Now is the Time for Whale Watching in Puerto Vallarta

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As told by Stephanie Diehl. Follow Stephanie on Twitter at @TravelDesigned or at TravelDesigned.com.

Tic toc!

Time is wasting to visit Puerto Vallarta during whale-watching season.

While just about anytime of year is nice in Puerto Vallarta, RIGHT NOW is prime time to view the humpback whales in their natural habitat. Tours can be booked through your travel agent or with your on site Apple Vacations representative at the hotel. The humpback whales are expected to be in Puerto Vallarta this year until the latter part of March when they will move up the coast to Alaska for their summer feeding.

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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!

Black River, Jamaica

 

When I think of Jamaica, I think of dreadlocks, white sandy beaches, steel drums, and endless fruity rum drinks.  I imagine everyone in cornrows and tye-dye clothes, singing to the rhythms of Bob Marley while yelling ayyy, no worries, mon!!  While this is my fantasy (minus the cornrows because my scalp is too white), there is a lot more to this incredible island country than most of us expect.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations, Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Pool

 

While visiting Jamaica, I traveled with a group on several incredible tours through the middle of the country for the Black River Tour.  Most tourists only see the incredible beaches and turquoise waters of the north side of the island, stretching between Negril and Ocho Rios – but we traveled to the southern side of the island for a completely different experience. Our bus wound through the lush mountains just south of Montego Bay, and we ended up in the town of Black River. In Black River, there are beautiful churches, manicured lawns, and incredible houses that dot the expansive shoreline. The town is named after the black river, a name that misleads those who haven’t experienced its beauty. This crystal clear river flows from the center of the island out to sea, and is home to lush mangroves and plentiful wildlife.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations, Guide checking out the crocs on the black river

Our group boarded a boat in Black River, and embarked on a journey upstream.  Within moments, we spotted a prehistoric beast beyond anything we had ever seen.  We found ourselves face-to-face with an 18 foot crocodile, lumbering along through the water.  He noted us curiously, but lazily floated by.  After growing up watching Croc Hunter, part of me expected him to leap out of the water and try to steal one of my arms.  (I crossed them tightly just in case).  But he didn’t want to bother our boat, and kept his eyes on the birds darting down to the water for fish.  I had a strange moment of understanding as I watched this dinosaur relic- he wasn’t the killer Id expected him to be, he just wanted to be left in peace.

So, away we went, speeding away down the river in our pontoon boat.  This area of the country is breathtaking.  A small mountain range surrounds the valley through which the black river flows, and is blanketed by a dense, dark green jungle.  There was no trace of humanity around, and whenever the boat engine quieted, we could only here the soft chirping of birds and the gentle lapping of water against the mangroves.

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations, Crocodile Black River Jamaica

We spotted another crocodile, then another.  Our wild guide even kissed one croc on the nose, while we all screamed and flailed and made a huge scene over it.  After a while, we started to realize how many there are in this area of Jamaica.  But, we soon learned that while they are plentiful on the river, they are highly endangered and only found in a few places.  Luckily, they are a protected species and can no longer be hunted- so we hope the species will return to a healthy number in the near future.

On the rest of our journey, we spotted several more crocodiles, flocks of egrets, and giant ferns (imagine Jurassic Park sized ferns) that were crowding the riverbanks.  This place was truly incredible.  Part of me expected a pterodactyl to swoop down from the sky and carry me away with its talons- but instead, we all popped open a Red Stripe and kicked back to take in the incredible scenery.  After a few hours of excitement and breathtaking beauty of the lush valley, we turned back towards the town of Black River.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Apple Vacations, In the town of Black River

I never expected such an incredible and remote area to be hidden in the middle of Jamaica, but alas, this natural wonder proved to be an incredible hidden gem.  If you are lucky enough to take a trip down to the carefree island of Jamaica, set down your rum drink and change out of your flip flops for and adventure down to Black River- you will discover a spectacular valley and a charming town that you will never forget.

 

Money saving tips for booking your winter vacation

Here are some of our favorite travel tips for keeping you and your family traveling this winter while still keeping your budget intact.

  1. Look for a vacation package – Often times, you’ll get a better deal when you buy a package that includes your airfare, hotel and transfers, and you’ll save your own time by not piecing your vacation together from several different travel sites. Apple Vacations packages can include round-trip air, hotel accommodations, hotel transfers, all meals and drinks and taxes and fees. You’ll know the entire cost of your vacation up front.
  2. Make sure you’re comparing Apples to Apples – most online travel companies do not include hotel transfers, which could add another $100 each way. With Apple Vacations, hotel transfers are always included in international destinations.
  3. All-inclusives are the way to go – today’s all-inclusives have great dining options. A la carte restaurants, room service and your beverages are all included. There won’t be any unexpected bills at check out.
  4. If you know the dates you want to travel or have a particular hotel in mind, buy your vacation as soon as possible. This winter, we are seeing the best dates and hotels selling out already. So while you may have gotten a great last minute deal in year’s past, this winter you may not get your first or second choices unless you book early. Apple Vacations AVOK vacation protection offers a cash-back feature, where if the price of your vacation goes down after purchase, we will refund the difference so you know you’re always getting the best price.
  5. Your time is valuable too – Spend more time on the beach and not in the airport with Apple Vacations’ nonstop vacation flights. This winter, Apple Vacations will have 130 nonstop vacation flights to sunny destinations.
  6. Shop the sales like Apple Vacations SuperSale – Each November, Apple Vacations holds its biggest sale of the year, discounting brand name resorts like Iberostar, Riu, Secrets and Dreams for winter travel dates. SuperSale ends Nov. 22nd.

 

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!

 

 

Turtle Release in Cancun, Mexico

This summer in Cancun, my family and I were able to experience something we never saw before – a turtle release!  It was so unique and one of the best parts of our trip. At dinner one night we were told about it, so we investigated and I am so glad we did!

Iberostar Cancun Turtle Release

We were told that each night giant sea turtles come on the beach to lay eggs. So around 11 pm we headed down to the beach. Sure enough along the shore line, there were several large sea turtles burrowing in the ground.  They had dug in and were flapping around in the sand.

Each of the turtles was surrounded by several scouts and students who were there to protect them. I spoke to a student named Chris who explained it was his social service project to go to the beach each night. When the turtles swim to shore they protect them.  They surround them so tourists don’t bother them and they can lay eggs. Until they have laid their eggs, they ask you not to go near the turtle, touch it or take photos.

The students then take the eggs to a “nest” they have created out of the way, where they mark the date and time.  It is a roped off area of the beach were the eggs are buried until they hatch.

 

Turtle Release Nest

 

If you are in Cancun next July and August, make sure you ask about the turtle release!

We were lucky on the night we went, turtles were coming on the beach, and eggs fromprevious turtles were hatching!  We got to hold the little baby turtles and release them back into the ocean.

It was an amazing experience and one my son will surely not forget. When it was approved, I was able to snap a few photos.  If you are in Cancun next July and August, make sure you ask about the turtle release!

 

 

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.