An Adults Only Oasis at the El Dorado, in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Tropical Oasis

My husband and I spent 3 nights in mid-April at the El Dorado Royale, in Riviera Maya, Mexico as a brief adults only getaway. We have an almost 2 year old and didn’t want to stay away longer than the 3 nights. The resort truly was an oasis.

View from our balcony in the premium section

 

We really enjoyed ourselves here. We probably didn’t take advantage of all the resort had to offer as much as we should, but we enjoyed our stay. The food was very good, the service was mostly good.

Some previous reviewers complained about the golf carts. Honestly, the carts are a requirement to get to some of the restaurants. It was great to have that option of travel versus walking the entire way. I did think they should have gone a little slower. In fact, we were a little surprised that there aren’t accidents with the way they whip through the property.

One of the things that I couldn’t find information on before the trip was the cost of wifi. I knew there was an additional charge, but I couldn’t find information on it before my arrival. Check out my short blog regarding the wifi costs during our stay.

On to the food. I’m Celiac and have to eat gluten free now. They had terrific gluten free options. Most of the choices at Cocotal- where there is a breakfast buffet, is gluten free. They also have a whole gluten free section of bread items including a dedicated toaster. Their bread was AMAZING! It was like they replaced “gluten” with butter – oh it was good.

Gluten Free Options at the Resort

If you are eating around the property and are gluten free, just make sure you ask for all corn chips, as sometimes they are mixed with flour. In the Mexican restaurant they had to bring me a different bowl of chips.  Happily I had no issues with the food while on the property. I ordered from room service a couple of times and was even able to get gluten free eggs benedict. YUM. At the Asian restaurant I asked if the fried rice could be made gluten free and I was able to receive that. I also had them add chicken- it was VERY good. I was disappointed though that they weren’t able to make me sushi at lunch. I just wanted cucumber rolls since they had GF soy sauce, but they indicated that it was only offered during dinner. Overall I was very pleased with the options! My biggest complaint, at lunchtime it was just entirely too hot in the indoor restaurants. They were clearly cutting costs by using the fans instead of air- but I was actually almost sick one day and thought I would pass out from the heat. I usually require a sweater in air-conditioned places- not here.

Finally some people commented on the size of portions. Honestly, I didn’t think they were that small. They weren’t huge, but if your ordered a few courses you were fine.

As far as the drinks are concerned- I agree with other posters that their wine is just okay. I wasn’t willing to pay $112 for a bottle of wine though so I just drank what they offered. I also used the brand name when I was ordering a cocktail. Once I asked for Malibu rum and was served their ‘local’ brand but for the most part they brought what I asked for. We didn’t drink much though…

Our room was in the premium section. Building 4 to be exact. My favorite benefit of the premium section was you were far enough from the main pool to mostly not hear it. We did hear the bass on Saturday night for quite a while when we were going to sleep. But otherwise, it was perfectly quite. We also felt that it was a good location in terms of getting to dining, etc. It appeared that in the premium section you could make dining reservations for even for those places that didn’t require them. The obvious advantage to this was not having to wait for a table at the walk up places.

Overall we had a really nice time at this property. I would recommend it and I would return.

Related Post: Internet Prices at the El Dorado Royale 

 

Summer Vacation! My thoughts on cruising in the summer…

A gorgeous backdrop for lunch

A gorgeous backdrop for lunch

I used to think that cruises were only to be taken in the late fall/winter when Michigan was too cold to be outside. I live in Michigan and it is beautiful in the summer here. I thought we should just be doing ‘up north’ vacations or staycations. The other thought I had was that summer cruises were just for those people with school aged children that didn’t want to take their kids out of school, or finally it was for teachers that couldn’t get away for a reasonable rate any other time. I WAS WRONG on all of my assumptions.

This June I became OBSESSED with taking a summer vacation. My son had just turned 2 and except for meltdowns when he didn’t get his way, he was at a really fun age.  I started thinking of all of the different options for taking a summer vacation- going to see family out of state, going up north, going to Florida. I determined that those options seemed either entirely too hot, or like too much work. I wanted to relax with my family and I wanted it to be the easiest possible vacation.

Ahhh, so was born the thought of taking a cruise as our summer vacation. On a cruise I don’t have to make my bed (as if I do anyway), I don’t have to cook, or do dishes, or pretty much anything.  As a travel agent I am enabled the opportunity to take a last minute cruise at a discounted rate. I searched all the lines. We needed something which had a splash pad/pool where diapered babies/toddlers could play. [There is an regulation that requires children to be potty trained before using a pool, or any shared water. Swim diapers are not allowed.] We also wanted something before it was too late into the hurricane season. [Hurricane season technically runs June 1st – November 30th in the Atlantic. But the reality is there are rarely hurricanes that affect travel before mid-August. I find mid-late October to be safe, or less risky, but I am not a weather professional.] There were some options for us to cruise in early July but unfortunately those didn’t work with my husband’s work schedule or our previous family obligations.

We ended up choosing a week long cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy in mid July. It was a great week! We relaxed, we played, it was just all around fun.

The Caribbean Sea at Dusk

The Caribbean Sea at Dusk

The seas were the absolute calmest I have ever experienced in 30 years of cruising. (It saddens me that I can say that my first cruise was 30 years ago! I shouldn’t be old enough to have that long of a frame of reference. But I digress…) It was calm. I barely needed motion sickness medicine, I never had that feeling once we were back on land of still being on a moving ship. It was SO CALM!

It was also quite warm, as would be expected. But the Caribbean breeze did make things reasonable.

So that is how I came to take my first summer cruise. I would definitely do it again, and I would definitely recommend it to others.

Have you ever cruised in the summer? What were your thoughts?

Check our some of our cruise photos on Instagram!

Honeymoon Registry!

Honeymoon Registry

Do you know a bride and groom that would like to receive money towards their honeymoon as a shower gift or an early wedding present? Alternatively, are you the bride and groom and are looking for a way to get to have part or all of your honeymoon paid for by your guests?

I have the ability to set up a registry account if the couple books the honeymoon with my company. I can even do little cards that the guests can use to indicate that a gift towards the trip is being given! The money is paid directly towards the vacation so you do not need to be concerned that they money is going where you would like.  I am a part of a large company and franchise and we stand behind our promises to the customer; check out my travel agency website, ECSC.

Please share this post with anyone you know getting married!

Verandah – Disney Magic Cabin 8602

Cute Baby- Big Balcony

Cute Baby- Big Balcony

In January my family had the pleasure of staying in cabin 8602 on the Disney Magic. This is an handicap accessible aft one-bedroom concierge cabin. To say it had a large balcony/verandah is an understatement.

Veranda - Disney Magic Cabin 8602

Veranda – Disney Magic Cabin 8602

This verandah has no protection from the sun and is visible from cabanas above. The lack of sun protection was not ideal for my pale husband and son, but we still really enjoyed that balcony.

There will be more on this cabin and sailing concierge on Disney Cruise Line at some point in the future! 

Free gift with your Disney Vacation booking!

Free gift with purchase - yes please!

Free Gift with Purchase: A Mickey Key Chain/Bottle Opener

I love a good gift with purchase! While supplies last (and I have a good amount) you will receive this Mickey Bottle Opener Key Chain with your purchase of a Disney vacation. This includes: Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani, Adventures by Disney and Disney Cruise Line.

I am a fee free travel agent meaning the companies pay me to book your trip. It’s the same price to book with me as booking on your own. You can still ‘control’ the booking, I just make the payments. I have extensive knowledge with Disney vacations; I travel there often and I am a “College of Disney Knowledge graduate,” (Disney’s training program.)

You can book with a travel agent and still use your Disney rewards or Disney Visa to receive benefits offered by each of those programs.

I am a full service travel agent. Which means I can (and do) book any type of vacation. This promotion is solely for Disney vacations at this time. Get your free gift while supplies last. Your item would be ‘earmarked’ for you and would be sent with your vacation documents.

ps- I have other gifts that are a surprise for more substantial bookings that you would receive in addition to the key chain. (While supplies last) Contact me for your quote!

Related Posts:

A Comparison of Disney Cruise Line vs. Royal Caribbean

Out to sea. Which line does it better!?

Out to sea. Which line does it better!?

This past winter I was able to cruise Disney Cruise Line (DCL) and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line/Royal Caribbean International (RCI) within 6 weeks of each other. Cruising so recently makes a comparison that much easier. This comparison of Disney vs. Royal Caribbean will go through many of the main components of each cruise.

Cruising were myself, my husband, our 21/22 month old and his grandmother (my mother). The first cruise was on the Disney Magic and the second was on the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean International ship. We all really enjoyed ourselves on both cruises but there were some standouts to each. [My family cruised the Disney Fantasy a year ago so that experience comes into the review as well.]

Let’s start with a comparison of the most important aspect of a cruise- the food!  All joking aside, food likes are very subjective. For the most part we enjoyed our meals on both cruises.

Meals in the dining room. The food quality was slightly better on DCL, but we still very much enjoyed our RCI meals. My mom thought the lobster she was served on RCI was some of the best she had ever had, and she had several pieces. The service in the dining room for dinner was better on RCI. I have celiac and thus have to eat gluten free (GF). I had less problems for the most part with delays with my meal on RCI. One dinner, I waited over 45 minutes to receive my first course on Disney. There was one lunch at RCI that I had some gluten contamination in the dining room no less. [What makes this interesting is RCI told me to eat in the dining room in order to avoid cross contamination with gluten.]

Meals in the buffets. The service on Disney was better. They were really happy to walk me through to look for GF options. RCI tended to want to push me to the GF section that had one bland looking entrée and an even worse side dish (think plain white rice.) [I’m not sure why people confuse gluten free with no taste or seasonings.] My picky eater husband felt that he had more choices on DCL. The drink service at the buffet was better on RCI. They were terrific at getting you drinks while you were you dining in the buffet.

Other dining venues. RCI wins for the average eating with options for food throughout the day. One of my biggest complaints about DCL is the limited hours of operation of the buffet and the dining choices when the buffet is not open. The “quick service” on DCL is usually mediocre at best. RCI has several dining choices on the promenade as well as longer hours with offerings at the buffet. Disney wins however for gluten free pizza. It was fresh and amazing. Sbarros on RCI served me a “soggy mass”, as my husband described it.

As for the specialty restaurants – our experience was definitely effected by my need to eat gluten free. Disney was amazing. It was almost as if the chef at Palo made it his personal mission for the week to find me amazing food to eat. On RCI we dined at Giovanni’s Table for our specialty meal. I had to ask 3 times if something was GF only to find out that what they served me was not. We were also very unimpressed with the service at Giovanni’s which tainted the whole experience. You can read my review here.

Room service. Neither line is great, but both were okay. You can get Mickey bars on Disney, and at one time, rice crispy treats (I don’t know if they are still offered though.) Both offer cheese plates. Neither offer gluten free crackers. Royal Caribbean is starting to charge for some items, but Disney offers less in the first place.

The cabins. People LOOOVE the split bathrooms on Disney. There is a shower (with a little tub in most categories) and sink in one room and a toilet and sink in another. My family is not big enough, nor is my son old enough, for the split bathroom to matter. But I can see why people get excited about that. The little tub provided by Disney is awesome for those with little ones. To get a tub on RCI you need a suite. And those tubs are the large soaking tubs which does tend to make it more difficult to bathe a little one. The cabins are larger on Disney. In fact, the cabins on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships keep getting smaller and smaller. Disney also has a curtain to separate the kid’s sleeping area from the parents.

As far as amenities provided- Disney has the best body lotion of any line, in my opinion. They also provide every cabin with bar soap and a separate shampoo and conditioner. RCI does the combined bulk shampoo/conditioner attached to the wall in the shower. For the price point, I think this is a little cheap of them. [Suite guests are provided with a separate shampoo and conditioner.] I would say the cabins are close on both lines, but ultimately Disney slightly edges out RCI.

On to entertainment and activities. Both lines offered evening shows each night. The shows were past my son’s bedtime so we didn’t watch any in the theatres. We did watch the Disney productions on the TV in our cabin. For child orientated entertainment, Disney obviously wins by a landslide. Each evening there are shows that would be entertaining to both children and adults. RCI’s entertainment is not created with children in mind. I am sure older children will find the shows enjoyable but your typical toddler would not likely sit through it. Royal Caribbean does have an ice show on its ships with a rink. My son was mesmerized by the show. He sat through the entire 45 minutes. Both lines offered a Love and Marriage (Newlywed) show for adults that were equally entertaining.

Toddler organized activities. RCI has a great toy lending program where you can sign out a bag of toys. Disney didn’t have anything like that. Royal Caribbean also offered an open play with toys and books. It was in located in the teen night club. Disney takes the win though for organized toddler activities. They have staff there to play with the kids. They offer different activities at various times of the day. It is a scheduled event so some people may not prefer that, but we preferred it over just open play for the whole day. Disney also offered dance parties with the characters which were SO MUCH FUN. My son LOVED it. The characters would come out and dance to about 3 songs. Disney definitely wins on this area for us.

Kids Clubs. To get to the kids club or the toddler play areas on RCI you had to walk through the arcade. This is VERY irritating to me. Of course your child will want to play with the brightly colored arcade games while walking through. And then even if you limit charging privileges for your kids in other areas of the ship, those limits apparently do not apply in the arcade, per the sign on the machines.

Toddler outdoor water areas. The smoking section is very close to the toddler/infant wading pool on RCI. And the brightly colored splash pad for non-diapered kids is right next to and in full sight of the toddler section. This is a problem with older toddlers that can clearly see the fun brightly colored splash pad for bigger kids. DCL has a dedicated splash pad for toddlers. On the newer ships there is even a little slide in the Nemo’s reef area. On the Magic Donald’s nephews have a little splash pad that is adorable. The splash pads on Disney are definitely designed for toddlers and infants in mind. The theming is terrific. The win goes to DCL for sure, even on the smaller older ships.

Shore excursions: Cabanas. The only ‘shore excursion’ that we did on both cruises were renting cabanas for the day on the private islands. Disney’s cabana is 3 times the price of RCI, but there are so many extras and that was worth it to us. The main difference was that the beach was just for people in the cabana. Royal Caribbean allows the beach to be used by those in the cabana and everyone else. There was a lot of smoking on RCI’s beach (we were at Labadee). It was just crowded and people put their chairs everywhere! Just below the stairs of the cabana were people’s chairs we would have to walk around to get out of the cabana. This was not ideal. The definite nod goes to DCL.

Shopping. The shopping was all around better on RCI. We loved the promenade. There were many choices of things to purchase. Disney basically just had their own items for sale. The ship’s salespeople on the Freedom (RCI) in the jewelry shop were very PUSHY. That was the only real disadvantage of RCI. Overall though RCI definitely wins for shops.

Character Experience. RCI has the DreamWorks characters on board. Disney, hands down, is just better with the whole character experience. RCI offers a DreamWorks parade, which in concept is a great idea, it is just not executed very well. Disney wins with characters.

Taking our toddler out of the mix for entertainment, then RCI would be more competitive. The rock climbing wall is awesome and the ice skating rink is unique. They also offer a surfing experience. All of those neat extras are included in your cruise fare.

Extra miscellaneous comparisons. Royal Caribbean offers a drink package where you can prepay for your alcohol or coffee drinks. Disney allows you to carry on as much alcohol as you’d like to consume for the week, but it isn’t comparable. People don’t want to run to their room to get a drink; they want to drink by the pool, and drink at dinner, etc. The prices though to pay out of pocket for a drink on RCI seemed a little high this last cruise – it was $9 for a gin (Tanqueray) and tonic. On RCI, you can bring on 2 bottles of wine, but no liquor. [Edited in September 2015 to note that Disney has changed their alcohol policy for sailings after approximately Sept. 27th that liquor is no longer allowed to be brought onboard, beer in limited amounts is okay, and 2 bottles of wine per cabin is allowable. This does even the playing field as far liquor is concerned.]

The thing I disliked the most on Royal Caribbean – smoking in the casino. The smell would waft up from the casino on the 4th floor to the promenade on the 5th floor. According to my mom, the slot machines they offer in the smoke free section of the casino were “dumb.” Such a wordsmith my mother. Either way, she and my husband would have gambled more but for the smoky casino.

We really enjoyed both cruises. In fact we have future cruises booked on both lines. Disney is without a doubt more expensive. But they truly do cater to children, toddlers specifically. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the lines in the comments below or share your thoughts comparing both lines.

Happy travels!

To see pictures of both cruise lines, check out my photos on Instragram

Preview of the Carnival Vista

Photo courtesy of the Carnival Corporation

I have to say, I’m pretty excited about the Carnival Vista. The ship looks awesome!

Carnival sometimes gets a bad wrap but really it is a good line- especially for weeklong cruises. I’m not a big fan of Carnival for short cruises; likely where carnival received the “party ship” reputation.

Back to the Vista. Want an IMAX Theatre at sea? Yes please; Vista has one. Staterooms specifically for families? Why not! Family Harbor staterooms and suites have access to the Family Harbor Lounge – where kids and parents can hang out, play games or help themselves to the cookie and snack bar. Of course there is also an adult only area to escape to when the kids are entertained at the kid’s clubs. A water park, a suspending bike ride, it all sounds awesome!

Photo courtesy of the Carnival Corporation

Check out this super cute video on the Vista. (I’m serious it will make you smile!) As I said I am really excited about the launch of this ship. I will be sailing her this winter! The Vista is scheduled to enter service on May 1, 2016 in Europe. (Updated to indicate that she is currently sailing Europe.) She will then come to New York for her US inaugural cruise, and then she will travel to Miami where she will launch year round Caribbean service. What are you most excited about on the Vista? Do you plan to work her into your vacation schedule?

Happy Travels! So many vacations, so little time.

Update: I’ll be cruising the Vista in January, be sure to follow me on social media for pictures. Twitter and Instagram.

Current Internet Prices for El Dorado Royale 

This past weekend we stayed at El Dorado Royale in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Below are pictures showing the current Internet (wifi) prices and sign up details for the resort

The speed was actually good. At first I thought it was worse than a cruise ships in terms of reliability and speed but it turned out that that morning a quarter of the resort was out. Once it was resolved we had no issues as all; in fact we were even able to FaceTime with our son that was home with grandma.

This was information I was interested in before the trip, so I hope it helps you as well.

Happy travels!

Related Post: My Review of the El Dorado Royale

Gluten Free at Giovanni’s Table on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas

In March I had the opportunity to dine at Giovanni’s Table on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. Due to a medical diagnosis I am required to eat gluten free. This of course completely changes the dining experience.

My husband and I scheduled Giovanni’s as our date night. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. But starting at the beginning- I reviewed the menus for the 2 specialty restaurants that I was most interested in trying. The choice was between either Chops Steakhouse or Giovanni’s Table. [I attempted to provide links to pages for each restaurant but as of the time of this writing, RCI changed the website and information isn’t available without logging in to a cruise.]  We chose Giovanni’s based on it’s menu. It had a HUGE selection of offerings available gluten free, or so we thought. It seemed like the perfect choice.  Our assigned head waiter in the main dining room made our reservation for us and indicated that I have gluten allergy. Upon being seated we told our waiter that I had a gluten allergy but that I was interested in trying several different foods. This should have been our first clue, he seemed to blow it off.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of our meal. I think we were dumbfounded by our experience to remember the blogging aspect of the meal.

So for appetizers I chose the caprese salad, the antipasti and the eggplant parmesan, all of which had the GF symbol on the menu indicating they offered gluten free versions. The caprese was normal and tasty. The antipasti was odd. It had no parmesan and I recalled it being a very odd combination of offerings. It was not what I would consider normal. But it was otherwise fine.  When the eggplant was brought I remember thinking this just looks too amazing to be gluten free. I confirmed with the waiter that it was gluten free. I still was hesitant and requested that he double check with the chef.  [This was the point of the meal that I should have asked to speak to a manager and it was a poor decision on my part that I didn’t.] The waiter returned a few minutes later non-apologetically indicated that my eggplant had gluten. He indicated that they were made earlier in the day. He did not offer to provide me with a GF replacement.

For my main course I ordered the filet of beef with steak fries – since they had a designated fryer. The beef came with a wine sauce and it was tasty. The fries were very similar to those served at Red Robin. My husband ordered the mashed potatoes and they were not memorable.

For dessert they served me vanilla ice cream, and it wasn’t gelato. They had no other GF options.

We left this meal disappointed. I have no idea why we didn’t complain to management. I was not at all please to have spent $50 on this experience. I wish I had a more positive ending to this post.

How has your experience been  dining with allergies in specialty restaurants on Royal Caribbean? If you have any questions about this dining experience or any others I experienced on the FOS, please do not hesitate to ask below in a comment.

Happy Travels!

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My Review of the Four Seasons Orlando

IMG_5139
We had a pre-cruise one night stay at the Four Seasons Orlando at the end of February 2015. The traveling party was myself, my husband, my son who was nearly 21 months old and my mother. Due to the short stay and the price of the hotel, we stayed in 1 room. We reserved a king bed room. My son, Blake, would be sleeping in a pack and play; and my mother would be on the foldout couch!

The pre-stay communication was outstanding.  I received a call from the concierge asking if I needed help planning anything. As well as a couple of emails. They also wanted to know the age of my toddler so they could be prepared for his stay as well.

On arrival – the drive in through Golden Oaks is beautiful and the property is stunning. The staff are all very friendly and helpful. We did not encounter any staff member not willing to help. We had a lot of stuff since we were leaving for a 7 night cruise so we used Bell Services to carry up our stuff. We had a brand new stroller as ours was damaged in flight on our way here. They helped us to open up the box and unpack the stroller so we could get the box out of the room.

In the room there were 2 bottles of water in the fridge and plenty of espresso for for the Nespresso machine. They had 2 yogurt pouches for Blake. There was also a little stuffed animal friend in the crib. As well as a small package of wipes, 2 size 2 diapers and a bar of baby soap. All nice touches.

Turn down service was awkward as we were in the room. (This was the one area that was not executed perfectly. We had called to indicate that we would like turn down service to be done by 6:30, the time we would return to the room from dinner, and it wasn’t done.) They set up the foldout bed and brought 3 bottles of water to the room.

The beds were the most comfortable that I can recall being in. The bedding is very soft.

The bathroom set up in the room is not ideal for actual privacy. The doors in our particular didn’t actually close all the way. This was both for the small room with the toilet and the rest of the bathroom.

For my son we received a full sized crib. It was very clean and made up with a bottom sheet, a lightweight comforter and did have a bumper along the bottom inside. The crib was able to fit in the walk in closet. Even next to the bathroom this wasn’t a problem. Apparently it is comfortable because my son went straight down at night and was still sleeping 12 hours later.

The weather unfortunately didn’t cooperate with our plans to check out the children’s splash pad, zero entry infinity pool and lazy river. Those were the reasons we booked this hotel so it was extremely disappointing. Rainy and 65 wasn’t quite warm enough even with the heated pool. I’m sure if Blake was a bit older he’d be forcing us in there though. It all looked so inviting.

We did play in the kids activity center a bit and it was a lot of fun for my son. At this age I believe they have to stay accompanied by their parent in the kids club which was fine with us. They had everything a child would want to play with- blocks, a train set, barbies, action figures, a huge slide and more. It was a great, well thought out space. The staff also seemed amazing. There were 3 families of children to be watched by the staff on the night we were there. I am not sure how many employees actually staff the room but each family of kids had their own sitter giving them personal attention – playing and interacting with them. One set was playing a board game, another was making a craft (I believe it was a jewelry box), the final was playing action figures with 2 young boys. Every time a new set of children would arrive another sitter would appear. I assume there is a limit to this. That is just what we saw in the hour and a half we were there.

We finished off our stay with brunch at the buffet restaurant, Ravello. It was amazing. My mother, who is always a large critic of buffet food, absolutely loved everything. I have within the last year been diagnosed with celiac. The chef came out and told me what could be eaten and what he could make for me. I had made to order gluten free eggs benedict, pancakes, roasted potatoes, sausage and an amazing omelette.

This hotel must be returned to. I am hoping to do a split stay with a Disney hotel early this fall. If you have a chance to stay here- I highly recommend it.

Happy Travels!

Related Articles: Using Uber in Disney World