REVIEW: ALOFT DOWNTOWN ATLANTA

I was surprising my wife with a trip to the Grand Cayman Island. We had to position ourselves in Atlanta for the night, so I decided to get away from the normal airport hotels. I also had about 13k (=~$130) Meryl Lynch points I still had in my account through a Meryl Lynch Visa card I signed up for 2 years ago. (Card had 50k bonus points, and no annual fee. I had already used the rest of the points.) I was able to use the credit card website to make the booking. When booking through a 3rd party, one doesn’t always receive their elite benefits from the hotel as noted per the reward programs Ts and Cs. I called the Aloft a few days beforehand and asked to add my Marriott Platinum number. They were unable to do so at that time.

After a $20 and 20 minute Uber ride, we pulled up to the Aloft. We didn’t get to explore around the hotel too much, but it was in a decent area downtown. Several people walking around at night.

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The check in area was immediately when you walked in. The front desk was extremely helpful and nice and able to add my platinum number which allowed us to have free breakfast the next morning.

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Our room was on the 5th of 8 floors. It was a basic setup that would be good for a night, but a lil smaller than most US hotel rooms. You immediately walk in into the bathroom which was a little strange though. The bathroom was small but sufficient with a sink and counter just outside the shower/toilet door. The shampoo and conditioner were mounted inside the shower area.

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Beyond the bathroom is a little hallway with a no door closet and safe and also 2 free bottles of water..

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The main area was basic but worked well for one night. Large comfortable king size bed. Weird retro clock that we couldn’t figure out, small desk area, and great views from the room.

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The hotel had a very nice courtyard area out front and next to the pool. You could order drinks from the bar here. There was a liquor store a block away that we walked to and had a bottle of wine outside while enjoying the nice September weather. (note our cheap yellow tail wine was still $18….)

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I have never had breakfast at an Aloft before and wasn’t sure what to expect. As a Platinum member, we got a voucher for 2 free breakfasts. It was a little confusing of what was included in the voucher, but it ended up that we could basically have whatever we wanted. We both got the Ranchero, a few pastries, and a container of milk. This was also available A La Carte.

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There was just open seating anywhere you could find a spot in the front desk area. Some people were sitting at the bar.

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Just some other pictures form around the hotel.

The workout room

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24/7 coffee and tea

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Pool Table and business center

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Overall we had a nice stay here. However Aloft isn’t really my cup of tea. Nothing wrong with it, but I would stay in another hotel the next time I am in Atlanta.

 

REVIEW: SHERATON GUNTER SAN ANTONIO

For the second time in 2 weeks, American Airlines cancelled the second leg of my flight from DFW-SAT and re booked me on a flight 22 hours later. Well that doesn’t work so I had the pleasure of driving from DFW-SAT again and arriving at the Sheraton Gunter at 2am to check-in.img_20180917_015504

At 2am, the hotel and area is pretty dead. It was hard to find the entrance and parking area as its not off the main road and its in a maze of one way streets. I ended up parking across the street in a garage for $10 each night vs about $35 for valet.

The hotel is an older historic type hotel. However the lobby is more on the modern side, and then the rooms are older style again. As always when I check in, I asked for an upgrade as a platinum member and did not receive a room upgrade, but did get lounge access. He asked if I wanted breakfast or bonus points as well. Since I had lounge access where I could eat a small breakfast at, I chose the bonus points. Before I went up to my room, I asked him if I was close to the elevator as all I wanted to do was sleep. He said yes I was right next to it so he moved me a few doors down. I just love how I put in my Marriott profile that I like high floors away from elevators, yet they also give me rooms right next to the elevator.

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Different sitting areas in the lobby.img_20180917_075655img_20180917_075737

Business center off the main lobby.img_20180917_075707

Hallway down to the room.

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Small entrance hallway in the room.

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The room was pretty small with one king sized bed in there. Bed was comfortable, but their pillows are too fluffy for me and I end up sleeping with 3 of them. The chair in the picture below is awkwardly placed as there is no space for it so it’s not against a back wall but kind of in the middle. I ended up kicking it when getting out of bed a few times before I finally moved it. I did not get a picture of my view, because I was just looking over the HVAC and back at the hotel. img_20180917_020314

TV stand and desk all in one. There was a spot for a mini fridge in the desk area, but you must request one they are not in every room.img_20180917_020337img_20180917_020319

They did provide 3 bottles of water everyday which is always nice.img_20180917_020326img_20180917_020358_1

The bathroom was what you would expect. Decent toiletries. Clean and enough counter space for my quick stay here.img_20180917_020412img_20180917_020418img_20180917_020424img_20180917_071829

They have breakfast in the lounge, as well as an evening reception. The lounge itself was pretty nice with several different areas and even a pool table. It was off the second floor and provide large windows to look down on the street below.

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The breakfast was smaller than what most lounges offer. Eggs, bacon, and potatoes are your only hot options.  It was enough for a short stay, but a little disappointing.

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However the evenings was probably the highlight of my stay. It’s the little customer service attention that can make or break a hotel stay. While the food was nothing special, (cheese, chips and salsa, and some not very tasty chicken skewers) the service by the 2 lounge attendants was great. When I went into the lounge I was expecting to pay $5 for a glass of wine like they charge at most Marriott/Sheraton lounges in the US. The attendant asked how I had lounge access and I said from being a platinum member. She then asked where my tickets were so I could get free drinks. I told her I didn’t receive any when I checked in. She took my room number, went down to the front desk, got my tickets, and kept my drink full while I worked for the next hour in the lounge.

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While the hotel was clean, there was lots of little stuff falling apart in my room and in the hallways. It needs some TLC.

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While I wouldn’t go out of my way to stay here, if the price was competitive to other hotels in the area, I would stay here again. I didn’t get a chance to explore the area around the hotel much, but its in prime downtown tourist area, so I am sure there are lot’s of restaurants and activities nearby.

REVIEW: THE BEVERLY HILTON

The Beverly Hilton is an iconic LA hotel.  Numerous Presidents, Dignitaries, and Celebrities have stayed here over the years.  While it’s not the fanciest hotel in Beverly Hills, or the newest, it is still a place to be seen.

When you first pull up, you immediately recognize the hotel from pictures you may have seen. It actually looks just like the pictures. There is typically a line of high end luxury cars out in front.

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There was only one person working the check in desk at about noon on a Sunday. The line was a little backed up, but 2 more people come out to help. I had booked just a standard room, but was able to get an early check in and I received a Diamond upgrade to a cabana room overlooking the pool. He also offered me a suite, but it was right next to the elevator in the Oasis Tower. I appreciate that he told me that and that he asked if I was a heavy or light sleeper before just giving me the suite. As a diamond member I also received a $20 per person credit for food an beverage that could be used at the pool, hotel restaurants, or room service. (more on that later) I also asked for a late checkout as I just like to see how they handle Diamond members and they gave me a 1:15 checkout. (Isn’t that a pretty random time?) Valet parking is also $44 overnight.

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The cabana rooms are not part of the Oasis to Willshire tower. There are a small set of rooms that directly overlook the pool. While I would have liked a room on the first floor where you could just walk out to the pool, I was still happy with my second floor room.

The room was light and bright and above average size for a hotel room. Beds were pretty standard and comfortable.

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Standard TV with basic cable options including about 3 HBO channels. There was a mini bar inside the cabinet as well. as a Diamond member, I was able to drink the 2 cold bottles of water at no charge.

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The desk area was a little small. I had some work to do and I prefer to have a standard work desk instead of a small round desk. There is a tablet on the desk with all the info of the hotel and room service menus. There is no book containing this info, just the tablet.

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The bathroom was adequate as well and provided nice toiletries. They only provided soap, shampoo, and conditioner though. I appreciate when hotels provide more amenities like cotton swabs, but the Beverly Hilton did not. But they do have a TV in the bathroom. Its actually pretty cool because the top of the shower curtain is sheer so you can watch TV while taking your shower.

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There was also turndown service at night with chocolates on the bed and they replenished your towels.

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While there was no balcony, they did have some really small doors that opened up overlooking the pool.

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The pool got pretty crowded on a Sunday afternoon, but I was still able to find a lounge to relax for an hour. They provide towels and the attendants can help you get your lounger all setup. They also have food and drink service out to the pool, but it was not very fast.

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As I mentioned, I got a $20 food and beverage credit. As a Diamond member, typically you receive a free continental breakfast. However that was $23 for the basic continental, or like $35 for the full buffet.  They did have eggs benedict which i am a sucker for so I went with that instead. It frustrates me though that Hilton provides a voucher that wont even cover the cost of the buffet. (I also received my hotel bill before i went down to breakfast breakfast and it looked like they just took $20 of the bottom line of my bill….)

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The workout facility was pretty large with several cardio machines as well as a decent free wight section. They also had water and apples down in this area. So even if not working out, always nice to know where free water is. The spa was closed at this time though.

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The Beverly Hilton is close to several restaurants as well as an easy walk to Rodeo Drive. There was some type of event going on in the ballroom Sunday night that was pretty extravagant. Lots of Bentley’s and Ferrari’s parked out front that night.

Overall it was a very good stay and I would stay here again whether for work, or with my family for pleasure.

Here are a few more pictures of the grounds as well as some of the restaurant menu’s.

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REVIEW: ACTIVITIES AT BEACHES TURKS AND CAICOS

There is no shortage of activities to keep you entertained at Beaches Turks and Caicos. Earlier I talked about the pools which is the highlight of the resort, but in this post I will try to cover everything else.

First let me start with a few of the water activities. They have snorkeling and scuba boats that go out just about every hour. You can bring your own gear, or they can provide some for ya as well. Its easy to reserve your spot the day before. We just did a snorkeling trip. The boat takes you about 5 minutes from the resort where you can still see the land. Then you snorkel or swim for about 30 minutes and then come back. It was fun and easy. However I did not like that they made you wear life vest that were not inflated. They were the blow up kind and just go in the way.

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There where several playgrounds around the property.

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The gym was adequate. It was fairly large, but the resort is huge and lots of people want to workout when eating so much. They had classes like Zumba and boot camps throughout the week. Beaches has a gym with a weight section and a cardio section, as well as a lil open air hardwood floor section where you can do whatever you want.

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Beaches has a large open air stage where they provide some type of entertainment each night. Sorry Beaches, but this was not your strong point. I’d rather just eat and drink on the beach.

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Close to the water park, there is a little clubhouse with pool , ping pong, air hockey, and fusbol tables for use.

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Beaches also provides all type of water sports activities opportunities. We took advantage of the kayaks and small catamarans. If you don’t know how to operate one, they will provide a guide for ya. They also had stand up paddle boards, windsurfing, water bikes, etc.

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There is an Xbox lounge which has a least 50 systems setup. Nothing amazing but a good way to kill some time if in between activities.

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Croquet anyone? (note I never saw a single person playing, but it looks nice.)

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Basketball and Shuffleboard anyone? They also had a very large tennis section.

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Then of course, plenty of drinks to go around for all ages.

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REVIEW: BEACHES RESORT TURKS AND CAICOS. CHECK IN, ROOM, AND CHECK OUT

We arrived on a Delta flight at about 1pm to Turks and Caicos. The customs and immigration lines weren’t too bad, as it appeared we were only flight arriving at that time. I thought there was like a Beaches lounge or something, but there was not. You walk out of the airport where there are a bunch of hotels with signs. Beaches is to the left. It was pretty crowded and they give you your room number here, but it only took about 10 minutes to hop in a van. They had some nice Escalades for the Beaches Elite, but we are not that so we just piled into a large passenger van and where on our way.

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It’s only about a 15 minute drive which is nice compared to Beaches Negril which is like 2 hours. Beaches has many different villages, and the van will drop you off at your specific village. We get dropped off at the Caribbean Village. We give our bags to the porter and they just line them up outside with all the other bags. There are cold towels and drinks waiting for you once you get out of the van. They have reps who take you to sit down on a couch and finish the check in process on an Ipad. Then you take that to the front desk to get your keys. By this time it’s about 1:30 and our room is not ready.

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We grab a bite at Reflections Restaurant as we are starving by this time. We then just walk around a lil bit until 3:15pm. I then go back to the front desk and they tell be 15 more minutes. At about this same time, a small kids train pulls up so my kids and wife jump on that so they can see more of the resort.

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At 330 I go back to the front desk and my room is ready! A Beaches lady escorts me up to room 260. We walk past my bags still lined up outside so I grab them. She tells me they will have someone bring them up, but since they are just carry ones I tell her I would rather do it myself as I don’t want to wait for our swimsuits. We get up to our room and it’s not too bad. Beaches is pretty darn expensive so I booked the cheapest room category. While our room was not huge, it had good views and would be just fine for our 5 days here.

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ROOM

Our room in the Caribbean Village #260. It was overlooking the basketball courts, but you could also see the ocean and some of the pools. I was happy with it since I booked a DK room type which was the cheapest room possible at that time.

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It included a nice large king bed. The mattress was firm but not rock hard. The pillows were pretty firm as well, but they have some softer ones in the closet.

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Then they have a day bed with trundle which is prefect for 2 kids.

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A small desk and sitting area.

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The armoire was just fine for our 5 days. It’s the beach so we didn’t have a lot of clothes. But there are only 6 drawers. The TV was in front of the bed. It was nice to be able to wind down at night and fall asleep to a show. The reception was pretty bad and they didn’t not have a good selection of channels though. Next to that they had a microwave, though I don’t know why. Then a coffee maker 3 cups. (3 is kind of random) Then they stocked the mini fridge daily. You can ask them for your favorite drinks and bottles of wine when you checkin as well. However they just brought us wine the first day and never restocked it. (we never got wine glasses though)

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The bathroom was sufficient. The best thing was that they give you plenty of large bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. There is a hair dryer as well. They also stocked plenty of towels which is a big plus when you are at the beach with kids. Here was one single glass and an ice bucket in the bathroom. I thought it was pretty strange during our stay that beaches only provided one glass in the bathroom but 3 coffee cups and no wine glasses. I kind of figure after the first night it would have been obvious that there was 4 of us, and that we didn’t drink coffee at all, but did drink a lot of wine. They never provided different cups though.

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It’s nice to have a patio, but it was tiny. Barely large enough for the 2 chairs and table. Plus a small clothes rack.

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Beaches provided complimentary internet connectivity. It was useless in our room though, I think I heard the old AOL modem cranking up a few times. You could get a very short connection from our patio though. It was pretty strong from the public areas.

We were in the Caribbean village which is the far area. We enjoyed it very much though. No matter where you stay, it can be a quick and enjoyable walk to wherever you need to go. Compared to the French, and Italian villages, our area was definitely a lil plain. The pools were very nice and we enjoyed them, but not quit as fancy as the Italian or French pools. Of course you can swim wherever you want though. We actually spent most of our pool time at the waterpark anyways. The beach area in front of the Caribbean was definitely the least crowded though and the least amount of natives trying to sell whatever they can get you to buy.

Our flight on our last day was at 1:19pm. That mean they pick you up from the Beaches departures lounge at 10am. Bags needed to be set outside your room by 9am. We were not quite ready by 9am so we just took our bags down to the departure lounge ourself, which was a short walk from the Caribbean Village lobby. At the lounge they have some comfortable chairs and cookies and water. We were in a van by 10am and it’s a short 20 minute drive to the airport. We were checked in and through security by 10:30, which meant we had 2 hours to do nothing in their very basic airport. PLS guideline is to be at airport 2 hours before flight. We were there about 3 hours so we definitely could have left Beaches a lil later. They don’t always have vans scheduled for later but if you really wanted to I guess you could have taken a cheap cab to stay at Beaches an extra hour.

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Overall our room was perfect for 5 days for the 4 of us. As I mentioned it was a basic room but provided enough room and we slept relatively good. I figured we would have been stuck in a corner overlooking a parking lot, but we had a least were able to see the ocean.

I will be posting more reviews soon of the pools, restaurants, beach, and activities. I also plan on posting a quick comparison of 5 different all inclusive we have gone to in the 3 years and how they compare in amenities and in value. Overall Beaches TCI was amazing. I would love to go back again, just not sure if I need to sell a Kidney to be able to do so.

REVIEW:RESIDENCE INN SAN ANTONIO RIVERWALK/ALAMO

I don’t often post reviews of hotels I stay at for work travel because I usually only spend about 8 hours in the hotel and about 7 of that is sleeping. I have stayed at this hotel several times for work as its always at an approved rate and finally decided to post a review of it.

While not a fancy 5 star hotel, its very cozy place with large rooms that I am very comfortable at. As a Gold member, I have always been upgraded from a studio suite to a 1 bedroom suite.

The rooms are large and I could see my family of 4 enjoying a week in San Antonio here. Lots of accessible power outlets make charging up phones and Ipads easy and quick.

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Small kitchen would make quick dinners and lunches easy. Also would be a good place to warm up leftovers and easy to put all your wine, beer, and juice boxes in the fridge to stay cold.

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On some of the lower floors you can get some street noise, so make sure to get a high floor. Last stay was on the 9th floor and it was quiet.

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Bathrooms are pretty normal. I don’t like the shower built in shampoo amenities though.

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The breakfast doesn’t start until 6:30. I think that is too late for weekdays as I never get to experience the full breakfast. I can usually sneak in a lil early and get some fruit and yogurt to go though.

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They have an evening complimentary reception Monday-Wednesday. Free beer (Shiner!), wine, and soft drinks from 630-8.. It is a lil disappointing that they don’t provide food every night through. (but this is the unfortunately the norm with Residence Inn) Monday and Tuesday they do, but then on Wednesday they have a food truck available for food purchases. I’d rather have free food than spend $40 for a family of 4 for food truck food….

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While the location is  a few blocks back from the Riverwalk, it’s still centrally located and you can walk anywhere quickly.  I feel safe walking at night as well here. I actually kind of like it’s not right on the river, as its very quiet.

The workout room was small. It was never crowded though. Only dumbbells and no weight machines. The pool area was also quite small. If I had my kids with me, they would be disappointed. (it was always crowded with kids so i did not take pictures.

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Valet and Self-parking are both $24. Self-parking is onsite so it’s almost easier just to do that. The valet area isn’t I have stayed at The Westin down the street where parking is $40 a night…. (Yes the Westin is a lot nicer, but when only spending 8 hours in a hotel, a lot of their amenities are not useful and I would rather save the $16.)

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Overall this is a very comfortable hotel that I would bring my family to if the price is right. There are a lot of options by the Riverwalk but I would stay here again for the right price.

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GALAPAGOS ACTIVITIES WITH KIDS

Its not an easy trek to get to the Galapagos, but its not the worst trek ever . To travel by air, you have to fly through either Quito or Guayaquil.  We were originating in Cusco, Peru so our trek ended up being a flight from Cusco to Lima to Guayaquil, then an overnight stay in Guayaquil and a flight the next morning to Baltra in the Galapagos. Baltra is the island you fly into if staying on Santa Cruz Island.

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Walking out of an airplane on an island like this makes flying magical again.

IMG_20180530_131416Now before you even get there , the fees start adding up. Before you check-in at the airport on the mainland, you have to pay a $20 fee per person for Global Conservation. Then upon arrival at Baltra, its $100 per adult and $50 per kid entrance fee since all of the Galapagos is considered a National Park. So right of the bat we were down $380 in fees….

img_20180708_172311paintOnce we arrived at the Airport , the journey was not over. It doesn’t really matter how fast you get off the airplane if you checked bags in because they line them all up and then a dog comes to sniff them all to make sure there is nothing harmful to the island being brought in. Once the K9 is done with all the bags you can go get your bag.

IMG_20180530_133200First you have to take a airport bus to the ferry area and load your bags on the roof of the ferry. (TIP: Bring lots of $1 dollar bills or coins. I spent more ones than I have at bachelor parties. Everywhere you go it seems like its a $1 per person. We had about 40 $1 bills with us and we ran out quick. The toll for the 5 minute ferry ride is $1 per person. Then on excursions, even though you may have already paid for it all, there are often little water taxis that take you form a big boat to a smaller boat, or to another place on the island, and they are all $1 per person. Then Taxi’s in Puerto Arroyo are all $1.50 within the city limits.)

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After the ferry we then took about a $20 40 minute taxi ride to our hostel in Puerto Arroyo.

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If you stay in Puerto Arroyo its a $1.50 taxi ride within the city, or you can also walk just about anywhere within 20 minutes. The port area is pretty much the main area with lots of restaurants, activities, and just people out and about.  You could also see lots of sea lions here and some other wildlife. There was a playground for the kids as well. For some reason, our kids were fascinated by the Ecuadorian volleyball games going on. They were played a lil bit differently than in the states. This was a great place to just walk around with out a destination.

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In this area there are probably a hundred different travel or tour agencies. Most of these places offer steep discounts for next day tours or even 3-5 day cruises. We booked right before we got there when we were in Peru through Eagleray tours for our first excursion. We were able to get 4 people for the price of 3. Now if you don’t have a set schedule or are spending a few days here, then I would not book anything ahead of time. You could also do that with your hotel as well. Our hostel was great (Ariana’s Hostel Galapagos click for review) and we were the only people there. We probably could have gotten it for half of what we paid if we would have just shown up there. While we only booked one tour a few days in advance and decided to play the rest by ear.

We booked the all day Isabella Tour. This included snorkeling, hiking, lunch, and nature viewing. While we booked through Eagleray, once we got to the port area at 7am on the morning  of the tour, it was just a hodgepodge of tour companies all together. It wasn’t the most organized operation, but everyone was going to the same spot. They put us in groups with colored stickers and that was now our tour group for the day, even though we didn’t all book through the same agency. One positive thing with Eagleray was that we were able to pick up our snorkel gear and wet suits the night before. Most other companies did not provide wet suits. You take a water taxi to a larger cruiser that fits about 30 people like sardines for a 2 hour boat ride. This was the worst part of our entire trip. Once one person gets sick, its all downhill from there. They do provide trash bags for ya though or you can go over the edge. Lets just say my wife’s sunglasses are somewhere in the bottom of the ocean.  Even if you don’t usually get motion sickness, just take some Dramamine or medicine.

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Finally got to Isabella and took a water taxi to the land and then immediately took a  water taxi to a lil cove and went on a hike and saw penguins, blue footed boobies, lizards, sharks, turtles, etc.

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We then went snorkeling and saw lots of different rays, turtles, sea horses, and all types of fish. First time using wet suits and they were awesome. Some people stayed behind on land and did not go snorkeling. Our guide was great with our kids and let my daughter hold onto the ring he carried with him so she didn’t have to swim the entire time. It was our kids first time and they cant wait to go again.

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Then we took a water taxi back to the main part of the island and took a bus to lunch. After lunch we went on some more hiking to see more wildlife, a turtle trail, and eventually to the beach for a little bit. Then the bus picked us up, went back to the port area, water taxi to the larger boat, and 2 hours back to another water taxi to take us back to Puerto Arroyo. We got back around 530pm.

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Now we were trying to decide what to do the next day. We knew we didn’t want to get on another 2 hour boat ride. So we decided to explore Santa Cruz and Puerto Arroyo a lil bit.

The next morning we took a $1.50 ride to the Charles Darwin Center. Good walking and lots of good turtle viewing. They have the stiffed Lonesome George on display here as well.

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From there you can walk very easily to the main part of Puerto Arroyo for shopping or food. We then took a taxi to Tortuga Bay. Tortuga Bay was awesome. What we didn’t realize though is that its was like a 30-45 minute walk on a boardwalk from the drop off point to the sand.  (we should have read the sign below before not after we started the walk) They have some water and snacks right when you start and make sure you bring lots of agua. Once you finally get to the beach, you see the most pristine, mesmerizing, clean, amazing beaches ever. Not a chair or hotel in site. Just clear natural beauty. You can walk down a lil but and there are some coves for some swimming and snorkeling and wildlife viewing. A ton of iguanas that just swim from the Ocean onto land. We spent about 3-4 hours here fore decided to finally take the walk back.

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The next day before our flight we just hung around Puerto Arroyo eating and did a lil more shopping before taking a taxi back to the airport.

Overall it was amazing and worth the trek to get there. If doing it by land like we did, I would probably wait to book excursions until the last minute. Need to make sure you are also capable of switching boats quite easily. Now we did see quite a few groups coming from larger cruise ships. While 10x more expensive, it appeared they catered to people who may be unable to transfer or handle boats so easily.

 

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HOTEL REVIEW: RIU PLAYA BLANCA PANAMA. WHAT A $150 A NIGHT ALL INCLUSIVE IS LIKE.

Our original plans had us staying 3 nights at the Andaz Costa Rica. Then I realized we may have a problem transiting there after visiting Peru and Ecuador without waiting 10 days and not having a yellow fever shot. So after a little bit of research, we decided to stay a few extra days in Panama since we already had flights there, and to relax at the Playa Blanca RIU. We have stayed at quite a few all inclusive resorts before, but nothing for $150 a night. That works out to be about $38 per person per day. We can very easily exceed that just in food per day.

The hardest part was getting there.  After staying a night at Waldorf in Panama City, it was $120 USD UberXL and 2 hour ride there. On the way back we arranged transportation through the hotel for $100.

By this point on our vacation, I just wanted to relax, so I may not have taken as many photos as I should have. I will post quite a few below, but bottom line is you get what you pay for.  The RIU was clean, comfortable, quiet, and fun. The food was good, but not great. Service good, but not great, and overall our family enjoyed ourselves. When I factor in how cheap it was, the RIU makes me smile.

We just booked the cheapest room category (standard triple), and it seems like 95% of rooms have ocean views. I thought/hoped our triple room would have 3 beds, but it only had 2 beds. I asked for a rollaway but they could not accommodate because it was a triple. I asked what the triple stood for, and they told me it was for 2 people in one bed, and 1 person in the other. The room was clean and the bathroom was large. TV had a limited selection of channels. We were on the top floor outside facing (not pool facing) and it was very quiet. I like the way the RIU was setup where all the rooms have a mini-hallway off the main hallways. That really keeps down the noise from kids running up and down the hallways. They only replaced our drinks every other day which was kind of annoying though. But they do have water, soda, beer, and bottle alcohol in the room.

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Now we didn’t come here for the room. We came for the PLAYA BLANCA BEACH. I should have read more on this, apparently blanca now means black… While it wasn’t as pretty as Jamaica, we still had fun. The best thing about this beach is that it was always empty. Plenty of lounge chairs and room to do whatever you wanted. Also, there are really no other hotels nearby so not a lot of people in general in this area. Riu also had some motorized sports you could pay for, but paddle-boats and canoes were free.

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Now the best part of the hotel was the Pools. We arrived on a Sunday and the pools were packed. It appeared a lot of locals come here for long weekends and then drive back Sunday afternoon. On Monday and Tuesday, the pools were mostly empty. Lounge chairs were always easy to get. There was a general sports pool, a kids spray n slide pool, a pool with a swim up bar, and then a more adult like pool.

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Now as I mentioned I was kind of pictured out by this point, so I didn’t take any pictures of the food. While the food wasn’t bad, there was nothing memorable about it either. Typical buffet breakfast everyday was the only option in the mornings. The lunch buffet was good, but nothing to write home about. There were 4 options for dinner. We never did the buffet for dinner. They don’t take reservations for the other three restaurants. 2 of them we thought were order off a a menu, but they were just another buffet.

A few other notes of interest. There was lots of activities to do from volleyball, to soccer, to bean bags, to table tennis, etc. The entertainment at night was 90% in Spanish.

There was a few things I was disappointed in.  One was that the 24 hour snacks consisted of stale nachos and packaged sandwiches. Also that the sports bar had pool tables and fusbol; however you had to “rent” the balls from the on site convenient store. To me that was ridiculous.

Overall this was a good way to end our vacation. When you factor in the value of it, you cant beat it.

REVIEW: ARIANA’S GALAPAGOS HOSTEL

After a 2 hours plane ride from Guayaquil, a 10 minute bus ride from the Baltra Galapagos airplane terminal, a 10 minute ferry Ride from Baltra to Santa Cruz, and then a 45 minute taxi ride to Puerto Arroyo, we were finally at Ariana’s Galapagos Hostel. We arranged a taxi through the hostel ($25USD) so they knew we would be coming. The owner greeted us, told us a few things, and led us up to our room.

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Our 2 bedroom suite, was simple but sufficient. We were on the second floor and didn’t have much of a view. The master bedroom had a stiff queen size bed. The other bedroom had 3 twin beds. Each bedroom had a TV, with bad reception and no English channels. There was also a kitchen that had a full size fridge and a hot plate and different cooking items.  We did not use the kitchen much but it was nice to be able to put plenty of water and drinks in the fridge. Then there was also a kitchen table and a small couch as well The bathroom had a small sink and a stand up shower. There was not a lot of storage in the bedrooms or bathrooms. In the bedrooms there was a few small shelves and a rack with hangers.

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While not fancy, this met our needs just fine. It was nice to have the space to spread out and have two separate bedrooms after sharing a room for most of the trip with our kids.

There was great views from the patio the 4th floor. This is also where breakfast was each morning from 7-8am. Breakfast was good, but simple consisting of bread,  some type of eggs, fresh fruit and juice. A lot of the tours start at like 7am, so we weren’t always able to enjoy the included breakfast. They also had filtered water up here, as well as a small fridge with drink on the honor system.

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I think the big thing to remember is that this is still a hostel. They did make up the room each day, but we always had a weird number of towels and often had to ask for more. The water in the shower would just stop every once in a while. You would have to turn it off, and wait about 2 minute and then it would be fine for 5 more minutes. The toilet stopped working one day and we had to call to get it fixed. There was an air conditioning unit in each bedroom and it just worked when it wanted to. The windows didn’t close very tightly and you could here every car that drove by, or every kid that walked by. However, we slept great here. From 10pm to 6am, we were out!

The Hostel is on the edge of “downtown” and very easy to get a taxi to go anywhere. It’s a $1.50 USD taxi ride within the city, or a 20 minute walk to the port where the tours start. There are some small quick marts close by for snacks and drinks.

We paid $150 a night through Expedia. While not cheap for a hostel, it was quite large and clean. If it was just two of us, we would have gotten a  much cheaper place close to downtown. We were also the only guests here. I believe we could have gotten it for about half what we paid if we would have waited till the day of arrival as it seems like that’s what a lot of people do during the off season. I would wait if it was just 2 of us, but not with our family as that would stress me out too much.