Focus On Fun Travel

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Safety of Cancun vs the Rest of Mexico

     Barbi and I really enjoyed our time visiting 4 of the properties of Karisma Hotels, consisting of Azul Sensatori, Azul Fives, El Dorado Royale, El Dorado Maroma, and Generations Maroma.  Azul and Generations are fantastic family friendly properties, with plenty to do for adults and children alike.  The El Dorado properties are for adults.  Having between 30 and and 476 suites, each property has it's own uniqueness and ambiance.  All have access to fantastic beaches, one of which was listed in the top 10 by the Travel Channel (El Dorado Maroma).  The "Gourmet Inclusive" concept is also unique and award winning.  As Karisma Hotels States: "
Your Gourmet vacation starts the moment you enter one of our Mexico all inclusive honeymoon or vacation resorts in Cancun. You are greeted with a smile, a refreshing towel and a welcome cocktail. The décor and overall atmosphere of the resorts provide for a relaxed yet upscale environment with lush landscaping, beaches lined with beach beds and multiple pools with swim-up bars. You will be pampered with Gourmet services and amenities such as beach butlers, concierge, turn-down, 24-hour room service, premium beverages and Gourmet cuisine. The latter, which is the foundation for Gourmet Inclusive, has been lauded “Superb,” “Best in class,” “Decadent” and “Outstanding.” To us it simply means creating delicious meals in pleasant environments by our star chefs. Here, you will be indulged with Gourmet hospitality every moment of your stay."

     During our stay, I had many opportunities to converse with locals about the area around Cancun and on down the coast past Playa Del Carmen.  My main objective was to get a feel for the safety of this area.  Mexico has been plaqued in recent years with volence issues, most of which are limited to the boarder town regions, such as Chihuahua, Nogales, Tijuana, and Juarez.  Some spillage has occured in popular places like Mazatlan and Acapulco.  But here in Cancun, where this location relies almost 100% on tourism, it is safe.  Just like any city, there are pockets where tourists and even some locals avoid, like spots in "OLD" Cancun, which have issues from time to time.  However, these are places that tourists are not taken through.  I can think of similar places in Glendale, AZ; West Valley City, UT; Baltimore, MD (Where I am at at this moment); Miami, FL, and New York City.  Unfortunately, violence in all of it's terrible forms, exists because this world and the people in it are not perfect.  Interestingly enough, when I booked my travel through a corporate travel organization, from Cancun to Baltimore, I received a warning letter telling me that I was traveling to a very dangerous city, with many murders, and that the American Consolate was located in Washington, D.C. if I needed help.  I thought it was hilarious.

     Cancun, according to a USAToday article in 2011, produces 50% of all of Mexico's income.  It is a very vital and strategic place to keep safe.  Funjet Vacations states in the same article, that "91% of people who go to Mexico express satisfaction and intend to go back."  I can raise my hand as part of that 91%.  I felt very safe wherever I went.  In fact, we visited Ensenada Mexico this past July, and I observed that all of the streets I travelled on were definitley closer to this century.  The streets were clean and well signed.  Whenever we entered a hotel zone, and then again when entering a specific property, our shuttle or bus was stopped and questions were asked as to who was entering, how many were entering, and why.  Victor, one of our guides from Lomas Travel, noted that people cannot come and go as they please from these properties.  Security personnel are always at the gates.  When Barbi and I checked out, we were given a check out pass, which was showed to the bell boy.

     Mexico is a big country, and certainly, there are issues.  But when it comes to Cancun, The Riviera Maya, and Playa del Carmen, I have no concerns there at all.  I would, and do encourage people to travel to this hot spot of beauty.  The people who work in these resorts are happy to have you there.  They greet you all the time with an "hola" or "Buenos Dias"...Or...Would you like a Margarita, Senor? No? Pina Colada?  Mojito?  I have to say, I got hooked on the Virgin Mojito's served up by the staff in the Mojito Bar.  Seriously here, my friends.  If I could return tomorrow and spend a couple weeks, I would!  There are two bucket list items that still need to be fulfilled.  Swimming with Whale Sharks and Visiting Tulum.  And then there is Chichen itza.  Oh, and shopping in Playa del Carmen.  Oh and Scuba Diving.  And.......

We Are Here For You

Friday, September 13, 2013

To Be All Inclusive or Gourmet Inclusive

     We have taken a step off the cruise ship and onto the beach by visiting Azul Sensatori Mexico, in the Riviera Maya.  As a result, we have discovered there is a difference in the All Inclusive Resorts and what Karisma Hotels calls, Gourmet Inclusive.  This resort caters to adults, couples, groups, and families (I am big on that), with lavish amenities and services that foster togetherness.  Unique amenities offered include 24 hour room service, Beach Butlers, King Size Beach Beds, Private Swim up Suites, full service concierge, and gourmet cuisine served a la carte.

     Arriving in Cancun, which we have never flown into before, was yet another learning experience, which we always want to share with you.  Our package included transportation from the airport to the resort through Lomas Travel.  This organization is easily picked out since they wear teal shirts and white ties.  What I did not realize is that they were outside the terminal.  Before getting there, we were accosted by vendors trying to sell us Transportation, excursions, and day trips, saying, "Yes, we know Lomas, and we work with them. Go see Manuel over there".  When we finally figured out what was going on, 15 minutes later, and got ourselves outside, we found our Lomas team happily waiting for us.  They had our names, loaded us up in a Lincoln Navigator equipped with WiFi, and headed down the road.  So lesson is, if you fly into Cancun and we have already scheduled your transportation, nicely pass all those people by and head OUT the quick as you can!!!!  I would highly suggest you reserve the transportation before hand anyhow.  Peace of Mind, ya know.

     Being September, and having the beginnings of a tropical depression on the otherside of the Yucatan, have made it a very rainy time.  So much rain has come down, as we were travelling down the road to the resort, it became a lake. Like a 2 mile long Lake.  I jokingly told our driver, "I guess this makes walking to the resort difficult?"  He responded, "Oh yes. And there are alligators out there too."  Needless to say, I did not jump out.  It seems very remote getting to the resort, but here along the Riviera Maya, there are resorts as far as you can see.  The weather is warm and it is very humid.  Just know, it's the way it is here. Always be prepared for rain.  I think it's funny.  All these people hanging out by the pool.  It starts to rain, and they get up and run inside.  I walked around int he rain yesterday and found it to be warmer than the pool water and actually quite nice to be in.  The ocean is also warm, which makes getting in really fun.  Not JAcuzzi warm mind you, but halfway in between San Diego and St Petersburg, FL in the height of summer.  NICE!

     I could get very used to this.  I love exploring different country's with the cruise option. But when it's time to just relax, I am definitely doing the Gourmet Inclusive. The Molcajete we had at Zocalo last night was out of this world.  Truely a myan inspired gourmet dish.  Lunch on the beach today included Paella, which was the best I have ever had.  Tonight, we are going to the Italian Restaurant, Siena.  These types of specialty restaurants would cost you an additional $15 - $25 per person on a cruise ship.  Here!  It's included. 
We Are Here For You

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Planning your Alaska Cruise

     We are in the waning hours of preparation for boarding the Star Princess heading to Alaska on a 7 day voyage.  Many of our friends are asking questions like, "can I use my WiFi Hotspot?" or "Is WiFi available on the ship" or "How much does it cost to make a phone call?"

     Getting on a cruise ship allows you to leave your cares behind or stay in control of all your business.  Technology has grown so fast that we don't have to be completely out of contact when sailing on the high seas.  It is important for you to discover the details of your two sources of communication. Your wireless provider and your cruise ship.

     Princess cruises, who we are sailing on to Alaska on Sunday, has done a good job of having WiFi available in almost all the guest staterooms and public areas.  But WiFi is not free.  All cruise lines charge to have access to their WiFi network, so contemplate how many minutes of connection time you might need, and purchase it when you get on board. Then have fun surfing away, though don't expect fast throughput speeds.  It is satellite based, ya know!

     All the cruise lines have agreements with the major cell phone carriers, which allow you to make phone calls on your cell phone and receive emails on your smart phone device.  But, again, the carriers usually charge international rates when on the cruise ship.  The same goes with sending and receiving emails or browsing the Internet on your smart phone or tablet (Including the HotSpot), except that deals with "Data".  Talk to your wireless carrier on international data roaming.  We don't want you to be surprised with a several hundred dollar bill when you get home, because your smart phone works on the ship.  The ship may not block you and your carrier may not warn you.

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Seattle - The Arrival

     We always recommend that those departing on a cruise, should arrive in your port city early.  For us, and departing on July 8th (The 4th being a Wednesday), and also having family that lives in the Seattle area, it was a great excuse to come in 5 days early!  I was most excited to get away from the state of Utah being on fire...Literally!  We have not had rain for more than 38 days, and the average temperature has been somewhere around "Welcome to Hell". With consistent south winds, and people who do not even listen or watch the news for 5 seconds each day, the fires burning in Utah continue to be mostly human caused. How sad is that?  But I slightly digress!

     As I said, I am excited to get away from the fires, the heat, the lack of rain, and the lack of green, to head somewhere where green abounds. The reason for that green is of course...RAIN!  Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey. Whiskey makes my baby, just a little frisky".  We arrived at SeaTac airport at 11am, with lots of clouds and the temperature right around 60 degrees! AHHH!  I love walking down the concourse with different fish imprinted in the floor. Salmon is most noticeable.  I have to say, being in the pacific northwest, I am really pumped about consuming a lot of fish.  My cousin picked us up in her truck (there are 5 of us), and getting out of the airport was a breeze.  We quickly moved to I5 and headed south to where my cousin lives.

     Similar feeling of visiting the Washington D.C. Area came to me, because of the tall trees and vines growing everywhere.  I feel like breathing deeply when ever I visit here..and I do!  Heading through the Tacoma area, my cousin told us about the Brown-Haley Almond Roca Outlet Store here.  WHAT?  Oh my, we have to visit.  People are excited about the 4th of July tomorrow, and fireworks are going off sporadically around us here in Olympia.  Unlike Utah, fireworks are not banned here because of the threat of a wild fire.  Tall old growth forests, ferns that seem like they are still growing from the Jurassic period, Moss growing on roofs.  I love it here!

We Are Here For You.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting to Hawaii..And the World. Best Values!

Hawaiian Sunset
Photo By  Arvind Balaraman
     Barbi and I have been feeling sticker SHOCK at airline prices from Salt Lake City to Honolulu lately.  Fuel prices continue to drive up the cost of Jet-A, and thus flights from here to there.  I have a work associate who has a son serving as a missionary in Hawaii (I Know! Tough gig, huh?), and they would like to return there with him, after he is finished with his service time.  I mentioned to him that airfare from Utah is running between $939 and over $1,200 per person. GAG...Gulp!  Then he stated something I have always known.  "For that kind of money, I might as well cruise there and back."  Uh, YEAH!

     I know this might not be for everyone, especially those who don't have to penny pinch.  But if you have 2 weeks, why not consider a round trip Los Angeles cruise to Hawaii?  Right now, in April 2013, published fares on range from $1,695 for an inside to $2,595 for a balcony cabin.  you catch a quick $250 flight to LA, board the ship, and relax.  Two weeks of pure bliss!  No 6 hour flights (Both ways), in a cramped coach seat, where the comfort was left in the terminal.  Here, you can drink a Mai Tai. Get a Tan.  Catch a show.  Watch a movie on the big screen outside.  Visit 4 of the Hawaiian Islands and Ensenada Mexico.  I am telling you, there is no more comfortable and value based way to visit Hawaii!

     Fly to Hawaii ($1,000), Stay in a 4 star resort ($200 per person/per day), Rental Car ($40 per person/per day), and $50.00 for meals per person/per day for 7 days, and stay ONLY on Oahu (Honolulu).   You would EASILY spend $3,000 per person for the trip.  No entertainment. GAS for the rental car is expensive. That is an average of $428 per person/per day.

     Fly to Los Angeles ($250), Board the Golden Princess (4 Star Resort all by itself) and unpack in your balcony stateroom $2,595. Cost would be $2,845 per person. That's $203 per person/per day (Half the price).  And you are not limited to just 1 island, but 4.  A total of 44 hours spend between all the islands port time.  Minimum 9 hours. You can do about anything while you are there.

     So, when considering travelling to a distant land, consider cruising there.  I have a friend who does not like to fly, so they are boarding a cruise ship this month in Australia and cruising to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Travel between New York and London in 6 days. (No Jet Lag There)  Ft. Lauderdale and Rome in 14 days. Ft. Lauderdale and Manaus Brasil.  Los Angeles to Santiago Chile.  Vancouver to Beijing China. No matter the destination, a cruise ship can get you pretty dang close.

We Are Here For You

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Keeping up with Cruising

The cruising industry (Not Tom Cruise) continues to grow and keep up with the ever changing world we live in.  And though there have been "Incidents" over the last year, more and more people are embracing the excellent way to travel that we know as a CRUISE!  Unpack Once! Visit many places without having to repack, go through an airport, schedule multiple hotels, etc.  In the last 5 years, because of cruising, Barbi and I have visited 29 countries, seen things we only dreamed of, and made long lasting friends.

  • More people booked on Costa for the up-coming Easter weekend than last year!
  • Carnival Destiny is going through a $155M makeover and being renamed the Carnival Sunshine, and will home port in New Orleans.
  • The New Royal Princess debut's next year with some of the most exciting innovation in the industry.
  • Carnival Sunshine departs the shipyard at Fincantieri in Italy in April 2013 with Carnival 2.0 in force on the ship, along with 182 new staterooms.
  • Norwegian Breakaway enters service in April 2013 taking passengers on 7 day fun filled voyages to Bermuda from New York City.
  • Viking took possesion of 4 new ships this year and have ordered 4 more for 2014.
  • Barbi and I are escorting 400 people on 2 cruises this year to Alaska and Hawaii.
I mentioned Norwegian Breakaway and Bermuda in the news briefs above.  Some people don't want to be "stuck" on a ship for 7 days.  Well, Here is an excellent adventure!  On Norwegian's itinerary, you spend 2 days sailing from New York to Bermuda, then you are "Camped" there for almost 3 full days.  Take your time and explore every nook and cranny of this pink sand wonder.  Don't feel hurried to get back to the ship! When you are tired, come back to the ship to sleep.  It is there for you. Next day, enjoy! When you depart, there is only the evening and the next full day at sea, then back in New York City. Easy access to anywhere in the world from there!

Warwick Long Bay, Bermuda (Photo By Scott Cleghorn)

We Are Here For You

Monday, January 16, 2012

Royal Caribbean Voyage Of The Seas Review

Voyager of the Seas Review
Voyager Of The Seas - Grand Cayman
                First Impression. WOW!  When this ship launched in 2006, it was the largest cruise ship in the world. At 1081 feet long and 138 feet wide, she is impressive to behold.  And for me, this ship would continue to impress me all week long on our Western Caribbean itinerary departing out of New Orleans, LA.
                We arrived in the “Big Easy” the day before departure to experience some of what the Crescent City has to offer.  Lucky for us, the BCS championship game between LSU and Alabama was scheduled for the following Monday, so we were not alone in wanting to party.  Because of all the college students, we got a glimpse of what Mardi Gras would be like on Bourbon Street. WILD!

  And I even scored some beads to take home.  Visiting New Orleans would not be complete without  shopping and eating in the French Quarter and visiting one of the famous cemeteries.  I have always been partial to St Louis Cemetery #1, where the tomb of Marie Laveau is situated.  A celebrated voodoo queen, many visit her grave with gifts to bring them good luck.  To the lady who left the almost empty packet of Birth Control Pills, I hope your luck was incredible!  Along those same lines, I made sure to pick up some voodoo dolls to bring home to my friends.  Just in case they need them in the future.
                We stayed in the Drury Inn and Suites and were surprised at how nice these accommodations were.  Convenient to walking to Bourbon St and the down town area, it was very well appointed.  What I did not like was the constant sound of the trolley passing by on train tracks all night long.  I am a light sleeper and the noise kept me up.  If you stay there, get a room on the opposite side of the hotel from the trolley.  Don’t miss 5:30 kickback in the evenings.  It is a light dinner.  Breakfast is perfect to get you going.
                Arriving at the Port of New Orleans is a little odd if you are arriving by car.  You have to drive almost 2 miles out of the way to drop off baggage, which is what we did so we would be able to enjoy the morning without having to drag around our bags.  We drove to the port at 10:30 and easily dropped off our bags…twice.  After dropping off our car at Avis on Canal Street, and after winding our way through the French Quarter,
we picked up the trolley car at Canal Street, which dropped us off at the cruise terminal.  Nice!
                We have never arrived at the cruise port at a time when everyone else in the world is arriving!  The line was incredibly long.  But we proceeded steadily and at a decent pace through the first security check point.  Have your boarding pass and passport/birth certificate handy.  From there we went through the carry-on bag screening.  Don’t try to carry onboard any irons, pocket knives, or alcohol.  It’ll be confiscated!  Then, we finally got to check-in, which really only took about 10 minutes.  Have your boarding pass and passport/birth certificate in hand.  BY now, we had been in the process about 45 minutes.  Not bad.  After receiving our Sea Pass cards, we headed up the escalator to board the ship, being stopped 3 times along the way to show our Sea Pass cards (Like anyone could smuggle their way through to this point!!), we arrived at the first ship photo opportunity.  After so many cruises, we now just pass by and say no thanks.
                Entering the Voyager of the Seas on Deck 4 forward, near the La Scala Theater.  Due to a small outbreak of the Noro Virus on the previous sailing, The crew was spending a little extra time deep cleaning, so boarding time was delayed about an hour, which was another reason why we were boarding at the time as everyone else.  Cruise ship companies always say the health and safety of the passengers and crew are their first priority.  I really appreciate that!  Here are 2 banks of 3 elevators, port and starboard side.   Incredibly, we were immediately able to get aboard one elevator to take us to deck 9, where we stayed in an inside, wheel chair accessible stateroom (9557).  My mother joined us on this cruise.  As she uses a walker and a wheel chair, the accessible room was a necessity.  We were really happy with the oversized inside stateroom.  There is room enough to move around, and to store the wheel chair and walker.  OH!  The Walker!  We checked it with Royal Caribbean, who must have put it on the bottom of one of those large bins and threw 1,000 pounds of luggage on top of it.  When it was delivered to the stateroom, it was bent and Broken.  Note to anyone travelling with both modes of transportation.  Keep them with you.  Lucky, the broken support bar was not completely broken through, and the walker remained usable throughout the cruise.  The person at the Guest Services desk reimbursed my mother to get a new one.
                The Voyager of the Seas is a remarkable ship, even after 6 years since it emerged.  It has so many venues to keep you busy and entertained.  The La Scala Theater was the place we found ourselves almost every evening. We saw the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers perform 4 different times.  Glenn Smith, Las Vegas Dynamic Entertainer was amazing. Dan Grueter’s comedy had us rolling in the aisles, even though he picked on us Utah people, and Michigan, and Ohio, and newlywed’s. What fun.  And what a beautiful theater it is.  Honestly, the most beautiful I have ever seen.  This ship sports a regulation size ice skating rink in Studio B on deck 3.  We watched an awesome production Ice Skating show that was right out of the Olympics or Disney On Ice.  In Cleopatra’s needle, we watched a Jazz Cabaret Show performed by the Royal Caribbean Singers.  And the dance floor was there to be used by everyone.  A note here.  The Connoisseur Club is next door and Cigar smoke is very strong at the entrance and the back part of the theater.  Take seats up front to avoid the smoke if you don’t like it.
                The most fabulous, and innovative at the time, is the Royal Promenade. 
Located on deck 5 down the middle of the ship from forward to aft elevators, this area is full of life at almost all times of the day and night.  Enjoy some Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream.  Take in a slice of Pizza, a cookie, or a sandwich at Café Promenade.  Shop til you drop at all the shops the ship has to offer.  Enjoy a live football game at the sports bar.  If you need any assistance, Guest Services and the Shore Excursion desk are here too.  This area is wide open and airy, being 5 stories tall and also sports windows from inside cabins that have windows overlooking the promenade.  I often wondered just how quiet those rooms are with an entertainer playing a loud guitar in the Pig and Whistle Pub right below.  I would love to hear from anyone on this.  There are a lot of other places to visit, so check out the inside of the ship.  Don’t miss out on staring at the $8.5M worth of art that is on permanent display onboard the Voyager of the Seas.  Most of it Roman and Greek in origin.
                Outside, you can enjoy so many things, you will never be board.  When I visited the rear of deck 13 and 14, I was amazed to find the basketball court in full swing.  Not a full court game of hoops, but half court game, with the other half being used as a soccer game.  I have never seen this on any ship I have ever been on.  
And the other times I went back there, it was still being used.  It’s not just the basketball court, but also the table tennis tables, the 9 hole miniature golf course, the inline skate track, and OH, the Rock Climbing wall.  I climbed that wall twice.  Cool!  Back here is also a children’s play pool area.  Deck 11 sports 2 salt pools and 6 hot tubs, which are often the center of all the outside activities.  On day 6, ribs were barbequed and served pool side with lots of music and deck chairs for sun worshipping.  As is typical, there is an adults only area that also has a salt pool and 2 large hot tubs, in a quiet area with 6 famous Greek gods and generals watching over the area.
                If you want to stay fit while cruising, the Ship Shape fitness center on deck 11 forward is very large, with lots and lots of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bicycles, and free weights. Use of a sauna and steam room are available here.  Or simply plop into a hot tub here too.  This is the best fitness center ever!  Up on deck 12, there is a running track that you can run a mile after 5 laps.  Barbi and I mostly prefer to take the stairs whenever we move from deck to deck to get our exercise.
                Food is an important part of cruising.  There are 3 main dining rooms on decks 3, 4, and 5 aft.
  The Garden Café on Deck 11 is the ever popular buffet.  Café Promenade as I mentioned earlier, or room service.  For specialty dining, try Johnny Rockets on deck 12 for a old fashioned burger and fries. Eat all you want for $4.95 each.  Their famous malt shakes are extra, but for returning Crown and Anchor members, your coupon book will have a 2 for 1 in it.  Use it.  Portofino  next to the Garden Café on Deck 11, is the specialty Italian restaurant for $20 per person.  My biggest complaint here is that the Garden Café closes at 9pm.  If you want a real meal after 9 pm, it’ll either be Johnny Rockets (Open to midnight) or room service (A $3.95 fee applies between midnight and 5am).  Café Promenade is open 24 hours, but it is light snacks…unless you want to eat your fill of Pizza.
                Overall, I really enjoyed my time on the Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas.  Our stateroom was excellent.  Our cabin steward (Pedro) was effective and took care of our room when we were not there.  Our waiters, Made and Artem, in the Carmen Room, were awesome and attentive.  The Roast Lamb was the best I ever had.  My very favorite spot on the ship? 
High Notes Lounge, Deck 14 in the Viking Crown.  OMH!  The best view of any ship I have ever been on, that is inside.  Another favorite…access to the very front of the ship at all times for that “King of the World” moment.
                Wishes for improvement.  
·         WiFi available in all staterooms (This should happen in dry dock next year).
·         The Garden Café open 24 hours
·         There is supposed to be 1 heated pool.  I could not find it.  Make that happen with fresh water instead of salt.
·         Passenger use laundramat, for the self serving passenger.

We Are Here For You