5 Places to Go If You Love Mexico

Mexico holds a special place for anyone who’s made the trek south of the border. There’s the history, pre-Colombian and post, the beautiful beaches and the natural wonders. There’s the food, the all-inclusive resorts, and, always a factor for vacation, the affordability. Mexico does not, however, hold a monopoly on these features and, if you’re looking for something just a little different, here are 5 fantastic alternatives that will make you want to quit your job and stay.

The Ruins: Belize

Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)
Temple in Plaza A in Caracol, Belize (Photo: Dennis Jarvis)

Some of the amazing discoveries in Mexico are the Mayan ruins that pepper the Yucatan peninsula. Even though the Mexican pre-Colombian sites are very well taken care of, if you journey to Belize, you’ll see an extension of the Mayan landmarks. These southern sights are different in one particular aspect. At a few of the different sites, you can actually climb the ruins.

Check out Tikal to climb the tallest temple steps; or head over to Caracol, the largest Mayan ruins. Caracol is so large, it’s still being excavated and covers an area twice as large as current capital of Belize, Belize City.

The Beaches: US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)
Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands (Photo: Everett Carrico)

In Mexico, you’re bound to spend a lot of time at the beach. A country with two long coastlines boasts countless beach destinations such as Riviera Maya, Acapulco, Cabo, and so on; but there are other beaches only a few hours plane ride away that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Trunk Bay on St. John Island in the US Virgin Islands is paradise in beach form. The waters so pristine, you’ll want to bring a snorkel, and the beach (and the US Virgin Islands) remote enough to ensure you won’t be battling the hordes that go to places like Cancun and can relax and enjoy life in Island Time.

The Food: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's Mofongo (Photo: Jing)
Puerto Rico’s Mofongo (Photo: Jing)

Mexico has the taco. Puerto Rico has mofongo. This iconic dish is a staple of Puerto-Rican cuisine and should be on everyone’s itinerary when they visit Puerto Rico. Think of a dumpling where the dough is made from plantains and stuffed and cooked with savory meats.

Puerto Rican food doesn’t end there however. Pasteles are the tamales of Puerto Rico and, though hefty, are often served as side dishes. You can also find Lechon (roast suckling pig), Arroz con Gandules (their own take on rice and beans), and a whole litany of fried finger foods such as Cuchifritos and Frituras, among others.

The Resorts: the Dominican Republic

Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)
Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Invariably, one of the reasons people head to Mexico is to stay at all-inclusive resorts. These resorts bring the luxury of a pampered experience with off-site activities that will remind you why you came to Mexico in the first place.

The Dominican Republic is a fantastic alternative when looking elsewhere for a new resort. Not only does the Dominican Republic house a Club Med with its own Cirque de Soleil playscape (Creactive), but also a plethora of other resorts to vacation such as the Excellence Punta Cana and the Now Larimar Punta Cana. Most resorts either offer or can help book area excursions.

Nature: Costa Rica

Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)
Sloth in Costa Rica (Courtesy Visit Costa Rica)

Biodiversity is not exclusively a feature of Mexico. Though there are great opportunities to see incredible wildlife (from nature reserves to more developed areas like the aqua park Xel-Ha) in Mexico, Costa Rica is in many ways the place to go to explore the wilderness.

Due to a more a nascent tourist industry and lower levels of development, places like Tortuguero National Park, where you can watch several species of turtles nest and return to sea, and Corcovado National Park, where you can find all 4 species of the indigenous monkeys, will capture your attention. In fact, Corcovado is not only great for finding monkeys but you can also find Tapirs, sloths, anteaters, and, if you’re lucky, the jaguar. While there, make sure to wander the Cloud Forests.

Insider’s Guide: Universal Orlando Resort

Orlando, Florida, theme park capital of the world, has over 10 amusement parks catering to theme park lovers and Florida vacationers in its huge metropolitan limits. But none of these are more centered on the magic and adventure of the motion pictures than Universal Orlando Resort and its two theme parks.

Less than 10 miles from Downtown Orlando, the family-friendly theme park resort, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, gives visitors unique opportunities to relive their favorite movies and TV shows, and has rightly earned a top spot as a vacation destination for families and movie lovers everywhere, attracting millions from all over the globe each year.

From Jurassic Park island and the Revenge of the Mummy adventure to the two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter and the Minion Mayhem ride, the resort certainly lives up to its catchphrase, “Ride the Movies.”



Whether you are on the budget, planning to splurge or traveling with a large group, Universal Orlando is more than ready to accommodate your family with its four onsite hotels, three of which are deluxe. These kid-friendly hotels provide fantastic, themed accommodations for its guests, not to mention convenient access to the parks and other exclusive perks like Unlimited Express Passes (deluxe hotels only), complimentary shuttle to/from the parks, and complimentary early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal’s Cabana Bay ResortUniversal’s Cabana Bay Resort (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort. As the resort’s value/moderate hotel and most recent addition, Cabana Bay is a bright and vibrant hotel that will appeal to guests’ retro sensibilities with its gorgeous design that combines Mad Men’s coolness with The Jetsons’s groovy fun factor. The hotel features two kid-friendly pools, a lazy river, a waterslide, and a bowling alley for unlimited fun, as well as connecting rooms, family suites with kitchenettes, restaurants, and a Starbucks.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort. If tropical paradise is more your family’s taste, then the Royal Pacific Resort should be the base for your Universal Orlando vacation. This award-winning deluxe resort delivers an island getaway in the middle of Central Florida with its exotic, tropical island theme complete with three pools, a stunning lagoon with a seaplane, and fantastic island cuisine. The guest rooms and suites offer family-friendly amenities such as high definition cable TVs, refreshment pantry, WiFi, and evening turndown service upon request.

Hard Rock Hotel. While Royal Pacific takes guests to a tropical island getaway, family-friendly Hard Rock Hotel transports guests to sunny California for a fancy celebrity treatment, with its Spanish Mission architecture and rock star lifestyle. Its popular rock ‘n roll memorabilia and its free all-encompassing music amenity program, The Sound of Your Stay, attract music fans, while its four pools give kids plenty of space to splash around in. Music-inspired rooms and suites feature the same amenities as Royal Pacific, but with an A-lister twist.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The most luxurious of Universal Orlando’s hotels, Portofino Bay features a charming Mediterranean theme and design reminiscent of the seaside Italian resort village it is named after, from its waterfront pastel facades down to its piazza. Its two pools, waterslide, character dining and Despicable Me suites are most appealing to the kids, while its Harbor Nights, spa, nightly serenades are appeal to the older guests. Along with its standard rooms and suites that come with luxurious cotton bathrobes are Club rooms that feature a personal concierge service, complimentary breakfast, and afternoon hors d’oeuvres and refreshments.

Loews Sapphire Falls. Coming in the summer of 2016 is the latest full-service Universal Orlando hotel, which will feature 1,000 rooms and suites, a tropical lagoon, a waterfall, and a pool with a waterslide, sand beach and fire pit.


Get Your Bearings

Located southwest of Orlando, around 16 miles north of Kissimmee and 13 miles west of the Orlando International Airport, Universal Orlando Resort is separated into 3 main areas – Universal CityWalk, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios Florida.



The resort has an extensive transportation network for its guests that include water taxis, shuttle buses, a Super Star Shuttle to/from the airport and partner hotels, and the Hogwarts Express ride that provides an easy and entertaining access between the two parks.


Theme Parks and Water Parks

Universal Studios Florida. Universal Studios Florida, like the original Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, revolves around the big and small screens, with its attractions based on some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and TV shows like The Mummy, Transformers, Twister, The Simpsons and Harry Potter. It is home to the resort’s most recent attraction addition, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. Find out what it’s like when a tornado strikes on Twister, become a Minion on Minion Mayhem, and explore the vast underground of Gringotts on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.

Universal’s Islands of AdventureUniversal’s Islands of Adventure (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The smaller of the two parks and home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure takes guests on an adventurous journey through thrilling superhero feats, a prehistoric land, a village in the magical world, and many more. Cool down on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, get a rush of adrenaline on the Incredible Hulk and Doctor Doom’s Freefall, and go on a magical ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Wet ‘n Wild Orlando. Located off-site is the popular waterpark acquired by the resort in the early 2000s, featuring water-based attractions that include a lazy river, exciting tube slides, body slides, a surf lagoon, and a water play area for the younger crowd.

Universal’s Volcano Bay. Coming in 2017 is the resort’s first on-site waterpark set to feature a tropical island theme.



Universal Studios Orlando tickets vary, depending on the length of visit and park access. One-day, single park admissions are at $102 for adults and $97 for kids, while one-day park-to-park admissions are at $147 for adults and $142 for kids, offering a whopping $57 discount. Note that the Hogwarts Express is only accessible to guests with park-to-park tickets.

During peak season, lines are exceedingly long especially for the most popular attractions. If you only have a day or two to spend at the resort, the Universal Express Pass comes in very handy! It gives guests front-of-the-line access to many of the rides, cutting waiting times down to more than half, which will give guests more time to explore other areas of the parks. Express Passes start at $84.99 (in addition to your Universal Studios Orlando tickets), but come complimentary for guests staying at one of the onsite deluxe hotels.

Take a break from the parks and enjoy show night fun with the kids. The very cool, wildly hilarious and super interactive Blue Man Group, a stirring show that combines art, technology and music, inspires creativity in its captive audience. Blue Man Group tickets start at $60 per adult and $30 per child.


Beyond the Parks

Universal CityWalkUniversal CityWalk (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

A plethora of shopping, fun and entertainment opportunities are available at the Universal CityWalk, from the Universal Studios Store and a number of retail kiosks that sell park merchandise to its IMAX theater and mini golf.

Perhaps the best thing about Universal CityWalk, however, is the terrific dining experience it offers visitors. While this free area of the resort has the usual chains like Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Café, it’s also home to wonderful unique restaurants like the new Vivo Italian Kitchen and The Cowfish.


Peak and Off-Peak Seasons

As a popular vacation destination, Universal Orlando Florida is never not busy, but it’s especially crowded during spring break, from late May to Labor Day, and during the winter holidays.

Off-peak times include the week after Labor Day until just before Thanksgiving, before spring break, and the weeks following Thanksgiving until before the Christmas holidays.



Vivo Italian KitchenVivo Italian Kitchen (Courtesy Universal Orlando)

Vivo Italian Kitchen. Authentic Italian isn’t easy to find, especially at a theme park. That’s what makes Vivo – and its delectable dishes – an unexpected and delightful surprise. A new addition to CityWalk, the modern Italian restaurant prides itself on its flavorful creations, a diverse menu and the friendly, welcoming staff, making it the perfect dining choice for families with kids. Their addictive Risotto with mushrooms and tender short ribs are perfect for a hearty meal after a long, active day at the parks, while their perfectly cooked salmon is great for those looking for a lighter meal. Kids will love the pizza and pasta selections. Start your meal off with the Warm Caprese and its delicious balsamic-tomato jam, and cap it off with a nice cup of Lavazza coffee with hints of chocolate.

The Cowfish. A fusion of burgers and sushi might sound slightly weird, but this new CityWalk restaurant makes it work. The burger bar offers delicious specialty rolls with awesome names like Dion’s OMG! and Firecraker as well as burgers like the Black Truffle Cheese Burger and the Boursin Bacon Burger. Want the best of both worlds? Order a bento box. The kids will love their selection of milkshakes.

Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron. Whether or not you and your family are big Harry Potter fans, dining at these two restaurants legendary in JK Rowling’s world is a must. Enjoy a traditional English breakfast at Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade before the rest of the park opens, and re-nourish at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley for lunch. Don’t forget to get everyone his or her own “pint” of frozen Butterbeer, a must to complete the Harry Potter experience.


Child Swap

Child Swap is a fantastic amenity that will give parents a chance to fully enjoy the Universal Orlando parks without sacrificing their kids’ safety and well-being.

When your kids aren’t tall enough or brave enough one of the more exhilarating rides, be sure to take full advantage of the Child Swap option at Universal Orlando so you and your spouse/partner can go on the rides without waiting in line twice for the same ride. When it’s your turn in line, your spouse/partner waits with your little one in an air-conditioned room furnished with seats and a television while you get on the ride. Once you’re finished, you just switch places with him or her at the Child Swap area so he or she can bypass the lines and simply take his or her turn on the ride.

This feature is available at several thrill rides, including (but not limited to) Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the Incredible Hulk.


Insider Tips

  • Get the kids their own interactive wands at Ollivanders and let your little witches and wizards perform underage magic at more than 20 spots around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
  • Planning to get wet? Make sure to bring extra clothes for you and the kids. Or pay $5 to dry off inside one of the gigantic People Dryers near Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
  • A future archeologist in the family? Visit the Jurassic Park Discovery Center for an educational and interactive experience.
  • Universal offers different dining plans (including character breakfasts) that start at $12.99 for your family’s nutrition needs.


(Originally published on MiniTime.com)

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10 Things You Absolutely Have to Do in Puerto Rico

It may be a small island, but Puerto Rico is arguably one of the most beautiful and lush destinations in the Caribbean that afford diversity in attractions and activities. You can go hiking in a tropical rainforest one minute and exploring the old forts of a historic coastal city the next, and still have plenty of time to squeeze a little bit of R&R in a private island.

Here are ten of the best activities you absolutely have to do when visiting Puerto Rico.


Explore the Rainforest, Muddy Hiking Trails and All

Waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest | Photo: Michelle Rae
Waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest | Photo: Michelle Rae

El Yunque (http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque) is the only tropic rainforest in the United States, and it just so happens to be in Puerto Rico. But don’t let its title intimidate you – it has a plethora of attractions that even the kids will find easily accessible. Start by visiting the roadside La Coca Waterfalls (but do be careful on those slippery rocks) then climb the Yokahu Tower for its sweeping views of the forest and the coast and then take a trail, the muddier the better, to one of the forest’s more hidden attractions.

Tip: Pack a picnic basket, plenty of water and your best hiking shoes.


Stay at El Conquistador Resort, For a Day or Two or However Long You Want

El Conquistador Resort | Photo: Michelle Rae
El Conquistador Resort | Photo: Michelle Rae

Even non resort-loving travelers will LOVE this piece of paradise located only about 15 minutes away from the town of Fajardo. El Conquistador (http://www.elconresort.com/) will capture any traveler’s heart, families with kids especially, what with its stunning location at the top of a cliff, its waterpark that comes with lovely views of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea, as well as its private island, Palomino, which comes with its own sandbar that made movie history. Looking to sample the island’s traditional dishes? The resort makes a point of not only integrating the Puerto Rican way of cooking but also adding local dishes on the menus.

Tip: Allocate an entire day on Palomino Island, as there are many things to do there, including snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing, and horseback riding.


Kayak Through a Mangrove Forest to a Bioluminescent Bay, in Darkness

Kayaks in Las Croabas | Photo: Michelle Rae

You’ll love navigating your tandem kayaks through a mangrove channel, in darkness, to see the dinoflagellates perform one of nature’s miracles. Drive to Las Croabas where kayak tour agency Yokahu Kayak Trips (https://www.facebook.com/YokahuKayak/) will take you on this guided adventure into Laguna Grande, one of Puerto Rico’s three bio bays where you’ll witness firsthand the water light up and sparkle when disturbed. In the bay, stop and listen as your guides tell you about how these fascinating microorganisms work and the efforts being done to preserve their dying ecosystem.

Tip: Go on a moonless summer night for brighter illumination. And don’t be afraid to slosh you hand in the water to see it sparkle.


See Old San Juan, from its Massive Forts to its Adorable Houses

San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
San Cristobal in Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Uy
Old San Juan from San Cristobal | Photo: Michelle Rae

With a hint of European flair, a touch of culture, and a dash of history, Old San Juan is an incredible and picturesque city to explore, even with kids in tow. Walk the blue cobblestone streets, taking your time, and discover how the port city was once an important stronghold in the Caribbean. Start at the Capitol and the Plaza de la Barandilla across the street and work your way to Fort San Felipe del Morro and its neighboring cemetery, stopping at Fort San Cristobal along the way. Then head inland to visit Hotel El Convento, Catedral San Juan Bautista, La Fortaleza, and Parque Las Palomas and its old chapel.

Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Old San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
La Fortaleza at Christmas Time | Photo: Michelle Rae
Catedral San Juan Bautista | Photo: Michelle Rae

Tips: Bring plenty of water on this walking tour, and do take your time exploring the forts. And remember to bring your camera, as there are plenty of photo opportunities.


Zip Line at ToroVerde, Even if You’re Afraid of Heights

Zip line at ToroVerde | Photo: Michelle Rae
Zip line at ToroVerde | Photo: Michelle Rae

Those who suffer from mild to moderate acrophobia need not worry. Zip lining on one of the world’s longest single run line (4.745 feet) may be a little unnerving at first, but when you’re on it zipping over the beautiful valley below belly down like a bird, it’s the best feeling in the world. At ToroVerde (http://www.toroverdepr.com/) ecological park, you’ll be walking and soaring over trees, streams and rivers like there’s no tomorrow. And you’re gonna want to do it all over again. Young kids (8 and over) can participate too, thanks to the park’s kid-friendly Bull Maze rope course, which features suspension bridges, monkey bars and rope nets.

Tip: Allot an entire day for this excursion.


Feast on the Local Cuisine, Devil (and Diet) May Care 

Local food | Photo: Michelle Rae
Local food | Photo: Michelle Rae

Sampling the local dishes is perhaps one of the best ways to truly experience a destination, and Puerto Rico has plenty of those. Dishes that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy are served at most restaurants on the island, even in the new area of San Juan, so they’re not hard to find. Some of the dishes the whole family must try are arroz mamposteao or arroz con gandules, mofongo, brandade and pasteles. The island is also known for its roast pork as well as its Latino-style grilled steak served with chimichurri. Must try restaurants include Café Puerto Rico and The Parrot Club in Old San Juan, the French-inspired Cocina Abierta (http://www.cocinaabierta.com/home), which serves one of the best mofongos (Duck Confit Stuffed Mofongo) in San Juan, and Chops Steakhouse at El Conquistador Resort.

Tip: For those who don’t eat meat, many restaurants serve delicious seafood and vegetarian options.


Explore New San Juan, Especially the Street Art Scene

Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae
Street art in San Juan | Photo: Michelle Rae

Surprisingly, Puerto Rico has some of the best urban and street art scenes in the Americas, if not the world; and a visit in San Juan is not completely without exploring Santurce, home to city’s vibrant and thriving street art movement. Spend an hour or two discovering the district’s murals and sculptures on walls, under bridges and on the streets. Start on Fernandez Juncos Avenue near Hospital Pavia Santure.

Tip: Go in the morning or early afternoon.


Visit the Children’s Museum in Carolina, and Go on a Boat Ride

Boat at Museo del Nino Carolina | Photo: Michelle Rae

The Museo del Nino de Carolina (http://www.museodelninocarolina.com/), whose aim is to encourage kids to discover and pursue their passion (or passions) as early as possible, isn’t like any other children’s museum. Besides its interactive, kid-friendly exhibits on math, science, arts & crafts, theater and more, it also boasts a mini zoo, where kids can witness firsthand the hatching of duck and chicken eggs if they’re lucky, a go kart track, a boating tour of the nearby mangrove channel where they can see wild iguanas, birds and alligators relaxing on tree branches, and a real commercial plane that visitors can board and explore.

Tip: While ducks and chicken roam free, teach the kids not to chase them or attempt to disturb their nests. Wear long pants and apply bug spray generously before going on the boat ride.


Drive to the Smaller Towns, or Just Drive

Local restaurant in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach in Piñones | Photo: Michelle Rae

Beautiful small towns that mostly slip under the tourist radar are an easy drive away from Puerto Rico’s cities and resort areas, so rent a car, round up the gang and make that drive. Just less than an hour from San Juan and you’ll already find yourselves in small towns that draw surfers, foodies and locals. Keep an eye out of quiet, kid-friendly beaches, idyllic scenes worthy of a stop, local restaurants and maybe a small town fiesta.

Tip: Many roads and towns – even parts of the El Yunque rainforest – in Puerto Rico have good cellphone reception so it’s impossible to get lost.


Swim, Of Course

Palomino Island | Photo: Michelle Rae
Beach on Palomino Island | Photo: Michelle Rae

Warm waters, lovely stretches of beach and lots of natural barriers that break the massive waves far from shore make Puerto Rico’s beaches some of the best places in the Caribbean to swim in. Go to a beach near San Juan or at the resort you’re staying or to an off-the-beaten path one in a small town, slather on some sunscreen and just spend an entire day there. You’ll regret it, if you don’t. And on the northern part of the island, the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic so you’ll even have an opportunity to enjoy both.

Tip: El Conquistador’s Palomino Island has an islet called Palominito where a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was filmed. It’s a lovely spot, especially if you’re looking for quiet and isolated.



Caribe Hilton. 1 San Geronimo, San Juan | 787 721 0303 | www.caribehilton.com

El Conquistador Resort. 1000 El Conquistador Ave, Fajardo | 787 863 1000 | www.elconresort.com


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Hotel Review: Club Med Punta Cana

Why Go: While many have several preconceived ideas of how a Club Med resort should be – opulent and luxurious, for example – the brand’s 4 Trident family-friendly resort, situated on the Atlantic shores of the Dominican Republic, slightly deviates from such ideas to match the island’s laid-back but active lifestyle. And it’s perfection.

Not to say that it falls short of being luxurious, of course. After all, it boasts a beautiful 5 Trident space, fittingly christened Tiara, which features a private infinity pool with sweeping views of the ocean, a dedicated concierge service, nightly turndown service, and beautiful, beachside family suites that offer ample deluxe living space for a family of four. Club Med Punta Cana, however, is more than just indulging in expensive accommodations and amenities.

With an ideal location – right next to the famed shallow reefs of Punta Cana and minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, Club Med Punta Cana (the resort that introduced Punta Cana to the world) goes beyond the usual all-inclusive escape that mostly involve taking dips in the pool, sunning on the beach and indulging at the buffet table. With the help of its Gentil Organisateurs (GOs), the resort encourages an active and fun tropical vacation where guests partake in the many activity offerings, immerse in the local culture, make lasting friendships, and at times, push past their comfort zone, no matter their age and predilection.

Getting There: A mere 10-minute (or less) drive from the Punta Cana International Airport, which receives inbound flights from many major cities in the US and in Europe daily, Club Med Punta Cana is one of the most easily accessible resorts in the Caribbean. Grab a cab at the airport, which will only set you back $30 (up to 4 people), or arrange for private transportation.

Getting Oriented: Sitting on the shores of DomRep’s longest natural reef in southern Punta Cana, the lush Caribbean resort is one of the biggest Club Med properties in the Americas. Yet, a relaxing walk around the property and about half a day there will quickly get you oriented with where most of the important spots are, like the restaurants, the main pool, the beach, the sports areas, and the new CREACTIVE play space.

Tiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta CanaTiara, the 5 Trident space at Club Med Punta Cana (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Room Options: Club Med Punta Cana has a total of 553 rooms divided into 3 types (Deluxe, Club, and 5 Trident Space Suites) of beach house-style bungalows with unassuming yet colorful exteriors. All rooms have the usual resort features and family-friendly amenities that include air-conditioning, an espresso machine, hair-dryer, safe, iron and ironing board, and flat screen cable TVs.

Deluxe rooms vary in size, as do Club rooms, and offer different options for couples as well as families – including a 2-bedroom with a living area. The 5 Trident Suites, on the other hand, are all 2-bedroom oceanfront suites with a full bathroom and a ¾ bath, a receiving area, a living area connected to the main bedroom, a balcony that opens up to the sea, and convenient water access. If you are looking for a more luxurious option, a 5 Trident Space Suite is definitely the way to go.

In December of 2015, the resort is set to open their adult-only Zen Oasis zone to provide a perfect hideaway for couples and, of course, parents who deserve a much-needed break. Zen Oasis rooms will feature modern accents, spa-like bathrooms with rainfall showers, a terrace or balcony, outdoor daybeds, and classy L’Occitane spa toiletries, not to mention access to a lagoon pool, a wellness bar, and an adult-only beach.

CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana.CREACTIVE is one of the newest family-friendly attractions in Club Med Punta Cana. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

For the Whole Family: Perhaps Club Med Punta Cana’s best offering right now is the new Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil. CREACTIVE is an all-age, family-friendly outdoor play space where guests can seize a rare opportunity to be part of the circus and participate in more than 30 circus pursuits – from the swinging trapeze, tightrope and acrobatic bungee to mask making, make-up and dance. Since its launch in June 2015, it’s become a big hit with kids and adults alike!

From there, the list goes on. Water lovers have access to swimming, kayaking, sailing lessons, water polo, windsurfing lessons, snorkeling (additional cost), and kite surfing (additional cost), to name a few.

Prefer to stay dry? Beach volleyball, basketball, soccer, tennis school, and fitness classes are among the many land-based activities available. Punta Cana is a golfer’s paradise, with two world-class courses featuring 12 seaside holes between them less then 10 minutes away from the resort, so if you have an avid golfer in the family, make sure to sign him or her up for coaching sessions with Happy Golf at the southwestern end of the resort.

End your day with an amazing L’Occitane Spa treatment on the beach at sunset. Is there anything more relaxing than getting a full-body massage while listening to the sounds of the waves?

Kids' pool at the kids' club.Kids’ pool at the kids’ club. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Just for Kids: Much like the resort, the kids’ club and childcare at Club Med Punta Cana is centered on keeping kids occupied and entertained while parents enjoy some R&R. Daily schedules are curated to include not just indoor activities, pool time and afternoon snacks, but also stimulating activities such as the trapeze (kids ages 4 and up), archery, acrobatic bungee, kayaking, and sailing (6 and up). There are even special themed days, so there’s never a dull moment.

The club is divided into four categories based on the kids’ ages – Baby (4–23 months), Petite (2-3 years), Mini (4-10), and Passworld (11-17), enlists especially-trained GOs, and has special considerations in place like allergy lists and sign-in bracelets to ensure the kids’ health and safety.

Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort.Savor delicious international cuisine with the whole family at the resort. (Courtesy Club Med Punta Cana)

Where to Eat: Delectable options, both buffet and a la carte, are offered at the resort. International cuisine is the theme of its two buffet restaurants – waterside Hispaniola, which offers lovely views of the reef, and Samana, located near the pool and bar Cielo that offers non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to kids – to cater to every taste.

For breakfast, a must-try is the White Chocolate Bread (Pain au Chocolat Blanc), a Club Med exclusive pastry that will keep you and the kids coming back for more.

If you’re staying at one of the 5 Trident Space suites, welcome the day with a terrific basket of mini pastries, a plate of fresh fruit from room service and freshly-prepared hot chocolate made from local cacao, enjoyed on your sea-facing, private balcony. The tropical ripe mangoes are unforgettable!

Grab a quick snack at the Celeste Snack Bar to refuel between activities.

Insider Tips:

  • Club Med Punta Cana now offers paddleboarding tour that takes participants along the reef to a lagoon teeming with wild stingrays. $50 per person.
  • CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil is a perfect multi-generational recreation; so make sure to take the whole family, including grandma and grandpa, to test their acrobatic and creative skills.Included with your stay.
  • Near Samana are some shopping options, especially for families who are not planning on leaving the resort. Make sure to purchase some local goods to enjoy at home or bring back to your friends and family. Coffee drinkers will love Café Santo Domingo, which offers a smooth and mildly sweet blend, and hot chocolate drinkers will truly appreciate Cacao JLC.
  • Make sure to check out some of their nighttime shows, specified on the Daily Activities sheet.
  • The resort usually has an evening dress code. It’s non-mandatory, but a lovely tradition to participate in. Check with the resort before your visit, so you know which outfits to pack!
  • Going in the summertime? Slather on plenty of sunscreen and re-apply as necessary. And don’t forget the bug spray.

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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Hotel Review: Boca Raton Resort & Club

Why Go: It’s a timeless beauty that exudes elegance and grace as well as comfort and, of course, fun – the perfect resort for a Florida family vacation nestled away from the hectic hum of theme parks and cities.

The Boca Raton Resort & Club is a sprawling 356-acre property in lovely Boca Raton, Florida, with a year-round tropical climate and a grand, romantic architecture that features the Spanish-Mediterranean, Moorish, Gothic and contemporary styles, that feels very much like the quintessential Southern retreat.

The family-friendly Waldorf Astoria resort has certainly come a long way from its humble beginnings as the Cloister Inn, earning its place as one of the top south Florida luxury resorts today. It now features five great properties, each with its own character, modern amenities, quiet gardens, seven pools, a private beach, a luxurious, award-winning spa, 16 unique restaurants and lounges, and a plethora of land and water activities including the new FLOWRIDER wave simulator to accommodate the more active guests.

Getting There: The resort is an easy 30-minute drive from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport and about an hour away from Miami so whether you rent a car, hail a cab or request for private car to come pick you up, the choice is yours.

Getting Oriented: The resort is split into two properties – the Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Boca Beach Club. Boca Raton Resort & Club is nestled on the southwestern edge of Lake Boca Raton where the Gulf Stream meets the lake while Boca Beach Club is situated on an Eastern peninsula on the Atlantic side. Guests of either property can easily access both with the resort’s complimentary shuttle service, which runs every 15 minutes.

A Boca Beach Club SuiteA Boca Beach Club Suite (Courtesy Hilton)

Room Options: Boca Raton Resort & Club has 1,047 deluxe guestrooms, housed in its five properties – the Cloister, the Yacht Club, the Tower, the recently renovated Boca Beach Club, and the Bungalows. Each room features the usual modern and family-friendly amenities like flat screen TVs, cable, WiFi, coffee maker, mini bar and bathrobes, as well as beautiful furnishings and accents, which vary depending on the property.

In-room highlights in the Cloister include rainfall showers, winged rattan and leather headboards, and mahogany-topped desk while rooms and suites at the Tower (the tallest building in Boca Raton) offer expansive views of the Intracoastal Waterway or the golf course and Atlantic Ocean. Luxurious guest rooms at the Boca Beach Club feature granite counter tops and vanities, separate tub and shower, and black-out curtains.

Best of all, large and multi-generational families can spend some quality time together but still spread out and enjoy the space, thanks to the resort’s connecting rooms and 187 suites.

Just for Kids: The award-winning resort, voted as one of the “Greatest Hotels in the World” by Travel + Leisure, is not just a place to relax and unwind. It’s also a great place to stay active, thanks to its family-friendly recreational offerings, particularly South Florida’s first Flow House that features the dual-sided FLOWRIDER.

FLOWRIDER, Boca Raton Resort & Club's new and popular attractionFLOWRIDER, Boca Raton Resort & Club’s new and popular attraction (Courtesy Hilton)

Since its launch in December 2014, the FLOWRIDER wave simulator has been a big hit with kids (and adults too!), providing a safe and fun environment for surfing and body surfing beginners as well as a place for non-beginners to practice their skills when surfing conditions aren’t optimal. Surf and private lessons are available, should you and the kids wish to learn from the experts while night surfing and Glow Flow Black-Light Surfing (Saturdays from 6-9 pm) are available for night owls.

Take advantage of the resort’s “Live Like a Floridian” package for unlimited use of the new FLOWRIDER wave simulator and a $25 food & beverage credit. Valid through December 31, 2015.

Another kid-friendly feature of the resort is the super cool Mizner’s Quest Club, which not only provides a safe place for kids ages 3 and up to learn, play and discover while the adults squeeze in some R&R, but also keeps them busy and entertained. Depending on your preference as well as your kid’s age, your child can take advantage of the Quest Clubhouse & Arcade, the Quest Club Camp, the Golf Camp, the Tennis Camp, the Aquatics Program for the kids, and many more!

What to Do: A nice cool dip at one of the resort’s seven family-friendly pools, bodysurfing on FLOWRIDER, a round of golf, a game of croquet and biking are a few of the great options for those wanting to stay on land. Collaborating with the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, the resort also offers a Sea Turtle Hatching Program for animal lovers and future marine biologists.

Waldorf Astoria Spa at Boca Raton Resort & ClubWaldorf Astoria Spa at Boca Raton Resort & Club (Courtesy Hilton)

Moms and daughters will truly enjoy spending half a day luxuriating at the Waldorf Astoria Spa, considered one of the best spas in the world. The Ritual Bath at the spa, which treats guests to a glorious 50-minute relaxation ritual involving a variety of water treatments in an elegant balneum-type room, is an unforgettable experience. A soothing signature massage after is also ideal.

With Boca Beach Club’s private beach and its clear blue waters, water lovers have access to a number of activities and facilities, including a full-service marina, a Surf School that accommodates all ages and skill levels, a PADI Bubble Maker for kids who want to learn scuba diving, boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and snorkeling, to name a few. Swimming is, of course, essential for a complete experience.

Where to Eat: Foodie families will revel in the many fantastic dining options on-site (12 to be exact), and since there are offerings from breakfast to late-night snacking, guests wouldn’t have to venture far for nourishment.

For full breakfasts, Palm Court at the Cloister and SeaGrille Restaurant at the Beach Club offer hearty starts to the day. Don’t miss out on the fresh orange juice that’s to die for!

For lunch, take the kids to the Beach Club, order some terrific fish tacos or sandwiches and fruity drinks at Beaches Restaurant and Bar, and have a nice and laid-back lunch on the beach under the cool shelter of your complimentary beach umbrellas.

For dinner, try delicious Italian creations at Lucca, great sushi at Morimoto’s Sushi Bar, or meat dishes at 501 East Kitchen.

the bluethe blue (Courtesy Hilton)

During your stay, take the whole family up to the 27th floor of the Tower for an unforgettable feast at the blue where they combine superb cooking with a lovely ambience and sweeping views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic. Reserve a table just before sunset. Try the claw bar or the Oven-Roasted Maine Lobster. Not a seafood lover? Their Cider Bone-In Pork Chop is perfection and their Creamed Spinach is addictive! The service? Excellent!

For coffee, snacks and pastries, head to Serendipity. Cool down with their signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate.

Insider Tips:

  • Have some time before your next engagement or just looking to get to know the property better? Go on an interactive Mizner’s Quest and uncover the resort’s history, quirks and secrets.
  • SeaGrille Restaurant has more breakfast items for those looking for a good variety. Try their omelet station and smother that Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with cream cheese with chives.
  • With sommelier Roberto Colombi at the helm, the blue’s wine selection is nothing short of exceptional. Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations based on your taste and preference!
  • Take a self-guided tour and see the many interesting sculptures across the property. Can’t afford to purchase and ship one home? The Baker Sponder Gallery near the resort lobby has smaller models.
  • Go for a night swim. All the pools on-site are heated to a very comfortable temperature, especially at night!

(Originally published on MiniTime.)

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Why Touristy Riviera Maya is a Must-See Paradise

First, head to the beach, the glistening beach, with its fine sand and its lapping, deliciously warm, blue-green waves and the occasional half-buried boulder that hides a massive iguana blissfully unconcerned with all the foot traffic around him. The beaches here, every bit as “Caribbean” as their Caribbean neighbors, almost single-handedly makes the trip worth every penny and every hour sitting in an enclosed space thousands of feet above ground.

Later, spread out and explore – the beach will be there when you get back. Upon closer look, you’ll realize there’s more to this popular vacation destination than its beaches and the overwhelming number of resorts.

Photo by Michelle Rae
Photo by Michelle Rae

Mysterious cenotes – some too deep to reach the bottom, inlets, and lagoons offer unique swimming opportunities. Well-preserved Mayan ruins, built around 1200 A.D. atop a cliff in Tulum, transport visitors back to a once glorious time. Exotic wildlife, both on land and underwater, present a chance to interact with nature. Aquatic and cultural theme parks like Xel-Ha and Xcaret provide fun recreation for both kids and adults.

And then there are the vibrant and ever friendly locals who greet you like an old friend coming home after a long absence.

Even beyond that, there’s more to experience. Venture away from the tourist spots and walk the local streets of Playa del Carmen. Have your fill of the best tacos you’ll ever have in your life. Try off-the-beaten-path eateries that serve cheap delicacies like authentic tlayudas and delicious kastacan. And, of course, brush up on your tongue-rolling Spanish.

Photo by Michelle Rae
Photo by Michelle Rae

There’s a good reason – or rather, many wonderful reasons – why families, couples, and singles, the young and the old, from many parts of the world, are drawn to this strip on the eastern shore of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. From its beautiful shores to its incredible Mayan ruins to its local haunts, the Riviera Maya is every bit a paradise.

Touristy, yes, but a paradise nonetheless.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.


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