Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 11 – 11:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Slept in until 9:00 am! Yet another omelet and banana milkshake for breakfast for myself. Changed into swimsuits after eating and grabbed some beach towels from the hut. Cloudy but blue sky, very warm with a slight breeze by the water; better yet, no rain! We found two broken loungers on the beach and pulled them over to the shade of a palm tree. We only needed them for less than 10 minutes, though, as a family nearby vacated their spot and non-broken loungers. We pounced on them right away! Ah, nice to relax under a palapa with my Kobo in hand.



Around 12:30 pm we headed back to our room to freshen up and go to the 1 o’ clock lunch buffet. Had the alfredo pasta yet again. Jordan tried some this time, too. After lunch, as we were walking by the main pool, I spotted 2 empty loungers in the shade. Jordan saved them while I ran back to the room to collect towels, sunscreen, and my beach bag. We hung out there enjoying the beautiful weather for the remainder of the afternoon.

Strolled back to the beach again in the evening. Jordan grabbed a beer, then swam in the ocean for a bit while I took some photos. Then we went to dinner at 8:30 pm. Not much of a fan of the dinner buffet because I haven’t found anything that I really enjoyed. Ate the lasagna and calzone again and had a few sips of red wine. I had a craving for something sweet n’ sugary and found what looked like a tater tot but what was actually a really delicious, sweet … something. No idea what it was but this was the only night they were available!



Once again, a mochaccino from the lobby bar to end the night. Watched some of the “Copacabana” show at the theatre. Jordan went to the bar next to the pizzeria and tried “Victor’s special” drink – finally an alcoholic drink that tastes fantastic! All I know is that it tasted like grapefruit and quickly became our favourite.



{February 12 – 4:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went for breakfast at 10:00 am. Just had a banana milkshake, donut, and random items this time. Found loungers by the pool and remained there all day. Figured we might as well take advantage of having them for once! Ate lunch around 2:00 pm and returned to our place by the pool. After an entire morning and afternoon spent lounging, we decided to head down to the beach for a change of scenery.



{February 12 – 9:45 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Tired out from a full day in the sunshine. We did end up hanging out at the beach for awhile. Jordan swam; I read. We ate dinner at La Taqueria this time. The chicken quesadillas are to die for! Ordered “Victor’s special” drinks again. Jordan’s meal didn’t quite fill him up so we moved over to the pizzeria side and he ordered himself a pepperoni and blue cheese pizza. After eating we went to the theatre to listen to the live music. The woman who sang has a beautiful voice. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was lovely.

{February 13 – 6:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Up bright and early at 6:30 am to get ready, pack our beach bags, exchange for clean towels, etc. Ate a quick breakfast at 7:45 am. Today we are going on an excursion: Outback Safari, the full-day tour. I was pretty excited as I’d read many reviews about this tour. We waited at the main entrance of the lobby for our pick-up until we realized that the hotel has a special excursion pick-up zone across the lot. We ran over there and waited on the benches, and talked to the other couple who would be going with us. At 9 o’ clock the Outback Safari open-air jeep pulled up and we were introduced to our guide, Jesus. Unfortunately, today’s weather was not so great. I only had a light, long-sleeved top on over a tank top and shorts so the ride was a cold one. I assumed the weather would clear up but boy was I wrong. The roads were very bumpy but there was plenty of scenery to watch.



First we stopped at a local school. Jesus explained that both Haitian and Dominican kids go to the school. He also told us how to distinguish between the Haitian and Dominican peoples. We said hello to the kids and some of us gave cash donations. Then we climbed back into the jeep and drove through more lush landscape, finally arriving at a ranch. Here, we ate a hearty meal of salad, rice with beans, potato salad, dried sweet potato, dried plantain, and the most delicious fried chicken I’ve ever had! For dessert, coconut cookies. While we were at the ranch the sky opened up and down-poured. I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera dry. Jesus showed us around the ranch and talked about growing bananas, coffee, etc. We even saw some crocodiles.


Dragonfly

Later, we pulled up to a plantation to see how a local Dominican family lives. We walked through their living quarters and then everyone piled into a large open-air hut to sit on benches. We learned about the production of coffee, cacao, and sugarcane; sampled the island’s famous mamajuana drink (tasted like cough syrup to me), as well as real cacao hot chocolate; smoothed coconut oil into our legs; and tasted the incredible local vanilla. All these products were available for purchase. I ended up leaving with 2 bottles of the spicy, sweet-smelling vanilla, a bottle of honey, cacao, and coarse sugar for $20 USD total.

The final part of the afternoon was spent at Macao Beach. It was cold, rainy, and very windy! Jordan and Jesus went boogie-boarding while the rest of us stayed on the beach. There were lots of people there, some also in the water. It looked cold but I enjoyed watching Jordan fighting the waves. The excursion was definitely worth the money!



{February 13 – 9:15 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Just back from dinner at “Via Venneto”. We were a little late as Jordan was slow to wind down from the excursion and get dressed for dinner. Once seated, I ordered the penne carbonara, which turned out lovely, and Jordan had the pasta with salmon. Afterward, we walked to the very crowded lobby for mochaccinos. Couldn’t find any free chairs so we pulled a low coffee table over to a desk and sat on the coffee table. A special check-in area was being prepared for some visitors from Spain. Advertisements for “Ron Barcelo” rum were everywhere, as well as women in really tiny dresses. We people-watched while sipping a White Russian and Spanish coffee. Finished our drinks and walked down to the theatre to listen to some live music before returning to our room for the night.



There was a free 350 mL bottle of Ron Barcelo rum waiting for us in our room.

***Continued in next post.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part I

At last I got my wish: a trip to the Dominican Republic! Hello Punta Cana, with your lovely palm trees, blue skies, clear water, smooth sandy beaches, beautiful resorts, and tasty food. Like usual, we traveled in February as it’s the easiest time for the both of us to take holidays together. At first the idea of going to the Dominican started out as a chance for Jordan and I and our friends, Reg and Michelle, to take a trip together. We even chose the hotel that they’d stayed at a couple years earlier – the Occidental Grand Flamenco Resort in Punta Cana. Unfortunately, our friends had to cancel due to not having someone to watch their little boy, but my husband and I decided to book anyway. We got what I think was a really sweet Air Canada all-inclusive package out of Toronto, just before the price rocketed sky-high. We brought US dollars to purchase souvenirs. The time zone is the same as Ontario, however Punta Cana is an hour ahead in the winter because the country doesn’t keep daylight savings time. As usual, I kept a journal.

{February 8 – 8:20 am EST – Toronto Pearson Airport}
Yesterday after work we drove to the Hilton Garden Inn located near the Toronto airport. We had a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, splitting a very delicious chicken parmesan sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. A little pricey, but it was worth it. I’m glad we didn’t order two meals because it was almost too much food. This morning I woke up at 5 am to shower and make sure everything was packed up properly. We went down to breakfast and had the $8.00 cold buffet, then caught the 7:30 am shuttle to terminal 1. Waiting at gate E80 right now; boarding is at 9:45 am. For some reason we couldn’t get seats together.



{February 8 – 8:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
When boarding time came and our flight wasn’t announced, I checked the screen only to realize that the gate had been changed. Other travelers began to notice this as well and we all rushed to the new gate. At the new gate we had our seats changed so that we could sit together. Flight took off a little late but we still arrived on schedule. During the flight beverages were free but any food or snacks were available for a fee. By this time I was absolutely starving, and when I get really hungry I also get a headache. Since our seats were at the very back of the plane, we were the last to be served drinks and of course there was only licorice, chips, and noodle cups left. I don’t usually buy food on the plane but I needed to eat something; that cup of noodles for $3.00 was disappointing but at least it was food.



Upon arrival at the Punta Cana airport, we skipped the long line for tourist cards since ours were included with the trip package. Customs didn’t even look at the forms we’d filled out on the plane; they just took them and waved us on. We made our way to the parking lot in search of our bus and arrived at the resort a little after 6 pm. At check-in we were asked for our voucher but I guess I never received one from itravel2000. I printed out and had with me every email the site had sent me about the package but there was no voucher so I don’t know what I was supposed to give them. Anyway, the hotel staff just had us sign a paper. We were also given a complimentary fruity beverage. After getting our luggage a staff member drove us to building #13 (room 201). Very close to the beach (less than 2 minutes) but a longer walk to the lobby and restaurants. Went looking for food after getting settled in. The buffet wasn’t open for dinner just yet so we decided to go to the pizzeria. Then we just wandered around the grounds to get familiar with the resort. At the lobby we paid $25 USD for the key to the in-room safe (for a week).


The beautiful beach

Looking out to sea... Posing on the beach

{February 9 – 10:45 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up early to shower and headed down to the breakfast buffet for a quick bite to eat. Meeting in lobby with our tour representative at 9 am. She gave us a bunch of information on the resort and available excursions, and said that if we ever needed anything we were to talk to her first. Afterward we booked two dinner reservations: La Hacienda (Mexican) for 6:30 pm on February 10th and Via Venneto (Italian) for 6:30 pm on February 13th.

Still hungry after the meeting so Jordan and I went back for more breakfast! I had some French toast, a sugar donut, and a delicious glass of freshly-made banana milkshake. Jordan had a plate of fresh fruit and some milkshake as well. Great food selection for breakfast. Earlier he had tried a mochaccino from the lobby bar (our friends had raved about them) and turns out they are very good! We ended up drinking many of them throughout our stay. We went for a walk around the grounds to work off breakfast and then returned to our room around 11:15 am to change into swimsuits. For some reason there was no water when Jordan tried to shower; good thing I showered this morning!



{February 9 – 3:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down to the main pool but there were no available loungers, of course. None on the beach either. No surprize there! Instead we just walked along the beach (facing the ocean, we walked to the right side). Perfect weather! The sky was very blue with just a few clouds. The water was also very refreshing on our feet. We took many photos along the way. After about an hour of walking, we returned to the resort for lunch. I ordered the pasta with white sauce that the staff make right in front of you. Mmm, it’s my favourite! Relaxed after lunch by sitting at a table outside the lobby area sipping mochaccinos and basking in the sunshine. A little later we returned to our room to change shoes only to discover that we had no power!



{February 9 – 6:30 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Turns out most of the resort was without power for little over an hour due to the hotel replacing a transformer. During that time we just walked around, checked out the spa facilities, and had some drinks. The sex-on-the-beach and lime margaritas were terrible but Jordan enjoyed his Presidente and also a Pepsi with whisky. Unfortunately, no power meant no flushing toilets and nothing but candlelight in the lobby washrooms!

We changed into our swimwear again at 5:30 pm, only to realize that the towel hut closed ten minutes early. So we sat around on the beach enjoying the breeze. I brought my Canon 60D and took some photos while Jordan went swimming in the ocean. So far the weather has been great; very hot during the day but a nice cool breeze in the evening.



{February 9 – 10:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Back from dinner! I had beef lasagna and a ham and cheese calzone. Oh, that calzone was heavenly! For dessert I ordered crepes from the “crepes station”: fresh slices of banana, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate syrup. Jordan tried some fish, rice, and various cheeses. I think we were there for a good hour or more, eating and chatting with the couple sitting at the table next to us. After eating we wandered back to the lobby so I could purchase wifi for our room ($25 USD for 25 hours worth of internet than could be used anytime over a 7 day period – I even connected to it using my iPhone on the beach). Ordered more mochaccinos and sat in the lobby to relax. On our walk back to the room there was a beautiful full moon in the sky!

{February 10 – 8:30 am EST – Punta Cana}
Woke up at 6:30 am this morning because we booked a tour with Punta Cana Mike for the Higuey Circle tour. Unfortunately, we received an email from him canceling due to severe muscle strain in his neck and shoulders. While this was disappointing because we were really looking forward to this tour, there isn’t much we could do about it and we appreciate that he at least emailed to let us know. I had some school supplies with us that I was going to donate but instead I’ll just leave them in the room on our last day. Now we have the day free. What to do? For starters, breakfast! Must have rained early because the pathways are wet and the sky is gray.



{February 10 – 8:40 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Calling it a night! It’s certainly been a long day. For breakfast I had a delicious omelet and a donut with a glass of fresh orange juice. Afterward we walked down to the beach and turned left facing the ocean this time. Walked for about forty minutes before turning around. All the time the sky was pretty gray but no rain. We came back for lunch around 1:15 pm and I had that awesome pasta again. I can’t get enough of it.



Before our walk we had spoken to our tour rep about taking the shuttle bus to Nicole’s shop this afternoon. We were picked up at 2:30 pm at the gates to the hotel. The bus turned right and passed the Bavaro Plaza. Nicole’s shop is at an old golf course. We browsed for a bit, more interested in the scenery than the jewelry. Mostly this was just something for us to do to pass the time. I ended up purchasing 2 bags of Santo Domingo coffee for $12 USD. When we got bored in there, we came outside and waited for the shuttle to come back. Jordan chatted with an older gentleman from Quebec; this nice man suggested we try shopping at “the stores near the pharmacy just past the Bavaro Plaza”. We also had a nice conversation with a guy from Peterborough.

Tipped the shuttle driver $2 USD to let us off across the street from Bavaro Plaza so we could explore on foot. We browsed through the stores in the Plaza but the vendors are extremely pushy and got upset if they didn’t get their way. That definitely turned me off from wanting to spend money there. We left and crossed the street again and looked through a few more shops but didn’t buy anything. At this point it was very warm and we were tired so we walked the short distance back to the hotel.



Had dinner at the Mexican restaurant tonight, “La Hacienda”. I ordered the chicken fajitas and Jordan ordered the Azteca dish (tortilla strips with chicken and re-fried beans). The food was very tasty but the fajitas weren’t served with shredded cheese, only a cheese sauce like what one would put on nachos (yuck). The dessert, “milk cake”, was really good as well. After eating we browsed through the vendor stalls that had set up outside the lobby area by the main pool. I ended up buying 2 necklaces for $15 USD, which is probably more than they are worth but I didn’t care so much as I hadn’t done much spending.

***Continued in next post.

Las Vegas – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{April 4 – 4:50 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
What a long day! Got up for 8:30 am and met Ryan & Stacey outside our hotel. We walked over to Hooters and ate breakfast at the Mad Onion. Jordan had eggs, bacon, and potatoes; I ordered a breakfast burrito with beans and rice on the side ($25.00 USD including tip). The food was good but I could hardly finish half the burrito.



We walked down the Strip together, popping into souvenir shops along the way. Bought some shot glasses. We also found some black T-shirts with a bride and groom on them and the words “GAME OVER” printed at the top, which the boys bought so that they could wear them to “crash” Chris & Katie’s wedding. Walked all the way down to the Venetian and watched the gondolas for a bit. I spent $14.05 USD in Sephora on some yummy Tuscan blood orange cream and grapefruit body scrub. I love that store! We also went into the Mirage and paid $15.00 USD per person to get into the Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. There’s a huge pool where dolphins swim around, and then a second pool where the dolphins will do a few tricks and you can pay a small fee to swim with them. After watching the dolphins for a little while, we meandered into the secret garden portion and saw some beautiful cats – lions, a leopard, a panther, and a gorgeous snow white tiger. Before leaving we bought some ice cream to cool ourselves down. I picked out a few items at the gift shop ($13.00 USD).



During the walk back we stepped into the CVS so I could buy the picture frame I had spotted during an earlier visit. The frame was only $7.99 there and I had seen the exact one in other souvenir shops for close to fifteen dollars! Stacey and I also had our picture taken with Superman! 🙂 Then we headed back to the Tropicana, hoping to make it in time for Chris & Katie’s small wedding ceremony. We were not technically invited to the ceremony, only their parents were, but by the time we showed up we had already missed it. The boys wore their “GAME OVER” T-shirts, too. We hung around for a little while until the newly married couple came back from having their photos taken, and then took a few more pictures with them.



{April 4 – 8:45 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
After saying goodbye to our friends, we went looking for a place to eat dinner on our last night in Las Vegas. Jordan ended up with an expensive slice of pizza from a place in New York New York that he said wasn’t even that great. I bought myself a mocha frappuccino from the Starbucks and sat with him while he ate. We left that place, as none of the restaurants really appealed to me, and ended up at Hard Rock Cafe. I’ve never been to one before. I ordered a pulled chicken sandwich with seasoned fries and Jordan ordered the apple cobbler with a big glass of milk, totaling $30.00 USD (including tip). Not bad, we managed to keep the food cheap!

On our way back down the Strip we went into ROSS and I found a dress that doubles as a skirt for $15.00 USD, a purple Guess handbag for $40.00 USD (normally worth a hundred dollars), and a baby outfit for my nephew. We spent quite a bit of time in that store, browsing. Finally we made it over to the Coca-Cola store so I could buy a magnet for my sister. For a tip, Jordan had a couple photos taken with a guy dressed up as a character from his favourite video game, Halo.



Now we’re calling it a night. We’re being picked up by the shuttle at 6:15 am tomorrow and I know we’ll be dead tired if we stay out any later. I can’t believe how much fun I had here and I regret that we can’t stay a few extra days. We never even reached the end of the Strip! Maybe another time? Well, time to pack!

***End of journal.

A few hiccups on the way home. When we reached the airport we were informed that the computers were all down and there was a HUGE line-up, all the way outside the doors. We were very lucky that we arrived early, because many people missed their flights. We made ours just in time. Stop-over in Chicago, and then home sweet home!

Las Vegas – Part I

After our trip to Jamaica in February, we hadn’t planned on taking any more vacations for quite some time. However, a good friend of Jordan’s planned to get married in Las Vegas during the first week of April. His friend, Chris, had mentioned to a bunch of their buddies that everyone would be welcome to come out for a good time in Vegas. After some thought, we decided that Las Vegas sounded like fun and we might as well go since we had the opportunity! Neither of us had any interest in gambling, which was one of the reasons why I initially didn’t want to go, but some research on TripAdvisor convinced me that we could still have a good time exploring The Strip and hanging out with our friends.

This decision came at the end of February when I noticed the decent price for a WestJet package, flying Toronto to Las Vegas, and staying at the newly renovated Tropicana Las Vegas resort. It was right in our budget. Unfortunately, by the time Jordan’s leave pass was signed and given back to him, it was a few days into March and the great price I had noticed jumped up $600. We were almost unable to go due to that huge increase in price, but my travel agent was able to book us flights and the same hotel for only a hundred dollars more than the February WestJet package. We ended up on a Continental flight from Toronto / Dallas / Las Vegas and an American Airlines flight Las Vegas / Chicago / Toronto. In one months’ time I was able to scrape together $500 spending money for the both of us as long as we didn’t gamble.

So here is my journal from our April adventure in Las Vegas, Nevada!



{April 1 – 2:15 pm EST – Toronto Pearson Airport}
We left the house this morning just before 9 am so we could first stop at the bank to withdraw cash and exchange it for US dollars. Arrived at the Economy Park n’ Fly close to noon and caught the shuttle to airport. Easy check-in with Continental Airlines and security was fairly quick for myself. Jordan was given a pat-down and then security went over his backpack and laptop with a fine-tooth comb. Had a quick but expensive bite to eat: chicken wings, two beer, fries, club sandwich for $35 CAD (MasterCard). Now we are waiting at our gate after having been informed that our flight to Dallas has been delayed by two hours, which will cause us to miss our connecting flight. Luckily I was the first person to run up to the counter and explain our situation, and the nice lady changed our connecting flight to a later one.



{April 2 – 9:00 am PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
What a looooong day yesterday was. We barely made our connecting flight in Dallas. Once off the plane we literally ran for the Skylink monorail to get to gate A39 from D, and just caught the last of the boarding line! The flight was smooth but Jordan and I didn’t have seats next to each other. Arrived in Sin City at 8:30 pm Pacific Standard Time. Grabbed my bag from the carousel and went to inspect the long line for a taxi. Decided it wasn’t worth the wait and bought tickets instead for the shuttle bus ($24 USD round-trip for the both of us). While we waited for the bus, Jordan bought a $3 USD bottle of Dr. Pepper from a vending machine. After a very long wait we boarded the shuttle and were the first to be dropped off! I was so happy to finally be here, but very exhausted with a bit of a headache from the flight.



Our friends, Ryan & Stacey (not the ones getting married), were waiting for us in the Tropicana lobby. They stayed at the Luxor and had arrived the day before us. We checked in, took the elevator to our floor in the Paradise Tower, dropped off luggage, and inspected our room. Very large and spacious, everything was fresh and new. The whole place smells like coconut suntan oil, which is neat. Ryan & Stacey convinced us not to go to bed yet but to walk some of The Strip with them so they could show us around. First we walked over to MGM Grand to get a frozen drink from Fat Tuesdays: $12 USD for a tall peach bellini slushie alcoholic drink. So good! I was starving so we grabbed a meal at Wendy’s for a very late dinner. Then walked over to the Bellagio to watch the spectacular fountain show! At long last we made it to bed by 1 am PST (4 am EST). Now we’re up and getting ready for our first breakfast in Vegas and a trip to Hoover Dam with Ryan & Stacey!



{April 2 – 8:00 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Ryan rented a red Cobalt from Tropicana. We drove to the Premium Outlets mall and shopped there after breakfast. First we went into the IHOP but the line was really long, so we decided to skip that and walk over to “Dunkin’ Donuts” for food. Jordan and I spent under $10 USD on our food. At the mall I spent $70 USD on a pair of dirt biking gloves and a pair of jeans for myself at the Fox Racing apparel store. At the huge Skechers store I got a pair of sandals for myself and another pair for Jordan ($100 USD). We spent most of our time in those two stores or looking at luggage; there wasn’t anything else of interest to the four of us. Grabbed an iced tea and Gatorade from the “Dunkin’ Donuts” kiosk ($3.88 USD) before hitting the road. Stopped at Carter Powersports for awhile to look at bikes. Jordan bought me a chest guard and elbow pads for $190 USD, but he didn’t find anything for himself.



Finally, we reached the Hoover Dam! Parked in a free area, then walked down. Amazing views and we took plenty of photos. Beautiful day, windy, but humid compared to being in Las Vegas. I bought some postcards at a gift shop. We ate lunch at “High Scaler Cafe”: $21.35 USD for my chicken wrap with fries, and Jordan’s chicken fingers with fries, plus a large fountain pop. After eating we walked slowly back up the hills to where we’d parked the car.



We stopped at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign on our way back to the hotel but it was very crowded. Instead, Stacey and I snapped some pictures from the vehicle. Dropped off the rental car, put our purchases in our room, and then headed over to the Luxor to see their room and hotel. The hotel is shaped like a pyramid and the windows in the room are slanted on an angle; it’s pretty neat! I found the hotel a little shabby though. We got frozen drinks at “Evening Call” in the Luxor. Jordan and I both got the passion berry flavour called “Call Girlz” ($7.00 USD for 17 oz and $11.00 USD for 25 oz). From there we walked leisurely through to Mandalay Bay, intending to visit the aquarium and shark reef but then we realized we can’t take the beverages inside.

Getting ready to see Cirque du Soleil’s “KA” tonight! I hope I can stay awake; I’m exhausted!



{April 3 – 3:30 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Met up with Ryan & Stacey at our seats in the KA theatre at MGM Grande last night. This particular Cirque show has a storyline and I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. There was plenty of acrobatics, but it didn’t really “feel” like a Cirque show, if that makes sense. Some of the scenes were pretty cool but I did fall asleep a few times. I wonder if maybe I was just too exhausted to be able to enjoy it?

This morning Jordan and I left the hotel around 9:00 am and walked up the Strip on the New York New York side and made it as far as Caesar’s Forum Shoppes. Bought some water, chocolate bars, and a Vegas calendar at the CVS, a magnet for my friend Stacey back home, and some other souvenirs (all for under $12.00 USD). Browsed around the Crystals shopping centre; the stores are very upscale. Popped into the Cosmopolitan for a look around. Admired the beautiful ceiling of blown glass flowers in the Bellagio lobby, and wandered through the butterfly-themed courtyard.



We ate lunch at The Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Forum Shoppes, which was a recommended affordable place to eat that I read about on TripAdvisor. I ordered a delicious smokehouse BBQ burger with fries, Jordan had a pizza and beer, for $35.00 USD (including tip). While walking back to our hotel after lunch, Jordan was asked for money by a guy on the street. He offered the guy his beer instead, which he took with thanks. We’re going to head over to the lion habitat at MGM Grande in a bit, to meet up with a few people.



{April 3 – 10:00 pm PST – Las Vegas, Nevada}
Met up with our friends Ryan & Stacey and Chris & Katie (the couple getting married) around 4:00 pm at the MGM Grande’s lion habitat. We waited and waited to see the lions fed but nothing happened, so we left after taking a few photos. At one point Jordan asked me to hold his drink and as soon as I took it from him a security guard came over and asked for my I.D. Almost 29 years old and he thinks I’m underage. We left and wandered over to the Luxor to show Chris & Katie around. Headed over to Mandalay Bay and paid $16.95 USD per person to get into the aquarium and shark reef. It was neat to see but my camera battery died; I ended up taking some pictures with Jordan’s camera but it didn’t do a great job, unfortunately. Stacey had a headache so she and Ryan returned to their room while the remaining four of us walked over to New York New York. Jordan, Chris, and Katie wanted to go on the roller coaster. The ride costs $14.00 USD. Jordan said it’s not worth the price itself, but it was cool to go on the ride.



Jordan and I returned to our hotel afterward to change footwear and grab a sweater. The days are warm and windy and the nights are cool and windy! Walked over to M&M’s World and wandered around the store but didn’t end up buying anything. Checked out the Coca-Cola store as well, and bought my sister a Coke magnet. We ate dinner at Denny’s, trying to keep things cheap: appetizer platter and a chocolate milkshake for $13.00 USD (including tip). So tired, it’s time for bed!

***Continued in next post.

Jamaica – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 9 – 6:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Dragged myself out of bed at 5 am to shower, get dressed, and pack my beach bag with towels, cash, and sunscreen. We were in the lobby by 6 am, just on time to be picked up for our trip to the Blue Mountains. No time for breakfast, just a granola bar. Dark outside and we’re the first ones on the bus; turns out the driver made a special trip to pick us up. When we first tried to book the trip, the Jamaican Tours agent said there weren’t enough people wanting to go (meaning, in Montego Bay) so we would have to try for another day. But because we showed such an interest in this bicycling tour, she called the tour company again and they agreed to have us picked up. Anyway, we picked up more people in Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay, then headed all the way across the island to the Blue Mountains. We drove for hours, past lush banana and papaya plantations.



First we stopped somewhere for a quick brunch of toast, eggs, juice, and rolls. I really have no idea where we were. But then we hopped back onto the bus and drove up some pretty crazy winding roads to get to the top. Endless photo opportunities through the window. Absolutely breath-taking landscape. Once at the top everybody picked out a bike and were given a helmet, elbow protectors, and knee pads for safety. We were told we were not allowed to bike down the mountain without wearing them. Now I must mention that there was a Belgian family with our group, a mother, father, and daughter, and they caused some trouble when we first picked them up. Apparently they didn’t have their tickets (ie. proof of purchase) for the tour and weren’t going to be allowed on the bus. They delayed us quite a bit and finally were allowed to come. They were very loud during the ride. Now that we had our bikes and were ready to go, they put up a huge fuss over wearing the safety gear. Oh. My. God. I could not believe how annoying they were being; all I could think was “Just put the stuff on and let’s go already!” But they finally got their way and didn’t have to wear the knee and elbow pads. Idiots.



Anyway, we were finally on our way! A pretty smooth ride all the way down, some bumps and ruts, but lovely weather for biking and taking in our surroundings. There were special “check points” where our guides had the group stop and they spoke about the region and pointed out local flora and fauna. We inspected a primary school, tasted Blue Mountain coffee brewed outside in a large iron pot, and ate slices of grapefruit one of the guides picked off a tree by the side of the road. We were shown different leaves and herbs that are used to brew into a tea that, after drinking for a couple days, removes all traces of marijuana from one’s bloodstream so that the person can visit a doctor and not be caught with the drug in their system. At the bottom of the trail we got back on our bus and visited a nearby waterfall. By now it was cooler and I didn’t want to swim, but Jordan was the first into the water! He almost lost his glasses, too. There was also a beer-drinking contest that Jordan and two others volunteered for. Afterward, tipped the tour guide $250J and the driver $300J (approx $3.50 USD).



{February 9 – 8:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Just got back from dinner and some shopping. Delicious pasta for dinner at “Little River”. I am addicted to this dish. So far there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to shop. I brought money to spend and I was determined to spend it all before leaving. So after dinner we visited the hotel shop and I ended up spending about $75 USD on a beautiful sundress, a blue “Jamaica” T-shirt, photo frame, two postcards, and a gorgeous pink tote bag.

{February 10 – 10:15 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
First thing after breakfast, we went down and signed out one of the catamarans since it’s such a gorgeous day. However, not much wind so we didn’t get very far, just kinda floated around and enjoyed the solitude and sunshine. The sky was so blue and hardly any clouds at all. We were allowed to sail for an hour for free but got bored after half an hour of hardly any movement so we returned the catamaran and found ourselves some chairs on the beach. Jordan joined a game of volleyball, which didn’t last long because there were only a few players, and then we went for a dip in the water. Lazy, relaxing day. Later, we visited the craft stalls just off the property, along the beach, and bought some beaded bracelets, necklaces, and a couple shot glasses ($15 USD).



At four o’ clock we hopped on the free shuttle to “Rose Hall Shoppes” and wandered around there for awhile. There was a Scotiabank ATM there, even though two workers at the hotel said there wasn’t, so I used that to get out some cash without having to pay any fee. Bought some cool magnets, a black tote bag for my sister ($12 USD), etc.
Took some photos of me in my new sundress by the picturesque waterwheel. Back at the hotel, picked up two more bags of Blue Mountain coffee from the store, plus some Jamaican vanilla extract with cardamon ($30 USD). Also found a ladies Fossil watch that I actually liked, so purchased that as well for $85 USD (I’m so picky with watches). Ate dinner at “Jambalaya”, the Cajun restaurant, at 9 pm, but because we had a quick bite to eat before going to the “Shoppes”, we were not overly hungry. The food was just alright, nothing spectacular.


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{February 11 – 7:00 pm – Montego Bay, Jamaica}
Yet another fun and adventurous day on our final day on this beautiful island! We ate an early breakfast of fried eggs and then met in the lobby for 7:45 am. First off, an extremely bumpy ride out of Montego Bay to the south coast to Black River. Small group, only five of us and all Canadians, so we introduced ourselves and chatted during the ride. Once at the Black River crocodile safari, we piled onto a boat with some others. Black River is the country’s longest navigable river. Our guide pointed out egrets, herons, osprey, fish, mangroves, and five different crocodiles. For each one he brought the boat as close as possible. He explained that during the day the crocodiles are docile; it’s only at night that they are dangerous because it’s hunting time for them. We learned that the river is called Black River because the water looks a dark sludgy brown or black. But if you fill a water bottle with the river water, it’s perfectly clear. After that lovely, hot boat ride we ate lunch right in the open-air buiding: jerk chicken, rice, pork & beans (too spicy), and cole slaw.



Another winding, heart-jarring bumpy ride 30 minutes away to famous YS Falls. Hopped on a tractor that pulled us in a sort of trailer with bench seats that took us from the main building where the souvenirs are to the park where the falls are located. Got bit by mosquitoes! We were allowed to go off on our own and explore, as long as we met back at a certain time. The falls kind of rise at different levels and at each level there are pools that you can swim in. At one level there is a rope swing that Jordan jumped off a couple times. Everything was so beautiful, but there were also a lot of people. Took lots of photos, of course.



When we got back, we ate a hamburger at “Uncle Tony’s” and then walked down to the sister resort, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites. Wandered around their shops, which are a lot better than our measly two stores. Collected some final souvenirs: postcards and magnets ($11 USD). Now we are back at the resort. Suitcases are stuffed to the gills! We need to be ready to go at 10:45 am tomorrow (Saturday). Goodbye Jamaica!



***End of journal.

Getting through security when leaving the island is just as much a pain as arriving. Had to remove all excess sweaters/shirts and even shoes (that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to take off my shoes at an airport). Regardless of those inconveniences, what an amazing trip! When I look back on our trip now, I’m so happy that we did more than just lounge around the resort. There was so much to do and see on the island! I think my favourite thing to do was climbing Dunn’s River Falls and bicycling down the Blue Mountains. For me, those activities were adventurous.