Bring on the Bajans

June 22, 2016 2:00 pm
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Crane Beach, Barbados –  Photos courtesy Visit Barbados

It’s never too late for a southern getaway. The year 2016 marks Barbados 50th anniversary of independence from Britain and while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will prove to be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are just a drive away from being part of the fun.

History and Geography

With the third oldest Parliament in the world with uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639, Barbados is an economically and politically stable country. It has one of the highest per capital incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking.) There are over 2.8 million people who live here and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel everywhere that comes with all that stability. Take advantage of it and rent a car to explore because there are different vibes to the various areas on the island. (The country is divided into 11 areas, or “parishes”).

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. (Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.) Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove) with all of the big names in couture. There is also a lot of history on the West Coast. Holetown was the first settlement in Barbados and if you head to there in mid-February, the Holetown Festival takes place. You can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this is a spiritual extravaganza.

There are Great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new annual event. It takes place in November year and attracts top chefs from around the world and events are held in various locations throughout the island, an added bonus. November 2015 featured among others, celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and American star chef Chris Cosentino. The event in 2016 precedes the actual 50th anniversary date of November 30, so November 2016 will be a fantastic time to visit Barbados.

While still on the West Side, you may see yellow buses driving by that look like open-air party buses as they blare reggae music. Try and fit in a ride on one of them. It is an unparalleled public transportation experience. Ask a local about the routes so you are taken exactly where you want to be.

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No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone. Rum was actually discovered in Barbados.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country’s capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Interestingly, Barbados is the only place George Washington visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast has a completely different feel than the West Coast. There is a hip surfer culture developing here. It is one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing. Soup Bowl, as it is called, is just by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival Hawaii’s. The East is more rugged with stunning cliffs, not prime swimming area, in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides, but it is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.

The South also has a different vibe to it. It has a lively night life and it is also a great place for water sports, including diving and boating.

As you drive inland, to get from one side of the island to the other, the tree sanctuaries and scenery will amaze you. While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time as you drive inland, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. It’s not a particularly cheap excursion, but it will provide a unique experience. It is located in Saint Thomas Parish.

Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the restaurants for authentic Bajan and incredible food are in rum shops. They are local, small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistens in the South (Christ Church Parish) on a Friday night for its fish fry. It will redefine bbq fish for you. The flavours, the recipes and fish cooked to perfection make Oistens an absolute must. There are lots of tourists lurking about but ignore that fact and enjoy the experience.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

While on the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Saint Peter’s Bay Luxury Resorts and Villas on the West Side is a great option for families and those who want to share accommodations. They are luxury condos that even have their own Jacuzzi on a deck overlooking the ocean. Port Ferdinand, Saint Peter’s Bay’s sister resort, cranks up the upper high-end luxury factor and it too offers condo-type accommodations with service fit for royalty. In fact, royalty does stay there. There are of course all the major chains on the island as well. The Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont.

On the East Coast, Atlantis hotel is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

visitbarbados.com

Hyatt Ziva Cancun: Best Of The Yucatan Peninsula

March 31, 2016 10:03 am
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Photos courtesy of Hyatt Ziva Cancun. 

Cancun and the Mayan Riviera are popular vacation destinations for Canadians. At the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, the newly refurbished Hyatt Ziva Cancun provides another great reason to keep going back. Surrounded by the Caribbean Sea on three sides, this family friendly all inclusive resort encompasses three towers (Pyramid, Club and Premium), two beaches and numerous room options for couples or larger groups. Offerings include two story family suites and swim-up suites with infinity pools. The rooms feature spectacular views of Caribbean Sea and Hyatt’s brand of high end, classy, signature service. The design incorporates a contemporary feel with a bow to Mayan traditions and colour.

The lobby design features a glass and coral stone theme that leads to a grand staircase cleverly designed for dual use as seating for the live entertainment at the resort’s outdoor amphitheatre. Amenities include free resort-wide Wi-Fi, room service and TV’s with a great selection of channels. Rooms have espresso makers, beach butlers and access to the Bar del Mar Lounge for tapas and cocktails. You can easily spend most of the day on the beautiful beach or at one of the three lagoon-style infinity swimming pools which have lots of beach chairs and a really comfy, cool vibe. The resort staff is terrific and you’ll never wait for a cold drink. Young families can take advantage of the Kidz Club while adults can visit the resort’s seafront Zen Spa for a mud rap or caviar facial before going into the hydrotherapy pool or resting under the shaded huts on the beach. All non-motorized sports are free including bicycling, yoga classes, the weight and workout gym, snorkelling, aerobics classes in the pool, paddle boarding and water basketball and volleyball. You have the option of renting two-story wooden cabanas (USD$150-$240 per day with swim-up bars and a big hot tub) and there are fees for motorized water sports which is the norm throughout the Caribbean. Patrons take full advantage of the Ziva’s six bars located poolside and throughout the hotel. They offer everything from fine wines to tequila, beer, mojitos and margaritas. I was drawn to Tres Cervezas with its onsite micro-brewed beer and delicious nachos, wings and guacamole.

The Hyatt Ziva Cancun has nine restaurants serving a variety of choices including Italian (Lorenzo’s), French (Bastilles) and American fare (Chevy’s Diner) with a flare. If you are in the mood for Asian food, try Moongate. The resort also has an excellent Spanish steakhouse called Tradewinds. Early risers will enjoy the coffee house Casa Café.  I’m a big fan of Chiapas coffee in Mexico and the café didn’t disappoint. If you are off schedule you can go to 24 Horas and have a snack 24 hours a day. A nice touch is the pleasant staff who roam the resort with fruity crepes and spicy pineapple on a skewer. Families will find that their kids will be dragging them to Pasteles for yummy deserts of chocolate, gooey gummy bears, gelato and cotton candy.

Hyatt Ziva Cancun - Habaneros - 1085542A lunch spot favourite at Zivia is Mercado, which offers buffet style services of seafood (smoked fish), chicken, beef and vegetables along with an assortment of dessert pastries. Unlike a lot of buffets, where everything is precooked, a lot can be cooked fresh for you like: Omelets, Eggs, pancakes, crepes, sea bass, salmon and shrimp.

The hotel is close to many shopping facilities such as Plaza La Fiesta (a decent place for souvenirs). Chedraui Selecto is a supermarket that offers local fare and souvenirs, sunblock and beachwear if you left anything at home. The area has lots to offer within walking distance. Public transit or local taxis and both are offered in Cancun. Taxis are available at the hotel or you can walk down the street towards the shopping centre where you can get a taxi at a much cheaper rate.

The Hyatt Ziva Cancun is a perfect getaway for your next trip to Cancun. It has friendly, professional staff, great room offerings, superb restaurants and bars and wonderful onsite land and water activities in a spectacular and relaxing environment.

Bring on Barbados

December 24, 2015 10:40 am
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Are you going to need some time to unwind after that Christmas shopping panic? Go big and book a trip to the birthplace of rum and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Barbados. The year 2016 marks Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, so while any time is a good time to go, 2016 will be a stellar year to experience all the island has to offer, which is a lot. There is always something going on here culturally, and since it is not a large island (it runs about 35 km in length and about 22 km in width), you are always just a drive away from being part of the fun.

IMG_20151120_172301_editHistory and Geography

Barbados has the third oldest Parliament in the world, boasting uninterrupted parliamentary governance since 1639. So it’s a stable country, both politically and economically speaking. In fact, it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the Caribbean (in large part thanks to tourism and offshore banking). There are roughly 2.5 million people who live here, and the country has a literacy rate of almost 99 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the world. There is a fantastic hospitable feel to the place that comes with all that stability. There are different vibes to the island’s various corners.   The country is divided into 11 areas known as parishes.

The West Coast of Barbados is known as the money side of the island. Expensive resorts are everywhere with a designer shop complex (Lime Grove). The area is known as the Platinum Coast not just because of its incredible beaches and crystal clear water, but because of the wealth. Pop star Rihanna (who hails from Barbados) owns a home there, Tiger Woods was married nearby.

Holetown, located in Saint James Parish West Coast, was the first settlement in Barbados. If you are there in mid-February, check out the Holetown Festival where you can sample local foods and experience a Gospel Explosion. Given Barbados is a fairly religious country (there are over 100 religious groups operating in Barbados), this will no doubt be an incredible experience.

There are many other great festivals throughout the year. The Barbados Wine, Food and Rum Festival is a growing and fairly new yearly event. It takes place in November every year and attracts top chefs to events held in various locations across the island. This year celebrity chefs Craig Harding of Toronto and the U.S.’s Chris Cosentino are making an appearance. The 2016 event precedes the actual 50th independace-anniversary date of November 30, so November is another great time to visit Barbados. Actually, any time is a good time.

IMG_20151119_100738Try and fit in a ride on one of the yellow buses. With reggae music blaring in the bus, it is truly an unparalleled public transportation experience.

No trip to Barbados is complete without a visit to the Mount Gay rum distillery located in Saint Michael Parish. Not only does it give you a history of rum making, you get a hit of history at the same time. The various samplings will make a rum lover out of anyone.

Bridgetown (also in Saint Michael Parish) is the country capital and is on the southwest part of the island. Parliament is there, of course, but the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a UNESCO World Heritage site and worthy of a visit. Described by UNESCO:

“It is an example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which testifies to the spread of Great Britain’s Atlantic colonial empire. The property also includes a nearby military garrison which consists of numerous historic buildings. With its serpentine urban lay-out the property testifies to a different approach to colonial town-planning compared to the Spanish and Dutch colonial cities of the region which were built along a grid plan.”

Interestingly, it is also the one place US revolutionary George Washington ever visited outside of the United States.

The East Coast and South Coast of the Island have a completely different feel to them. The East is more rugged, with stunning cliffs but not much prime swimming area (in fact stay out of the water here because of dangerous rip tides). The water views are breathtaking though, and the power of the water crashing against the shore is awe-inspiring. There is a growing surfer culture in the area, given that one of the best-kept secret locations for surfing is there: Soup Bowl, by the town of Bathsheba (Saint Joseph Parish). It is becoming legendary for its waves that rival ones you’ll find even in Hawaii.

The South of the Island has a more lively feel than the West Coast in terms of beach culture and night life. There are fantastic water sports, including diving, boating and swimming.

While it may be a total touristy thing to do, if you’ve got time, visit Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern. While not a particularly cheap excursion, it’s pretty amazing and worth the trip. It is located inland in Saint Thomas Parish so you get to see a different part of the island, which is a bonus.

IMG_20151119_100009Fuel Up

Barbados has incredible cuisine. Gourmet restaurants have been popping up around the island, marrying various cuisines with local twists. If you are craving a Beckta-type meal, there is no shortage of restaurant options. The West Coast, as you might imagine, caters to that palate. Try Champers, and The Cliff or Cin Cin for upper-end eating. All three are phenomenal restaurants. Cin Cin has the most incredible surfside tables to boot.

While fine dining is definitely in order, some of the hits for absolutely incredible food are in rum shops. They are local small restaurants that offer fresh fish, lamb, chicken, rice and bean dishes, and fried plantain that is nothing short of divine. You can wash it all down with Banks beer (or homemade rum punch).

Make sure you hit Oistins in the South (Christ Church) on a Friday Night for its Fish Fry. It is an open-air fish barbeque that will redefine any preconceived notions of fish. This is an absolute must. Sure there are lots of tourists lurking about, but ignore that fact and enjoy the incredible, most delectable fish you may ever have.

Do not leave Barbados without visiting Cuz’s Fish Shack right by Carlisle Bay (by the Hilton Barbados Resort) in Bridgetown.

On the East Coast, hit Atlantis Restaurant (Saint Joseph Parish). The view and food are incredible.

Sleep

Barbados has everything from high-end experiences (Saint Peter’s Bay and Port Ferdinand are condo-type accommodations that are perfect for sharing with others). Port Ferdinand is high-end luxury (royalty stays there). Still, when shared with others, it is more affordable and the luxury will make you feel like royalty, with personalized service. There are of course all the major chains as well, the Hilton has an incredible beach, as does the Fairmont. They are all there.

On the East Coast, Atlantis is more of an intimate location with spectacular views, but bear in mind you can’t swim in the ocean there.

Barbados is brimming with opportunities for everyone to have a good time. Bajans know how to have fun and you should join in. With perfect weather, perfect sunsets, sunrises, impeccable beaches, cuisine for every palate and lots of culture and history to feed the mind as well, you can’t go wrong in Barbados.

A Storm of Support

October 13, 2015 2:17 pm
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Photo Courtesy of Atlantis Resorts.

While many Canadians were preparing to pack up and face a 4 day storm of in-laws and turkey dinners last week, Hurricane Joaquin of the Caribbean Islands was just finishing its own disaster path.

Beginning September 27, Joaquin devastated several districts of the Bahamas and caused damage in the Turks and Caicos Islands, parts of the Greater Antilles, and Bermuda. Following the Category 4 storm’s destruction, the Atlantis, Paradise Island Resort in The Bahamas has stepped up in effort to bring relief to the ravaged tropical Bahamian Islands.

Stemming from the age old tale of the lost land itself, The Atlantis resort has pledged to match all donations in the month of October up to $100,000, transferring all funds to the Bahamas Red Cross. While the popular vacationers paradise was not in line with the storm, the fund for its neighboring islands has already managed to raise $28,791 with 20 days remaining.

Hurricane Joaquin still poses a very serious threat as it barrels towards the US East Coast, and forecasters are warning it could still grow in intensity.

So, as the turkey hits the tupperware and the in laws go home, it is important to remember as Canadians we all have to be thankful for our own peaceful climate. And while our holiday storm is calming down, it is still raging upon those a world a way. To donate to the relief efforts, feel free to head over to youcaring.com/DonateBahamas.

Vacation like a VIP

September 8, 2015 1:34 pm
Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya Hacienda Pool

Bret Michaels, international rock star and front man for the popular band Poison has teamed up with the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Mexico to bring you the ultimate in rock n’ roll luxury travel.

Located on the Caribbean Sea, the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is a music lover’s paradise. As is the case with the Hard Rock franchise, the entire Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is decorated with paraphernalia from iconic bands and blasts classic rock hits in various locations throughout the resort. Every detail is focused on music, from the guitar-shaped room key to the rock n’ roll-inspired spa treatments. Each guestroom is extravagantly designed to make you feel like a rock star and offers guests an all-inclusive minibar that is restocked daily with premium rums, vodkas and whiskies. The list of amenities is long and the Hard Rock will pamper you.

If you want to avoid children, stay on the adults only side of the resort appropriately named Heaven. Private balconies with hydro hot tubs and lounger hammock areas abound so you can soak up the sun in the privacy of your own space. Also located on the Heaven side is the Hard Rock signature Rock Spa that has up to 75 treatment rooms where one can experience the legendary rhythm and motion massage. The massage is based on a traditional Swedish style and begins with slower rock n’ roll songs playing gently in your ear while the massage therapists use the vibrations, pressures and patterns of the music in their technique. Heaven has a full service private beach, four fantastic restaurants and three lively bars and lounges, including a premium service nightclub with a giant indoor pool.

If you want to live the rock star life and have a few dollars to spare, splurge or blow the budget on the Bret Michaels Rock Star Suite, inspired and co-designed by Bret Michaels himself. It is the largest celebrity branded Rock Star Suite in the Hard Rock International collection (there are locations around the globe). Michaels worked directly with the Hard Rock Design Studio and Tandem Design Team to showcase his personal experience and musical accomplishments. As you enter the suite, you’re greeted with a full-size glass cut-out of Michaels leading a cheering concert crowd and a large display case showcasing the rock star’s Taxicab motorcycle and Rose guitar. The suite is 9,204 square feet and is decked out with a photo booth, private screening room, DJ booth and bar, raised dance floor, Camaro converted billiard table, cowboy hat display, bandana-influenced ceiling décor, multiple lounge areas, a huge rock-inspired bathroom and a master bedroom with a luxurious bathtub that rests bedside. The best feature however, is the roof top terrace which is the entire length of the suite. The terrace obviously comes equipped with a kitchen and dining area, hot tub, fire pit and plenty of places to sun tan!

The point is, this is a place of luxury for people from all walks of life, from the famously rich to those of us still working our way there. The Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya guarantees fun, rock ’n roll and a good time for every one of all ages. Restaurants serving Asian fusion, South American, Mexican or even a pizzeria are there to fuel you up. Private beaches, party pools, family pools, music lessons, Temazcal (an intense Mexican heat therapy cleanse in the dark), children’s activities and a fully equipped gym are all there for your enjoyment and relaxation. Rock the night away or cuddle up in your suite and empty the minibar. Do whatever you want. The key is, the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is hip, cool and there to please.

To book an all-inclusive vacation at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, visit www.hrhrivieramaya.com.

Discover the Hidden Secret of the Dominican Republic at Casa De Campo

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If you are looking for first class hospitality, gracious service staff, luxurious accommodations and a Caribbean resort experience like no other, Casa de Campo is the place. Located on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, this spectacular 7,000-acre resort, residential community and tropical playground is a golfer’s paradise and a tourist’s delight. In short, Casa De Campo offers a perfect getaway for families, couples or businesses.

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Casa de Campo’s impressive front entrance.

Upon arrival at the hotel, you’ll be greeted with a glass of Moet champagne and given keys to a golf cart and directions to a suite that is both elegant and comfortable. The hotel rooms are large, with marble baths, televisions, excellent internet, refrigerators, daily fresh fruit, towel service and room temperature controls. They have all the modern accessories you would expect from such a luxurious spot. I felt a bit like a kid in a candy shop with all the offerings. Following my first instinct, I quickly headed out to explore the resort grounds in my golf cart. The adventure took me back to my days of being a free-wheeling teen, when I loved to spend afternoons at the local go-cart track. The difference was that these golf carts are quiet and the scenery is spectacular.

Manicured lawns, spectacular private residences, picturesque golf courses and a white sandy beach with illuminating turquoise water compel you to quickly get into decompress-mode. The Minitas resort beach is very accessible and the beach café has superior service, cold beer, great tapas and a large canopy to protect you from the hot afternoon sun.

Back at the hotel, the pool area is immaculately maintained and there is a fitness center with the latest workout equipment and a spa offering a plethora of soothing treatments. Families can take advantage of supervised programs for children and teens.

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Seating at one of the resort’s many fantastic pools.

If you love golf you would be in heaven here. I’m not a golfer but my travel colleagues both said that the famed Teeth of the Dog golf course at the resort was one of their all-time best golfing experiences. Aside from golf, Casa offers tennis, beach water sports, river and ocean fishing, horseback riding, polo and clay shooting.

The Casa de Campo Shooting Center is a world-class sport shooting facility with more than 200 different stations. The stations catapult clay targets into the air at different heights, speeds and angles, each one designed to represent the movement of different animals such as pheasants and rabbits. I had never gone clay target shooting before and I have to say I really loved it. The coaches were patient and professional. Your adrenaline gets going each time you line up and hit a moving target.

The Shooting Director and Game keeper  is Gary Salmon, a world renowned specialist in the field whose previous postings included stints at Sandringham, at Queen Elizabeth’s estate in Norfolk, in Suffolk, in  Essex and then for 16 years in Northamptonshire in England. In the shooting and game keeping world, Salmon is widely known and respected and his clients have included some of Canada’s leading business families and two of Canada’s former Prime Ministers.

My clay shooting experience was only slightly surpassed by an invigorating trail ride with one of the estate ranch horses. I thought I was pretty good on a horse until later in the day when I went to watch a local polo match. I am now convinced that although ice-hockey requires a certain level of talent, it is nowhere near the ability and dexterity required to play polo.

Horseback riding, clay shooting and a long swim at the beach all made for a great day. Later, I enjoyed dinner at the resort’s newly renovated signature restaurant on Minitas Beach. We watched the sunset and dined on a mix of delicious seafood, grilled meats, pasta, fresh salads and side dishes. We ended the meal with amazing desserts, all prepared with a distinctive Caribbean flair.

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La Marina, filled with boats and picturesque homes.

Lago Grill offers breakfast, lunch and dinner each day alongside its amazing views of the Teeth of the Dog 18th hole and the Caribbean Sea. I enjoyed several early meals here as I felt the cool sea breezes and listened to a Dominican folk band playing “perico ripiao.” Lago offers a wide variety of salads, home style bread, all kinds of seafood, cassava empanadas, a variety of meats including the famous goat “chivo higueyano” and traditional Dominican stew. You can also enjoy a wonderful meal at La Caña by IL Circo which offers a choice of dining in an air-conditioned indoor area or al fresco on the terrace with views of the pool and garden. Their menu is varied and features selections like salmon carpaccio and turbo fillet, risotto with lobster, porcini skirt steak and some pretty incredible desserts.

Casa de Campo has a port called “La Marina” for ships and yachts. It’s really a small village with private residences, shops and restaurants that you could easily spend at day at relaxing and reading a book. However–nothing beats reading a book on the beach. It’s worth it to take the 30 minute Catamaran trip to Catalina Island, one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The Catamaran races along the coast and out into the Caribbean Sea before docking on site at Catalina. Plan to spend a day on this beach under a palm tree. Bring a lunch or buy one from the locals.

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The gorgeous Altos de Chavón village and theatre.

Another big draw for visitors is the nearby Altos de Chavón, a replica 16th-century Mediterranean village perched on a rocky outcrop above the River Chavón that is part of the Casa de Campo resort. You’ll need a day to explore the cobbled streets and local merchant shops tucked away in the little courtyards that define this unique place. It was constructed in the 1980s as a living cultural centre for local artists to produce and sell their goods. Dominican architect Jose Antonio Caro and the Italian designer Roberto Coppa worked with Dominican artisans to create the buildings, ironwork, pathways and stone carvings. The Regional Museum of Archaeology is located onsite at Altos de Chavón and is a must stop destination for anyone visiting the area. It features a treasure trove of more than 3,000 artifacts that chart the history and culture of the region’s pre-European societies. You’ll pass a number of restaurants and bars serving local and international cuisines.

We had a fabulous dinner at La Piazzetta, a gourmet Italian restaurant featuring antipasto selections, homemade pasta dishes and a great selection of wines. Then we went to Altos de Chavón’s huge 5,000 seat open-air amphitheater to see the show Kandelá, a musical extravaganza featuring over 50 dancers and two renowned local singers who take you on an incredible musical journey infused with the rhythmic essence of the Caribbean. International stars such as Sting, Carlos Santana, Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias and Shakira have also graced its stage.

Casa de Campo has it all, from luxury hotel rooms and villas to a wide selection of exceptional restaurants, the Cygalle Healing Spa, chic boutiques, beaches, horseback riding, golf, sports facilities, a marina and of course, the Altos de Chavón village –with its museums, restaurants, amphitheatre and church. All make for an exceptional experience. Best of all are the abundant smiling staff members who are well-trained in the art of hospitality and are some of the most generous and genuine people you’ll meet. Bravo Casa de Campo.

For more information on the gorgeous resort and bookings, dive into the Casa de Campo website.

Reggae and Running: A Unique Pair

July 14, 2015 3:44 pm
Montigo Bay beach

Images courtesy of: Jamaica Tourist Board

When someone says they’re going to Jamaica for a vacation, you automatically think warm weather, beautiful beaches, delicious food and of course Bob Marley. While all those things are true, there’s a new attraction calling people to this gorgeous Caribbean island. The Reggae Marathon, Jamaica’s own premier international marathon event is getting lots of attention with over 3000 amateur and expert runners from all over the world. In 2014, over 150 Canadians made their way down south to participate in the race.

The Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K begin on Long Bay Beach Park which borders Negril’s famous 7-mile white sand beach. The course is mostly flat and is IAAF certified with 10K, half or full marathon options. The best part about the race is that it’s really fun. The race starts at 5:15 am under the Caribbean moon with Reggae music blasting each mile marker from either a live band or pumping out of speakers, encouraging runners to keep the pace. After you cross the finish line, you’re given a medal, coconut water, and of course, a Red Stripe beer. Runners then gather together at the beach bash party and awards ceremony where prizes are awarded. There are prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, place male and female runners channeling the inner Usain Bolt. Even the festivities surrounding the event are a blast! The night before the JHTA throws a bash called, “The world’s best pasta party” dinner at the Couples Swept Away Sports Complex featuring live dance performances and reggae music that you can’t help but dance along to.

Going into its 15th year, the Reggae Marathon will take place on December 5th, 2015. Registration is $100 for the marathon, $95 for the half marathon and $70 for the 10K run. Will you be signing up? Ya mon!

 

 

Of course it’s not all about the race! In Negril, you won’t go hungry. Some of the best restaurants in Jamaica border the ocean in Negril. Pushcart Restaurant, known for their modern Jamaican cuisine, is located in the Rockhouse Hotel. This gem features an open kitchen, rum bar, and nightly live entertainment. Then there’s also the true community staple, Cosmos Seafood Restaurant and Bar. They specialize in fresh, local and authentic seafood dishes. Located right in the middle of 7-mile beach, guests often park here for an afternoon to enjoy the view while they dine al-fresco. You can’t miss the action at Rick’s Café! Rick’s is a great spot to grab a drink and watch 100’s of tourists and locals alike jump of one of the many cliffs surrounding the bar and land straight into the ocean only to emerge from the water eager to jump in again!

Negril is home to many beautifully chic hotels. There are lots of options that suit just about any type of traveller. The best bang for your buck, however, is the Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa. Located in Montigo Bay, just 40 minutes from Negril, the Grand Palladium has everything one could need! With 7 restaurants, a world class spa facility and one of the largest pools on the island it’s the perfect spot to unwind after race day. If you’re looking to get out onto the blue and turquoise seas for a day, check out Dreamer Catamaran Cruise also in Montego Bay. Explore the coral reefs of the Montigo Bay Marine Park while listening to Bob Marley!

So yes, the post card perfect beaches, innovative cuisine, and all around good vacation vibes have been calling travelers to the island for years but the Reggae Marathon is giving people a new reason to visit!

For more information about the marathon visit: reggaemarathon.com

Atlantis is a Warm Weather Water Adventure

July 6, 2015 10:55 am
Aerial AQUAVENTUREMayan Temple (1280x853)

It’s hard not to be taken by the beauty of the beaches on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. A natural reef acts as a buffer, calming the waves that gently crash onto its shores and the sun is said to shine 300 days a year.

Hollywood was an early fan of the island, which has been featured in several movies including two from the James Bond franchise. The Hollywood set has also taken to the beauty of the area building homes on private islands surrounding Nassau and Paradise Island.

The Atlantis resort is a truly dreamy, watery escape that lies across the bridge from the island of Nassau. The striking architecture of the Royal Towers with a 25-storey high bridge-like structure joining the two towers is impressive. For the equivalent of an average family’s yearly total mortgage payments, you can rent a suite as high as a $25,000 a night. At that price, the chances of sneaking a peek of a celebrity guest are increased.

The Royal Towers were the first part of Atlantis to open and were built in a record 18 months. The entrance features a beautiful carving of Poseidon and the doors are 2 storeys high and carved with sea horse-shaped hinges. The doorman insists the doors can close but they stay open unless a hurricane is threatening the island. Once you enter, look up and take in the beautiful frescos that surround the vaulted ceiling. The attention to detail is a real treat.

Further inside, look down to get your first glimpse of the Atlantis aquarium experience. The lower level of the Royal Towers doubles as the back wall of the massive aquarium. Atlantis boasts 14 lagoons, 8 million gallons of salt water and 50,000 fish including sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, goliath groupers, eels and more. To take in all the aquariums, be sure to head to the “dig” tunnels that connect the Royal Towers to the outside aqua adventure park.

To get a closer at the marine life, choose among several hands-on marine experiences, including feeding and swimming with stingrays, snorkeling in the massive Ruins of Atlantis tank which is decked out with artifacts from the fabled lost city and home to sharks and many other fish. Stop by Dolphin Cay to get close up with these perpetually-smiling mammals. All the activities are available for an extra fee and are very popular so be sure to book early.

There are 18 waterslides, a not-so lazy river and 11 pools, although the whole place seems like one huge unending pool. There is so much to see and do that it is easy to overlook the detail that went into making all the ponds, pools and a lagoons. It’s unparalleled and the landscaping is first class. Take time to appreciate the beautiful sculptures sprinkled through the resort. It’s easy to get around. Well-manicured paths connect the 5 hotels, the pools, the stunning marina and Marina Village. Some of the walk can be long but if you’re not up for it, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service between all the buildings. Leave your wallet in your room as most restaurants, including the poolside locations, do not accept cash. (However, this does not apply to the 2 on-site Starbucks coffee shops.) Paying with your room key is very convenient and you don’t have to worry about losing you Visa in the not-so-lazy river.

The Atlantis Resort is like an exclusive club but it is available for all to experience on a per-day basis. Nassau has a deep-water port that accommodates up to 4 cruise ships a day. A favourite destination for the cruisers is the Atlantis resort. They arrive daily and contribute to the busy, happening vibe of the place. If a relaxed adult-only experience is more your style, stay at the Cove in order to have access to the Cain at the Cove. Exclusively for Cove guests, the Cain at the Cove is a beautifully landscaped pool area with a mini-outdoor casino and restaurant. For a more exclusive experience, rent a beach hut or cabana.

Get a feel for the local scene and wander up and over the bridge to Nassau. It’s an easy 15-minute walk and once you taste the cracked conch, grouper finger, even pork chops and plantains at one of the fish fry shacks under the bridge, you’ll want to be wandering back there daily. It is a culture clash compared to Atlantis and definitely a worthwhile experience.

The Atlantis Resort at Paradise Island is a warm-weather playground, a kind of Disney of water and sun. The white sandy beaches can’t be beat and the water park will keep the whole family busy all day.

Atlantis is a great family destination that will leave you with life-long memories. Prior knowledge of the addition expenses will help avoid a premature coronary at check-out. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • Mixed drinks are $15 US and beer is $8 (except in the Casino where price jumps substantially).
  • 15 per cent gratuity is added automatically to all bills plus the 7.5 per cent VAT tax
  • Meal plans can be purchased before leaving home and run from $99-$160 per person. (Note that gratuities are not included in the price and will be billed to your room. Children 12 and under eat for free with an accompanying adult but again, the room will be charged for gratuities on the value of their meal).
  • A $49 per person, per day resort fee will be added to your bill

A Delicious Weekend in Barbados

June 11, 2015 2:15 pm
photo 2

The sky is clear and the sun is shining. Is there a better way to start off the weekend in beautiful Barbados? The answer is yes—and it happens when I am handed a rum punch upon entering the Radisson Aquatica Beach Resort.

Get ready to unwind by lounging poolside or walking along the beach, both steps away from the hotel doors. The smell of dinner cooking from the hotel’s restaurant sitting on the water’s edge will waft down the beach and have your stomach rumbling. This is the beginning of a weekend full of food and drinks. It is the fifth annual Food, Wine and Rum Festival. Are you ready to dig in?

But first, a little history on the small island. The first stop is at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Located in the former British Military Prison, the almost two-century-year-old buildings hold collected and documented evidence of Barbados’ cultural, historical and environmental heritage. I learn how the island rose out of slave trade and of the influence British colonies have had on the 300,000 people who live here.

The inspiring stories help to appreciate the true beauty Barbados holds. And the beauty is everywhere!

As I look out the window of the car driven by my tour guide, I see water as blue as the sky and plants as vibrant as photos make them out to be. I am taking a tour of the entire island of Barbados in one afternoon—yes, it only takes one afternoon! Barbados is divided into eight main villages, each distinct in history, entertainment and plantation.

Bridgetown is the most commercial, with a variety of tourist shops and vendors selling everything you can imagine. I pick up some much needed sunscreen I forgot to bring! As we travel north, Speightstown and Holetown offer more shops, art galleries and historical monuments. Holetown is location of the first settlement in Barbados—and also where I’m told Rihanna likes to stay when she visits!

As we approach the east coast, the weather and the plantation begin to change. Waves crash against the rocky shore, a total 180 degress from the calm blue waters I saw out my hotel window in the morning. Sugar cane is everywhere and I start to get excited about the upcoming stop at St. Nicholas Abbey Great House and Distillery.

Barbados is proud to be the birthplace of rum—one of the oldest distilled spirits in the world! St. Nicholas Abbey, located up in the hills of St. Peter, features 400 acres of sugar cane, tropical forest and buildings for rum production. The living quarters on the property are the oldest I have ever stepped into. The Great House was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer and features Jacobean architecture, making it one of only three Jacobean mansions remaining in the Western Hemisphere.

The distillery preserves the traditional methods used to produce rum in Barbados. St. Nicholas Abbey takes pride in its use of a traditional recipe, the freshest cane, pot still distillation and its process of barrelling and bottling. The complimentary drink I sip as I tour the grounds tastes of long-standing tradition.

I was able to try a lot of Barbadian rums during the Food, Wine and Rum Festival on the island. The rum seminar with Chesterfield Browne provided a taste test of five varieties of Mount Gay Rum, Barbados’ oldest distillery. As the International Brand Ambassador and Mixologist for Mount Gay Distilleries, Browne is passionate about helping you discover the different aromas and flavours in every sip. He is also excited to share the history of rum on the island. Dating back to 1627, British colonists would cultivate sugar cane and Barbados quickly became a sugar-based economy. The production of rum flourished as the sugar cane by-product of molasses was readily available. Today, rum holds medicinal, spiritual, psychological and social value. There are an estimated 1,000 rum shops across the 166 square-miles making up the island. A good drink is never far away!

Now, it would not be a food festival without a few tastes of Barbadian classics—bring on the flying fish and poached chicken. Marcus Samuelsson had me drooling at his cooking demo. The Jolly Roger served more seafood while we danced the balmy night away on a boat sailing the Caribbean Sea.

Although the boat offered a breathtaking look of the Barbadian coastline at night, the Late Night Supersonic event took the award for best view.

Inside the Concorde Museum, music was jamming and lights were flashing. Asian and Indian dishes, seafood and a Bajan carvery helped fuel the party under one of the world’s only Concorde jets!

The British Airways Concorde G-BOAE was the first supersonic, passenger-carrying commercial airplane. The turbojet-powered aircraft would fly passengers from London, England and Paris, France to Barbados in half the time of a regular commercial plane. It was speedy and it was luxurious!

Although the Late Night Supersonic event was one of the best parties I have ever been to, an honourable mention must be made to my night out in Oistins.

Featuring a hustle and bustle of young locals and tourists alike, Oistins is THE place to go for traditional Barbadian food and fun on a Friday night. Flying fish were flung through the air with chips and coleslaw on the side. I sat down to a plate full of mahi-mahi and ate every last bite. Luckily, Oistins also caters to some activity to work off the food you eat. You can take a walk along the stalls selling souvenirs or get your groove on by a big bandstand with live music playing on weekend nights.

Barbados offers a magical setting combining all of my favourite things: A peaceful, relaxing environment, beautiful views, delicious food and warm smiles from everyone you meet.

I can’t wait to one day return to this deliciously charming island!

The Royal Treatment with Paradisus

May 22, 2015 4:01 pm
Punta Cana Gabi Beach

Punta Cana has become one of the most popular year-round tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Its name refers to the cane palms in the region, and literally means “Tip of the White Cane Palms.” Its climate is constant, the temperature warm and the land absolutely beautiful. Located at the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Punta Cana is situated at the most eastern tip of the country. It’s hard to believe that the history of Punta Cana really only began in 1969 when investors arrived in the area, purchased just over 50 square kilometres of beach and built paradise. Being at the junction of these two bodies of water with their differing currents, the area has incredible biodiversity and its fine, white sandy beaches are breathtaking.

Located right on that idyllic stretch of beach, and specifically the Bavaro Beach, are the luxury hotels Paradisus Punta Cana Resort and its sister resort, the Paradisus Palma Real. Their extensive and comfortable facilities, lush gardens and tropical mangroves, their wide range of activities and entertainment and the quality of their services make either location the perfect dream holiday. Needless to say, Paradisus All-Inclusive Resorts are par none in luxury, ambiance and cuisine but what makes these two properties in Punta Cana so special? The service, Royal Service actually!!

Both resorts offer a Royal service package which provides its guest with the VIP treatment during their stay. This adult’s only package offers access to private pools with Bali beds, access to the private beach area with a concierge service, complimentary wifi, entry to private restaurants for Royal Service guests only, and access to the Royal Service lounge for private check ins/outs alongside breakfast, international newspapers, cocktails, premium bar and hors d’oeuvres.

If that’s not enough, the best part of the Royal Service package is the exclusive yet discrete Butler Service. All butlers have been certified by the International Butler Academy and are dedicated to ensuring your every vacation need is met. Before your arrival, your butler will send you a preference form via email so they can get a sense of what you’re interested in and help organize any activities if need be. During your stay, your butler will set you up with a cell phone that reaches him/her directly at any time where you can take advantage of a variety of services such as:

  • Personal Resort overview
  • Personalized contents of the in-room mini bar
  • Personalized in-room coffee machine service
  • Luggage packing and unpacking
  • Whirlpool bath preparation
  • Personalized turndown service
  • In-room aromas experience
  • Bali beds & chaise lounge reservation at the private pool and private beach area
  • Delivery of pillow selection from the pillow menu
  • Assistance in planning tours and excursions
  • Preferential spa reservations
  • Preferential dinner reservations for the à la carte restaurants
  • Preferential reservations for golf, tennis courts and other activities
  • Mail and newspaper delivery
  • Personalized wake-up calls

Both Paradisus Palma Real and Paradisus Punta Cana have an extensive selection of restaurants and bars to suit any taste. At Palma Real, the standouts are Aqua which highlights the best in Mediterranean fusion and Gabi Beach, particularly at lunch while taking in the ocean views. At Paradisus Punta Cana, try Fuego for out of this world Latin fusion. After dinner enjoy a cocktail and a dance or two at Avenue bar or Gabi Club bar.

Each restaurant at either property is uniquely innovative and tasty however, the cuisine claim to fame for Paradisus is most definitely Passion by Michelin Star Chef Martin Berastategui. Awarded the 4-Diamond standing by AAA, the Passion experience is like no other. The restaurant is elegantly decorated with a black, white and red colour palate. Guests may choose to dine à la carte or sample Berastategui’s creations and try the chef’s tasting menu which is based on seasonal and local ingredients as well as recipes from his Spanish roots. Each dish is made with care and plated to perfection. Upon your first bite, you’ll realize why Martin has had such a successful career, the food is delicious!

So now that you’ve been treated like a royal and sampled the best cuisine on the island and arguably the Caribbean, it’s time to indulge at the famous YHI Spa. As soon as you step foot into YHI, you feel as if you’ve just entered heaven. It’s a world within the resort that’s tranquil and relaxing on so many levels. Let the spa aromas enchant your spirit and enjoy themed massages, facials, body treatments, or wraps. YHI also provides salon services and access to the fitness club. Be sure to take advantage of the Water Ritual Center where you can enjoy the sauna, herbal steam room, chromo therapy shower, hydrotherapy shower and whirlpool before or after any spa treatment.

Paradisus is a true luxury destination in every regard. Once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave! Don’t worry, your butler can arrange for a longer stay!

CONTEST

Paradisus Punta Cana and OLM are teaming up to bring one lucky family of 4 a dream vacation. Vacation gift certificate includes a 4-night stay at Paradisus Punta Cana for 2 adults and 2 kid. To enter, visit Ottawa Life at Facebook or on Twitter and share your family photo to be entered into a draw for the grand prize. Draw takes place July 1, 2015. The winner will be announced on Facebook and on Twitter. The prize is valid for one year. Blackout dates apply.

 

CONTEST RULES AND LEGAL DISCLAIMER

Ottawa Life Magazine, its staff, and its owners reserve sole and final judgment as to all matters concerning contests and interpretation of contest rules.

Disney Dreaming

February 6, 2015 12:59 pm
DISNEY DREAM AT CASTAWAY CAY

When it comes to creating an extraordinary world of escape, there is nobody who does it better than Disney. Whether you are nine or 90, it is impossible to come away from a Disney experience and not be amazed by it, even awestruck, and completely relaxed and renewed. Disney has created an environment, where no matter how stressed out you are, no matter your level of worry, you will be transported into its alternate reality, filled with all the stuff that dreams are made of.

Feb15_Disney_0327bz_8339gd_25978_origWalt Disney World in Orlando or Disneyland Park in California or other members of the Disney theme park family around the globe are well known but since 1998, Disney has been taking its world of magic to sea. The Disney Cruise Line is made up of four ships (Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy) that travel to destinations including the Caribbean, Bahamas, Europe, Hawaii, and Alaska. (New itineraries of varying lengths are always being added.)

The shortest cruise is a three-night excursion from Port Canaveral, Florida to the Bahamas and back on board Disney Dream. From the minute you hear its horn signal as you depart, (the first seven notes of When You Wish Upon a Star), the fairy-tale tone is set for your voyage.

A first-time cruiser might fear feeling cramped or restricted onboard but this is a needless concern. These ships are like communities on the water. Dream, for example, is over 1,100 feet in length with 14 passenger decks. In comparison, it is longer than the height of either the Eiffel Tower or the Chrysler Building. The staterooms are also 25 per cent bigger than many other ships and larger than some hotel rooms in Europe.

Feb15_Disney_0907ax_1294gd_8d_origJust outside your cabin door, you will find endless activities and adventures for everyone.

First, for children and youth, Disney spares nothing to ensure a good time. For the younger set, there are costumed Disney characters with whom children can interact. Specific times and locations where the characters can be found are given to parents in the daily activity itinerary (a very useful tool that lists all ship activities) provided in the room.

By day, kids can frolic in the water. There are two large pools and one smaller water-play area for smaller children. Above them all is a gigantic screen with endless Disney classics running all day long. Dream sports the first water coaster at sea, the AquaDuck, which stretches 765 feet in length, spans four decks in height, and zips over the edge of the ship, 150 feet above the water, much to the glee of every rider. There are also bottomless drink machines as well as an ice cream bar and other fast-food options open well into the night to keep your children’s (or your own) sugar high going. For healthier food options, the Cabanas casual dining restaurant delivers. The buffets are amazing with lots of variety.

ANIMATOR'S PALATE UNDERSEA MAGIC SHOW ON THE DISNEY DREAM

In the evening, Disney created an innovative option for dinner. With its rotational dining concept, featuring three themed restaurants, guests dine in a different venue each night, accompanied by their same serving team. The Animator’s Palate is a fascinating restaurant that has screens everywhere with Disney characters popping up. The artwork on the walls is stunning with drawings and paintings of the animation process that brings the characters to life. It’s worth taking the time to look around and soak up the creativity.

All parents need time without their kids. Disney understands. There is a nursery for wee ones, a teen club (Vibe), a tween club (Edge) and a club for other ages (Disney’s Oceaneer Club and Lab). They are drop-off centres with Disney Counselors who keep your kids busy. In fact, your kids have so much fun they don’t want to leave. There is a large interactive computer game on the floor where groups of children play together, guided by the Disney Counselor. A giant screen in front of them boasts Disney characters who appear and interact with the children. There are flight simulators, sailing simulators and other computer games. It is one sophisticated play area as you might imagine and probably expect. There are, of course, traditional arts and crafts, dancing, hula hoops and of course, movies. The Counselors are amazing and the Oceaneer Club and Lab are open until midnight so take advantage of the long hours and enjoy some well-deserved free time.

Hit the adults-only locations, for example. There is a whole variety of bars for every taste. Check out the spa, impressive fitness centre and adults-only pool. There are two kid-free gourmet restaurants to boot with incredible wine lists (with an extra cost).

BUCCANEER BLAST! FIREWORKS AT SEA ON THE DISNEY DREAM If you do want to hang out with the kids, there are endless organized activities. Every night, there are original and elaborate musicals offered in the Walt Disney Theatre. Themed deck parties are a lot of fun. There is an unbelievable fireworks display, the first of its kind at sea. (In fact, Disney, which is always looking to provide that something extra, has many cruise industry firsts.) If you are a movie buff, you will be blown away with the full-sized movie theatre that offers movie premieres at sea on the same day a film debuts in theatres, including films in Disney Digital 3-D. Family dance parties, bingo, karaoke, animation lessons, family game shows are all on the agenda if you choose. The fact is there is always something going on. Be sure to experience the detective game with your children. You set off to find clues around the ship with a special paper that, when it comes in contact with enchanted artwork, provides the clues.

If you want to just stay in your stateroom, each television has dozens of Disney movie choices as well. There is wifi available but truthfully, it is pretty expensive. It is a great excuse to leave the real world behind.

While there are many Disney cruises with various ports of call, the three-night Bahamas excursion has one day stop on Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. Disney is the first cruise line to have a dock allowing guests to walk on and off the ship (thus eliminating the need for boats to bring them ashore). On Castaway Cay, there are the usual water activities you would normally expect from a traditional, beach resort experience. If you feel like moving around, there is an organized 5k run, but if running isn’t your thing, there are bicycles to check out the island. It is quite stunning.

While immersed in fantasy and fun, the reality is Disney is one professional, slick, sophisticated, wellrun organization. Every logistical detail is perfect right down to the yellow-coloured lifeboats. Rather than the traditional regulation colour of orange, Disney was granted special permission by the U.S. Coast Guard to paint the lifeboats yellow, in order to keep with the special colour theming of the ships, the colours of Mickey Mouse himself. This may seem like an insignificant feature, but it points to the lengths Disney has gone to create the perfect environment.

Another example of its supremely well-oiled organization is how well you are taken care of ashore. Whether you are heading to Orlando for another Disney experience or heading to the airport, Disney buses will get you there. There are Disney representatives to guide you every step of the way.

Walt Disney World is a mere hour drive from Port Canaveral. That, of course, is worthy of its own trip. However, there are themed Disney hotels/resorts that are great places to either get you in the Disney mood before your cruise or to continue the magic after. They all have organized activities as well, including movie night on the beach with marshmallow roasting, but the real attraction is the theme park. That said, even if you don’t have time to visit the park, the hotels are fabulous places to stay.

Another fascinating feature of all the different Disney branches is the diversity of the staff. The Disney Cruise Line alone has more than 86 different nationalities represented. All staff is, without exception, kind, warm and hospitable. Furthermore, all ages are represented, including seniors. It is strangely moving to see Mickey Mouse earrings in the mature ears of some of the Disney guides. It speaks volumes to the fact that the wonders of Disney are for everyone.

Disney Fantasy at SeaDisney Cruise Line is the recipient of many prestigious cruise industry awards and to experience its magic first-hand you fully understand why. This March Break, or for any break you and your family need, Disney will deliver in ways beyond your imagination.

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While you might think ships are environmental disasters, the fact is Disney takes its responsibilities seriously, showing business savvy and sophisticated forward thinking by taking steps to minimize environmental impact. There are many initiatives but here are a few:

• Each ship has an on-board Environmental Officer to oversee all the recycling, waste minimalization efforts.
• Disney reclaims natural occurring condensation from the air conditioning units, recycling it to supply onboard laundry facilities and using it to wash the decks. That step alone saves 30 million gallons of fresh water per year.
• Each week, more than 1,000 gallons of used cooking oil are offloaded and recycled. One hundred per cent of that is recycled in ports of call. In Nassau, for example, cooking oil is recycled and converted into biodiesel fuel to power a local fleet of vehicles.
• On the ship hulls, there is a coating that is non-toxic which reduces surface resistance in the water, allowing the ship to be more fuel efficient.
• Organic cleaning products are used.
• There are advanced wastewater purification systems on-board.
• Disney Cruise Line clean up. So far, it has removed 31,000 pounds of trash and debris from beaches and waterways.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

For more information go to: disneycruiseline.com

 

Magnifique Martinique

January 7, 2015 1:10 pm
Hotel Villa St. Pierre

If you are a traveller, you’ll love Martinique. This idyllic beautiful island sits just north of St. Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. The Dutch, English and Portuguese all wanted this tiny island, but it was the French who prevailed. Consequently, French is spoken everywhere. Words do not fly off the tongue quite as quickly as they do in continental France, so the casual French speaker will have no problem. After a couple of ‘ti ponch,’ a local rum drink, you might even understand Creole, which is also spoken locally.

The ruins of the police station where the only survivor of 1920 volcano was found.

The ruins of the police station where the only survivor of 1920 volcano was found.

The people are beyond pleasant—don’t stop and ask for directions unless you want to be invited over for dinner! In keeping with French social standards, the infrastructure is great. The roads are narrow, but they are superb. No worries if you get sick, the hospitals in Martinique are renowned in the Caribbean.

Known as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean,’ the city of St. Pierre was obliterated by a volcano in 1902. Of the 30,000 inhabitants, only one survived when Mount Pelée erupted. Ironically, the survivor was in locked up in jail, sleeping off a night on the town when it happened. Traces of St. Pierre’s former glory can be seen in the theatre ruins and in street names like Ave Victor Hugo. Every May 8, the island celebrates Eruption Day.

Chef Guy Ferdinand, aka Chef Hot Pants, makes crawfish soup at restaurant Petibonum.

Chef Guy Ferdinand, aka Chef Hot Pants, makes crawfish soup at restaurant
Petibonum.

Every day seems like a celebration to chef Guy Ferdinand in Le Cabet. Also known as chef hot pants, Guy’s love for Martinique and his enthusiasm for Caribbean cuisine is infectious. Thrilled about his new state-of-the-art kitchen, Guy cooked us up a great meal of balaou (a small, little battered fried fish), crawfish soup and fresh fish. His beach bar and restaurant are open daily and are a must stop when visiting St. Pierre. For 10 euros you can rent a beach chair for the day that comes with a complimentary cocktail.

While St. Pierre was the business capital, Fort de France was the maritime capital and remains home to 120 officers of the French Navy. The marines live in the fort for which the town is named. Access to the fort is obtained by visiting the tourism kiosk on Place de la Savane. From the hilly landscape to the sail boats moored in bay, the view from the top is beautiful. You can imagine the cannons, which once graced the site, firing across the bay at approaching British ships.

Chez Carole

Lunch at Chez Carole in Fort de France’s Big Market.

If you are visiting Fort de France on a Friday or Saturday, head to the ‘Big Market.’ Also known as the Spice Market, it’s the place to stock up on unique native spice blends, as well as other well-known spices. While you are there, pop to the back corner and lunch at Chez Carole. The loveliest lady, she is the true super woman. Dressed in a flower print dress, an apron and sneakers, she dished up delicious cod fritters, conk, octopus, chicken columbo and the catch of the day, cleared the tables and made change with a ceaseless smile.

Columbus discovered Martinique, the French colonized it and the Dutch fleeing Brazil taught the French how to grow sugar cane. They also sold them their first slaves. At its height, all but 16 per cent of Martinique’s population was African. With no instruction on the brutal history of slavery for school-age children, local Gilbert Larose took it upon himself to recreate a slave village, La Savane des Esclaves. Interpretive guides tell the history of Martinique with the help of paintings, wooden sculptures and typical dwellings and their gardens. Island heritage includes a close relationship with nature and Gilbert can show you a local plant to cure anything that ails you.

The J.M. Distillery is one of many rum factories in Martinique.

The J.M. Distillery is one of many rum factories in Martinique.

With only one sugar refining plant left on the island, the bulk of the cane production fuels rum production. Rum factories are ubiquitous. With European Union AOC designation, there are 23 areas designated for growing sugar cane for rum production. Strict rules are in place for the sustainable production of the sugar cane, as well as the production of the rum. This is not your basic coke mixing or daiquiri slurping rum. We tasted varieties that could convert the staunchest of scotch drinkers. We visited the original Clément distillery, which includes a museum explaining the unique process of making rum agricole from sugar cane juice. Open daily, Habitation Clément is for both aficionados and those interested in getting a glimpse into to the island’s Creole architecture and history.

Tours de Yole Ronde is a boat race that runs counter clockwise around the island. Based on the design of ancient Arawak Indian fishing boats with no rudder, ballast or keel the 34-foot-long, round bottom boat with a square sail has to continually move or it flips. Highly skilled teams race over the water while spectators follow on land and sea. The seven-day race includes daily stopovers and celebrations. If you are visiting the island between July 26-August 2, 2015, make sure to catch a leg of the tour.

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

A view from the Atlantic Coast.

For a truly Caribbean experience visit Islet Oscar Guest House. A 15-minute boat ride from le François, the island is home to a beautiful four-room Creole guesthouse that was the booty from a night of poker on a neighbouring island. Dismantled and floated across, it was reassembled in its new home in the mid-1930’s. There is no beach, but being right on the water offers lots opportunities for water sports such as kayaking and snorkeling.

Escape winter to Martinique. With its rich history, wonderful food and people, it is so much more than a simple beach vacation. The infusion of French language mixed with the Creole culture gives the island a great Euro-Carib feel. It is a destination for those who love to explore. The island is void of American tourists and buffet suppers, which is unexpected for a southern destination and is rather refreshing.

Where to Stay:

Accommodations vary. There is only one all-in-inclusive hotel on the island, but most hotels either offer a meal plan for an additional fee or have in-room facilities for preparing small meals.

In St. Pierre, we stayed at the Hotel Villa St. Pierre. Located right on the beach, this quaint, nine-room hotel has a strong euro feel. Owners Marise and André are lovely and introduced us to art of ‘ti-ponch’.
$$: Sea view Double room with breakfast during the high season* 145 euros + 1 euro/per person daily tourist tax

In Point du Bout, we stayed at La Pagerie. Recently remodeled, with 96 rooms, it is a classy larger hotel with cool, local art. Visit the neighbouring trendy boutiques, bars, the beach or lounge by the central pool and swim-up bar. Most rooms include kitchenettes.

In Le Francois, we stayed at Hotel Plein Soleil. Whether you choose a room or a duplex suite, this 16-room hill-top gem, housed in 5 villas, will WOW you with its spectacular views and stylish décor. The duplexes include kitchenettes and their own plunge pool. There is also a main pool for all guests. If you go, make sure to book ahead for dinner.
$$: Rooms range from 200 euros for a guest room to 365 euros for a duplex suite, with breakfast during the high season**

For something a little different, book a night or two at Ilet Oscar. With a modern-day Robinson Crusoe feel, the island provides beautifully furnished guests rooms and laid back dinning all while respecting the environment.
$$: Rooms range from 150 euros with breakfast. 

Located in le François, Cap Est Lagoon Resort and Spa offers 50 suites in 18 beautiful villas. The grounds are magnificent and lush.  This five-star resort includes a pool, beach, tennis courts, gym, kayaks and on-site kite surfing/windsurfing rentals. A variety of excursions can be arranged for guest including catamaran trips, sport fishing, scuba diving and helicopter rides.
$$: 595 euros for a junior suite to 945 euros for an executive suite, with breakfast during high season (Jan 4, 2015 to March 21, 2015).

Fabulous Miami: Eden Roc Hotel is the It Spot of Miami

May 13, 2014 4:11 pm
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In 2012, over 3.6 million Canadians visited Florida. That means almost one in every 10 Canadians visits the Sunshine State, with the peak winter months being most popular. Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Disneyworld, West Palm and Daytona are all hotspots. But for many Canadians, Miami is the place to be — whether a destination point or a place to go and visit while staying elsewhere in Florida.

Miami is big and beautiful, making it impossible to see everything in the art deco inspired pastel city on your first visit…or even your tenth. Miami has miles of beautiful sandy beaches, the best shopping the world has to offer, a spectacular and diverse arts and culture scene, nightlife and exceptional food. To avoid being overwhelmed with the immensity of its many offerings, you need to approach Miami with a plan.

The best place to start is with a stay at the Eden Roc Miami Beach, a fabulously restored and historic hotel originally designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus. Opening its doors in 1956, the Eden Roc Miami Beach was Lapidus’s most lavish design, embodying all the glamour of a Hollywood stage set. It has attracted a steady stream of entertainers and celebrities for more than 50 years, including Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Frank Sinatra. Over time its reputation and iconic stature made it a legendary landmark. Today, the Eden Roc is as popular as ever and retains its reputation as Miami’s timeless oceanfront treasure. It flawlessly blends legendary service and iconic style with Miami’s modern architecture and contemporary glamour. A recent property renovation increased the size of the Eden Roc to 631 guest suites, with the classic architecture of Eden Roc’s Legendary Tower being paired with a new contemporary Ocean Tower. Both towers feature ocean view rooms and suites.

17 10During the renovation, the Eden Roc added two new ballrooms and became home to Elle Spa by Elle Magazine. This 22,000 square-foot, first-ever spa by Elle is recognized as one of the best new spas by Condé Nast Traveler. A destination site for locals and guests alike, the Elle Spa offers plush amenities, dazzling ocean views and signature massage and body treatments. Amenities include a relaxing area, scrub bar, hot whirlpools, cold plunges, steam, sauna, hydro-experience showers, boutique hair and nail salon, and 24- hour beachfront fitness center and group exercise studio. Elle Spa visitors can also take advantage of an expansive rooftop deck with VIP cabanas, light dining and beverage service. A retail boutique offers the ultimate selection of luxury spa products, apparel and accessories.

The best thing about Eden Roc is its understated glamour. The Iconic Lobby Bar is the showcase of the Hotel and would be a great showroom for a scene from Mad Men with its über cool styling and relaxed glamour. The Lobby Bar cocktail is the Liz Taylor, a fiery little number that will get your motor running. Then again you’ll be in good company no matter what with the Eden Roc Cabanas feature beachside drink, the Olé Olé, or one of their famous mojitos.

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Cabana_Beach_Club_1247No stay at the Eden Roc is complete without a meal at 15 Steps, the resort’s signature restaurant. The new garden-inspired dining experience is named after the 15 steps necessary to grow a vegetable, catch a fish and cook the perfect steak. Based around the newly planted Sea Spray Organic Garden located within Eden Roc Miami Beach, 15 Steps is an innovative farm-to-fork concept designed by executive chef Mark Henry and new Chef Jeremy Ford. Ford is in his element preparing foie gras tochon, duck rillelte, green apple chutney, togarashi crusted tun crudo, branzini (spring risotto) and a variety of other land and sea dishes for his guests that will more than charm your palate. Ford also serves up more casual fare (with flare and zest) at the hotels Cabana Beach Club Ocean front restaurant that overlooks the magnificent beach.
The Eden Roc offers great poolside relaxation, beachfront activity and other amenities that guarantee a good time. Jim Mauer, General Manager of Eden Roc, told Ottawa Life Magazine that he and all the staff at Eden Roc are proud to be part of the Eden Roc hotel’s next and greatest chapter and they look forward to hosting visits from the many wonderful Canadians who come to Florida each year.

Out and About in Miami

Adjacent to the hotel is a great bike station. Rent a bike for a couple of dollars and take a relaxing ride through South Beach to visit the many little nooks and crannies that are part of the Miami landscape.
You can visit the gorgeous pastel buildings of Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District or take a self-guided audio tour or regularly scheduled walking tour of one of the world’s greatest concentrations of 1930’s architecture. Start at the Art Deco Welcome Center at 1001 Ocean Drive. Admire the porthole windows, breezy front porches and nautical motifs of the Ocean Drive hotels. There are numerous outdoor cafés where you can stop and have lunch or dinner while soaking up the unique style of South Beach and the Art Deco District.

3117960599_cbdb0ea77d_z-16-730-500-80Wynwood Neigbourhood- FABULOUS …Just Fabulous

The Wynwood Art District is a thriving, young and hip cultural and artistic smorgasbord of diversity celebrating Miami at its grittiest best. It extends from North Miami Avenue to I95 and runs from 10th to 36th Street. It is home to over 70 art galleries, retail stores, antique shops, eclectic bars, and astounding outdoor murals. Local, tourists, artists and others are flocking to this eclectic up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood to see street art in its natural setting (http://wynwoodartwalk.com). The Wynwood Second Saturday takes place monthly from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The walk is free and is open to the public. Galleries open their doors for this artistic encounter as entertainment, cocktails and more spill onto the streets while people take in the vibrant and creative atmosphere.
Little Havana is one of the best places to experience Miami’s Latin flavor. On Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street), stroll over to Domino Park for some local colour. Walk into any of several cigar shops and watch stogies being hand-rolled by skilled torcedores. Little Havana has several wonderful art galleries as well as souvenir shops selling everything from Cuban flags to classic guayabera shirts. A great way to experience the sights and sounds of Little Havana at night is during Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays – the neighborhood’s monthly arts and cultural event. And don’t leave Miami without sampling some delicious Cuban food.

100799_2319_primaryCulture Quest

Miami offers endless cultural offerings, from ballet to opera to symphony concerts and gallery nights. Catch a show at the Arsht Center or check out smaller venues around town for modern dance, comedy and theatre productions. Museums like History Miami and the Jewish Museum of Florida offer glimpses of Miami’s intriguing past, while art museums like the Miami Art Museum, Frost Art Museum at FIU, Lowe Art Museum, Bass Museum of Art, Wolfsonian-FIU and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami house dazzling collections of ancient, modern and contemporary art and design. Monthly gallery nights showcase local art while mega art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach and Arteaméricas bring in art and collectors from around the world.
Miami’s attractions offer something for everyone. Step into Miami’s Garden of Eden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Swim with the dolphins at Miami Seaquarium, meet and greet exotic animals at Jungle Island, or laugh at the hilarious antics of primates at Monkey Jungle. At Zoo Miami, you will encounter a wild world of over 2,000 animals including fauna from the wilds of South America at the zoo’s permanent exhibit, Amazon and Beyond. Ponder the mysteries of Coral Castle. Miami attractions will dazzle your senses.

LIV Miami discoDance the Night Away –Olé Olé Olé

Miami’s nightlife is legendary. On South Beach, popular spots include Mynt and LIV. Downtown clubbers head for Space, Grand Central or Bardot. Most of the big hotels have great clubs with live music or dance music that extends well into the wee hours. For some Latin flair, try out Hoy Como Ayer, La Covacha or Yuca. Miami nights are full of possibilities. The Eden Roc sets its own popular Miami vibe in the busy Lobby Bar of the hotel and is a definite hot spot for locals and visitors.

Miami operates on a late-night clock, so if you want to beat the rush at eateries and clubs, opt for an early entrance. The nightlife tends to heat up close to midnight; arrive any earlier and you’re likely to be drinking alone.

BeachGet Wet

Greater Miami and the Beaches are surrounded by water. In Miami, you can dive, snorkel, canoe, kayak, standup paddleboard, windsurf, or fish to your heart’s content. Miami also boasts Biscayne National Park – the only underwater national park in the country. From the Visitors Center, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour to glimpse sea creatures undulating across brilliant coral reefs. Some of the very best views of Miami are the ones from the water! Take a ride on the Island Queen tour boat or speed across Biscayne Bay on a Thriller Miami speedboat cruise.

City_View_MiamiWeather Information

Miami has warm weather year-round; highs are almost always in the 70s and 80s. Even on cloudy days, a hat and sunblock are a must to prevent sunburn. Humidity is worst in the summer months and can be oppressive, especially to travelers used to dry heat. June has the least desirable weather, as it traditionally sees the most rainfall.
All of Florida is located within the hurricane belt, so Miami is at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms between June 1 and November 30. To prepare for travel during these months, purchase travel insurance that covers you in the event of a hurricane and keep a close watch on the weather forecast prior to departure.

Aruba: One Happy Island

May 6, 2014 2:09 pm
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Bon Bini, which is Papiamento for welcome, is how you will be greeted when you arrive in one of the most remarkable Caribbean destinations. The island boasts many beautiful postcard perfect beaches, diverse accommodations, and the famous Arikok National Park – just the beginning of a plethora of reasons why Aruba is destined to impress any traveler.

Papiamento, solely spoken in the Dutch Caribbean and the language most commonly spoken on the island, is comprised of Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese. Over 90 different ethnicities are represented in Aruba and nearly every citizen is able to speak English and Spanish, in addition to Dutch and Papiamento, which is the official language. Aruba is conveniently situated outside the hurricane belt and close to the equator, making sunshine a staple backdrop for your next tropical vacation. With temperatures ranging between 27 to 31°C all year round, there’s absolutely no way to avoid returning home looking sun-kissed and feeling totally refreshed.

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The island is a tiny gem, roughly twice the size of Manhattan, allowing you to hop from daytime activities to your hotel home base and back out again to enjoy the nightlife. There are many great hotels in Aruba; however, the most impressive property is The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino. Modern décor throughout and 5-star dining paired with first class spa facilities await the savvy traveler. The Hyatt pays incredible attention to detail in everything it does. One definitely feels like royalty when enjoying a first class treatment at the exclusive ZoiA Spa. Grab a drink, hit the relaxation area, and wait to be called into a treatment room to enjoy one of the many blissful services offered. Guests also enjoy direct beach access to Red Sail Sports behind the resort where sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking adventures begin.

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For the eco-friendly tourist, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts Aruba located on Eagle Beach have recently been recognized by garnering the Green Globe High Achievement Award. This adult only property is also known for providing the most blissfully romantic experience with beachfront candle lit private dining for two every night. For those seeking the all-inclusive experience, The Hotel Riu Palace Aruba also located on Palm Beach has everything one could possibly need without leaving the vicinity. The hotel is a 24-hour all inclusive property with four themed restaurants, a lavish breakfast buffet fit for a king, two fresh water pools and 450 rooms. Whatever type of accommodation one may seek, the options will surely exceed all of your expectations whether you’re a bonafide adventure seeker or a self proclaimed holiday beach bum!

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All types of travel can be had in Aruba. The island provides all sorts of entertainment that varies from water sports to gourmet restaurant hopping to rum tasting and, of course, the marvelous Carubbian Festival. Top activities include kite surfing at Armando’s Kite Shack and a catamaran extreme snorkeling boat tour with Red Sail Sports. For a more relaxing day, sample the best Aruba has to offer with a private rum tasting at Happy Taste or sip on a Balashi beer poolside at The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. A truly unique daytime activity is a visit to Arikok National Park. Its contrast to the rest of the island is fascinating with rocky shores and Conchi, Aruba’s natural pool on one end to desert terrain and divi-divi trees on the other. Head to the northeast coast of the park and uncover the Guadirikiri and Fontein caves, which are lined with drawings and graffiti left behind by Amerindians and early European settlers. The picturesque, calm landscapes are enchanting; a must see.

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Wrap up the day with dinner at Marandi Restaurant where seaside dining meets modern Aruban cuisine. Perhaps head to La Trattoria El Faro Blanco Restaurant to watch the sunset. Situated on the hill of Hudishibana, you will definitely get that post card sunset snap! Or, try Driftwood Restaurant, a downtown hot spot for fresh seafood caught daily by the owner himself! Finish off the evening with a dance or two at Moomba Beach. On Thursday nights hit the Carubbian Festival in San Nicholas to see how Aruba’s locals party!

Finally, the best part about Aruba is the people who live there. They are just as sunny as the island itself. From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you are welcomed, pampered, and made to feel at home on the One happy island.

Don’t forget to pack your camera!

For more information on travel arrangements, please visit Aruba.com.

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From Palate to Ambiance: The Indulgent Romance of St. Lucia

April 30, 2014 3:01 pm
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By: Mona Staples

Images Courtesy of: Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa, Sandals Resorts.

An island that was colonized by both the Spanish and the French can’t help but have a romantic legacy.  Some claim that Napoleon’s first wife — and love of his life — Josephine, (the name he reportedly uttered upon exhaling his last breath) was born on the island of St. Lucia, and not, as is commonly believed, on the island of Martinique. Historians do agree, however, that Josephine did, in fact, indulge her lily white French skin in the baths at the famed sulphur springs at The Soufriere Estate.

Letoc_Longbeach__U5A2982St. Lucia may be the most romantic of the Caribbean Islands. It is also the birthplace of two Nobel Prize winners, including Derek Alton Walcott, who received the honour for literature in 1992. Walcott’s beautiful epic poem, Omeros, is primarily set in St. Lucia. The writing is ethereal and romantic – it does not so much speak to you as it does bathe the senses, not unlike a visit to sultry St. Lucia.

I began my whirlwind weekend to this romantic island at the Sandals Resort, where the itinerary for the weekend is dedicated to Sandals Discovery Dining, touted as an “epicurean expedition that will “bring new sights, sounds and tastes to each meal.” Yum! I am about to embark on a romantic journey to the centre of my inner foodie.

Sandals Resorts International is the progeny of Jamaican-born Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who launched himself with the business acumen to sell air-conditioners to Jamaicans! And as the story goes, he eventually purchased his first hotel. Without any previous experience, “but knowing what he liked”, he sought to create the ideal get-away wherein to sow, harvest and celebrate — romantic love.

The couples-only-all-inclusive resorts with the motto ‘all you need is love’  flourished. Stewart pushed forward to eventually control a small empire, which now includes 25 Caribbean resorts. His employees like him and IMG_0131see Stewart as a non-establishment fellow who did well in the colonized islands. Many describe Stewart as a generous man — without whom they would still be unemployed and impoverished.

Within a few hours of my arrival, St. Lucia and Sandals have come together to serve up a romantic dinner worthy of Harlequin Romance. I am seated at a candle-lit table, on a pier extending into the Caribbean Sea. The night has risen and the moon is full. Over my left shoulder, hovers a small mountain. The sea lies undisturbed around us, as the soft sounds of a cello and a guitar waft through the balmy air. I am completely charmed.

As luck would have it, Chef Walter Staib sits next to me. He is charming, chatty and convincing – everything one would expect from a lover of all-things-food! The author of the Emmy Award Winning series A Taste of History, Chef Walter is directing the development of Sandals Discovery Dining. As he regales us with a taste of history and Discovery Dining, our server arrives to take our order. I have the beef Carpaccio, which is both tender and tasty.

There are three Sandals Resorts on the island and guests are welcome to eat, lounge and play at all three locations, easily accessed by shuttle. Sandals Discovery Dining offers a range of cuisine to choose from: fresh seafood, regional Italian, Thai, Sushi, Southwestern, Mediterranean Rim, British Pub and French Haute Cuisine, including a French Patisserie and Creperie. Each restaurant also has its own signature cocktail!  To ensure authenticity, Sandals has imported both the chefs and the restaurant décor. All is brought together to bring an up-market international dining experience to the all-inclusive.

SLU_MAIN_LOBBY_LIFESTYLE-044Having succeeded with the all you need is love formula, Sandals Resorts now aims to be at the top of the food chain. They are raising the bar for resort food service, something that can be difficult to do in locales — that may be exotic and romantic — but where there is little in the way of produce to choose from. The islands are generally known for the finer things in life – coffee, tobacco, sugar, spices, rum — but you’re not likely to find a good field of asparagus anywhere.

Personally, if the food is local and can, at least marginally, meet the requirements of Canada’s Food Guide, I am willing to metabolize it. I enjoy tucking into a good plate of beans ‘n rice. That being said, I found that by the end of the all-inclusive week, in some resorts, I am looking for more variety. Perhaps it’s having no opportunity to experience anything akin to hunger that causes one to eventually become a little bored with the cuisine? No doubt, Sandals Discovery Dining serves to eliminate the boredom option.

Tonight we are enjoying a progressive dinner at Sandals Grande St. Lucian. The meal was initiated with Limoncello Martini’s accompanied by appetizers pretty enough to be desserts and served in squat, stem-less glassware at Toscanini’s Terrace.  After finishing our first course at Gordon’s on the Pier, we head to Bayside for our main — a difficult choice between salmon fillet, capers, shallots, vegetables or braised lamb shank, pinot noir and root vegetable. I opt for the salmon, which is cooked and served up perfectly with a Beringer Merlot. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Adjacent to us is a scene reminiscent of Hadrian’s Villa – neo-classical statues stand elegantly poised alongside the pool’s periphery.

I thank my mother for nurturing a good sweet tooth — after Banoffee Pie at The Olde London Pub, we are led to a veritable orgy of chocolate! I have never seen so much chocolate in one place! The drizzling rain does not stop the guests from perusing and indulging. There are numerous tables and stations, along with circulating servers yielding up hand-crafted dark, milk and white chocolate, petits-fours and every possible chocolate flavoured bon-bon, chocolate fondue, cocoa drinks and even chocolate martinis.

Chocolate — the most edible manifestation of romance — of course, has a long history on the island, and we will be taking a very interesting guided tour through the beautiful Morne Coubaril Estate as part of this foodie adventure. There, I will discover that a cocoa bean is bitter, gelatinous and purple!

By bed time, I have decided that I am in an adult Disney Land of romance. This place inspires romance in every possible way. The resorts are teaming with love seats – every shape, size, and fantasy that one could imagine (in a public place that is). There are benches for two, chaise lounges for two, beach beds for two, dining nooks for two and swinging chairs for two.

Everywhere you look, there is a perfect little love nest, inviting couples to snug up, cuddle and gaze into each other’s eyes or out over the Caribbean Sea. My personal favourite is a white curving staircase rising up to an SR_VillaSuite9_BS__DS30728open-air cupola with an invitation to privately dine at a table for two — Cinderella-style dining with a bird’s eye view.  Of course, there is almost no greater aphrodisiac than witty, engaged conversation over a good meal in a romantic setting. Where’s Anthony Bourdain when you need him?

I am now sold – the campaign to get the guy, get married and honeymoon at St. Lucia is now on. Why not spend days lounging in love seats, evenings wining and dining and naughty nights at one of the world’s leading all-inclusive resorts?  And, I think I might like to walk the beach in a gossamer skirt, with two sets of foot prints in the sand trailing behind me. The remainder of the weekend is dedicated to organizing said honeymoon, which will include my top ten personal favourites:

Swimming in any of the exquisitely beautiful pools, which are open 24/7, is magical.

  • The rooms located at The Bluffs at La Toc Resort.  Away from the main buildings – along with expansive views of sea, they offer a little more intimacy and more privacy – perfectly poised for a lovers’ tryst.
  • Located right next to The Bluffs is Armando’s Restaurant with its lofty, open-air terrace – a perfect spot to start the languid day with an exotic breakfast omelette while looking out to sea.  Or supper with the setting sun – the oh-so-tasty ravioli was a good old fashioned heaping plate of rich and delicious pasta.
  • For sheer elegance and romance, I could eat at Gordon’s Pier every single night, but then one would miss out on the many other dining experiences.
  • Dinner at Soy’s Grill at Halcyon Resort – enjoy the antics of the Japanese grill – acrobatics with cooking utensils – a totally entertaining meal that breaks the ice while mingling with other guests.
  • The St. Lucian Day Buffet at Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort is local, lavish and a feast for the eyes, the ears and the palate. The brightly coloured exotic dishes include fresh roti, curried goat, conch soup, grilled lobster, cassava and a good plate of peas ‘n rice, along with my personal favourites: coconut and ginger based desserts, and so much more. An open-air delight — as the sea breeze tickles the skin and lively island musicians, rich with percussion entertain – it’s a complete banquet of Caribbean Culture.
  • A visit to Castries, the capital, to shop for spices, chocolate and other local “importable” foods at the local market is a must.
  • Appleton Estate Rum Tasting (Sandals official rum) – a most entertaining hour of learning everything you ever needed to know about rum, while sipping on a range of the Jamaican nectar.
  • The excursion to Morne Coubaril Estate for a fascinating tour through the process of cocoa bean to chocolate. The trip there is a winding Odyssey through St. Lucia and a wonderful way to see other parts of the island. Of special note is the iconic postcard picture of The Pitons, the volcanic spires (World Heritage Site) that rise side by side on the southwestern coast of the island. And if it’s your sort of thing, you can also take advantage of the roadside photo-op to have your picture taken with the boa constrictor!
  • Must check out all three resorts, and for posterity sake, take selfies of self and objet d’amour sitting in as many of the love nooks as is possible.

RIU Resorts in Mexico Make for Great Family Vacations

April 15, 2014 2:32 pm
The beautiful RIU Palace Riviera Maya

Having three teenagers can be challenging at the best of times but getting away for a family vacation is a time for everyone to decompress and to enjoy each other’s company without the stresses and strains of daily life back home.

Destination is key to a great beach holiday. Mexico’s Riviera Maya has been a winter choice for Ottawa area residents for more than two decades. The Mayan people are renowned for their generosity, hospitality and rich culture. When it comes to exceptional resorts no one does it better in Mexico than RIU.

There is a reason why RIU has the highest re-booking rate of any resort company in the world. Unmatched customer care, beautiful lodgings and exceptional food all combine for an exceptional and stress free holiday. We decided to spend the first part of our family vacation at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya in Playa Del Carmen and the last three days at the RIU Palace Peninsula in Cancun.

It’s easy to get to Riviera Maya from Ottawa. Several airlines offer all-inclusive vacations to RIU resorts that can be easily found online. If you are going to Riviera Maya and your package does not include transfers, it is worthwhile to rent a car for the week. The cost (120 dollars) is about the same as the taxi service from Cancun to Riviera Maya return. You can park the car at the resort for week and if you are adventurous use it to visit neighbouring towns, lagoons and historic archeological ruins.

RIU has 6 resorts in the Playa Del Carmen area. The RIU Palace Riviera Maya is a pleasant 15 minute walk along beautiful tree lined streets to the resort town of Playa del Carmen — you can also walk into town along the beach. This resort complex offers luxurious, well-decorated rooms that include a mini-bar with cold drinks and liqueur dispensers, refrigerators, Wi-Fi and daily room cleaning. Don’t be surprised if you see peacocks or other wildlife as you walk through the well manicured complex which features plenty of flower beds and plants all in a peaceful, calm atmosphere.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it's beautiful white sandy beaches.

The Riviera Maya is famous for it’s beautiful white sandy beaches.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya has a gorgeous tropical beach. The soft white sand, crystal clear aqua-blue water, shade-covering palm trees and comfortable beach chairs will make a beach person out of anybody. There are 3 swimming pools adjacent to the beach including a “quiet pool” and an array of bars and refreshment stands available to guests.

RIU is known for its food and the Palace Riviera Maya does not disappoint. Whether it’s the beach-front barbecue, or the fabulous buffet lunches at the restaurant by the beach you will be well satisfied. With the all-inclusive service, it’s great for kids because they can come and go as they please. Unlike many resorts I have been to over the years, RIU staff are very attentive to their guests and you never have to wait for anything. The resort has a comfortable buzz that emanates from the calm mood and lively but relaxed atmosphere. As with most  families today Wi-Fi is a prerequisite to staying anywhere and our kids took advantage of the service in the quiet time between day and night activities.

RIU Palace Riviera Maya offers many sports and activities for guests. If you are the beach sport type there is windsurfing, catamaran, kayaking, body boarding, snorkeling or just swimming and hanging out. Off-beach activities include table tennis, gymnastics, volleyball, golf or simply enjoying a book in one of the many lounge areas or cafés. Of course, you always have the option of the Renova Spa which offers a range of different treatments and massages.

For the adventurous there are lots of day trip options. The spectacular pyramids and ruins of the Mayans, the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an, the Crococum Zoo, the Crococum Zoo, the ruins of Chichén Itzá or Tulum are just some of the many choices. Going into the lively beach town of Playa del Carmen, day or night, with all its famous jewelry shops, excellent cuisine, cafés, terraces bars and clubs is also a fun excursion. We had a great lunch at a local chicken stand a block from the beach. The meal was inexpensive and the atmosphere and experience was priceless. There is a ferry service in Playa Del Carmen to the island of Cozumel. It is worth the 45-minute trip to visit Cozumel and take in its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere, plus the ferry ride is fun.

We drove south to the town of Akumel to snorkel with sea turtles and took a day trip to the ruins and beaches in Tulum. A day trip to Xel-Há, a natural aquarium park considered the largest aquarium in the world, is more than worth it. You can dive off cliffs, practice snorkeling, swim with dolphins, Snuba® (a combination of snorkeling and diving) or try their famous Sea Trek® (walking under water).

The great thing about staying at RIU is you can return from an excursion and enjoy a wonderful dinner at one of the resort’s 5 restaurants that feature Italian, Steak, Asian and Mexican cuisines. Mexican cuisine is recognized for its variety of recipes that feature distinctive and sophisticated flavours which incorporate many different spices. The La Margarita Mexican restaurant at the resort is a must. It offers a combination of gastronomic traditions, including meso-american and local Mexican dishes. RIU is a foodie’s dream resort.

The nightly live shows on the outdoor patio are surprisingly good or you can visit the La Piñata club which plays reggae and other dance music. Both venues serve up endless drinks to the sun drenched guests. Parents with younger children can partake in the early evening children’s entertainment. During the day resort staff offer crafts and activities for children.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Beach side at the RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

All relaxed after a week at the RIU Palace Riviera Maya we headed for a great 3 day weekend stay at Hotel RIU Palace Peninsula (all inclusive, 24 hours). Situated in the heart of one of Cancun’s most popular areas for tourists, on a white sandy beach with turquoise water, this hotel did not disappoint. This high rise hotel was an adjustment from the low rise, sprawling RIU resort in Riviera Maya. It combines sophistication, comfort and service into one tidy package. We adapted quickly and loved it, especially the views from our suite. The food was excellent and the Vegas type night show featuring a Mexican Elvis impersonator was an absolutely hilariously good time. The restaurants are wonderful. Culinary options include La Toscana Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant called Kawachi and a grill and steakhouse that features a buffet. We went to La Toscana twice. It was so good the first time we just had to go back! Formal dress is required for dinner and it was really nice to see so many families and couples so elegantly dressed and enjoying a night out.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

The RIU Palace Peninsula, Cancun.

Taking public transit in Cancun is an easy way to get into the centre of the city and tour around the many shops and restaurants. The people are very friendly and it is very safe for tourists. After seven days of relaxing I took advantage of the RIU Palace Peninsula’s gym, sauna and jacuzzi. Our kids spent most of the final days of our trip sunbathing, swimming in the three fresh water swimming pools and playing in the resort’s game room. Needless to say after spending 10 days at a RIU Resort we were relaxed. Now I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I better visit RIU.com again.

For more information on RIU hotels in Meixo visit, www.riu.com

 

 

 

 

Family Vacation Delight: A Week at RIU Paradise Island, Bahamas

November 28, 2011 3:36 pm
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Every year, just after Winterlude, I start to get irritable — like every Ottawan! I am pretty well fed up with winter and want to go south. We have three teenage children so travel destinations south becomes key. For a stress free vacation the best bet is always an all inclusive resort. You can relax and not worry about things like meals, snacks, planned activities or meeting a timetable for planned excursions. Believe me, over the years I had the misfortune of visiting some all inclusive places that were dumpy and disappointing. These days, to avoid even the chance of hitting a downer resort, I just book into RIU resorts. These Spanish-based destinations are recognized the world over for their friendly service, high standards and well-managed and maintained accommodations. Most telling is that their customer return rate is the highest in the hospitality industry. Nothing speaks the truth like a returning customer! Last March I decided it was time for a break so we loaded up the kids and headed to the RIU all inclusive resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Riu Bahamas

There are lots of great flight options from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to the Bahamas so booking the trip was a breeze. I had just walked into the lobby of the RIU Paradise Island when I turned my wife and said, “Score”. There is no better feeling than arriving at a destination and knowing immediately that you have  made the right choice.

Paradise Island in the Bahamas is well known for Atlantis, the biggest entertainment centre of the Caribbean which features a casino, an aquatic park and an aquarium. It is big, impressive. Our teen-aged daughter went to the chaperoned “Teen Club” called CRUSH from 8 to 11 p.m. in the evening. The Crush Club has the latest in Mac and iPad gadgets, lots of music, dance areas and fizzy drinks. It has all the stuff teens like. If you go to Atlantis for a day trip the best option is to buy a day pass for each child. The pass provides full access to Atlantis’ pools and facilities like the Aqua venture water park and the aquarium.  It is also located conveniently next to the RIU Paradise Island.

Speaking of the resort, the rooms were fabulous. The kids shared one room and we had a suite next to them. The rooms featured all the modern amenities including internet access, satellite television, CD player, bar fridge, comfort chairs, great beds, bathrooms and beautiful balconies that overlooked the seafront property.  The beach was spectacular and the turquoise water was a dream as we filled our days with swimming, kayaking, sun tanning, beach volley ball and other watersports. The pool area features two bars and a restaurant with a terrace that served an exceptional array of delicious Bahamian food. Breakfast service started at 7 a.m. and the food area remained open throughout the day.

The beautiful view of the pool in the hotel

The resort also has a fine dining restaurant where we enjoyed dinner one long leisurely night as we tried some of the most wonderful gastronomy prepared by the exceptional RIU chefs. The wine list was to die for. On another night, the kids went the regular dining area and we went to the Japanese restaurant for sushi and several shots of hot sake.

The resort has nightly entertainment that features dancers and local Bahamian reggae-infused bands. Guests gather to watch the show and take in the sounds.

Whether it is hours of enjoyment  at the  beachside  swimming pool, frolicking  in the Jacuzzi, running along the beach or playing beach volleyball or booking into the onsite Renova Spa, which offers  different kinds of massage and healthy therapy treatments, there is always  something to do for everyone of all ages.

If shopping is your thing, then the location of the RIU will not disappoint. It is a ten minute walk to local shops. Two bridges separate the city of Nassau from Paradise Island. You can walk over the bridge or take a sea cab ($10.00) across to the famous straw market in Nassau. We enjoyed walking alongside the colourful colonial buildings and stopped to dine at local restaurants that served a Bahamians culinary favourite – fried conk and rum cake. Be sure to visit  the historical centre, the zoo and the botanical garden. Otherwise, it’s just fun to get lost in the trinket-filled tourist megacentre straw market at the Nassau port. You can always use another straw hat and cheap t-shirt. In Nassau proper, you can find all kinds of aquatic activities from fishing, swimming with dolphins, local Island hopping trips, aquatic parks and trips to take you snorkelling or sunbathing to some of the more remote locales on the island.

The night scene on Paradise Island is hot and there are numerous clubs to attend if you want to go out and dance and make a night of it. Our preference was to just enjoy the atmosphere   from the balcony off our room with its spectacular ocean view.

After 6 days at the RIU Paradise Island Resort, we were not ready to come home. We all wanted to stay another week. However, that’s why they call it a vacation. We left, knowing that we would return. And that is both a compliment to RIU Hotels and something for our family to look forward to.

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