Posts Tagged With: travel

If I saved more money, I would……buy a Marriott Vacation Club timeshare

View from our room's balcony at the Marriott Surf Club Aruba.

View from our room’s balcony at the Marriott Surf Club Aruba.

Earlier this August, I spent a week of relaxation and fun on one of my favorite islands, Aruba.  Their current “One Happy Island” marketing campaign portrays the island and its feeling perfectly. I was definitely happy the entire time while there, and as the campaign states, their weather is ideal. This was my second time on the island, and it rained for about an hour and was cloudy for a total of maybe four hours.  The rest of the time, the weather was PERFECT. A breezy 90 degrees and mostly sunny during the day. Cooler, breezy, and probably close to 80 at night. Last time, it didn’t rain for a single second while I was there. You gotta love an island with amazing blue waters, white sandy beaches, and palm trees that’s also a desert that hardly ever gets hurricanes!  I love the Bahamas too, but hurricanes would be the one thing deterring me from planning an August trip there.

Enough small talk about the weather.  This spring, while driving around the Boston area and listening to my favorite top 40 radio stations, with commercials about “One Happy Island” reminding me how great the island is every 10 seconds, I made the decision that I would just HAVE to go.  Who says traditional advertising is dying?  That radio commercial worked just fine on me.

I was very lucky to stay in a family’s suite at the Marriott Surf Club, which is a villa timeshare resort located in the same complex as a Marriott hotel and the Marriott Ocean Club villas at the northern end of Palm Beach.  Featuring a number of nice amenities, including a large pool, lazy river, swim-up bar, free wifi, sunset views, daily activities for both kids and adults (everything from Zumba to Iguana Interactions) and more, the hotel was the ideal place to spend the week.  Although we spent a couple of days sightseeing on the island and on a snorkeling trip, the rest of our time was spent laying on the beach reading, cooling off in the ocean, or aimlessly floating around the lazy river during “happy hour” while sipping refreshing Aruba Breezes.

The bedroom of the 1 bedroom villa.

The bedroom of the 1 bedroom villa.

Since the Surf Club is an easy walking distance to the hotel strip with lots of restaurants, shops, and bars, most nights we wandered out for some dinner, drinks, or souvenirs.  A perfect location in case you ever get bored of the tons of amenities the hotel offers.

Decorated in a casual, beachy blue theme,  the rooms inside the resort are ALMOST as amazing as the pool and lazy river outside it.  Our group stayed in a studio and 1 bedroom villa that were connected with a conjoining door.  So, two couples got to sleep on the luxuriously comfortable Marriott beds, while the other couple struggled through the night on a pull-out couch. I mean the couch wasn’t that bad, but the big beds are so much better. If I could squeeze one of those white comforters in my carry-on, I totally would steal it. Between the two rooms, we also had two large bathrooms, a kitchen with a dining table, a small kitchenette in the studio, a living room area, and two balconies with ocean views. Having our own kitchen was great because we were able to buy groceries for breakfast and lunch, helping us save a lot of money AND calories. As I’ve written before, bringing food on trips or buying groceries for breakfast or lunch can help you stay within your budget and allow you to splurge on nice dinners and desserts! Perfect, because in my next post you’ll see just how much I splurged both financially and calorically.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting into the routine of waking up leisurely, heading down to the fully-equipped gym on the first floor (which I surprisingly actually did a few mornings), returning to the room for a quick breakfast, and having to make the difficult decision of whether I would sit by the pool or on the beach for the day. Tough life.

Now, my stay at the Aruba Surf Club was great, but it’s not the only reason why I want to own a Marriott Vacation Club timeshare.  If you’ve spent more than two seconds on my blog, you know I love travel (and ice cream but I guess that’s besides the point).  With Marriott Vacation Club, I could choose a resort in a location where I would want to travel to often, most likely somewhere in the Caribbean or Hawaii for me. And then, the best part, on years where I don’t visit my timeshare I could try one out somewhere else in the world. Florida, Vail, multiple Hawaiian islands, Myrtle Beach, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, France, Spain, Thailand…the list just gets better and better! And those are just the locations in the “collection”; it seems that with the timeshare you can also visit other Marriotts and various different hotels around the world.

Come on bank account, start growing! Fast.

The beach at the Surf Club at sunset. Such amazing views!

The beach at the Surf Club at sunset. Such amazing views!

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Oh the places I’ve been…My favorite travel photos from 2010 – today!

I’ve never been much of a photographer. During college, most of my photos were of my friends and I holding various alcoholic beverages and smiling or making some crazy faces at a most likely tilted camera. Or even worse was in high school, when we used to hold the camera above our heads and take the dreaded “MySpace” selfies or make a tilted “gangsta” peace sign with weird duck faces.  Yeah…a few girls in dresses at a high school, classy New Years party holding drinks with Raspberry Smirnoff and Sprite are super “gangsta.” Although the photos are a little more than slightly embarrassing, they did capture some fun memories, and I would never delete them. I am glad, though, that over the past three years I’ve had the chance to travel to a few amazing destinations and photograph those experiences.

While I was in Aruba a few weeks ago, my memory card that I bought at the start of the second semester of my senior year at BU finally filled up. With no space left on the card, I uploaded all the photos onto my semi-new computer (actually my sister’s old computer that was given to me last year to replace my IBM Thinkpad from 2006) and began to look through them. I realized that there are actually some pretty nice pictures. Take a look at some of my favorites from my travels to Florida, Cape Cod, New Jersey, Las Vegas, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Vermont, Aruba, Tokyo, and Hong Kong over the past 3.5 years. Keep in mind these are in no particular order and were taken mostly on auto settings with my 2010 Canon 10 megapixel point and shoot camera and weren’t edited. Enjoy!

Hong Kong island at night. Taken from Kowloon in July, 2012.

Hong Kong island at night. Taken from Kowloon in July, 2012.

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A sunset and bottle of wine at Passions on the Beach in Aruba. Taken in August, 2013.

Tokyo, Japan. Taken in July, 2012.

Tokyo, Japan. Taken in July, 2012.

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Shrines, Sushi, Blowfish, Big Buddha, and Boat Rides: Highlights of Tokyo and Hong Kong

A shrine in Tokyo

Hong Kong Harbor

Tokyo and Hong Kong.  Two cities I hadn’t thought much about before March 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and visit new places, but I expected to see more of Europe and the US before making my way over to Asia.  That all changed after a Living Social and Globotours deal arrived in everyone’s inboxes one winter morning.  While at work, my roommate sent me the link via Gchat.  I immediately laughed. “$2400 to go to Tokyo and Hong Kong? No way,” I thought. Still in debt from my trip to Europe less than six months earlier, I wasn’t ready to put that much more money on my credit card.  During the eight days that we had to make this huge decision, my roommates talked and talked about the idea of the trip, and I was convinced.  Yes, I didn’t want to feel left out, but what self-proclaimed “travel blogger” would pass up on such a good deal to go to Asia?  On the last day the deal was available, we booked it.

Shibuya, Tokyo

Then the planning began.  Lauren was the most diligent planner out of all of us and set up Google docs with ideas for each city.  Suddenly I was looking up neighborhoods I’d never heard of: Shibuya, Harajuku, Ginza, Shinjuku, Kowloon, Lantua Island, and reading Top 10 lists for each city.  The months flew by, and I quickly found myself packing and listening to my free talking Japanese app, trying and failing to memorize the pronunciations for words like sorry (sumimasen), thank you (dohmo arigatoh gozaimasu), and please (dohzo).

After an early morning flight from Boston to LA, a long layover that included a walk outside of the airport to In-N-Out for burgers, and an even longer, but smooth flight on a fancy Singapore Airlines plane, we landed in Tokyo.  Even though we’d done some research, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Overall, Tokyo was very large, very clean, and its residents seemed very formal and nice. Getting around was easy with their efficient subway system.

Hong Kong, unlike Tokyo, was very touristy and western. As I mentioned in a previous post, there were British and American chain restaurants everywhere, and it seemed like almost every resident we encountered spoke English.  Its location was tropical, full of palm trees and green mountains towering over the sea. Their subway system was also efficient and easy to use. Much better than the T in Boston.

Now, being a first time visitor who spent only a few days in each city, I’m no expert. But I definitely had a few highlights:

Sushi at the fish market in Tokyo

Tokyo

  • Tsukiji Fish Market. Inside the market, fishermen sell wholesale seafood and auction off huge, fresh tuna, but on the outskirts there are little restaurants and shops. We found one that had a longer line (assuming that meant it was good) and waited. We sat down at the tiny counter and were served an amazing assortment of sushi, tea, and soup that cost around $35. Before this trip, I was all about spicy tuna rolls and didn’t even try my first piece of nigiri or sashimi (rice with raw fish on top) until May.  That morning, I tried multiple types I’d never tried before, and most were delicious. I even liked the eel!  The one part of the meal that was not appetizing, though, was the sea urchin. I swear it tasted like scrambled eggs. Gross.
  • Our half day sight seeing tour.  The tour included going up the Tokyo Tower to see great views of the city, time at a traditional shrine, and a stop outside the Imperial Palace gardens.  The perfect way to see some of Tokyo’s top tourist sites.

    Eating blowfish, hoping I’m not going to die!

  • Blowfish.  Not the most tasty meal I had in Tokyo, but I’m glad I agreed to the experience. At first I was hesitant because I was afraid of getting poisoned, but I ended up giving in.  We went to a little restaurant, Tora-fugu tei, and tried blow fish prepared different ways: raw (not my favorite raw fish- way too chewy), fried (tasted like chicken), and cooked in a steam pot on our table with vegetables (pretty blahh).  We washed it all down with some cold Asahi beer- probably my favorite part of the meal.
  • Shibuya (Tokyo’s time square) was a fun neighborhood to see with tons of people, lights, shops, and restaurants. It also has the world’s largest and busiest cross walk!
  • Yoyogi Park near Harajuku. We got away from the crowds and went on a nice walk through the park to Meiji Shrine. It felt like we weren’t in the middle of a city with millions of people.
  • A packaged ice cream sandwich from a convenience store near our hotel. Everyone know’s that I’m a huge fan of ice cream.  Of course, I couldn’t go an

    Best ice cream in Tokyo

    entire week without it. This sandwich included vanilla ice cream, surrounded by chocolate, and covered in a waffle cone crust. Delicious.  My soft serve ice cream cone from McDonald’s was also pretty good, I’d have to say.

Hong Kong

  • Every night the buildings on Hong Kong island light up for a light/laser show. By this time, the humidity has dropped, and it’s the perfect time to walk along the harbor in Kowloon.
  • Dim Sum! We found this little place on Hong Kong island that served all you can eat dim sum for the equivalent of like $10. So delicious! I tried many different types of dumplings that I had never had before, and they were all tasty.
  • All of us on Victoria Peak

    Victoria Peak had a great view of the whole city, but unfortunately it was hazy the afternoon we went up there. Still fun, though!

  • We had drinks at this trendy bar called Aqua Spirit that was on one of the top floors of a building in Kowloon. We sampled a few interesting and tasty cocktails, while gazing out the large windows at the spectacular views of the brightly lit buildings across the harbor.
  •  The Temple Street market and Ladies’ Market in Kowloon were interesting places to visit, packed with people selling souvenirs and knockoff designer purses. They also had little outdoor restaurants with cheap, authentic Chinese food. I even tried goose at one of them! It was pretty fatty (definitely not going to surpass ice cream as my favorite food), but I’m glad I tried it.

    Cable car ride on Lantau Island

  • Last but not least, although it’s super-touristy, I really enjoyed our day trip to Lantau Island.  We went on a little boat tour, stopped at beach, visited asmall fishing village with stilt and boat houses, saw the big Buddha statue, had an all-you-can eat vegetarian lunch, and went on a cable car ride over the mountains and ocean.  The views from the cable car were exquisite, and the half hour ride over the mountains was the ideal way to end our trip.

The day after our trip to Lantau Island, we headed to the airport to go home…50 hours later we finally arrived back in Boston.  Thanks Typhoon Vicente! Those 50 hours were awful and consisted of a scary bus ride to the airport through the rain where I kept thinking we were going to hydroplane and die, sitting on the plane at the gate for three hours while the pilots were deciding if it was safe to take off (it wasn’t difficult to tell that it was dangerous- the gigantic plane was shaking it was so windy!), sleeping on the floor of the Hong Kong airport, emailing work at 2:00 am telling them I was going to be back to work two days later than planned, finally getting on a plane and heading to San Francisco sans-water because apparently its not allowed on planes going back to the US (who knew?), a sleepless LONG flight, the longest and hottest customs line ever in SF (still with no water), missing the last flight of the afternoon back to Boston, 8 hours in the San Francisco airport, where we paid $15 each for much needed showers and laid on the floor, and another sleepless red-eye back to Boston.

Had I written this post within a few days of returning, my thoughts would have been tainted by the awful trip home.  Now, a month later, I can say I’m 100% happy with my decision to go… Although, I don’t plan on getting on another 12 hour flight too soon.

The Big Buddha!

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Classiness in the middle of touristy Hong Kong: Review of the Kowloon Shangri-La

Kowloon Shangri-La

Welcome tea from the Kowloon Shangri-La

I’ve never really been one to stay in five-star hotels. Too expensive.  Two five-star hotels during one trip? Now that was something I’d never experienced before.  But I guess this trip was all about firsts anyways. First time in Asia. First time trying numerous different types of food.  First time in five-star hotels. I am glad that our Living Social deal included a stay at the Kowloon Shangri-La in Hong Kong, though.

After spending a few days trying to squeeze in as much excitement in Tokyo as possible, we were on to our next stop, Hong Kong.  The moment we got of the plane, I was surprised with our westernized Hong Kong was.  Almost everyone spoke English, and there were American and British chain restaurants everywhere (everything from Outback to Ruth Chris to Pizza Express and Pret).  I guess it isn’t too surprising since Hong Kong was under British rule until the 1990s. Hong Kong was also much more tropical than I imagined, full of high, green mountains and palm trees, and surrounded by tropical waters.

Lobby of the Kowloon Shangri-La

Elegant lobby of the Kowloon Shangri-La

Located on the harbor in Kowloon, some rooms in the the Shangri-la boast great views of the buildings on Hong Kong island.  Its lobby is elegant and features large marble fountains, Asian paintings, and a lounge with live classical music. Like our hotel in Tokyo, the Shangri-La also has free wifi. Always a plus for me.

The service and amenities were great.  As soon as we stepped off the bus from the airport, the bellboy grabbed our bags and didn’t take “no” for an answer. Once in our rooms, after our suitcases were delivered, another employee came by with a free basket of welcome tea that included a cute little teapot and tea cups.  Free bottled water and fruit were left in our room each day, and every night when we were out, the staff came in for “turn-down service,” leaving bookmarks, more water, and putting a strange cloth on the floor next to the beds.  Speaking of beds, they were very comfortable.  It was easy falling asleep after a long day of sight-seeing on top of the large, fluffy pillows.  In addition to comfy beads, the room also included a seating area with a large desk and a couple of arm chairs.  Decorations were classy but modern, with lots of leather, dark wood, whites, and rich colors.

Room at the Kowloon Shangri-La

The room at the Kowloon Shangri-La

The location was ideal.  Perfect for walking along the picturesque harbor in Kowloon and surrounded by countless shops and restaurants. The subway was just a minute walk from the door of the hotel, and rides on the subway from our stop, Tsim Sha Tsui, to the markets in Kowloon or to downtown Hong Kong island were only a few stops.

I would recommend the Shangri-La to anyone staying in Hong Kong, and my memories of the the comfort of its rooms were sufficiently magnified by the night spent on the floor of the Hong Kong airport because of the typhoon. More on that later.

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A Relaxing Oasis: Review of the Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-so

Four Seasons Tokyo View

View from our room at the Four Seasons Tokyo

A month after a whirlwind trip to Tokyo and Hong Kong with three of my friends (my first ever trip to Asia!), I’m finally ready to write about my experiences.  From wandering through the bustling neighborhoods of Tokyo, to eating sushi at 9 am at the fish market, to a cable car ride over the ocean and mountains in Hong Kong, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.  Putting myself into credit card debt for a few months to buy the Living Social trip deal was more than worth it.

After spending around 24 hours on planes and in airports while travelling from Boston, we arrived at our first destination, Tokyo. Exhausted doesn’t begin to explain how I felt. I’m not much of a plane-sleeper  (I maybe slept two hours), and although our Singapore Airlines  flight was the nicest that I’d ever been on, I was beyond tired. Little did I know that my return trip home was going to be a million times worse due to Typhoon Vicente…

I was definitely ready for an evening of relaxation and sleep when we arrived at our hotel. The Four Seasons Tokyo at Chinzan-so was a calm oasis in the outskirts of the large, busy city. The rooms were spacious and comfortable, definitely living up to the Four Seasons’ high standards.  We had views of the city’s vast skyline that were beautiful both in sunlight and lit up with sparkling lights at night.  The hotel lobby and rooms were decorated in a classic and elegant Japanese style; the staff was very friendly, formal, and helpful, and spoke English pretty well. Our bathroom was huge and marble, and of course, and had a separate toilet room, which like most Japanese toilets, featured tons of crazy buttons.  The room had free wifi for our phones and laptops, which was a big help for staying up-to-date with work emails and researching places to go or eat.  The only downside of the room was the fact that the hair dryer didn’t heat up. It just blew cold air, no matter what buttons you pressed, making it difficult to dry my hair.

Four Seasons Tokyo pool

Pool at the Four Seasons Tokyo

Located in the middle of huge gardens, at the top of a hill, in a residential section of Tokyo, the hotel was a little difficult to find on our first night.  We got a little lost after a long day of sight-seeing, and what should have been a five minute walk from the metro station somehow took us almost an hour. The gardens outside the hotel are very nice, though.

My favorite amenity was the large indoor pool.  It had a retractable sun roof that warmed the room and added to the hotel’s relaxing atmosphere.  After running around in the humid summer heat from one tourist destination to another, I was happy to spend an afternoon at the pool.  The water was refreshing and the perfect temperature, and the plush lounge chairs were the perfect place to get lost in a book.

After a couple of days at the Four Seasons in Tokyo, we were off to our next stop: Hong Kong. More on that (and my favorite and least favorite places in both cities) later.

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Sun, sand, and some good food…in Aruba

Jolly Pirates boat

When I was first thinking about writing this post, I was going to do a “top 10 things to do in Aruba” or “Aruba top 10,” but the more I thought I about it, I couldn’t really come up with a top 10.  Don’t get me wrong, my trip to Aruba was amazing, but it mostly consisted of laying by the pool, floating in the ocean or in the lazy river, reading, and relaxing.  Definitely do all of those things if you go to Aruba. That’s what a Caribbean beach vacation is all about, but you should also consider the following:

  • Jolly Pirates 1/2 day snorkeling trip.  Like every other island that I’ve been to, Aruba has many different options for snorkeling day excursions. They all seem the same. Big sail boat or catamaran, a couple of stops for snorkeling, possibly a mediocre buffet, an all-you-can drink bar serving some rum punch, etc.  The Jolly Pirates trip was one of the better ones that I’ve been on for a few reasons.  First of all, a half day is enough time.  We stopped at a couple of places to snorkel; one was super rough/wavy and had views of a sunken ship and the other was calm, shallow spot with some nice fish.  Our third spot was my favorite, though.  We all got to swing off the boat into the water on this huge rope swing. So fun! Maybe it’s because it rained during my snorkeling excursion in Puerto Rico and the water was so rough in Cancun that people were vomiting, but Jolly Pirates in Aruba was definitely my favorite.
  • Sight-seeing.  We rented a car, so one morning we took a quick trip to a few of the different tourist sites on the island: a light house, a tiny old chapel, and the “land bridge” on the other side of the island.  The water on the other side of the island was blue, choppy, and beautiful, but again, a half day was enough for this. Afterwards, I was ready to head back and lay by the pool and read some more.
  • Go into Oranjestad. The largest city and capital of Aruba, Oranjestad boasts some typical touristy shops, more restaurants, and some stands to buy souvenirs from the locals.  A lot of the buildings were painted in pretty pastels, and I’m glad we got to spend some time walking around there.

The other side of the island

As you probably know, my second favorite hobby-after travel- is eating.  So food is always a very important part of my trip.  Not 5-star gourmet food, but just tasty food, especially the kind that comes in big unhealthy portions.  We went to the Hard Rock Cafe (hahaha…I know..to all of my friends that hate chain restaurants, I think their fajitas are good and cheap, no matter what country you’re in!) and a fun hibachi restaurant, but I would recommend:

  • Fishes and More: This cute little seafood restaurant is located on the strip of restaurants by the Palm Beach hotels.  We stopped here one night and I had a great meal of Mahi-Mahi out on the patio.  It was my first time trying Mahi-Mahi, and it was very good.  The nice Aruba breeze and the band down the block playing “Sweet Caroline” made the evening even better.
  • El Gaucho Steakhouse: My meal at El Gaucho was definitely one of my favorites on the island.  Although it’s located off a hard-to-find street in downtown Oranjestad, it was worth the longer drive and getting lost.  The restaurant is known for their steaks, so I ordered one of the more affordable smaller options, and was still completely stuffed when I finished.  The steak was cooked to perfection and came with three sides. 3 sides! I love sides, so I was very excited about that.  The garlic bread that came out before the meal was also great, and we polished off a few baskets before our food even arrived.

And of course, I can’t leave an island without a giant margarita in a plastic souvenir glass from Senor Frogs! Aruba was no exception…I may be too old for it, but I am still adding to my plastic cup collection. And yes, my over priced $27 margarita was delicious.

Oranjestad, Aruba- Marissa and I in front of the sign

Oranjestad, Aruba- Marissa and I in front of the sign

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Review of the Marriott Aruba Ocean Club

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Palm Beach, Aruba

Last month, my parents, sister, and I took our first family vacation in four years (and definitely the biggest family vacation that we’d ever taken) to Aruba.  The trip began filled with stress and featured me running frantically through the Miami airport in search of an outlet to charge my laptop and deal with some work issues, only to finally find one, after walking past every gate in the terminal 5 times, and realize the wireless fee was something ridiculous, like $7.  So, of course, I, like my usual self, slammed my laptop shut, threw my phone in my bag, and complained until our flight was ready to depart. Typical.

When we arrived in Aruba a couple of hours later, my stress had subsided, but I still wasn’t feeling the Aruba “bon bini” welcome and was unsure that I was on “one happy island,” as all signs and carpets in the airport were telling me.

After we got to our hotel and I spent some relaxing time by the beach and pool, though, all of that began to change.  Like your typical Caribbean beach vacation, Aruba makes you forget about your life at home and allows you to relax, while you soak up some sun and sip a cocktail.

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The Pool

The Marriott Aruba Ocean Club is a suite/villa timeshare resort located in the same complex as a Marriott hotel and the Marriott Surf Club villas, at one end of the “high rise” hotel area of Palm Beach. It features a number of nice amenities, including a large pool, swim-up bar, free wifi, restaurants, sunset views, a spa, etc. It was also within an easy walking distance of the hotel strip with lots of restaurants, shops, and bars.

The room was the perfect size and included a full kitchen, living room, dining table, and large bathroom.  Having our own kitchen was great because we were able to buy groceries for breakfast and lunch, helping us save a lot of money AND calories. As I’ve written before, bringing food on trips for breakfast or lunch can help you stay within your budget and allow you to splurge on nice dinners and desserts!

Overall, the trip was definitely one of the best that we’ve taken as a family…I don’t think we ended up fighting or arguing at all! Some of our past highlights include my sister and I getting into a big fight at the Lincoln Memorial, one of us running off at Epcot, as well as countless more I can’t remember. This trip flew by without issues.

Aruba was the ideal destination for some fun and relaxation, and the Marriott Aruba Ocean Club was the ideal hotel to visit.  I’d definitely recommend it, and hope to return in the future! Out of the resorts I’ve stayed at in the Caribbean, in Cancun, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, this hotel is definitely toward the top of my list.  The only one that beats it, is, surprise surprise, Atlantis, which I will always love.

Stay tuned for my take on the food/fun on the island and my thoughts on my first trip to Asia (I’m heading to Tokyo and Hong Kong on Monday)!

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