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Friday, December 21, 2012

Riu Palace Peninsula Week—The Dining

Each morning at the Riu Palace Peninsula, I strolled over to the large breakfast buffet at Las Olas restaurant, which included an omelet station, French toast, bacon, sausage, yogurt, cereals, and fresh fruit including small sweet bananas and papayas. Food in hand, I walked over to one of the outdoor tables to enjoy breakfast with a sea breeze and a pot of strong Mexican coffee. For lunch, I would head to the Italian restaurant, Venecia, just off the lobby. They offer a salad bar, pizza, grilled fish, and pasta choices. No reservations are necessary. I also enjoyed my mid-afternoon latte at the stylish coffee bar, Capuchino. 
Reserve in advance to dine at one of the four specialty restaurants. My favorite dishes included the tender Chilean sea bass at the fusion restaurant, Krystal; the large cut of rib eye at the steakhouse, Isla Mujeres; the wok pan-fried grouper with shitake mushrooms at Kabuki Japanese restaurant; and the tequila-flambéed prawns at Tamales, the Mexican restaurant. 
It’s been a fun week in Cancun, but it’s back to the frigid temperatures for me, with stops in Chicago, New York, and Presque Isle, Maine. I’ll return on January 7th with my Top 5 Travel Experiences of 2012. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/21/12 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Riu Palace Peninsula Week—The Activities

Follow my cue and wake up with a morning snorkel to the reef just beyond the beach of the Riu Palace Peninsula. Simply grab a mask, snorkel, and fins from the watersports hut and off you go to see the neon-colored fish. This being Cancun, the ocean beckons and the Riu takes full advantage of its waterfront location with a slew of activity. Certified scuba divers can head via boat 20 minutes to the east to find a live coral reef and two shipwrecks from World War II. Those who want to sail or paddle can easily grab a Hobie catamaran and open kayak from the beach. Yet, this being Cancun, the gateway to the ocean and the Yucatan peninsula, there’s so much more. The Riu can arrange daytrips to snorkel the natural aquarium, Xel-Ha, or the marine park of nearby Isla Mujeros. There’s the opportunity to deep-sea fish on private charters to hook marlin, sailfish, and tuna. You can even rent a small speedboat and cruise the mangroves in the Cancun lagoon. 
Then, of course, there are the Mayan ruins on the beach of Tulum, which will be particularly enticing this week as thousands gather to commemorate the Mayan Day of Destruction on December 21st. The well-preserved Tulum ruins, 60 gray-black buildings in all, are perched on a cliff directly above a palm-fringed beach. Archaeologists place the beginnings of Tulum somewhere between 700-1000 A.D., a period when the Mayan civilization had already passed its peak. Don’t miss Tulum’s tallest building, a watchtower fortress overlooking the Caribbean that the Spanish called El Castillo. The staircase to the summit’s temple offers good views of the seas. Then take a refreshing dip in the ocean before the drive back to the Riu Palace Peninsula

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/20/12 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Riu Palace Peninsula Week—The Spa and Gym

What’s the best remedy for weary legs that sprinted through a terminal to catch a connecting flight? A deep tissue massage. Yesterday afternoon, I popped into the Renova Spa at Cancun’s Riu Palace Peninsula to de-stress and rejuvenate this travel-worn body of mine. Within moments of facing down on the massage table, I knew I had the right masseur, Alberto. A massage is like speed dating to me. I can tell instantly whether this is going to be a good massage or bad depending on the masseuse’s first movements. The ones that hone in on pressure points are usually bad. The good ones are like scientists searching for the sorest of muscles. Alberto instantly found that knot in my back that I’ve had since biking uphill for an hour at Utah’s Zion National Park in October. And man, did he work it with strong hands and elbows. I walked out of there as loose as a jellyfish. 
Next door to the Renova Spa is the gym. The Riu Palace Peninsula is one of the first Riu resorts in the Americas to feature Riu Fit, trainers that lead guests in daily pilates, yoga, and water aerobics workouts. Not readily known is that you can have a personal training session at the gym for free. The complimentary workout is included in the all-inclusive price. While waiting for my massage, I saw several people take advantage of this opportunity and judging from the amount of sweat that poured from their bodies, they were getting their money’s worth. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/19/12 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Riu Palace Peninsula Week—The Rooms

When I tell people that I work as a travel writer, their usual response is “wow, what a dream job.” 99% of the time, they’re right. Yesterday, I had one of those 1% days where it was dreadful. I awoke at 4:30 am to catch a 6:30 plane out of Boston’s Logan Airport, which was supposed to connect in Miami and reach my final destination of Cancun. Usually an easy morning of travel. We board the flight and are about to fly away when the pilot discovers an electrical problem. We head back to the gate where my flight is now delayed two hours…Then delayed another three hours…Then cancelled. I’m lucky that my wife is a travel agent who booked me on a 2:30 flight to Miami. All the other flights to Miami were already overbooked for the Holidays. 

I grab lunch and do some work, when I hear over the loud speaker that all passengers on the cancelled must go downstairs to baggage claim, grab their luggage, and rebook it again at the departure counter. The self-service counters at American Airlines are now a chaotic mess, with countless people waiting on line after using the computer to get their boarding passes. I wait and I wait once again on the long security line. The flight to Miami was a breeze. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Miami, there was no gate to pull into, so we’re delayed. By the time I get off the plane, I only have 20 minutes before my flight to Cancun leaves. As I depart, I hear “this is the final call for American Airlines, Flight 2139 to Cancun, Mexico.” With at least 20 pounds of computer equipment in my backpack, I sprint like a Marine to my gate, which feels like it’s a mile away (those elliptical machine workouts at the gym finally paying off). I’m covered in sweat when I reach the next flight, but remarkably the gate is still open. I beg the flight attendant for a glass of water and he looks at me like it’s a major inconvenience. I finally make it to Cancun, 8 hours later than I was supposed to arrive, only to find out that my luggage is still back in Miami.
Then I reach the stylish lobby of the new Riu Palace Peninsula, all lit up for the Holiday festivities, and I can finally breathe again. When I drop my trusty backpack off in the room, I was delighted to spot the king-sized bed, the sunken Jacuzzi tub, the pleasant blue and white décor. A fruit plate was waiting, along with all the rum, vodka, and cervezas I needed to take the edge off. The liquor was certainly appealing, but another reason I love an all-inclusive property is that the restaurants stay open late. So I went downstairs to have dinner, my first fish tacos, guacamole, and refried beans of the week. Ambled over to the theater to watch the scantily-clad dance troupe work their way around a couple Bob Fosse tunes. Then took the elevator to the 17th floor and that king-sized bed. I slept wonderfully and awoke to the morning sun lighting up the Cancun sands and the shimmering Atlantic waters. Ah yes, back to my dream job. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/18/12 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Riu Palace Peninsula Week in Cancun

Last October, the Washington Post published a story of mine on how I learned to love the all-inclusive property. I have reviewed more than 25 all-inclusive resorts, but I never appreciated the appeal until I stayed with the Spanish resort company, Riu. I spent a week with my family at Negril’s Riu Palace Tropical Bay and it exceeded all expectations. The white sand sloped down gently into the warm waters, where I would spend a good portion of the day swimming, kayaking, and watching the reddish-yellow sun melt into the sea. If I felt hungry, I would get up from my chaise lounge and grab a plate of hot jerk chicken from the resort’s jerk hut or wander over to the pool bar for another dirty banana. The kids and I played a lot of games, winning bottles of rum at the pre-sunset bingo bash. Best of all, I relaxed more than I’ve been able to do on a trip in a long time. 
So when the opportunity arose to visit the recently unveiled Riu Palace Peninsula in Cancun, I was excited to get on a plane and check it out. Especially since it was snowing in Boston yesterday. This week, I’ll be blogging and tweeting about all aspects of the resort, from the rooms to the amenities to the food and the entertainment. So stick around, mi amigo. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/17/12 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Spend a Night at the New Yorker Hotel for $129

If you take a look at our December newsletter, you’ll quickly realize that we love Manhattan this time of year. Well, now we have an even better reason. Through Thursday on Groupon, the art deco New Yorker Hotel is offering a chance to spend the night in Manhattan at $129 a night. Travel dates are good through March. Across from Madison Square Garden, this is a good place to spend the night if you want to head to town to see the red hot New York Knicks. It’s also within easy walking distance to the Broadway theaters. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/11/12 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Cheer in Toronto—A Return to Luxury

On the heels of Toronto’s architectural achievements came a slew of high-end hoteliers. In February 2011, the Ritz-Carlton opened its first property in Canada, a 53-story high-rise overlooking the CN Tower in the entertainment district. This past January, the $500 million Trump Tower was unveiled. In September, Shangri-La, the Asian-based luxury hotel group, opened its second hotel in North America. And last, but certainly not least, the Four Seasons just debuted their new flagship property in one of the liveliest sections of town, Yorkville. 
The demand is obviously here, with Tourism Toronto reporting a banner year in 2011, with more than 9 million hotel rooms sold. But what I love about each one of these properties is their utter lack of pretension (c’mon, this is Canada), excellent service, and unique features. The Ritz-Carlton offers diners at the restaurant, Toca, a chance to visit the cheese cave and sample more than 200 cheeses. Also those hand-painted plates, which pay homage to the Toronto International Film Festival and the Canadian landscape, were created by one of the servers. At Trump’s expansion of the Quartz Crystal Spa, you’ll find a heated saltwater lap pool. The most welcoming lobby is at the Shangri-La, where you can recline on a cushiony couch in front of the fireplace. Then there’s the Four Seasons, whose properties I’ve always cherished simply because their fitness rooms and men’s spa were light years ahead of the competition. At Four Seasons Toronto, they have equipped their treadmills, elliptical machines, and bikes with a Virtual Active by Matrix. It’s basically a virtual reality system where you can choose to take a run through the streets of Chicago, the lush interior of Hawaii, or in the Swiss Alps. It’s already been filmed! Forget the Duck Egg dish at the new Café Boulud (which was delicious, by the way), I’d return to Four Seasons Toronto solely for the chance to sweat all over the world. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/28/12 at 12:00 PM
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Top 5 Eco-Resorts in Central America, Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, Nicaragua

Nicaragua has the largest area of primary-growth rainforest north of the Amazon, hundreds of beaches, six active volcanoes, and plenty of sleepy surf towns. Since 2002, the government has created 76 national parks to protect the country's wildlife. Think of it as Costa Rica, 20 years, ago before the Pacific coast was built up. One of the best places to spend your money, especially if you want to support the people of San Juan de Oriente and the education efforts of the neighboring rural towns, is to book your cabin at Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge. Located about two hours southwest of Managua, near the surf town, San Juan del Sur, Morgan’s Rock features 15 hardwood cottages overlooking a private beach. Their 4400-acre property includes an organic farm, which supplies the necessary produce to the restaurant and its unique blend of Nicaraguan, French, and Asian cuisine. If you can tear yourself away from the soft white sand, the resort offers excursions to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ometepe, an island formed by two volcanoes that rise dramatically out of Lake Nicaragua. There’s also the chance to hike along the coast, go horseback riding, sea kayak through estuaries, zipline, and get lost in a jungle of sloths and monkeys. Also be on the lookout for yoga retreats, often led by one of LA’s best-known yoga instructors, Sara Ivanhoe.

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/19/12 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Top 5 Eco-Resorts in Central America, Laguna Lodge, Guatemala

t’s not just the stunning setting of Laguna Lodge, nestled in a 100-acre nature preserve on the shores of Lake Atitlan, surrounded by three volcanoes. Or the ultra-sybaritic services, like soaking your body in the hot river rock pool or opting for a deep tissue massage at Hummingbird Spa after a day of hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing or horseback riding. No, it’s that the owners Mayah and Jeffro Brandon (she’s a Kiwi, he’s an Aussie) have their hearts in the right place

In 1997, Jeffro and his local crew constructed the lodge entirely of indigenous volcanic stone, adobe, wood and palm. The art and furnishings found in the nine rooms were also made from locals. The meat-free restaurant serves innovative cuisine that utilizes produce from their organic garden, eggs and cheeses from nearby farmers, fruits from the coast, and, of course, rich Guatemalan coffee. Solar panels line the roof and rainwater is painstakingly filtered for drinking. Their main focus, however, is community involvement, employing all locals. They also go out of their way to ensure that everyone in the local community gets proper eye and dental care. This is one place where your money not only purchases a fantastic vacation, but also helps to keep this small lakeshore village afloat. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/16/12 at 12:59 PM
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 5 Eco-Resorts in Central America, La Loma Jungle Lodge, Isla Bastimentos, Panama

Increasingly, the small eco-retreat design that made such an imprint in Costa Rica has slipped farther south into Panama. On an archipelago in the northeastern part of the country, a short boat ride from the town of Bocas del Toro, is a four-cabana lodge socked in the middle of the verdant jungle and surrounded by a working cocoa plantation. All of the cabins at La Loma Jungle Lodge were created from fallen trees and inspired by the architecture of the local Ngobe Indians. The employees are also local, including your guide through the rainforest and beach to see sloths, armadillos, small crocs called caimans, and the graceful blue morph butterfly. At dinner, lobster and conch will not be served, as the owners try to use only sustainably harvested fish like yellow jack. Rates start at $100 per person a night, including three meals, the boat ride over from Bocas town, and some of the excursions. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/15/12 at 01:00 PM
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about us
photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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