Day 3 – Rainforest Tour

11/6/15 – We went to bed so early last night, that we’re both awake around 5AM.  Well, that gives us plenty of time to get ready and have breakfast.  We went to the hotel restaurant again.  They have a buffet for $20 – a little more than I really want to spend on breakfast, but the a la carte menu is kind of pricey too.  Ok, fruit, eggs, toast and juice.  I’m ready for the tour.

We’re downstairs right at 7:45 for our tour.  We’re told it’s going to rain so we get umbrellas from the front desk.  Never used them – just something extra to carry around.  While we’re waiting, one of the bellmen asked what tour we were doing.  Half day rainforest – he says, they’ll be here at 8:05.  Sure enough, our guide showed up right at 8:05.  We had 4 more hotels to stop at before we really get on our way.  That’s the main reason I don’t like organized tours.

Our guide is Lismal.  She’s very knowledgeable and entertaining.  The last 2 hotels were in Condado and as we were driving through she pointed out a couple of good restaurants.  Then she pointed at Subway and said “No Subway!”.  Then Chili’s – “No Chili’s!  You are in the Caribbean!  Eat local food!”

We continued on through the countryside with Lismal pointing out little towns and the mountains we were headed to (the Sleeping Giant for the formation).  I always love getting to see some of the countryside of the islands I visit.  We arrived at El Yunque National Rainforest, which is maintained by the US National Parks Service. 20151106_092508We drove into the lowest level of the park, then continued on up to the 2nd level where we parked.  We had a chance to take a few photos and Lismal found this snail on a tree.  

She said there are brown and green ones.  We then took a walk up a little into the forest to Bano Grande

which was built as a swimming pool by the CCC in the 1930’s.  It’s very scenic up here.  

After this we walked back down to the road and had to walk in the road for awhile to get to the Caimatillo Trailhead.  Apparently during the last big storm, there was a lot of damage and some areas of the trail washed out.  They are working on repairing it now.  We went up this trail and Lismal pointed out different trees and told as about the flora and fauna in the forest.  We stopped by a stream and she got down and got a couple of rocks which she rubbed together.  Doing this made a mud ink/dye.  She explained that the Tainos used this to paint their faces, and she demonstrated on those of us that would let her.  She mostly did faces, but with me she used my upper arm.  She made 3 different colors using different combinations of rocks.  Very interesting.

From here we got back in the bus and went down to an observation tower which is 75 feet tall.  It has incredible views.  I took the stairs up and there are windows at all the landings.  You really get a great variety of views.

Our last stop was a La Coca waterfall.  It is right on the road so very easy to get to and take pictures.  

Then we headed back into San Juan and, of course, we were the last stop.  We rested up a bit when we got back and then headed out for lunch.  While waiting for the tour I had asked the bellman where to go.  He pointed down the street in front of the hotel entrance and said go a block, then up the stairs and there is a whole block of restaurants serving Puerto Rican food.  Ok, that’s where we’re headed.

We come out of the stairway and sure enough, across the street is a row of restaurants.  We’re kind of looking back and forth when I see Raice’s.  20151106_140719This was one of several restaurants a friend of a friend had recommended, and Lismal and recommended it as well so we decided to go there.  There was a short wait, and finally we got a table – right next to the cash register so we constantly had wait staff standing almost on top of us.  I was a little disappointed when I looked at the menu because it was more of a dinner menu and most of the food looked heavier than I wanted mid-day.  But after getting a beer, I was getting a little more into the mood.  

Finally we each found something that sounded good.  Frankly, I thought the food was so-so.  Their menu on line here looks better than the choices we had, and there were no $6.95 specials.  My feeling about this restaurant is that it has gotten well known and maybe lost some of it’s original charm.  The employees, for the most part, did not look like they were happy to be there.  Not my favorite on this trip.  Oh, well, it filled us up.  

After lunch we took a little walk around Old San Juan then back to the hotel.  Pam hadn’t been feeling real well since the bumpy bus ride back from the rainforest, so she decided to rest in the room.  I took my book and headed up to the pool.  It was failry cloudy, but still nice and warm.  After about an hour, it started to rain so I checked on Pam – still resting- so I headed down to the bar where the bartender made me a Puerto Rico Sunset. 20151106_180828 Yummy!

Pam showed up after a bit and we had some dinner and an early night again.


Day 2 – Arrival in San Juan

11/5/15 – Our flight landed in Charlotte, NC right on time.  I was able to get a few hours of sleep on the flight – that’s why I like a red-eye – get onboard, sleep a few hours, and wake up in a new place!  Unfortunately, Pam, wasn’t so lucky.  We had about 3 hours before we boarded our next flight, I had hoped we would be able to have a nice, leisurely, sit down breakfast.  Pam was tired so we decided to just find our next gate and relax for a bit.  I was hungry, and getting cranky so I grabbed an egg & cheese bagel to recharge a bit.   After I ate, Pam decided to find some coffee, and I decided to just walk a bit to stretch my legs.  One of the things I like about the Charlotte airport is the way it is laid out it is easily walkable.  It also has rocking chairs throughout which gives a lot of great spots for resting and people watching.  It has a lot of nice shopping and restaurants, just something about it – it doesn’t feel as rushed and crazy as most I’ve been in.

I walked almost the entire airport – got my blood flowing.  By the time I got back to D Concourse to our gate, Pam was sitting in a rocker by the window.  I joined her and before long it was time to board.  San Juan – here we come!  I napped a bit more, and soon we were landing.

Down to baggage claim, out to the taxi line, and soon we were in the taxi on our way to the Sheraton Old San Juan.  Our driver was quiet, I like when I get a driver who points out attractions and tells me a bit about their country.  Oh, well, I just looked out the window and watched the scenery go by with a big grin on my face.  I’m back in the Caribbean!  Oh, it feels so good – it’s been too long.  

We get checked in at the Sheraton and up to our room – ooooh, musty smelling -ick.  And it’s got a tiny, dirty window looking out at a parking garage.  After a few moments pondering, I call down to the desk.  They promptly send a bellman up with new keys one floor above us.  Oh, much better. We still look at the parking garage, the window still looks dirty, but I think it’s from the salt air – we are right across the street from the water.  But now we have a little balcony.  With a little view – see?  20151107_112414

After all this travel, we decide to freshen up, check out the hotel and eat dinner at the restaurant here.  We went up to check out the pool deck.  Kind of a small pool area, with a hot tub, and a great view. View from Sheraton restaurantIt has about a 4 foot wall around it, to keep us from falling off, I guess, so you only see the view if you’re standing up.  But you can see the beautiful, blue sky while relaxing on your lounge chair.  There is also a fitness area – apparently people actually do use these.  Who knew?

We went down to the concierge desk to see what things there were to do for the next day.  We decided to book a Rainforest tour for the morning.  Looking forward to this.  Now, let’s have dinner.

The restaurant is on the 2nd floor, and we were able to sit outside.  Oh, look, it’s Happy Hour until 7PM – 2 for 1 drinks!  20151105_164254We order a couple of Mojitos – we’re soon to be much happier.  The menu tonight has a 2 for 1 special – Sangria for 2, appetizer to share, 2 salads, 2 entrees, and dessert to share for $49.95.  Sounds good – steak for Pam and salmon for me.  Now, where’s that Mojito – ah, here it comes.  How beautiful to look out over the water, in this tropical paradise, with a friend and a 2 for 1 drink!  Mojito at Sheraton

After dinner we head to bed early.  Need to catch up on sleep and be ready to start our tour to El Yunque Rain Forest at 7:45AM.  Yawn!

San Juan and Celebrity Summit – Day 1

Beth at airport

Preparing to Take off on a Jet Plane

11/4/15 – It’s finally here.  The day Pam & I leave for our big vacation.  We have been planning this for over a year, put our deposits down in January and finally, we are heading to SeaTac airport tonight for our 10:15 PM flight.

My neighbor, Mark, is going to care for my cat Mango,  

and drive me to the airport.  He comes downstairs for some Mango instructions and asks me up for a pre-trip glass of wine.  I do some last minute packing, then head upstairs.  His wife, Lisa, is suffering from knee pain and won’t be taking the ride with us so I want to say goodbye and thank her for helping with my cat.

We got out of the house about 5 minutes later than planned, and I’m just buckling my seatbelt when my phone buzzes with a text from Pam “I’m here at the airport at the Sports Page bar by gate D4.  What??  It’s only 7:50.  I tell her I’m just leaving but being TSA pre-checked I should be joining her about 8:30.

It’s an uneventful drive, and Mark get’s me there right about 8:15 as planned.  Check my bag, through security and sitting with my first Bloody Mary in front of me just after 8:30. 
Our flight starts boarding right on time, and by 10:15 we are taxiing down the runway – on our way to sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico for 2 days before boarding Celebrity’s Summit.

(I promise better pictures in my next post.  Most of mine are being held hostage in my digital camera, I can’t find the cord)

All Inclusive Nuevo Vallarta – Marival Residences & World Spa

I learned about this incredible, luxurious, all-inclusive resort at an all day event put on by WESTA, the consortium that my host travel agency belongs to.  I have to say, I was blown away!  When I checked out the prices, especially with the 40% off special they are offering right now, I was even more excited to let my clients know about this fabulous resort which is located in the heard of Nuevo Vallarta, just 10 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta airport. 

The 1 – 4 bedroom residences start at 1400 square feet, sleeping 3 – 11 guests.  There are only 162 residences total, so you won’t feel crowded like you do in some mega-resorts.  The 7 villas, each with a private pool, have three bedrooms and are an incredible 3940 square feet.  Although this is a fully all-inclusive resort, the residences do include a full kitchen and all the modern comforts & amenities you would find in a luxurious home. 

Marival Residences & World Spa the inclusions:5 star Gourmet Dining in your choice of 3 restaurants.

  • All beverages, including national & premium brand drinks.
  • Featured house wines at the Brunello wine bar
  • Complimentary water, soft drinks & beer in rooms.
  • UNLIMITED rounds of golf (not including cart fee).
  • One FREE tour, with additional select tours for $30 per person (catamaran sailing, Zip Lining, City Tour, Dolphin Encounters, etc.)
  • PrivateVIPBeach Club with full food & beverage service & concierge services.
  • Second all-inclusive resort included with exchange priveliges at Marival Resort & Suites including free shuttle service.
  • Kids 0-6 stay free. 

Also available for additional fees are the Melange World Spa, beauty salon, tennis lessons, babysitter service, and Bug’s Kids Club. 

Additional amenities include:

  • Bathrobes & Slippers
  • Luxury bedding & pillow menu
  • Private adults only pool
  • Kids pool
  • Flat screen TV’s & IPOD docking station 

Marival Residences & World Spa has some Perfect Perfect Romance packages, starting with a FREE Wedding Package valued at $2500.  The package includes judge fees & Nwedding certificate; decorated location; tropical wedding toast with Margaritas & Martinis, Bride’s bouquet & Groom’s bouttoniere; 3 course dinner for wedding group; 30 massage for the bride & groom; and more.  Honeymooners and Anniversary couples will also merit special treatment. 

That is a start of what you will experience when you visit Marival Residences & World Spa.  

And, I don’t want to forget to mention, that they are offering some special amenities to travel agents that are members of WESTA – including a $100 Spa Credit.  

(One of the vendors I met with on Saturday represents a Luxury all-inclusive resort in Nuevo Vallarta, with suites starting at 1400 square feet.  Not only are all your meals and beverages included, but you get unlimited golf at 3 difference courses PLUS one free tour with additional tours at only $30 per person.  And exclusive benefits for members of my consortia include a $100 spa credit and room upgrade if available.  I always learn so much at these events!  I want to go now.  Oh, and did I mention, they are offering 40% off for winter and spring stays.)

Perfect Paradise Vacations can get you all of these amenities and disounts.  Call 206-433-0721.

Wine Tasting in Tacoma – Wine Bank and Beer Vault

I love to go wine tasting.  Fortunately for me, the Wine Bank and Beer Vault is less than a mile from me.  They are officially in University Place, but since I live in Tacoma, I’m saying Tacoma.

My landlords told me about this wine shop when I first moved in to my apartment.  I didn’t make it over until about 6 months later.  They do wine tastings every Saturday from 2 – 4:30, and occasionally do beer tastings as well.  I would stop in once in awhile for a tasting and to pick up a bottle. The owners, Bob & Linda were always very welcoming.  They have some great wineries and vendors in to offer information on the wines they are tasting each week.

Recently they expanded their beer section and changed their name to the Wine Bank and Beer Vault.  I’ve started enjoying beers more lately thanks to the influence of my niece and her new husband.  Since I primarily drink red wine, beer can taste really good on a hot, summer day.  (Although, we don’t get a lot of hot, summer days here in the Pacific Northwest.)   I do enjoy a good Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or even some white blends when the weather is warm as well.

Besides the wine tastings, some of the things I like about the Wine Bank is that they have some great specials, including the “under $10” wall.  They are very knowledgeable about their products.  I can go in and tell Bob that I like a specific wine (or beer) and would like something similar, and he will give me good advice.  They also have a “Beer Rewards” program – they say it’s like getting free beer.  Can’t argue with something like that.  Once you spend $100 on beer you get $5 free (I think that’s how it works – I just remember hearing something about “free beer”).

I recently joined their Passport Wine Club. They pick 2 great wines for you for only $29.99 per month, plus you get 10% off all the wine you buy.  My first wines were a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Hunter’s Winery in New Zealand.  The Sauvignon Blanc was FABULOUS!!  The Pinot wasn’t to my taste, but not terrible.   For me, this is another great wine tasting opportunity.

They also offer a Discount Wine Club for a one time, $99 fee.  With this, you get 15% off all of your wine purchases and pay the fee just one time!

There are many reasons to visit this wine shop if you are in the greater Tacoma area.  Stop in to buy a bottle or 2, do a wine tasting, meet Bob & Linda, or buy some beer.  They offer growlers for as little as $7.95!

Playing Tourist in my Own Back Yard – The Olympic Peninsula

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula

When I had some time off a few weeks ago, I took several day trips on the Olympic Peninsula.  It’s sad to say, but I really don’t get out and explore our own local area as often as I should.  I think I take it for granted that I can always do that when company comes to town, or I don’t have other plans, or it’s a nice sunny day and a friend might want to do something fun.  I decided that since I was off work and most other people were working, the weather was fabulous, that I would go exploring.

I live in Tacoma, so I started by heading over the Narrows Bridge towards Gig Harbor.  I always love the view from the Narrows.  Following Highway 16, I went past Gig Harbor and Port Orchard, turned onto Highway 3 going North at Bremerton.  I took a detour to drive through Poulsbo because I hadn’t been for years.  This is a pretty little town with lots of shops and restaurants and I filed it away for a day when I can make it my destination.  At Port Gamble I turned West onto Highway 104 and crossed the Hood Canal Bridge.  Hood Canal Bridge    Hood Canal Bridge

What a beautiful drive so far!  Incredible views of the water, lots of trees, and very little traffic.

I took another detour into Port Ludlow because I had heard about The Resort at Port Ludlow but had not seen it for myself.  I stopped in and the front desk people were kind enough to let me take a look around and even gave me keys to look in 3 different rooms.  This is a lovely resort right on a marina with beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains, Admiralty Inlet and the mouth of Hood Canal.  The Inn at Port Ludlow has just 37 rooms and suites; they have meeting space for up to 60, and would be the ideal setting for an intimate, waterside Wedding.  It would also be a great romantic weekend getaway location for guests from the Seattle / Tacoma area.  The Fireside Restaurant is warm and inviting, and weather permitting; you can sit out on the deck.      There is a beautiful lawn area on the water side of the resort with chairs and benches; I could see myself sitting out here enjoying the sun and salt air with a good book for a few hours.  One of the meeting rooms looks out onto this view; it would be hard for me to keep focused on business details while looking across this beautiful expanse of lawn.

The rooms are beautiful, with fireplaces, mini-fridge, and large bathrooms with jetted tubs, oversized robes and fabulous views.  I toured a suite that had a huge deck and fabulous view.  The bedroom itself was a little small, but the living area, huge bathroom, and incredible deck more than made up for it.  I also toured 2 Queen Rooms, one with a full bay view and one with a partial view.  These rooms were spacious with a seating area by the fireplace, and the bathroom could be opened up to look out into the room – opening it up even more.

Queen Suite

The staff was very friendly.  The Port Ludlow Golf Club is right there and they offer packages including golf.  They also offer spa treatments right in your guest room.  And the rates are very affordable, starting as low as $129 per night.

Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula

After my tour of The Inn at Port Ludlow, I headed up to Port Townsend.  The Wooden Boat Festival was going on that weekend, so the town was crowded.  I was fortunate to find a parking spot on the street for 2 hours, and set off on foot.  This is an historical town with beautiful architecture was founded in 1792; it is full of shops, restaurants, museums, parks and more.  I was pretty hungry by this time, and wanted to eat where I could look at the water.  I wandered into the Belmont, which was established in 1889 and has a restaurant and hotel. The food and service were very good, although the restaurant itself looked a little tired.  The view was fantastic, and I would recommend eating here if you’re visiting Port Townsend.

After lunch, I wandered around, in and out of shops, took some pictures of the fabulous old buildings, and was intrigued to find a couple of interesting little hotels.  The Swan Hotel is right on the marina and offers wonderful views of both the Olympic and Cascade mountains as well as sea views.  They were completely full so I wasn’t able to see the rooms, but from the outside it was very inviting.  Their sister hotel, The Bishop Victorian Hotel & Gardens is located a couple of blocks inland in the Downtown Historic District.  They, too, were full, but the owners were very inviting and gave me some information and history on both hotels.

Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see whales, bald eagles, and deer.  There are some great wineries in the area, for those wine connoisseurs out there.  There are numerous events and festivals happening throughout the year, including Farmers Markets.

I timed my drive so that I would hit rush hour in Bremerton on the way home.  My advice would be either plan to stay at least until after dinner, or even better spend the night or even a weekend.  You really need that much time to explore this area.

Aloha Beachside B&B – A Little Bit of Hawaii in The Pacific NW

Aloha Beachside B&B Located in Wauna

I had a little time off a couple of weeks ago and decided to do some exploring in my local area.  I had seen signs for the Aloha Beachside Bed & Breakfast, but had never actually seen it.  I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, but it turns out I had driven right past it quite often.

I pulled in without having made an appointment, hoping that I would be able to take a look around.  The owner, Lalaine Wong, being full of the Aloha spirit took the time to show me around, even though she was in the midst of cleaning up after a busy weekend. 

I learned that there are 5 rooms at the Aloha Bed & Breakfast, and all come with a full breakfast.  There are 3 rooms in the main house, and 2 more in the Cabana which is below the main house closer to the beach.

The best room in the main house is the King Kamehameha Room which has views out over the water (even from the tub in the huge bathroom) and direct access to the deck.  This is also called the Honeymoon Suite.  My next choice would be the Queen Liliokalani room which has a nice chaise lounge and working fireplace.  This is a small room near the front door, but it does have it’s own private bath.

The views from the deck on this level are stunning. 

Aloha Beachside B&BAloha Beachside B&B

If you’re traveling with family, the Ohana Room is downstairs and includes a queen bed plus 2 twins; a full living room; a full kitchen and dining area.  It also has a working fireplace. 

The Cabana would be the perfect place for a family or 2 couples traveling together.  It has 2 bedrooms and a shared living room, full kitchen and dining area.  There is a small gazebo outside which would be a perfect place to sit with a book and relax for awhile.  There is also a natural waterfall that can be seen from the deck of the Cabana. 

Aloha Beachside B&B

There are charming touches throughout the property, including a bench at the entry to the cabana. 

Aloha Beachside B&B – Great Choice for a Romantic Getaway

If you are looking for a place close to home to just get away for a night or 2, Aloha Beachside Bed & Breakfast is a great choice.  It is close to Gig Harbor with it’s charming waterfront full of galleries, shops and restaurants.  It is about an hour from Seattle, but will make you feel like you are an ocean away.

Enjoy the Aloha Spirit – Visit Aloha Beachside B&B

And remember, Perfect Paradise Vacations can help you with your plans to stay here.