Romance

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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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La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa

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Sometimes finding a great resort doesn’t mean having to leave the country. Amanda and I have taken a break a couple of times to skip on over to Lake Conroe to stay at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa. While the overall stay is generally positive there are some things that you need to understand if you do choose to stay here.

Let’s start off with the good though. The rooms at La Torretta are well appointed with plenty of space and luxuries. If opting for a lake view suite, you’ll be put on the 7th floor or higher as the lower floors have their view blocked. They also have cabins for around the same price that offer a quieter and more private setting should you choose. We have stay in both and they both have their own benefits.

Parking at La Torretta is by valet or by driving around back to another lot and a decent walk back. Valet is $12 or $18 overnight, but you can park for free. Just realize that when you park yourself, you’ll have a 10 minute walk back to the hotel. Also, if staying in the cabins on the golf course, you will be making this walk often.

The spa is very luxurious, but pricey. We did a couples massage and enjoyed it, but there was nothing too special about it. Prices overall at the resort are on the high end because there isn’t much competition for them, but if you look around well, you can often find prices for a third of their normal rates proving just how much they mark it up.

The highlight of La Torretta is their pools. A kid pool, a lazy river, another pool with slides and yet another pool for everyone to enjoy. On top of that there is an area that is adult’s only with another pool and hot tub, supposedly. Here’s an area where you can expect to be disappointed. When we came to the pool there were no less than a dozen kids under the age of 10 playing and splashing in the adult pool. I asked an employee what was going on and she said they’d make them leave if we put in an official complaint. So, it was up to us to be the bad guy in order to use an amenity that we were excited about having. As you know we tend to stay at adults-only places and having an adult’s only pool means we can listen to music that may not be appropriate for kids, relax and enjoy the pool without kids running around, screaming and splashing us. As we sat there and stewed, I finally called the front desk and was assured that they would take care of the problems. Two hours passed before anything was done. To make matters worse, the waitresses never came around after that to take orders or serve us. We had to walk to the other side of the water park area just to order a drink.

Some other issues to be aware of include the fact that they have far too few elevators for their size. Expect to wait 5 minutes or more for an elevator. Also, the room keys weren’t working one night and they were having to send someone around to let people in their rooms.

La Torretta has been around a while and is showing it’s age unfortunately. Their lack of concern for their guests is disturbing and needs to be attended to before we can recommend staying there. It’s rare for us to be negative about somewhere to travel to, but our stay at La Torretta is not what we had expected or hoped for.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. And don’t forget to follow Otus on Instagram for more pictures and videos of our adventures.


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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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Grand Oasis Sens

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Update (May, 2019). The Grand Oasis Sens has been sold off and will now be a family friendly resort. We will keep this review up for archive purposes, but much of it may no longer be true. We will not be visiting the new resort, as we are focused on only staying at kid-free places.

Cancun, Mexico… This place is starting to feel like home to Amanda and myself.  We’ve now been here three times and know the routine pretty well, so there’s very little acclimation time for us.  There is something to be said for a place if we are going to be repeat visitors.  When we travel, we prefer to avoid anywhere that has kids running around and we rarely go to the same place twice, let alone three times.  In Cancun, there are numerous “adults-only” resorts, but the Grand Oasis Sens checks off all of our requirements for a great stay and is affordable.  This is an all-inclusive resort, so outside of anything above and beyond, you can stay here without spending a peso.

The water in Cancun is among the clearest and most beautiful we’ve experienced to date.  It seems like every time we go back it gets even better somehow.  Cancun itself has so many activities suited for adults, between their clubs, water sports, cruises, etc you’ll never be without something to do, unless all you want it to relax at your resort.  We could sit by the ocean day after day and never have a reason to complain.

Notice: Before I get started, let me address the situation about safety in Cancun.  We have talked to numerous people who are scared to go there citing this or that related to violence in the news.  Cancun is not an inherently dangerous place.  The majority of violence in Mexico is gang related and isn’t affecting tourists.  As always, don’t do anything stupid or be in places you shouldn’t be and you won’t have an issue.  We have traveled all over the city and even outside of it and have never felt unsafe at all.  Fortunately, because the news is being blown our of proportion, there are more vacancies than normal in the area and resorts are doing everything they can to fill rooms.  So, enjoy the savings and have a safe and great trip.  Back to the review….

The Check-In

This is the one area that can be frustrating at Sens, especially if it’s your first time.  At times you wonder why they haven’t updated their systems to be a little bit more organized, and while frustrating if you don’t understand it, their system still works.  At the Grand Oasis Sens, they have three categories of room types, Grand, Grand Plus and Sian Ka’an.  You’ll be given an bracelet to wear during your stay that indicates your level of stay with the Sian Ka’an affording you an upgraded band.  Note though that you can upgrade your band without upgrading your room.  This usually cost around $26/day/person and for us was well worth it (we’ve done it all three times).  Some of the benefits that come with upgraded bands are top shelf liquor and champagne, access to a VIP lounge with snacks and drinks, access to the beach beds in the Sian Ka’an beach club, the use of their Smart Cars for free + insurance, and a free dinner at Benazuza, the top restaurant in all of Cancun (normally around $50/person) and free room service.  The Grand Oasis Sens promotes itself as the only LGBT friendly resort in Cancun, though to us it didn’t seem any different than any other resort, and if it did, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Prior to our check-in we’ve always had some questions ahead of time.  Contacting the resort was easiest to do by email and were surprise by the quick and thorough responses we got from Valentina Biegun.  She helped put any concerns we had ahead of time at ease.

The Rooms and View

The Sian Ka’an will guarantee an ocean view and a deck outfitted with a plunge pool.  The Grand and Grand Plus are similar sized rooms, but with the Plus category, you will be sure of an ocean view and possibly a porch.  In our three trips, we’ve always booked a Grand room, but have been lucky to be upgraded depending on availability.  Our first trip put us into an Ocean View room with deck.  Our second trip, a Lagoon View Room and our latest trip, an Ocean Front room with balcony.   We can’t complain about any of the rooms, though the Ocean Front room had an A/C unit that was having trouble keeping up with the Sun that beamed in the room most of the day.

The Beach & Pools

There are two main pools at the Grand Oasis Sens.  The main pool by the beach is a multi-level pool with multiple swimming areas.  In the main area there is a bar so you don’t even have to get out of the water to get a refill on your drinks.  The pool on the Lagoon side is normally the quiet pool, except when they have parties going on.  Next to that pool is also an area with half a dozen hot tubs, that most people never even realize exist.  The hottubs are often empty, needing to be filled like any normal bathtub.  Don’t worry if they are, just turn them on and let them fill up.  All pools are topless optional and you may end up seeing some women topless, but it’s actually pretty rare (this isn’t the Playboy mansion).  If this is something that will upset you, then this isn’t the place for you to go.  Then again, women often go topless just about anywhere in Cancun on the beach, so you may want to check out another location all together.

The beach at GOS is the amazingly beautiful white sand and blue water beach you can expect to see in Cancun.  As with most places there though, you may be bothered by all of the vendors that continue to try to sell you their “unique” (to them and a thousand other vendors) goods.  Here’s an area where it really pays to do the VIP upgrade at the resort.  On the south side of the beach is a roped off area with beach beds, mostly covered, but a few that aren’t.  These are only for VIP and must be reserved in advanced for the mornings.  After noon, any VIP person can use them.  Since it’s roped off, the vendors can’t come and bother you either.  On top of that, there’s also full service drinks and food after noon.  The food here can only be gotten here and is amazing.  If you are on the other part of the beach, you will have to get up and go for walk for a refill on your drinks.  This is yet another reason why we highly recommend the VIP upgrade.

Down in the Sian Kaan beach area, Bodereck and Lizette were always attentive and ready to take care of us.  Make sure you take good care of them.

Tip: While it’s not required to tip at this resort, we highly recommend you take care of the people who take care of you.  There is a noticeable difference in how well they take care of you when you’re generous to them.  It doesn’t take much, but your stay will be better overall if you do.

The Food

The food at the Grand Oasis Sens is hands down the best we’ve had at any resort.  This isn’t your standard all-inclusive buffet, though they do have one of those as well.  Their buffet is the main place you can go without worrying about a reservation, though we don’t recommend it.  By our third trip we didn’t even need to eat there once.  The other options fall into two categories.  First, they have three restaurants that require reservations in advance.  These include the Black Hole, Benazuza and Sakura Sunset.  In order to get a reservation, make sure you’re up early and at the reservation table before 8:00am in the lobby.  Depending on how booked the resort is, they’ll only let you get a reservation a day or a few days ahead of time.  Space is very limited at these restaurants, but you don’t want to miss eating at any of them.  The next level require reservations, but you can’t get them until the same day and just a couple hours before they open.  You have to show up at the restaurant ahead of time to get on the list.  They include, The Box, Schillibar and Makitaco.  These are all great places to eat as well.   For those who just want to wander in to any place, you’re left with Coba, the buffet, Moonlight Trattoria and Pizza and Muerdeme Mucho.  We’ve eaten at every place and multiple times, so here’s our take on them.

Black Hole:  This isn’t to be missed, but you have to be brave as well.  You’re asked to wear all black and when you go in it’s more of a show than just dinner.  They only have two sets of seating times with a limit of 16 people each time.  You’ll eat your meal in the dark with nothing more than a black light to illuminate the waiters white gloves.  Don’t be too scared though because the food isn’t always what you expect.

Benazuza: This place is constantly winning awards and is considered to be one of, if not the best, place to eat in Cancun.  You’ll experience a 20 course meal that is top notch.  Dress nice and enjoy, it’s definitely worth it.  If you have an upgraded band, you can eat here once/week for free.  Otherwise it will cost around $50/each.

Schillibar: Another great restaurant that’s considered a must eat at.  Located at the back pool area.  Make sure you get here early in the afternoon to get a reservation.

Makitaco: We loved eating here as well.  This is a smaller Mexican Japanese fusion restaurant.

Muerdeme Mucho: Straight up Mexican food and some of the best!

Moonlight Trattoria and Pizza: Italian food, pizza, and no reservations needed.  Great food and service as always.

Coba: Your standard all-inclusive buffet.  There isn’t much that stands out here, bu there isn’t much that is missing as well.  For those roll out of bed and need something quick to eat, this fits the bill perfectly.

Sakura Sunset: Great seafood in the best spot of Cancun for watching the sunset.  Make sure you get a reservation just prior to sunset to enjoy a truly amazing experience.

The Box: Another great place to eat.  Portions are small, but you get a few.  They’re also open late at night with snacks for when you’re finally done dancing away at the Kinky Club.

Coffee & Me: This is your own Starbucks in the hotel without the price.  If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll get to know this place very well.  Located just behind the VIP bar on the way to the back pool.

Siankaan: The VIP bar.  There is usually a concierge here, who’ll you need to make reservations for the beach beds if you want one.  Full service bar with premium liquors and snacks are usually available as well.

The Kinky Club

Most nights of the week, the Kinky Club is the only thing open after 10pm.  If you like to stay up late and have fun, you’ll most likely find yourself here at least once.  On different nights they have different shows that are a lot of fun to watch.  After the show, the club turns into a normal night club with a DJ, dancing and drinks.

Pirates Ahoy!

One activity that’s completely free of charge that you shouldn’t miss is the Pirate Cruise.  Every Thursday night at 10:00pm they bring in a few buses and take everyone over to the Pirate Ship at one of their other resorts.  Room on the ship is limited, so make sure you get signed up on their list at the same concierge that does the dinner reservations.

Once aboard the ship, it will set sail out into the Lagoon (smooth water, so you won’t get sea sick) and a short show is followed by lots of music, dancing and free drinks.  We have done this twice now and both times were a ton of fun.  This was actually the easiest place to make friends and meet new people because there are so many people in such a small place.  On this night, the Kinky Club won’t be open as their entertainers will all be on the boat.

Everything Else

We have very little negative to say about the Grand Oasis Sens.  In addition to all of the amenities that are offered here, you can visit any of the other Oasis hotels in Cancun and Tulum including The PyramidGrand OasisOasis Cancun LiteGrand Oasis PalmSmart Cancun OasisOh! the Urban Oasis and Grand Oasis Tulum.  The resort will arrange a transfer for you between resorts.

Amanda and I actually took advantage of the free Smart Car at the resort and drove down to Tulum.  Along the way we stop by some of the Cenotes and have a detailed write up of that stop, here .  We also took some time at the Ruins of Tulum and when we were done, stopped by the Grand Oasis Tulum to relax and check out the resort.  Unfortunately, we only stayed there for a couple of hours, so we can’t give you a full review of the resort.  The Grand Oasis Tulum was a beautiful resort, with a beautiful beach, but didn’t seem to have the activity and life that Sens has.  The Sens is a great resort if you’re looking for some activity during your stay, while the Grand Oasis Tulum seems to be more oriented towards relaxation (oh, and they have kids there too).

Make sure you get a copy of the weekly activities as well.  They have pool parties almost daily, including a foam party that you don’t want to miss, night parties, and other entertainment.  There is always something fun and adventures to do at the Grand Oasis Sens.

As always, if you have any questions about the Grand Oasis Sens, drop us a line or leave a comment below.  We’d be happy to answer any questions you may have and even help you get booked for your stay there.  You can see more pictures and video of our stays here on our instagram feed.

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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.

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Yachtcations Review

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Time for a quick review because Amanda and I had a chance to experience an amazing time on the water this weekend and want to share this amazing company with you.  A bunch of friends pitched in to do a Yachtcations baby shower!  Yachtcations is a private yacht/catamaran that’s available to rent out for the day or even a customized adventure.  They’ll take you anywhere you want to go provided they can get you there by sea.

For us, this was a chance to get out on the water, one of our favorite things to do, see Kemah, TX from the water and spend time with good company.  Chris, the US Coast Guard licensed captain, and owner of Yachtcations welcomed us aboard and was every bit welcoming that you could hope for.  This trip couldn’t have gone any smoother.  All we had to do is show up and enjoy our time.

For those of you who are worried about getting sick at sea, this is a very large and stable boat.  The hulls of the boat also include a couple of room and bathrooms, so you aren’t exactly leaving behind the luxuries of home.  Overall, this was the most fun we’ve ever had at a baby shower and highly recommend using Yachtcations if you ever have a chance.

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Stonefield Villa Resort – St. Lucia

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It’s honeymoon time!  Amanda and I finally got married and took the trip of our dreams to St. Lucia.  I spent a lot of time researching this trip ahead of time along with many other possible destinations.  St. Lucia has always been near the top of my bucket list but I didn’t want to just go sit at some resort and not actually enjoy the location.  If that is the experience we wanted, we could have done that anywhere.  For that reason, we looked high and low for the best location to stay, near lots of activities and with a great view.  I really wanted to be near the iconic Pitons and have a view of the Ocean.  Since it is our honeymoon, privacy would be something treasured as well.  There were a few options around the Soufriere area, but Stonefield Estates ended up being exactly everything we hoped for and more.  We got the kind of luxury, privacy and features that most think they can only get at Jade Mountain, but at a fraction of the price.

Tip: If visiting St. Lucia, no matter where you’re staying, we highly recommend getting a vehicle.  The normal vacation in St. Lucia involves staying at a hotel and never leaving, or taking a single high priced excursion to something touristy.  If you drive yourself, you can do all the touristy stuff at a fraction of the price and you can do it on your own time.  There is so much to explore.  Most of the people we talked to that had been to St. Lucia before us never wondered outside of their resort.  Just be warned, if driving in St. Lucia, you’ll be driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road.

First Impressions

We flew in to Hewanorra International Airport and drove ourselves the hour drive up to StoneField.  When we first pulled up to Stonefield, we were blown away by all the vegetation.  It was if we just drove into the Garden of Eden.  We weren’t sure which way exactly we were to go to check in, but finding out way there was enjoyable none-the-less.  I really wanted this to be the best honeymoon possible, so I did my research ahead of time and made sure we had an amazing villa.  We got a Hillside Oceanview Villa that had a view of Petit Piton, the Ocean and no other Villas.  It was as if we were there all alone.  We couldn’t hear anyone else or see anyone else.  Our 1200 square foot villa included our bedroom with a king bed, bathroom with outdoor shower, kitchen and living area.  Outside we had a pool, and two decks.  One of the decks was covered and had a hammock, the other open for a full view of the sun above, with two lounge chairs.  One of the great features that you get here that is absent at Jade Mountain is air condition in your bedroom.  The rest of the view villa is open for fresh air including the shower which is outside.  There is nothing more serene than taking a shower under the moon and stars.

We were originally upset that we arrived later in the day and wouldn’t get to enjoy the beach already, but the sunset we witnessed that first night was second to none.  It was soon followed by the moon over the ocean providing a spectacular view all night long.  We stayed up until 4am just sitting outside and swimming in the pool, enjoying the serenity of this magnificent place we were lucky enough to be experiencing.

The location of Stonefield was very desirable.  Within a short drive there were waterfalls, an active volcano, a couple of towns and of course the Pitons.  We review some of the places we got to experience in another post, here.

The View

This is the best view we have ever experienced for a beach resort.  Not only is the beach just below you, but to the south was that incredible Petit Piton.  It may sound petite, but it is actually the larger of the two pitons and not too safe to climb.  I did climb it before knowing that, which you can read about that in our St Lucia Adventures review.  Every single night we took the time to stop everything and watch the sun set.  And every single night we enjoyed the Moon passing over head.  During our stay, the moon rose from the east and set in the west.  There isn’t much to do in Soufriere at night, so we were usually in early and up early.

Again, we couldn’t see anything or anyone else from our villa.  Some of the others may have views of a backside of another Villa, but ours had completely unobstructed views.

Our Villa

We were blessed to have a very large pool, big enough to not consider it a splash pool, two decks, a living area, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and outdoor shower.  The kitchen has most of what you could need for a short stay, though getting groceries isn’t as easy as we had hoped for.  There is a small store in town, but very little to choose from.  Fortunately, breakfast was included at the Mango Tree restaurant and we often ate out for dinner.  The bedroom does close off and has an A/C unit which was nice to have.  The open air resorts are a great idea, but depending on the time of year you’re visiting, I’d had to not have the option of controlled temps when needed.  One of our favorite features was the outdoor shower.  We didn’t have any issues with mosquitoes or other critters, so it was very relaxing to use.  The living area was nice as well, but never used considering we had two porches to enjoy being outside instead.

The Beaches

Stonefield doesn’t have a private beach, as all beaches in St. Lucia are public.  But, you can catch a ride down to the beach, or drive (as we did) and find a fairly quiet, often empty, beach to enjoy.  The beach ranges from beautiful sand to rocks depending on the area you decide to stop at.  In addition to this, Stonefield will shuttle you to the other side of Petit Piton to enjoy Sugar Beach for free.  This beach is nestled between Petit Piton and Gros Piton with extremely white sand, and clear water.  I’d recommend visiting this beach at least once to enjoy a view you won’t find elsewhere.  We also took the time to check out the beach at Jade Mountain as well as another one further north on the island, Anse Conchon Beach, which is know for glittery sand, a mixture of dark volcanic sand and white sand.  Every one of these beaches, except the one at the base of Stonefield have bars for food and drinks.

Mangos, Mangos & the Mango Tree

There is a very good reason their restaurant is called the Mango Tree.  There is a very large Mango Tree on the cliff full of fruit.  We’ve always enjoyed the taste of mangos, but never like this before.  We weren’t sure if we could just pick them off of the trees so we played it safe and called the front desk to ask.  Sure enough, we didn’t have to pick anything, the gardener would pick the best fruit for us and deliver it to our villa.  We had the bring half a dozen mangos and other fruit to us daily and ate up every bit of it.  The mango’s in St. Lucia are amazing, soft and delicious.  We’ve yet to have another mango since that has come close to comparing to them.  Don’t miss out on eating fresh fruit every day picked straight from the trees.

The Mango Tree restaurant was also very nice.  The view was similar to that of our Villa, though probably 50 feet higher.  They had entertainment a few nights during our stay, a small bar, and amazing food.  Breakfast, made to order, was included in the stay and amazing every day.  You could even order to have the food delivered to your villa instead.

Overall, we highly recommend Stonefield and could definitely see staying here again.  They even offer larger villas for big groups that would make for a really fun group trip.  It was very difficult driving away from here when our trip was over.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions that we could answer or want to know more.  You can find more pictures of our trip over on Instagram and Facebook as well.