North America

RIU Santa Fe, Los Cabos, Mexico

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The RIU hotel chain does it right when it comes to an all inclusive experience. The RIU Santa Fe in Los Cabos has stunning ocean and arch views as well as a great beach, beautifully kept grounds, amazing service, and it’s only a short walk down the beach to the main harbour.

Why It’s amazing:

  • Rooms: Rooms are newly renovated with liquor dispensers in every room (vodka, rum, gin and rye as well as a few beers stocked in your fridge). Beds are doubles, however are pushed together to form a large king size bed. *Add in a blanket between the beds, to buffer the break in the beds.
  • Pool & Pool Entertainment: Can’t really get any better than an infinity pool that reaches out towards the arches of Cabo. There are constantly games happening in the pool including tequila volleyball, water polo, aqua-aerobics, cooperative games. Never a dull moment with the entertainment there. They pump music all day at the main pool at a good level. Loud enough to still enjoy it, but you can easily have a conversation with those around. There is a quieter pool in the back of the property if music and activities aren’t your idea of a relaxing vacation.
  • Beach: The beach is nicely kept, and very clean. The beach angles down towards the water, as the waves are pretty big and make their way up the sand.  The waves tend to get smaller as you walk down the beach towards the Marina, so for kids I would recommend moving down the beach a bit before getting into the water. *Los Cabos has quiet an undertow when it comes to the water. Please watch kids carefully as it is very easy to get your feet wiped out from underneath you.
  • Food: In general, Riu’s food is amazing! This property has 4 themed restaurants, and 2 large buffets. The restaurants you need to book in advance usually the day before, however it’s not hard to do this, and there is always room somewhere. They have a set menu where you have your choice of appetizers, soups and salads, entrees, and desserts. The buffet food is great aswell. There is always a large array of food options including themed nights for dinners. Tons of healthy options like freshly squeezed juices, large salad and fruit bar (<- This is where I live in vaca… fresh fruit down here is to die for!).
  • Drinks: I was pleasantly surprised by the drinks at the RIU Santa Fe! For premium liquor always ask as they have it underneath the counter. Feel free to bring your own thermos to have larger and cooler drinks. Drinks were strong, and you could always ask for a double (which was more like a triple) if you needed a little extra kick. It’s hard to find real mint at all inclusives, and the RIU always had fresh mint for mojitos! Ask for a sugarless raspberry mojito at the pool bars… they were easily my favorite drink there.
  • Location: The resort is one of the closest all inclusive to Los Cabos. It’s only a 20 minute walk down the beach to the main marina. I suggest only walking the beach when it’s still light out… was told numerous times that it was dangerous once the sun went down, instead opt for a Taxi back to the resort which should only be $12US.
  • Should you leave tips?! – The answer is always yes! Everyone from the maids ($2/day is average), the servers clearing space for you at the buffet ($2-5/meal for your group), the servers in the restaurants ($5-10), and the bartenders($1/round of drinks, or bring a $5-10 by every once in a while and they will love you!). It always frustrates me to see people who don’t tip at all at these type of resorts. Yes the resort says “tips are included”, but really… you just paid $1000-$2000 to go on vacation for a week, and these people are making roughly $5/day to give you the best vacation possible. In my books, anyone who is busting their buns for me is getting a tip – & you’ll get better service.. always nice to walk up to a packed bar and have the bartender serve you first.
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Dream Downtown, NYC

 

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Had the pleasure of staying at a Dreams property in NYC and loved it so much!

Why its amazing:

  • LOCATION! – Chelsey market and high line are right around the corner and it’s only a short 5 minute walk to the meatpacking district. This area has a ton of trendy restaurants and bars (1 Oak is right down the street, TAO is right beneath as well!!).
  • Rooms – Despite being on the small side (every accommodation in NYC is…), sleek and modern furniture left the room feeling open and bright. Bed’s were incredibly comfortable, and a mini fridge, iron, and blow dryer were provided. The beautiful glassed in shower was a nice touch as well.
  • Service – Everything from the doorman to the front desk staff were amazing. Always super friendly and ready to help.
  • Rooftop patio and Nightclub. – PHD is Dream’s luxury nightclub. Having an open air roof top patio in NY is a beautiful thing, not to mention the skyline view of NYC is beautiful. Celebrities are frequent, food is delicious, drinks are strong and wet; doesn’t get much better!
  • Pool – Dream has a fantastic open air pool. The pool sits above the lobby, and has glass cutouts that open up into the roof of the main lobby. In the summer, cabanas line the exterior of the pool deck, and the set up proves to make a party type of atmosphere.

Dream Hotels Website 

Top 10 things to see and do in New York City.

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Here’s a Blonde Beyond approved top 10 list for highlights in NYC!

1.) Empire State Building at dusk
2.) Central Park
3.) Time Square
4.) Statue of Liberty
5.) Broadway (so many great shows! Really can’t go wrong with any of them!)
6.) 5th Avenue for shopping
7.) Rockefeller center (Christmas tree was still up!)
8.) Chelsea high line (stop in to the Chelsea market for lunch. The tacos there are amazing!)
9.) Meatpacking District for amazing eats and beats!
10.) Katz’s Delicatessen (Kosher Sandwiches that are among the best in NYC!)

Now that you have my top 10 list of NYC, here’s some extra tips to keep in mind.

Budget Eats – One night we headed out to Morimottos for sushi. Of course it was amazing, butttt that doesn’t mean you need to spend $150 on a sushi meal. NYC has great eats for any budget! We randomly walked into Eatly and had an amazing prosciutto and Buffalo mozzarella panini. It’s those random finds that are memorable and delicious, and don’t break your budget!

Empire State Building – this one was shared by a friend, and it’s simple. BUY A TICKET IN ADVANCE ONLINE HERE! (http://www.esbnyc.com/buy-tickets)
Sure, you could wait 4 hours in line… Orrrrr by the advance no wait tickets (yes it’s a tiny bit more expensive, but is 4 hours in line worth saving an extra $20, I definitely think so). Just tell the doorman that you purchased tickets online and they kept waving you through until you hit a small computer where you can print them out. You then get waived  past every line and it’s definitely worth it!

– Cheap Broadway Tickets – Check out the TKTS booth in TimeSquare, or if you have a longer time in NYC and can chance getting into a show or not, you can try the lottery process.  These tickets are the most heavily discounted, and you can see some amazing shows for great prices. Check out Playbill for more info!

– NYC is huge and there are a ton of areas that are great for their own reasons. Have a few “must see’s” while there, but make sure to take time to explore the city and find your own hidden gems.

Thanks for such an amazing trip S.Z. ❤

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Calgary – November 2014

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Calgary has a lot to offer year around. It’s incredibly close to Banff National park (approximately a 45minute drive), while still having a big city feel. They have amazing restaurants, interesting tourist attractions (Zoo, Olympic sites, Calgary Tower), and great shopping! Definitely a must stop in Western Canada. Here’s a quick low down on my stop over there this past weekend!

Restaurant featured above:  ModelMilk – Here’s what to expect while there:

  • Great Service – very knowledgeable wait staff.
  • Upper dining but in a casual atmosphere.
  • Brilliant cocktail list.
  • Amazing dishes: this weekend I tried their Elk Tartar w/ Avocado & Goat Cheese Emulsion (which was easily the best thing I’ve eaten in a very long time), as well as their Roasted Pork w/ Herb Grits and A la Greque Vinaigrette, Sirloin Cap  w/Pomme Aligot & King Oyster Mushroom & Smoked Marrow, and a brilliant salted caramel cake complemented w/ bacon Gelato for dessert.
  • A longggg wait list. Try to make reservations 2 weeks in advance, or dine late (post 9:30).

 

I also had a chance to visit the Calgary Tower.  If you’re interested in the history of Calgary, opt for the free electronic guide – provides a ton of interesting information and is super interactive and appropriate for all age levels. The view from the top is beautiful and it’s a great way to see the entire city!

Top 10 Clubs in Vegas

 

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Having gone to Vegas a few times now through girls weekends and dance functions, I’ve come to get to know the place fairly well. Here’s a low down on some of the hottest clubs. Check out the event calenders underneath for specific event details!

  1. XS at Encore – 40,000-square-foot lavish club in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas which hosts 40 of the top international DJ’s including Avicci, David Guetta, Above & Beyond, Dirty South and will.i.am.  2 options for bottle service: Pool side in a Cabana or inside surrounding the dance floor.  Most popular on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as their Night swim pool party on Sunday nights.
  2. Hakkasan at MGM Grand – The 5 story 80,000 Square foot club has a huge dance floor, suspended performance aread, large LED screens and oversized booths. Their DJ residencies include Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Calvin Harris, R3hab, Tiësto and Tommy Trash.
  3. TAO at the Venetian – Multi-story 60,000 Square foot Asian inspired venue featuring a nightclub as well as a restaurant, lounge and pool club. Private skyboxes and an outdoor terrace that overlooks the strip.
  4. Drais Nightclub at the Cromwell – Indoor/Outdoor 65,000 square foot venue atop the Cromwell hotel, with floor to ceiling video walls, and two large pools. Great place to catch a glimpse of the Bellagio fountains from the 11th floor view.
  5. Marquee Nightclub at the Cosmopolitan – On the lower level of  Marquee you’ll find amazing views of the strip, and a separate DJ spinning hip-hop and other music genres.  The main room has a large dance floor, surrounded by VIP tables, and overflows onto the roof top terrace with 2 pools, surrounded by private cabanas. Marquee hosts many top DJ’s from around the world including Chuckie, Gareth Emery, Markus Schulz, and Benni Benassi.
  6. HYDE Bellagio at the Bellagio  – Great option for those who want to start out with an early evening lounge experience but continue partying in to the early morning. Large terrace allows guests to get some fresh air after dancing.
  7. Light at Mandalay Bay – A collaboration between The Light Group and Cirque du Soleil. Just over 38,000 square feet boasting a huge dance floor, and a large acrobatic area for live nightly performances. The international DJ lineup always keeps the dance floor packed!
  8. Beachers Madhouse at MGM Grand – Variety show themed nightclub with two nightly shows of various acts.  This venue is on the smaller side for Vegas but has some of the greatest club entertainment around.
  9. 1OAK at the Mirage – 16,000 square foot traditional club vibe hosting many top celebrity DJ’s.

 

Start to find yourself overwhelmed with all of the options? Check out this handy Event calender for all upcoming events.

 

 

Top Attractions in Vegas

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  1. The Strip – It’s huge and will take you much longer to walk than you expect. Wear good walking shoes and bring a camera! Make sure to stop into hotels to see the beautiful interiors and shops!
  2. Bellagio Fountains – Shows are every half hour during the day, and every 15min in the evening.  I recommend seeing at least one show at night. The combinations of music, water and lights really give it breath taking experience the first time you see it. Stand on the front side along the street for the best views.
  3. Freemont Street – The “old” Vegas. They have done extensive renovations in this older area of town. Make sure to stop into the golden nugget, and see the night show on the electronic roof covering the whole street.
  4. Outlet Shopping – There is a north and a south premium Outlets. The north seems to be bigger & better.
  5. Restaurants – Vegas has amazing restaurants featuring food made by world renowned Chefs.  Ask your hotel concierge for recommendations.  Sushi Rocku, Nobu, CUT steakhouse, and Joël Robuchon are among my favorites.
  6. Shows – I highly recommend taking in a show when you are down in Vegas. There are a plethora to choose from. Everything from Britney Spears, to dance groups, to comedians, to acrobatic shows. I have really enjoyed the Cirque Du Soleil shows, “O” being my absolute hands down favourite. They can get pretty expensive, but are worth a special night out.
  7. Nightlife – Vegas has its fair share of nightclubs. You really can’t go wrong hitting up the main ones in each hotel.  (XS, Marquee, Hakkasan, Tao, Drai’s, 1 OAK, Hyde, Haze,  Beachers Madhouse,  Remember to dress to impress, and go early to not spend most of your night in lines. Ladies can get guestlist very easily, however Gentleman you are usually looking at a $50-100 entrance fee if you’re not with a large group of ladies. Drinks will run you $12+ to a few thousand for a bottle and a table.
  8. Day Trip: Grand Canyon – The Grand Canyon is about a 4.5 hour drive from Las Vegas. There are a ton of tours you can take straight from Vegas, or rent a car and do it yourself.

Top 10 things to do in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

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So you’re thinking of going to Cancun, but don’t want the hustle bustle of a HUGE city. With a 1.5 hour ride from Cancun airport you’ll find the small town of Playa Del Carmen.  Playa is extremely tourist friendly to all nationalities, completely walk able (for the able bodied, active traveler), has beautiful beaches, and is close to the main excursion sites.

  1. Ruins – Short drive to some amazing architectural wonders of the area. Check out Tulum, Coba,  Ek Balam, and/or Chicken Itza.  Because many of these are protected sites, you can only climb the main pyramid in Coba, and one in Ek Balam.
  2. Cenotes – Try to rent some snorkel gear for the day and hit up these beautiful caverns.
  3. Cozumel – Take a ferry over for the day.  Beautiful beaches. While here head to Stingray beach where you can snorkel right up to Stingrays!
  4. Scuba – Tortugas, cozumel.
  5. Excursions – There are A TON!
  • Chicken Itza – One of the 7 wonders of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is however closed off to tourists so you can not climb the pyramids. Check out Coba or Ek Balam if interested in walking up one.
  • Xcaret – This eco-archaeological park hosts over 30 attractions. Most are included in your park entry price.  Snorkeling, beautiful beach, underground lazy river.
  •  Xel Ha – Tranquil lagoon offers easy snorkeling access to kids and those who don’t have a lot of experience snorkeling. All inclusive feature paid in park pass, so food and drinks are included all day.
  • Adventure Tours
    • Coba & Mayan Adventures takes you to a local small Mayan town, offering zip lines, a traditional mayan cleansing ceremony before repelling down into a Cenote,  and a traditional mayan lunch before heading off to Coba for the afternoon.
    • Jungle Maya Expedition – Jungle trek, ziplines, repelling into a cenote, snorkelling, mayan cleansing ceremony.
  • Snorkeling with Whale Sharks – AMAZING experience snorkelling up next to the largest fish in the ocean. These Whale sharks can get up to 12m (60 feet), and are beautiful and amazing creatures. I would recommend this to swimmers that are comfortable in the water. These guys can move pretty quickly and you can quickly get caught in between a group of them.

Top 10 (+1) places to stop from west to central Canada

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The ultimate list of places to see along your road trip across the Canadian Rockies.

  1.  Vancouver – easy to fly in with a large international airport. Home of the 2010 Winter Olympics, with lots to see and do. Easy to do a day or two out to the Island to visit Victoria!
  2. Kelowna – Try some of Canada’s best wines at any of the few hundred wineries in the Okanagen.
  3. Jasper – Stay at the famous Fairmont Jasper Park lodge for amazing views, or any of the local bed and breakfasts. In the winter months head up to Marmot Basin for some skiing!
  4. Maligne Lake & Canyon (Jasper area) – Stunning lake & Canyon. Lake is closed/snowed in in the winter, canyon is still open. Inquire about a guided ice hike.
  5. Mount Edith Cavall (Angel Glacier) – Easy hike up to the glacier, well worth it. Closed in the winter.
  6. Columbia Ice fields– Along the highway from Jasper to Banff. In winter months you must have winter tires to travel this route, the visitation center will also be closed/snowed in. The parking lot will be dug out so you can still jump out and take photos. You can take a snow bus up onto the middle of the glacier, or park at the bottom and walk up to the base of it in the summer months.
  7. Fairmont Lake Louis – Easily one of the most beautiful locations in the rockies. Take a hike up to the tea house (approx 2 hour) directly behind the hotel, remember they only take cash only and theres no atm.
  8. Banff– One of the most visited and must see cities in the Rockies. Stay along Banff Ave or at the Banff Springs hotel. Lots to see and do in the area. Ski, heli ski, ice climb, rock climb, Banff hot springs, Athabasca falls, shop and the Banff gondola!
  9. Canmore – Sits just out of the Banff national park. Great area to go cross country skiing. Many people stay here and commute to Banff for the day as accommodations are more reasonably priced here.
  10. Calgary – home to the Calgary Stampede every July. Great nightlife and dining options in the city. The Calgary Zoo is also great for kids and one of the best Zoo’s in the country.
  11. Edmonton – finish off in the prairies. Tons of festivals in the summer months and don’t forget to visit North Americas biggest mall, West Edmonton Mall.

Top 10 things to do in Edmonton, AB, Canada

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  1. West Edmonton Mall (largest mall in north America sporting over eight hundred international and local stores, a water park, amusement park, ice rink, IMAX movie theatre, & Fantasyland Hotel)
  2. Elk Island National park (30min outside of the city to be introduced face to face with Canadian Bison)
  3. Fort Edmonton Park (historic recreation of Edmonton in the 1800’s)
  4. Whyte Avenue (boutique shopping and Edmonton’s’ nightlife district)
  5. 124th street & High Street (boutique shopping and local eateries including Duchess bake shop, RGE road, north 53, The Manor Bistro).
  6. Legislature grounds (provincial parliament building & grounds. Free tours daily & great events in December for Christmas)
  7. City Hall & Churchill Square
  8. Edmonton Art Gallery (newly designed & built downtown next to city hall, hosts various exhibits)
  9. Markets (most notably 104th street market in the summer months, and Old Strathcona Farmers Market year round).
  10. Festivals (K-Days, Taste of Edmonton, International Street Performers, Fringe, Heritage Days, Folk Fest, mini world cup, Oktoberfest at the German Canadian Cultural Center).

Top 10 must visits in Alberta, Canada

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  1. Banff
  2. Lake Louise (Fairmont Lake Lousie – hike the tea hut)
  3. Jasper
  4. Columbia Ice fields (between Banff & Jasper)
  5. Canmore (just outside of Calgary and Banff)
  6. Calgary (Calgary stampede 2nd-3rd week of July)
  7. Edmonton (Canadian finals rodeo – November, k-Days – 3rd-4th week of July)
  8. Drumheller (Royal Tyrell Dinosaur Museum)
  9. Fort McMurray (oil sands tours)
  10. Visit an Alberta Lake (best time to go – July, Pigeon Lake, Sylvan Lake, wizards Lake – great for boating)

Alberta is an exciting province in Western Canada and offers a ton to see and do year round. Everything from white water rafting, cliff jumping, hiking, skiing, rock climbing, Alberta offers it all.