Trains, Tours And A Touch Of Tequila

The other day a couple of sales reps came a callin’.  OK, admittedly,  that in itself is not exactly remarkable or particularly blog worthy.  In the travel industry, sales reps are as common as fleas on a junk yard dog.  Not that I equate any of these precious souls with a member of the Pulicidea family of insects, let me hasten to add.  Certainly not these two charming ladies!

Tequila, MexicoWhat is beyond remarkable, however, is whenever a supplier is able to lay before me a destination or experience:

  1. I have never even heard of before.
  2. I would gladly book the next flight to experience for myself.

These two ladies scored on both counts and, since I live to make your jaw drop too, I am going to tell you all about it.  Strike that.  There is never enough time to tell you “all about” anything. Instead, I am going to tell you just enough to tickle your wanderlust.  Relax, that is not nearly as prurient as it sounds.

 

Tequila Espíritu de México

The journey begins with a flight into Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. Our ultimate destination is Tequila, Mexico.  (Did I catch you reflexively licking your lips?)  OK, we are in Guadalajara but how shall we traverse the sixty kilometers (just under forty miles) to Tequila town?  Let’s see . . . burro, oxcart, thumb a ride?  If it is all the same to you, I think I would rather hop aboard the:

Jose Cuervo Express It doesn’t require much imagination to picture myself sitting at the bar below, sipping on a smooth little Jose Cuervo tequila and testing my limited Spanish on the convivial, and very patient, bartender.  He even stifles a laugh when I ask him if he is ever pregnant (embarazado) when he uses the wrong English word.  I hate those false cognates!

Bar club and dining areaTo continue my imaginary journey, after the brutal two-hour rail journey gazing at gorgeous agave fields and throwing back tequila shots, I am only hoping I can find some decent little hovel to rest my weary head.  If required, I suppose I could make do with the brand new Hotel Solar de las Animas.

This incredible hotel is based on a Creole colonial house andHotel Solar de Las Animas is designed by renowned architect Jorge Loyzaga whose prestigious restoration works include Chapultepec Castle, a stunning edifice overlooking Mexico City.  (I have a picture of me standing on the ramparts of the castle where the city looms over my right shoulder,  a piece of trivia I realize would bore even Clilff Clavin from Cheers.)

The room categories range from Superior Double to the Royal Suite.  Since, for now at least this is but a mythical journey, I attempt to check into the Royal Suite.  When my royal lineage is called into question (surprisingly they seem to be unfamiliar with the prominence of the Denton clan in British history), I gracefully accept whatever category is shown in the picture below.

Room at Hotel Solar de las AnimasComfortably ensconced in my room, I turn my attention to whatever enriching experiences might lie outside my doorstep.  I am intrigued to discover how many options the area offers but I decide on a horseback ride through blue agave fields and a tour of Fabrica La Rojeña , the oldest distillery in the Americas.  The order in which I participate in the two activities is not accidental, I assure you!

When you visit (hopefully, unlike mine, yours will not be of the virtual variety) you will want to sign up for the Maestro Tequilero blending experience where, under the watchful eye of an expert in the art of blending, you will experiment with five combinations to produce your own souvenir damajuana.   If like your humble scribe, you have never even heard of a damajuana, you will immediately recognize the necessity of the expert assistance mentioned above!

Horseback riding  Fabrica La Rojena

Unfortunately, the cold, wet dishrag of reality is slapping me in the face and I must conclude my mythical odyssey.   If the two ladies who planted this yearning in the first place are reading these words, I feel sure I could add so much more vibrant color and rich context in future blogs if only I were to experience Tequila Espiritu de Mexico for myself.  (As regular readers can attest, I have always valued directness over subtlety.)

If you think this might be a trip you would enjoy, reach out to me and maybe I will put a little group together so we can all experience it!

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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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The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort: Seriously Secure!

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

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

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

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

THE ST. REGIS PUNTA MITA RESORT

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

Remède Spa

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

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

Guest Rooms

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

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

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

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

Divine Dining

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

St. Regis Punta Mita Restaurants

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

Glorious Golf

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

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

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

The Zambezi Queen: Humble History, Bright Future!

The Zambezi Queen, for those familiar only with her present glorious incarnation, has a rather intriguing history.  Referring to something that began in the early 1990’s in historical terms probably risks offending professors of classical antiquities but I am not sure how many academicians would openly admit to reading my humble blog anyway.

Zambezi QueenThe ZQ, as she is sometimes affectionately called, was given the original charter to carry guests from Katima Mulilo down the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and back.  Unfortunately, there was one small miscalculation.  The sheer size of the vessel made navigation difficult and it wasn’t long before the ship was unceremoniously converted into a floating hotel moored to the river bank for the benefit of visitors to the Caprivi Region of Namibia.   This is like imagining a 50’s era Santa Fe Super Chief dining car ending up as a burger joint along a rural Arkansas highway.

Redemption came in 2008 in the form of two visionary entrepreneurs, Tony Stern and Brett McDonald.  Where others saw only fading glory, they saw future greatness.  The redesign and renovations were extensive with an entire new top deck added.  The Zambezi QueenAs is pointed out on the website, “Celebrated South African fashion designer Jenni Button lent a hand in the classic yet contemporary interior with understated muted tones.”  The very bright future was only burnished when the Zambezi Queen became part of The Mantis Collection (a world-class organization you will learn more about in future blogs).

I don’t know if a vessel that claims a total of 14 suites (10 standard and 4 master) qualifies as a small ship or a large houseboat.  (If you are anal about such matters, you can find seven differences between a ship and a boat here.) All the suites share these features:  they are all located on one of the first two decks, they all have floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular views and each has an outside deck where you experience the sights and sounds of Africa first hand.

Zambesi Queen bedroom If you harbor a secret fear that experiencing the wilds of Africa requires compromising your “comfort room” expectations, let me flush away those concerns . . .  so to speak.  As the Zambezi Queen bathroompicture to the left clearly reveals, you will not only enjoy a cabin with a spectacular view but one with an equally remarkable loo!

When we ascend to the upper deck, we find a surprising array of enchanting public areas.  The dining room, the comfortable lounge with unobstructed views and the bar are woven together in a subtle fashion. Speaking of the bar, it is stocked with local and imported wines, beers and spirits with the locally sourced variety of each included in your cruise rate.  As was pointed out above, we have Jenni Button to thank for the impeccable yet understated taste that runs throughout the Zambezi Queen.

For those who place almost as much value on ambiance as taste when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed.  Let me introduce you to your Namibian wait staff.

our-staffNot only will you dine on savory, mouth-watering morsels but your meals will be delivered in a uniquely African manner.   Close your eyes and you would think you were in the heart of Africa.  Oops, that’s right.  You are in the heart of Africa!

The Zambezi Queen experience includes opportunities for bird-watching, Tiger (the aquatic variety) and Bream fishing in season, water based game drives by tender boat and even a visit to a local village.

Bird-watching   Fishing in Africa

African safari   African Village

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience but alas, no time left to say it.  I will just have to allow my feverish fingers to cool down until we meet again.  In the meantime, the obvious solution . . . to me at least . . . is for you to let me assign one of my crackerjack staff (at least I think that’s what I caught them nibbling on) to explain how you can make the Zambezi Queen part of your own bright future!

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!