Vacation Photos – Mexico

Here are some photos from a recent trip I took to Mexico. We stayed at the all-inclusive Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Hotel & Spa. I can’t say enough great things about this resort. The food was fantastic and the staff was top-notch – going above and beyond to make us feel welcome. My travel mate H and I both noticed that we never saw one staff member in a bad mood the entire time we were there. Our room was extremely clean, always stocked with water, and had a Jacuzzi tub. The beds were large and comfy. We especially appreciated that within the massive bathroom, the toilet was separated by a door so that theoretically one person could shower while another could use the bathroom or sink area. This helped speed up the time it took to get ready in the morning and before dinner. Suffice it to say, I would go back to this property in a heartbeat, and not just for the transcendent lemon daiquiris (yum).

My travel mates and I are big into snorkelling, so mid-week we took a day trip into Xel-Ha. They’d all been several times before (and are repeat guests of the resort we stayed at), and ranked the snorkelling to be amongst the best they’d ever done. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast and rainy the day we went so the visibility was not as great as they’d experienced in the past. I was blown away by the number of fish I saw and the variety, so I imagine on a clear sunny day it must be really mind-blowing.

We travelled with a 7-year-old child and took full advantage of the Kids Club on site. He had a blast and the Kids Club staff were great. They were open from 10ish a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and they would also take the kids to get lunch. I frequently spotted them playing a game of soccer on the beach, or drifting down the resort’s lazy river. The Kids Club re-opened in the evening, when they would gather in the lobby where there were often face painters or staff members making balloon animals for the kids. They would also take the kids to the main theatre for a ‘mini disco’, where they would engage the children in musical chairs or teach them a dance routine. It was pretty adorable to watch.

The resort is large (it’s actually two resorts in one), but well-organized. I never had to wait long for a drink or in a long line at the buffet. Upon sitting down for breakfast at the main buffet, we were immediately approached by wait staff to take coffee orders or bring us water. Breakfast was my favourite meal: the coffee was amazing and I typically got eggs made to order from the fry cook. My co-travellers raved about the Mexican hot chocolate (available at breakfast only) so I mixed a bit of it in with my coffee one day and it was really tasty. Towards the end of our trip we discovered a loaf (cake, really) at the breakfast buffet that was fresh and tasty with chocolate frosting – heaven. For the most part, I grabbed lunch from the beach bar (nachos, tacos, burgers, hot dogs and fries) rather than the buffet, just for convenience. Dinner was either the buffet or one of the a-la-carte restaurants we booked. There was a good variety of food at the buffet and there was only one night when nothing really appealed to me (I’m not a big red meat eater and there were a lot of pork and beef dishes), so I grabbed a slice of pizza and it was delicious. I particularly enjoyed the nights when there was a cheese station with gouda and edam (Dutch cheeses), crackers and breads and raisins and apricots. I could have easily just eaten that all night. I’m not a huge dessert person but my fellow travellers enjoyed a lot of them. I tried coconut-flavoured ice cream at the buffet one night and it was really good. There was also self-serve ice cream available  at the beach bar that was open during the day.

Service at the bars was great. I never had to wait long for a drink, and there were drink menus and a drink of the day which made it easier to try a bunch of different stuff. I typically started off with a refreshing mojito around 10 a.m. (no judgment), switched to creamier drinks like pina coladas around lunch, and by late afternoon/early evening I was sipping on margaritas or daiquiris. Bliss. I made sure to drink a lot of water too! If I really wanted a special treat I would head to the lobby bar to get something called a gin ricky. I have no idea what was in it, but it made my mouth happy.

It’s impossible to be bored at this resort. In the evenings, there was always stuff going on in the lobby like a mariachi band, lounge singers, an aerial acrobatics show, dancers and a coffee station set up with varieties of alcohol to make your coffee even more delicious! The lower lobby area was the main place where people hung out in the evenings. There was plenty of seating and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Each night there was also a show in the main theatre area. Those aren’t really my thing but in retrospect I wish I’d stayed awake (hey, I was up at like 6 every day!) for the Grease show. They also did the Lion King and a dating game type show. Two of the nights we were there, a small market was set up in the theatre where you could browse crafts and souvenir-type stuff from local vendors.

Some tips and things to keep in mind if you’re heading to this resort:

  • Bring water shoes. The main beach area is a bit rocky. There is a secondary beach area on the left of the ruins (see photo below) that is more child friendly and less rocky. If you’re not a beach person there are also a few large pools – one of them being the rowdier ‘activity’ pool with the swim-up bar – and a lazy river.
  • The mini fridge in each room is stocked with a huge jug of water (and soda and beer – restocked daily). Don’t forget to use this water when you brush your teeth. And even to rinse your toothbrush, which was surprisingly hard to remember to do, though I somehow managed to not slip up. These are precautions to avoid the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge.
  • This is a huge resort. It’s like a city. You will be doing a lot of walking. Something to keep in mind if you’re looking to travel with people who have mobility issues.
  • Make your a-la-carte dinner reservations upon arrival. There are several to choose from, but you’ll want to reserve them right away to ensure you get your pick. Each block of rooms (we were in the block called ‘Chac’) has its own concierge, which makes this process even quicker and easier (no long line-ups!). With our all-inclusive package we were entitled to book 3 reservations. We chose the Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants. The Japanese was my favourite, as your food is prepared in front of you. If you choose the Japanese restaurant,  my tip is to order the fried rice (beyond tasty) and the grilled shrimp.
  • The stores located on the property (including one that was like a convenience store and souvenir store combined) do not take US money. This was a huge shock to me, as I’ve exclusively paid for things in US currency on past trips to Mexico. Consider bring maybe $50 in pesos with you, or do what I did and charge things to your room and pay for them in US money upon check out.
  • Give yourself a little extra time for checking out. H and I got through quickly but the family we travelled with got stuck in line behind a group who had a bunch of spa vouchers to deal with and our airport shuttle driver was pushing to leave.
  • On tipping: We typically left $2-3 US for our cleaning lady every day. It’s not necessary, but we like doing this and I suspect that we got some pretty fancy towel animals as a result – see below.
  • I also tipped the staff who took my drink order right on the beach. I’d never taken advantage of beach service on previous vacations because I felt guilty doing so, especially since there’s usually a bar within a 2 minute walk from wherever you are on the beach or by the pools. It took me a few days to get over that on this trip, and I did end up ordering drinks to my chair a few times. I usually gave tipped $2 US on my first order, but again it’s not expected.
  • On past all-inclusive vacations I’ve noticed that prime beach loungers were claimed by the very early morning (like, before 6 a.m.) but this wasn’t an issue here. I am an early riser on beach vacations and was awake and out the door by 6:30 every morning. I would make my way to the beach to claim a lounger in the location I liked best (close to my favourite bar and away from the volleyball court – I learned my lesson day one when I got hit in the head with a volleyball, ha!). I was usually one of the first people out there. Then I would go back to the room and relax a bit before getting breakfast at the buffet. Then it was back to the room to sunscreen up and I was usually on the beach by 8:30 a.m. Even at that time the chairs were maybe 40% spoken for. On our last day I didn’t head out to the beach until after 10 a.m. and a number of chairs were still unclaimed, despite the resort being at 99.8% capacity. I know a lot of people are sensitive about saving chairs and sometimes. I felt weird about it, but because I was going to be alone on the beach for most of the day (my fellow travellers were completing advanced scuba certification courses) I wanted to make sure I had a seat where I had quick and easy access to a bar and bathroom so that my stuff wouldn’t be unattended for long periods of time. I also wanted to be close to the Kids Club so I could check in on my young travel buddy. On past trips, I noticed that people would claim chairs pre-dawn and not show up at them until well into the afternoon (likely having also claimed seats around the pool). That, I found aggravating. I would not claim myself a seat unless I planned to use it within an hour or two, and for most of the day.
  • As far as what to pack, a reminder that men need to wear long pants to the a-la-carte restaurants. I brought a few maxi dresses and some sandals to wear to those, but shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops were fine for the buffet.
  • This is a great resort for people who like to snorkel. I recommend bringing your own mask and snorkel if you can (and fins too if you have any), as I would imagine that the resort would run out of sets to borrow. Immediately upon entering the water you can see fish. It was a lot of fun to bring out some bread (smuggled from the breakfast buffet) and watch the feeding frenzy that occurred.

So with all that said, here are some photos from my trip:

When we arrived in our room we had champagne waiting for us - it pays to travel with repeat visitors!

When we arrived in our room we had champagne waiting for us – it pays to travel with repeat visitors!

Our room in the 'Chac' building. Bigger than my apartment in Toronto!

Our room in the ‘Chac’ building. Bigger than my apartment in Toronto!

The seating area in our room.

The seating area in our room.

Just one of the many towel creatures our cleaning lady left us.

Just one of the many towel creatures our cleaning lady left us.

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View from the dive shop.

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Main beach area.

To the left of the main beach area there were 2 smaller beach areas with a great view of the ruins located on the resort.

To the left of the main beach area there were 2 smaller beach areas with a great view of the ruins located on the resort.

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Looking over the lazy river.

Poolside cabanas.

Poolside cabanas.

A quiet seating area in Xel Ha.

A quiet seating area in Xel Ha.

Tubing in Xel Ha.

Tubing in Xel Ha.

Me enjoying a day at Xel Ha.

Me enjoying a day at Xel Ha.

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Bits & Pieces

Holy crapballs. November was a blur and Christmas is coming on us fast! While I head to the mall to panic shop, here are some bits and pieces that made my week:

  • Now THIS is functional jewellery.
  • The earlier part of my week was all about the IKEA Monkey (whom I love so so much) but today is all about these cats on a treadmill.
  • It’s that time of year – work holiday parties. These are some great tips. I’m a big believer in the arrive late, leave early plan (but I confess I broke it for the first time this year).

xo

South Beach, Miami

At the end of September, MM, K and I headed to South Beach in Miami for a 4-day weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. South Beach reminded me a lot of Vegas – particularly the night life which revolves mostly around hotel restaurants and bars – but with more of an emphasis on outdoor patios, restaurants and bars. I really enjoyed Miami, but found the extreme heat (40+ degrees at mid-day with the humidity) a bit tough to handle at times. Our hotel pool was a welcome relief, to say the least.

We stayed at the SLS Hotel South Beach (1701 Collins Avenue) – a brand new hotel that was still technically in its ‘launch’ phase. The service we received was seamless, and the bars and restaurants were packed every night. The SLS is clearly poised to be the next big thing in South Beach.

I’d read a few complaints on Trip Advisor about the rooms being too small. The rooms are on the smallish side, but the three of us were very comfortable.

Our hotel room at the SLS South Beach – I love crisp, white bedding.

A closer look at the walls – what at first glance appeared to be wallpaper turned out to be beautiful wall hangings/panels.

Loved the black and white decor.

Bathroom.

The back entrance of the hotel – a lovely outdoor bar and the steps leading to the first of two pools.

Outdoor decor.

The SLS Hotel by night. Those cars parked in front (including a few BMW’s) are available to guests looking to head out for the night in style.

The hotel was absolutely gorgeous. And in the 40+ degree heat, the pool was a welcome relief.

Heaven.

Poolside drinks.

By day, we did a lot of shopping. I particularly liked the Lincoln Road pedestrian promenade – tons of shops and restaurants and it’s a pedestrian mall so there aren’t any cars.

Lincoln Road promenade.

We strolled along the beach and explored South Beach.

Miami Beach.

By night we hit up some bars. I really liked Lost Weekend (218 Espanola Way) and The Clevelander (1020 Ocean Drive) which had a good dance party going and plenty of bars. I’m not really a club person, and I don’t think spending $200+ on bottle service just to set foot in a place is the definition of a good time, so it was great to find some cool, low-key bars in South Beach.

Some highlights of our trip:

  • On our first night in South Beach we headed out for Happy Hour at Mangos Tropical Cafe (900 Ocean Drive), a restaurant/bar with plenty of live music and spontaneous salsa dancing on the bars. I loved the vibe and the drinks were great.
  • We then made our way to the 11th Street Diner (1065 Washington Avenue) for dinner, which K had seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I highly recommend this place. It’s cheap, open 24 hours, and they have the best tuna melt I’ve ever tasted.
  • On Friday night we had dinner at Prime One Twelve, a high-end steak and seafood restaurant at 112 Ocean Drive. It’s a bit of a walk from the action on Ocean Drive but definitely worth it. I strongly recommend this place – the food was impeccable and the service was top-notch. I would suggest making a reservation – I made one a few weeks in advance for 8 pm and when we left shortly after 9, the place was beyond packed with people waiting for a table.

My South Beach tips:

  • When in doubt, head to Ocean Drive. With so many bar and restaurant options, you’re bound to find something that you’ll like. It’s a little hectic (avoid it if you’re in a rush, or walk on the beach side of the street) but fun to stroll along. Washington Avenue is also a pretty safe bet.
  • Alcohol can get expensive in a place like Miami. Hit up a Walgreens and grab some booze for pre-drinking before heading out for the night. Also, you can pretty much find a Happy Hour special anywhere, particularly along Ocean Drive. Take advantage of them and don’t buy a drink anywhere where the price isn’t specifically listed.
  • If you’re looking to save a bit of cash on getting to and from the airport, see if the airport express  city bus goes past your hotel. It ran along Collins, and for $2.35 we got from the airport to our hotel in just over 20 minutes.

Bits & Pieces

Lovelies,

I hope you had a fantastic week. This weekend I’m attending a friend’s bridal shower. The theme is wine. Best theme ever! Have a good one.

Here are some bits and pieces that made my week:

In all my travels I’ve never stayed at a hostel. I admit I’ve heard some horror stories, but after reading this article about the world’s ten craziest party hostels I am rethinking my stance. But…maybe I’m too old for party hostels?

My friend M sent me this link to TV floor plans from popular sitcoms. I love the question mark that indicates Monica’s ‘mystery closet’ on Friends.

I am desperate to get my hands on this heart cardi for fall.

Amazing New York City Hall wedding photos.

My obsession with Gilmore Girls knows no bounds. I can’t stop watching this hilarious compilation of Lorelai’s mother being..well….disapproving.

Yum yum egg salad sandwiches with a twist.

Seinfeld art!

Sweet heart ring.

xo

Vacation Photos – Paris

In the Fall of 2009 I visited my friend MM who was living in London, England at the time. I then spent a week with family in Amsterdam and from there took the train to Paris to meet up with MM for the weekend before heading back home to Toronto.

We felt pretty fancy about the whole thing. I’d always wanted to see Paris, and while I love the photographs I took I really didn’t fall in love with the city like I thought I would; in fact, Paris remains the only city I’ve ever been happy to leave. I would definitely go back to France , but I think Paris was a one-time-only trip.

Have you visited Paris? I’m curious to know how you felt about the city. Hit me up in the comments.

Here are a few photos from that trip in October 2009.

Moulin Rouge

Beautiful apartments in Montmartre

On the steps of Sacre Coeur church

Bonjour pigeon

The Seine

Notre Dame

The Louvre

I loved the font on all the metro station signs – and Paris has the most efficient transit system I’ve ever experienced

Eiffel Tower from the front…..

…and the view from underneath

Vacation Photos – Amsterdam

I was recently looking at photos from the trip I took to Amsterdam in the fall of 2009, and I thought I would post a few of them here. My dad was from Holland, so I’d been before but always with my parents. I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Haarlem and visited with my other aunts, uncles and cousins. In the mornings, I would take a quick commuter train into Amsterdam and do some exploring. It was truly an amazing week.

I thought this windmill was particularly pretty.

One of my favourite photos that I’ve ever taken – in central Amsterdam

This time I made it to the Anne Frank house (pictures weren’t allowed inside). It was a great – albeit heart wrenching – experience.

I couldn’t get enough of the picturesque canals.

Vondelpark.

Museumplein (“Museum Square”).

Albert Cuyp Market.

Bikes, bikes, everywhere! These are parked outside a metro station. There are thousands and thousands of them.

This is a Picture Post

Here are some photos from the May long weekend, which I spent in Montreal visiting
with my cousins and friends.

On board the VIA train to Montreal in my new Converse.

La basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal.

Avenue Des Artistes in the Old Port of Montreal.

The Old Port.

These red balls decorate the streets throughout the Village.

This art installation appears to be a random assortment of letters. You have to look through a viewfinder to reveal the message….

This roughly translates to: “There will be a place for each of the liberties that you want to allow yourself.”

More Village art.

The Village is known for its numerous patios. Perfect place to have a drink and people watch.

Enjoying a beautiful Saturday on a patio in the Village with C.

An amazing Indian restaurant on boulevard Saint-Laurent.

In front of my favourite brunch place in Montreal – Le Vieux Velo.

At the St. Ambroise brewery, enjoying a pitcher of their apricot beer.

Parc Lafontaine in Plateau Mont-Royal.

Back in Toronto…

On the rooftop terrace of the Le Germain Hotel in Toronto.

Yummy haddock on a bun from St. Lawrence Market.

My office cork board stops many a passerby in their tracks.

My ‘Tights are NOT Pants’ manifesto, a cute card from my office mate, and some Dr. Who paraphernalia.

A South Park-inspired self portrait and Beyonce the metal rooster (knock-knock, motherfucker). For more on Beyonce the metal rooster, go here: http://thebloggess.com/2011/06/and-thats-why-you-should-learn-to-pick-your-battles/

Other stuff

We made May 31st ‘One Direction Day’ at the office and…well…this happened. I’m on the bottom left, kissing Harry Styles (natch).