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.

 

2016 – A Reflection in Clicks

Slightly late in post…please pardon the lack of appropriate timing. 

It has been a challenging year for me on many levels. I decided that instead of dwelling on all the ups and downs associated with the past year, I would revisit the year in photographs. I chose two sets of photos to look through: 1) photos taken with my camera and 2) photos taken with my phone.

As I went through each album, I was reminded of the adventure that the set of photos represented – each of these shots is a reflection of a memory of an event, a person, an entire experience…all captured in moment. From each album, or set, of photos I chose one photo that I liked the most (for whatever reason – maybe the memory of the particular moment the photo was taken, in some the photo subject represents an inspiration, maybe just from a technical perspective, the reasons are varied). I did realize that trying to sum up an entire trip, or adventure, in a single photo is not easy! I’m sure I may have missed some things, but the following slideshow is a pretty accurate representation of 2016’s major events summed up.

I hope you enjoy the trip through 2016 as much as I did!

Sometimes it takes looking back, to realize how much fun you had and how many adventures you experienced in the course of a year. Life is a learning experience – and the attitude you go into the experience with dictates what you learn and how you grow. I am finally beginning to understand that my reaction and my attitude towards what life throws at me is completely in my control – I am the captain of my own ship. While the seas may not always be smooth to sail upon, it doesn’t mean that I can’t approach the storms with a smile (granted sometimes forced), a positive attitude, and a willingness to learn from whatever the storm brings. A wise person said to me recently, “adversity brings growth.” 2016 has been a growing year! While I know it wasn’t all smiles, I bear the year no ill will.

As another section of my story comes to an end, I’m looking forward to 2017 and the adventures that it brings! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2016 Mantra: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”

 

Sending Postcards from the Inn

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Beach Chair View of St. Petersburg

Several years ago, while job hunting I came across the Postcard Inn. I applied for a job but at the time they were unfortunately (or fortunately) fully staffed. Since then, this property has been very high on my list of properties to spend a night (or several) at. Needless to say when the opportunity arose to stay at the property, I was all over it. To that end I would like to thank the gang from Crossfit Hunters Creek, Crossfit Taino, and The Pit Athletics for deciding to compete in Battle at the Beach! Now then, on with my review.

Upon walking in the front doors to check-in, the vibe was relaxed and casual but with a wonderful Gulf Coast flair. There was an immediate feeling of relaxation (complimentary postcards are available at the front desk…they will even mail them for you, postage included!!). The front office staff was perfect the entire weekend – always smiling and happy to help with questions (regardless of how silly they might be…not that I would ask such questions!)

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All about the balance

Throughout the hotel you can find a variety of wonderful touches that are reminiscent of a beach vacation back before there was internet or cell phones. From a variety of games available (pool table and ping pong in the courtyard, connect four, scrabble, and giant jenga in the lobby), a fire pit that is lit at night, rocking chairs, and lounge chairs galore to movie night in the lobby on Fridays…there is plenty to do when you feel the need to take a break from the sun.

The room was very well decorated. Bright, happy colors. Old photos on the wall, taken during various eras. A sitting area with a surf board on the wall. Plenty of room to lounge…but really who needs to spend time in the room when the fun is outdoors?!

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Beautiful room

The weather the entire weekend was beautiful and therefore I spent most of the weekend outdoors! In addition to the fun indoor games, the hotel has a beautiful pool, bicycles for use, and … did I mention it is right on the beach? Sure is! With beach chairs and beach couches for hotel guests to use. The PCI Beach Bar was were I spent a good chunk of my time, when I wasn’t on the beach. The bar staff was great (they even found the Dolphins game on tv for me!), the drinks were well priced (I suggest enjoying happy hour!) and the food was rather good (I suggest the fried shrimp or the Island chicken wrap!).

In addition to the bar, the Boathouse Kitchen & Bar is the full service restaurant on premise. I decided to treat myself on my last night for dinner in the restaurant…I enjoyed a wonderful lobster bisque, followed by a lobster ravioli (the seared scallops were out sadly) and paired with a Carnivore Cabernet. I decided to stave off my food coma with a sit by the fire pit, it was rather relaxing!

While there is more that I could go on about, all in all the experience exceeded my expectations. It was exactly what I needed after an intense 3 month of coursework. I would also like to congratulate my crossfit peeps for hitting the podium in 3rd place (respectively for male and female teams)….I can’t think of a better way to spend celebrating being ABD than to be able to grab clicks of my crossfit homies, enjoy some great beach weather, beautiful sunsets and finally get to stay at the Postcard Inn.

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Sunsets on the Gulf Coast

Hola, Cuisine de Peru

A little while back I noticed that a Peruvian restaurant opened up near me, Rustics’s Chicken: Rotisserie & Peruvian Cuisine. My mom was visiting and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to try something new.

The restaurant is small but clean and the staff was friendly. The menu was extensive with sections for appetizers, chicken dishes, beef dishes, seafood selection, and desserts. Prices ranged from $5.95 to $20.00. We tried the following:

Appetizer: Causa de Pollo: A friend explained this dish to me, so I knew I had to try it. The dish was made with yellow potato, hot pepper, lime juice, and chicken. It was very tasty, with a touch of heat and lots of flavor.

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Main dishes

Aguadito de Pollo: This chicken and cilantro soup was bursting with flavor. It was beautifully presented and pipping hot. The price of the dish was $8.95 but this is a full meal and the serving size was generous.

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Chaufa de Carne: This dish is fried rice with beef, green onions and eggs. The meat was well seasoned and this dish, like the other dishes was so full of flavor. It was served fresh and hot. The serving size was a generous portion of rice and plenty of beef.

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Having never tasted Peruvian food before, I had no point of reference as to what to try, what is traditional, and how things should taste. For me, I’m a fan of everything I tried and want to try more of the menu. All dishes were served fresh and hot. The service was wonderful and it was well priced. I would recommend the restaurant and will definitely go back.

Christmas in Ft. Meyers…In July

Impromptu adventures are the best kind of adventures!

My partner in crime had a bowling tournament in Ft. Myers (a Christmas in July themed tourney!). So I joined the fun as “the cheer-squad/personal assistant.” It was a blast! He did very well (setting a higher tourney average for himself and placing!), I got a crash course in bowling (no, I’m not ready for a pop quiz) and met some wonderful people!

Friday night after checking into the hotel, we decided that we were going to have a nice dinner and watch the sunset over the water (when you live on the East side of the state you see the sun rise, so watching the sun set is a treat!). We landed at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill.

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Every good adventure needs a handsome partner in crime

The vibe is beach/resort casual. The bottom deck is open seating, however for the upper deck, or inside, you do need to check-in with the hostess. Live music was playing on the bottom deck, just know that it is hard to hear from the upper deck.

[Hint: Take advantage of the complimentary valet parking, and don’t forget to tip your valet driver.]

Being that it was Friday night, we were a little worried about the wait time, especially as we opted for an outside table. The hostess gave us an estimated time of 30min, so we headed downstairs to the bar to grab a drink. (MUST TRY: Key Lime Pie Martini)

…15min later our table was ready! Score!

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It was tough deciding what to order.  The food is well priced, given that it is fresh seafood and a upper end-casual atmosphere (starters range from $8.95 – $12.95; sandwiches $9.95 – $17.95; entrees $19.95 and up).

As a starter we split 1/2 pound of peel-n-eat shrimp (cold) and steamed mussels. The mussels were divine! They were served in a red sauce with fresh garlic and onions (at one point we both were just drinking the sauce by the spoonful). The shrimp was also rather delectable and I probably could have downed another 1/2 pound. For my main, I went with the blackened grouper sandwich (great flavor and a good portion size) and a side of sweet potato fries.

Doc’s has an extensive drink menu, including 3 pages of rums (a “rum flight” is an option). The wine list is, well…crap…but who goes to a Rum Bar to drink wine?! I decided to try the “Happy Gator Mojito” as it had the Don Q rum and Key Lime Liquor that was in the Key Lime Mojito. Sadly, all I really tasted was sprite with a hint of mint and rum, but I really liked the mason jar it was served in! The drinks were well priced and there are daily drink specials and features. Definitely a little something for everyone.

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Happy Gator Mojito

Overall, the service was just ok. Our server seemed to forget about us at times. When he did come to the table he was very helpful and had a wonderful demeanor (his multitasking skills just need a touch bit of work for him to move from being ‘ok’ to ‘very good’).

We thoroughly enjoyed the view (it is worth the wait time…be it short or long) and the food. It was a fantastic evening and I would most definitely recommend Doc’s to anyone passing through Ft.Meyers.

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