Seven ‘Secrets’ – Secrets Capri, Mayan Riviera, Mexico

Our last trip to Mexico was back in 2007 and a lot has changed since then including what we look for and enjoy on our trips.

In recent years, most of our trips to the Caribbean have been to Sandals Resorts in the early part of the year. Trying a new resort group, in November also, made us a little apprehensive.

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We needn’t have worried. Secrets Capri in the Mayan Riviera was outstanding and is currently sitting high up on our most relaxing and enjoyable trips ever. Without taking anything away from Sandals Group, who have and will continue to give us some amazing trips, Secrets Capri certainly matches them for standards and quality.

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We stayed in a Preferred Club Deluxe Ocean View room (on the northern / eastern side of the resort). The room was very spacious and exactly what you would expect from a five-star resort of this type. The in room ‘edible delights’ waiting for you when you returned at the end of the evening were a pleasant surprise and highly recommended.

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Here are our seven ‘secrets’ to look out for.

#1, The overriding plus point from this resort is that their employees are outstanding. They are very attentive, friendly and nothing is ever a problem. Service is so good we genuinely had to tip one of them to stop bringing us cocktails and champagne one day!

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#2, The Cactus Club, which overlooks the Caribbean, has it all – it is great for breakfast, lunches and a romantic drink at end of the evening. We would recommend trying for a table adjacent to the beach and you will have one of the most relaxing breakfasts you will ever have had. 2016-11-16-10-01-20

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For lunch we would highly recommend the vast ceviche selection and the ‘fish fingers’ aka golden battered grouper fish.  Simply amazing, ditch the fries, and ask for two portions of fish fingers!

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#3, The restaurants on offer are genuinely good and two restaurants are venturing on fine dining. Portofino is first class and we had a few great evenings here, including our final night, where we had a special dining experience in our own private wine cellar.
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The oriental restaurant, Himitsu, was also great with excellent sushi on offer. The range and high quality of food from what you would expect at the usual beachfront place at Cactus Club, all the way up to their fine dining Italian restaurant Portofino is what all resorts should aspire to. Being able to choose from a variety of á la carte restaurants, a buffet and a café is great, but never having to worry about reservations was the real plus point. Perhaps worth saying that in our 10 nights dining (between 7pm and 8pm) we only ever had to wait on a table once and this was only for 10 minutes.

2016-11-19-10-26-02 2016-11-19-10-39-242016-11-19-10-39-00#4, It’s refreshing to visit a resort where there are more sunbeds than guests and there was absolutely no issue with finding one (even with a parasol) at any time of the day. The pool area is split into two with more ‘active’ guests at the southern / western side and the more relaxed / chilled out guests at the northern / eastern side.

2016-11-19-12-39-55Needless to say we spent a lot of time at the southern / eastern side.? It is worth pointing out that on some nights they set up for the night time entertainment late afternoon on this side and you are asked politely to move to another sunbed for the remainder of the afternoon.? Not a problem, if you know about it, so keep an eye on the evening entertainment plans and ask one of the team what’s happening as the shows are pretty good.

#5, We like to keep active, at least for some parts of the day, and managed to explore the grounds of the resort on most days. This included a walk out towards the main gate and spa complex. We would suggest doing it either early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low and you can benefit from a little shade from the trees that line the route. As you can see below we were lucky and managed to observe some of the locals going about their daily business.

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In the morning, before breakfast, we hit the gym and took part in cross fit sessions with Daniel the resorts personal trainer. We also managed to fit in daily walks along Mayakoba Beach towards Playa Del Carmen around 1 ½ hr round trip.

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All very worthwhile activities to help us work off those extra calories from the amazing food and drink on offer.

#6, For bloggers and twitter addicts like us an effective internet connection is essential and we would have to say the internet was pretty good – just be ready and prepared to switch to different routers depending on time of day and where you are in resort.

#7, Coco Café, is a real find, and asset for this resort. This place is open 24 hrs and offers coffee, pastries and snacks. Just what you need first thing in the morning, late at night or if you fancy a sneaky bite away from your other half!

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Finally, a big thank you to Monica Sierra who is doing a fantastic job as E-concierge and Social Media Co-ordinator and Javier Suarez, Division Manager who made our stay all the more special. Grissell, the poolside waitress, was also the most bubbly and engaging waitress we have ever been fortunate to have – top member of the team.

Overall, we had a fantastic luxurious time time at Secrets Capri and it will certainly be a place we will be visiting again soon.? We might try out a few of the other Secrets Resorts before then though so look out for our next blog.

Sandals Ochi – Life with a butler and a bat phone!

When you hear the term ‘ butler’, depending on your age, the first thing that springs to mind is probably Carson from Downton Abbey.  Butlers are not just for the rich and famous though – normal people like us can also have the privilege.

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We were quite nervous the first time we booked a butler suite with Sandals.? What do these guys do? Are they with you all the time? Do you tip them daily? Are they standing at the end of the bed when you wake! Do you have a bell?

We’re pleased to say after three trips to Sandals butler suites, we now have all these answers and more. See here for more detail of what they could do for you depending on which resort you attend.

Having a butler sounds quite posh and upmarket and, do you know what, there’s no getting away from it, it kind of is.  If you want a completely luxurious ‘switch off’ vacation though a butler experience is exactly what you need. Hey, these guys are trained in accordance to the exacting standards of the Guild of Professional English Butlers. This Guild provides butlers and valets to nobility and celebrities worldwide and here they are looking after us for 11 days!

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Some people may have different views, but ours is that the Butlers at Sandals are there to provide a personalised service to ensures guests are looked after to the highest standard. We’ve been fortunate to have experienced butler suites on three occasions, once at St Lucia Grande and at Sandals Ochi, Jamaica twice. The most important point to remember is that the butlers are there to make your trip more enjoyable and hassle free. While they will tell you different we don’t think they are? there to wait on you 24/7 and should be treated with the same dignity and respect you would expect in return.

Quite simply, if you’re 12 ft from the pool bar then get of your sun lounger and get your own Mojito, don’t call these guys to do it for you.? That said, they will tell that’s exactly what they are there to do!

We prefer to build up a respectful and fun relationship with them. The hours these guys work, sometimes 12 a day, and the effort they put in is first class; build up a relationship with them and they will treat you like royalty. You also need to remember they are going home to their own families after they leave you and it could be a far cry from the luxury they are affording you.

Back to our trip, which has become our laziest of all trips – ever!  Moria and Shenae, our Sandals Ochi butlers this year, really helped us get into this zone very quickly.

2016-03-23 10.36.50These immaculately dressed ladies, with their amazing personalities and smiles, have only been working together for a short while, but have already built up a great relationship with each other and this works really well for their guests. They had received our completed ‘preferences’ before we had arrived and had set about getting everything in order for us – including Colin’s Drambui and our other drinks and restaurant preferences.

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What was even better is they got to know us pretty quickly and knew what we liked and when we liked it. We really felt as if we have known them for years. To be fair Moria was one of our butlers last year and we put in a request for her when we returned. The nice thing was that they were both normally nowhere to be seen, until you needed them and then they were only a short phone call away on the ‘bat phone’. They both did have a ‘bad’ habit though of turning up unprompted every now and again with platefuls of coconut shrimp, pastries and champagne – it would have been such a waste to turn them away!

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The ‘bat phone’ was our name for the mobile cell phone they gave us which provided a direct dial to them when you needed them. There’s something comforting to know that there’s a person there for you on the other end of the phone when you need them – even if only for more coconut shrimp.

Moria and Shenae worked split shifts generally from around 7am each morning to around 10pm each evening, although they covered for each other for an entire day each week to give them a day off. Throughout our stay it seemed they were looking after around five couples – all with competing needs and demands no doubt.  What struck us with Moria and Shenae was that they were both committed to what they did and in making their guests feel totally relaxed. We’re pleased to say they managed that no problem and Sandals should be proud to have them on their staff; nothing was ever a problem.

The ladies brought our breakfast to our terrace most mornings along with afternoon lunch, snacks and champagne – even when our stomachs were full to the max. They made making dinner reservations a breeze and picked us up each evening in their golf carts and escorted us to our dinner table where they arranged pre-dinner drinks and table wine. They got to know what we liked and even had it waiting for us when we didn’t know we wanted it.

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Before finishing for the night they would turn down our bed for us and ensure our rooms were ready for us returning, our fruit platter was in the fridge for the following morning and that we had plenty water (and other drinks!) for the next day.  Even more impressive was their ability to make vegetarian dinosaurs out of our towels – a talent not held by many.

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At the end of our stay and just before we left we showed them our appreciation for all their hard work. Sandals have a no tipping policy across their resorts, which we always have difficulty in following, but they do make an exception for butlers. Moria and Shenae definitely earned some personal recognition from us this time round and we would recommend them to anyone staying at Sandals Ochi.

So all in all was it worth paying extra for a butler suite – we think so yes. It may not be everyones cup of tea, but it works for us and certainly made this the most memorably relaxing break we have had in a long long time.

In answer to the earlier questions hopefully the above gives an idea of what these guys do and that you can still have plenty of spare time to yourself.  You can tip them daily but we chose to do it at the end of of the holiday which is much easier.  Whether they are standing at the end of the bed when you wake is entirely up to you.  Finally, there’s no need for a bell as you always have the bat phone.

Thanks again Moria and Shenae and all the best for the future.

 

 

Princesa Yaiza, Playa Blanca, Lanzarote – Much more than chocolate crepes

After arriving at Princesa Yaiza, you immediately experience a feeling of luxury and calmness you might not usually expect from a Lanzarote resort.  It was late evening and we were greeted by a member of the management team with refreshing glasses of ‘Champagne’ or should we say a nice Spanish sparkling wine! Nonetheless it did the trick and immediately put us into vacation / holiday territory. Our 4hr flight from Scotland with Jet2 holidays had been great, but for breaks like this it’s not till you arrive does your holiday begin.

images (2)Check-in was seamless and pleasant, although some air conditioning in the main reception area would have been nice; something we became quite aware of throughout our stay.  Maybe one for the hotel to look into – although we do appreciate the environmental argument.

Our email to guest relations prior to arrival also seemed to have been on their radar and we were assured we would be pleased with our room. We are not keen on rooms on the ground floor and much prefer sun in the afternoon and evening. We also like to be in a quiet area of any resort – so only three challenges for the reservations team to deal with. A nice touch was when the receptionist was able to show us a view from our room on their booking system; we’d never seen this before, but a great idea.

We’re always a little apprehensive when we first try a resort; room location can really make or break a trip. We walked through a tropical paradise of palm trees and running streams and then along an open, airy walkway to our room on the second floor. Our Double Superior room with Sea View was large and spacious with a large sitting area and to be honest was what we had expected, the dressing room though was a pleasant bonus. It was to a high standard, with rustic wooden furniture and ‘interesting’ wall art. The bathroom had everything you needed and a quick check on the shower pressure assured us that all was in order and that we could make full use of the excellent range of toiletries provided.

The balcony was much larger though and had two wicker sun chairs, but the question of whether it received the sun in the afternoon was still unanswered.  A quick check on an iPhone app gave us some confidence things should be ok, but we weren’t sure – all would be revealed in the morning! The night time balcony view was special with large palm trees and the pool lit up pretty spectacularly. A saxophonist was also playing nearby; mmmm, what was that they said about a quiet area of the resort!

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A quick unpack meant we were able to venture out to our favourite cocktail bar Vino Blanco at the Rubicon Marina a 12 minute walk from the hotel. Nothing had really changed since our last visit, except a new addition to the menu.  Restaurants that display pictures of the food on their menu board is a ‘no no’ for us and unfortunately these had arrived at Vino Blanco. Pleased to say though that the cocktails, atmosphere and views of the marina were great and we would certainly recommend a visit or two if you can. We did find out later though that the food in the pictures was still actually rather good, but please Vino Blanco ditch those pictures as they don’t do your food or establishment any justice.

We headed back to our room around 11pm; a late one for us, and finally managed to get to sleep with an air of anticipation over what the morning would bring. Pleased to say that the saxophonist had also gone to bed and he and his entertainment colleagues did so each night around 10pm for the remainder of our stay. The choc on the bed and the vanilla aromatherapy meant we were sleeping in minutes.  The following night after a review of the ‘pillow menu’ was even better.

The view from our balcony in the morning was excellent, looking over greenery and a stunning salt water pool. We were in block C and almost everyone in block A opposite was basking in the morning sun, having coffee on their balconies. Not us though, we were already looking to forward to the afternoon and early evening sun with a few glasses of sparkling wine in hand. Although not top floor, we weren’t ground either; the reservations team had done a pretty good job for us this time round, so top marks for them.

download (1)imagesOur first breakfast at the Yaiza was what you would expect from a 5* star hotel buffet restaurant with the usual dishes on offer for you to browse, walk a few miles before choosing a little of every dish you fancied followed up with several visits to fill up on juice in the tiny glasses. Seriously though, the surroundings were great and service excellent and was a more than acceptable place to start the day.

We do like something different though, something more relaxing and less strenuous!? More importantly we like to spend time with each other at breakfast as opposed to passing each other with a plateful of chocolate crepes and donuts.

So the next day and for the rest of our stay, we decided to ‘dine’ at breakfast in the gourmet Isle de Lobos restaurant. The restaurant terrace is elevated and nestled in lush greenery with stunning views of Fuerteventura and Playa Dorada beach. The food is to die for, with rich Lavazza coffee on tap and for the more adventurous some Spanish ‘cava’ champagne. Lounge room music plays gently in the background whisking you away to another place. The menu is vast and rich, and to help you decide what you would like they bring you a platter of fresh bakery to give you energy during your decision making thought process. Importantly though in all of this you can still try the chocolate crepes at the end of your morning; just with a little more style and elegance.

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The gourmet Isle de Lobos restaurant is what holidays are all about and although you pay a little more for this breakfast experience it really is worthwhile and makes your trip much more special and romantic.  We also ate in the Isle de Lobos restaurant once in the evening and again would recommend it to anyone; it certainly deserves its gourmet accolade.

We enjoyed our balcony so much we continued with the sparkling wine theme (with some gin for extra measure) and had 3 nights on it ordering in room service, listening to the live singer and saxophonist in the hotels courtyard. Very romantic and relaxing; just what we both needed.

For the remaining nights stay we ventured out to nearby restaurants. All were great with the usual type of food on offer. However, one restaurant in particular was simple outstanding – La Cocina de Colacho.

So much so, we’ll be doing a separate blog / review on this in the coming days.

Have to say that Princesa Yaiza also featured other stunning restaurants and menus to choose from and these will be on our radar next time. The gourmet Isla de Lobos is joined by the Japanese Kampai and the Italian Don Giovanni. There is also the more down to earth El Chiringuito restaurant and snack bar and the Bodega Tapas. The only reason we didn’t try these was that we needed a bit of a walk to work of those Crepes; why oh why do they put scales in your hotel room?

Our holidays at this time of year are pretty relaxing and with the exception of a few mid afternoon walks for lunch into the Rubicon Marina we spent most of our day time lying by the pool or on our balcony in the afternoon. We also spent time in the Thalasso Spa on a few occasions, enjoying the hydrotherapy jets, tea room, sauna and Turkish baths. A truly relaxing and calming experience and worth a try.

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It wasn’t all relaxation, we did have one energetic excursion over two days exploring the area on mountain bikes – well we had to do something to work off those chocolate crepes.  Hotel reception was able to organize the bikes for us very quickly and a company brought them at a specified time. The trip was definitely worth it as we caught sunrise at Papagayo Beach; just the two of us. Wow.

We really couldn’t complain about anything at the resort although there was the usual issue with European hotels with some sunbeds being ‘reserved’ early on. Not a major problem getting one as there are plenty however the hotel should try and space them out a little as it did get cramped on occasion in some areas.

Interesting part of our stay was seeing the filming of the promotional hotel movie and images. It was great to see and fun to watch the ‘beautiful’ people having a normal family holiday. Although the drone flying overhead on our second day gave us all a little fright given what’s happening across the world these days, but we soon got over it. All in all though we’re sure the video will give a pretty good account of what to experience at Princesa Yaiza and we’ll post a link to it when it’s ready. (NB: We’re the pale looking couple in the bottom right of the shot; hadn’t managed to catch any real sun by that time!)

The Princesa Yaiza is fantastic and our kind of place; it’s now definitely on our radar for further visits and is more than likely our accommodation of choice when we visit this area again; we can highly recommend a stay here.

That’s our first travel blog completed. Hope you enjoyed it and we promise it will get better!

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