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 Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

A while back I wrote a blog post called Crème de Los Cabos:  The Top Five Resorts  which has proven to be one of my most popular posts ever.   Having been decidedly unpopular among the snootier cliques during my high school days (I’m not bitter, honest I’m not),  I now warmly embrace popularity wherever I stumble into it.

Seeing a golden opportunity to make those uppity, out-of-ballast cheerleaders eat their black little hearts out, I have decided to ride this “crème”  train all the way to the station, so to speak.  Thus, you can expect  in the days ahead, even more gangly siblings in this growing family of “crème” posts.

Some may wonder how I have arrived at my personal list of Cancun’s top five resorts.  Let’s just say that the polling was even less democratic than the recent election in Crimea where the populace voted with Russian boots firmly planted on their necks.  As was famously said by Putin’s diabolical predecessor, “In elections it doesn’t matter so much who votes as who counts the votes.”  In my case, I readily admit, I did both.

Excellence Playa Mujeres

Excellence ResortsYou have to admire the chutzpah of any hotel chain daring to call itself “Excellence”.  It is a lot less risky when you actually are excellent, or so I’m told. One of the things I like best about this property is its location.  As they describe it on their website “an all-inclusive Playa Mujeres Golf Courseoasis situated on an untouched peninsula between the Caribbean and a wetlands preserve”.  Even though it is a little out from Cancun proper, I have included it this grouping because it is the opposite direction from the Rivera Maya. Instead of south it is north and a little west.

Another great feature of this resort is both the quality and variety of dining options.  Suppose your busy schedule only permits a three night stay.  (The first order of business is to re-priortize your schedule!  Do you want to die young?)  In any case, imagine being able to savor the tangy herbs and spices of India’s North-West frontier your first night at Basmati,  sauntering (by the second night you have slowed your pace signficantly) over to Barcelona Mediterranean Restaurant for a variety of tapas followed by paella, veal or perhaps seafood.  By the third night the romantic juices are in full flow (remember those?) and nowhere else will do but Chez Isabelle, their signature French restaurant.  The resort claims you will forget for a moment that you are in Cancun and begin to imagine you have been transported to the Left Bank.  My guess is that by this time you will have been transported to an amorous place where geography is the last thing on your mind.

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral BeachIf “Excellence” was apropos of the previous resort, “Grand” certainly fits this hotel every bit as much. It begins with the location on what is arguably the nicest stretch of beach in Cancun.  If you are familiar with Cancun’s resemblance to the number seven, this property sits at the top of the seven just before it bends southward.  If you like to be in the heart of things, you can’t find a better location.

The entire hotel exudes an old-world charm that from the moment you enter delivers careful attention to detail.  If you are the sort who Le Basilicappreciates refined taste and gentile surroundings, you will immediately fall in love with this hotel.  You will not want to miss the incomparable dining experience afforded at the five diamond Le Basilic.

One of the lingering memories I carried away from my stay was how incredibly fresh and delicious were the breakfast pastries.  Every hotel, including Motel 6, offers pastries and in spite of the fact I have a sweet tooth that would shame a sabre tooth tiger, most of them are frankly not all that tasty.  It is a testament to the class of this resort that it maintains exacting standards even in a relatively small matter.

Hyatt Zilara (formally Royal Cancun)

Room at Hyatt Zilara CancunIn case you didn’t know (keep reading this blog and eventually you will know almost as much as the master), Hyatt Resorts has entered the all-inclusive market.  When a player the size of Hyatt makes a move, they don’t do anything by half-measures!  When they entered the Los Cabos market, they just went out and bought the Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe with one of the most stunning settings in that destination (see Hyatt Ziva).  In Cancun, they merely ponied up a few mil from their rainy day account and acquired the storied Royal Cancun and rebranded it the Hyatt Zilara.  (The Hyatt Zebra and Hyatt Zephyr can’t be far behind, can they?)

I want you to picture yourself coming home from work one evening, flashing the picture above to your life partner and saying this is the room where we will be staying next weekend.  If that Hyatt Zilara Cancundoesn’t get you around third and all the way home you have bigger problems than I have a clue how to solve.   I suppose if your beloved has an aversion to the color blue as in sky, ocean and pool, that could present a problem.

This stunning resort property is all adults, all -suite, all-inclusive and all your greedy little heart could covet.  There are seven specialty restaurants including Pelicanos which offers international cuisine in an oceanfront setting.  Catering to your refined palate will hardly be a problem here.  Check out this impressive new video!

Nizuc Resort And Spa

Nizuc Resort and SpaBy way of full disclosure, I have never been to Nizuc Resort and Spa.  This picture above is of the reflecting pond.  I find it has put me in a very reflective mood.  Right now I am reflecting on the question of why I have never stayed there.  Two reasons come to mind.  One, it only opened in March of 2013.  The second, and more important reason, I have never been invited.  Note to whom it may concern in Nizuc’s upper management.  My passport is up to date, my bags are perennially packed and my dance card is wide open!  (I know, not exactly subtle.)

By virtue of research, reputation and recommendation, I have definitely determined that it is a place I want to visit.   If you visit their website, take a little time to drool all over your Nizuc Resort and Spa. Cancunkeyboard in the “Gallery” section.

Once you get to Nizuc, you don’t even have to leave your room to enjoy spectacular views.  Not a bad place to enjoy your morning coffee, I would say.  The resort is located in the secluded enclave of Punta Nizuc.  I suspect you have to flash your American Express platinum card just to get past the gate which could potentially constitute a problem for me since my most exclusive credit card is made of balsa wood.  Since I am sure you don’t share that problem, should my pathetic hint above falls on deaf ears, promise me you will send me pictures!

All four of the properties I have mentioned so far deserve a much richer treatment than space permits here.  Should the Lord tarry and my body parts not collectively implode, I promise to write about each one of these gems separately.  That, however, is not a problem for my final selection below as you will shortly see.

Secrets the Vine

Secrets The Vine The Wine GlassOf these five properties, this is the only one I have already treated in detail.  Knock yourself out and read all three.  It’s not like you have anything else going on in your life, right?

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (1)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (2)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (3)

I know that many of you will have your own thoughts about which resorts should and should not be on this short list.  I invite you to use the comment section to weigh in.  I would love to hear your list.  All I ask is please don’t tell any of the other worthy candidates I didn’t select!

If you would like to visit one of these incredible resorts, reach out to us here.

Puerto Los Cabos And The Quest For The Best

Being a consummate travel professional (no giggles, please), I admittedly approach my personal travel a little differently than the average vacationer.  Because a large percentage of the travel I do could be considered a combination of business and pleasure, I always travel with an eye out for the unique, the fascinating, the “New Next” to steal a phrase from Texas Monthly magazine.  It is my own relentless “quest for the best” to share with you.  Think of me as a sort of Indiana Jones searching for the Ark of the Covenant only without the chest hair and female entourage.

Marina at Puerto Los CabosThis past week was a perfect example.  I serve on the advisory board for the travel behemoth, Travel Leaders.  We had our quarterly meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, not exactly a shabby site for a business meeting. One thing I will say about the travel industry, we do meetings right!  I was especially pleased to discover that we were staying at the Secrets Puerto Los Cabos.  As the title above suggests, this post (and the next several) will introduce you to the newest, nicest and neatest development in one of my favorite destinations in all the world.

Google Map of Los CabosFirst a quick geography lesson. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that the destination is called Los Cabos and not El Cabo (cabo meaning cape or tip in Spanish)?  The reason is that at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula there are actually three capes: on the western side is the Cape of San Lucas where you find the town of Cabo San Lucas; the Cape of San Jose where the town of San Jose del Cabo is situated; and finally, there is an Eastern Cape.  Just east of San Jose del Cabo is Puerto Los Cabos sitting right on the border between these latter two capes.  In between the first two capes is the stretch of land known as The Corridor.  Are you starting to remember why you hated geography class so much!

Not to worry, for our purposes we are going to focus all our attention on Puerto Los Cabos.  This amazing development is the brain child of the Sanchez Navarro family comprised of a father, at least two or three sons involved in the business and a nephew.  To date I have only had the pleasure of meeting Rafael who directs the sales and marketing, a deficiency I hope to remedy soon.  I did Google the rest of the family and they all look like stars of a Mexican telenovela. I would love to meet the rest of the “cast” even though in their midst I would no doubt look like one of those character actors brought in for comic relief!  Their company is aptly enough named Grupo Questro and, as you will read below, the entire family obviously shares my passionate quest for the best.

Golf Course at Puerto Los CabosPuerto Los Cabos is a planned development nestled in the hills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains with its own spectacular marina and 18-hole golf course.   The existing course is the only course I have every played where the front nine was designed by one world-class architect, Jack Nicklaus and the back nine by an equally famous luminary, Greg Norman.  This marriage made in heaven, alas, is temporary seeing that the Greg Norman half will become the front nine of his own eighteen hole signature course and the Jack Nicklaus half will become the back nine of his own 18-hole course.  Nothing like picking out your next spouse while still married!  And you thought geography was complicated.

With the time I have remaining, I am going to tell you about two incredible resorts currently in progress (J. W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton Reserve) and then invite you to come back soon and read about two magnificent resort properties you can book right now (Secrets Puerto Los Cabos and El Ganzo).  Over an ice-cold Negra Modelo (the best beer in Mexico, by the way), Rafael explained to me that the construction I could see next door from where we were sitting on the terrace was a J. W. Marriott that is slated to open late this year. The best I can offer you at the moment are the various artist renderings below. To read a news release about the property, click here.

JW Marriott Puerto Los CabosIn case you are not aware, apparently Ritz Carlton was just not quite ritzy enough for some folks so a few years back they launched the Ritz Carlton Reserve brand.  This new property is described in their news release which you can read here.  “Nestled along 800 feet of oceanfront along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, 124 private, single-story, oceanfront villas will each have breathtaking panoramic views across the Sea of Cortez in an area of outstanding natural beauty.”  Again, here is an artist rendering.

Ritz Carlton Reserve Puerto Los CabosLest you assume the only option today for visiting Puerto Los Cabos is bringing along a pup tent from home along with a can of pork and beans and a few matches, in the next several posts I will tell you about two remarkable places you can book now.  By way of a tease, while both are magnificent, one of these two is perhaps the most unusual and intriguing hotel concept I have ever seen!  It may take a couple of blog posts to do it justice.

I’ll be back soon.  Why don’t you invite a few friends to join us next time as we continue our “quest for the best”?  This will be one time I can promise you won’t be disappointed.  In fact, why not sign up to follow this blog and you will never have to be disappointed again?  Cheers!

Crete’s Neat! Who Knew?

I fully intended to wrap up this Golden Circle saga in 2013 and begin 2014 with a fresh assault on your literary sensibilities.  In my own defense, however, may I point out that even failing this objective, I am still way ahead of George Lucas and his announced twelve Star Wars episodes (coincidentally, the number of posts in this series).  Come on George, pick up the pace!

Regrettably, all my good intentions to wrap this up in 2013 went decidedly south, not unlike my ambitious New Year’s resolutions . . .  and yes, I do realize it is only January 7th, thank you very much.

Lighthouse in Chania, CreteMy last port of call before returning to Civitavecchia was perhaps, in some ways, the most surprising of all.  I’ll be honest, after scintillating Sicily, awe-inspiring Athens and exhilarating Ephesus, my expectations were not very high for conventional sounding Crete.

I opted not to do a structured tour and instead decided to hop a city bus that took me to the old part of Chania.  I set off with high hopes of buying one of those Uncle Si Robertson growing beards.  You can imagine my disappointment when one of the locals on the bus pointed out (with uncalled-for disdain I might add) that we were going to Chania, not Chia.  Having already sprung for the bus fare, I decided to make the most of my day.

Public market in Chania, Crete   Olives in Chania, Crete

I noted upon stepping off the bus that we were in front of the Agora, a huge, cross-shaped, indoor public market.  Reassured that I could always find directions back to this massive building and thus the bus stop in front (under no circumstances does one want to view the sailing away of one’s cruise ship from the dock), I decided to set off with nary a compass, map or any intelligible plan of attack . . . sort of the way I have approached my entire life.  The second picture above is a concession to my fellow lovers of Greek olives!

Resisting for the moment the urge to sit down in one of these comfortable looking green chairs and let Chania pass me by, instead of visa versa, I continued to amble down narrow streets lined with quaint shops and various eateries.

Sidewalk cafe in Chania, CreteThe pictures below represent a nice study in contrasts!  The first house I took note of on my walk through this charming city had alabaster white walls and second story windows set off by black wrought-iron railings.  It had beautifully carved wood doors and was classically framed by small trees.  As you can see, it was the picture of orderliness and care.   Not so, the second house. May 20th, House in Chania, Crete1941 marks the day the Germans started aerial bombing attacks which rained down significant damage upon the Old City.  I don’t know for sure if this second house was left as it now appears as a testimony to that destruction but I suspect that to be the case.

The bloody Nazis were very adept at wreaking havoc and raining down destruction.  Their meteoric rise to prominence, which thanks to God and the US military flamed out in a few Old house in Chania, Creteshort years, is one of history’s saddest chapters.  Sorry, that is more than enough time devoted to those sadistic miscreants.

On a more uplifting note, I am rather certain that there are guardian angels in heaven whose sole responsibility is to guide the steps of clueless travelers as they wander aimlessly through strange surroundings.  In spite of the fact that I headed north from the Agora for no particular reason it was only a short time before I stumbled upon the most picturesque part of the city, the Venetian port of Chania.  From a strictly utilitarian point of view, it was never very viable as a port being small, shallow and vulnerable to north and west winds.  (Strangely, I also have been called small, shallow and susceptible to just about everything but that doesn’t need to be explored here.)  Crete is, in fact, a fascinating destination and I hope my travels permit another and much longer visit in the future.

Chania's Venetian PortTo close out this series on an amusing, some might say disgusting note, any idea what is going on here?  For the record, these are not my feet dangling in the water.   Actually, thisFeet exfoliation in Chania, Crete is touted as an excellent form of exfoliation.  To quote the poster, the Garra Rufa fish have an enzyme in their saliva called diathanol which has healing properties.

So how did I spend the last couple of hours in my last port of call on the Golden Circle odyssey?  See for yourself below.

It is the quest for moments like this which motivates all of us who restlessly wander the wide world.  We ask only for a few priceless moments to pause, to reflect, to drink a local beer while we drink in the incredible surroundings and to pretend for a brief span we haven’t a care in the world.   Such moments are not just gloriously lived but gratefully relived whenever we rummage through the corners of our minds.

Relaxing by the Venetian Port of Chania, Crete

As we come full circle (pun intended) and move on to new adventures, I would love for you to take a moment and share your thoughts through a comment on this post.  I know full well that everyone has not been blessed to travel as widely as I have. I write these words in the hopes of giving you a small taste of the experience and inspiring your zeal to see as much of this amazing planet as resources, time and the grace of God permit.

Let’s Talk Turkey: Ephesus To Be Precise

Note to Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prime minister of Turkey:  I realize it was my first time to visit your fine country but the official greeting committee, shown below, which you sent to welcome me when I stepped off the ship was so much more than I was expecting.  Simply having President Abdullah Gül standing there offering me a cup of Turkish coffee and presenting me with my medal while the military band played the İstiklâl Marşı (Turkish National Anthem) was more than sufficient . . . and even slightly embarrassing for a man of my notable humility.  (Note to reader:  Unfortunately, the picture of that historic moment was snatched out of my hand while feeding an overly aggressive sea turtle from the aft deck.) 

Turkish greetingBut let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  By now, you know the drill.  First we look at one of my favorite aspects of the Navigator of the Seas and then I regale you with fascinating and occasionally true stories of my exploits at the latest port of call.

A FAVORITE FEATURE

“Those are my principles,” Groucho Marx once famously said, “and if you don’t like them–well, I have others.”  One of my own principles is that I never over indulge.  It may have happened once or twice that I was over-served but I think we can all agree, that is hardly the same thing.  Nonetheless, I must admit, I do enjoy the fruit of the grape from time to time.

Vintages on the Navigator of the SeasThere are few better places to sip a mellow Malbec or sample a crisp Cabernet or imbibe a saucy Shiraz or . . . I think you get the idea . . . than Vintages on the promenade deck of the Navigator of the Seas.  This cozy gathering place features more than 60 vintages in their 600 bottle cellar.  Frommer’s has a very nice review of this venue midway down the page here under the heading Public Areas.  Be honest, doesn’t just looking at this inviting image make you yearn to be sitting there right now?

A PORT TO PONDER

For those of you whose biblical knowledge is a trifle rusty, Ephesus was a city visited by the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic journeys and a place which bears the name of one of his epistles.  Just so you don’t embarrass yourself at the next Sunday School pot luck dinner, okay, the Epistles were not the Apostles’ wives!  The epistles were pastoral letters written to burgeoning congregations of Christians in places like Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi.

Ephesus was built on a small hill with the entrance at the top and the exit at the bottom, a rather unusual design.  That reality is clearly illustrated from this picture.  It is not at all difficult to imagine this main thoroughfare crowded with people from all over the world 2000 years ago just like it was on the day I snapped this picture.

Ephesus, TurkeyIf you would like to view the many pictures I took during my stroll through Ephesus (too many to post here) just visit this site.  (Tip:  The pictures are in chronological order just as Houses of the Wealthy in Ephesusare these Golden Circle posts.)  This is truly one of the most amazing excavations anywhere in the world.  There is a large covered area where massive excavations are underway to unearth “Terrace Houses”, also called the “Houses of the Wealthy.”  These impressive homes were built right into the side of Bulbul Mountain opposite the Hadrian Temple.

This is a picture of the Grand Theater where the Apostle Paul once preached.  It is the largest extant theater from the ancient world with a seating capacity of 24,000.  Just think of it as the “Cowboys Stadium” of Ephesus' Grand Theaterantiquity.   If you have never been to Ephesus, you owe it to yourself to make the effort.  If you have even a remote interest in the ancient world, this is a must see.

For those who need an additional incentive to make the trek, like shopping for example, take note of this head scratching sign that I could not help but notice in the small shopping bazaar just as you exit the ruins to return to the motorcoach park.

Sign in Ephesus market

I am thinking about adopting the slogan for this blog: “Genuine Fake Blog Posts!”  What a great disclaimer against charges of false advertising.

Athens: The Eye Of Greece, Mother Of Arts And Eloquence

If you like the title of this post, be sure and look up John Milton when you arrive safely on “the other side” and shake his hand. He has been over there for more than 300 years signing autographs so he should be almost caught up by now. The phrase comes from Paradise Regained (1671), Book IV, line 240.  My little gray cells have taken off early for the Christmas holidays and the best I was coming up with for a title for this post was Athens Is Really Neat . . . not exactly Miltonian in its rhetorical splendor.

Following Sicily (see previous post) our next port of call was Athens.  In just a moment I will tell you (sadly with none of the lyrical brilliance of John Milton) just how fascinating it was. But first, let’s take a stroll around the Navigator of the Seas and focus on what I am calling in this series of posts:

A FAVORITE FEATURE

Navigator of the Seas' Two Poets PubThese good folks, whoever they may be, are sitting outside the Two Poets Pub. (I am not that great a judge of age but I am pretty sure the lad on the left needs to be carded!) Here is a nice little YouTube video taken by a guest who was obviously having a good time back in May at this pub. It is a great place to sample a pint (or two) from all over the world.  They Famous Beer Quoteshave a very clever and informative menu with categories such as: Good For What Ales You, I Just Like The Taste, Brawny Browns and Second Cousins.

There is a section shown here with a lot of very funny quotes.  If you can’t read the small print, call me and I can book you on the next sailing of the Navigator out of Galveston for a mere pittance and you can read the entire menu while plying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  I love the etymology of words and sayings and from this menu I learned this little gem.  “In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts.  So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender used to yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down.  This is where we got “Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

A PORT TO PONDER

Quite obviously, in the time remaining, I am not going to be able to do justice to one of the Our guide in Athens marvels of the ancient world.  But here are a couple of highlights.  We were extremely blessed  to have such a knowledgeable and erudite guide for our day in Athens.  I would be only too happy to share her name with you had I not managed to lose her business card somewhere between Athens and Ephesus.  Dear lady, if you recognize yourself, send me your contact information and I will update this blog post!  What I especially appreciated is that she spoke slowly and methodically which permitted even my plodding mind to keep up!

We spent most of the morning on the Acropolis.  This picture, taken as we descended from the Parthenon itself, gives you a sense of how all the edifices built upon this famous hill dominated, and still dominate, the entire landscape.

Descending from the Parthenon

As you can tell from this picture below, the Parthenon is in the midst of substantial renovations.  The ravages of time and modern pollution have taken a heavy toll.  The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.  At one time there was a magnificent golden statue of her standing in the midst of the Parthenon.

Parthenon in Athens, Greece

This model from the museum will give you an idea of how it looked in the ancient world.  Model from the Acropolis Museum

Following our tour, we ( a couple of busloads of my closest friends and I) stopped off for a delicious lunch of traditional Greek food at one of the many restaurants nestled between shops in the Plaka district.  This happens to be one of my favorite cuisinesRestaurant in Athens for those of you who are assembling a scrap-book of all my preferences and peccadilloes.

Following lunch and a brief time to browse the shops, we made our way to the breathtaking new Acropolis Museum. I could have spent hours in there.

All in all I would have to say, it was a great day . . . and a Greek day, as I think about it!  I was worn out from all the trekking about but also very inspired.  So, as I was taking a long shower back in my cabin getting ready for dinner, I decided to do a little carving with the bath soap and my toe nail clippers.  Not too shabby, huh?

New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Should I Dubai Before I Die?

Here is my variation on a well known, eighteenth century children’s prayer . . . with humble apologies to the original author:

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Should I Dubai before I die?  To make that choice, I must know why!

The world contains innumerable grand and glorious places to experience yet each of us has been allotted a finite amount of time to explore its mysteries.  This quandary is madeShould Dubai be my next destination? considerably trickier by the fact none of us knows exactly how much time we have before we shuffle off this mortal coil.   The nearer we draw to that inevitability, the more acute the decision-making process becomes.  I am certainly closer than many of my readers.  About the only consolation I have found so far in growing old is I no longer have to worry about dying young!  Granted, it’s not much but can you say that?

The question I would like to posit in this post is this:  Should you add Dubai  to your “farm list” (as in “before you buy the farm”)?  Sorry, I just couldn’t bring myself to use that other overtaxed, ubiquitous phrase (you know, the one that involves a lower appendage striking a milk pail).  Since I am not a fan of authors who raise questions but offer no answers, here is my never humble opinion:  YES, you should!  I can think of several compelling reasons but in the interest of brevity, here is one of the best.

In Dubai You Can Experience Arab Culture In A Secure Place

I must tread lightly here so as neither to offend nor be misunderstood.  The mention of the religion of Islam and the Arab world in general sparks a plethora of emotions here in America.  Because of the tragic yet undeniable reality of radical Islamic terrorism, many in this country are left in a quandary. They are caught between curiosity and even admiration for one of the world’s oldest and most erudite cultures and a totally understandable apprehension about sating that curiosity in a safe fashion.  For you folks, I have wonderful news.  Dubai is the perfect place to visit to learn more about this culture in a safe and secure environment.

Experiencing Arab hospitality

One of absolute highlights of my brief trip to Dubai . . . I think I have spent more time writing about Dubai that visiting it . .  was a stop in the old section of the city called Bastakiya.  My intrepid guide Susan with Desert Adventures (more about both below) led me to the extremely ??? structuremodest structure you see in the picture to your left called the Bastakiya Majlis.  Before entering she explained that you never knew who might be relaxing within from a humble tradesman to a member of the royal family.

As we entered, we were greeted with what can only be described as effusive hospitality of the sort you identify with the legendary Bedouin custom of Diyafi where even an enemy must be given shelter and fed for a few days.  I was warmly greeted by a handful of men and immediately asked by the man in the picture above, I believe his name was Ahmed, to join him on the mat where he was seated.  I was quickly brought some tea, a little afternoon treat and invited to hold the Hookah pipe which I believe they call Shesha.  The gentleman then began to tell me how he had served in the military and how richly God had blessed him and his two devoted wives.  I used to quip that I had a child and two wonderful wives at home but Ahmed was serious!  I have no doubt, had we had the time, he would have gladly passed the afternoon sharing conversation and extending hospitality.

Gold Souk MarketI wish time permitted me to share many more compelling reasons for making Dubai your next destination.  Since it does not, I point you to the Desert Adventures website which describes just a few of the many available options with this paragraph.

You could be discovering wrecks in the ocean, seeing the world’s tallest tower, attending a diva’s concert, trying your skills at belly and salsa dancing, or going to the theater, feasting on an mouth-watering Arabic buffet in the desert, swimming with the dolphins, dinner cruise on an Arabian dhow, dune bashing, exploring heritage sites, shopping, setting up a business, or even skiing – yes, in the desert! – are just some of the things you can do. The list is endless.

Dubai's Gold Souk marketBoth of the pictures directly above were taken in the market called the Gold Souk.  When we send our clients to Dubai, we use the gold standard of middle east inbound tour companies, Desert Adventures.  Susan Jorehri, whose impeccable knowledge of the destination was earned through more than a decade of local residence, could not have been more kind or informative.  When you get ready to plan you next trip to Dubai, contact our Travel Leaders offices.  Working with Desert Adventures, we will make sure your “farm list” experience is golden!