The 5 things I LOVED about Dreams Puerto Aventuras

Tulum, Mexico

As told by Liz Bondelid, Apple Vacations E-Commerce Merchandising Coordinator

When March rolls around, it seems like it’s time for the brutal cold to start letting up. Philadelphia had other plans, with snow days and wind chills in the first week of March this year. Leaving my coat behind as I left for the airport, I wondered what it felt like to be warm again. By the end of the day, I had sand in my toes, saltwater in my hair, and a margarita in hand.

From beginning to end, I was blown away by everything I encountered at Dreams Puerto Aventuras – and no, I never mentioned to anyone that I work for Apple! If I have to narrow it down, let me give you a taste of my favorite things there.

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Puerto Vallarta – Enhance the Experience

Puerto Vallarta has become a hugely popular international vacation destination.  Somehow, it magically combines all that is wonderful about Mexico; its people, its diverse cultures and architecture, its sheer beauty and its food and drink! From the bustling old village to the plush resorts of Riviera Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta has so much to offer. So when I visited last September, I knew I was going to have a lot of “MUST- DO” activities.  Without question I knew I was going to the Malecon. I wanted to take a walk on the cobblestone streets and visit the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe that is on nearly every post card from Puerto Vallarta.  I made a promise to myself that I would really embrace this destination and get out of the resort. I usually opt for the infinity pool or nice spot on the beach under a palapa. Not this time – I booked 3 excursions during my 4 day trip. (Plus a spa treatment at Pevonia while I was at Secrets Vallarta Bay).

Small Fishing town

Sayulita – Small Fishing & Surf town

My first excursion was to a fishing town on the coast of Puerto Vallarta/Riviera Nayarit/Nuevo Vallarta. We drove alongside the Banderas Bay, the Sierra Madre Mountains and arrived in Sayulita. It’s a laidback seaside surfer town. While walking around I saw tortillas being made from scratch for fresh fish tacos, visited a shop with some majorly cool Day of the Dead gear and had a piña colada on the beach while I watched blue-green waves crash in front of me.  Excursion #1, success!

 

Turtle Release

Turtle Release in Puerto Vallarta

It’s not just tourists that like the beaches in Puerto Vallarta. Sea turtles love them, too. I couldn’t wait to check out the Turtle Release at Dreams Villamagna Resort & Spa – Here’s how it worked…. A staff member explained how to handle the turtles with care. Everyone lined up parallel to the ocean and was instructed to walk 3 feet toward the water. Everyone was to release their turtle and step back to watch. It was hard not to smile as everyone observed these tiny turtles make their landmark journey to the sea. Excursion #2, success!

 

For my last excursion, I really got out of my comfort zone! I swallowed my fears and tried to brace myself for what I just agreed to with the Canopy Tour – Ziplining!  I could handle riding a mule back up the hill, it was getting down the hill on a metal wire that was freaking me out! O.M.G. I was so nervous, excited and filled with adrenaline at the same time.

Puerto Vallarta Ziplining

Puerto Vallarta Ziplining

“fly through a thrilling series of zip-lines, rappel down waterfalls, traverse jungle bridges and finally splash through streams and natural river pools. With some of Mexico’s highest and longest zip-lines, at almost 1,000 ft long and 250 ft high, it’s no wonder we call it one the greatest adventures on earth.” -Amstardmc.com

I still can’t believe I actually went through with it! But I have proof. Excursion #3, success!

Needless to say – I LOVE PUERTO VALLARTA. I highly recommend going and I can’t wait to go back. But please take my advice; get out of the resort and experience all of what this destination has to offer!

‘Dia de los Muertos’ is a grand celebration of life itself!

The Day of the Dead is otherwise known as ‘Dia de los Muertos’ or ‘All Soul’s Day’ and can be traced back for thousands of years. This day is held to honor and remember family members and relatives who have passed away. During the day on November 1st and 2nd, people gather together to pray for lost loved ones. Altars are created to honor the dead and gifts are taken to the graves of the departed. The essence of this beautiful ritual is to lovingly and happily remember the dead relatives, their life, and in this way, give meaning and continuity to human existence. Here are some great places in Mexico that really embrace the Day of the Dead tradition:

Mural from Secrets Hualtuco Photo Credit: Stephanie Diehl, Travel Designed

Mural from Secrets Hualtuco Photo Credit: Stephanie Diehl, Travel Designed

1. Huatulco

Huatulco is one of Mexico’s newest and very unique tourism development areas. The state of Oaxaca has a rich cultural history and guests of Huatulco can take full advantage of interesting opportunities to experience some of Mexico’s charm. Although the Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, Oaxaca has become known for the ornately richness of its celebrations.  The festivities begin a week before November 1st with the commencement of the “Plaza de los Muertos”, an elaborate initiation held in each city market, and a contest is held to judge the best of the city’s ofrendas.

 

2. Cancun & Riviera Maya

Marketing department at Apple Vacations

Traditional Day of the Dead Face Painting – Photo Credit: Jeff Farinosi

Xcaret is normally a hybrid action-eco-archeological-adventure park about an hour south of Cancun. From October 31-November 2, it transforms into an all out Day of the Dead celebration a.k.a. the Xcaret, “Life and Death Traditions Festival”. For those that really want to embrace the culture, complimentary face painting stands are set up through the park.

 

3. Los Cabos

Encompassing the two towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Lose Cabo, The Day of the Dead Festival is a key festival in Los Cabos throughout the Mexico. Families and loved ones pay their respects by creating spectacular altars that are elaborately decorated with photos, candles and food offerings. The altars are then displayed in the towns main square of Plaza Amelia Wilkes, where the best decorated alter is granted a prize.

 

Dia de Los Muertos skulls - Photo Credit: Travel Designed, Stephanie Dieh

Dia de Los Muertos skulls – Photo Credit: Travel Designed, Stephanie Diehl

4. Puerto Vallarta

There’s plenty to do in Puerto Vallarta to feed your adventurous spirit. Often called the “crown jewel” of the Riviera Nayarit, Sayulita, a small fishing town located just 35 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, has become a popular destination. The roots of Mexican culture are deep and complex, as is evident even in a place seemingly as simple as Sayulita: once a fishing and farming pueblo, now a magical, compelling tourist destination. Sayulitans set up alters around town to honor the deceased and there are lovely masses held in the cemetery.

 

5. Ixtapa Zihuatanejo

A varierty of learning opportunities await you in and around Ixtapa for those who enjoy experiencing the real destination behind the resort.  Ixtapa Zihuatanejo hosts a complete festival with lectures about the tradition, photographic exhibitions, traditional dance and music.  Building “altars” with flowers and tokens of the deceased is part of the tradition.  Local vendors will compete for the “Best Altar.” Activities start at the Zihuatanejo Bay with lighting of the area.

Have you visited Mexico for Day of the Dead? Where did you stay?  Feel free to share your comments and stories about your experiences with Day of the Dead traditions in the comments. Or continue this conversation on our facebook page!

Special Thanks to Travel Designed by Stephanie for letting us use her great photographs!

Travel Wishlist

With more than 500 hotels and resorts in our portfolio, Apple Vacations has options for every kind of vacationer – from basic budget to ultra luxe. We canvassed our immense hotel offerings and picked the top outrageous luxury offerings in the Apple family. From private islands to Lamborghinis, these resort options can definitely knock some things off your vacation bucket list!

Grand Velas All Suites Resort & Spa, Riviera Maya Stay and Luxury Drive package

Grand Velas All Suites Resort & Spa, Riviera Maya Stay and Luxury Drive package

 

Cancun Secrets The Vine Taking up more than a third of the 20th floor of Secrets The Vine, the Preferred Club Presidential Suite has dazzling views of Cancun’s modern hotel zone, the Caribbean Sea and Nichupte Lagoon. Featuring two bedrooms, luxurious Italian porcelain bathrooms and a chic, oversized private, furnished terrace, the Presidential Suite also includes all of the resorts Unlimited Luxury amenities and its own personal concierge.

Riviera MayaGrand Velas All Suites Resort & Spa Located on more than 80 acres of protected mangroves, jungle and natural freshwater cenotes, Grand Velas enjoys over 1,000 feet of carefully preserved, pristine white sand beach and is the only family-friendly All Inclusive resort in the Mexican Caribbean to receive AAA’s prestigious Five Diamond rating.Guests who book Grand Velas’ adrenaline fueled “Stay & Luxury Drive” package get the opportunity to race luxury cars and hot rods on the resort’s specialized courses. Guests can drive the car of their dreams, including a Lamborghini Gallardo, Lotus Elise, Ferrari F430, Camaro SS and Corvette Grand Sport. (Travel through Dec. 19, 2013)

Los CabosZoetry Casa Del Mar In addition to deliciously high-thread count sheets and towels, the guest rooms at Zoetry Casa del Mar feature Bvlgari bath amenities, aromatherapy pillows, sparkling wine and fresh fruit daily and a charming souvenir beach bag handcrafted by local artisans. Zoetry Casa del Mar guests receive Endless Privileges® which grant limitless access to almost all the pleasures this intimate jewel has to offer, including daily breakfast, lunch and dinner gourmet dining options with an assortment of organic food and beverage selections

Samana, Dominican RepublicLuxury Grand Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Located on an exclusive island almost a mile long, Luxury Grand Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado is a short ferry ride from the mainland, making it a perfectly romantic, adults-only getaway. On the island, there is only find the resort and a small market, giving you the perfect opportunity to relax and unwind. To leave the island, take the free ferry, or go big with helicopter or private boat service.

Punta CanaHard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana With 15 swimming pools, nine restaurants, the area’s biggest casino, exhilarating nightlife and legendary rock & roll memorabilia, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana is a destination in itself. Every spacious guest room features a private balcony, LCD satellite TV and double Jacuzzi, but it’s the ridiculously fun Rock Star Suite that definitely stands out. Featuring three bedrooms, living room and full kitchen, the Rock Star Suite also includes a Baby Grand Piano, a pool table, Paul Stanley and Aerosmith Memorabilia and a digital safe larger than any other room in the resort.

Hawaii’s Big IslandMauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Amidst mountains and the sea on the sunny Kohala Coast on the tropical Island of Hawaii, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows is consistently rated one of the “Top Hotels in the World” by Travel +Leisure. Discover true luxury in one of the resorts five stunning Bungalows: Plumeria, Hibiscus, Orchid, Bird of Paradise and Heliconia. The 2,700 sq. ft. of indoor living space features an expansive living area, two spacious bedrooms, wet bar and a private kitchen for the chef at heart. A 1,300 sq. ft. outdoor area offers a private Jacuzzi and heated swimming pool creating a laidback setting for socializing or quiet enjoyment. Each bedroom features a spacious naturally lit bathroom with a soaking tub overlooking an outdoor shower and private garden. A guest bathroom is available off the living area.

Panama – From the pages of the history books to an amazing experience!

We get a lot of questions on Panama. It is a fairly recent addition to Apple Vacations product offerings. Gina West, one of our Regional Sales Managers, recently returned from Panama. We were able to get her to share her experiences with all of us. Now you can decide if Panama is right for you!

As a baby-boomer, in grade school, I learned the significance of this small country. It is barely more than a strip of land, the “isthmus” on the globe connecting North and South America. Until my visit, my understanding was simply this. A strip of land connecting two continents and home to the Panama Canal – a passageway critical to the world’s commerce and economy. Boy was I wrong! There is so much more to Panama than in our history books. The Panamanian Tourist Board should put me on their payroll as I have now become a self- proclaimed “unofficial ambassador” and passionate promoter of Panama. Panama should be on everyone’s travel or “bucket list” and here’s why…

 Besides the critical role that the Panama Canal plays in transporting goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the workings of the three locks of the Panama Canal is amazing to witness and i’s history is worth exploring. My fourth grade geography class came flooding back and I was in awe, as I watched a cargo ship carrying 1500 containers maneuver it’s way through the locks from the Pacific (to the south) to the Caribbean and Atlantic (to the north).  Even more amazing was seeing ship after ship stacked up behind it waiting for their turn. This 24/7/365 day operation is “business as usual” in today’s world of commerce but still one of the coolest and most amazing engineering feats ever accomplished. 

 I expected to be WOWED and impressed by the Panama Canal, and it did not disappoint. What I did not expect, was everything else that Panama has to offer.  I truly fell in love with this destination.

 In recent years, Panama has modeled itself, the government and lifestyle similar to The United States, so it’s no wonder that American travelers find Panama a very comfortable destination to visit. Panama has coin currency called the “balboa”. The value is the same as the U.S. dollar and the U.S. dollar is the standard currency used throughout Panama. Just about everything in Panama is up to U.S. travel standards. The accommodations are spacious and clean. You can drink tap water because the filtration systems are the same as here in the U.S.

 There is so much to do in Panama, and so many areas to visit. It is a city destination, is it a beach destination, there is a rainforest. You can dip your toes in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same day! If you want to take a vacation to Panama, but are wondering just how to get the most out of your visit, here is what I would recommend: Plan to spend at least one week. But, don’t spend the entire week all in one place. There are three distinct areas in Panama and you should visit each.

Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll give you the sample itinerary that Gina recommends.

In the canal with the container ships! Trump Ocean Club Infinity pool on the 35th floor! File0505 Tamarin Monkey in the Gamboa Rainforest

 

Apple Vacations Live Radio Broadcast from Sandos Caracol Eco Resort

 

Our Friends from WJRZ recently got back from a week-long live broadcast at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort, which is one of the Eco-Friendly Resorts we are featured in April for Earth Day.

Glenn Kalina, who has been a radio fixture in the Philadelphia and New Jersey region for many years, travelled with The Magic Morning Show & Diane De Oliviera to Riviera Maya. They broadcasted live each morning from Sandos Caracol Eco Resort. They did an amazing job while they were there, transporting their listening audience practically in to resort with them.  Here are some photos of the broadcast.

If you are looking for an Eco-Friendly resort or a family friendly resort for your next Apple Vacation, make sure you check out Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.

 

Fitcations Fit-Trip to Paradise – We’re at it again!

as told by Apple Vacations very own April Wickey

  

Last year, the Apple Vacations’ team got their feet wet by mixing the vacation package experience that we are experts at and adding in a little flare with Zumba®, Yoga, and other fun fitness activities.

We created Fitcations to offer the opportunity to take the fitness classes we love out of the gym.  We wanted this experience to be not only for the fitness savvy people out there, but also those looking to try something new.  Sometimes it’s easier to step outside of your comfort zone when you know no one else knows you.

We offered daily morning yoga classes by the beach and Zumba classes by the pool.  Even when the sun got hot, we kept our cool by making our own shade.  We even turned the disco into a Zumba® party.

With all of the publicity we got from this Fitcation experience, we heard a lot of good feedback from both the travel agent community and people just looking for this unique opportunity. We also received a lot of inquiries as to when we were going to do this again.

 

Well, we are ready to do it all again.  We’d like to introduce this year’s Fitcation experience.  We will be heading down to the beautiful Pacific coast of Mexico, and staying at the luxury-included Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta.  This Fitcation will take place June 8th through June 15th.  We have packaged this with our charters from Chicago O’Hare, Minneapolis and Dallas-Fort Worth.  And we have our personal touch desk ready if someone is looking to travel from another city.  We have, once again, teamed up with Suzelle Snowden founder of Fit Bodies Inc.  And we have added Zumba® Education Specialist (ZES) Kelly Bullard to our list of instructors to make sure that this experience will be one of a kind.