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!

Punta Cana & La Romana – Closer than you think!

 

Amstar dmc greeting us upon arrival in Punta Cana

Recently, I was able to enjoy firsthand the Dominican Republic’s stunning new Coral Highway (a.k.a the Autopista Del Coral) via Amstar DMC.  The highly anticipated Coral Highway just opened this past summer and more importantly connects the famous resorts of eco-rich La Romana to the lux beaches and resorts in Punta Cana.

It’s sort of random, because to me highways = traffic, but in the Dominican Republic, this four-lane highway brings the country so much closer together, culturally & economically.

Travel Tip: One of the best features of the new highway is that it cuts the drive from Punta Cana International Airport to La Romana down to about 40 minutes. This alone crushes the previous 2 hour drive and gives travelers more options when choosing a destination or airport in the Dominican Republic. I myself chose the Punta Cana airport and a La Romana resort … stay tuned for my next blog about Dreams La Romana.

 

Autopista del Coral

 

Coral Highway Facts:

  • The “Autopista Del Coral” highway has 3 bridges, which cross over the Chavón, Santa Clara and Duey rivers.
  • The highway begins just outside of La Romana, after the main entrance to Casa de Campo, but before the La Romana – Casa de Campo airport and ends at the Punta Cana International Airport.
  • Exits on and off of the new highway are located at La Romana, the La Romana – Casa de Campo airport, the entrance to Bayahibe – Dominicus, near to Higuey and at the Punta Cana International Airport.
  • 2 tolls along the road; the first at KM 18, just after Bayahibe and the second at KM 58, close to the Punta Cana International airport.
  • The “Autopista Del Coral” highway will have 4 lanes of traffic and is designed for cars travelling at a maximum speed of 110km/h or 70 mph.

 

My case in point – Getting from Punta Cana to La Romana Has Never Been Easier!

For more information about transfers while you’re in the Dominican Republic check out AmstarDMC

Apple Vacations’ 2012 Platinum Agency Retreat

What do 165 participants, 3 nights & temperatures in the 80′s all add up to?

 

Apple Vacations’ 2012 Platinum Agency Retreat – Secrets The Vine Cancun

 

Apple Vacations’ 2012 Platinum Agency Retreat. Secrets The Vine Cancun hosted, NOW Jade had us over to Sip, Savor & See. A Town Hall Meeting updated everyone on what’s happening at Apple Vacations, Amstar & AM Resorts. Site Inspections, Optional Excursions, Pool/Beach time and cocktail receptions rounded out the rest of the time. A pool side gala, featuring entertainment by Il Divo, brought the Retreat to a close.

A wonderful event, a great group of agents and 100 million reasons to say Thank You to each of them!

Check out my pics to see a more up close view of the event!

River Expedition in Puerto Vallarta

Recently I had the opportunity to try Zip Lining while I was in Puerto Vallarta. I need to preface this blog – I have never done anything like this before; no sky diving, no extreme sports, no bungee jumping. Ever. So boy was I a bundle of nerves -  I mean …in for a treat.

Photo Credit: Christine May, Canopy River in Puerto Vallarta

 

Photo Credit - Canopy River. Zip lining over the Cuale River.

Our group included 2 tour guides, 1 co-worker, 2 journalists, 1 photographer, our rep from Amstar Dmc, a rep from the Puerto Vallarta tourism board and 1 travel agent. We opted to try the all new River Expedition tour which combines the canopy zip lining with hiking, 2 rope bridges, 27 meter rappel or 24 meter free fall, inner tube river ride and mule ride – enough to satisfy any adrenaline junkie! Again, please note, that I am not and adrenaline junkie. I was trying something new and feeling both excited and nervous. We had wonderful, experienced tour guides that helped us get ready, strapped in our harnesses, and secured our helmets on. We went through a basic training with them, essentially just how to stop, which I never managed to master the art of this until the last zip! The guides were really funny, making silly jokes to lighten the mood, and it helped put everyone’s nerves at ease. Then we all did a test run and were ready to do our first zip by ourselves. I couldn’t believe it, the zip lining was so amazing! After the first zip, my nerves calmed down, the adrenaline kicked in and I was psyched to have a whole day of fun ahead of me!

 

Photo Credit: Canopy River. Kim Pack and I swinging Tarzan style over the Cuale River.

We did 12 platforms stretching from one mountain to another.  We were up to 600 feet in the air with the longest line stretching over a quarter mile long! This makes up the longest, highest and fastest zip lines on the west coast of Mexico. I felt so exhilarated gliding through the jungle while gazing in awe at the Cuale River far below. I could even see the Pacific Ocean from one of the zips! One word comes to mind.

Breathtaking.

 

After our tour, we met the original homesteaders of the area and enjoyed refreshments at the Los Coapino restaurant, located high atop this beautiful mountain range.  A little tip:  An optional DVD of your actual tour will be available for purchase so you can remember it forever!

 

Photo Credit: Canopy River. The group getting together on a boulder before zipping into the Cuale River.

 

I highly recommend trying Canopy River!!! Especially for those of you that love nature and adventure.  Canopy River is definitely for you.

Photo Credit: Canopy River - Being challenged to cross over two bridges, as we made our way across the side of the mountain.

Here are some more details about Canopy River

Duration: 5 Hours including orientation and transportation.

Includes: Canopy Tour, Free Mule Ride (optional), Bottled Water, Snacks, Soft Drinks

You’ll Need:

  • Sunblock and Insect Repellent
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Hair Tie for Long Hair
  • Cash for drinks at the bar, photos, and souvenirs.

Kids:  7 Years and Older.

Restrictions: Maximum weight is 275 lbs. (125 kg). Do not drink too much alcohol before this tour – you won’t be allowed to go for safety reasons. This is an active tour, and not recommended if you are pregnant, have a serious back injury.  There is some hiking involved, so be sure to wear good walking shoes.

Check with your Apple Rep at your hotel in Puerto Vallarta so you can try this amazing Zip lining Adventure!

Please check out my pictures and leave comments if you have any questions on this tour.

Photo Credit: Canopy River, Jerry Nunn hitting the cool clear

 

 

Photo Credit: Canopy River - Kim Pack taking her mule back to the top of the mountain. Giddy Up!

 

Photo Credit: Canopy River - Dennis Jacobs zip lining over 600 feet in the air!

 

 

Family Vacation in Punta Cana

It’s that time of year again for our annual family vacation.  I have vacationed in Punta Cana before and completely fell in love with the people and the culture in the Dominican Republic. Warm smiles friendly attitudes and a care free environment are the staples of Punta Cana and I was not going to chance losing that going elsewhere. The hardest part about planning an all-inclusive vacation with a family of 10, is choosing the right resort.  It’s a bit of a task finding a place that caters an age disparity that ranges 10 to 65 years old.

Set on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic in Punta Cana, this resort offers 13 different outdoor pools with gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea and a secluded lagoon.

With activities that range from arcades to casinos, The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was really a ‘no-brainer.’  The moment we stepped off the Apple Vacations van and set foot on the property the whole family was blown away by the aesthetics of the place. Flashy, yet controlled; spacious yet completely decorated in rock memorabilia, the Hard Rock is really a sight to behold. All the rooms are full blown suites equipped with Jacuzzis, personal balconies and stunning views. It really has a way of making you feel like a rock star. Something tells me that’s exactly what they were going for.

 

 

The Hard Rock features luxurious accommodations, fine dining at nine restaurants, seven bars, thirteen pool with four swim-up bars, casino and spa.

 

The resort also offers a magnificent state of the art Spa and an elegant full service Casino. And when you're hungry, you'll have a choice of 9 different restaurants, wireless Internet service, a sports bar, 24-hour room service and much more.

The resort is home to 9 restaurants, 3 deli/snack bars, 15 bars, 15 pools, lounges/nightclubs, arcades, a spa, a casino, and a variety of shops.  Plenty to keep a large family like mine completely entertained. There are also a plethora of excursions available through the Apple representative on site.

 

When the sun goes down, Hard Rock knows how to rock. The fun has just begun. You can go check out a rock show, or bet against lady luck at the casino. Perhaps you want to test your own rock and roll voice at the Karaoke, dance the night away at the club, or sit, relax and have a drink at one of the many lounges. The possibilities are endless and so is the fun.

 

The majestic Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana brings the Palace brand of uncompromising, all-inclusive luxury to its newest destination - one of the most beautiful beachfront locations in the Caribbean.

 

This vacation reminded me why I love Punta Cana so much and why its growing in popularity as the years pass. With great people, great food, spectacular service, beautiful scenery and incredible beaches its not hard to see why Punta Cana is becoming THE place to vacation.  Don’t overlook this destination next time you are in need of a great vacation!

Happy travels…

Falling in love with Cancun, all over again.

Ocean shot from Iberostar Cancun.

 

Apple Vacations has been sending vacationers to Cancun for well over 30 years.  It’s crazy for me to think that my first vacation there was over 20 years ago.

So much changes year to year in any destination, but Cancun recently has had so many new developments. It really is an entirely new destination.

So many people say to me “I went to Cancun for spring break” or “I went to Cancun or before I had kids, I want to try a new place.”  Even just yesterday someone said those exact words to me at a baseball game. I tell them Cancun IS a new place. It’s an entirely new resort destination with so much to offer. There are amazing family resorts and several new upscale resorts which have opened in the past few months, or are about to open.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a week and experience all the beauty, charm, cuisine, history and hospitality of Cancun. I can’t wait to share my reviews and photos of the destination and the hotels I was able to visit such as Sandos Cancun Luxury Resort, Secrets The Vine Cancun and Iberostar Cancun.

Meanwhile, here are my top 3 reasons why YOU should book an Apple Vacation to Cancun:

1 – It is easy to get to. We left in the morning and were on the beach by lunch! From the Mid-Atlantic region the flight to Cancun is only about 3-3.5 hours depending on your departure airport.

2 – There is a hotel for every lifestyle and budget.  Big or small resort, all inclusive or no dining package, family resort or adults only, simple or deluxe – there is a hideaway for everyone.

3 – Cascading pools, white sandy beaches, the turquoise ocean.  The destination and the resorts are striking.

 

Here are a few of my shots from my recent trip.  This is why I love Cancun!

 

Pool at Iberostar Cancun overlooking the beach and ocean.

 

 

Birds eye view from Iberostar Cancun

 

 

Lagoon view to the left, ocean view to the right. From Secrets The Vine Cancun.

Destination Wedding Trends

Check out the latest scoop on what’s “in” when tying the knot away from home

as told by Danielle Laverty, Apple Vacations Destination Wedding Specialist

Skip the Cake

Tickle your guests’ taste buds with a non-traditional dessert after you say “I do.”  Incorporate a taste of local cuisine like Mexican wedding cookies, Caribbean rum cake, or Hawaii’s famous coconut-based gelatin dessert, Haupia.  Other fun cake-free options include a color-themed candy “bar” or decorative cupcake displays.  Consider featuring your favorite childhood sweet like cotton candy or salt-water taffy.  Think creative, different, and fun!

 

Culture-Inspired Customs

Personalization and customization are big trends popping up anywhere and everywhere in today’s society.  To make the most of your destination wedding, make it special and unique by adding a touch of cultural flare to your destination ceremony or reception.

Whether the custom is rooted within your destination’s culture or your own heritage and background, little details like a henna tattoo station (India) or jumping the broom ritual (Africa & Bahamas) are memorable ways to connect tradition with a non-traditional destination wedding couple.

Group Adventures

A popular addition to destination itineraries before and after saying “I do,” is offering guests the opportunity to tag along on some pre-arranged group activities.  Ever think you’d see your future-father-in-law swaying his hips during a hula lesson in Hawaii?  Or maybe you want to try a variety of spirits at a tequila tasting in Los Cabos, Mexico.  If you’re tying the knot in Jamaica, consider touring Nine Mile, the rural village where Bob Marley was born and raised.   Whether you arrange a beautiful sunset dinner cruise, take your friends and family on a kayaking or biking tour, try out some flippers on a fun snorkeling trip, or even a challenge the group to beach volleyball tournament, no matter what kind of activity you arrange, your friends and family will be buzzing about having a great time getting to know each other. Whether you can cover the costs for one activity or several, your guests are sure to appreciate a bit of the local culture.

Enjoy a “Robinson Crusoe” type day with AmstarDMC! Great for beginners and veterans alike. You’ll jump into warm Caribbean waters and swim with colorful tropical fish and amazing diversity of marine life as you marvel at the coral formations on the Great Mayan Reef – the second largest reef system in the world. Small launches take you just a short distance from the beach out to the reefs and return the snorkeling session, so you’re not on the water the entire day. 

Themed Wedding Favors

Saying “thank you” to traveling guests is important.  Individual wedding favors that tie into the theme of your destination are a huge hit. Destination couples are finding more and more locally-inspired ways to show their guests gratitude.  Luggage tags with handwritten notes are a great travel-related favors.  Local delicacies like individual rum cakes in the Caribbean, a bottle of locally produced wine, beer, or spirits, or hand-painted wooden maracas in Mexico all add a great touch.  If your destination wedding is takes place on the beach, there are many seashore-related items to think about.  Flip-flop shaped bottle openers, starfish ornaments, and seashell shaped bottle stoppers are cute ways to tie the whole experience together.