Stephanie’s Trip to Cabos!

Earlier in February, Stephanie paid a visit to San Jose Del Cabos. Here’s her take on her trip!
—————-

Day One and Two

This is the first time either I or my husband have been to Cabo. I love being able to visit a new destination. So we started this journey in the very early hours on Monday morning, with a drive to Regina. It was easier to get flights, and saved us some money, which made it worthwhile.  Luckily the roads were good and the driver didn’t fall asleep on the way. We flew with Westjet, which was a nice change from the charters we usually take. Our luggage allowance 50 lbs, plus 22 lbs for a carry on. There is no meal service, so make sure you have a bite to eat beforehand. There are also seat back TVs with live satellite in Canada, and free movies afterwards. All the flights were on time, or at least within 30 minutes, which put us in Cabo around 3 pm.

Westjet lands in terminal 2 at the Cabo airport.  It was easy to navigate, and everything ran smoothly. Our bags were at the carousel by time we made it through immigration.  After you pass customs/security is when the madness begins.  You have to make it through 2 hallways before making it outdoors to where all the tour operators and shuttle buses are. Anyone in the hallways trying to talk to you are timeshare sellers, so unless you are interested just keep moving.  They will try to get you to go speak with someone, saying your transfer is over there. I booked us a shuttle with TransCabo (fantastic service by the way) who advise they are waiting in an orange shirt when you book. The timeshare sellers even had someone at their desk in an orange shirt in hopes you’d go speak with them. We made it outside, found the real TransCabo, and were on our way in no time.

For the week, we are staying at the Barcelo Grand Faro in San Jose Del Cabo. It’s about 20 minutes from the airport.  San Jose is quiet, with all inclusive hotels, timeshares and private residents.  If you want a more active area, head to Cabo San Lucas – that is where the cruise ships and busy clubs are. I prefer quiet, so San Jose works for me.

The hotel used to be the Hola Grand Faro last year, but Barcelo took it over in the fall. It’s not a typical Barcelo hotel, for anyone that has stayed with them before. They haven’t even changed all the signage, and many things still say Hola Grand Faro. Check in was a little slow, and our room wasn’t ready until nearly 5 pm. They did give use our wristbands right away so we could go for something to eat. Our room is on the 3rd floor, but the same floor as the lobby, so it’s nice and convenient.  The room has 2 beds instead of 1, but they are big enough for a couple to share. The bathroom is a nice size, but with only a shower. But everything is clean and in working order, so we chose to not be too picky about changing rooms.

Pool

beach view

After settling in, we went for dinner at the buffet. Each night has a different theme, which I think will give good variety through the week. The food was good, and the service was decent. We were so exhausted by the end of the night that it felt really good to crawl into bed and finally get some sleep.

The first full day at the resort was nice and leisurely.  I got out of bed around 8, and headed to the buffet for breakfast.  The breakfast and lunch buffet is fairly small, so hopefully the menu will change throughout the week. There is a great made to order omelet station that seems to be the favorite, as there is always a line.

The afternoon was spent by the pool, which was all I had planned for the first day. There are 3 pools at the hotel. The largest has the swim up bar, but is quite cold. For this reason, it’s the quietest. There is another pool on the other side of the bar, and the 3rd is an infinity pool by the ocean. Since it’s smaller, the water is much warmer. There are games in the 2nd pool throughout the day, and the hotel staff isn’t pushy to make you play. There is some waiter service around the pool, which is a nice treat I wasn’t expecting.

Dinner tonight is at 1 of the a la cartes. There are Mexican and Italian, and they alternate each night. Reservations are made on a daily basis via a phone call to the concierge between 9 and 5. We decided on Mexican for our first visit. The restaurant is very nice looking, with a great bar area. The food was pretty good, but not spectacular considering we are in Mexico.  The shrimp pozole soup was really good though – you are brought onion, avocado, cilantro and Serrano pepper to add to your liking. Unfortunately the service was poor. I think our server had one too many tables and we were the ones to suffer. We might try it again later in the week to see if things get better.

It’s early to bed tonight, as we are still catching up on sleep from our travel day. We booked an excursion for tomorrow, so hopefully all goes well on that. More to come throughout the week, so stay tuned!

Day Three and Four

It’s Wednesday morning, and we are getting ready for our excursion.  We booked an Outback Safari and Camel ride with Cabo Adventures.  The bus is coming to pick us up at 1020 am, so no sleeping in today. A quick breakfast in the buffet and off we go. The Cabo Adventures meeting point is in San Lucas, so we have a bit of a trek ahead of us. After picking up at 3 other hotels, we make it there about an hour later. We check in for the tour, only to find out we have to wait another 45 minutes before it starts. There isn’t much to do around their center. You can walk around the marina, but you just get hassled by all the sales people for water taxis, glass bottom boat tours and fishing.  The Cabo Adventures center has dolphins, but you aren’t allowed to go to them unless you have a tour.

Finally, at 12pm we are ready to go. There are about 30 people or so, which I’m thinking is pretty big. We all load onto a bus, and get ready for another 30 minute transfer to the ranch where the camels are. By this time, I’m starting to get pretty tired since busses put me to sleep. When we get to the ranch, we are split into three groups and get into the 4×4 safari busses. The ride is bumpy, as it should be, but there isn’t a lot to see besides cactus. You can take photos if you want, up until the camel ride. Then there is a professional photographer, so you have to put your own away. You take some pictures with one of the camels, but you don’t have to if you are a little nervous (they are a lot bigger than I thought). After donning a helmet the riding begins. Two people per camel, and each has someone guiding you along the coast.  It’s about 30 minutes on the camel, but you don’t go very far because they walk quite slowly. It’s pretty windy along the beach, so make sure to take a sweater.  When the ride is done, there is a short walk through some trails to the lunch area. This was probably my favorite part – eating! The food was great, with lots of selection and a little tequila information and tasting.  The guide also shows everyone how to make tortillas from scratch, which is still how most locals do it every day.

Camel

When the tour is actually over, it takes us about 2 hours to get back to the hotel, since we have to go back to the Cabo Adventure center, and then drop off everyone we picked up.

When we are finally back, it’s right to the room to get ready for diner, as we made a reservation for the Italian restaurant tonight. I wasn’t going in with high hopes, since we aren’t in Italy.  Luckily, I was wrong and it was great.  The service was much better than the previous night, which was a lot of the reason we enjoyed it more. The food was pretty good too. We shared a capresse salad and thin sliced beef for appetizers.  Each of us had soup – mine was a creamy fennel, and my husband had a great vegetable soup. Main course for me was shrimp linguini, and lamb with mint sauce for my husband.  He was going to have veal chops, but the waiter was politely honest in telling him it wasn’t any good, which he really appreciated.  By now, we are both stuffed and aren’t thinking we want any more, but we get handed a dessert menu, and decided we better try the tiramisu.  It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was pretty good.

Now I am exhausted, so it’s time for a night cap and a good, long sleep.

Thursday is our 4th day here, and there are no big plans for the day. We sleep in, and don’t go for breakfast until nearly 10. Another great omelet, and I’ve started having this crazy chip thing too – tortilla chips, red or green sauce, onion and crème fresh – delicious!

After breakfast, we decide to explore the street a little. There is construction of a new hotel to one side of us, and the Royal Solaris on the other side. Our room has a partial view of their water park, which looks nice for younger kids. A little further down the street are a few shops, but nothing great. We did find a liquor store, and decided to get some rum for our room. I think tomorrow we will explore a little further, and maybe go to MEGA, which is kind of like Wal-Mart or superstore.

Really, all we did today was lounge by the pool and get some sun. The ocean wasn’t very rough today, so we wandered down to play a bit.  It was really nice to get in the salt water and play in the waves. You can still feel the current even waist deep, so pay attention to waves and how far from the shore you are. I wouldn’t recommend the ocean for small kids or nervous swimmers.

Dinner was just at the buffet tonight, and the theme was oriental.  Nothing was overly great, except the made to order stir fry beef which was fantastic.  Personally, I’ll stick to Chinese food at home. There is a Las Vegas show at the theater tonight, but I’m so exhausted from being in the sun all day that we don’t make it.  One of these nights I will be up late enough to catch a show.

Day Five, Six, and Seven

Our last few days were very relaxed. No excursions, just time by the pool and some exploring nearby. One of these days we decided to go to Shooter’s bar, which is owned by a Canadian Couple, who are originally from Saskatchewan. It was about a 40 minute walk from the hotel, and is pretty easy to find. I’m pretty sure everyone in the bar the day we visited was Canadian. There is great food, good Staff and inexpensive beer. We had 4 tacos, chips, salsa, guacamole and 4 beers for only 20 USD

Another day we went for a walk down the beach. There was a point in the distance I wanted to reach, but it ended up being a little too far away. It was still a great 2 hour walk. We made it to the start of Puerto Los Cabos, which is the new luxury area of Cabo. On the way back, we saw some dolphins as well as a stingray. I love being able to see wildlife in their natural habitat.

The special dinner of the week was on Friday, which is the Mexican Fiesta. They set this up in the theater Area of the hotel. No reservations are required, and dinner starts around 630 pm. It is buffet style, and of course, everything is Mexican cuisine. Fresh fajitas, Mexican rice, beans, chicken mole and my personal favorite, tortilla Soup! At about 7 pm the dinner show starts with a piñata for the kids, which was absolutely adorable. Then they continue on with a mariachi band. We didn’t make it much further than this, as unfortunately my husband wasn’t feeling great that night. We called it another early night in but that is just fine with me. I’d rather have early mornings and enjoy the sunshine, since there isn’t much at home.

Entertainment

Our very final day was the most relaxing, with pool time and a few final hours in the Sun. I always save the last day to completely relax before the journey home.

The trip home went very well, for the most part. We were picked up by Trans Cabo right on time and the service was great again. The Westjet bus was picking people up at the same time as us, and it probably took 30 minutes longer than our transfer. We beat the rush to the airport, and were able to check in and get through security very quickly. I would compare the Cabo airport to Calgary. There is a Corona lounge, plus a few fast food restaurants and a few shops. There isn’t anything too exciting, but it is an easy area to navigate. Our flight left Cabo on time, and was an uneventful 4 hours to Calgary. We had just over an hour for our Connection, which is cutting it close. It’s about a 6 Minute walk from the gates to customs and Immigration, and it can get pretty busy if there are multiple flights landing at the same time. All went well for us, and we got through without a hitch. Since we were connecting, we had to drop our bags off, and then go through security again. Just as we were approaching Security, the fire alarms started to go off. We were ushered to the exit and found out that one of the Westjet terminals had an electrical fire. Security was shut down, and the airport pretty much came to a halt as the fire and police departments were called in to assess the Situation. Even though the small fire was out, no one was permitted through security until the police determined that the incident was isolated. The whole ordeal took about 60-90 minutes before we were on our way. Luckily, because there were about 40 people waiting for our same connecting flight our plane was held back. We made it back to Regina that night, about an hour behind. With all the mix up in Calgary, one of our bags didn’t make it. Westjet was very good about it. We filled out a report, and they said it would be shipped to us as soon as it was found. By lunchtime the next day, I got a call that it was already in Saskatoon. We chose to pick the bag up at the airport instead of having it delivered, and Westjet provided us with a $100 travel bank in return.

All in all, it was a great trip. I’d definitely go back to the area, but hopefully I get visit a few new destinations first.

Jamie’s Mayan Riviera El Cid Marina – Part 1

Having been in the travel industry for over 15 years, I find it hard to believe I have never made it to one of our most popular destinations – Cancun and the Mayan Riviera.

We flew from Saskatoon to Cancun with Westjet via Calgary.  The flights were all good, just slightly delayed due to weather. Westjet now loses satellite tv just south of the US border, but they have a few free movies you could watch. I still miss the days where they fed you a real meal on an airplane!

Anyway, the real adventure began when we hit the Cancun airport. Holy Moly, what a bunch of lineups, hundreds and hundreds of angry and frustrated people of all nationalities, clamouring and pushing and sneaking ahead of you in line. Jeepers, I was happy to say goodbye to that airport an hour and a half after we arrived!

Thankfully the El Cid is only about 20 minutes from the airport and we were soon enjoying our first margarita! 🙂 This is definitely a family friendly hotel and a good, solid four star. I’m glad we picked it.

Image

Amazing view of the pool from our room.

The one bedroom suite is enormous and we have had our pick of chairs on the beach and by the pool. There are lots of kids for Sydney to play with and I had an awesome massage on the beach, which at $56.00 for 30 minutes wasn’t a bad rate for a resort. The food so far has been good. We are soon off to try Alcazar, one of their fine dining restaurants.

Alcazar ended up being comparable to most fine dining restaurants at home. A very enjoyable meal with great service and presentation and a very child friendly kids menu.

Now we are off to enjoy another day of the pool and beach!

Image

The lobby bar in El Cid

Jamie’s Palm Springs

On Wednesday, I flew into Palm Springs for the first time.  As usual, the flights with Westjet were great and on time -very uneventful (which is a good thing when flying!).  Having never been to Palm Springs before, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Flying into Palm Springs, all you could see from the air in any direction were ugly, dry, brown hills and mountains.   It didn’t look that appealing.  It’s funny how much your perception can change once you’re on the ground and getting a different perspective.

Palm Springs is a lush, green oasis in the desert.  There are gorgeous resorts, palm trees, and green grass everywhere.  The mountains look quite majestic and provide a great back drop to the resorts.  Other than the lack of beach and ocean, you could totally feel like you were in some tropical beach resort as you lay around the swimming pool.

Our host resort, the Rancho Las Palmas, is about a $35 cab ride – or 20 minute drive from the Palm Springs Airport.  They have recently had a $35 million renovation to the rooms and will soon be renovating their ball room areas as well.  They have nice, big rooms – everything is built and decorated in the Spanish Hacienda style.  They have three swimming pools and two hot tubs.  One pool is adults only, the other is a family pool.  The third pool area is Splashtopia – a kid friendly area with waterslides, splash park and a lazy river.  It would be a nice resort for families with small children.  We have had three meals at this resort so far and all were excellent.  Our balcony overlooks one of the golf green, as well as a pond which is always full of ducks.  It’s very pretty.

We also visited the La Quinta resort – part of the Waldorf Astoria collection.  Although it was getting dark when we arrived for dinner, we were treated to a gorgous sunset that show cased the pretty mountains right behind this 45 acre resort.  This historic resort was built in the 1920’s and has had more than it’s share of famous hollywood guests.  The hotel has kept a lot of it’s original architecture – it’s full of antiques and huge wood burning fire places.  It is gorgeous and comfortable.  It would be great for groups as they have over 40 swimming pools and each pool has several villas overlooking it – so your group could potentially have their own swimming pool to gather around.  It would also be a wonderful place for weddings and for golfers – they have 5 courses on site that are available to their guests – plus some other private courses.  One of their golf courses is rated 1 in California, 4 in the US and 9th in the world.  Very pretty – I would definitely return.

The third resort we saw was the Westin Mission Hills.  Another gorgeous, large property with two golf courses. The staff were wonderful and welcoming and they treated us to some time in their spa, which was heavenly.  It’s a full service, high end spa with private steam rooms, hot tubs and every amenity you could want.  The rooms were large and typical of Westin.

We had a few hours to experience the Cabazon and Desert Hills outlet malls yesterday.  Unfortunately, they were open air and the weather didn’t cooperate, so we were running through a bit of rain and wind from time to time.  Otherwise, the shopping was great.  Some good deals to be had and we all came back with serveral bags and a few dollars poorer 🙂  I wish we would have had more time as there was one whole buiding we didn’t get a chance to check out.  Next time!  The outlet malls are about a 30 minute drive from our resort – a taxi is about $75-$100 dollars or there is a shuttle that goes twice a day and comes back twice a day for $25 per person per direction.  Luckily we hopped in and caught a ride with another member of our group who had a car.

Last night was Marks birthday, so we went to a nice restaurant within walking distance of the Rancho Las Palmas called Roy’s.  It was a great restaurant.  The service was good – very attentive.  The food and wine were also exceptional – especially the chocolate Souffle for desert.  I had let them know ahead of time that it was Mark’s birthday and every person we saw from the hostess to the bus boy to the waiter wished Mark a happy birthday.  His menu had a happy birthday note tucked into it and they brought him a special happy birthday desert of a macadamia nut tart.  I would definitely recommend it – most entree’s were between $25 and $35 dollars.

I’m looking forward to this afternoon – the weather forecast is for 20 degrees and sunshine.  We are heading out on a jeep tour through the desert along the San Andreas fault, ending with a BBQ dinner.

Jamie’s Family Maritime Adventure

Thanks to the generosity of Westjet, the three of us found ourselves in the predicament of having some free airline tickets and having to pick a place to go for our summer vacation.  Mark decided on Halifax and a mini-tour around the Maritimes.  Having been here once before, I was more than happy to come back and spend some more time.  It’s a beautiful place to be in the summer!

So, at 5am this morning, a taxi whisked us off to Saskatoon airport for our 615am flight to Halifax, with a 4 hour layover in Toronto en-route.  The airport was really busy, both at check in and at security, but we made it to the gate as the final boarding was being called.  With 10 flights taking off between 540am and 700am, the early morning hours at the Saskatoon airport are busy – make sure you leave lots of time!

Some key points to remember when travelling with kids that make travelling easier:  sippy cups to avoid spills on the airplane, tons of activities for them to do (coloring, stamps, stickers, books, movies, etc).  I also find it helpful to tuck away a few “surprise items” for those moments when you urgently need a diversion (to ward off a meltdown, or make someone forget a boo-boo – you will know these moments when you see them!).  A few special “surprises” help to make things better before you get too far off course – dollar store items are good for this.

We had a four hour layover in Toronto on the way and we decided to use the Premium Plaza Lounge.  It’s approximately $20 a person, children free, if you buy it from us ahead of time.  If you walk in, it’s about $35 a person.  Considering, they include food, drinks and a quiet, safe place for you and your kids to hang out for up to four hours, it’s a great deal.  There were only about 4 or 5 of us in there the whole time, so we had a whole area to ourselves and didn’t have to worry about Sydney running away or getting lost in the crowd.

The flights, were all in all great – on time and no problems.  We booked our car rental with Hertz and it was ready when we got there and they were quick at getting us in and on our way – including maps and point to point directions to our hotel.  For the nights we are in Halifax, we will be at the Courtyard by Marriott on Salter Avenue.  The staff is friendly, the rooms are very comfortable, nice and clean – big bright, reno’d bathrooms.  The location is excellent – right behind Alexander Keiths and a very short stroll to the dock/wharf area.  The only negative comment I have, is the pool could use a little TLC.

We walked to the dock whe we arrived, around 7pm and for $30, all three of us stuffed ourselves on home made, fresh battered fish and chips, which were excellent – and the view couldn’t have been better!

Tomorrow, we’re heading to Cape Breton, which I’m looking forward to as it was a favorite the last time I was here.  We’re crossing our fingers for good weather and no rain!