Adults Only All Inclusive Resort Review: Valentin Imperial Maya, Riviera Maya, Mexico

Valentin Imperial Maya
We just returned from five nights at the Valentin in a deluxe junior suite.

Transfer: our trip started out on a positive note with the excellent transfers from Expedia. Driver Juan was prompt, polite, and drove a spotlessly clean van. I will stick with Expedia for all future transfers. Transfer back to the resort was equally smooth and efficient.

Beautiful but very large resort. You will definitely get in your 10,000 steps per day here. Well maintained, spotlessly clean.

Best pool I’ve ever been to at an all inclusive resort, but the water was not very cool on our trip due to the high temperatures; music was very loud near the center swim up bar, but there are quieter spots near either end of this very large pool. Two swim up bars, lazy river type of layout with three fountains.

Appeared to be plenty of pool chairs until about 11 am, but if you want a shady spot, you will need to play the towel game and go reserve your spot before 9 am. I observed one prime shady spot with towels that was unoccupied all day until about 3:30 pm, then a young couple arrived. I overheard them say they had spent the day at the beach. Another irritating thing at the pool was the rude thoughtless guests who felt they had to reserve their pool float by taking it back to their chair or sliding it under their chair. The pool floats should remain in the water for anyone’s use. Please don’t be one of those people.

Playa Del Carmen: our taxi into Playa was $27 one way, $28 on the way back. The hotel offers transportation for $18 per person round trip, but you must come and go at the two preset time periods (10:30 am to 2:30 pm or 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm).

Show: we made it to only one show, the Michael Jackson impersonator. Was very entertaining.

Pros:

Beach: beautiful sandy beach. A little rocky near the center, which is where the Privilege cabanas are, but when you get to the beach, turn left and walk past the Privilege cabanas, where you will find more chairs and cabanas for the “regular” guests as well as a better area for wading. When we went, the red flags were out, the water was rough, we could barely stand up. We spent only a couple hours at the beach before returning to the pool.

No need to worry about pool towel cards, wristbands, or restaurant reservations (except for the Japanese hibachi grill, see below comments)

Room, very happy with our deluxe junior suite on the third floor of building 4 (4314). We could walk directly out the back of our building to the pool, and were close to the restaurants. We never did use the balcony or the jacuzzi tub. The ocean front buildings (9 thru 14) are the farthest from the lobby and restaurant area, you would need grab a shuttle/golf cart. The swim up room buildings (6,7,8) looked very nice and had their own bar and snacks area. If you are so inclined, the free television lineup includes two porn channels.

Availability of canned beer such as Bud Light, Coors Light, Tecate Light, Dos Equis

All the food was excellent. We tried the steak and seafood restaurant, the Japanese restaurant, and the Italian restaurant. Just a minor point but I appreciated the crispy bacon at the breakfast buffet instead of the under cooked, greasy breakfast meats we’ve usually found. When you go to breakfast, try to get seated in the air conditioned room off to the right.

Coconut shrimp at the seafood restaurant

One of the best couples massages we’ve ever had

Restaurant server and captain-in-training Diego was great and made our visit much more pleasant. My first beer at the seafood restaurant was a little on the room temperature side, and when I mentioned it, he placed three Bud Lights on ice especially for me

Poolside lunch, offerings varied from day to day between soft tacos and cheeseburgers, but it would have been nice to have some sort of side dish like fries or chips.

Cons:

Teppanyaki style dining at the Ginger Japanese restaurant; good luck trying to get a reservation, very inefficient system. You must go in person to one of the six concierges located at various buildings around the resort beginning at 9 am. You cannot make advance reservations unless you have the “Privilege” package. When you arrive at 9am, there will already be a line for the concierge. He/she then must call in via phone to the main reservation place, so all 6 concierges around the resort are all calling the same number at one time. Only one employee someplace is actually logging all the reservations. All spots for that day will be gone in a few minutes. Unless you are first in line, forget it. One guy I spoke to in line said it was his fifth day in a row trying to make a reservation, so on this day he had several friends strategically placed in different concierge spots around the resort. The day I was in line (third in line), no one at my location (building 7 concierge) got a reservation because our concierge never was able to get through on the reservation number.

The room AC seemed to be working, but never got the room really cool like we like it. The ceiling fan was necessary to keep the room at a reasonable temperature.

Mini bar: same as with the room AC, it never got the drinks cold. If you like your beer cold, you will need to put some on ice in the ice bucket. An ice machine is available in each building.

Service in the Italian restaurant was very slow, took about 30 minutes to get our appetizer

While we would not hesitate to go back to the Valentin, we enjoy going somewhere different on each vacation. We’d like to try Secrets Silversands, El Dorado, or the Royal next time.

Gary and Estelle

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Niagara Falls Trip Report: August 2015

View from Skylon looking toward the Clifton Hill area HPIM2053 HPIM2054 View of the newer Fallsview Casino Our hotel, the Hilton Fallsview HPIM2057 HPIM2058 HPIM2059 HPIM2062 HPIM2063 HPIM2064 HPIM2066 HPIM2067 HPIM2068 HPIM2069 HPIM2070 HPIM2071 HPIM2072 HPIM2073 HPIM2074 HPIM2076 HPIM2077 HPIM2078 HPIM2079 HPIM2082 HPIM2083 HPIM2084 HPIM2085 HPIM2086 HPIM2087 HPIM2089 HPIM2090 The flower clock Birthday dessert at the Skylon
Arriving in Niagara Falls, ON:

If you are coming up from the NY area, cross over at the Peace Bridge, much shorter lines, fewer tourists use this bridge. Then take the QEW to 420. Coming back over however, we waited for 30 minutes to enter the USA. Try to stay near the middle of the pack and don’t get caught in the RV line.

Hilton Fallsview:

Hilton—no complaints at all, would not hesitate to stay here again. Be sure to join the Hilton Honors program so you can get the free WiFi and use the Hilton Honors line at the front desk. We were able to bypass a very long line upon checkout. As others have posted, be sure to ask that all VOLUNTARY taxes are removed from your bill at checkout.

We decided to not worry about trying to find the cheapest parking around, we just used the Hilton self-park for $30 per night. Quick, easy, painless, no hassle; sure beat trying to drag our luggage from the casino or some lot down the street.

We booked a room with two queen beds, but upon arrival, we asked about a king bed, and they upgraded us to a Jacuzzi suite. It had a king bed, Jacuzzi tub, shower, in room safe, coffee maker, mini fridge, hair dryer, and a great view of the falls. Our room did overlook the casino and casino parking garage, but we still had a great view of both the American and Canadian falls. Upon checkout, I noticed a $50 upgrade charge that had not been mentioned, but I thought it was well worth it considering the great room we got and chose not to argue about it.

Dining:

Skylon Tower revolving dining room. Biggest lobster tail I have seen in a long time; I had the seafood symphony and Estelle had a surf and turf (New York strip steak and smaller lobster tail). Great service, surprisingly great food for a touristy type of place. Fabulous deserts and of course the view of the falls. I made our reservation at 8pm so later during dinner we could see the falls light up at night.

We also ate at Kelsey’s on Clifton Hill. Had a great time, ate on the patio, listened to live music, had the won-ton nachos. We did not realize it is a Canadian chain of restaurants similar to Applebee’s; we would definitely go back.

We also highly recommend Coco’s near the Skylon and Fallsview Casino. Again, we dined outside on the patio, listened to live entertainment, had great wood fired pizza, and watched people walk by.

Misc:

Clifton Hill area—lots to do, especially for families with children. Reminded us of the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. Sidewalks were very crowded in the evening.

WeGo bus system. Very easy to navigate. Passes for 24 hours are $7 CAD, or you can by a 48 hour pass. You cannot buy just one ride. We got our passes in our hotel gift shop.

Casinos—we learned they are owned by the same company, so if you get a player’s card, it will work at both casinos. The one in the Clifton Hill area is the older one and does not have craps. Alcoholic beverages are not comped if you are gaming like in Vegas. One afternoon at Casino Niagara we had fun listening to an Elvis impersonator.

If you plan on doing the Journey Behind the Falls or the Hornblower (same as Maid of the Mist, only it leaves from the Canadian side) take a tour which includes these attractions. You will be glad you did when you see the long lines that you get to walk right past. We used Viator and it worked out great.

Cell phone use—we had Sprint 3g or LTE the entire time with roaming turned off. WiFi free at the Hilton if you are an Honors Member but not great coverage; in the room, we sort of had to move around the room to find just the right spot to get WiFi connectivity.

General observations:

In my opinion, this area is not a honeymoon destination unless you already have a family. You must love to be around families and children everywhere if you go to Niagara Falls. If you are looking for an adult getaway, this is not it.

Use a major credit card (one that does not charge foreign transaction fees) whenever you can. You will get a much better exchange rate than paying in US dollars.

I knew I shouldn’t have let Estelle drive the barrel.

4583b

New Secrets Resort to Open in Panama (adults only all inclusive)

New Secrets Resort to Open in Panama

Photo Credit: Caribbean Journal

AMResorts is expanding to Panama, with the Secrets Playa Bonita Panama; it will be the first Secrets property in Central America.

Secrets will take over the existing InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort and Spa, which will operate under that name until Dec. 2015, when it will debut under the Secrets brand.

The 303-room hotel has a 10,000-square-foot spa. It is owned by Bern Hotels and Resorts.

Read the full article from the Caribbean Journal here.

Related: More Awards for AMResorts (Dreams, Secrets, Now, Zoetry, Sunscape)
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Trip Report: Riu Palace Macao Punta Cana, adults only, all inclusive resort

Riu Palace Macao Punta Cana beach view  Riu Palace Macao Punta Cana  Riu Palace Macao Punta Cana main building
Just back from six nights at the Riu Palace Macao in Punta Cana.

Pros:

  • Absolutely beautiful resort, well maintained, spotlessly clean, with excellent food and service
  • Room: our room, a second floor suite, was very large, clean and insect free, a mini bar + liquor, coffee maker, Jacuzzi tub, robes, large walk in shower, safe, two balconies, two flat screen TVs, bidet, great air conditioning. I did miss having Fox News; had to settle for CNN.
  • Beach: one of the best I’ve ever been to. Very clean, with no rocks, no seaweed, no sharp seashells, plenty of chairs, palm trees everywhere. Great walking beach if you like that.
  • Pool temperature; cool enough to be refreshing, yet not so cold that it shocks you going in
  • Pool chairs: plenty to go around, including many in the shade; so many chairs in fact, they are pretty close together in spots, but as per usual, there are those guests who insist on getting out there at 6am, claiming their perfect spot, only to never be seen again for the rest of the day. One of these days, I hope to find a resort that doesn’t allow guests to put a towel down and leave for the day. Having said that, we always found chairs available when we got to the pool after breakfast about 10:30 am.
  • Massage on the beach, including champagne, was amazing, best massage we’ve had in our travels
  • Food: RIU resorts have great buffets, and this one was no exception. We tried the steakhouse, the Japanese restaurant, the Italian restaurant, and the Krystal fusion restaurant, and while they were all fine, we liked the buffet the best. It had different themes each night. The meals in the ala carte restaurants were carefully prepared and beautifully presented.
  • Service/tipping: the service was prompt, efficient, and friendly, and while I believe the bartenders and servers very much appreciated tips, I did not at all get the impression that the level of service depended on tipping. Special shout-out to pool bartender Juan and server Yasdenys! Regardless, do not go to any tropical all inclusive resort without taking at least $50 US in one dollar bills and another $50 in five dollar bills; you will thank me for this “tip”.
  • Vacation Express: this point is not related to the resort, but Vacation Express was a great tour company to work with. Everything went smoothly, including the check in, the flight, and the transfers. We were not expecting the free alcoholic beverages on the flight, e.g. Presidente beer, mixed drinks!

Cons:

  • Having to wear wristbands, make restaurant reservations (also see below), and worry about towel cards: once you have been to a Secrets resort, you will appreciate what I’m saying about these three items
  • Poor Wi-Fi: yes, it is free, but you have to be in certain spots in the lobby to get good service. Do not go here specifically for the offer of free Wi-Fi, you will be disappointed; it rarely worked for us anywhere except the main lobby
  • Loud drunks at the pool with the swim up bar: contrary to other trip reports, these were not just Americans. We saw many loud groups of drunks from all over, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and USA. It’s almost as if they’ve never had a few drinks before. Especially annoying was when they pull out their own Bluetooth-connected speakers and blare their iTunes music, assuming that everyone at the pool that day wants to hear their choice of music. We were never sure which pool was supposed to be the “quiet” pool. The larger pool is where all the dancing and animation activities occur, while the smaller pool with the swim-up bar has too many loud, obnoxious drunks and personal stereo speakers. Forget trying to read a book. This is why I always listen to audio books with my earbuds.
  • Restaurant (ala carte) reservations must be made in person (at the Japanese restaurant) from 7:30 am until 10:00 am, and you can make them only for that evening and the next three evenings. We were offered only two seating choices: 6:30 pm or 9:00 pm.
  • Poor shopping options: the free shopping trip takes you to one store (one owner) divided into three rooms: a jewelry store, cigar store, and very small disappointing souvenir shop. In summary, this is a beautiful, spotless resort, with excellent food and service, but after having been to a Secrets Resort, an Excellence Resort, the Jewel Dunn’s River, one Sandals resort, and three of the four Couples Resorts in Jamaica, I think we’ve now been “spoiled” as far as adults only all-inclusive resorts. The Riu Palace Macao is a great choice for those on a budget but still wanting an adults-only property.

Feel free to email me with any questions.

Related: Riu Palace Macao Punta Cana 2015
Related: Hotel guests Rate Free Wi-Fi at Top of Amenity List

Renovations to Couples Sans Souci, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Couples Sans Souci

Shared from Couples Resorts:

Couples Resorts, Jamaica will be undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation at Couples Sans Souci. This renovation will focus on our One Bedroom Beachfront Suites along with the Palazzina restaurant, and is the latest in a string of improvements, updates and investments in Jamaica’s leading luxury all-inclusive resorts.

Couples Sans Souci will close from July 9th through August 14th and the resort will reopen on August 15th, with the Palazzina restaurant and One Bedroom Beachfront Suites re-opening October 31st.

We also are pleased to announce a 7th night free promotion for new bookings for arrivals August 15th through October 30th.

This is a very exciting time for Couples Sans Souci and we look forward to working with you through this transition. As always, thank you for your continued support.

Related: All Four Couples Resorts Awarded TripAdvisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence
Related: Photos from Couples Resorts
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