody Maker needs to fix before we could ever recommend staying here.

The Beach

The Beach is an area even Melody Maker can’t screw up. Cancun has some of the most beautiful beaches and that hasn’t changed. They did work on making sure seaweed was cleaned up. I actually saw them around 5:30am clearing it, while waiting for the sunrise. The water is still blue and turquoise as ever and it actually wasn’t that rough. About 50 feet from the shoreline is a sandbar, so the waves that do come in there aren’t too bad. They did have a life guard as well that was whistle happy, making sure everyone stayed directly in front of him. I never figured out why that was.

Overall

This was a difficult stay for us. We absolutely love Cancun and have never had a bad visit until now. In the future we will be wary of the paid reviews that are out there. Melody Maker is spending most of their efforts on advertising instead of making their customers happy and it’s showing in Trip Advisor. We almost booked elsewhere the days leading up to our trip as negative reviews were coming in, and wish we would have now. We even saw a promotional company there during our stay and were made quite aware when we were told we couldn’t sit at the only tables that were made up with clean silverware, since they were doing a photo shoot. Melody Maker has a lot of work to do before we can recommend staying there. We don’t often tell our audience to avoid somewhere, but this is an exception. Of course we did find some time to get some great photos, so head on over to our Instagram page and follow/comment on what we have there.

If you have any other questions, feel free to comment below.  And as always, check us out on Instagram for more pictures and video of our adventure to Haleakala and other cool adventures around the world.

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Haleakala Sunrise – Maui

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Out in the middle of the Pacific, 10k feet above sea level, you’ll find one of the greatest places to watch the sun rise and set.  It’s a bit of a drive, but a beautiful one at that.  If you’re planning on visiting Maui, then this is a must do, but make sure you plan far in advance because it’s not just open for anyone to do and will take some preparations.

Plan ahead

If this is something you are definitely going to do, then get on over to the National Parks website and request a reservation as soon as possible.  Reservations only cost $1.50/day/vehicle, but are very limited.  60 days prior to any date, reservations go on sale and may sell out within a week at peak times, or a few weeks other times.  A few extra reservations are available just 24 hours prior to going, but I don’t suggest counting on that if at all possible.  Once you get there, there is also a $30 fee per vehicle to get in to the park.  Most of the reservations seem to be taken up by tours given which will could cost you 10 times more than driving yourself.  

Also, if the Sunrise is happening at 6:00am, be there no later than 5:30am as the best viewing and colors happens prior to the sun breaking through the horizon.  People start arriving hours ahead of time, so the earlier you get there, the better chance you have at landing the perfect viewing spot.

Pack warm clothes

You may be in the tropics, but at 10k feet it’s going to be cold.  Even during the summer, expect the temps to be in the 40’s (f).  A blanket, or pants and jacket is definitely necessary.  The wind can also be a factor so be prepared.  The temperature change from the summit to sea level can be drastic, so dress in layers to be properly prepared for a full day.

Relax and enjoy the sunrise!

Don’t be in a rush to leave once the sun does come up.  The view from the summit is spectacular and constantly changing over the next hour or so.  There is also a visitor center/observatory that you should check out.  Considering you can see half of Maui on a clear day, the view is something you’ll want to soak up and enjoy.

Tip: watch out for people biking down the mountain.  This is an excursion many swear by, but it’s also dangerous as people get hurt often. 

If you have any other questions, feel free to comment below.  And as always, check us out on Instagram for more pictures and video of our adventure to Haleakala and other cool adventures around the world.

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The Bamboo Inn In Hana, Maui

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Maui is a very beautiful island and there’s one adventure anyone who goes there has either done or heard of, the road to Hana.  The entire road to Hana is only 52 miles, but the drive can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to do.  This is because the road has 620 curves, 59 bridges (most are one lane) and is all over the place in elevation.

Driving just about anywhere on the road to Hana over 20 mph is rare.  When taking into account stops made to take hikes to beautiful waterfalls, or just stopping on the side of the road to check out the view or get some banana bread, a trip to Hana and back will most likely take all day.  The only true way to fully enjoy this majestic side of the island is to stay somewhere in Hana so you save yourself the drive out there and can take your time exploring.  Hana is a small town with a population not more than 1,000 and is fairly isolated, so your options for finding somewhere to stay are far and few between.  The main and only resort on this side of Maui is Travaasa Hana and their prices reflect the lack of competition.  Other options include AirBnb/VRBO and the place we called home for a few days, the Bamboo Inn, a bed and breakfast that much more than we ever expected.

The Bamboo Inn is run by it’s owner, John, who stays out of site, but lives on sight with his dog.  This bed and breakfast only has 3 suites from the 2 story Nai’a Suite to the smaller ‘Iwa Suite and Honu Suite, which we stayed in.  Each suite has it’s own benefits, but we absolutely loved the quaint feel of the Honu.  Bamboo is everywhere here and covered the entire inn.  The doors to each of the suites are custom made and carved with different designs.  Our room had a queen size bed, kitchenette and an awesome 2-person Jacuzzi on the balcony facing out to the east with a view found only in story books.  Adding to the romance, our shower was actually located outside, under the stars, a feature we love but have only enjoyed once before, on our honeymoon.  The kitchenette had everything we could ask for including a toaster oven, small fridge, blender and basic kitchen utensils.

Check-in couldn’t have been easier as our key was info was left in an easy to find location and we just checked ourselves in when we arrived.  Checking out was similar with us just leaving our key in the room when we left.  Of our entire trip to Maui, we had the most amazing breakfast while at the Bamboo Inn.  Each morning breakfast is set out for each of the guests to grab and take and includes fresh bread, croissants, fruits and fruit juice.  This, plus a cup of coffee we made in the room, was a great way to start off each day.  

One of the best things about the Bamboo Inn though is that you have a direct view of a beautiful black beach and unimpeded view of the sun rising in the morning.  The black beach is more of a black rock beach like nothing we’ve seen before.  The “sand” is all black rocks, ranging in size from nearly the size of sand to the size of a basketball.  The sound the ocean makes when waves move the rocks back and forth was really different and something I’ll never forget.  This isn’t your normal type of beach you want to lay out on or go swimming in, but those are within walking distance.  The water here is a little rough and you won’t want to even be barefoot as the rock can be a little tough on your feet.

Within walking distance is the Hana Bay Beach Park and a little beyond that is the hidden Kaihalulu beach, also known as the red sand beach.  The red sand is created from Ka’uiki Head a cinder cone hill on the north side of it.  Getting to Kaihalulu is a little bit of a hike, crossing private land, but is done regularly and is fairly well marked.

Staying at the Bamboo Inn puts you at just 30 minutes from Kipahulul, where the Pools of ‘Ohe’o (marketed as the Seven Sacred Pools) and Bamboo Forrest are.  Just north of the Bamboo Inn is the state park, Waianapanapa, which has a beautiful black sand beach, long hiking trails and caves to explore.  You’re also not too far from the lava tubes you can walk through as well.  All of things, which you shouldn’t miss, would take hours to drive to each day if staying on the west coast.  This is why we highly recommend staying here at least a night or two.

If you have any questions about the Bamboo Inn , or Hana, feel free to contact us.  You can find more information and pictures over at Instagram as well.

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Riu Republica – Punta Cana, DR

Riu Republica is self-described as…. “Located on a heavenly beach, the Hotel Riu Republica – Adults Only is your perfect option for enjoying an unforgettable holiday in Punta Cana. This adults-only hotel on the Arena Gorda beach has free WiFi, a varied gastronomic offer and the best 24-hour All-Inclusive service.”  So, how does it stack up?  Keep reading to find out.

Arrival – PUJ Airport

First, before you can get to Riu Republica, you have to get there from the airport.  The airport at Punta Cana doesn’t have walls or A/C so dress appropriately, because it’s hot.  Our trip through customs was no less than 2 full hours, though we’ve heard of some people getting through faster during odd times.  Our arrival was mid-day.  So, expect long wait times in lines.  There are reports of having to pay a $10 fee to enter the country and $20 to leave, but that was done away with this year and the fees are included in your flight going forward.

Transfer to Riu

Our first recommendation is to get a private transfer to the resort.  We opted for a shared shuttle and very much regretted it.  Riu Republica is the 2nd further resort from the airport, with the Hard Rock being the only one further, so you will be the last stop.  Our shuttle “tour” took just over an hour to get to the hotel.

Check-In

Checking in at Riu was fairly painless, minus a bit of a wait.  Again, the check-in area is an open building without walls, so dress appropriately.  Rooms are already determined before you get there, so there isn’t much of a chance of changing your room unless you’re willing to wait a bit longer.  The RIU is sectioned into two distinct areas, commonly referred to as the “old” section and the “new” section.  Don’t let this fool you as the difference in their age is less than a year.  The newer section is further from the water and where most of the partying takes place.  It’s also where the water slides are.  The older section is regarded as the quiet section and closer to the beach.

Continuing with the check-in, once you’re given your document indicating your room number and wifi information, you’re on your own.  You can find a bell boy to help with the bags, but the help ends there.  Finding your room is up to you, so make sure you get specific directions before leaving.  There are more than 1,300 rooms at this resort, and while the layout is simple, it’s easy to get lost finding your room.  We found our room to be in the old/party section facing outwards towards Hard Rock/swamps on the first floor.  My first thought was that we had one of the worst rooms possible, but that attitude changed over time, which I’ll explain why later.

The Room

There are only three room types at Riu Republica, the base room, which is either facing outwards or towards the center of the resort, the Ocean View, which is the same room but faces the beach (even though it’s still 100 yards away) and the Suite, which is truly the only room upgrade you can get.  For $36/day you can upgrade to an Ocean View, or $100/day for a suite.  The rooms are basic as best with the only notable feature being the liquor bar included.  With all the bars around though we never even used the liquor.  They will only refill these bottles every other day and they only fill them half way, so don’t count on them being your only source of liquor.

The rooms have all the basic necessities, including a hair dryer, safe, 20 or so hangers in the closet and even a ceiling fan.  The Shower has an opaque window that lets whoever is in the room somewhat make out who’s in the shower.  Note, the toilet paper is akin to a very thin card board.  If you have a sensitive bum, you may want to bring some of your own.  There is also only one power outlet in the room and two in the bathroom, so bring a splitter if you want to be able to charge up more than one item at a time.  The power is 110v, US adapter style.

TIP: In order for the electricity to work in the room, you have to put a room key in a special slot.  If you want it to work after you leave the room, you have to keep it in there.  Bring a spare card that you can leave behind and you can keep your devices charging while gone.

The Food

The food at the Riu Republica left a lot to be desired, at least for us, based on our previous experience.  Get ready for a lot of buffets.  There is a buffet in both sections of the hotel with the one in the older section being twice as large as the newer one.  The food is the same, so it doesn’t really matter which one you eat at.  This is your only option for breakfast and lunch and the hours are limited.  When we originally arrived at the hotel, lunch was just finishing up so we were unable to eat for another 3 hours at dinner time.  There are a couple other small options so let’s get into those.

Jerk Chicken Stand – By the beach is a small stand that you can get jerk chicken from.  It’s open most of the day, but they only really have chicken, burgers and hot dogs.  The chicken is really good though and they will wrap it up for you to take back to your room

TIP: Bring Tupperware with you to fill with extra food.  It will come in handy when the restaurants are closed.

The Sports Bar – This place is open 24/7 and has some limited food options.  They have a very of a hot dog that I don’t recommend.  They’re very rubbery and hard to eat.  They also have cold burgers and sandwiches that can be heated up.  The last item available here is chips and queso, though 4 out of 5 times we tried to get some, the queso was all over the place and there was actually none left.  This area was never clean or even close to it.

Room Service – Nope, there is none.  This is a huge disappointment and I don’t believe any hotel/resort should be allowed to claim that they’re 5 stars without offering room service.

Dinner – Dinner is served from 6:30 – 9:00, and you have your choice of 7 restaurants in addition to the buffets.  Get there early to eat without issues.  They don’t have that much seating and if they’re full, you’ll be put on a waiting list and given a pager.  Most of the time, wait times were around 30 minutes, minus the steak house which was much worse.  These are all optional, but worth trying if you want something other than the usual buffet.

  • Asian restaurant (buffet)
  • Italian restaurant (buffet)
  • Two “Kulinarium” restaurants (à la carte)
  • Indian restaurant (buffet)
  • Spanish restaurant (à la carte, buffet starters and dessert)
  • Steakhouse (à la carte) – Get here before 6:30 if you want a seat.  Otherwise, wait times can be up to 2 hours or you simply won’t get in.
  • Romantic open air dinner (reservations required, additional charge) – Dinner on the beach.  $150 USD.

The bars

All bars at the Riu Republica have the same options providing you with a basic white and red wine, standard liquors (no top shelf) and a bubbly white that they call champagne (only 7%).  One of the local favorites is Mamajuana, which is often referred to as the “baby maker”.  Be careful with this drink and take it easy, it is very potent.  Fortunately, you’re never too far from a bar with pool bars, a sports bar, lobby bar and even a hidden one on the north side of the beach.  This bar, Coco’s, was our favorite as there was never a wait here, and it was on the beach.  Most people never even know this bar exists and we heard from people over and over again that they didn’t realize it was there until their last day.

Another secret that most people don’t realize is that on the north side of the resort there is a small road that connects the “new” side of the resort with the beach.  During the day, there is a 10 person golf cart that goes back and forth saving you from a 10 minute walk.  Here’s where our room location came in very handy.  The stop for the transfer was right outside of our room and we utilized this multiple times a day.  We got to be where all the action was in the back half, but could get to the beach faster than even the closest rooms on the old side.  Even better, the stop by the beach stops at Coco’s bar!

Entertainment

Ok, so the entertainment is pretty tough.  If you want to party hard, spring break style, then there is plenty of entertainment for you including foam parties, twerking contests, sliding on the marble bar and the beach party.  The other side of the entertainment, mainly the shows that are put on are half as good as what you could expect from a cruise ship.  The show time for us was really a time to relax, catch up on rest and talk to friends.

The pools

There are a lot of pools at the Riu Republica.  3 of them have swim up bars and all the pools range from quiet to party central.  There is literally a pool for everyone, except kids of course.  No matter how you’re feeling you can find the right pool and enjoy it.  There never seems to be an issue finding chairs or people to meet either.

The Beach

Let’s be honest, this is why you want to go to Punta Cana.  The beach is beautiful, the sand white, the water clear blue.  Riu Republica takes great care of the beach in front of the resort and it shows.  The amount of beach isn’t quite a much as you’d hope for with a resort this size, but they make up for it by building a huge berm 100 feet back from the water.  You can be out in the full sun, under shade, or under palm trees, it’s your choice.

The second night we were there, seaweed washed up from the sea.  I had walked out early in the morning to find huge holes being dug by the workers every 20 feet or so.  They took all the seaweed, buried it and filled the holes before the crowds arrived.  I don’t see any way this beach will be washing away anytime soon as a result.  There are a lot of people crammed in to such a small area, but you can walk for a mile in either direction as the beach just goes on and on.  To the north there is only one other resort, then the beach is empty.  If you want to be alone, it’s no further than a 15 minute walk.

Other things to note

There is a gym and outdoor exercise area, though we didn’t partake.  The same goes for a spa, including massages on the beach, though Riu claims it is run by a third-party company and they can’t give much information about it.  We saw plenty of people in the gym, but the spa seemed oddly empty at all times.

The best part of Riu Republica were the people we met and friends we made.  You could be off to yourselves and never talk to another person, or you could go home with 50 new friends.  Making friends isn’t tough as everyone was very nice and finding like minded people is really easy.  Overall, we believe Riu Republica is a 3-3.5 star resort.  Reviews of this resort are all over the place and we can see why.  This could be exactly the place you’re looking for, or exactly the opposite.  Hopefully we’ve given you enough information to figure out that decision for yourself though.  If you wish to know more, feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.  More pictures and video are posted on our Instagram feed as well.

As always you can find more pictures over on our feed in Instagram.  Follow us to get all of our updates.

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Miami Beach – Ocean Surf Hotel

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It’s that time of year again.  The sun is shining, the water is warm and the beaches are crowded.  This winter seems to never want to end, so our only option is to head to a warmer place and enjoy the sun there.   Miami beach is a popular destination as it’s easy to get to, but can sometimes be costly to actually stay there.  Luckily there are other options such as the Ocean Surf Hotel on the northern side of Miami Beach.  This hotel has fairly poor reviews on most of the web, but they’ve been working hard to change that.  The hotel has recently undergone a complete renovation, updating all of their rooms.  This isn’t a mega resort and doesn’t even have a pool, but who really needs a pool when the beach is 100 feet away?

Versace, Versace..

If this hotel looks familiar, it is probably because you’ve watch the tv series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace”.  This show was shot partially in front of the hotel and on the beach there to recreate what happened as accurately as possible.  During our stay, people would occasionally stop in front of the hotel just to get pictures as a result.

The Penthouse

The rooms at Ocean Surf include your basic single/double room, 4 balcony rooms and one penthouse suite.  For the sake of our review, we will be reviewing this based on the Penthouse suite, as that’s where we stayed.  If available, I highly recommend the penthouse.  This room has been recently renovated as the pictures on their own website don’t reflect the changes.  Our attempt to check in early was denied because they were just finishing up the renovations, so we were either the first ones or one of the first ones to stay there after the changes.  This isn’t a 5 star suite that you may be thinking of, but it is very large, includes a mini fridge, table and chairs for eating, couch, king bed and plenty of space.  You have the entire 4th floor to yourself, which is pretty cool, and you have a nice balcony with a great view of the beach and surrounding areas.  You can actually watch the sun rise and set from the same balcony as there is nothing to block your view.  The lower balcony rooms will still have a great view of the sunrise, but not the sunset.

Getting around/Parking

Most of what you could ever need is within walking distance.  On the same block includes a couple convenience stores, CVS, Walgreen’s, a vegan bakery (a must), a boutique, and a few other places to eat.  If you do have a vehicle, you don’t have to worry about the crazy $35/day fee to park it as there are numerous parking spots on the street and in the parking lot next to the hotel that only cost $1/hour for ten hours/day.  So the most you could have to pay is $10/day.  Overnight, parking is free, so if you’re done during the day you may never have to pay to park.  We found that they weren’t too serious about ticketing for parking as we’d wake up an hour or so after paid parking started and wouldn’t pay until then.  You can use an app on your phone to manage your parking.

The Beach

All you have to do is cross the street.  In addition to that, the hotel will give you beach chairs and towels free of charge.  Everything you need to relax and enjoy the day are at your finger tips.  The beach in front of the hotel is similar to the rest of Miami Beach.  But, it isn’t nearly as crazy or packed as south beach.  This is more of a great place to go and relax.

Everything Else

There was little to complain about except that the hotel doesn’t have an ice machine (though you can get ice next door) and the rooms didn’t have a coffee maker.  There’s nothing worse then not having that first cup of coffee in the morning and we feel that including those in the rooms would be a great addition.

Miami isn’t the most affordable place to stay, especially on the beach.  So, if you’re looking for a place to stay with some history, that’s affordable and convenient, the Ocean Surf hotel is definitely worth a look.

As always you can find more pictures over on our feed in Instagram.  Follow us to get all of our updates.

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Hotel Villas Nicolas

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Thank you hurricane Irma for making us have to extend our trip.  With our return flight cancelled due to the Ft. Lauderdale airport being closed, we had no choice to be extend our trip.  Excited to see more of Costa Rica we quickly decided on heading down to Quepos with the intention of seeing Manuel Antonio Park, more wild life and beaches.  Excited to try something new out, we hopped on booking.com and found Hotel Villas Nicolas for a great price.  We didn’t stay long, but still enjoyed every minute we had there.

About Hotel Villas Nicolas

This is a hotel situated in Quepos, Costa Rica, that caters to adults only, a feature we tend to always look for.  The villas are on the top of the mountainous terrain that overlooks the beaches.  Our view was amazing, set with our own hammock and private porch.  The room wasn’t that large, but had everything anyone could need for their stay.  Included with your stay is a cooked to order breakfast that doesn’t disappoint.  The hotel is also on the bus route for Quepos and Manuel Antonio, so you can get just about anywhere for a small fee.

We were also lucky enough to see some white-faced monkeys running across our view in the morning.  The sounds of the rain forest are very calming, but not too much to overwhelm you to where you can’t sleep at night.

Our stay was short with no preparation so we wanted to make the most of it.  Everyone working at Nicolas was extremely nice and gave us just about every bit of information we could ask for about Queposand Manuel Antonio.  We spent a day at Manuel Antonio and went down to the local beach, Playa Espidilla, twice.  Keep in mind, depending on how you get to this beach, you may need a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  We choose the tough path on the northwestern part of the beach, which was extremely rewarding once we got there.

Tip: Supposedly at Playa Espadilla, if you get there early enough in the morning, you can see crocodiles walking out to sea to catch some food and take it back up to the river/swampy areas.  We didn’t get up early enough to see this, but heard from multiple people about it.

We would highly recommend staying at Hotel Villas Nicolas when in the area.  The price for what you get can’t be beat and it’s location to everything there is in the area is great.


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Zephyr Palace

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Zephyr Palace, a 5 start resort near Jaco in Costa Rica, is everything it claims to be and more. I’ve been watching this place for a while now, with plans to go there eventually. Somehow everything just worked out for us to finally take our first trip to Costa Rica and stay at the Palace. In all of our travels, this ranked as one of the greatest views. Visiting during the rainy season, we were lucky enough to have the entire 7 suite “palace” to ourselves all but one night. Each room is decorated in a different theme and makes you feel like royalty. We started out with 3 nights in the New World Suite, followed by 3 nights in the Egypt Suite. Both rooms had their own benefits and in the end, we were very happy to get to use both. There isn’t a bad suite at Zephyr Palace. The other suites available are similar or better than what we got to experience and we hope that some day we will be able to return and try them out.

About Zephyr Palace

Zephyr Palace is an add-on to beautiful boutique hotel Villa Caletas tucked up top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 10 miles north of Jaco. The drive here from the San Juan airport took us around 1.5 hours and completed with a 2 mile drive up the mountain ridge with some of the most amazing views. For those scared of heights, looking down may make you a bit squeamish. On the way from the airport, make sure you stop at Crocodile Bridge to see the crocs. We don’t see a reason to pay for an excursion there, but it’s definitely a sight to see.

Zephyr Palace was built in the 90’s but is still very modern with it’s amenities. We found Wifi to be available everywhere and Cable TV was available though we rarely watch tv, especially on a vacation. We did enjoy having a mini fridge to use and espresso machine in each room. All rooms also come with a personal hot tub which was cleaned spotless every day. Even after coming back from the beach and getting sand in the hot tub, it somehow disappeared the next day. This is one of the things we love the most about Zephyr Palace. Since we were the only ones there, we never saw any other guest, but we also rarely saw anyone working there. It was as if it was our own private home. They do have security cameras around the place and we’re pretty sure they used those to know when we left the room or pools. Once we left our room someone had to be there cleaning it up and was gone before we ever got back. Staff was also very accommodating and would bring us buckets of ice for our Champagne, and give us rides over to Villa Caletas. Room service was also very handy to have with their prices being very reasonable.

While we adventured out every day, we also made good use of room service. Food was always delivered within 30 minutes and was delicious. The prices were reasonable as well for the food, though high for drinks, but they have no problem if you bring your own. We were really surprised when we took a bottle of our own Prosecco to the pool to drink over at the beautiful infinity pool at Villa Caletas and they brought us a bucket of ice and two glasses, no charge. Also, these places believe in being as natural as possible, not using any pesticides for the greenery and pretty much just letting the jungle grow uninhibited.

I also have to give one of the employees, Alex, a shout out after he let me know we had a flat tire on our car and helped change it. It’s service like we received at Zephyr Palace that will bring us back for another stay.

New World Suite

We stayed our first three nights in the New World Suite. I picked this one out mainly for the balcony. The room is on the lower floor and it’s balcony jets out past the rest of the palace. As a result, it’s the only room with a balcony that has direct access to the sun directly above. For privacy there are blinds that you can pull around the hot tub and there is also a private set of stairs from the deck that leads directly to the pools. The room had a huge mirror over the bed which you eventually realize is a window to the bathroom and a tv that popped up out from the foot of the bed. When we were in our room, we spent most of our time on the deck. It had a couple of loungers, a table and chairs and the hot tub. The views are incredible and something to really take in.

Egypt Suite

Wanting to try out as much as possible, it was tough, but we left the New World Suite for the Egpyt suite. This was one floor above New World and thus had a slightly even better view. This room was decorated really nice, but the downside is that the hot tub is tucked away in the porch losing that view when you’re using it.

The Pools!

The pools here are one of the amenities that you don’t want to miss. They’re so beautiful, you feel bad even getting in them. The Piscina pool, the infinity pool at Zephyr Palace is the top pool and our favorite view, while the garden pool is a more private tucked away pool. I could see this pool being used for parties of larger groups or for your wedding, if you choose to have it here. In addition to these two amazing pools, you can head on over to Villa Caletas and use their infinity pool as well. That pool is incredible as well, with nature surrounding it, an infinity edge, and another view of the Pacific Ocean. For us, we didn’t use this pool as much because we were enjoying the solidarity of Zephyr Palace way too much.  Check out the videos below to get a really good look at what these pools look like and the views that accompany them.

Private Beach

If the pools and views weren’t enough, Zephyr Palace and Villa Caletas have a private beach. Their beach is usually described as being a rocky rough beach, but we found that there’s more to the story than that. There are three ways to get to the beach and we did all of them. First, you can hike down from the resort, more on that below.The second way down is by way of the Hotel’s truck. It leaves every hour down to the beach and back every hour on the half hour. The problem with this, in our opinion is that the last transfer back was at 4:00, too early for us. You can stay longer if you choose the third way down, by way of your own vehicle. They recommend only doing this if you have 4-wheel drive and I will agree with that. We booked a 4-wheel drive vehicle knowing this in advance and did drive it down once. The way back up is steep, but we were able to make it without iss aren’t any guard rails and it’s a long drop at points if you were to lose traction so be careful if you do choose this route.

Back to the beach…There are plenty of lounge chairs and even beach beds available for use here.  There is no charge for these like some resorts do.  This area is a rocky part of the beach with the waves hitting up against a rock wall.  Walk 50 feet to the north though and you’ll find a nice beautiful sand beach.

Hiking and Waterfalls

One way to get down to the private beach is to hike.  In order to take this hike, they ask you to sign a waiver then take you to the start of the trail.  Keep in mind that you’re 1200 feet up and it’s over a mile to the beach. This isn’t a walk in the park and though it starts our really nice with stairs and a paved walkway, that quickly disappears and the hand rail even disappears soon after that.  You’re left to your own devices to get down the rest of the way.  The best part about this hike though is when you’re about 75% of the way down, there is a small bridge to walk over a running stream of water. If you walk under the bridge and back up the stream about 100 feet, it turns to the left and there are some of the most beautiful waterfalls that you can enjoy all to yourself. We had a hard time leaving these, but knowing there was a beach at the end to enjoy, we eventually finished our journey.

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, or even one with little chance of seeing children, Zephyr Palace should definitely be on the top of your list. Even if the place was fully booked that means only another 12 people would be around, which by most cases is still a very private vacation. We give Zephyr Palace 5 stars for the way they treated us and the overall beauty experience of our entire stay there. We hope to be able to go back, experience other rooms and/or stay at Villa Caletas in the near future.

As always you can find more pictures over on our feed in Instagram.  Follow us to get all of our updates.

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Costa Rica Wild Life

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Known for it’s diversity in Wild Life, Costa Rica did not disappoint on our latest trip there.  We were lucky enough to see all three types of Monkeys that live in the national park, Manuel Antonio, and thanks to our guide, much much more.

Manuel Antonio National Park

We nearly missed getting to visit this amazing park but since Hurricane Irma pushed back our return trip we got a couple of extra days in CR.  The first thing you need to be wary of is that the locals will be very much in your face while trying to get to this park.  There are many places to park if you have a vehicle, most of which are just local pieces of land that someone is trying to charge you for.  Near the park entrance there are a few open spot, but they may be hard to find.  Make sure you get as close as you can though because it could be a long walk just to the entrance.

Park Fees

Bring cash to purchase your tickets.  You can use a credit card or debit card, but expect to pay up to $10 in fees as a result.  They may also ask for your passport, so make sure to bring that as well.  Don’t fall for one of the locals trying to sell you their ticket.  Often, the park has free days for locals, otherwise locals get tickets highly discounted.  They won’t let a foreigner in with a local pass.

Park Guides

The guides are everywhere.  You’ll know who they are, because they all have telescopes with them.  The closer you get to the park, the cheaper they get.  For us, during rainy season, they were very much ready to negotiate as well.  We decided to try out the park on our own and quickly realized we were going to miss most everything that way.  We saw other groups of people looking at creatures we couldn’t even see with our naked eye.  Fortunately, one of the guides was on his way out of the park and eager to find more people to show around.  After a few minutes, we negotiated a very reasonable rate and he showed up things we would have just walked by.

So what about the animals?

Just a few of the animals we saw and were able to capture on film include, White Faced Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Sea Snake, Rainbow Cricket, Sloth, Racoon, Iguanas, Cutter Ants and so many more.  If you have any questions about any of these species, please leave a comment below.


Everywhere else?

Costa Rica is mainly a rain forest, so you don’t have to go to a park to see the local wildlife.  Much of what we saw in Manuel Antonio, we saw from our hotel room, on hikes, or just driving down the street.  The Scarlet Macaw were everywhere, always seen in pairs or threesomes.  White-faced monkeys were often spotted as well.  Also, while driving from San Juan you can stop at crocodile bridge and see dozens of crocs.  That alone made us shy to doing any type of river tour.

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Costa Rica in the Rainy Season?

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After booking our trip to Costa Rica, we quickly realized we had booked it during the wrong time of the year.  Apparently, we were going there right in the middle of rainy season.  This was going to be a horrible trip, but everything was booked and all we could do make the most of it.  As it turned out, this was probably one of the best times for us to visit and provided us with everything we wanted in the trip.

Costa Rica is known to have a very wet rainy season that spans from May to mid-November.  It is quite common for it to rain for days during this time of year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will rain all day long.  Here are some of the benefits we found to going to Costa Rica during the rainy season.

Privacy

Just the phrase, “Rainy Season” is enough to scare most tourists away.  Hotels are often empty or near empty.  Our trip left us alone in our resort with no one to bother us.  This isn’t true for all places, but you can be assured that even the more popular resorts and hotels won’t be fully booked.  If you’re looking for a romantic getaway then this is a great time to visit during the rainy season.  We have never experienced such relaxation on a vacation before.  This is one trip that didn’t require another vacation when we got home to de-stress.

Discounts Galore

The lack of tourists mean lots of discounts.  Hotels and resort are often 50% cheaper, or more.  Staying at a five star resort like Zephyr Palace, wouldn’t have been an option for us during Costa Rica’s “summer” (Nov-Apr).  We were also able to rent a 4×4 vehicle for only $5/day (plus the required insurance).  While shopping, vendors were also more inclined to negotiate their prices due to the lack of customers.

The Rain!

Believe it or not, the rain is actually an advantage.  Costa Rica is a beautiful country, but without rain, the trees and plants start to die like anywhere else.  Being so close to the equator, summer weather in CR is hot, very hot.  This also causes some of the touristy attractions such as rivers and waterfalls to dry up.  Hiking to waterfalls is always a fun adventure that we love to do, so I’m happy to report that viewing any of the many waterfalls in CR during rainy season is a definite must.


So how did the weather actually fare in mid-September?  It rained nearly every day we were there, with the exception of a couple of days, but the rain didn’t start till the afternoon.  It was dark around 5:30, with rain starting anywhere from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM.  Sometimes it only rained for a couple of hours and a couple of times it rained through the night.  As a result, we went to bed earlier than normal, for us, and were usually ready to tackle the day by 6:00 AM, which is extremely unusual for us.  The beaches were amazing in the morning and the sun was in full power.  Unfortunately, we never got to see the sun actually set on the horizon.  We got close, but in the last 15 minutes every day, the sun went behind clouds prior to making it to the horizon.

Overall, don’t let “rainy season” deter you from visiting Costa Rica.  We will not hesitate to go back the same time of year any time.

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Cenote Adventures in Mexico

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There are so many things to do in Mexico, but one you’ve probably heard of or possibly done is to visit some of their cenotes.  A cenote is a natural reservoir of water created from limestone bedrock that collapses.  The water underneath is exposed and beautiful swimming areas are formed.  Some cenotes are completely open with everything collapsing, while others form caves nearly completely covered, with scattered openings to access them.

Using our free smart car from the Grand Oasis Sens, Amanda and I went out on an adventure to enjoy some of these natural wonders and weren’t disappointed.  Knows as Los 7 Cenotes, an area about 30 minutes south of the hotel zone in Cancun, there are multiple cenotes ranging from enclosed to open.  We were warned ahead of time that a 4 wheel vehicle may be needed to get to these cenotes, but we were just fine driving that little smart car.  There are numerous tours you can take if you don’t have a vehicle or prefer a guide, but we usually find that doing things on our own is not only a lot cheaper, but also a fun adventure that doesn’t make us feel rushed to move on to the next stop.

Once we arrived, it looked like any other area.  For $20 USD we were able to access everything on our own and were given life jackets to use.  Normally, I’d forgo the life jacket, but we had just been told that the cenote we’re about to swim in is 300 feet deep.  We eventually lost the life jackets for a little bit once we were more comfortable.  Anyway, after getting ready, we had to head down a ladder to access the water.  I got in first, never really thinking about what I’m doing, then had to slowly coerce Amanda to join me.  I tried to keep it a secret as long as possible, but once she looked up, she realized as I just had, that the top of the cave was covered with bats.  The bats never bothered us more than a couple of close flybys, but it’s something to keep in mind in case you’re deathly afraid of them.

This particular cenote actually had 5 openings to the ground level.  300 feet deep, we arrived when a group of scuba divers were just wrapping up a dive.  Once you’re in the cenote, there are ropes you can hang on to if you wish and pull yourself around to the different areas.  And for the more daring, “cliff” diving into the cenote was extremely exhilarating (see video below).  The water was also fairly cool considering it’s not exposed to the sun.

I definitely see us checking out more cenotes when we return to Mexico as each one is completely unique.  If you wish to see more of our adventures here, check out our Instagram feed.