Discover Riviera Maya

Overview

Co-escourting a group trip to Mexico, specifically Puerto Morelos, led to my first extended stay in the country (previously I’d only visited on a cruise ship).  Prior to departure friends and family expressed their concerns to safety and security issues in traveling to Mexico. In the 5 days there, both on the resort and on the excursion, I can truly say that I never once felt “unsafe”. Frankly, I felt more uncomfortable, and distinctly less safe, while traveling in Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Lucia than I did during my time in Riviera Maya. Granted, I was in a highly tourist area, and maybe I’m more comfortable a traveler than I was several years ago.

Resort/Length of Stay: H10 Hotels – Ocean Coral & Turquesa/5days, 4nights,

Excursions: Isla Mujeres

Temperature: 80s and breezy

Lows

There were some lows to the stay, that I wasn’t expecting, mainly with the resort. The layout of the resort was nice and it was low season so not crowded. As a whole the service level was less than impressive (some of the bartenders were downright rude…not sure where they left their smiles at). Being in the service industry, I’m typically one to tip – however this trip no one earned a tip and even when I watched friends tip (and sometimes heavy) it didn’t make any difference in level of service. The food was beyond disappointing, the quality, the variety…it was akin to cheap fast food. The Mexican restaurant on property was really really bad – even the worst of “Mexican” restaurants in the states was better than what was on property. I wasn’t expecting it to be completely authentic (it is a tourist resort after all), however I was surprised at how “watered-down”  the quality of food was. Water pressure in the room was sad, and there was no hot water … Finally, pay attention to the fine print. It is an all-inclusive, however if you want to utilize room service make sure it is during the posted hours or you will be charged (and be sure you have a room service menu in your room … one that wasn’t run off a copy machine that was running out of toner).

The decor of the resort overall was marginal and very random (keep an eye out for Spiderman, Michael Jordan, and Elvis and Marilyn statues). The resort is rated as a 5star, and I’d give it 4stars at best.

Highs

Now that we got the unpleasantness out of the way. Mike’s coffee shop is the best thing happening on the resort … open from 8am till 10pm you can get all the espresso, machiattos, cappuccinos, hot teas, etc that your little heart desires (and I did!). The hibachi restaurant was the best food hands down on the resort – fresh, well flavored and a good show. The breakfast buffet was decent – go to the omelet station …eat the bread (it is all fresh and good). The rooms are a good size and the bathrooms are roomy. If you aren’t 100% comfortable with your travel companion then I’d recommend getting comfortable or booking two rooms – the bathroom set up isn’t for everyone as there are doors on the toilet and shower but not the rest of the bathroom. The nightly entertainment was decent – there was a good show that showed the culture of Mexico in dance and traditional costumes, that was well done. The group services staff was excellent – anything needed in regards to handling the group (i.e. convention room set up, handling rooming issues, etc..was all handled very professionally). Also, hidden gem – hammocks! Find them and take a nap. The gym was also good – got in a good workout – dumbbells, treadmills, elliptical, bikes, barbells, and a circuit machine.

The excursion was a catamaran trip to Isla Mujeres – it was fun and I enjoyed it. The downside was there wasn’t nearly enough time snorkeling or stand-up paddle boarding but the mid-day sailing did allow you to see the sunset and enjoy a cool evening breeze on the sail back to dock – and the crew was exceptional.

I enjoyed my time on the beach, by the pool, in the ocean, and in the hammock. Now back to the ‘real world’.

p.s. I’ve been VERY impressed with Detroit International Airport. The entire set-up here is efficient and service oriented. I’m a fan!

NOLA – Where life is buzzing all around

I do enjoy when academic conferences are held in exciting locations (all part of getting attendance numbers up). The conference this year was in New Orleans! Two of my wonderful girlfriends joined me for a couple days of exploration, food, music, and shenanigans.

Food ReCap

Galliano: By far the best meal/service combination I had the entire trip and in the top 5 of all time. The service from start to finish was impeccable, with everyone from management to waitstaff making sure that the meal was good, dishes were cleared, and drinks were refilled. I had the Crawfish Pasta Monica, a good portion with chunks of crawfish tails – the toasted cheese bread was a bit too toasted otherwise a dish to make the tastebuds tingle. The blackened drum is a must try and the southern fried chicken was most excellent. Dessert changes each night so ask your server for their recommendation.

Cafe du Monde: You can’t go to New Orleans and not dine at this classic establishment. However, if you don’t NEED to wait in line at the main shop then I recommend the location in the Riverwalk mall – shorter lines same great taste. The coffee was excellent but the beignets were a bit more dough-y than I recalled. Still heaven in a bite!

Drago’s: All you need to order is 1 dozen charbroiled oysters – that is all. Use the bread to soak up the buttery, parmesan goodness and enjoy every bite. As my sister said “It’s a religion”. I did have a shrimp po boy – but I really wasn’t all that impressed – the bread was far too crusty.

Mulate’s: Nightly Cajun music – but don’t get there too late because the band will wrap up  on schedule. Good location for a drink and some dessert while indulging in music. Right across the street from Galliano.

Morning Call Coffee Stand: This 24-hour joint serves coffee and beignets with a throwback flare. The beignets were probably my favorite of those tasted on the trip. This joint is located in New Orleans City Park – so make a day out of visiting botanical gardens, museum of art and sculpture garden, boating, biking, and much more.

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Spitfire Coffee: Pay attention or you will walk right past it. I had the cortado and it was lovely.

Adolfo’s: Located on Frenchman street this was the perfect place to have an end of trip dinner. Cash only and limited seating, it is well worth it to get there early. Have some drinks downstairs while you wait, or walk around the Art Market and check out local wares (I did some shopping for myself and for Christmas!).

Other Happenings 

Aside from eating our way to a food coma – which by walking 14 miles over 2.5-3 days we subsequently nulled out the caloric intake – there was also time to discover what the city had to offer. French quarter fest was in full swing for the weekend, so there was plenty of music and festivities to partake in. I’d been to Bourbon Street before, so I skipped that and instead enjoyed the music offerings of Frenchman Street. Club after club with each one having better music than the last – pop in and out and dance yourself to a good time.

We opted for a tour of the city and really learned a lot about the history of New Orleans, the layout of the city, its people, and life outside of tourist-land.

To commemorate the trip…well we all may have stopped into Electric Ladyland...I can only speak for myself when I say that Chris is a great artist and I’m very happy with fresh pineapple inked onto my wrist.

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Overall, I have to say that I left NOLA with a great impression and would absolutely go back. The city has experienced a rebirth since Katrina. The people were friendly and, as a city, I experienced some of the best hospitality overall that I have ever experienced. There is a zest for life that can be tasted in the food and felt in the music…as they say in New Orleans “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Pictures are worth thousands of words…but here is a brief recap of my trip to Texas City and Austin (apart from the pictures).

Texas City

A cute little spot. Friday night is food truck night and often there is live music. Da Daiquiri Spot is within walking distance – I didn’t get the chance to try it but it’s on my to-do list next time I’m in town.

Shipley Do-Nuts: Located across TX, AL, AR, MS, and LA- they have good coffee, these things called kolaches (basically an oversized pig-in-blanket), and some yummy donuts – indulge and love your life.

Taqueria El Jaliciense: A Mexican joint that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was in search for a breakfast burrito, this one was sub-par.

The Showboat Pavilion:  A Texas City landmark, this building was originally a theatre built in 1942. It is now an event venue and was the location of a beautiful wedding (the entire reason I was in Texas City).

Galveston

A Sunday drive away from Texas City, Galveston was a great spot for lunch and a drive. It was an overcast day and the water was rough. A quiet day in a town that typically is bustling with tourist activity.

The Spot: Lunch was at The Spot, a 5-venue eatery, on Galveston Island. I was very excited to have the fried pickles (fried in a flour batter!) and a big, juicy burger. The pina colada is served in a coconut and had rave reviews, as did the shrimp kisses (bacon wrapped, cheese stuffed shrimp). Apparently our party lucked out and there wasn’t a long wait – recommend a scoop of butter pecan or Oreo ice cream as a way to finish off the meal while you walk along the sidewalk.

Austin, Texas: Keeping it Weird

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A great town filled with coffee shops, barbecue joints, food trucks and an eclectic flavor. Great time exploring the area and hanging out with friends.

The Buzz Mill: An interesting joint, where hipster meets lumber sexual but the patio is dog friendly! Ask the barista for suggestions as the staff is very helpful. I didn’t try the elixirs but the menu looked very interesting and worth trying!

South Congress Cafe: A great spot for brunch – don’t let the exterior fool you, this seemingly hole-in-the-wall has style and class. I had the goat cheese and bacon omelet with an adult iced pumpkin spiced latte. The service was good and the food most excellent.

Terry Black’s Barbecue: The first of two BBQ joints I tried. The coleslaw was amazing, the smoked turkey divine. The brisket was good but I would recommend getting it dry not moist, hard pass on the mac-n-cheese (very little flavor). Grab some seasoning rub for the trip home.

Chi’Lantro:  When Korean BBQ meets Chipotle you get Chi’Lantro. Pick a meat, decide if you want a bowl, salad, or burrito, and then add the toppings. Solid 3stars and the beverage selection has some great non-high fructose corn syrup alternatives!

Picnik Coffee: Drink the butter coffee. Don’t ask questions, just do it.

La Barbecue:  Wait in line and jam to the music. Skip the pulled pork and chipotle coleslaw and go straight for the beef rib and brisket. That is really all you need to know. O, get there early.

Figure8 Coffee Purveyors: Cute spot with outside tables. Get some caffeination and enjoy sitting in the sunshine – the chocolate chip cookie hit the spot.

After you have stuffed yourself to the brim, go for a drive, walk along the river, do some shopping on South Congress street (cute shops with some unique items) and drop into Crossfit Central Downtown – the Misfits class with Nader is where the pain-cave is at. Make sure to give the pup-patrol some loving as they are the sweetest welcoming crew ever.

 

Charleston: A Culinary Treat

I don’t think it is a secret that I enjoy food. I especially enjoy trying local eateries, as I think they truly reveal the essence of the place I’m visiting. I tend to ask for suggestions from locals, follow the line, or rely on the input from my foodie friends. A quick trip to Charleston led to a delicious find in Poogan’s Smokehouse and a recommendation of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

I had no notion of where to eat lunch, however I walked by Poogan’s and noticed the water jugs, and jars used as water glasses, and said “I want to eat there, because I love those water jugs.” (Yes, I’m that simple!) It was a wonderful decision. The service was lovely and the food was incredible. I went with pork belly, collards, and eggs. The pork belly didn’t need sauce (however the house sauce is divine, with a mix of sweet and savory) and the collards were almost as good as my moms (and that is saying something!). The simple presentation  was the perfect pairing for fresh, yet innovative, southern cooking.

 

Jeni’s was recommended to me by a friend. I did some map questing and decided it would be worth walking just under a mile for a treat, as it was also en route from the carriage house back to the visitor’s centre where I had parked. The pleasant stroll ended in a line queuing for others also in search of a tasty treat. With options such as Wildberry Lavender, Lemon & Blueberry, Brambleberry Sorbet, and many others. The staff was helpful and friendly. The ice cream was absolutely worth the walk and the fact that this company’s mission is about community, fresh ingredients, and making people feel good makes it taste even better.

 

Building Charleston, SC: Carriage Views

A graduation celebration led me to Charlotte, NC. Sadly, I was rained out of any “sightseeing.”

However, Charleston, SC, proved to have picture perfect weather. My mom and I decided to take a historic carriage ride (I highly recommend Charleston Carriage Works) through Charleston to get acquainted with the history and sights. I was so impressed with the rich history and beautiful buildings in this beautiful southern city.

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Our wonderful guide, Dale

This was a great opportunity to put my city-scape photography to practice and I enjoyed being able to grab some clicks.

Signs…on Fremont Street

A trip to Vegas for a conference led to a trip to Fremont Street. The “Fremont Street Experience” included dinner at Le Thai (try the Short Rib Fried Rice!) and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells (the “show” showcased music by The Who).

The City of Brotherly Love

Cityscapes aren’t my forte (and less so at night). I had a great time exploring the city with classmates and loved being able to pull out the camera and practice.