Things To Do In Nuevo Vallarta Mexico

Last month we were in Nuevo Vallarta Mexico and participated in some of the excursions available there. What we found on the excursions we took, is that in this part of Mexico, service is pretty top-notch. Even though we didn’t get to do absolutely everything, I’d think it’s safe to say that you will have an incredible experience on pretty much any of them. I was also impressed by the prices which were incredibly reasonable.

Rhythms of the Night–this was hands-down my favorite. You cruise on a huge catamaran over Banderas Bay, enjoying the sunset, to Las Caletas. The island is lit only by candle light.

You enjoy a romantic outdoor dinner next to the beach. The buffet-style dinner was of unbelievable quality and offered shrimp, fish, chicken and beef along with many accompaniments and desserts. After dining, you may have time to go relax in a beachside hammock or you may proceed up to the amphitheater for the “Cirque de Soleil” style native show. (The performances were pretty impressive!)

After the show, you are entertained by your crew and dance under the stars on your catamaran ride back to Puerto Vallarta. It was worth every penny for the 4+ hours of entertainment, but maybe not worth the extra cost to upgrade the tour.

Pegaso Whale Watchingthis was an incredible, all-day excursion. You depart early in the morning on a sailboat going the opposite direction across Banderas Bay. On the ride to Las Marietas, you watch for whales and you may be lucky enough to witness them breach or see a Momma and baby.

You then arrive at Marietas Islands marine preserve for some snorkeling. When you re-board the sailboat, you are served a delicious “brown bag” lunch, and begin the sail home with cocktails. The crew does a great job of accommodating everyone’s tastes for lunch and keeping a cocktail in your hand.

This is a very relaxing trip, but is an all day affair that packs a lot into your day. It is, however, a great way to take in all the scenery of Banderas Bay.

Puerto Vallarta City Tour–this was another fun, full-day excursion that allows you the chance to experience the local culture by bus and on foot. You begin the day by visiting local landmarks and monuments such as City Hall, the Guadalupe church, and the Malecon boardwalk.

Sightseeing is interspersed with shopping opportunities until you re-board the bus and head south into the rain forest where you will enjoy a delicious lunch and beverages of your choice.

After lunch, you will walk around the corner to a small tequileria, where you will learn the history of the family business and process for making the tequila.

The process is pretty interesting and it’s nice that you are allowed to taste the different flavors and grades of tequila. Even if you don’t typically like this liquor, you will likely find one you do like.

The tour ends with one last shopping opportunity and that includes buying bottles of tequila before your ride back to your resort. We also learned that tequila is good for marinating and cooking with so we brought home a bottle of almond tequila and use it to marinate shrimp.

We found that every excursion we embarked on was somewhat educational, a lot of fun, and provided quite a bit of culture. Service on each of them was exceptional, which I believe to be consistent for most excursions in the area. There were other activities that we would have liked to have done as well, but we ran out of time. But on our next trip to Nuevo Vallarta, we will be checking those out.

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Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico

Last month we finally got to head to Nuevo Vallarta, in Riviera Nayarit Mexico for a little fun and relaxation in the sun! I was kind of concerned that I may have pulled the trigger too quickly when booking this one, because I hadn’t done much research prior. When I checked Trip Advisor after the fact, it seemed like there were quite a few, not glowing, reviews. Here’s my feedback of our winter getaway:

Nuevo Vallarta–LOVE THIS PLACE! IMG_1716I think this is my new favorite destination in Mexico. Nuevo Vallarta is a small town just up the road from Puerto Vallarta and down the road from Bucerias. One thing I love about the whole area around Banderas Bay, is that it’s a conglomerate of numerous other small towns.  Nearby is Sayulita, which is known for it’s restaurants and souvenir shopping, the town of Yelapa is a small fishing village at the foot of the mountains and can only reached by boat, and the town I was dying to see, but ran out of time for, San Sebastian, which is a small, UNESCO World Heritage town frozen in the days of silver mining. Most of the towns were so beautifully colorful.IMG_1932Nuevo Vallarta was a part of Mexico that felt very safe. In the early morning hours, while on our balcony watching the sun rise over the Sierra Madre mountains, I would see people getting their walks or runs in on the street and sidewalks below. IMG_1727Our resort, which shared some of it’s amenities with a condo complex, was within walking distance to a farmer’s market, casino, and numerous restaurants. A lot of the snowbirds staying in the condos said they were able to walk or take a taxi to most places they needed to go.IMG_1736The local people were so friendly and accommodating. It seemed like everywhere we went, we had no trouble finding English speaking locals, which only meant my Spanish practice was again put on hold! Service, whether it be at the resort or in town or on an excursion, was top notch every where we turned. Everyone was just so nice, even those who wanted to step into the political discussions of President Trump’s policies.

We also befriended a couple of Canadian expatriates who were very elated to now be living there. They said that all they had to do to for temporary residency was prove that they had access to income the equivalent of 300 days worth of living at minimum wage (US$1400). For permanent residency, you would need to have an income the equivalent of 500 days worth of living (US$2,325). They had established a temporary residency and were living very comfortably in a 2 bedroom bungalow with all their monthly bills covered, along with the “typical” Mexican home conveniences of a cook, housekeeper, and a gardener. They were also in the process of establishing their own business of a fleet of sailboats for whale watching tourist excursions. IMG_1933They estimated that within 3 years their business would be thriving in the Mexican economy, especially with the good exchange rate of $19MXN to the $US1.

The only drawbacks on this trip, is that I wouldn’t consider the restaurants to be the caliber of the “unlimited luxury” that the resort boasts. The buffet restaurant was comparable to any other all inclusive resort and accurate to the Trip Advisor reviews–lukewarm and redundant food choices. The a la carte restaurants were pretty good–but, for instance, the steakhouse did not serve prime grade steaks–which is what I would consider unlimited luxury.

It was the little details that the resort was missing the target on. In contrast, I loved the soups served at the restaurants and you can read that post here.

The other disappointment in our resort was how the staff–almost all of them–kept pushing the “Unlimited Vacation Club” meeting. You can read more about that here. If the staff had spent half their time paying attention to the little details of the resort, instead of the time they spent trying to convince us to attend the meeting (we had already attended an AMResorts meeting last year in Huatulco). I may have been able to consider this a top of the line vacation. Who wants to be cooped up in a 2 hour meeting while on vacation? I don’t. And once I said no thanks, I really didn’t need to be asked again.

Would I return to Nuevo Vallarta again? Most certainly! In the future, I would like to spend about a month in the area, so I would have the time to see what I didn’t get to on this trip and get more familiar with the area. Would I stay in the same resort again? Uhhh, probably not. But I would consider renting one of the condos on the other side.

Riviera Nayarit It Is!

I’m cold. It’s winter and I’m cold. Yesterday, we saw the temperature hover between 2 (-16C) and 12 (-11C) degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factors of -10F (-23C.) For those of you who live in warmer climes, you have no idea how cold that is. When you walk outside even for a brief moment, you lose your breath!winter-3088579_1920

Thinking warm thoughts and listening to the reggae station are not warding off the cold. There’s not enough hot cocoa. We’re just going to have to head to the beach for a brief respite and to rejuvenate enough to get through the rest of winter.

I found a really good deal to Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta in Mexico. I know it seems like we spend a lot of time going to Mexico, but we can be there non-stop from St. Louis in 4 hours. Nuevo Vallarta is in the Mexican state of Nayarit, which is on the Pacific side and is a part of the country we’ve not yet visited before. The closest we’ve been on that coast is Huatulco which is 547 miles away, so not even very close.

I don’t yet know much about Nuevo Vallarta but I plan to do some research before we get there. It seems to be an up and coming area located between Puerto Vallarta and Bucerias, that is attracting the crowd that’s not interested in the hustle and bustle of Puerto Vallarta, but would like all the luxuries of a resort area.

It looks like there’s a lot to do in the area on land or in the sea. There are numerous small villages to be explored and shopped all within a 30 minute drive, and there are a lot of beach areas in Banderas Bay. Whether we want to spend the day on a secluded beach, check out some of the “walking beaches”, or even try our hand at surfing, there’s a beach for it. I’m also hoping that we can see some of the humpback whales who winter there, frolicking with their babies. (I just loved seeing the whales in Alaska, check out Juneau, Alaska.)

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Whale in Alaska

While the resort touts itself as an unlimited luxury all inclusive, which to me usually means great food, some of their Trip Advisor reviews beg to differ. Even though I only take the reviews with a  grain of salt, there is usually a bit of truth to them. I’m trying to keep in mind that the people who did not have a great experience tend to write reviews more frequently, and I’m hopeful the resort has worked out whatever kinks were getting in the way.

Would we cancel the trip or change resorts because of negative reviews? Probably not. Maybe if this were an important wedding, anniversary, or group trip I would reconsider going there. But this is just a mid-winter vacay for hubby and I. We’re pretty laid back and will roll with whatever we find at the resort.

If you have ever stayed at this Dreams and have anything negative to say, please post a review on Trip Advisor, don’t comment on this post. I’d rather go in as uninfluenced as possible and form my own opinion based on what we experience. If you have anything positive to say, feel free to do so in the comments.

Regardless, I’m cold. All I am really worried about is getting out of this cold and taking a break on the beach and seeing some of that side of Mexico. After that, winter won’t seem quite as long and I’ll be able to get through it better upon our return.

Gorgeous Sunsets

In scrolling through pics I have saved over the years, apparently I snap a lot of sunrises and sunsets. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cozumel, Mexico Sunset

 

Captiva Island, Florida Sunset

 

Negril, Jamaica Sunset

 

Riviera Maya, Mexico Sunrise

 

Riviera Maya, Mexico Sunrise

 

Lake Ozark, Missouri Sunset

 

Rocheport, Missouri Sunset

 

Guanacaste, Costa Rica Sunset

 

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic Sunrise

 

Negril, Jamaica Sunset

 

Grand Canyon, Arizona Sunset

Glacier Bay, Alaska Sunrise

Which one do you like best? Comment on your favorite, or share a pic of one you’ve seen.

Cozumel Mexico

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Cozumel, Mexico. As a newly certified scuba diver, I was chomping at the bit to go because Cozumel is usually considered one of the top 10 places to dive. A small island, located just off the Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is a little more laid back than Riviera Maya. It has more of an island feel to it–a little smaller, and quieter.

To get to Cozumel from Missouri, we had two choices. We could fly non-stop to Cancun, then ride a bus for 45 minutes south, then catch a ferry for another 45 minute ride over to Cozumel or fly to Atlanta, have a quick layover, then take a second flight on to Cozumel. Since the idea of lugging our suitcases onto a ferry didn’t sound very appealing, we opted for the latter and flew into Cozumel.

We stayed at the Iberostar, which was a wonderful resort.

Our room was half of a circular-shaped bungalow. It was kind of different to stay in a room that was a semi circle–there were no corners in which to stick my suitcase. We were also located right in the middle of the resort, equal distance to the pool, dive shop, and beach and we could see all three from our porch (which had a hammock on it).

Although our accommodations were awesome and we had a lot of activities to do at the resort, we ventured into town one afternoon for a Pirate Dinner Cruise later that night, which still ranks up there as one of the funnest days ever!

We took a cab into town, which was maybe 10 minutes from our resort. We arrived at a small shopping area across the road from the pier, where we would be boarding the Jean Laffite. At the moment, we were really in search of free Wi-Fi (our resort charged in 10 minute increments), which we found at a small, unassuming restaurant named Polar. We ordered some Tecate Light beers, split some fish tacos (which hubby doused with an incredibly HOT hot sauce), and were able to access everything we needed. After sitting there for 2 and a half hours, I don’t think our total bill came up to $20US.

After leaving Polar, we did a little shopping and stocked up on souvenirs. We came across a Fat Tuesday which was a fun place to have a cocktail and people watch.

Then it was time to get to the Pier and board our pirate ship! The performers were a talented bunch of guys who had the obligation of plying you with quantity (not quality) drinks and getting you to participate in the games which were part of the show. We cruised up the coast of Cozumel with these pirates entertaining every one in the group and then our ship turned around and headed back down the coast so that we all had the most incredible view of sunset.

We were also served dinner at this time, which was your choice of steak, lobster tail, or surf and turf. I had the surf and turf and thought the dinner was unbelievably good considering it had all been prepared in the small galley of our ship. If you EVER get the chance to go on the Pirate Dinner Cruise in Cozumel, Mexico, GO! You will have really fun 3 hour tour!

Care Package Help Wanted

We’ve recently returned home from a fun-filled week hanging out with in Mexico with our friends, the Beards. I originally met them 7 years ago at The Grand Palladium when they were a family of four. They are from England, I’m American. In those 7 years their kids have gotten older, their family is now a party of 5, and I’ve gotten married. We had a fun reunion! I introduced them to hubby, they introduced me to their newest family member Alfie Bear, and it was wonderful to see how their two older kids, Jasmine and Harvey, have grown up and matured.We got to catch up on some of the stories that we’ve each accumulated in the interim years. Hubby and Beard Dad, Matt, hit it off as I had predicted. They are like 2 peas in a pod with different accents. Mum Beard, Emma, told me the story of how she found out she was expecting Alfie Bear. Jasmine talked a lot about boys, like any teenage girl does. And Harvey shot me in an incredible game of pool. He’s pretty good, too!We got to eat, drink, and be merry together. We went snorkeling and hung at the pool together. We fed fish and went to see baby sea turtles hatching on the beach.We had cocktails in the lobby and watched some of the dance shows. We got to discuss the differences between our countries and make fun of each other’s accents.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention we also got to spend a little time with Emma’s parents, brother, and his girlfriend who were on the trip with them. Although, by the end of our time there, we were lucky enough to join in celebrating with them after Emma’s brother John proposed to girlfriend Robyn. We wish them all the best!

But as all good things come to an end, our 1-week vacay ended a week before their 2-week holiday and it was time to again bid adieu.We said our goodbyes and promised to meet again here, there, or on another vacay. We’ve returned home and re-entered the grind of daily life.

Here’s my dilemma. We’re putting together a care package to send across the pond. We have some personal requests for specific items like a Hooters T-Shirt , Twizzlers , Flavored Oreo Cookies, and Cheetos . But what else? Please drop me a comment and make credible suggestions about what an English family would consider a treat from their American amigos.

Frontier Air

They call themselves an American “ultra low cost carrier”. They fly to 54 domestic destinations and 5 international spots. 
They used to fly to more locations and they were the contracted charter flight provider for more international flights a couple of years ago. However, they’ve undergone this transition in order to pass along low fares to us. Some of their changes are good, but some of their changes probably haven’t been well received.

We recently flew Frontier to Mexico for a little autumn R and R. The first thing I noticed while walking down the aisle during boarding was how sleek and modern the seats looks. They weren’t the bigger, cushier chairs that other airlines still provide. They actually reminded me of really nice, upgraded, leather, patio chairs. Apparently, the chairs have a 17 inch pitch, which while I don’t know what that means, I DO know they don’t recline. They are considered to be pre-reclined, but didn’t really feel that way to me. It made for a very upright flight.

Additionally, you get a tray table that is about half the size of other airlines. The good thing is they just fold up, and you don’t have to latch them. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are so small. Seriously, maybe 6 inches by 12 inches. It wasn’t even really big enough to comfortably hold my mini-iPad.

The biggest change was the fact that snacks and beverages were available for a charge. That’s fine, if eliminating free snacks and beverages are going to be reflected in my ticket price, awesome! We typically bring along something to snack on anyway. But, I’m sure for those not familiar with that quirk of Frontier, or for those ready to start the vacation party, it would be frustrating. Especially, considering the prices. Four adult beverages for $23.97, and no chance of getting a “value” pour. And, your beverage isn’t going to fit on the tray table if you have out your mini iPad.

All in all, Frontier is a good brand. But if you’re looking to fly in comfort and style, you may be disappointed. You know how you really get what you pay for? With Frontier, you only get what you pay for, with no bells or whistles, but they will get you to your destination.

Countdown Mexico

We’re headed to Mexico soon. Meeting up with our British friends, the Beards, for a replay of a vacation 7 years ago at The Grand Palladium in the Riviera Maya.  Here’s a list of what I’ll need to get done before we go:

  • Check cambio to see what the current exchange rate is so I can decide how much money to exchange (please be a good exchange rate, so I can shop more!)
  • Gather up travel insurance info, which is already saved in my email
  • Get our passports out of the safe
  • Make color copies of our passports to leave behind with trustworthy friends in case they’d need to bail us out of any situation. I also keep a copy on my phone.
  • Switch my phone over to Mexico calling and text package (we rarely use our phones while out of the country, but you never know when you may need more than wi-fi
  • Alert my bank and credit card company of our travel dates, so they don’t think someone stole my cards and ran off to Mexico
  • Bring the suitcases up from storage, so we can start packing
  • Round up a lot of small bills for tipping

Things to remember to pack besides clothes:

  • iPad mini  and chargers
  • Water shoes or dive boots (probably boots this time considering how many sting rays we saw in that area last time)
  • Underwater camera—I’ll make sure everything is cleaned and fully charged before packing it in my carry-on
  • Ear buds and a book for the plane (I will also have a sweater and pair of socks in my carry-on in case it’s a cold flight)
  • Band aids, nail polish, and polish remover pads
  • Prescription meds and OTC meds–Tums, Benadryl, ibuprofen, Imodium just in case. It costs way more to buy them there
  • Sunscreen and insect repellant to ward off mosquitos
  • Snorkel gear: mask, snorkel, fins—the last time we needed to borrow fins the crew could only find one fin in hubby’s size
  • If we decide to dive, I can rent that gear there
  • Dive log

Clothes wise, I will mostly pack:

  • bathing suits
  • Cover ups
  • Dresses for dinner
  • Flip flops and sandals
  • One pair of tennis shoes
  • Some gym/workout clothes (the resort has a pretty cool gym)

Pretty much anything else beyond that, is going to be overkill for a week-long trip. Honestly, I probably don’t need much more than the bathing suits anyway.

Tragedy in Huatulco

Well, not really a tragedy, but definitely a small scare.  After our mountain excursion which included hiking to the Llano Grande waterfall, I got to experience Mexican Medico care. I remember on the ride back to the resort, having an achy feeling on my face right on my jawline. I didn’t really think much of it, I figured I was about to have a break-out from using so much sunblock on my face.IMG_3311I woke around 2 am to excruciating pain on my jawline. When I reached up to touch my face, I realized something was really wrong. In the dark of our room, I could feel a knot on my jaw that was burning hot and about the size of an egg. I quietly laid in bed until about 5 am, but when I realized it was getting bigger and probably wasn’t going to go away without some antibiotics, I woke hubby. I wouldn’t let him turn on the lights to look at the assumably freakish-looking growth on my face. Instead, I told him he was going to have to get me to a doctor–and soon!IMG_3326

We knew there was a Medico on resort, and called the front desk to find out where he was located and what were his hours. Apparently, the front office agent thought my 6 am call was serious enough and he patched me on through to the Medico, whom I obviously woke up. He said he would be on resort by 9 am and could see me then. I was in so much pain by then, we were waiting at his office an hour early.

The doctor was dressed in a pink shirt, white pants, and pink shoes and had two assistants who’s combined age probably wasn’t even 40. (Really, they looked like tweens.) He took a look at my face and said he believed I had been bitten by “something” and said he would need to give me a shot in the cheek (he clarified big cheek, not little cheek) and write me 2 prescriptions, which I could then fill conveniently right in his office. He said it would require $450 USD in order to get treatment.

I was in the habit of charging resort services to the room and presumed I could do that with the medico visit. Nope! No credit cards either.  He said $450, cash, US dinero. I was rooting through my small purse (it’s really only big enough to carry a little cash and a cell phone) trying to count up my cash on hand. The tweens, who were now on either side of me intently looking down into my purse as I was sorting the cash, now felt like thugs. I was sure if I balked at giving them every last dollar I had in my little purse, they would take it anyway. We had only brought about half of the requested amount up from the room with us (thinking certainly it wouldn’t cost THAT much), but the good doctor said he would be leaving the office soon and we could put the rest in an envelope and slip it under his door before noon that day.

After my shot, and 2 filled prescriptions for medicines I’ve never heard of, we left the Medico’s office. We returned before noon and slipped the rest of the money under his office door.  It really felt like we were committing some type of crime instead of paying the doctor’s bill.  Thankfully, within a couple of days, the swelling in my face had subsided and I was starting to feel better.IMG_3411This was one of the incidents that made me see the value in travel insurance (see my post on Why You MUST Buy Travel Insurance).  While this small claim probably wouldn’t have even met the deductible I likely would have chosen, and I still would have had to pay cash, what if it had been worse or cost even more? Or what if I didn’t have the cash on hand? I don’t even want to think about that.

Making Travel a Priority

I’ve been asked so many times, how can I afford to travel as frequently as I do?  It’s very easy–my husband and I have made travel a priority in our lives, budgets, etc.  You only live once and this is a way we prefer to live.

We actually have a running list of where we’d like to go, how long of a trip it should be, and then we work towards making it happen. Some places are great for a long weekend–if we can drive there in a few hours or fly there quickly–like Las Vegas or Memphis, anything concerning the beach and relaxation should be a 1 week trip, and anywhere that will involve a long flight or a lot of exploration–Europe or Greece–will be a 2 week trip.

map of greece

However, sometimes we have to sprinkle in unplanned trips which can set our list back a little. For instance, my British friends Matt and Emma will be on holiday in Mexico in October.  I originally met them in Mexico, so we’ve decided to vacation at the same resort as a reunion of sorts.  We weren’t planning to go to Mexico this year–we’ve been there so many times–but I can’t wait to see Matt and Emma!

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Grand Palladium Pool

How do we save for a trip?  Easy, we have one bank account set aside, just for trip money AND we put half of every paycheck in there.  Sounds like a lot , right? But we consider travel just as important as making the truck payment.  We cut all other extraneous costs down to a minimum, so unless it’s a necessity, extra money doesn’t get spent.  I never stop to buy a cup of coffee on my way in to work and I rarely eat lunch out.  I usually bring a lunch to work with me.  We use coupons to help keep the grocery bill down, and use our grocery shopper’s card to rack up our fuel points. We also work from a grocery list and don’t buy a bunch of stuff that’s not on it–this means very little junk food.  It also helps that my husband is a bargain shopper–we never buy new clothes unless they are on sale.  I love the beginning of summer when I get to stock up on sweaters for next year!  Any extra money we receive also ends up in this account–bonuses, gifts, etc.

Keep in mind, this isn’t our only savings.  We also have another account for saving for emergency or capital expenses.  This way, if a big expense comes up, like the time I slid off the road in black ice and needed all 4 tires replaced at the same time, we take it from that account NOT the vacation account.  And the first money that comes out of any pay is retirement/401K/mutual funds.  We are paying ourselves and our retirement before anything else so that hopefully when we are retired, we have enough money to travel to our hearts content!

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We will also bargain shop for the trip.  I will do frequent comparisons of prices through Apple Vacations, Funjet, and Cheap Caribbean.  Doing a search on Expedia will alert me to which airlines fly to our destination and what the flight schedules look like.  Based on those results, I will then price bundled trips through the airlines.  Typically, during these searches I can also determine if there are any sales on certain resorts or airlines which can also help us save money on the trip cost.  I love a good fill-the-rooms sale!

Overall, if you are planning your budget wisely and sticking to it (it does take diligence and discipline), it’s pretty easy to save for vacationing.