Crème de Riviera Nayarit: The Top Five Resorts

Are your ready for a little creative crème with your morning Mexican coffee?  Today we are adding another installment to our Crème de Mexico series.  Yes, it is entirely appropriate tomexican coffee do the happy dance . . . assuming you remain fully clothed, of course.  This is a family blog site, after all.

Just as Cancun has the Riviera Maya  (or Mayan Rivera, as you prefer) to its south, Puerto Vallarta has the Riviera Nayarit (or Nuevo Vallarta, as you prefer) to its north.  As is the case with Cancun, you fly into the respective region’s main airport, in this case Puerto Vallarta, to reach the bordering destination.   If that explanation isn’t clear on the first read, try another Mexican coffee with a small shot of tequilla and I am sure it will become instantly lucid.

The Riviera Nayarit is one of Mexico’s most exciting emerging destinations worthy of its own full exploration.  Perhaps I can spare you a little time in trying to ferret out the top five resort options for your first, or next, visit as the case may be.   My list is both authoritative and definitive (or at least it seems so to me after following my own advice in the preceding paragraph).   So what are the top five resorts in the Riviera Nayarit?

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit

Grand Velas ResortsI think I see a pattern emerging here.  This property’s equally sultry sister, the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, made my Crème list for the Mayan Riviera area a few weeks back.  (See a list of all the previous Crème posts at the end of this particular masterpiece.)

This incredible resort is the only all-inclusive resort in the Mexican Pacific to be awarded Five Diamonds by AAA . . . a feat almost as impressive as the laminated balsa wood award I received recently for the most inscrutable travel blog in cyberspace.)

Grand Velas Riviera NayaritI  have mentioned frequently on this blog that I place a personal premium on pampering.  Thus, to qualify as a leading resort, it simply must have a leading spa.  This one does . . . literally.  It is home to a Leading Spa of the World!   Condé Nast Magazine, whose exacting standards in such matters almost rival my own, recognized them as a “Most Excellent Spa Hotel.”  If you long to be caressed and mollycoddled by the best (and what self-respecting bon vivant doesn’t), make  the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit your next stop.

The St. Regis Punta Mita

St. Regis Punta MitaThe next two resorts on my list already have an esteemed place on the virtual bookshelf of this blog.  In each case, you need merely to don your cybersuit and transport over to the following link to read all about my recent visit to this incredible place:  The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!   

Follow this link to  read about another great spa, the Remède Spa, sumptuous dining options and another of my favorite topics, world-class golf courses.  This property is about as posh as it gets.

Marival Residences Luxury Resort

There is so much to love about the Marival Residences Luxury Resort starting with the fact that, while most all resorts have beaches (beach resorts anyway), the Marival Residences have their own exclusive VIP Beach Club.   Picture yourself relaxing in one of these beach chairs pictured below.  Find yourself coveting a quesadilla?  Craving a cold Corona to quietly quaff?  Before that thought is fully formed, an attentive (and apparently psychic)  waiter is delivering your preferred refreshment.

Marival Residences VIP Beach ClubAs a matter of fact, I love this place so much that, a while back, I took my entire extended family on a multi-generational  experience of the first magnitude. Naturally, as a compulsive chronicler, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the experience. They were called  Bridging The Generations Down Mexico Way  and Build A Travel Bridge To Somewhere.   Read those two posts and not only will you learn a great deal of helpful information about this unique resort but you will undoubtedly learn way more than you ever cared to know about me and my progeny!

Four Seasons Punta Mita

Take a look at this picture because it represents the most difficult decision you will have to make all week at Four Seasons Punta Mita.  “That hammock looks so inviting but is it really worth the energy to get up out of this chair to walk the three steps over there and lie in it?  Oh well, I do have the rest of the afternoon to decide.”

Four Seasons Punta MitaAs relaxing as that sounds, let’s be honest.  It might be a little risky for some of us Type A’s to try and decompress all at once.  I personally would be afraid of contracting the psychological equivalent of the bends.  We titans of industry require a little activity before we start the unwinding process.

So is there anything to do at the Four Seasons?  Nothing . . . unless you want to count, as they do ” . . .some of the best snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing, surfing and golf in theFour Seasons Tail of the Whale world.”  I range between a novice and a non-participant in the first four activities in the list but I am a self-designated expert when it comes to quality of golf venues.  I would give the Pacifico course, with its world famous third hole called “The Tail Of The Whale”  (click on the picture for the full effect), six stars out of a possible five.  I am throwing in the extra star for the incomparable service rendered from the time you enter the pro shop until your golf shoes are handed back to you at the end of the round looking better than when you bought them!

If you rightly equate the Four Seasons brand with delivering guest experiences “beyond compare”, a visit to the Four Seasons Punta Mita should only burnish the brand’s already stellar reputation.

Villa La Estancia

Villa La Estancia dining at nightWhen you vacation at a deluxe resort, you expect dining options commensurate with all the other lavish amenities.  This is one area where this property shines.  La Parrilla Restaurant is the casual, poolside option when you are craving a mid-day wrap or  a bracing Mexican ceviche.  La Casona, the Mexican steakhouse with its selection of Kobe beef, offers a choice of either indoor or outdoor dining. Deluxe Superior Room   Villa La Estancia Three Bedroom Suite

Regardless of the number of guests in your party, the Villa La Estancia has a room category to fit your need.  They have deluxe superior rooms; one, two and three bedroom suites and even Penthouse Suites.

You need not take my word on this property.  Just take a look these intelligent young peopleVilla La Estancia Yoga who are obviously head over heals (or would it be heels over head) in love with this property.

Having just read this exquisitely written synopsis of the best of Riviera Nayarit, I have total confidence you are clamoring to read the other posts in this series.   If so, you have only to follow the links below for more rip-roaring good fun.

Crème de Los Cabos: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

Crème de Riviera Maya: The Top Five (or so) Resorts

I would love to hear your opinion on these two questions.  Which of the four Mexico destinations that I have treated so far is your favorite:  Los Cabos, Cancun, Riviera Maya or Riviera Nayarit?  Also, which of the twenty plus resorts we have highlighted is your personal choice?  The best answer will be awarded a free lifetime subscription to Travel By Terry (my lifetime, not yours!).

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The Windsor Court: English Charm Just Five Minutes From The French Quarter

I have remarked upon this irony before that we in the travel business routinely live like commoners yet occasionally travel like royalty.  I just returned from a business meeting in New Orleans where for twenty-four all-too-fleeting hours, I felt like the good princes William and Harrys’ little known and older . . . OK, much older . . . brother.

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans and fortune has been relatively kind to you, you would be doing yourself a monumental favor if you let me book you into the Windsor Court Hotel.   To be perfectly honest, before my trip I was not familiar with this gem.  However, being an inveterate Anglophile, from the second I walked into the lobby they had me by my waistcoat fob pocket.

Windsor Court Hotel ExteriorIf you too are a fan of most everything English, you should return to the link I have provided (after you have read this blog post in its scintillating entirety, of course) and take a few minutes visiting the hotel’s photo gallery.  If you are not totally enthralled by the images then you are clearly missing the “thrall” gene.

This hotel has recently undergone a $22 million restoration.  As they say on their website, “Windsor Court is restored.  Renewed.  Refreshed.”  Ironically, that precisely sums up how I felt after spending just 24 hours there!  Do you happen to know offhand (if you do, I am impressed) how many hotels in New Orleans have both four diamonds from AAA and four stars from Forbes?  The correct answer is just two and Windsor Court is one of them!

Windsor Court LobbyOne of the first things you notice when you walk into the lobby, once you able to tear your eyes away from the spectacular classic furnishings, is that seemingly every wall throughout the hotel’s public areas is adorned with gorgeous original English art.  I was told that there are more that eleven million dollars in original art pieces without one reproduction.  One of my great regrets was that, due to the brevity of my recent visit, I did not have time to download their smart phone app that gives you a self-guided museum-like tour of all the art works.  That would have been a blast.  Oh well, next time.

My room at Windsor CourtMy room at Windsor Court

Next we come to the sleeping rooms and here I need your advice, dear reader, on a rather delicate matter.  Tell me honestly, do you think I may have crossed the line when I sent my dear wife, left behind at home to keep the cogs of industry turning, this text message along with the pictures above?  “I suppose I can make do with this room.  I just need to remind myself I will only be here one night.”

I am thinking perhaps so since her reply referenced the strong opinion that, were there any justice left in this world, I would gag on a plate of rancid Étouffée before experiencing a slow and extremely painful demise.   OK, that wasn’t exactly what she said but after a few fleeting decades of marriage I have astutely learned to read between the lines.   Note to self:  Sometimes it’s best to keep these serendipitous little treats to oneself.

Another huge regret was that there was no opportunity to experience Windsor Court’s high tea.   Just High Tea at Windsor Courtlooking at this picture I am flooded with memories of the times I have taken high tea in London, Australia and even Kenya.   I never feel quite so civilized as when munching on a scone stuffed with clotted cream and strawberry  preserves and sipping an Earl Grey tea with my right pinky extended in the most pretentious, and uncharacteristically effeminate, fashion imaginable.

Time fails me to talk about their spa, the various dining options, their wedding program and so much more.  So instead, I direct you to their website, Facebook page, Pinterest site, and a delightful five-minute Video which includes some nice New Orleans jazz music.

Bottom line, if you are planning a trip to New Orleans and you want to make the trip truly memorable, plan on staying at the Windsor Court Hotel and count on enjoying the most worthwhile five minute walk in New Orleans!

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The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!

For those not familiar with the roller coaster existence led by your favorite travel agent (whoever he or she may be), this particular post should provide a window into all of our kaleidoscopic lives.  You see, dear reader, we are always bouncing between feast or famine, prince or pauper, hero or zero depending on the mood / magnanimity of our suppliers and travel partners at any given moment.

St. Regis Punta MitaAs I pen these words, I am returning from a very enjoyable Travel Leaders owner’s retreat at the new Iberostar Playa Mita Resort just north of Punta Mita, Mexico. On a free afternoon, I decided to do a personal site inspection of the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort. (More about the resort momentarily).  I had the Iberostar sales manager contact the St. Regis sales office to set up a tour of the property.  I hopped in a taxi and ten minutes later found myself at the enclave’s imposing security gate. I could tell immediately from the body language and skeptical expression on the guard’s face that gaining access was not going to be your proverbial Sunday school picnic.

In the interest of brevity I will spare you the more gruesome details but suffice it to say it PUnta Mita, Mexicotook twenty arduous minutes of wheedling, begging, invoking the name of Yasmin (my contact), calling back to the Iberostar, trying to call the front desk of the St. Regis (all using the saintly taxi driver’s cell phone) and praying fervently to St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers (and hopefully travel agents) . . . keep in mind that I am not even Catholic!  I later learned that the security at the St. Regis is rather legendary owing to the fact that Enrique Peña Nieto, the current president of Mexico, is a frequent guest.

I did eventually breach the ramparts and was given a delightful tour by Karla Villaseñor.  The equally  gracious Yasmin, as it turned out, works at the golf course where I was first deposited and not at the resort.  (If you want to finish this blog while you are still young, don’t even ask how I ended up there.)  At the conclusion of the tour, Karla asked if I need a ride back to the Iberostar.  One snap of her fingers and a Cadillac Escalade magically appeared to whisk me back to my hotel, at no charge I might add. When the doorman at the Iberostar who had sent me off a couple of hours earlier opened the door to my chariot, he broke out in spontaneous laughter. “Senior, you left in a taxi and return in a Cadillac!” Ah, Jose, now you understand the life of a travel agent.  Our lives are spent either in first class or conversely, if not being thrown under the bus, at least hanging partially out the side of one.

THE ST. REGIS PUNTA MITA RESORT

St. Regis Punta Mita GroundsThe first thing you notice about the St. Regis is the impeccable taste (check out the pictures above). You don’t need a degree in interior design to realize that the folks who built this masterpiece obviously knew someone who has several. The furnishings, the wall treatments, the art work all exude an impressive refinement. That same flair applies to the landscaping and horticulture. This thoughtful combination creates an ambiance that soothes the soul moments after arriving.

Remède Spa

All three or four of my regular readers know that I am a pushover for a great spa.  In fact, more than once during a relaxing full body massage I have had to be pushed over just so the masseus could work on the other side.  St. Regis is justifiably famous for their Remède SpaFor those considerably more refined than I, you will recognize the Remède, Bliss and Decleor line of spa products which they offer. 

St. Regis Punta Mita Remede Spa I was particularly impressed by the outdoor treatment options which provide striking views of the gorgeous landscape mentioned previously.   Of course you will find a sauna, steam room, fitness center, salon, Jacuzzi and all the other accoutrements you would expect in  a world class spa.

Guest Rooms

For a property that only has 120 rooms, there is quite the variety of options.  These include deluxe rooms, junior suites, deluxe suites, luxury one-bedrooms and two-bedroom suites and, of course, a presidential suite.  I think even my slower readers can guess who is one of the frequent occupants of the “Presidential” suite.   It is good to rule a country!

Below are pictures of one of the Luxury Suites.  Check out the view from the private pool!

St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 1   St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 2

St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 3 St. Regis Punta Mita Luxury Suite 4

Divine Dining

Those same three or four devotees of this blog referenced above know well that if there is anything I like even better than having my entire body slathered over with priceless oils,  it is sating my seemingly endless appetite.  What my palate may lack in cultured refinement is more than made up for in boundless appreciation.  At St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, trust me, there is plenty to be thankful for.

St. Regis Punta Mita Restaurants

Click on the image above to read about each of these incredible venues!

Glorious Golf

Reverse the order of these three aspects that I have detailed above and you have pretty much constructed my definition of a perfect day in paradise.  Start with a round of golf at Pacifico (with a magical birdie on the “Tail of the Whale” hole, of course), follow it with a full body massage at Remède Spa and crown the day with a relaxing dinner at Carolina Restaurant.

St. Regis Punta Mita GolfSt Regis Punta Mita Resort bills itself as an emerging paradise.  I would not quibble with the paradise part for even a second but it seems pretty darn “emerged” to me.  If you are looking for a vacation spot where you will have a wonderful time AND feel completely secure, take it from someone that knows and visit the incomparable St Regis Punta Mita Resort.

Note:  If you tuned in expecting another post in my series on the Quantum of the Seas, simply consider this a brief hiatus.   Come back soon and I promise you will find another highly anticipated chapter in that riveting series!

Napa Valley’s Bardessono Proudly Flies The Green & Gold

Almost by definition, every world-class hotel or resort must have its own unique footprint.  To some small yet meaningful extent, it should be unlike any other place on earth.  Bardessono can claim the rare attribute of having an almost invisible footprint . . . carbon that is.  As I will shortly explain (after a brief disclaimer), this hotel has somehow managed both to raise the bar for green sensitivity and to set the gold standard for seamless service.

Bardessono Inn ExteriorFirst the disclaimer.  Having never lived in California, I am not exactly up to cruising altitude on this whole green thing.  The green with which I am most familiar is the envious green pallor  which washes across my countenance whenever I think about those fortunate folks who are frequent guests at this exquisite inn.  Although, in my own defense, I do drive a Prius and in Texas that alone is sufficient to get you branded a card-carrying tree-hugger.

GREEN

Environmental Responsibility

Bardessono has earned a platinum certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), their highest designation.  In point of fact, they are one of only three hotels in the United States having achieved this rating.  Gratefully, since I have already paraded my woeful ignorance of such matters (see above), I am relieved of the obligation of pretending I understand all that implies.

Bardessono Solar Panels

The hotel has provided an  impressive list of proactive environmental steps on this page on their website which you can peruse at your leisure.   You will find mention of heating and cooling, lighting, low water use, reuse of materials, organic gardens and much more.  As the hotel likes to point out, the various environmental elements are hidden but ubiquitous.  If even that doesn’t quench your thirst, drop me a note and I will send you their sustainability brochure.

Having given that subject its due, let’s move on to a topic with which I am much more familiar, i.e., my shameless embrace of self-indulgence.

GOLD

As you can clearly see from the image on the right, underneath the name Bardessono areBardessono Logo written three descriptive terms:  hotel, restaurant, spa.  In the case of Bardessono, by all rights these elements should be listed individually since each component could easily stand alone on its own merits and, it so happens, each can be enjoyed individually.   Appropriating the outline they have conveniently provided us, let’s take a glance (would that time and space permitted a more robust perusal) at each aspect.

Hotel

Let’s begin with the fact that Bardessono is located in the center of downtown Yountville in the heart of Napa Valley with 62 luxurious guest rooms.  Each and every room was designed for private, in-room spa services.  Have you ever wished following your spa treatment you could just drift away into a prolonged, contemplative trance?  I tried that once after a particularly relaxing massage but the staff eventually . . . and I thought rather rudely . . . insisted I give them their room back.  At Bardessono, it is your room!  More about the spa therapy center in a moment.Bardessono Inn Spa Suite

 If you are the type that likes to know exactly what you are getting, just mosey (a uniquely Texas gait) over to their website and you will find not only a detailed description of Spa Suites, Steam Spa Suites and Tufa Suites, along with their ADA counterparts, but also detailed floor-plans and included amenities.  Every room has either a furnished courtyard or balcony.

Restaurant 

 In most restaurants, everything starts in the kitchen.  In Lucy Restaurant everything starts in their garden.  They like to call it “Garden cuisine that is always in season”.  Click here for a very cool one-minute video interview with the chef, Victor Scargle who is almost as gifted at explaining things as I am.

Lucy's Garden Table

If you want an unforgettable experience, book Lucy’s Garden Table which includes a tour of the garden, a seasonal speciality cocktail and a multi-course meal.  Click on the picture above for a full description.

One of the coolest pages on the entire website, in my never quite humble estimation, is the page that talks about their culinary suppliers and providers.  Who wouldn’t want a “Liberty Duck”, a “Wooly Weeder” open range, milk-fed lamb or a “Broken Arrow Ranch” antelope?  OK, a vegan I suppose.  You got me there!

SPA

The spa menu at Bardessono reminds me of the wine list at the famous Paris restaurant Bardessono SpaLa Tour d’Argent.  For just a moment, I was sure they thought I had asked to see the Greater Paris phone book.

I invite you to download their lovely 12-page online spa brochure (even their brochures are green) and sample for yourself.  You will find numberless ways to be hydrated (in case you are dehydrated) and an equal number of ways to become detoxified (in case you are toxic).   You can even be “waxed” and “polished” if you have somehow lost your sheen, I suppose!  As mentioned above, your spa butler will gladly transform your room (assuming you are a hotel guest, of course) into the perfect spa environment.

I would endeavor to summarize the Bardessono experience had not Jim Treadway, both the General Manager of Bardessono and the Vice-chairman of aptly named Benchmark Hospitality, not already done it so well in this brief video.

Well, I think my task is drawing to a close.  I have presented a compelling case for planning your next trip to Napa Valley, I have elucidated numerous reasons Bardessono should be your next home away from home and finally, after 100 plus blog posts, I hope to high heavens you know by now who you are supposed to call.

So my final bit of advice is go for the gold and make your friends green with envy!

Peter Island BVI: A Perfect Slice Of Paradise

Have you ever yearned desperately  to get away for a few days from the hectoring demands of daily life?  No, I mean really get away . . . to somewhere exotic, somewhere enchanting, somewhere shamelessly exclusive.

Peter Island SunsetOn the one hand, you only have a few precious days at your disposal because we both know that the world could easily run aground upon uncharted shoals without your steady hand at the helm!  We simply can’t risk Western civilization as we know it by having you fly halfway around the world to get somewhere.  On the other hand, you’re not the type who is willing to accept the pedestrian or prosaic in exchange for mere proximity.  What you need is a place relatively close yet somehow worlds away.  How does one find such a place?

You are so in luck, dear reader!  Dr. Denton, who just happens to have an advanced Peter Island Spa degree in travelology (a term not to be confounded with that online travel company . . . you know, the one with the demonic looking gnome), is about to write you the perfect prescription for your “Get me the bleep out of here” blues.  As they like to say about themselves in forgivable immodesty, Peter Island Resort & Spa is That PlaceThat place you dream about . . . that place you picture as you close your eyes and blow out the birthday candles . . .that place . . .  I think you get the idea.

Here are three irrefutable reasons Peter Island Resort & Spa is the perfect slice of paradise for you and just what the “Doctor of Divine Destinations” ordered.

THE NATURAL SPLENDOR

Deadman's Beach on Peter IslandLet’s begin with the fact that Peter Island is located in the British Virgin Islands.  Say no more!  (Just kidding, I always say more.)  Consider that this private island is 1,800 acres but only 300 acres have been developed, the rest devoted to walking trails.  The island has a fascinating history a brief synopsis of which can be read here.  The important fact for our purposes is that since 1978 the island and its only resort have been owned by a single family from the midwest who have painstakingly built a lasting legacy by wedding a pristine setting to a world-class resort.

The resort boasts five breathtaking beaches:  White Bay, Honeymoon, Big Reef Bay, Deadman’s and Little Deadman’s (I am thinking of incorporating the last name on this list on my tombstone sans the possessive.  Pithy yet descriptive).  I recommend you plan to stay at least five days so you aren’t faced with hurting one of their feelings.  For beaches, they are surprisingly sensitive and quite jealous of one another.

THE UNRIVALED ACCOMMODATIONS

Beachfront Junior Suites bedroomYour accommodation options in paradise are fairly easy to explain if not quite so easy to select.  Let’s start with the Ocean View rooms which are very close to the lobby, pool, marina, bar and Tradewinds Restaurant.  Each of the eight buildings contains two rooms upstairs with private balconies and two rooms downstairs with private patios.

The most popular room category is the Beach Front Junior Suite pictured above.  Each of these suites has two-person Jacuzzi tubs, two-person showers and king size beds.  Hmm, you might want to be very discriminating when selecting your traveling companion.  I suspect you might be seeing a lot of each other . . . if you catch my drift.

For those who prefer to spread out a little, there are three amazing villas to choose from:  Crow’s NestHawk’s Nest And Falcon’s Nest.  Click on any of the three images below to read more about each one.  I will let you in on a little secret.  There is a fourth villa which is not available as it is for the exclusive use of the owner . . . including any guests he might want to invite, of course.  Just for the record, my next available date is tomorrow and pretty much any date thereafter.

Peter Island Resort & Spa  Peter Island Resort & Spa  Peter Island Resort & Spa

THE SUMPTUOUS CUISINE

At Peter Island, the chef likes to say there are two key ingredients in every dish he prepares:  only the finest and only the freshest!  I don’t know about you but that certainly works for me.  The signature restaurant is called Tradewinds and I lifted this sentence from their website, ‘Warm breezes whisper as the delicate chimes of German china, French silverware and Italian crystal fill the air.”  Good grief!  I am going to have to spend a month’s salary on Rosetta Stone programs just to eat there.

I have already decided my first morning I am having “Jean Kelly’s Famous Coconut-Crusted French Toast With Bananas and Pancake Syrup.”  For dinner I am vacillating between “Grilled Scottish Salmon” and “Plantain Wrapped Locally Caught Snapper”.  I suspect I have plenty of time to decide while waiting for the owner’s engraved invitation to arrive.

Warning:  Clicking on any of the images below could lead to a sudden rush of digestive juices for which I refuse to bear any medical responsibility.

Dining at Peter Island  Dining at Peter Island  Dining at Peter Island  Dining 3

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, one of my personal standards for measuring a property is if it is represented by Island Destinations, one of our favorite tour companies whose tag line is “The Authority In Luxury Travel”.  Peter Island Resort & Spa is in their portfolio, by the way.  Otherwise, you can rest assured I never would have brought the matter up.

In any event, Cindy Parsons, one of their destination specialists, has this little personal endorsement, “For ultimate privacy, book the Falcon’s Nest Villa; it’s practically your own little hotel within a hotel and is completely secluded. Step out to 360 degree views of the U.S and British Virgin Islands. The butler is on hand to drive you down for nightly entertainment.”  I so love to have my butler drive me down to my nightly entertainment.  Don’t you?  Next time you find yourself hungering for a brief respite, contact us and we will order you a perfect slice of paradise as only the incomparable Peter Island Resort & Spa can serve it.

Finally, I am curious about something.  How many of you had never heard of Peter Island before reading this blog post?  Comment and let me know.

Viva La Ziva: Turning Silver Into Gold

Two or three years ago I visited a particular resort in Los Cabos, Mexico that I liked a great deal.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to that same property for another stay.  I was excited by the prospect for two reasons:

1)  I fully enjoyed the location, facilities and experience on my first visit.

2)  I discovered that this property had changed ownership and was now owned and managed by the Playa group and operated as the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.  After all the buzz, I was very keen to experience the new Hyatt all-inclusive concept for myself.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Not a bad way to be greeted upon arrival. They all seem so pleased to see me!

In my previous post, I presented lots of background information about the exciting new Hyatt Zilara and Ziva brands.  I encourage you to take a moment and read that post.  (Just be sure to tether yourself to this post.  I don’t fancy floating through cyberspace in an unflattering, bulbous space suit searching for you.)  If you are wondering about the title of this blog post, the explanation is simple.  The property was pure silver before but through a miracle of alchemy that only the Hyatt folks in white lab coats could pull off, it is now solid gold!  As proof, consider the fact that the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos was awarded Triple AAA’s 2014 Four-Diamond designation this past March.

In that prior post, I talked about the “evolution of all-inclusive” and listed a few specific amenities such as the butler service, unlimited pillow menu, Tequila sommelier and romance concierge.  Let’s spend the remainder of our time together considering a few more marks of distinction.

Service From The Heart

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos saluteI will grant you I am not necessarily the brightest porch light on the street but I admit I was a bit confused when I first noticed that the staff were constantly smiling at me while placing a hand over their hearts.  I quickly ruled out a strange contagion  of cardiac ailments . . . unless these were the most affable and chipper heart attack victims I have ever met.  As it turns out, this is their unique and very endearing salute to their guests.  It is meant to convey that their service comes not from duty but from the heart.   And you know what, it so clearly does!  I’ll let the dour cynics roll their eyes and call it hokey if they care to provided they leave me alone to bask in the radiant warmth of the staff’s genuine hospitality.

Beyond Gourmet

Let’s be honest.  Buffet and gourmet are not normally used in the same sentence by true Hyatt Ziva Dining Optionsgourmands.  Leave it to Hyatt to shatter even that common misconception.  The Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos can claim not one but two gourmet buffet restaurants:  one features international cuisine and the other Mexican.   However, if your patrician upbringing produces involuntary quivers at the term “buffet”, not to worry.  There are five specialty  à la carte Restaurants, including Bon Vivant (French classical), Lotus (Teppanyaki-style cooking with a Sushi bar) and Coral (outdoor grilled seafood).  I wouldn’t worry about a precipitous weight loss during your vacation.

Spontaneous Moments

When I was a guest at the Hyatt Ziva, I was privileged to meet . . . and even spend a little quality golf course time with . . . Francisco Silva, the General Manager.   As will be true of every generalHyatt Ziva Los Cabos manager as each new property opens, he had just been challenged to create a unique “spontaneous moment” for his guests.  This is intended to be some unexpected amenity rendered to the guest at no charge.  Francisco had a couple of ideas he was mulling over but he said if he told me he would have to kill me.   OK, not really but these general managers are very competitive.  They take tremendous pride in their profession and especially in assembling a staff from top to bottom that reflects their values.  After spending some quality time with Francisco, it is easy to see why the service at his resort is so exemplary.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos exteriorAs I sit here and stare at the picture above (you must click on it for the full effect), I picture myself at just this time of day, sitting on one of the floating conversation / fire pits in the foreground, sipping an Argentinian Malbec all the while letting a gentle ocean breeze waft over me.  Since I am exhausted from penning yet another literary masterpiece anyway, I have decided to go reheat my coffee and come back and gaze at the full screen version of this picture for the next several minutes until a zen like serenity envelopes me.

I know!  Let’s both make this picture our new desktop!

Hyatt All-Inclusive Resorts: Evolution or Revolution?

Playa Hotels and ResortsAre you familiar with Playa Hotels And Resorts?  Probably not so much. Have you ever heard of Hyatt Hotels?  With the possible exception of a few frost-bitten souls living on Deception Island, Antarctica, most would say, “Yes, indeed.”    “And what does one have to do with the other?”, I hear you asking.  I hope you were asking because if you were just clearing your throat, this is going to be a very short blog post!

*Playa Hotels And Resorts harbors the lofty goal of becoming “the leading international resort and leisure company in the all-inclusive resort segment .”  If that were my personal goal (instead of trying to avoid homelessness and/or deportation), I would be looking around for some strong coattails to ride.   You might say Playa hit the lotto!  Just a little less than one year ago, a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced a considerable investment (considerable as in $325 million dollars) with the goal of acquiring and developing new all-inclusive resorts under the iconic Hyatt brand.  You can read all about it here.

I was recently privileged to hear Kevin Froemming, Playa’s Executive Vice President and CMO, artfully present the concept that undergirds all their efforts.  It is summed up in their tag line, “The Evolution of All-Inclusive”.   After I unveil some of the pillars resting on this solid foundation, I will leave it to you to decide whether this is gradual evolution or more akin to radical revolution.

ROMANCE CONCIERGE

Couple Massage at Hyatt Zilara CancunI will begin with my personal favorite.  I don’t think any of you guys out there will have any trouble identifying with this.  You are on vacation celebrating some special occasion:  honeymoon, anniversary, joint release from state prison . . . something.  You want this trip to be burned into her memory like a cattle brand on a yearling calf’s backside.  (My personal lack of romance expertise shows up even in my crass analogies!)

The problem is, you don’t have the foggiest clue where to start.  Here’s what you do.  You tell her you are going down to the gym for a workout.  Strike that.  She will never buy that.  Tell her you are going to a tequila swilling contest in the cigar lounge.  That should do the trick.  Now here’s the sneaky part.  You are really going to the appointment you have set with the “romance concierge”.  An hour later (two hours if you stop by the bar just to become convincingly tipsy) you will be swaggering back to your room, romance agenda tucked safely in the back pocket, hair flowing like Fabio on the cover of some trashy novel.

Tequila Sommeliers

Speaking of Tequila, have you noticed that there are more varieties of tequila in Mexico Tequila Sommeliersthan visible stars in Andromeda.   Unless you want to share my humiliating experience of standing frozen in indecision before a wall of tequila for an embarrassing length of time, I suggest you avail yourself of this service.  And should you find yourself in Jamaica (more about that momentarily), you will be offered the services of a rum sommelier.  I once considered becoming a box wine sommelier but couldn’t find a hoity-toity French school for that.

Beach Butlers

    Beach ButlerLuggage Butler

I don’t know how many personal butlers you have at your beck and call but speaking for myself, it is a very low and and very round number.  And, even if I did, it would probably not be a beach butler seeing as I don’t own any beach property either.  (Life can be so very cruel, don’t you agree?)   All the more reason to be excited by the prospect of having your whims catered to by, not just a Beach Butler, but a Pool Butler, a Luggage Butler, a Family Butler and a Suite Butler.   I know what you are thinking.  You figure I am delusional after being generously over-served by my Tequila Sommelier.  Nope, I am stone cold sober and for once (circle your calendar) dead right about something!  Hyatt all-inclusives have more butlers than Mickey Rooney had wives!

Unlimited Pillow Menu

OK, I’m running out of time and there is more I want to share so I will let this little item pass Unlimited Pillow Menuwith the observation that I am obviously a Neanderthal slug devoid of any trace of refinement.  I wouldn’t have a clue how to order a pillow.  When you get beyond white, soft and rectangular, I am pretty much clueless.  I will leave this item to the more cultivated and genteel among you.

Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva

The Hyatt all-inclusives, for now at least, will fall into one of these two categories.  The first Zilara, the Hyatt Zilara Cancun is to be found, not exactly shockingly, in Cancun and is the former THE ROYAL, Cancun.  It made my top five list in my post Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts.  The first Ziva is the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.  I will let you decipher where it is located.  Here is the distinction between the two:  The Hyatt Zilara resorts will be adults only and Hyatt Ziva resorts will be family properties.

ALERT:  My next post will share details of my recent stay at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos!

Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall JamaicaI will conclude this post with an exciting announcement!  The former Ritz-Carlton Golf And Spa Resort in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica was sold to Playa Hotels And Resorts in September, 2013.  It will open after a multi-million dollar renovation in November, 2014 as the first combined Hyatt Zilara / Hyatt Ziva, Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica.  This development deserves a blog post all its own which, should I linger a little longer, it will have.  Be watching for that post soon! (Also Hyatt Ziva Cancun and Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta are opening in late 2014.)

*  Not to wander too far off into the weeds but Playa Hotels And Resorts, in addition to the Hyatt branded and Playa managed hotels we have been talking about, also has its own Playa branded and managed hotels and other branded and managed hotels as well.  That will have to keep for another time but if you simply can’t wait,  you can read about their entire portfolio here.

JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (2)

In my previous post, I expressed the belief that every great trip includes both a memorable habitation and a remarkable destination.  Having paid Miami its due, or more precisely having submitted a modest down payment, my attention now turns to my Miami lodgings.

The hallmark of a great brand is consistency.  Having stayed at several JW Marriotts in the past, for this trip I packed, along with my country club casual clothes (the stated dress code for my subsequent cruise which will be the subject of my next post), some pretty high expectations.  The JW’s in Orlando, Ko Olina and Cancun all know how to set the bar very high.  Not so high I couldn’t reach my Captain Morgan and Coke, thank goodness, but high nonetheless.

Somehow I knew this was going to be a great couple of days when I stumbled into the hotel at almost midnight bleary eyed and punch drunk after a long-delayed connecting flight.  I asked at check in if there happened to be a Wells Fargo ATM nearby where I might obtain company for the lonesome George Washington crumpled up in the corner of my wallet.  The desk clerk pointed me down the hall and after walking fifty feet or so, this is what I saw next to the ATM.

Concord Coach 746/8

You know you are off to a great start when you desperately need an ATM and your hotel shares a building with your bank!

The next clue that I was obviously being rewarded for living such an exceptionally clean life (watch out for that bolt of lightning!) was this view when I entered my room.  When youJW Marriott Marquis Miami feel like you have been rode hard and put away wet as we are wont to say in Texas, trust me, this is precisely what you are hoping to see!  I am not ashamed to say I may have kissed the pillows and caressed the covers just a tad before crashing and burning like some seven year old’s first model airplane.

The next morning . . . at least I think it was still technically morning . . . I tore open the shutters and threw up the sash (must have been the airplane food from the night before) and what to my wondering eyes should appear but this gorgeous view from one of JW Marriott Marquismy two corner windows.  I’m telling you, this clean living thing pays huge dividends.  You really should try it. The grey skies did nothing to lessen the euphoria that I was now feeling.  Life is good at the JW Marriott!

In my previous post, I alluded to a couple of grueling workouts in the Met2 Fitness Center, grueling being a relative term of course.  Watching the pleasure craft and cigar boats meander down the canal does help to take your mind off your burning thighs and quivering buttocks (not the most attractive visual I readily admit).

Without a doubt the highlight of my stay was dinner at db Bistro Moderne.  I know some of you read these posts to benefit from my mistakes, though they be rare as hen’s teeth, so here is a bit of sage advice.  Some of my companions in the picture below ordered the steak and braised short ribs.  Being from Texas and a little persnickety about my beef, I ordered the Scottish salmon which was quite succulent.  Yet, I had to sit there the entire meal and listen to every last person who ordered the beef moaning and sighing like some 19 year old coed in a college production of “When Harry Met Sally” about the short ribs being the best they had ever experienced.  I swear, I thought they were all going to lean back and light up cigarettes afterwards.  Now I have to worry, until my next trip at least, that I missed out on the “better than sex” ribs of a lifetime.

DSC01753In summary, here is a Terry Tidbit you can take right to the adjacent Wells Fargo bank.  If you have a trip planned for Miami, let us book you into the JW Marriott Marquis, try the breakfast croissant at The Newsstand, have a light lunch at The Cheese Course and, for goodness sake, save lots of room for the braised ribs at db Bistro Moderne.  If you do those four things, you will be the one at the corner table audibly moaning and sighing!

JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (1)

As someone who has been privileged to experience way more than my fair share of nice trips, I think I can say without any fear of contraception (as the British comedian Benny Hill used to say), every great trip at a bare minimum contains these two components: a memorable habitation and a remarkable destination.

My most recent Travel Leaders advisory board trip to Miami did not disappoint in either regard.  As you will soon discover, I have chosen to reverse the order below.  I do this for no more defensible reason than the fact that my fragile psyche needs reassurance periodically that, though I may not control the course of world history or even my own piddling destiny for that matter, I at least rule my humble blog like a deranged South American dictator.

MIAMI

Bayside Marketplace MiamiMiami is one of the most fascinating cities in the US. For one thing it is a cosmopolitan melting pot where, frankly, a snippet of overheard street conversation in English is the exception rather than the rule. It may not rival the arrival halls of Dubai International or London Heathrow for diversity but it runs a close second.

Another of my favorite things about Miami is that you can take a short walk from your hotel, as I did one morning, and you will encounter all manner of fascinating small eateries. (Disclosure: I am a foodie only in the broad sense that I consume excessive quantities of anything remotely edible.) I walked out of the JW Marriott Marquis heading in the general direction of Bayside Marketplace and in a matter of just a few minutes, I found the following three fascinating eateries: The Newsstand CafeCLOS Bistro & Café and The Cheese Course.

The Newsstand Cafe is small but offers a nice selection.  I was there on a quest for a tasty breakfast that would not require another mortgage on the old home place.  While I was The Newsstand in Miamistudying the menu, a nice young lady suggested an egg, cheese and ham croissant.  I even had my choice of several varieties of cheese.  I went with the one I figured had to be good . . . the gouda.   (If you are going to follow this blog you better be able to withstand a few groans.)

The next spot I encountered was CLOS Bistro & Café.  It was only a two-minute walk from The Newsstand.  I know, I know.  What the heck was I doing walking into a French bistro two minutes after breakfast.  I can only refer you to my foodie disclosureClos Bistro Miami above.  After all, what is breakfast without a little dessert, right?  Anyway, I waddled in and immediately confronted the display of delectable dainties you see in the picture to the right.

I exercised what I consider remarkable restraint and ordered only one small (OK, smallish) pastry and no wine whatsoever.  Of course, it was still 9:30 in the morning but I nevertheless feel I deserve a little credit.

I have saved the best of my little sidewalk cafe trifecta until last.  I walked all over the Bayside area snapping pictures and drinking in the atmosphere.  See, it’s not all about eating.  I then returned to the JW Marriott Marquis and worked out for a solid hour on three different aerobic machines.  Surely that sufficed to offset at least the pastry.  However, the problem was that all that exercise only served to reignite my appetite.  (I eat to work out, I work out to eat and so flows the cycle of my life.)

For lunch I chose The Cheese Course, of course!  Not only am I an expert in all things travel related but I also am clairvoyant.  I know exactly what you are wondering right now.  What kind of cheeses are those?

The Cheese Course MiamiThe soft cheese on the left is Epoisses created by monks and named for their village in Burgundy.  Apparently, it takes a village to make good cheese.  It is described as “having a barnyard aroma (really), a blond interior and brimming with meaty, creamy richness.”  The firmer cheese on the right is Midnight Moon from Holland, made with goat’s cheese and in their own words possesses “prominent caramel notes”.    As an aside, do you know the only cheese that is made backwards?  Edam!

You get to select from more than two dozen accompaniments so I selected, quite brilliantly if accidentally, the fig spread.  Delicious!  As you might guess, I spent a most pleasant hour on the terrace with a light breeze wafting over me and savoring every last bite.

JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS

Goodness, once again time has flown by under the seductive charm of my effortless prose.  Not to worry.  I will simply go to my title, insert a discrete little (1) and make this post a two-parter.  Click this link for JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (2) where I sing (not literally, thank God) the high praises of one of Miami’s finest hotels.  I feel comfortable promising that the next post will rise to the same exacting standard I have set here!

 

Crème de Riviera Maya: The Top Five (or so) Resorts

No less a literary lion than Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . .”  My detractors (may a pox be upon all your houses) would probably say I am a rare double qualifier under both the “foolish” and “little mind” categories.

In each of the first two posts of my now “wildly popular” (my term)  Crème de Mexico series, there were five resorts listed.  See Los Cabos and Cancun.  So, in the interest of being consistent if not imaginative (See Oscar Wilde quote . . .  what is it with these people and consistency anyway?), I have tried every way possible to shoehorn only five resorts into the Riviera Maya edition of this series.  Is it my fault that luxuriant crème seemingly flows through the Mayan Riviera like butter off a stack of blueberry pancakes?

So, without further ado, here is my personal list of the top five (roughly, give or take, more or less) resorts in the Riviera Maya.

El Dorado Casitas Royale

El Dorado Casitas Royale Exterior 2Those familiar with Condé Nast Traveler know that they have some very exacting standards.  El Dorado Casitas Royale by Karisma was voted one of their top 100 hotels in the world.  Those who know me, and even those who only catch a fleeting glance of my profile, know that I place a high premium on eating with a shared emphasis given to quantity and El Dorado Casitas Royale Saladquality.  This property had me for life when I discovered they offered a Gourmet Inclusive Experience.

You need to book at least a one week stay in order to sample all seven, count ‘em, seven all-inclusive, à la carte restaurants ranging from International, to contemporary Italian, to Pacific Rim to . . .  you get the idea.

Casita is the diminutive form of house in Spanish, thus little house, which is exactly what you get with this property.  You need to spend a little time on this page to discover all that this term means.  For example, I discovered I have some hitherto unknown and apparently long suppressed exhibitionist tendencies because I loved the roofless outdoor showers.  Having said that, the paparazzi trying to scale the walls for a photo were annoying.  I was especially insulted that they all felt compelled to bring telescopic lenses!

El Dorado Casitas Royale Swim Up SuitesTrust me when I tell you, you need to book early (with yours truly, of course) and secure a swim up casita.  From your water-mirror balcony you can step directly into your pool which is connected to a lazy river leading directly to the swim-up bar.   I know, it sounds just awful, doesn’t it, especially to you folks in the northern parts of the US who have endured such a brutal winter.  I have two pieces of sage advice for you:  book your stay at El Dorado Casitas Royale and move to Texas right after you return!  Check out this video.

Secrets Maroma Beach

Secrets - Swim Up RoomRegular drinkers of my unique blend of kool-aid will know that I am a monster fan of Secrets Resorts.  In fact, I have written so many posts about the chain that they have earned their own category on my blog, quite astutely called Secrets Resorts.  One of the things I like best about Secrets is that while the service, cuisine and surroundings unfailingly adhere to the same high standard, they couldn’t be more unique in personality.

This particular property is blessed by being on the most pristine and famous beach in Mexico, Maroma Beach.  While all the spas in the Secrets chain are by Pevonia, I think this property has one of the most amazing facilities I have every seen.  You simply must take a moment and view the gorgeous pictures on the spa section of their site here.

Pevonia Spa at Secrets MaromaThis resort is the epitome  of romance.  Are you looking for the perfect place for your wedding, honeymoon or anniversary?  Consider you quest over.   Whether your story is just beginning or you are writing anotherSecrets Maroma - Weddings 3 chapter, it would be difficult to find a better setting for your personal romance novel.  As an added bonus, If your story line requires a jilted former lover,  a goofy yet loveable best friend, an annoying hanger-on or even a deranged stalker, I can fulfill any of those roles with equal aplomb for the most modest of fees.  Just have your people contact my people.

 Grand Velas Rivera Maya

Grand Velas Riviera Maya exterior flowersAs a marketer, I  am a sucker for a great tag line but only if the product or service rises to the level of the implicit promise.  Beyond All Inclusive, Beyond All Compare.  Now that has a nice lilt to it.  Do you like a nice ocean view room?  This property has 300 ocean view suites.  Do you prefer to languor in a well-appointed spa?   Grand Velas Riviera Maya has the most highly awarded spa in Mexico.  Does the term all-inclusive seem incongruous with the finest cuisine.  This resort can claim Cocina de Autor, the first restaurant of any all-inclusive resort to receive the AAA Five Diamond Award for restaurants.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya suiteAre you beginning the get the picture?  This resort really does have features that are beyond compare.  This property brings the term regal to mind.   Maybe it is the Butler Concierge that is provided for every guest.  Also, Chef Xavi Perez’s Cocina de Autor, mentioned above is only one of five gourmet restaurants, among them Chef Karl Gulotta’s Piaf Restaurant and Chef Ricardo De La Vega’s Frida Restaurant.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.  I was once named one of the Leading Sycophants of the World but at the time I was trying to finagle a free stay a deluxe resort so that hardly counts.

Royal Hideaway Playacar

Royal Hideaway Restaurant EveningThis resort is another Leading Hotel of the World property.  It is relatively small with only 200 rooms and is situated on 13 lush acres with one of the most stunning beaches in the Mayan Riviera.  If you appreciate classic Mexican colonial style, you will love every minute you spend here.

If you are up to the challenge of taking dining to another level (speaking personally, I was born ready), check out the Chef’s Table Experience, a gourmet tasting of more than 12 courses suitably paired with the best wines, naturally.

Royal Hideaway PlayacarIf your last limbo contest and beach volleyball game are but a distant and faint memory, I suspect you are going to fit right in.  This resort is all-inclusive but also all adults.  You won’t find any adorable (to their parents at least) little rug rats running to and fro disturbing  your carefully cultivated state of absolute zen.  You will be left alone to ponder life’s deep existential mysteries.  If a mutually acceptable solution to the Israeli / Palestine dispute is ever found, my bet is it will be by somebody sitting poolside at the Royal Hideaway sipping mindlessly on a Piña Colada.

Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso

Iberostar Grand hallwayIf ever there was a resort that was aptly named, it is the Iberostar Grand.  I have been privileged to stay there on several occasions and I have never ceased to marvel at the grand scheme of this palatial resort.  All you have to do is gaze at this hallway.  It looks like the entrance to a palace of the Sultan of Brunei, for goodness sakes.

If you are looking for romantic accommodations, check out the picture below.  All the rooms are spectacular with bathrooms larger than most starter homes.  Just beware of “hydration hesitation” where you find yourself mentally frozen in the middle of the bathroom wearing nothing but a perplexed look trying to decide between a soothing jacuzzi bath and a bracing rain shower.  It can happen.

Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso honeymoon gardenBeing an avid golfer, I love the fact that you can be whisked away from the front entrance by a chariot . . . OK, it may have been a golf cart . . . and 60 seconds later you are checking in at the pro shop at the Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club.  Ask us about packages that include golf!

My goodness how time flies when you are daydreaming about your next perfect vacation.  Rather than risk having your eyes glaze over or worse, having you slip into an irretrievable catatonic state, in the case of my last two resorts I am simply going to refer you to previously written literary gems found on this inimitable blog.

Blue Diamond

Blue Diamond ResortA Blue Diamond In A Silver Setting

Rosewood Mayakoba

One of the canals of Rosewood MayakobaSide Trip To The Sensational: A Remarkable Resort

The more punctilious among you may feel compelled to point out that there are seven resorts mentioned in this top five list.  You clearly were not paying attention to the clues strewn around this post like popcorn kernels after a Superbowl party.  I did try to give you a heads up.

Look on the positive side.  You are just going to have to live a little longer than you previously planned in order to experience every one of these gems.  Once you have, let me know which one is your favorite . . . if I am still around!