Imbibing In Iberia (or if you prefer) Cuba Libre Continental Style

For the next several posts you will be transported through Portugal and Spain with a dash of London thrown in for flavor at the end.  You will not be boarding a luxury Globus motorcoach, as I recently did, but rather you will be borne along on the fluffy clouds of my velvety prose.

Globus Touring CoachThose of you who live for my next pulsating post no doubt have noticed a dearth of such missives of late.  The explanation is as simple as it is depressive.  For the past few weeks I have been toiling like a serf rather than traveling like a sovereign.  Oh, the humanity!   I feel your compassion oozing across cyberspace even as I write these words but, take comfort, dear heart, I have learned how to steel myself against life’s injustices.

Thank goodness my interminable season of discontent ended on September 23rd when the wife and I boarded a British Airways flight bound for Lisbon by way of London.  Simply return to this site on a regular basis and you can follow along on my grand adventure.

Where to start?  Why don’t we begin with a theme that emerged quite by happenstance?  On the evening of the first full day in Lisbon, I wandered into the bar at the Sofitel Lisbon Liberdade (I am sure I was looking for the sundry store) when I decided to pause for an ever so modest libation.  I ordered a rum and coke, my cocktail of choice, and was quite delighted with the presentation.  So, I snapped a picture and posted this comment on my Facebook page:

“Every bar has a rum and coke. Leave it to the Sofitel Liberdade Lisbon to add the nuts, cranberries, olives AND a bowl for the pits!”

Rum & Coke Sofitel LiberdadeWhen we arrived to the Gran Melia Colon in Sevilla who would have guessed they also had a bar!  Is it my fault that they place the darn things so close to the sundry shops?  I ordered my customary drink and here is what they brought.

Rum & Coke Gran Melia ColonThe post on Facebook read:

“OK, tonight’s rum and Coke in Seville #GranMeliaColon is served with orange slices, peanuts, chocolate and gumdrops.”

I thought this was a particularly nice glass.

I know my readers are unusually astute so no doubt you see the pattern developing here.  Unconsciously (which is, by the way, how I operate most of the time), I was developing my own metric for comparing the various hotels on our itinerary.  The pressure started to build to see if the next venue could rise to the rum and coke test.

Our third stop was at the Alhambra Palace Hotel in Granada. I suppose it is pointless at this juncture to pretend there was a sundry shop anywhere near the bar.  Anyway, I was oRum & Coke Alhambra Palace Hoteln a mission.  I was not succumbing to self-indulgence, I repeatedly told myself, but rather performing scholarly research.

My Facebook post for the evening read:

“Tonight’s rum and coke at the Hotel Alhambra Palace in Granada comes with a sunset!”

Our fourth and final stop in Spain was at the Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid.  With my Rum and Coke Gran Melia Fenixresearch pad in hand, I went in quest of the bar.  Have you ever noticed that in nice hotels the bars are hardly ever difficult to find?  The evening comment in Facebook read:

The Gran Melia Fenix in Madrid offers dark rum and coke with green cherries and a beautiful mural and red rose behind the bar.”

At this point, you might assume that our little rum and coke tour has mercifully ended but you would be wrong Spanish olive breath!   Unless you have been playing your own drinking game and downing a rum and coke every time I said the word “Facebook”, you might recall I mentioned that there was a brief stop in London at the end.

Our final two nights were spent at the One AldwychMy final Facebook post (time for another swig, game players) read:

“Tonight’s rum and coke at ‪#‎onealdwych‬ London features black cherries, green olives, nuts & the most cosmopolitan city in the world!”

Rum & Coke One AldwychNow we really have reached the end.  What would research be, however, without a scientific poll?  Here is your chance to participate.

You can view all the pictures I took on this trip here.

Be sure to come back soon and we will visit each of these spectacular hotels and much of the Portuguese and Spanish countryside.  It will be fun, I promise . . . especially if you bring your own rum and coke!

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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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.


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.


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.