Karisma Resorts and Their Bracelet of Charms

Perhaps, dear reader, you are not yet familiar with the string of jewels that comprise the incomparable Karisma Hotels & Resorts. That will not be the case once you have read this riveting little blog post.  You will not only be fully informed but thoroughly charmed . . . I’m sure!

hammockThe name Karisma is derived from our English word charisma and has come to mean the sort of charm that others find alluring or irresistible.   You will soon discover that the entire family of Karisma Hotels & Resorts are dripping with charm like a Cocker Spaniel caught in a summer storm dribbling puddles of water on your kitchen floor.

dsc03318Above I compared this collection of resorts to a string of jewels but, exercising my writer’s prerogative, I am shifting the metaphor more appropriately to a bracelet festooned with charms.   By way of full disclosure, my objective for the next several blog posts is to inspire you, like an ingénue with her first charm bracelet,  to start your own personal collection of Karisma Hotel & Resort visits.

Let’s start with the basics, shall we?  Karisma Hotel & Resorts is a family of gourmet inclusive adults only and family friendly properties situated in Mexico’s Riviera Maya south of Cancun.  You really need to begin adding charms to your bracelet immediately (if not yesterday) since there is a new Nickelodeon in Punta Cana and there will soon be additional resorts in Puerto Vallarta and Jamaica.

I spent the past few days inspecting all nine of the Karisma properties in the Mayan dsc03333Riviera.  (OK, we didn’t actually tour Hidden Beach.  They have naked people running around over there . . . seriously!)  I even graduated from Karisma Groumet Inclusive Experience University where I squeezed the entire four year bachelors program into two hours!  I even have the sheepskin to prove it.  OK, it’s actually paper but sheep are a little rare in that part of Mexico and sheep tanners even more so.

I only share this nugget with you to establish my bona fides as a Karisma expert.  (I will gladly show you my diploma but I am a tad shy when it comes to flashing my bona fides in public . . .  not that they aren’t quite respectable, mind you!).

OK, we are starting to drift a bit.  Back to the matter at hand.  Karisma Resorts is the parent company with Azul Hotels being the family friendly properties (along with the new Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts), the El Dodados are the adults only resorts where children, if you hear them referenced at all, are usually described by the guests in muted tones as “the coming barbarians”, “street urchins” or “rug rats”.  Generations Riviera Maya is a fairly new brand for those families where every generation actually enjoys each other’s company.  The high occupancy rate never ceases to amaze me.  (Just a little travel agent humor, dear family. Hugs and Kisses!).

With so many resorts in the destination, what makes Karisma Hotels & Resorts unique?  Pretty much everything.  They are not like any other hotel chain nor do they aspire to be.  From their partnerships with Jackson Family Wines, Canadian Beef, My Gym, and Nickelodeon to their pioneering transformation of all-inclusive into Gourmet Inclusive to artificial reefs and over water bungalows, they are setting the standard for the entire destination.


There remains barely enough time in this post for a listing of the Karisma properties located in the Mayan Riviera.  For a complete list of all the Karisma Hotels & Resorts brands and properties click here.

Azul Beach Hotel

Azul Fives Hotel

Azul Sensatori Hotel Mexico

El Dorado Maroma

El Dorado Royale

El Dorado Casistas Royale

El Dorado Seaside Suites

Generations Riviera Maya

Hidden Beach (You’re on your own here.  I am not allowed to speak about this place, much less visit.  I had to wear blinders when we drove by.)

I know this has only whetted your appetite.  Don’t worry, when you come back (you will be back, right?) there will be oodles of great information delivered in the same soaring prose you have come to expect from this blog.

So if you want to learn about Palafitos (not to be confused with Piles of Fritos) where you are able to watch fish swim by without getting out of bed, which resort has one of the  top ten beaches in the world and where you can consume 23 courses at one sitting (more if your dining mates are not as adventurous as you), come back soon.

Secrets Akumal Makes Sweet Sixteen . . . And Counting

If you slavishly follow this blog . . .  as all the glitterati do, or course . . .  you will know that it is hardly a secret that I love Secrets Resorts brought to you by the friendly folks at AMResorts.  By my last count, there are now sixteen Secrets Resorts in five destinations (Mexico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama) with more to come very soon.   I have stayed at several of these properties and written blog posts about my experience which you can read here.  Thus you will understand why my heart went all “a twitter” (as we were wont to say long before the advent of the social media site of the same name) when I realized I would be visiting Secrets Akumal.SEARM_EXT_Aerial1_2A_1400x458

Secrets Akumal is located in . . . well . . .  Akumal (a Mayan word meaning “place of the turtle”).   If that doesn’t seem all that helpful let’s start with Mexico (think south), then Riviera Maya (think south of Cancun) and then Akumal Bay and Half Moon Bay (think so far south you’re almost in Belize).  Before you are off put by the one hour ride from the airport, read this post and you will quickly decide this is a clear-cut case where the difference is worth the distance!

Let’s start with the beach for you sand and sun worshipers out there.  Gaze at the picture above.  This property offers silky soft sand, a gently sloping shoreline and silvery aqua waters.  Although I am not one to spend long hours on the beach,  I offer this picture below as proof that even the most extreme”type A” personalities can chill out at this property.   I only hope you can draw your eyes away from these two perfectly formed feet long enough to appreciate the scene.   What can I say?  Nature was kind to me.IMG_1476

But the beach itself wasn’t even the best part.  For free mind you, you can check out snorkeling gear, paddle out fifty yards or so and swim with sea turtles the size of my first Volkswagen.  OK, maybe I exaggerate slightly but, as Jimmy Fallon doing Donald Trump would say, they are “Huge, Huge, Huge.”   

Leave it to yours truly, however, to transform a simple exercise into a major fiasco.  When you have perfectly formed feet as I do (I think we have already established that point) it is not easy to find fins that fit properly.  Especially if you don’t notice when you don them that they can be tightened on both sides.  In full snorkeling regalia, I paddled serenely out from shore almost reaching the desired viewing spot when one of my fins slipped off.  Fortunately, the water being crystal clear, I could see it swaying gently on the sea floor.  However, when you are wearing a full life vest, trust me, you might as well be a fishing cork attempting to dive for pearls.

I quickly realized I would have to take off my life vest to have any hope of retrieving my fin. I was driven by the near certainty that the snorkel shack would demand a king’s ransom if I returned sans one fin.  Pulling my arms out from the vest while bobbing like the aforementioned cork proved a lot more challenging than you might think.  I finally extricated one of my arms from the arm hole.  Holding on to the vest with one hand, I was barely able, after the third or fourth attempt,  to reach just low enough to snag the offending fin (pun intended).  By the time I replaced the fin and managed to reapply the life jacket, I had swallowed a pint of sea water, was spewing bilge like a beluga whale clearing its air spout not to mention breathing so heavily I thought I was going to pass out.

I think my grown daughter, who observed the entire proceedings from a few feet away, thought she was going to have to notify her mother that I was tragically lost at sea in the normally benign act of viewing sea turtles.Turtle

Enough about my little misadventure.  Let’s return to the centerpiece of this post, the incomparable Secrets Akumal.  Here are three things I particularly enjoyed during my stay.

The World Class Secrets Spa by Pevonia 

When you book a spa treatment at Secrets, in essence you get two great experiences for the price of one.  As much as I enjoyed my 50 minute message, I found the visit to the Hydrotherapy Circuit every bit as pleasurable.  I took the snapshot below with the intention of showing you the various features of this amazing pool, when this young lady insinuated herself into the picture.  If there is one thing I hate, it is having a picture photo bombed by some attractive twenty something.  I paddled over to give her a piece of my mind only to have her reply that I shouldn’t bother, I really couldn’t spare it.   Do you believe that?  (Hopefully, only my most gullible readers will.)Hydrotherapy Circuit at Secrets Akumal Spa

Bordeaux, the French Cuisine Restaurant

If you have never been to a Secrets Resort, banish all thoughts of one long buffet line after another.  That may have described the early all-inclusives from decades ago but nothing could be farther from today’s reality.  If you are only staying a few days, you most difficult decision is going to be deciding whether to dine at El Patio (Mexican cuisine), Himitsu (Pan-Asian cuisine), Portofino (Italian cuisine), Oceana (fresh seafood) or my personal favorite Bordeaux (French cuisine).  I have a solution.  Book seven nights and you can throw in room service and a romantic dinner for two on the beach.

Coco Café

In my previous blog post on Costa Rica, I made a full-throated confession regarding my coffee addiction.  Whenever I travel to Mexico, I love to indulge in their beautiful cappuccinos.  OK, over Coco Cafe Secrets Akumalindulge.  So what could be better that a charming little coffee shop that is open twenty-four hours a day!  Which proves quite handy since, if you drink as many as I did, you won’t be bothered by that nasty habit of sleep anyway.

Well, I have once again exhausted my creative genius . . . not to mention most of my readers, so I will draw this latest literary contribution to a close with a fitting challenge.  Join me in my endeavor to visit every single Secrets Resort.   Of the sixteen, I have visited (not necessarily stayed overnight at) nine of the ten in Mexico and the two in Jamaica for a total of eleven.   But it you are going to achieve this goal, call me right away because a little bird tells me some new ones are about to sprout!

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Radisson Blu Will Leave You Anything But

Generally speaking, I like surprises.  Not the nasty, unpleasant ones, of course.  Not the kind where you find out that tattoo you got all across your back has two misspellings and a grammatical error, not to mention the American bald eagle is cross-eyed.

We even have a term for pleasant surprises in our family (a term admittedly shared by few other families whose ancestors undoubtedly pilfered it from one of my many brilliant forebearers).  We call them “sussies”.   Sussies are, generally speaking, little surprises that are unexpected, undeserved and inexpensive.

My Dad, for example, used to stop off at the “Grizzly Bear” on his way home from work whenever he knew the grand kids were coming over to buy a bag of assorted candy sussies.  The one that stands out in my mind, though it may require psychotherapy to determine why, was a plastic lemon filled with a lemon flavored powdery substance that was probably banned by the FDA a decade ago.

Radisson Blu Mall of AmericaThese days my favorite type of sussies are those that fall into the travel category.  I just attended a Travel Leaders meeting in Minneapolis and was told that the meeting would be held at the Radisson Blu Mall of America.  My expectations were quite modest as most meeting hotels around airports and malls don’t exactly take your breath away (although the smell in a few has done so).  My first thought was that the word “Blu” must have frozen his little “e” off on one of those bone chilling days so typical of Minneapolis and just hadn’t gotten around to having it surgically repaired yet.

Silly me.  It turns out there are Radisson Blu hotels all over Europe and the name was no doubt coined to evoke trendy images and avant-garde emotions and all manner of new wave nuances, all of which were obviously wasted on a Philistine like me.

I have, however, cultivated an appreciation for nice accommodations.  I was quite pleasantly surprised to walk into the lobby and see the geometric iceberg in the picture above dominating the entire back wall.

Here is another picture of the quite striking lobby.

Radisson Blu Mall of AmericaLobbyIf you are wondering about those gigantic Hershey Kisses at the far end of the lobby, wonder no more.  Those are hanging wicker basket chairs of the type you crawl into and Radisson Blu Hanging Wicker chairsfall asleep while waiting for your airport van and miss your flight.

Not that I would expect you to give a rodent’s posterior . . . this is a family friendly blog, after all . .  but since the meeting began at one in the afternoon, I had to get up at the ghastly hour of 4am to catch a 6:50am flight.  I can assure you that not even the aforementioned rats are scurrying about at that hour.

The point of sharing this tidbit, apart from a useless attempt at soliciting sympathy, is to explain the absence of other patrons in the restaurant below.  Having eaten a Starbucks breakfast sandwich at 5am, my business partner and I found ourselves banging down the door of the FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar at 11am when they opened.  Here we discovered another pleasant little surprise.  The menu was quite extensive and the food was delicious.  I am pretty sure I would have deemed it so even if I hadn’t been ravenous.

Firelake Grill House and Cocktail BarYou may have noticed, assuming you have not dozed off by this point, that this particular Radisson Blu is called Radisson Blu Mall of America.  The truly astute among you will have worked Mall of Americaout by now that the name probably has some connection to its proximity to the Mall of America.  You would be right although proximity hardly does it justice.  This hotel is joined at the hip (metaphorically speaking) to the mall by a very short covered skywalk.  If you are among a tiny handful in North America not familiar with the Mall of America, it is a mid-size Minneapolis city masquerading as a shopping center with 500 shopping, dining and entertainment options.

I will leave you with this bit of advice.  If you are headed to Minneapolis on business or to do a little shopping and are feeling a little blue (but don’t want to stay that way), this stylish abode will warm the cockles of your heart . . .  and wherever else you may have them!

Casa De Campo: Mere Resort or More Destination?

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, among others, is credited with coining the aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  My sincereGood Intentions hope is that he, or whoever authored that phrase, was simply having a bad day and peevishly overstated the case.  I don’t know too many of us who want to be found lazily strolling down the “broad road which leads to destruction”.

Way back on June 2nd, when I published another of my literary gems, “Bit On The Bum By The Teeth Of The Dog”, I had every good intention of following it up in short order with a sequel on Casa De Campo.  I even promised as much.  Life, as it has a habit of doing, managed to intervene.  Sound theology reminds us that true repentance involves not only contrition but a corresponding course correction.  This blog post is my humble attempt to make amends for my tardiness.


For those unfamiliar with this property, Casa De Campo is, as I suggest in my title, best understood not so much as a resort but rather a full-blown destination. It is situated in La Romana on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic and is accessible  by at least ten different airlines flying into either La Romana, Santo Domingo or Punta Cana.

Even as I pen these words,  a large map is spread out across my desk called the “Resort Overview”.  Honestly, I am feeling a bit of vertigo as I try to soak it all in.  My eyes dart between the polo grounds and La Marina, from the seaside “Teeth of the Dog” golf course to the hilltop “Dye Fore” layout, from oceanfront villas to the shooting club to the shops of Altos De Chavon.  It is all rather dizzying.

Casa De Campo Polo FieldsAs a quick aside, don’t you just hate it when people use your image without your permission as was so obviously done above.  Here I was simply trying to collect my thoughts after a tough polo match and the paparazzi could not grant me even a moment of serenity.  $%*& press!

There is a fascinating history to the place which you can read here.  There is not sufficient time or space to recount the story now but it begins with a young Alvaro Carta fleeing communist Cuba in 1960.  If you want to find out how a sugar plantation, the famed golf architect Pete Dye, the crooner Frank Sinatra, the renowned restaurateur Siro Maccioni and the designer Oscar de la Renta are all woven into the history, you will just have to go back and click on the little blue “here” above.

Let’s assume for the moment that you are the type of vacationer who requires constant stimulation to avoid boredom.  If that describes you, rest assured, Casa De Campo will be your nirvana, paradise, heaven, shangri-la or land o’goshen on earth (take your pick).

There are three polo fields (I have no idea how you will get a horse into the overhead compartment), a 245 acre shooting facility (don’t even think about stuffing a shotgun down your pants leg) and 90 holes of golf (the airlines will allow you to check golf clubs but only after they clear out your retirement account).

Casa De Campo Dominican RepublicThis resort . . .  I mean destination . . .has more villas than an Italian count can count, including this little humble abode above called Villa Las Ondinas with a mere ten bedrooms.   I understand this particular villa is a big hit with strict, not to mention virile,  Catholics who take the pope’s views on birth control very seriously.

So where can such a large clan dine with a nice ocean view?  How about this locale where I took a leisurely lunch with a few of my close friends?  (I can only ascribe bad lighting and a quick shave to the fact that my picture here bears so little resemblance to my other picture above!)

Lunch on the beach at Casa De CampoI wish I had time to tell you about all the dining options like the Beach Club by Le Cirque or great bars like Punto & Corcho down by the marina.  If you love to shop, be sure and check out Altos de Chavon.  For some incredible excursion options, just click here.

I don’t know how much clicking through to the Casa De Campo website you have done to this point but I sent you there because it is the source of loads of helpful information about this “destination”.  However, when it comes to making an actually booking, there is only one place to go.   How could you live with yourself if after consuming this extraordinary content, you callously booked somewhere else?  If the road to hell really is paved with good intentions, bad intentions might well be the short cut!

Just a little something to think about when you are ready to book.

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Bit On The Bum By The Teeth Of The Dog

If the expression “Golf is a good walk spoiled” (often misattributed to Mark Twain) sums up your view of the sport, you may want to return to my “What Did I Miss” page to find another subject more to your taste.  But if, as I do,  you have a love/hate  (90% love, 10% hate) relationship with this ancient Scottish game, this little post may strike a few familiar chords.  Terry at Teeth Of The Dog

I can sum up my take on the game of golf in one sentence, “It looks deceptively easy but is actually infuriatingly difficult.”  All those young Turks in the professional  ranks who bomb 300 yard drives with effortless power and complain, after shooting a round of 66 mind you, that they left a few birdies out there on the course don’t exactly make us mortals feel any better.

The absolute worst thing about the game is how your swing comes and goes, ebbs and flows not just over weeks or days but often in the course of the same round.  If an amateur golfer, even for one nano-second, allows himself or herself to think (or, God forbid, voice out loud) , “You know, I think I am beginning to get this game figured out”, he or she better scamper to the club house like a scalded cat before bolts of lightning start raining down out of a clear sky.  Let’s just say in my experience the golf gods are not in the least amused by even fleeting cockiness.


Teeth of the Dog, Casa de Campo

I was fortunate enough a few days ago to play this renowned Pete Dye ocean side course located within the famous Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic (more about that momentarily).  Just two weeks earlier I was equally privileged to play the “White Witch” in Montego Bay, Jamaica, another classic layout.  Beyond finding a way to slip in this little “humble brag”, I mention it because that day I was striking the ball quite well . . . by my modest standards at least.  I shot a very respectable 86 and left feeling that my game was in pretty decent shape, thank you very much.

Teeth of the Dog So I had every reason (except long experience and common sense) to think on the day I awoke to play the “Teeth of the Dog” that another nice ball striking day was ahead of me.  What I didn’t reckon on was that my driver, usually a very reliable and trustworthy friend, was going to turn on me like a jilted lover.  There is a driver out there called the “King Cobra” but even though my rental clubs were of a different make, I might as well have been attempting to drive the ball with the head of a live cobra intent on nipping me on the neck in the middle of my backswing.  To borrow . . . steal actually . . . another snake analogy from the golf announcer David Feherty, “I looked like a man trying to kill a snake in a phone booth.”

I began to feel about my driver the way you would feel if you caught a glimpse of your best man lasciviously ogling your bride halfway through the nuptials.  Oh, the sense of betrayal, the keen disappointment, the primal urge to wrap the blasted thing around the nearest palm tree.

Thank goodness my frustration was broken by the spectacular holes that run along the Teeth of the Dogocean.  It suddenly dawned on me that I was playing one of the classic golf courses in all the world with rented clubs,  a serious loft problem (lack of friggin’ talent) all on someone else’s dime.  Instead of cursing my driver, I should be counting my blessings.  Let’s be honest, the course record was never going to be in any jeopardy no matter how well I played.  The remainder of the round I drank in the spectacular surroundings and dined on the camaraderie and even hit a few nice drives.  They came too late to salvage my score but not to top off a spectacular experience.

Having swum several laps in the pool of my personal self-pity, there is no time left to tell you about the remarkable resort called Casa de Campo.  Not to worry.  Merely sign up to follow this blog and you will soon be getting an engraved (OK, not really engraved), more like embossed (OK, not exactly embossed), more like electronic email invitation to return to this site for another happy stroll through Casa de Campo.

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Hyatt Zilara / Ziva Rose Hall: EaZy To Love

Until fairly recently, the self-effacing and unpretentious letter “z” had managed to keep a low profile by hiding in the shadow of the gangly “y'” there at the end of the alphabet.  But once Hyatt jumped with both feet into the deep end of the all-inclusive pool with their Zilara and Ziva brands, those days of obscurity for the ultimate letter were forever lost.  Now “Z” is all grown up and strutting its stuff like a voluptuous Miss Venezuela in the swimsuit competition at the Miss Universe pageant.

ZalaraTake the names of their restaurants, for example.  Petit Pariz is bringing, as they like to say, “Parisian flair to the shores of Jamaica.”    Flavorz is located in the main lobby offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Horizons, whose name they didn’t even have to massage, features international cuisine in a “farm to table” concept.  The lobby bar is called is called Potionz and the pool swim-up bar is styled Islandz.   Time fails me to talk about Choicez, Di Roza, Fuzion, Calypzo, Grindz and Fez.  Unless you have dozed off and are cranking out a few zzzzs by now, I think you get the idea.

If you are eager to know more about how Hyatt is upgrading the all-inclusive experience fromZiva A to Z, you have only to read my typically brilliant post Hyatt All-Inclusive Resorts: Evolution or Revolution?  Should you then be swept away by my lilting prose, you can read about the Hyatt Ziva in Los Cabos.  Speaking of swept away, that already stunning property is undergoing a complete transformation thanks to the visit of a most unwelcome guest last September called Hurricane Odile.

We shall, however, focus our remaining time together on the Hyatt Zilara / Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica where I was privileged to stay recently.  For those who may not know, the Zilara is the adult only brand and Ziva is the family brand.  In this case, the two brands are adjacent sharing a central lobby.  As the slightly more deluxe brand, all the facilities and dining options of both are available to Zalara guests but not vice versa. DSC02523

I, along with 200 or so of my closest friends, was the recipient of the largess of Funjet Vacations and the Hyatt for this experience.  Those cynical souls who are immediately suspicious of my objectivity need to read my Fool Disclosure page where I lay bare my soul on that subject.  For those who prefer the executive summary:  I don’t claim any . . . objectivity, that is.

As to the resort, here are my observations about both the resort and the destination.

Extraordinary Service

I have often said on these pages that the overall level of service in Mexico has never been matched in any other destination.  While the service levels in Jamaica are quite good, I have always tended to put them a notch below Mexico.   Leave it to Hyatt to make me eat my words.  (Fortunately, they also provided a nice little Cabernet to wash them down!)

The folks at Hyatt have proved that exemplary service is all about setting the right expectations, hiring the right people and providing the right training.  The warmth and friendliness of the staff and their eagerness to serve is everything you could hope for at a deluxe resort.

Beach Lover’s Paradise

Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall BeachThe sobriquet “beach lover” does not really apply to me.  Call me crazy but I have an aversion to tiny grains of sand finding their way into every crevice of my body.   However, I am well aware that for many, perhaps most, of you, a quality beach is the most important consideration when selecting a warm weather resort.

If you fall into this category, I can happily report this property has as nice a beach as youBarefoot Jerkz will find nearly anywhere.  There are plenty of palapas and lounge chairs and a nice breaker so even the urchins can enjoy the water.

The most popular beach feature is Barefoot Jerkz where you can get chicken, beef and fish Jamaican style.  Finally, someone has come up with a restaurant named with me in mind!

Rose Hall Great House

If you like to mix in a little history, culture and voodoo witchcraft into your vacation (and who doesn’t), the Great House at Rose Hall, just across the road from the resort, is just what Great House Rose Hallthe witch doctor ordered.  I don’t have time to recount the story of the “white witch” and the three husbands she killed in three separate upstairs bedrooms (plus a handful of lovers but who’s counting)  but you will get all that when you do the tour as I did.  Let’s just say that Annee Palmer was a little, as in 4’11”, ball of pure, unadulterated evil.

Even better than the tour of the Great House, for my taste at least, is the White Witch Golf Course.  While the beach worshipers were back at the resort attempting to inconspicuously deal with their own sand wedgies, I was using my sand wedge to Great House Rose Hall 2extricate myself from one of the numerous bunkers that dot this magnificent course.

There is oh so much more to say about the Hyatt Zilara and Ziva Rose Hall but, alas, no time left to share it.  If you are looking to experience some of the best of Jamaica without the trek to either Ocho Rios or Negril, let us book you into this magnificent resort where the service will impress, the beach will entice and the culture will inspire.

One closing word of caution for the male reader.  It is said that Annee is actively looking for her next husband so if you do tour the Great House by candlelight, you might want to keep up with the rest of your group.  Just sayin’.

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Zoëtry Villa Rolandi: Such An Easy Decision!

Life, as you may have noticed, is filled with one brutally difficult decision after another.

  • Is this really the soul mate of my dreams or the beginning of one long nightmare?
  • Is a college degree a sound investment for me or a fool’s path to crushing debt?
  • Should I vacation on a Caribbean island this year or yield to the magic of Mexico?

OK, since I am neither a marriage counselor nor a life coach, I am going to pass on offering advice regarding the first two questions.  However, since I am a renowned travel maven (in the murky corners of my own mind, at least), I will gleefully presume to dispense my own brand of wisdom in regards to the last question.  As I like to say, my advice is as simple as it is self-serving.

Zoetry Villa Rolandi ExteriorContact me to book your next vacation at Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun and you will find yourself enjoying both.  The reason is, Isla Mujeres is both a Caribbean island and a charming part of Mexico.  This “Island of Women” is located about eight miles off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea and is home to one of the most delightful resorts it will ever be your privilege to experience.

In spite of what they say, getting there is seldom half the fun.  In this case, however that old saw is true. Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport and whisked to a nearby pier where you will board your aquatic transfer to your all too temporary abode.  Aboard the twin hulled, 42′ power craft, the CoCoon, you will soon discover that it is not only the panoramic skyline of Cancun that begins to recede.  As the high-rise hotels of Cancun gradually become less imposing in the distance, so too will the weighty responsibilities and worrisome cares of life back home.   Before you can say Danaus plexippus (or “monarch butterfly” for the non-scientists in my audience), you will find yourself casting off your own cocoon thus releasing the butterfly of your better self.

Zoetry Villa Rolandi CocoonFor those of you who occasionally miss one of these timeless posts (unless you want an unexcused absence, I will need either a letter from your doctor or your grandmother’s funeral notice in the future), here is a quick review of the Zoëtry concept.  After reading this  post, you will be well versed in the subtleties of Endless Privileges and Wellness and Luxury.

Daniele Sandro Muller

With just 35 oceanfront rooms, Zoëtry Villa Rolandi is about as boutique as a resort can be.   Should we ever meet, dear reader, it will become instantly obvious to you that I have weakness for all things culinary.  Thus, what say we begin our tour with a look at the exquisite dining options?  The stellar quality of the food comes as no surprise since Daniele Muller, the son of owner Sandro Muller and manager of the specialties restaurant “Le Mestissage”, trained at the Institut Paul Bocusse in Lyon, France. Nice pedigree!

On a recent trip with some of our travel agents, we dined at Casa Rolandi, whose offerings are styled “Gourmet Swiss-Northern Italian Cuisine”.   I won’t pretend I can Casa Rolandidistinguish Swiss-Northern Italian from Northern Swiss-Italian in a dark room . . . which this obviously was . .  but, for what it’s worth, I can testify that when I finished, I felt as though I had just consumed a small Swiss chalet.  Yes, I know true gourmands don’t engorge themselves but moderation has never been my long suit.

Since my visit was much too brief, I did not get a chance to sample the French Mexican fusion cuisine at Le Métissage.   Such a pity.   Sandra, our gracious hostess for the evening, assures me that I must rectify that deficiency post-haste.  Well, Sandra, I suppose if you insist though my demanding schedule precludes me getting there before, say . . . tomorrow night!

If you share my lack of dining restraint (oh, and did I mention drinking?), you are going to need somewhere nearby to waddle off to after a night of feasting and imbibing.  With a mere 35 rooms, you should be able to find your lodgings with a minimum of assistance. from the helpful staff.

Superior Junior Suite When you do arrive at your room, this is the type of modern décor that awaits.  I personally love the fine Italian marble and the spacious design.  If you feel the need to wander, but not too far, youZoetry Villa Rolandi Jacuzzi can always retreat to your balcony for a glass of wine or a relaxing dip in your jacuzzi or, even better, combine the experiences.

I once wrote a blog post explaining why no vacation can possibly be complete without a round of golfIf, by some odd coincidence, you share this addiction as well, you can find relief (so to speak) at Playa Mujeres Golf Club where you’ll enjoy complimentary greens fees.  It is a beautiful Greg Norman design with generous fairways and manicured aprons from which you can often putt.  If you are not a golfer and find that last sentence incomprehensible, I suggest you just ignore it and soldier on.  It won’t be the first time someone found my writing mystifying.

Lest I test the limits of your attention span, not to mention mine, I will have to leave the matter here.  There is so much more that could be said about this exclusive resort.  That said, the very best way to learn more is to go there and experience it for yourself!  You will not be surprised when I tell you that I . . . OK, our talented staff . . . can make that happen.  If you can leave tomorrow, save me a seat tomorrow night at Le Métissage.

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Crème van Aruba: The Top Five Resorts

You, my delectable little devotees, will know that I have previously published four posts in my Crème de Mexico series where I shared my expert opinion on the top resorts in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Los Cabos and Riviera Nayarit (with more Mexico destinations to follow soon).  

I can only imagine how ecstatic you must be to hear that I have elected to apply my not inconsiderable talents to the island of Aruba.  (I am sure that faint ripple of applause I hear trickling through cyberspace will reach a crescendo at any moment.)  What say we start with a word or two about the destination itself before I unveil the lucky beneficiaries of my editorial favor?  Hearing no objections . . . even with the now thunderous ovation I correctly predicted . . . I shall continue.

Family enjoying Aruba

These are Aruba “Happy Returners” Mark and Robin Everly & their children from Frisco, Texas. They travel to Aruba twice a year for their Caribbean Vacation. Click on the image to see other “Happy Returners”.

Centuries of Aruban history is summed up nicely in this one sentence on the Aruba Tourism Authority website,  “What began as a fishing outpost for Amerindians has changed hands between the Spanish and Dutch throughout the centuries, and is now a diverse constituent country of the Netherlands.”  Knowing my audience all too well, I feel comfortable in assuming that your interest in Aruba is more hedonistic than historical so that tidbit should suffice. 

Let me list several compelling, and more contemporary, reasons why Aruba needs to wiggle its way to the top of your bucket list (I’m picturing a pail of slimy fishing worms but you don’t have to).

  • Aruba has more than a dozen incredible beaches like Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, etc.
  • Aruba is relatively easy to get to with direct flights from many US gateways.
  • Aruba accepts US dollars and most everyone speaks English (along with Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and even Papiamento (just in case you need to brush up)
  • Aruba offers an almost endless supply of adventure sports such as:  diving, kayaking, sport fishing, parasailing and . . .  Tell you what.  Just go here and you can look at five pages of adventure options.
  • Aruba offers a surprising selection of food as their cuisine is influenced by 90 nationalities!

More about Aruba another time but we must return to the stated purpose of this blog post which is to give you five superlative options for your Aruban home away from home.

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts

Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in ArubaAs stated above, my number one reason to visit Aruba is the array of incredible beaches.  If you are an aficionado of boutique style resorts that cater exclusively to couples and adults and a world-class beach is a must, then this property is for you.  Located on Eagle Beach, this hotel is owned and operated by the renowned hotelier Ewald Biemans.  You know you are staying in a boutique hotel when the owner writes his own blog which you can read here.

But what if you are not only a beach bum but also a food fanatic?  Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts has you covered there as well.  Carte Blanche is Nirvana for serious food lovers.  The restaurant only seats 16 (now that’s exclusive).  You will want to make your reservation well in advance of your trip to ensure one of those coveted chairs.  As the website explains, “The highlight is Owner/Chef Dennis van Daatselaar cooking a 5-course “Carte Blanche” (chef’s surprise) dinner right in front of you.”

If fifteen fellow diners still make you agoraphobic, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts has the perfect solution.  Simply book a private cabana like the one pictured above where you can choose from a specially designed menu for two.  Now if even two people seems excessive, I am afraid you have psychological issues neither Bucuti and Tara Beach Resorts nor I can resolve in this space!

 The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba

Ritz-Carlton Aruba DiningWhat say we move from the boutique to the bodacious?  This property has 320 spacious rooms, each with a private balcony.  It offers a 15,000 square foot casino open 24 hours a day for those of you still living the fantasy that next time you really are going to beat the house.  If you really want to daydream a little (OK, I know you are reading this at work but I won’t tell your boss), check out the pictures on their website.  I must say they are some of the most stunning you will see of any resort.

Here is a quirky little factoid.  The incredible spa at the Ritz is also 15,000 square feet, the same size as the casino.  What better place to recover from the lingering disappointments of the night before at the blackjack table?   After your Awa Awakening Treatment and the “seven different indigenous local floral and herbal potions . . . created by a Caribbean herbalist,” you will be so mellow you will sneer in the face of your gambling losses.  OK, maybe not sneer but at least stop whimpering.

Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa

Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & SpaThe Radisson Aruba Resort is one of the most popular resorts in Aruba with an impressive number of repeat visitors.

The resort offers a nice selection of dining options but be sure you visit their signature restaurant, the award-winning Sunset Grille.  What caught my eye was the fact that their extensive wine list has received the highly acclaimed Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine 10 years in a row.  I have been known to savor a tantalizing red on a couple of occasions (weekdays & weekends).

Another unique feature of the resort is Biba Aruba each Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m featuring Aruban food and culture, live music and carnival dancers.

Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba

Would you like to discover one of the nine hidden jewels of the Caribbean?  Before youBoardwalk Aruba room answer, let me clarify that this is not an invitation to participate in another hokey reality show where you get to betray your best friend and sleep with your arch rival.  This is the term no less an authority than USA Today applied to  Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba.

Though they have labored to obscure the fact with their name, I should point out that this hotel is small.  Speaking as one who has yet to be asked if I am a professional basketball player, I have no problem with small.  In fact, I am a big fan . . .metaphorically speaking . . . of casitas (small house in Spanish) which this property offers in spades.  They are doing a lot of things right to be ranked 2nd out of 24 Aruban hotels on TripAdvisor (You know, that site where people go who have yet to discover this incredible blog).

Occidental Grand Aruba Resort (Royal Club)

Occidental Grand Aruba Resort hot tubI am going to wind up this list by sharing a little insider tip.  If you book your trip to Aruba (through us, of course) at the Occidental Grand you will have a great vacation. But if you want to turn great into spectacular, pony up the relatively small difference and book the Royal Club.

The best way to think of the Royal Club is as a hotel within a hotel designed for those with a nose for value.  Paying more is never a guarantee of getting more so it takes a degree of travel moxie to know when an upgrade is worth the difference.  Take it to the bank (my bank, preferably),  this is not the time to quibble over a few bucks.  You get access to the Royal Club Restaurant,  the Royal Club lounge, personalized check-in and a private concierge.  Don’t forget the premium beverages and the free wi-fi as well.

The only problem I see with the picture above is the potential argument over who gets the side with the view.  Although, I suppose you could argue that if you have chosen your roommate well, there isn’t a bad view!

If you have been to Mexico so many times, the consulate is calling and asking if you have thought about applying for dual citizenship, maybe it’s time to spread your wings.  Aruba beckons and one of these five exclusive resorts has a room with your name on it.

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Zoëtry In Motion

A couple of weeks ago, I led a familiarization trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Mexico for a few of our travel agents and independent contractors.  It was hosted by AMResorts, a company about whom I have written often.  Like many hotel and resort companies, they have elected to group their properties into various brands, each designed to appeal to a different clientele.

In the case of AMResorts, their brands are called Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now, Sunscapes and Zoëtry.  Most of those terms could well have been lifted from the pages of a steamy Nora Roberts romance novel.  Should I pause a moment while you fan yourself and regain your composure?

Zoetry YogaLest you imagine that the life of a travel agent is an endless round of one crème brûlée after another (there are a few molten chocolate souflés sprinkled in from time to time), we saw fifteen properties in three days.  Granted, it hardly qualifies as the Baatan death march but one can pick up a nasty blister if the proper walking shoes are not worn and a good antacid to combat all that rich food is a must .  Enough about me and the noble sacrifices I routinely make to bring you these mesmerizing blog posts.   Your touching gratitude, which I can feel wafting over me across cyberspace at this very moment, is compensation enough.

Today’s focus shall be on the last, but hardly the least, brand in the above list.  I am referring to Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts.  My goal for this post is to give you a broad overview of the defining elements of this brand and then, in subsequent posts, to tell you about the two Zoetrys which I visited in person on this recent trip:  Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita, Rivera Maya and  Zoëtry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun.  You are welcome!

Zoetry ParaisoEndless Privileges

A good place to start is the concept of endless privileges which is what  Zoëtry calls their unique approach to amenities.   This property beckons the most discerning travelers, those with the most discriminating taste.  Picture your next vacation at a resort with no check-in or check-out times, where the maid services your room three times a Zoetry pamper verticalday, where only healthy gourmet cuisine is served and where unlimited top-shelf spirits are provided.

Trust me when I tell you those items I just mentioned are merely the starters intended to whet your appetite.  You can read the full menu of endless privileges by clicking here.

So many amazing touches!  What could be nicer than finding a complimentary bottle of rum or tequila when you arrive at your room?  OK, possibly enjoying daily afternoon tea with live plant infusions.  Honestly, I am not sure what that means but all the glitterati tell me one hasn’t really lived until one has been infused with a live plant.

Did I mention the luxurious Bvlgari® bath amenities and the 24-hour private in-suite dining?  I can’t take responsibility if, at this point, you are starting to feel just a tinge decadent.  It sometimes happens at Zoëtry.

 Wellness And Luxury

I am all for wellness but I must admit I don’t tend to equate it with luxury.  I picture it being achieved at some rustic boot camp where a fitness guru with a terminal case of hemorrhoids finds delight in making sure I am in at least as much pain as he is.  You can’t imagine my relief when I read this sentence on Zoëtry’s website.  “Discover a perfect balance between holistic wellness and unrivaled luxury in blissful ocean front settings.”

Zoetry SpaAnother  aspect of their wellness emphasis is their personalized menus.  They can and will accommodate vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan and pretty much any other dietary preference.  If you are an adherent of the Petra Nemcova carrots, tomatoes and seafood only diet, no problem.  You just have to sign a disclaimer regarding your palms turning yellow as hers apparently did!

Bucket ListCome back soon and I will tantalize you with vivid descriptions of the two Cancun / Riviera Maya Zoëtry properties drawn from my recent visit.

I have added an extended stay at one of them to my bucket list.  Given the fact that, in my case, the metaphorical bucket is starting to loom rather large, that is saying something!

Zoëtry is definitely in motion. They are moving towards new heights of luxury, style and comfort and I, for one, am quite keen to jump on board.

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Dreams Tulum: Perfect For Whom?

In the travel business, we spend a lot of time asking our customers a series of questions to make sure we tailor our recommendations to their unique desires.  As I like to remind our front line sales staff:  prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

And yet, ever so often, we discover a property so versatile, so accommodating that it is difficult to imagine there is anyone who would  not enjoy its disparate offerings.  I just returned from spending a few days at  a resort that pretty much annihilates the old adage “Jack of all trades, Master of none.”  As you might have divined from the title . . . sly devil that you are . .  I am referring to Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa.  The answer to the question posed by the title of this post is simply “whomever”.

DSC02392Dreams Tulum is an ideal selection for at least three categories of travelers:  families, weddings / honeymoons and meetings / groups.  (I can think of several other categories such as couples, golfers, etc. but since this is supposed to be a blog post and not an encyclopedia, I will restrain myself.)


If you are still at that stage of life where little rug rats routinely crawl all over the furniture in your living room like a small rodent convention, than you are going to love this property.  For one thing, the resort has recently increased the number of connecting rooms in the Deluxe and Junior Suites category.  This gives Dreams Tulum the ability to confirm connecting rooms in advance, something very few other properties of this stature can do!

In addition, this property now offers Family Suites which come in configurations of 4,5,6,7, 10 or even 12 rooms.  They share a large living area and are all accessed through one master door.  There is an additional daily charge for this option.

DRETU_Explores Club    Dreams Tulum Camp Out Adventure

As do all the Dreams Resorts, the Tulum property offers an Explorer’s Club for kids ages 3-12.  This includes such activities as a camp-out adventure pictured above. There is a basketball court, kids can climb rope ladders to a playhouse, enjoy a rock climbing wall and much more.  Dropping your little munchkins off at the Explorer’s Club is not going to be a problem.  Picking them up at the end of the day to clean up for dinner might be another matter!


So how do you know if a given resort is serious about weddings and honeymoons?  The first clue is whether they have a wedding showroom!

DRETU_Wedding ShowroomThe second question you should ask is, “Do they have an onsite wedding coordinator?  The answer, of course, is . . . “Of course!”.  Finally, do they have several wedding options to choose from with enough flexibility to customize your experience?  Again, the answer is a resounding yes.

You can visit the Dreams Tulum Weddings page for answers to frequently asked questions, to better understand Mexico’s marriage requirements, to see photos of recent weddings, to get a checklist, to see their Pinterest board and a whole lot more.  Planning a destination wedding can seem daunting but our experienced agents will have you feeling undaunted before you can say “I do!”.

The resort also offers Honeymoon packages if you are getting married stateside, anniversary packages and vow renewal packages.  Not to mention, if you have your wedding at Dreams Tulum, you can even return on your first anniversary for complimentary nights!  How sweet is that?

So far as I know, there are no divorce or burial packages but you never know what might be on the drawing board at Dreams Tulum.


So what happens if you want to come to Dreams Tulum and bring along a few hundred of your closest friends?  (For me, that’s not a problem because the people who will admit publicly to knowing me would fit in a VW minivan but I realize that’s not true of everyone.)  Dreams Tulum is a perfect place for any kind of meeting or group.

Dreams Tulum Convention CenterAs a matter of fact, they have a dedicated website for just meetings and groups which you can access here.  That site has a two page fact sheet suitable for distributing to key planners or even all participants.  In the same way there are wedding planners, there are dedicated meeting planners.  There is also a layout guide for planning space utilization.  They have a very robust multimedia capability as well.

I realize groups travel together for a lot of reasons beyond business.  Every year Dreams Tulum hosts affinity groups, multi-generational family groups, Girl’s Getaway groups, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and conventions for left-handed, Bolivian unicyclists. OK, I may have made that last one up.

OK, I am out of time with no room left to give proper due to the beautifully appointed rooms, the Art at Dreams Tulumvarious decadent restaurants which I hold personally responsible for sending me into an eating frenzy or to the epicurean spa.

I will say this though.  Based on my experience, I feel comfortable promising that you will meet some of the nicest people if you visit Dreams Tulum.  As I was relaxing in the spa, I saw this lovely couple (see picture to the right) who were just hanging around the hot tub.  They seemed a little shy.  It was unfortunate my masseuse showed up at just that moment to lead me away to my treatment room because I could sense they were about to open up.  I have a rare gift for reading people.

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