Secrets Playa Mujeres

Secrets playa mujeres

Playa Mujeres Area

Playa Mujeres is a new resort area north of Cancun on the mainland. You can see Isla Mujeres from the area, and it’s only a short ferry ride away. Secrets Playa Mujeres is the northernmost resort in the area. About 2 miles south is the Finest Playa Mujeres, Excellence Playa Mujeres, and Beloved. There is also a marina, condos, and a Greg Norman golf course. The entire area is basically a gated community…very safe and quiet. In 2016, AM Resorts plans to build a Dreams in this area.


Upon arrival to the resort, we were greeted with a warm welcome, cool towel, and glass of Secrets playa mujeres kelly 2champagne (none for me). We were notified that we had been upgraded to the Preferred Club and would have a special check in at the Preferred Club lounge, located near the guest rooms.

The resort is split into two sections. Guestrooms, the pool, some restaurants (including buffet), some bars, and Preferred Club are by the beach. The main lobby, spa, gym, specialty restaurants, nightclub, and conference center are located towards the road. The two sections are separated by vegetation and an overlook area where you can view wildlife. There is a nice paved path between the two sections, and while you could certainly walk, there are nonstop shuttles running between the two sections. We never waited more than two minutes for a shuttle.

Check in at the Preferred Club went very quickly, and they assured us our room would be ready after we had lunch (it was!). The Preferred Club Lounge itself had a bar with top shelf liquor, bathrooms, computers, comfortable seating, a nice patio area, and served snacks throughout the day.

Our Preferred Club upgrade got us “Preferred status and amenities, Preferred Club suites in premium locations, Personalized check-in and checkout with concierge service, Daily à la carte breakfast service in Oceana restaurant, Afternoon hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, Exquisite desserts and fine liquors, Private Preferred Club Lounge, Pillow menu, Complimentary newspaper in suite every day (English or Spanish)

Complimentary Internet access in suite, Complimentary computer access in Preferred Club Lounge, Upgraded mini-bar service, Upgraded bath amenities, One day pass to the wet areas of the Secrets Spa by Pevonia (per person, per stay), 20% off spa treatments (not combinable with any other promotions or offers).


Secrets playa mujeres kelly 3The Secrets Playa Mujeres has only 424 rooms and definitely has a small resort feel without losing any of the amenities and activities of a large resort. Every room is a suite and 85% of them are ocean view. Most rooms have king beds, though there are a few with double beds, a private balcony or terrace, spa tub and separate shower, large vanity, minibar (with soda, water, beer, mini liquor bottles, and snacks), coffee maker (we had a Espresso machine), free internet access, free international calls, bathrobes & slippers, tv with many American channels, hair dryer, iron, safe, etc.

Our room was a first floor, Preferred Club Junior Suite with an ocean view (although the ocean view part was a bit of a stretch). Our patio had steps that led right down into a small pool that ran the length of our room block. It was pretty private and did not connect to the main pools.  We loved this feature! It was great to have a somewhat private place to swim and relax. Each night, the staff brought us a small treat ranging from chocolates to macaroons. It was a nice touch.

Secrets playa mujeres kelly 4The king sized bed was comfortable, linens were nice, and while we didn’t use the included pillow menu, our room already had a variety of pillows. Air conditioning worked great, never had any issues with anything in the room.

This resort has a bunch of oceanfront suites where guests can walk right out into the sand. These suites all have a private pool, too. The downside is that there is vegetation on the grounds between these rooms and the beach, so I can’t say how great the view is.


The resort has one large pool area, but the pool is split up into three pools separated by a walkway. The middle pool has a swim up bar. The pool furthest from the beach has a handicap accessible zero depth entry. The pool closest to the beach is an infinity pool with a really shallow section. There are four hot tubs near the pools. The pools are all heated and in good condition.

There is a lot of seating near the pool and plenty of shade or sun, depending on your preference. Towels are restocked consistently and there is beverage service.

One thing that really stood out to me is that the pool was open until 8pm, which is kind of a rarity in Mexico.


The beach at the Secrets Playa Mujeres is beautiful! You do need to walk down some steps to get to Secrets playa mujeres kelly 7the beach and follow a wooden path through some foliage, but it makes the beach feel really secluded. There were plenty of chairs, umbrellas, and sun beds. This area of Mexico was not experiencing the weed problems that the Riviera Maya has experienced this year, but the staff was consistently raking up what little weeds there were.

Guests could walk on the beach for miles in either direction before coming across another resort.  There is a bar down by the beach, plus plenty of waitresses. One of the best parts of this beach – no sandbags!

Restaurants & Bars

The resort has seven a la carte restaurants, a buffet, a café, and seven bars.

Market Café – Buffet for breakfast and lunch (or really early dinner since it doesn’t close until 4pm). We loved the breakfasts here. The lunches were okay. Both were standard resort buffet selection, but the staff did a great job keeping everything fresh and well stocked.

Seaside Grill – Featured grilled food and seafood for lunch and dinner. .

Portofino – Italian a la carte dinner restaurant. Food was amazing, a really nice selection with generous portions. They have a nice wine selection, even for the included resort wines.

Bordeaux – French cuisine; definitely our favorite restaurant. Food was very well prepared and staff was phenomenal. They set a really romantic atmosphere for this restaurant.

Coco Café – Featured specialty coffee drinks, pastries, and sandwiches. This was a great place for coffee and snacks. They had everything from ham sandwiches to cheesecake and macaroons.

We did not eat at the Barefoot Grill (open are-grilled food and pizzas), Oceana seafood, or El Patio Mexican restaurant.


Secrets-Playa-Mujeres-5There was always a lot going on at this resort! First I do have to mention that green fees were complimentary at the Playa Mujeres Golf Course. There was also a full gym, fitness classes, a trampoline, beach sports, water sports, and SCUBA classes. For the non-sports lover there were cooking classes, BINGO, entertainment shows, and nature hikes.

The entertainment staff was enthusiastic without being pushy and always had a lot of participants for whatever they were doing. You wouldn’t be bored at this resort unless you wanted to be.

There were also nightly shows in the theater and musicians around the pool throughout the evening. The pool area also had fire pits that guests could sit around at night. Twice in four nights there was a shopping market set up in the common area.

Who Will Enjoy This Resort

This resort would be great for groups or destination weddings. It’s well set up for socializing with a group of people. It’s also great for people who enjoy socializing and a fun, active atmosphere…there’s always something going on around the resort.

It’s a great option for someone who wants to be near Cancun without actually being in the city. It’s only a 10 minute car ride from Cancun. It’s also very close to the ferry to Isla Mujeres.

Other Tips and Information

  • The towel game was strong at this resort, however there was enough seating that you could find a place throughout the day.
  • Secrets Resorts has an app that features everything you would ever need to know about the resort from menus to activity schedules. I highly recommend downloading this.

Fox World Travel Announces Two New Hires

rebecca-jim-prFox World Travel is excited to announce two new hires in our Vacation Travel Division. Rebecca Kollmann has joined the Marketing Department as Director of Marketing and Jim Hodges is a new Business Development Manager for Group Vacations.

Kollmann has over 15 years’ experience in the promotional marketing field, and over ten years’ experience leading diverse marketing, project, sales and creative teams. Kollmann is a graduate of UW-Oshkosh where she also earned her Master of Business Administration degree. Kollmann will oversee at Fox World Travel a marketing team responsible for supplier relations, customer communications, advertising and marketing initiatives.

Hodges joins Fox World Travel after spending 30 years in the radio broadcast industry, most recently with Journal Broadcast Group in Milwaukee. Hodges is responsible for developing custom group travel with radio and television stations as well as affinity groups nationwide to build brand awareness and increase customer loyalty. Hodges is a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Rebecca and Jim to Fox World Travel. Both bring strong leadership skills, diverse business backgrounds and new ideas that we are anxious to develop to benefit our clients,” said Brian Hurley, Vice-President of Vacation Travel.

New Destination Wedding Travel Team Announced

Fox World Travel is excited to announce the expansion of their destination wedding services to offer more focused and individualized services to their clients. Their new Destination Wedding Department will provide couples with the ultimate wedding experiences in destinations throughout the world, the most popular of which are Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii. Services include destination and travel consultation, rate negotiations, coordination of guest reservations, group management, online booking capabilities, and creative design.

Fox World Travel’s new department consists of Betsy Stark, Destination Wedding Supervisor, and Andrea Pradarelli and Erin Stair, the team’s Destination Wedding Travel Specialists. Andrea and Erin will consult with wedding couples and their guests to recommend travel options and coordinate details. Sue Lautenschlager and Emily Cook will provide operational and administrative support to the team.

Destination Wedding Planners in Andrea recently was a Travel Consultant with Fox World Travel’s Sheboygan Office. Andrea’s goal is to create a unique and exceptional dream destination wedding for her clients.

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin spent the last 15 years living in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico. As a destination wedding coordinator, Erin has a passion for thinking outside the box and offering suggestions for unique, dream weddings. She has planned spectacular wedding events in the Riviera Maya and developed long-lasting, relationships with the most highly acclaimed and up-and-coming vendors in the area, including mariachi bands, fire dancers, Mayan shamans, photographers, florists, wedding cake professionals, and personal décor vendors.

“All five of these associates bring a wealth of experience and knowledge from within the travel industry and our company,” said Jenni Vaninetti, Manager of Group Vacations. “I’m thrilled we now have the opportunity to expand our destination wedding planning services and provide a superior experience for couples when planning their special day.”

Visit our destination weddings page to submit an online request today or reach us by calling toll free 800-690-4494.

Caracol Eco Resort & Spa, Playa Del Carmen with Sue Lautenschlager

June 7 – Sunday

The flight went great and the Lomas rep was waiting at the airport for our non-stop transfer. Our room was not ready upon arrival at 11AM so one of the employees showed us to the snack bar so we could eat and get something to drink. When we were able to check in we received a free upgrade from a standard room to a Select Club Deluxe Room

The Select Club (for adults only) has a separate check-in/reception area. In the Select Club area Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 2there are 3 room categories – 1) “Superior”, which is a standard room, 2) “Deluxe” which includes a Jacuzzi tub and 3) “Penthouse” category, but I was not able to see that room in any of the sections. The Select Club offers many extra amenities; for example, 1) SC only pool and La Jungla, an a la carte restaurant (breakfast and lunch only), 2) Oceanfront Club House, serves premium liquor, has light dessert type snacks, board games and free wi-fi, 3) private concierge and check-in. They are working on free wi-fi in the room in this section and it should be completed later this year.

The Royal Elite Ocean Front area offers beachfront penthouse rooms and additional amenities. Some of the amenities are 1) discounts on the spa, golf, wine, room upgrades, transfers and romantic dinners, 2) free wi-fi in room, 3) 24 hour room service, 4) premium bar selection, 5) unlimited a la carte dinners, 6) Royal Elite Beach Club and 7) Royal Elite Pool with waiter service. This is the newest build on the property and is very upscale looking. This category also accommodates families.

After a quick dip in the adult’s only pool and a nap we headed out to have dinner and explore the property. Along the way (the first of MANY times we got lost!) we happened into the Xcalacoco Facilities – a special Mayan natural area. It was here we saw a “Jesus Walker” in the wild (a small lizard that runs on its hind legs and can “walk” on water). We also witnessed a Mayan ritual where a woman was blindfolded and standing bare foot near a small cenote while another woman chanted to music and danced around her with sage. The spa offers a selection of healing Mayan treatments as well as other spa treatments. There was also a Temazcal (indigenous steam bath [igloo] with aromatic grasses) in this area.

Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 3We stopped to watch the Spider Monkeys, which was super cool! I have seen monkeys in the wild before but they seemed so at ease on this property. Even the workers would stop whatever they were doing to allow “nature” to take its course. We saw many raccoons and coatis on the property as well. The habitat allowed these animals to root around in their own natural area and they really didn’t disturb the guests. Of course, there were still those guests that tried to hand feed them!

June 8 – Monday

We ate at the Select Club La Jungla then met the Sales Manager, Alex Martinez G., for a quick tour of the property. It was the first time I had a personalized tour and it was great asking a ton of questions. After meeting the onsite Wedding Coordinator, Marine Gautier-Larret, then eating lunch at La Jungla (the fish and chicken here were very good), we plopped into a lounge chair at the Select Club pool for a couple hours. Since I LOVE to walk the beach we headed there next. The beach was very sea-weedy, as has been common this year. I walked along the beach then we wandered around for bit before heading back to the room to clean up for dinner. On our “lost tour” back to the room, we found the Spa and headed in to try out the facilities (free for adults only). We also browsed the shops to see what they had.

Our room was set up against the jungle so we had a lot of flowers and birds outside our balcony.Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 5  Our most frequent visitor was the Yucatan Jay – a very noisy but very beautiful bird. We were serenaded late every afternoon/early evening by this bird.

Alex arranged for us to have supper at Lirios, the fish and steak restaurant. Since I normally eat fish, I thought I would try a t-bone steak. My husband had the New York Strip and loved it. Everything else we ordered was very good. We again headed down to the Oceanfront Club House and met a couple from Germany. He has family in Cuba City, WI and has been here to visit!  The world sure gets smaller when you travel! We relaxed for several hours here, listening to the waves and soft music, watching the sun turn the clouds pink. This became our favorite time of each day… AND our favorite spot!

June 9 – Tuesday

We again ate at the Select Club La Jungla for a late breakfast. Today was the day for me to swim in the cenote! I was so excited!! I had my new goggles and my newly fashioned floating camera gear, ready to see what I could see and capture it. “On the way” to the cenote we got terribly lost and ended up in the Mayan natural area again. This time we decided to take a little more time to explore. We found the open space where they hold one of the other Mayan “shows”. We went through the “jungle” area which had a suspension bridge over a cenote, where we saw a couple double breasted cormorants. We watched the spider monkeys again. This time we saw a momma nursing her baby… really a precious site!

Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 4We enjoyed a couple hours at the beach. I tried to go swimming in the ocean, but there were quite a few rocks in the water and I didn’t have water shoes (and was not buying $40 water shoes at the gift shop!!). I opted to dip in the water and walk the beach a bit more. That night we had dinner at the Mediterranean Restaurant and had the best meal of our stay. I again ordered a steak and it was absolutely wonderful – along with everything else. The dessert… WOW! It was a warm chocolate lava cake with a scoop of ice cream on the top. It was heavenly!

There was a traditional Mayan story (“show”) that night on the beach in front of this restaurant. We thought we would have the best seats in the house, but you couldn’t see very well and you couldn’t hear much. It was a fantastic atmosphere though. After supper we wandered over to the Oceanfront Club Bar and chatted with our new German friends for a while. We ended up sitting there until it closed at 10PM. We tried to stay out late this night but I was ready for the cool air conditioning!

June 10 – Wednesday

By now you know the drill… ate at La Jungla and lounged by the pool. Then we headed up to the spa/jacuzzi area, a “second floor” area in the adult only pool area which we had not visited yet and decided we liked the other ones more, so we went in search of the other pools we had not seen. We first went to the Chill Pool, and because the kid’s waterpark was closed for remodeling, this pool then became the kid’s activities pool. We stayed on one end and the kids being there didn’t really bother us. They had waiter service and a non swim up bar next to the pool. As we were leaving this area, the heavens opened and it just down poured! Eventually we left the pool overhang and ran down to the Oceanfront Club Bar. Needless to say, it was busy inside so we got a drink and went to the second story lounge area. We stayed just long enough for the rain to stop then left to walk the property. It pretty much rained off and on the rest of the day/night.

We had a light meal at the snack bar and went back to the room. We napped a bit in the room beforeCaracol Eco Resort & Spa 13 heading out for the Mexican buffet restaurant that is only open on Wednesdays. My husband decided to try one of the salsas… it was just a little hot. I could see him living out the cartoon where the guy’s head gets red, fire coming out his ears and breaking out in a MAJOR sweat! He couldn’t even eat his last chip!

We went to the theatre and watched a bit of the show – Finding Nemo/Toy Story. We had decided that we REALLY needed to see the disco so we had drinks with another couple until 11 when it opened. It definitely was the most hoppin’ disco we’ve been to in Mexico! Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay very long because we had to pack to leave the next morning.

June 11 – Thursday

Our last day… raining cats and dogs! Our transfers arrived at the hotel at 6:25AM so we didn’t have time to do anything but pack and leave for the airport. One unusual thing… the airport is under construction so when we walked through the doors of the gate to “board our plane”, we actually got put on a bus and driven out to an airplane that was not seen from inside! Since it was still raining, it was nice to get driven out there, but just a bit strange that we were already ticketed!


There were 2 specific wedding locations on this property. However, there were many other places a wedding could be held so you could always speak with the wedding planner to arrange exactly what would suit you. The first of the 2 primary locations was on the cenote where I went swimming. They have a deck area that is a very beautiful… especially if a bride likes the water but doesn’t want to be in the wind on the beach. The second location is on the beach in front of the Royal Elite Club area. This space has these really unique round balls that could be lit at night or serve as shade and a bit of a wind break during the day. You can see below how the “aisle” is lined with plants. For the wedding being held on this night they had sunflower decorations on the dinner tables and a small bar set up off to the right. At 11PM when the disco opened the guests could go right up the stairs to the disco! I was told that many local couples get married here, too.Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 15Caracol Eco Resort & Spa 16

Oahu Hawaii with Carri Kersten

19 years. That’s how long my husband and I talked about a trip to Hawaii before we finally were able to make it a reality. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the islands several times, but this would be his first visit. In all of the excitement of planning, we soon had a couple of friends that wanted to join us.  Since Hawaii would be a new destination for the three of them, and Pearl Harbor was on everyone’s “must do” list, we decided to focus the full week on Oahu. I planned a busy week for us.Oahu

May 23

We flew nonstop on United from Chicago O’Hare to Honolulu. By booking early, I was able to secure our seats in the two seat section of economy class, which made the 8 hour and 45 minute flight much more bearable. Meals, snacks, and alcoholic beverages were available for purchase. Wi-fi was not available on our outbound aircraft, but was available and complimentary on our return aircraft. The United app must be downloaded on your device prior to boarding in order to take advantage of their wi-fi.

Our first three nights were spent at the Waikiki Parc which is located off the beach, right across the street from the Halekulani hotel. A sidewalk near the front entrance takes you directly to Waikiki Beach, so it is very convenient and an affordable option for someone who wants close proximity to the water.

We confirmed an Ocean View room category and were given a room on the 18th floor.  This gave us a great view!  Our friends were also confirmed in an Ocean View room category, but were assigned the 8th floor which limited their view but gave them a very large balcony.  A nice pool and a small fitness center are also located on the 8th floor of this property. Wi-Fi, beach mats and towels were all complimentary.

For cocktails and dinner this evening we opted for Duke’s Waikiki, a hallmark of Waikiki Beach. The place was packed with diners at 10pm, but service was excellent, and the food was phenomenal.  They feature four “fresh catch” recipes every day, but I opted for the Pulehu Style Filet of Beef Tenderloin. It was grilled with Hawaiian sea salt, brown sugar, cracked pepper, ginger and garlic, and topped with roasted garlic butter. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best steak I have ever eaten! For dessert they brought us their Hula Pie, macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream, and more macadamia nuts. Is your mouth watering yet?

May 24th was a planned Waikiki Beach day. If you haven’t been there yet, this is the best place to spend an afternoon watching the surfers, enjoying the warm tradewinds, and playing in the waves.  Dinner tonight was spent at Nobu Waikiki, an Asian Fusion restaurant. Our waiter was excellent at making recommendations, and  thanks to him we shared eight courses of Japanese cuisine intertwined with Peruvian influence.

May 25th – Memorial Day

Oahu Memorial DayAs a military family, we were very excited at the idea of spending Memorial Day at the Arizona Memorial.  I took it one step further by planning a full day WWII Battlefield Tour for us with Home of the Brave Tours.

We were picked up at our hotel at 5:40am in order to avoid the long lines and also to be able to be at the Arizona Memorial at approximately the same time it was attacked on December 7, 1941. Our historian / tour guide was fantastic. He shared historical facts and stories about the events leading up to, during, and after the war. On this tour we also visited Fort Shafter, Schofield Army Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Punchbowl National Memorial where every gravestone was decorated with hand sewn leis by the Boy Scouts of America and American flags in honor of Memorial Day. It was a breathtaking sight. We boarded the Arizona Memorial, and saw Battleship Row and Ford Island. The highlight of the day for me was meeting and visiting with two Pearl Harbor survivors, it was something that I will never forget. The tour wrapped up with a stop at the Home of the Brave Brewseum, which is like taking a step back in time to the 1940’s. This building houses an enormous collection of WWII memorabilia donated by our Veterans and their families, and they have replicated a 1940’s era bar and lounge where you can enjoy craft beers or $1 glass bottles of coke. It was an amazing day and I would highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in the military or history.

That evening we walked to Ala Moana Beach to watch the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony whichOahu Lanterns is held annually on Memorial Day. Thousands of people gather on the beach to remember their loved one by floating a paper lantern inscribed with messages.  There is music, prayer, and reflection, followed by the release of the lanterns. This year over 42,000 people were in attendance and 6,000 lanterns floated in the water. It was a beautiful evening and a great way to finish our day.

May 26th

Halekulani Hotel OahuThis is one of the most prestigious resorts on Oahu, and is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.  The name Halekulani means “House Befitting Heaven” and this is a true description of this property.  It is located directly on the beach, and has one of the most beautiful pools in Hawaii. The service was outstanding, and our Ocean View room on the 14th floor gave us a gorgeous view of Diamond Head.

The Halekulani and the Waikiki Parc are sister hotels, so Parc guests are invited to attend the nightly complimentary hula show at Halekulani’s House without a key outdoor staged area.  This show is a big draw, and guests start arriving by 5pm to get a seat, grab a drink, and order a piece of their famous coconut cake.

This evening we took a sunset catamaran cruise with Hawaii Nautical.  They picked us up at our Catamaran Cruise Oahuhotel, and we sailed for two hours sipping cocktails, munching on appetizers, and watching the sun sink behind the mountains.  One of the crew members even mixed me his original cocktail The Catatonic. Yum!  The crew was fantastic, and I’d highly recommend this company for scuba or snorkeling trips, dolphin and whale watching excursions, and dinner cruises.  They even offer a catamaran cruise strictly for guests of Disney’s Aulani.

May 27th

Today we rented a convertible from Hertz at the Hyatt Regency and headed out for a day exploring Oahu.  It’s important for people to realize that Oahu is much more than Waikiki Beach and Pearl Harbor.  We decided to skip the hike to Diamond Head and opted instead to hike the lesser known Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail on the eastern tip of the island.  It’s a moderate 40 minute hike up, but well worth it as the views are fantastic.  We even spotted two dolphins playing alongside a whale.

MakapuFrom here we ventured north to Kualoa Ranch.  Kualoa Ranch is a 4000 acre ranch where you can experience horseback riding, ATV riding, zip lining, and much more.  Many movies were filmed at this location and there is a one hour movie site tour offered for those interested in seeing the locations firsthand. We decided on the Secret Island experience.  We packed a cooler and were taken by ferry to their private island for an afternoon at leisure.  Snorkel equipment, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards were available for our use, as well as beach volleyball.  The beach was beautiful, and the scenery was stunning.  I have always wanted to try stand up paddle boarding, and this was the perfect scenario for me to learn the sport.  The water was calm, life jackets were provided, and we had plenty of time to play around and figure it out.  I absolutely loved it!

After leaving Kualoa Ranch and all of that activity we were famished.  Next up on my “must do” list was a stop at one of the many famous shrimp trucks on the North Shore.  After speaking with some locals, the advice was to stop at the Shrimp Shack.  The owner, Irene, and her big yellow truck have been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel.

Next up was a stop at Turtle Bay Resort to watch the real surfers take on the giant waves, browse the pro shop at the golf course, and walk around this spectacular resort.  Before heading back to Waikiki we had one last stop to make for me.  A visit to Matsumoto’s Shave Ice in Haleiwa was the last thing to check off on my list for the day.  Their shave ice is served in many different ways – with your choice of homemade syrups, azuki beans, ice cream and some even order it with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk across the top.  If time allows, it would be great to spend an afternoon browsing the shops and galleries in Haleiwa.

May 28th

As I’m a beach fanatic, we decided to spend our last day in paradise on Waikiki Beach.  I booked the Paradise Cove Luau for that evening, as I think every newbie to Hawaii should experience at least one luau in their lifetime.  On a recommendation from a friend (thanks Debbi Haney!) I booked the VIP experience for us.  We were seated up front for the show, dinner was served to us instead of having to stand in a buffet line, and cocktails and a souvenir photo were included in our package.  If you are planning an evening at Paradise Cove, prepare for a long night.  We were picked up at our hotel in Waikiki by 3:30pm and didn’t return until 10:30pm that evening.

May 29th

Our vacation came to a close with a return transfer from Roberts of Hawaii and a nonstop flight back to Chicago.  I’m still trying to recover from the time change.  We haven’t eaten dinner before 9pm any night this week, I want to stay up late each night, and sleep in late each morning.  In the end, it’s a small price to pay for visiting this beautiful island!Oahu 2

Contact one of our Hawaii specialists today to book your once in a lifetime adventure!

Where To Stay & What To Do in Hawaii with Susan Lautenschlager

Kailua-Kona Town:

This area is home to Moku’aikaua Church, the first Catholic Church in Hawaii, built in 1837. Right across the street is Hulihe’e Palace. Once a palace but now a museum, it holds a collection of artifacts but was not open in the early evening on a Sunday. There are lots of shops, restaurants and bars in this area as well.

Royal Kona Resort

This property is a block or 2 from Kailua-Kona Town and small beaches. It has a small private asdfswimming lagoon on the south end of the property where you can see many sea creatures and take a nice saltwater dip! Just above this lagoon is a gazebo where an intimate wedding could take place. We had a nice 10 inch handmade pizza at Don’s Mai Tai Bar as well as tried out their signature drink. It was also a fabulous place to watch the dolphins spin and play in the water!

Ueshima Coffee Company

Roastmaster Tour HawaiiWe got a great explanation of all stages of coffee from “John”, our coffee master of the day. For $35 per person you can participate in the Roastmaster Tour. On the tour you roast your own coffee with the help of John’s well trained eyes. I was excited to bring back MY coffee for the girls in the office. It was a fabulous experience and for those customers that are coffee connoisseurs, they would totally love roasting their own coffee and taking the spoils home. Ka’u is another up and coming coffee region just south of Kona and has won numerous awards already. I predict it will be the next “GOTTA TRY” coffee.

Sheraton Keahou Kona Beach Hotel

Located on the southern Shore of the Keauhou Bay, 20 minutes from the airport, this propertySheraton Keahou Kona Beach Hotel provides culture and history! It was renovated in 2012 using Sig Zane’s theme of Hawaiian flowers and plant life. It has a touchscreen activities center in the lobby (for you techies) and also offers cultural tours and activities. It is a large property with 509 rooms with 70% of them being ocean view. They are family friendly with a huge water slide and LOTS of places for kids to swim in a pool. There really wasn’t much of a beach. There were a couple small sandy areas but the property was really more geared to the pool area. It did offer night time manta ray watching (after the boats providing that excursion are out of the water).

Sam Choy’s Keauhou Lunch

We had lunch at this world famous Chef’s restaurant. I wasn’t thinking about pictures too much at this point, but the food was GREAT!

Manta Night Snorkel

I can say this was hands down the most incredible experience I have had in a very long time! We Stingray Snorkeldeparted from the marina that was right next to the Sheraton Keauhou. I was the first one in the water and super stoked! One of the mantas brushed against my leg as I made my way out and I got nervous because they stressed how important it was not to touch them. They have a protective coating and touching them with human skin removes that protective coating, causing them to possibly get a sore or an infection. After some goggle issues I finally settled into “their world” and was comfortable watching from the surface of the water. If you enjoy the water, this would be an activity to cross off the bucket list!

Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel

Ahu’ena Heiau, the one-time home of King Kamehameha I, sits on a small peninsula in front of theCourtyard by Marriott King Kamehameah's Kona Beach Hotel Courtyard by Marriott. King Kamehameha I restored this heiau in 1812. There is a ton of history with this property and our guide through the property had personal ties with the ancestors! A very cool perspective to experience – an amazing cultural experience for your customers too! A luau is offered on the premises with the sacred heiau in the back ground. This property is on the other end of Kailua-Kona Town and offers easy walking to shopping and restaurants… with a bar sporting a Green Bay Packers flag across the street!

Punalu’u Bakery Lunch

It was here that I discovered my LOVE of Kona Coffee Ice Cream!!! From this point forward, I was pretty much known as the ice cream girl! J We had ordered lunch here and took it to the Black Sand Beach for a picnic. The food was good, but the ice cream was better! We didn’t really have a chance to explore the grounds but it appeared you could find many quiet spots outside to eat.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park

This Black Sand Beach is part of a habitat for honu (turtles), who we found basking on the sand in Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park2the sun. I was also able to get my fill of the sound of waves crashing on the rocks and “exploring” the lava tidal pools to see what I could find

Akatsuka Orchid Gardens Tour

The flowers were so beautiful and our guide, Takeski, took great pride in explaining the orchid growing process and how their business has continued to evolve. They were gracious enough to allow us how to plant our own orchid and take it home, along with growing instructions that most of us needed! Since orchids can take up to 5 years to mature (some as little as 3 years) they have had to introduce other items into their business to help make money during the “growing seasons”. Currently, they are growing some poki(?) fruit and will soon have enough to start supplying customers locally.

Kiluea Iki Overlook/Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kiluea Iki Overlook, Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkThis park has more than 333,000 acres and is still growing! It has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world. The first crater overlook, Kiluea Iki, took everyone off guard. It was massive. It was hard for me to get it into perspective until I saw hikers in the crater. I thought they were possibly bugs… until I realized they were teeny tiny humans! The lava tube was also impressive! I didn’t know what to expect, but it was like a very large tunnel. To think that it was formed by a large mass of lava, finding the path of least resistance, whose outside shell froze (lava “freezes” at 790 degrees!), allowing the hot lava (up to 2400 degrees) to ebb and flow inside, until eventually the pressure eased enough for the hot lava to flow out and leave a “tube” of frozen lava rock behind. We also learned that the islands are crisscrossed with these lava tubes and many times they are found when properties are being built. kerplunk!

Volcano House Dinner/Jaggar Museum and Crater Overlook

Dinner at the Volcano House was amazing. This was the most mouthwatering plate of Ono fish I hadVolcano House Dinner to date! The Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream was pretty awesome as well! There is also a small hotel on the premises and is often sold out well in advance. Next year is the Hawaiian National Park big anniversary and many properties are already sold out for the festivities. While we were eating and the sun was going down, the active crater began to take on a life of its own. At our 1 – 2 mile vantage point at the Volcano House, the “show” started with a very dim glow and with what appeared to be smoke. At one point a very bright orange glow appeared. I later surmised that bright glow must have been a gurgle or bubble of lava that was thrown up. From The Volcano House we moved closer to the crater to the Jaggar Museum and the Crater Overlook. From this point we were only about 1/2 mile away from the crater. This was breathtaking. I know many people could only watch a glowing hole for so long, but the anticipation of catching something on camera after all the recent activity was very exciting. In fact, when I got home and went through all the videos I took at the crater, I had actually captured a small lava gurgle on camera! I had to call the whole family in to show them!

OH! I almost forgot to mention that people take lava off the island (which is “habu”, taboo) and causes very bad luck… below is a pile of the rocks that have been anonymously returned, asking for these items to be put back where they belong!

Tsunami Museum/Hilo Farmer’s Market

The museum was a very sad reminder of how devastating tsunamis can be! It is also a reminder that our world is more connected then we would think. The 2 major tsunami’s featured in Hilo’s history are from 1946, originating from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and the tsunami of 1960, originating from an earthquake in Chile! From this point forward, the Pacific Tsunami Warning System was formed. Hilo’s Farmer’s Market is open year round daily from 6AM – 4PM, but the major days are Wednesdays and Saturdays. We were there on a Wednesday… and all I can say is that 1 hour was NOT enough time to check out all the local wares – from art, jewelry, foods, crafts, clothing… you name it, they had it!

Big Island Candies

This was a GREAT stop for any person with a sweet tooth! They make the famous Macadamia Nut Shortbread Cookies (milk chocolate dipped, dark chocolate dipped, caramel dipped, caramel and chocolate dipped… well, you get it!). They also had lots of other candy/cookies items to choose from – chocolate covered coffee beans, macadamia nuts and best of all, they had a small ice cream freezer and sold KONA COFFEE ICE CREAM! Of course I got a bowl!

Hawaiian Style Café Lunch

Hawaiian Style Cafe LunchA MUST STOP if you are going to Hilo. It is across the street and all the way to the end of the parking lot from the Big Island Candies store. Be sure to note that INDEED you will not be able to eat all your pancakes STILL ORDER THE PANCAKES! They were AMAZING!

Hamakua Coast Drive/Tex Drive Inn

This drive was one of my favorites. I LOVED seeing all the waterfalls that had been created over time but enhanced with the rainfall from the night before. Also, the small lush valleys it created and the beauty of the river beds made one just want to pull over and stay a while! Talk about emerald green grass and sapphire blue water… wow… just wow… Tex ‘s Drive In boasts the world’s best Malasadas. What, you might ask, is that?!? We were told it was a Portuguese doughnut… well… let me tell you… it is the very best doughnut you will ever have, AND it was made fresh! YUM! Maybe I should mention that it seemed we were constantly eating. We were always so full yet most of us could not stop trying EVERYTHING!

Kahua Ranch/Waimea

Waimea is “paniolo” country (Hawaiian Cowboy). Many ranches offer the opportunity to ride the Kahua Ranchrange with spectacular views of the pastures, coastlines and peaks. We went to Kahua Ranch, which you can see had amazing vistas and the clearest sky you could imagine. They had us partake in their all you can eat and drink ranch style buffet, gave lessons on ropin’, helped us brand their “K” on a board as a souvenir for anyone that wanted one and gave you time to sit by the camp fire, sing campfire songs and make s’mores. They had a fiddle player after dinner and brought out their BIG telescope so you could see Jupiter and its 3 moons! How is THAT for clear?!? This is a weekly event held on Wednesdays so be sure to sign up in advance to participate in this event!

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Mauna Kea Beach HotelSerenity and luxury are 2 words I would use for this property. The “back” of the property has mountain views, golf course views AND partial ocean views – sometimes all from the same room! There are a total of 250+ rooms. They do not accommodate large groups that are not wedding groups. They take pride in this being a quiet property. They definitely do a lot of weddings and wedding groups, but larger groups (like media groups) are not the kind of business they are looking for. There are 1600 pieces of art throughout the property which makes every turn an adventure here.

Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel

We stayed at this property for 2 nights and I wish we had been able to enjoy the grounds more. This Hapuna Beach Prince Hotelproperty has an Arnold Palmer designed golf course. It also shares amenities with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It boasts ALL ocean view rooms. The beach here was amazing. I watched what I think was a vow renewal at 7AM our first morning here. I would have loved a chance to explore/snorkel at this property because one end of the beach was more lava rock.

Pu’ukohola National Park

Pu'ukohola National ParkSometime around 1790 this place of worship was built by King Kamehameha I as an offering to the gods to ask for success in his campaign to conquer the Hawaiian Islands. It is one of the larger Heiaus (temples) in Hawaii.  It offers a QR code that you can take a picture of with your smart phone and it will guide you through a walking tour of the park. This would be a GREAT place go if you appreciate the tremendous history of the land. This park definitely had a more reverent feel to it, enhanced by our tour guide, for sure!

Hamakua Macadamia Nut Factory

This place was so much fun. When we arrived they had 3 tables of samples of flavored mac nuts for us to try. The most “unusual” was the spam flavored mac nut. Spam is used in many of the dishes offered in restaurants here. It was kind of funny since many mainlanders seem to have an aversion to spam! It was very interesting watching the workers spread out the macnut brittle. In this back area of the “nut factory”, we tried our hand at the individual nut cracker. I knew from previous experience how hard the shells are to break… and some of those shells just went FLYING! We discovered a photo booth and just had to try it out. We had a blast – as the photo below shows!

Hawi/Kapau-King Kamehameha Statue and Pololu Valley

In northern Hawaii Island, there are wide open ranch lands, thriving art galleries, top notch resorts,Hawi--Kapau-King Kamehameha Statue and Polu Valley 2 world-class golf courses, white sand beaches and sacred temples that are a part of the island’s heritage. If I were going to retire in Hawaii, this MIGHT be the place I would chose. There are so many lush green valleys, lots of waterfalls, small homes tucked away in unseen places and history around every corner.

I LOVED when we got to Pololu Valley a small sign read, “The End of the Road”. There was a VERYHawi--Kapau-King Kamehameha Statue and Polu Valley 3 small turn around area (our small bus couldn’t even venture down because he wouldn’t be able to get turned around)… then a cliff! It was obvious that your vehicle was not going past this point unless it was through the air! Venturing past this point was by foot only. I wanted to explore the area below because it seemed so untouched, but we didn’t have time. This is the area of the island that offers the “Zip and Fly” adventure. You fly by helicopter into a deep valley then you zip line out of it. Sounded like a BLAST to me…. but that adventure will have to wait until next time.

The Fairmont Orchid Hotel/Dinner at Brown’s Restaurant

The Fairmont Orchid Hotel 4On Pauoa Bay about 45 minutes from the airport this property was the setting of my most memorable dinner. This would be what I would consider the quintessential example of what Hawaii has to offer. They provided a table almost right on the beach for us to eat unbelievable food (Ono once again and a fabulous dessert), amazing grounds (sea turtles, beaches and a park like feel) and unparalleled hospitality (our guests were so warm and our chefs came out to meet us!)… all mixed with the warm easy sounds of our guitarist easing us into the evening’s breathtaking blend of colors. By the way, this property had beautiful rooms too!

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows

When you enter this property the lobby area has cascading waterfalls on either side of the stairs. It Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalowshas a very open, spacious center court area with a zen feel to it. On the lower level this property provides cultural events and activities that the guests can participate in every day – from learning to play the ukulele to making lei’s.

Inside and throughout the property there is a saltwater river. It is a temporary home to very young sea turtles, a manta ray, small reef sharks and other tropical fish. This property hosts a major turtle release each year over the 4th of July. Some of the turtles on the property are the ones that will be released that year. The turtle release is a major event for this property and this time frame fills up quickly. Besides the well-appointed rooms, it has 3 beautiful, secluded bungalows that have been specially designed for privacy and often hosts famous people that ware looking for privacy.

Hali’I Kai in Waikoloa

This property has a gated entrance. Most of these units were rentable condos – 2B/2B, 3B/2B and 3B/3B units. If you are looking for a beautiful place to stay with a home feel to it, this would be a great place! The starting prices are very reasonable – especially the units set farther away from the ocean front (which is complete black lava!). They had a beautiful area set up just for preferred customers and the view from the open air work out room… well… you COULD say that it would almost make someone WANT to exercise… not me, but someone!

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Hilton Waikoloa Village 2Last and LARGEST! This property sits on 62 acres and you can feel it! I see why they call it Wiakoloa VILLAGE… it feels like you are in a mini town! The buildings are laid out in a typical u-shape with both a train and a boat path that can get you from end to the other or to any point in between. The walking area to get from one end to the other is actually called “The Museum Walk” because artifacts line the walls and halls. The previous Asian owner took great pride in bringing in his own art collection and displaying it for all to enjoy. There is lots of shopping (some shopping areas are for preferred customers) and many services offered. This property has a dolphin experience (not to be confused with a “swim with the dolphin” experience) and a separate enclosed area that housed sharks. They Hilton Waikoloa Villagehad within the property an enclosed beach area for families (which is good because the beach was all hard coral). The grounds really seemed like a park and on the last day when we had time before we all left, this is where we found everyone – on the grass near the sandy enclosed beach!

Costa Rica with Tammy Uecker & Natasha Persha

To begin our adventure we had booked our flight with Apple Vacations’ on their Frontier Airlines charter.   We had booked a 4 night stay here using Riu Points.  When we arrived into Liberia Costa Rica Airport, we had set up one way transfers with Central America Tours, which is only a 35 -40 minute drive from the airport to the resort.

Check in went quickly and smoothly.  We had a junior suite room with a balcony facing the mountainsRiu Palace Costa Rica Beach and overlooking the back part of the resort, where the hotel’s shops were located. The room was very nice and clean, and had a contemporary style look to it – identical to the updated Palaces in Mexico and Punta Cana. I really like the new look that the Rius are converting to! They do have free Wi-Fi throughout the resort but due to the exotic location it’s very difficult to stay connected, which can be frustrating at times.

The Riu Palace Costa Rica has 4 specialty restaurants in which we ate at two- the “L’Antora” Italian Restaurant and the “Tokio” Japanese Restaurant.  Surprisingly, the Italian Restaurant was our favorite, plus no dinning reservations were required to eat here.  Overall, the food and service were excellent with several good choices on their menu.

The Riu Palace Costa Rica is set back from the beach area, so it takes a little walking to get to. WeRiu Palace Coasta Rica Beach 2 took a stroll and decided to walk down to the Monkey Bar, which is about 15 minutes up the beach from the property. Here, you could see bunch of different kinds of monkeys in the trees, such as Howlers and Capuchins. It was a very neat experience, but also nerve racking at the same time because they were all wild, and we could hear them howling and see them swinging in the trees.  The best time to see all the active monkeys is early morning OR 4 to 6 in the evenings.  At dusk, you will see amazing sunsets at the resort and on the beach- just gorgeous views.

The Riu Palace has a little shopping area that you have to walk outside and down a hill to get to.  There were several shops where you could buy some souvenirs or any extra amenities that you may need.   Across from the shopping area is where the disco, spa and the casino were located. We were very surprised by how large the casino was.  Although it was not huge, it was still much bigger and nicer than the ones in Punta Cana.

During our stay we booked an excursion through TAM (Delta Vacations).  We booked with their rep, Melvin, who was so helpful in trying to find the right excursion for us. We ended up choosing the Blue River Experience and hiking through the Rincón de La Vieja National Park. During our tour we got to Rincon de la Vieja National Parksee and experience so many things! We did about a 30 minute easy hike through rainforest area and saw a few waterfalls. We stopped for 20 minutes so we could take a refreshing dip in one of the main waterfalls of the area. On our way back we had stopped at the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs.  We had about 1 hour to explore on our own, so we chose to take a look at the Botanical Garden. The garden had over 800 different plant varieties, orchid garden, humming-bird center, frog, fish and turtle ponds. There we also visited the butterfly garden with 15 different species of exotic local butterflies, including the Blue Morphis, Costa Rica’s famous butterfly. We also enjoyed the volcanic springs- which included four natural mineral green hot springs pools, and one large fresh water pool with a Bullet Water Slide. (The slide was fast and lots of fun!) For this excursion, you did Rincon de la Vieja National Park 2have the option to zip line instead of hike. I would definitely recommend this excursion to others.

We booked our transfer from the Riu to the Dreams with Central American Tours. CAT gave us an excellent rate. The ride between the two properties was just over 2 hours, 30-40 minutes of which was on a dirt road leading up to the Dreams – not the best situation for someone with motion sickness. We were told by our driver that there are plans to pave this within the next year. The transfer was private, and our driver was so friendly! We were very impressed with their services.

As we approached the Dreams, I knew this would be what I had hoped for in an all-inclusive, Costa Dreams Resort Costa Rica balconyRican retreat on the beach – completely different than the loud hot pinks and purples of the Riu. The resort is nestled in the hills, sprawling to the beach cove. It is contemporary yet traditional in style.   The luxurious, authentic design was accentuated with dark tiki wood accents and an aesthetically appealing fusion of earthy tones.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a refreshing passion fruit cocktail and a cool, pleasantly scented Dreams Resort Costa Ricatowelette. Check in was a breeze and very personalized. It was not in a huge, oversized lobby, but a quaint, tastefully decorated, windowed room with two small check-in desks with comfy chairs. It almost seemed like what you would expect for preferred check in – but it wasn’t, this was for all guests.

We booked an ocean view, and it was on the top floor, so the vista was pretty spectacular, even though we were set back. Staying in the resort required a lot of walking, and it’s not flat because it’s built into the knolls. While our building was far from the beach, it was very close to the main buffet, most a la carte dining, lounges, the Coco Café and shops.

The property has a total of 447 guest suites, which each include a private balcony or terrace with either Jacuzzi or swim out access – (swim out rooms cost more, of course). The rooms definitely live up to the “Dreams” standard- spacious, beautifully decorated, clean, and comfortable.  There is complimentary internet access and phone calls to the US and Canada!Dreams Resort Costa Rica hotel

Everything I ate was delicious and fresh!  Buffets and menus offered a lot of variety – I really felt that even picky eaters could find something they liked. The property had 24 hour room service which we made use of a couple of times – once early morning before our Nicaragua tour, and once late at night after our tour.  Guests can also choose from 5 specialty a la carte restaurants, the main buffet, a snack bar and grill, and a café – all of which are typical of the AM resorts brand.  No reservations are required, except if you want the hibachi show experience at Himitsu. Now onto the AMAZING bars: Top shelf spirits and refreshments are offered at their five bars/lounges.  Pool and beach wait service were also available (AND FREQUENT!  They work so hard, especially considering the heat! TIP THEM, PEOPLE!!!).

As with most Dreams, this property offered a wide variety of beach, land and water activities such as:  Ping pong, board games, pool/beach Olympics, yoga, volleyball, non-motorized watersports, fun ‘classes’, live music and shows, movies on the beach, themed nights/parties, etc. They advertise ‘two’ swimming pools, but really there are multiple. There are several smaller infinity pools that are ‘connected’ with a waterfall wall.This property even had a waterslide!  I was told it’s for kids, but I saw ‘grown ups’ enjoying it one day. Speaking of kids, the Children’s Club (ages 3-12) and Teen’s Club (ages 13-17) offered plenty of options to keep the youngsters busy throughout the day.   The Kids’s Club is supervised by CPR certified staff members.  Activities there include: hiking; children’s playground and pool; building sandcastles on the beach; arts and crafts; science, nature, and exploration; toys, games, and videogames; weekly camping; etc. The Teen’s Club offered:  Euro-Bungee; table games, video games, and pool games; weekly bonfires; and a late night [non-alcoholic] Disco mixer. For the adults looking for rejuvenation and pampering, the Dreams Spa by Pevonia boasts a complete spa menu of body treatments, a full service beauty salon, indoor and outdoor therapy cabins, a hydrotherapy circuit, and a relaxation area.

I have no complaints about the service at the Dreams.   I felt it was excellent and that the staff members went above and beyond to make our experience great!  I would highly recommend this property as I feel it is the best all inclusive option in Costa Rica right now.   It’s a resort that will appeal to the multigenerational masses.    More often than not, this option will appropriately accommodate families, couples, and friends alike.

On one of our final days we booked a Nicaragua Treasures Tour. We booked this tour in advance because it was something we both knew we really wanted to do. The Dreams property is only 40 minutes south of the Nicaraguan border. The Morning of our tour we were picked up at the property at 7am and didn’t return until 9pm – so it was a long, exhausting day.  I would not recommend this tour to families with small children- not only because it’s long, but also because I don’t think they would fully appreciate the experience. You have to go through customs and immigration at the border twice, there and back- and it’s not the easiest process. We also did a good amount of shopping in the local markets of Catarina, Masaya, and Granada. We each bought a cute pair of sandals for cheap!   The highlights of the tour though were driving up hardened lava fields to the crater of the active, steaming volcano, Masaya, AND a boat tour around the islets of Lake Nicaragua, which is the largest lake in all of Central America and also home to an abundance of bull sharks. The experience was well worth what we paid for- and it’s another country I can now check off my bucket list!  We were just paranoid the whole time we were going to lose our passports the day before we were set to depart for home! One last note- Nicaragua requires your passport to have a 6 month remaining validity, as does Costa Rica.

Contact a Travel Consultant today to book your own Costa Rican adventure!

Nicaragua Treasures Tour 2Nicaragua Treasures Tour