Category Archives: Travel

How to Choose the Perfect Campsite

choosetheperfectcampsiteWe’re big campers. Until a few years ago, I’d never camped, but after that first trip I was hooked. Our setup has changed considerably since we first started out, but that’s how it works. The more you camp, the more you learn what you need and don’t need, and what you like and don’t like. For us, having a great site is one of the most important things.

Choosing a campsite can be a tough decision. Your campsite is your home away from home, so you want to be sure you’ve got a good one. Experienced campers likely have it down to a science, but for those of you who are new to camping, here are a few things to take into consideration.

Before You Go

If you’re planning a trip, you can use a site like Recreation.gov or ReserveAmerica to pick your campsite ahead of time. Many campgrounds let you reserve anywhere from 3 days to 6 months in advance. Depending on the campground, sometimes you’ll luck out and the sites will have photos. If not, you can often Google the campground name and pull up pictures that people have shared online. Sometimes those will have site numbers.

That’s not always the case, though. For this reason, we always make a loop at every campground we visit. We take pictures, and sometimes videos, of sites we like. If we ever go back, we just pull up our “campsite” album and compare what’s available to the sites we have pictures of. If you’re going to do that, make sure you get the site number in the photo, as well as the whole site.

campsite

This is one of our favorite campsites. Lots of trees, close to the bathhouse, and a great spot for the dogs. (It’s at the Bandy Creek Campground, for those interested!)

How to Choose the Perfect Campsite

So, just how do you choose the perfect campsite? Everyone is different, but here are the things that we look for when we’re picking out a site. These same guidelines apply whether we’re reserving in advance or showing up last minute, though our choices are typically a lot more limited last minute!

How close are the other campsites?

Simply put, we don’t like being on top of another campsite. We look for one with ample space on either side, as well as no direct lines of sight into other sites.

On the other hand, if we’re camping with a group of friends, we look for sites that are close together – either right next to each other, or across from each other.

campsites for groups

We’ve camped in these sites twice with friends. They’re close together, making it easy to hang out in the evenings!

If we can’t find a site that’s relatively private, sometimes we’ll look for sites that are next to people with RVs. Often, the RVs will block a lot of the sight lines into the neighboring campsites, giving everyone a little space. Of course, you never know what your fellow campers will be like – we’ve had great neighbors and not so great neighbors. Sometimes we luck out and have no neighbors, though that’s rare in summer.

How close is the campsite to the playground/gathering area/store? 

In general, we stay far away from all of the above. Playgrounds and gathering areas tend to be noisy and full of children, especially in summer when the campground is at capacity. While it’s nice to be close the store if you run out of provisions, it’s also easy enough to walk (or drive) over.

campsite near playground

In summer, this campsite would have been terrible for us since it was right next to the playground. In March, with the campground empty, it was perfect!

How close is the campsite to the bath house?

We like to be close, but not *too* close to the bathhouse. Typically, we try to get within 5 or 6 sites. Being right next to the bathroom is noisy and often bright. People traipse to the bathhouse at all hours of the day. It’s nice to have a buffer, but I also don’t like having to hike too far in the middle of the night.

campsite near bathhouse

This is another of our favorite campsites. It’s close to the bathhouse (that building on the far right), has plenty of privacy, and plenty of trees.

If your campground doesn’t have a bathhouse, or you can’t get a site close to it, look for one with lots of trees. Which leads me to my next point….

Does the campsite have plenty of trees?

There are two reasons we look for trees – the dogs, and our hammocks. We create ziplines for the dogs, so we need at least three or four good-sized trees relatively close together. We look for sturdy ones that will support the hammocks (and us!) without bending or breaking.

For our hammocks, we need two tree pairs; sometimes these double as dog trees.

trees at campsite

Sorry about the angle – I was in my own hammock! These trees are perfect for dog lines and hammocks both.

Trees also provide shade, fallen branches to be used as kindling, privacy from other sites, and in a pinch, impromptu toilet facilities.

Where is the campsite’s fire ring?

I can’t tell you how many sites we’ve turned down because the fire ring was precisely centered in the back of the site. We have a huge tent, so we need a site where the fire ring is on one side. This wasn’t quite as much of an issue with our smaller tent.

Remember – you can move a picnic table (generally), but you can’t move a fire ring.

fire ring at campsite

Great location for the fire ring – away from the tent!

There you have it – our tips for choosing the perfect campsite. What other things do you look for in the perfect site? Do you have the same criteria we do?

Happy camping!

Travel: Royalton Riviera Cancun Food and Drink

A couple days ago, I told you all about the Royalton Riviera Cancun – well, everything, that is, except the food. Which if we’re honest, is the most important part….AMIRIGHT?

I love food, and while I’m not picky, I certainly appreciate when a resort does food especially well. Yes, I can find something anywhere, but choices are nice to have – and the number (and type) of restaurants definitely factors in when we’re choosing where to stay. Royalton Riviera Cancun has 9 restaurants, plus room service.

I scoped out the menus online as much as I could before we left, and quickly realized there was no possible way I’d be able to eat everything I wanted to in the 5 nights we were there. That said, I did my best, and we hit all but two, so I’m considering that a win.

One thing I want to mention right off the bat – if you read TripAdvisor reviews, you’ll notice that some people share our opinions of each restaurant, and some go the opposite direction. So take these with a grain of salt, and if you’re going to Royalton, try whatever restaurants sound good to you, ok?

Hunter Steakhouse was our least favorite, so I’ll just go ahead and get that one out of the way. No pictures here, because the food was unremarkable. They did have a giant plastic bull outside the restaurant though, so that was cute. Apparently not for sitting on, which is ridiculous – why would you have a life-sized bull if you don’t want people to sit on it? Anyway, we waited for about half an hour to get in here – the only one we had to wait for, and it may have been because we were quite late in getting ready for dinner. We were excited because the menu looked incredible. But as soon as we got inside, our hearts fell…the atmosphere was terrible. It’s a bit like sitting in a tin can with 2500 of your closest friends. It was so loud that we couldn’t carry on a conversation. Our service was meh, and our steaks – ribeye for Jimmie, fillet for me – were overcooked and flavorless. We dined and dashed, and won’t waste a night on it next time we go. The French Onion soup was good, though.

Zen….oh man, Zen. We ate here the second night (it’s Asian food), and I’m STILL dreaming about that meal. I knew from TripAdvisor that I could order a sushi sampler that isn’t on the menu, so that’s what we did.

Sushi Sampler at Zen, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Sushi Sampler at Zen, Royalton Riviera Cancun

We also split the Butaniku Spring Rolls and Jimmie had Miso Soup. For the entrée, he had the Hibachi Grilled Salmon; I had Chicken and Shrimp Pad Thai. We also got the Bussels Sprouts and Lobster Mashed Potatoes, which were both fine but definitely took a back seat to everything else. Zen was BY FAR our favorite – so much so that we debated about going back a second night, but opted for a new restaurant instead. (I wish we’d gone with Zen.)

Chicken and Shrimp Pad Thai at Zen, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Chicken and Shrimp Pad Thai at Zen, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Dorado is the Hideaway restaurant, and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We didn’t make it in for breakfast because the buffet was so good (more on that in a moment), but we tried both lunch and dinner. For lunch, we ordered from our swim-up – a very cool perk that we didn’t know we could do until our neighbors told us about it. We split cerviche, Jimmie had fish and chips, and I had a fish sandwich. Everything was good, though it wasn’t out-of-this world good. That said, the convenience was definitely worth considering ordering lunch again!

Top to Bottom: Fish Sandwich, Cerviche, Fish and Chips, Dorado (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Top to Bottom: Fish Sandwich, Cerviche, Fish and Chips, Dorado (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Dinner at Dorado was Ah-mazing. The restaurant has a great view of the ocean, and they had the windows open so we got a nice breeze. Dorado was also the only restaurant that had the “house special” appetizer – it was an oyster. I had the Conch Fritters, the Raw Crab Legs (which were surprising but not really my thing), and the Sea Bass; Jimmie had Fried Calamari and the Ribeye – which was about 10,000 times better than the steak at Hunter. But the best part, for sure, was the dessert cart. Yes, cart. Our waiter brought it over, then laid out all the choices for us to choose from. Thankfully they were all small, so I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about choosing three. We had the chocolate covered strawberries (DIVINE), the crème brulee, and some mousse thing that was just ok.

Oyster, Sea Bass, and Dessert at Dorado (Dinner), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Oyster, Sea Bass, and Dessert at Dorado (Dinner), Royalton Riviera Cancun

If you’re not Hideaway, you still have plenty of good options, but if you are…don’t miss Dorado.

Oh, speaking of Hideaway, they do a Chocolate Party one night. It’s basically just an assortment of chocolate concoctions. I’m not generally a fan of the chocolate desserts in Mexico (Royalton is no exception), but they had some truffles at the party that were surprisingly good. I’ll be honest, I expected this to be a bigger thing than it was – I enjoyed it, but don’t let it be your deciding factor about whether or not to book Hideaway.

Chocolate Party, Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Chocolate Party, Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Opa was really high on my list to try, but tequila happened and so this one sorta fell off the wayside. It’s Mediterranean. I stumbled in for an appetizer, and only had the hummus. It was yummy, but I don’t think I can really give you much on the restaurant. We also didn’t make Armadillo or Agave, the Tex-Mex and Mexican, respectively. We wanted to do Agave, just ran out of time, so next trip for sure.

Grazie is the Italian, and since they’re open for both lunch and dinner, we were able to squeeze it in for lunch one day. It’s your typical Italian fare. Jimmie had Calamari here too, I had Caprese Salad – which was disappointing because the tomatoes weren’t very good. For an entrée, Jimmie ordered an enormous four-cheese pizza that probably had a year’s worth of cheese on it. So so good. I didn’t want something heavy, so I had Pomodoro Pasta with chicken. It was good, nothing special, but just fine. Next trip I’d like to try Grazie for dinner.

Four Cheese Pizza, Pomodoro Pasta with Chicken, and Caprese Salad at Grazie (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Four Cheese Pizza, Pomodoro Pasta with Chicken, and Caprese Salad at Grazie (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Caribbean Grill was also open for both lunch and dinner, and we did both. Lunch was better than dinner. Dinner was bland and slightly overcooked. For dinner we had lobster and shrimp tacos, fried coconut shrimp, rock lobster tails, and Caribbean salmon. The salmon was the best, hands down.

Salmon, Rock Lobster Tail, Coconut Shrimp, and Caribbean Tacos at Caribbean Grill (Dinner), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Salmon, Rock Lobster Tail, Coconut Shrimp, and Lobster and Shrimp Tacos at Caribbean Grill (Dinner), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Lunch was better – we had more cerviche, guacamole, a cute little salad, chicken fajitas, and shrimp alfredo. I suspect the Dorado lunch menu and Caribbean Grill lunch menu are pretty much the same, so just keep that in mind – we didn’t realize it until afterwards. In terms of future trips, think we’d probably pass on Caribbean in favor of another new one.

Guacamole, Chicken Quesadillas, Cerviche, and Puerto Morales Salad at Caribbean Grill (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

Guacamole, Chicken Quesadillas, Cerviche, and Puerto Morales Salad at Caribbean Grill (Lunch), Royalton Riviera Cancun

For those of you who party all night, the Score Sports Bar is open until 6am. We only went in to watch the Superbowl, but I was hungry again, so we had wings and poutine. French fries with gravy and cheese? Sign me up. The bowl was huge and every single bite was superb. We didn’t last long most nights, otherwise I’d have eaten there more!

Buffalo Wings and Poutine at Score Sports Bar, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Buffalo Wings and Poutine at Score Sports Bar, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Gourmet Marche is the buffet. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it’s HUGE. Seriously, search YouTube for the videos. We had breakfast here every day, and every day had something different.

Breakfast, Gourmet Marche Breakfast Buffet, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Breakfast, Gourmet Marche Breakfast Buffet, Royalton Riviera Cancun

We ate lunch here on the day we arrived, and maybe one other time. We didn’t eat dinner at the buffet, though we did stop in once for dessert. Choices at both lunch and dinner were everything you could possibly want, and I especially liked the authentic Mexican dishes. These tacos were life.

Assorted tacos, Gourmet Marche Lunch Buffet, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Assorted tacos, Gourmet Marche Lunch Buffet, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Lastly, I have to mention the room service, because we took advantage a couple nights. (There’s also a snack bar in the kids pool that serves a similar menu – we did lunch there one beach day.) The room service menu isn’t huge, and it’s basically bar food, but it was plenty. The night before we left, I ordered extra food so we’d have lunch for the airport (we took plastic containers so we wouldn’t have to buy food). We had chicken fingers, burgers, and then I had a hot dog the size of my arm. Like I said, nothing special, but yummy.

Cheeseburgers, Chicken Fingers, and Hot Dog from Room Service, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Cheeseburgers, Chicken Fingers, and Hot Dog from Room Service, Royalton Riviera Cancun

One thing’s for sure, if you go hungry at Royalton Riviera Cancun, you’re not doing it right.

And how about the drinks? Because we all know, we care about our drinks. That’s one reason we weren’t super in love with Catalonia – the drinks were bad. I’m happy to report that I had one bad drink at Royalton, and that was because I ordered it, not because it was made badly.

We drank a lot of mojitos, mimosas, margaritas, beers, house wines, Icebergs, and Mango Tangos – easily my favorite. We also had plenty of Grey Goose shots, tequila shots (oy), and fun shot concoctions like the Bumble Bee, Mini Beer, and others I don’t know the name of. The bartenders make mixed drinks with mid-range spirits, and if you ask for a shot, they bring you decent stuff instead of bottom shelf.

Mimosa, mojito, electric lemonade, margarita, blue margarita, and Mango Tango, Royalton Riviera Cancun

Mimosa, mojito, electric lemonade, margarita, blue margarita, and Mango Tango, Royalton Riviera Cancun

BumbleBee shot, Royalton Riviera Cancun

BumbleBee shot, Royalton Riviera Cancun

So there you have it – all the food and drink info you could ever possibly want to know about Royalton Riviera Cancun. Anyone planning a trip now?

Travel: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Oh, Mexio. How I love you. Your warm breezes, your sunny beaches, your friendly people, your delicious tacos….and your all-inclusive resorts. This trip marked our 4th straight year to Riviera Maya (the area that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and so on), and it still amazes me that places like this exist.

We spent a week at the Royalton Riviera Cancun, and I just….wow. I want to be back there so badly. The weather was perfect (though the ocean was a little too cold for me), the resort was breathtaking, and the trip was desperately needed. Coming home to the allergy-capital of the world in East Tennessee was pretty awful, frankly – I’m still trying to recover.

This is the first of two Royalton posts – I did a much better job taking pictures of food this year, so food and drinks are getting their own post. For now, here’s a tour and review of our new favorite resort.

Atmosphere

I mentioned in my Sneak Peak that we had a hard time choosing a resort this year, and that we ultimately chose something totally different that what we were used to. Royalton Riviera Cancun is large – I wouldn’t call it massive after spending a week there – and a completely different feel. Where Valentin Imperial Maya and Catalonia Royal Tulum incorporate some of the more traditional Mayan architecture, Royalton Riviera Cancun is fairly modern. I can see how some people would call it cold or sterile, but we liked the modern look. (I reviewed VIM and CRT extensively, so head over to my Travels page for more info on those.)

View from the lobby of the Royalton Riviera Cancun

View from the lobby of the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The other big difference – and this one was a massive change for us – was that Royalton is a family-friendly resort. And since I know you’re wondering…having children at the resort was so not an issue. We saw one child misbehaving, and even that was fine because he was hitting his mother and not us. We had enough space to get away from kids if we needed, but honestly, they were pretty chill for the most part. And they had an awesome pool, so if you’ve got kiddos, this is definitely the place to take them. (Yes, I wanted to play, and no, I didn’t. Next time.)

Kids pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

Kids pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

There’s an adults-only section, called the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun, which is a different package. We booked Hideaway, and had access to the rest of the Royalton’s amenities. The only exception to that was the Diamond Club area, which is kinda like an extra-special package that includes butler service and a private pool. We didn’t have it, and didn’t miss it, though if given the opportunity to add it for less than a couple hundred bucks next time, we’d consider it.

Map of the Royalton Riviera Cancun. Hideaway is on the far right (orange), Diamond Club is in the blue square. All the restaurants and bars were centrally located, so it's really not as big as it seems.

Map of the Royalton Riviera Cancun. Hideaway is on the far right (orange), Diamond Club is in the blue square. All the restaurants and bars are centrally located, so it’s really not as big as it seems.

We actually didn’t spend a ton of time in Hideaway, other than our swimup – the water in the Hideaway pool was FREEZING, and it was a lot more crowded. There’s definitely a lot more drinking in Hideaway (understandably), so it’s lots of fun, but also a little hard to relax and read a book. More on our swimup in a bit.

Hanging out in our Swimup at Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Hanging out in our Swimup at Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

As for the rest of the resort, it’s fabulous – though I will admit, some of the maintenance issues are a little concerning, considering it’s about 2 years old. We saw broken furniture, crumbled pool tiles, faucets that didn’t work, etc. Nothing major, and it certainly didn’t affect our time there, but I hate the thought of the place falling apart in a few years. The service was consistently top-notch, some of the friendliest staff we’ve encountered anywhere, and you can tell they work hard. It may just be that the resort was built quickly, and with such a large number of people at any given time, it’s not surprising for things to break down. Regardless, it was clean, and not enough of a concern to keep me from going back in a heartbeat.

I’ll talk about the restaurants in my next post, but the food was outstanding. Entertainment was fine – there were shows every night, though we didn’t really go to them. The bars stayed open late, and there were plenty of things to do. We took a few small games and played Archer Love Letter one night in the lobby.

An accidental shot of the lobby interior at the Royalton Riviera Cancun. I blame the martini.

An accidental shot of the lobby interior at the Royalton Riviera Cancun. I blame the martini.

Pools

We split our time pretty evenly between our swimup, the main Royalton infinity pool (there are two, one in the main section and one in the kids area), and the beach. The infinity pool had the best view.

View from the infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

View from the main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

The main infinity pool at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

As for the swimup, I’m fairly certain I will never again NOT have one. It was heated and we had a decent view of the Hideaway pool so we could see the activities going on. It was attached to our room, so we didn’t have to drag all our stuff or worry about getting chairs, but it was also its own little section, so random people couldn’t just wander in.

Swimup in the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Swimup in the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun outside room 3114

We had an absolutely phenomenal server named Karina who climbed through bushes three or four times an hour to bring us drinks. We had friendly Canadian neighbors who are the reason I never want tequila again.

Making new friends at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Making new friends at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Beach

The beach was the quietest, and of the three resorts we’ve stayed at, my favorite by far. The chairs were comfy, the service was great, and you didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a decent spot (I’m looking at you, Valentin).

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Beach at Royalton Riviera Cancun

We didn’t leave the resort once, because that’s not our thing. This is our thing.

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Reading The Woman in Cabin 10 (review to come!) and sipping a mimosa on the beach at Royalton Riviera Cancun

Room

We booked a Luxury Junior Suite Swimup in Hideaway. We were in Building 3, Room 3114, which had a king bed and a killer view.

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We loved our room, and though it was possibly smaller than other resorts we’ve been to, it was perfect for what we needed. The AC worked wonderfully – Jimmie’s biggest concern – and I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’ve been able to dry my hair in Mexico.

Proof that my hair wasn't a frizzy mess the entire time

Proof that my hair wasn’t a frizzy mess the entire time

The bed was comfy, the sheets were always cool (seriously, how did they do that?!), and the shower had double rain shower heads. The only thing I didn’t like were the toiletries, so if you go, take your own stuff.

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

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Room 3114 (Hideaway) at the Royalton Riviera Cancun

Stay tuned for the food post, because the food was incredible. I’m also planning another resort showdown post, though it’ll take me a little while to get that up most likely.

But in case you were wondering – yes, we’ll be back.

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Sneak Peak: Royalton Riviera Cancun

royaltonrivieracancuntripadvisor

In just a few days, we’ll be off to Mexico for the 4th year in a row. If you’ve noticed, our trips are getting closer and closer together. I firmly believe it’s unethical to go more than 9 months without some beach time!

We debated long and hard about where to stay this year, and whether to go back to the Valentin Imperial Maya or try somewhere new. (Catalonia wasn’t on our radar again, primarily because of the drinks.) We narrowed it down to a handful, and our travel agent was able to get us a pretty good deal to Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun.

Royalton is a huge resort compared to what we’re used to, so that’ll be a fun experience. Hideaway is the adults-only portion of the resort, though we’ll have access to the rest as well. Where there will be children.

I know, I know. Children aren’t my thing.

But neither are obnoxious adults, and I figure the kids will be in the kids area, and if they’re screaming, at least they’ll be having fun instead of screaming about politics or something else I don’t want to listen to. (We’ll see how that goes.) We’re interested in trying somewhere with kids to see if it’s a big deal or not, and since there’s plenty of places to get away from them, it should be ok.

Anyway, Royalton is huge. We’ve got a swim-up room, and we’re super excited about it. There are a million restaurants and pools. And it’s like 15 minutes from the airport. Once again, I doubt we’ll leave the resort, but you never know. Maybe we’ll decide to live dangerously! 😉

Stay tuned for the review and make-you-jealous pictures!

Travel: Asheville Restaurant Week 2017

Asheville celebrated Restaurant Week January 17-26 this year. Many restaurants participated, offering prix fixe menus for both lunch and dinner. We were in town that weekend for the Mountain True Winter Warmer Beer Festival, and were able to take advantage of some of the restaurant week specials.

We got into town on Saturday just in time for lunch. While we were walking around, we got to see some of the Asheville Women’s March. It was an incredible experience, and I wish we’d had more time to watch and cheer. The whole atmosphere was energized and positive, and it was inspiring to see so many people coming together.

We chose Strada Italiano, since we were headed to a beer festival and wanted something filling in our stomachs. Strada is a quaint little restaurant on the corner of Broadway and Walnut Streets. It’s unassuming, and from the outside, easy to miss. When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the ambiance. It’s all dark wood and soft lighting. The space is long and narrow, with a good-sized bar taking up the majority of the right side of the restaurant. There’s a staircase in the back leading to a group dining space, and a private function room off to the right behind the bar.

stradaasheville

Strada, Downtown Asheville

Despite being just after noon, the place was empty and we were seated quickly (it later filled up with March participants). As we debated over the restaurant week menu, the couple behind us got their food – a pizza that both looked and smelled incredible.

Restaurant Week 2017, Lunch Menu, Strada

Restaurant Week 2017, Lunch Menu, Strada

I chose the Tuscan Figs and the Italian Chicken Philly; Jimmie had the Arancini and the Grilled Florentine Ravioli. While it was all delicious, the figs were the highlight – the perfect combination of smokey and sweet. That said, two figs was more than enough; I couldn’t have eaten any more than that.

Tuscan Figs at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Tuscan Figs at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Arancini at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Arancini at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Italian Chicken Philly at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Italian Chicken Philly at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Grilled Florentine Ravioli at Strada, Downtown Asheville

Grilled Florentine Ravioli at Strada, Downtown Asheville

After lunch, we met up with the rest of our group for the beer festival, where fun was had by all.

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Our random photographer was a bit blitzed, but you get the idea.

The next morning, Jimmie and I met my mom for brunch at The Blackbird. Another little place, The Blackbird is on Biltmore Avenue, right across from the double-decker coffee bus and right next to the Aloft hotel. I love their logo, which they put on everything from the menus to the paper towels in the bathroom.

The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

The Blackbird, like many Asheville restaurants, prides itself on sourcing local ingredients, and that includes the coffee. The Blackbird serves coffee from Dynamite Roasting Company out of Black Mountain, NC. Normally, I’m not a huge coffee snob…but that was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and next time I’m in Asheville I’m going to buy some to have at the house. (Huge thanks to the folks over at The Blackbird for responding to me on Facebook when I asked about the blend!!)

French Press Coffee from Dynamite Roasting Company at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

French Press Coffee from Dynamite Roasting Company at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

After a lengthy debate about what to order, Jimmie chose the Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelet with Country Potatoes and Bacon, and I settled on the Huevos Rancheros. Though beautifully plated, neither dish looked to be enough food when it arrived. I’m pleased to say it was more than enough, as both of us were fully stuffed by the time we left. The food was fresh, filling, and tasty, and the service was lovely. Definitely a place I’d return to.

Huevos Rancheros at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

Huevos Rancheros at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelet at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelet at The Blackbird, Downtown Asheville

We love Asheville, and are trying to make it over that way more often. Where should we eat next time we’re in town?

Hen Wallow Falls

Jimmie and I have been somewhat boring lately, so recently we’ve tried to have more “fun.” Meaning, we’re doing actual THINGS and not just going to Costco. Yay, adulting. Since neither of us care about college football – and doing anything in Knoxville on game day is an absolute nightmare – we’ve been hiking a little more. It’s been a while since we hiked, and neither of us are in particularly stellar shape (even though I’ve sorta been running).

For our first “back-in-the-saddle” hiking adventure, we decided to head to Cosby and hike Hen Wallow Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sorta in our backyard. It’s a roughly 5-mile round-trip hike to a waterfall. (The trail sign says 4.4 miles, but my Fitbit clocked it at 5.) The waterfall is 90 feet tall. It’s listed as a moderate difficulty, and a “pleasant walk through hemlock and rhododendron forest.” The trail is in an active bear habitat, and as with all GSMNP trails, pets aren’t allowed. The trailhead is accessed from the Cosby picnic area. We hiked it in 2.5 hours.

On hike day we grudgingly got up and hit the road before noon. Ok, like 11:50. Whatever. We stopped off a WhichWich for lunch – if you’ve never had WhichWich, you’re absolutely missing out. The bread is the perfect combination of toasty and chewy, the ingredients are fresh, and the meats aren’t salty. Plus you can choose from about 9000 options.

After only one wrong turn, we made it to the picnic area. Just a hint – don’t use Hen Wallow Falls as your Google Maps destination. Put in the Cosby picnic area, or even the Cosby campground (which you get to from the picnic area). Otherwise, you’ll end up down a sketchy gravel road.

We loaded up with our hydration packs, took the requisite trailhead selfie, and off we went.

We were fortunate in that we passed only a handful of other hikers on the trail. It’s a very quiet place, and the trees provide a good amount of shade. It was actually kind of eerie in places. We did see some rather fresh bear droppings about half a mile in, though if the bear was around, we never caught a glimpse. I was ok with that.

Don’t be fooled, friends – this trail is more on the difficult side of moderate. It’s a steady uphill climb, and though it isn’t steep, the majority of the trail is covered with jutting roots and loose rocks. Our legs and ankles were killing us by the time we finished. We didn’t have hiking poles – if you do, I’d definitely recommend taking them. We managed to find some sticks to use on the way back from the falls, and they were a huge help.

Despite the difficulty, the hike itself is quite pleasant. You pass huge trees, several interesting rock formations, and cross over a couple of streams. Those crossings are a smidge nerve-wracking, as they’re on log footbridges, but just hold the railing and you’ll be fine. Again, poles. Since we hiked in fall we didn’t see too many flowers, but I imagine it’s gorgeous in the spring. We did see lots of mushrooms, though, like this one in the middle of the trail.

The last tenth of a mile or so, the trail dips steeply downhill to the falls. We both kept wondering when we’d hear them, since typically waterfalls make noise, right? The answer became clear the moment we turned the bend.

That’s right. We were lucky enough to do this hike at a time when East Tennessee is nearly 4 inches behind in rain. So instead of a waterfall, we got a dribble. Our reactions?

I imagine it’s quite pretty after it’s rained, or in the winter when it’s frozen. We just have impeccable timing. Honestly, we were more interested in the most appropriate sign we’ve ever seen. This sign should be everywhere, not just on hiking trails with dangerous waterfalls and slippery rocks.

We took a few SnapChat videos, turned around, and headed up the now super-steep one-tenth of a mile. And I promptly got stung by something. On my bum. I manage to go 32 years without ever getting stung, and when I do, I don’t even know by what, it’s on my ass, and I’m 2.5 miles from anything. Thankfully, Jimmie had Benadryl, so I popped half a pill, we set off, and I didn’t die. It hurt like hell for most of the hike out.

We rounded out the day with a take-out order from Buffalo Wild Wings, which was a madhouse, pumpkin beer, and binge watching season one of The Americans on Amazon.

While we both felt pretty underwhelmed by Hen Wallow Falls, we agreed the area was nice. Cosby is a much quieter, less frequented side of the park. We actually thought the drive was a lot better too, since you mostly take the Interstate instead of dealing with Gatlinburg and all that mess. There are several hikes in the area, so I’m sure we’ll be back to check them out!

 

Another State Down! Whirlwind Wisconsin

A few weeks ago – ok, maybe more like a month ago – I got to cross another state off my list! That brings me to…34 I believe. Time to update my Up In Smoke map.

I traveled to Wisconsin and Illinois for work, and as usual, it was a whirlwind trip. I did have a little time to prowl around Milwaukee and Madison, and of course, try some beer. (Let’s be honest…my number one goal in a new place, which I take very seriously.)FlightatMaders

Milwaukee was first. We flew in around lunch, got our rental car, and headed over to the Safe House for lunch. Safe House is a really cool place – it’s a spy-themed restaurant and bar. SafeHouseMKEYou have to know the password to get in….or you have to prove you’re not a double agent. We tried to guess the password, failed miserably, and had to cluck around like chickens for 10 seconds.SafeHouseRecon Turns out, everyone in the place can see this….which just adds to the fun.

Once you get inside, you’re bombarded with spy paraphernalia. The servers address you as lady spy or sir spy, the food is all spy-themed, and you’re given a “mission” to complete while you wait. It sounds cheesy, but it was perfect for us. I’m not sure I’d go at night, because then it probably would be silly (or at the very least, super crowded), but lunch was just fine. That said, apparently they have a signature cocktail that they send through a tube all over the bar – I’d have liked to see that.
SafeHouseMKE2

I had the fish tacos, and they were just ok. The sauce was a little weird. I also had my first fried cheese curds…which were way too salty. Go for the atmosphere, not the food….or at least not the cheese curds and fish tacos.

SafeHouseMKETacos

The tacos didn’t actually come with fries, I’m just a weirdo.

We worked the rest of the day, but then I had a chance to prowl around before and after dinner. I asked the hotel staff where to go for local beer, and they sent me to Who’s On Third. It’s a sports bar with female bartenders. I appreciated that since I was by myself. I took my Kindle and chatted with the brand new bartender. Plus, I lucked out with $2 pints, and got to try a couple Wisconsin brews. I had the famed New Glarus Spotted Cow, which I enjoyed (that’s it below), and then a couple of Lakefront Brewery beers that I wasn’t impressed with.

WhosOnThirdMKE

Dinner was at Mader’s, my first German food experience. I ordered a German beer flight and the German sampler. I screwed up on the flight – I should have ordered another local beer. Turns out, I’m not a fan of German beer. Good to know, since I had 6 of them.

As for the food, I liked most of it. The sampler came with Wiener schnitzel (breaded pork – LOVED it), kasseler rippchen (smoked pork – good, but nothing special), and Rheinischer sauerbraten (braised beef – liked it). It also came with a potato dumpling (that lumpy thing in the back which I just COULD NOT do), sauerkraut and red cabbage, which were both delicious.

GermanSamplerMaders

Mader’s is a Milwaukee institution, and I’m glad I got to try it. It’s expensive….my entree was $35. (Thank you, business travel.) I don’t know that I’d go back. The atmosphere was cool though, and the history of the restaurant is pretty neat.Maders

At this point, you’re probably picking up on how much I loved Milwaukee, but just in case….this is what I texted Jimmie that night.

Screenshot_2016-06-13-20-53-19

After dinner I prowled around some more, since we were right in Downtown Milwaukee. I walked the River Walk, found the Fonz, and tracked down Gertie the duck. Now…..Gertie. When you look her up online, she appears huge. She’s not. (She’s the same size as Millie, who I took a picture of instead because she was sassy.)

MKERiverWalkMKEFonzThis is Millie, who's right next door to Gertie.

To say I was underwhelmed by Milwaukee is an understatement, though the view from the River Walk is pretty at sunset, and there’s some interesting sculpture art all around.

MKERiverView

Oh, and it was borderline COLD in Milwaukee. Guess that’s because of the lake and all.

As for the hotel, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn Downtown Milwaukee, and it was….tiny. I’ve never been in a hotel room that small. It was fine for one night, but any more than that and I’d have gone insane. Also, I had a lake monster ghost living in my vents, and she sloshed around all night.

CaseynKristinDoMadisonThe next day we drove over to Madison to meet up with the other half of our team – totally out of the way, but it meant I got to see Madison, so I was fine with that. Plus, they brought me fresh cheese curds, which is apparently a Wisconsin staple, but is really just kind of strange.Screenshot_2016-06-14-16-52-24

This is the part of the trip where Untappd tells me I’m an alcoholic. >>>

I liked Madison a whole lot better than Milwaukee.

Madison is funky, and there’s a lot of beer. We ate at the Old Fashioned on a recommendation from a local, and holy smokes was it delicious. We had more fried cheese curds (they were much better). Three of us ordered beer flights, for 20ish beers total, and we just sampled all evening.

My favorite was a juniper porter...loved it. Wish I could find it here!

My favorite was a juniper porter…loved it. Wish I could find it here!

I had the tacos – one of each because I couldn’t decide – and they blew me away. Actually, the veggie taco blew me away, and the rest were just delicious.

OldFashionedTacosMadison

Sadly we didn’t get to spend much time in Madison before we had to head down to the Chicago area, but I did get to run in a grocery store. While there, I found this.

Because why wouldn't you buy this??

Because why wouldn’t you buy this??

Of course, I bought it. And it actually wasn’t terrible. I also bought these.

This happens pretty much every time I go on a work trip.

This happens pretty much every time I go on a work trip. I’m a pro at packing beer in my luggage.

Chicago was pretty uneventful – we stayed out by the airport, and drove around a lot. I have family there, WildChicagoNightso we met up for dinner the night we were there. At Joe’s Crab Shack. Which is fine and all, but taught me a very important lesson – people confuse “local” with “nearby.” Ah well. After dinner I came back to the hotel and had a very wild night in my room with Snapchat, beer, and cheese.

This is my "ya'll don't know hot" face

Oh, one funny story….Joe’s was about a mile from our hotel, on the other side of a business complex. There was a sidewalk, so I figured I’d just walk it. No fewer than 5 people told me it was too hot to walk. It was 90 degrees, and 42% humidity.

Let me just say right now…..for those of us in the South, that’s a walk in the park.

<<< That’s my “ya’ll don’t know hot” face.

The day we flew out (Day 4 if you’re keeping track), we had lunch at Portillo’s. I had the French Beef or whatever it’s called. It’s huge. And delicious. And you totally don’t need fries. Fun little place, local to Chicago, and worth the trip.

Portillos

PortillosBeef

And that pretty much sums up my Wisconsin adventure – food, beer, and being underwhelmed. Oh, and lots of time on Snapchat.CaseySnapchatCollageBut, this cutie greeted me with exuberance when I finally got home….and then promptly turned on the “WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME” face.Screenshot_2016-06-17-01-43-42

It’s good to be loved.

All-Inclusive Resort Showdown: Valentin Imperial Maya vs. Catalonia Royal Tulum

Thought this would be fun!! Since I’m now an expert on two Riviera Maya resorts (hah!), I thought we’d do a showdown. Pretty simple rules – looking at both resorts equally, just the basic amenities. Nothing you have to pay extra for, such as spa services, upgrades, or packages.

Sorry I don’t have pictures for everything – I’ve got lots of food from VIM, and very little food from CRT! And I didn’t want to only show you one in this showdown, cause that wouldn’t be fair. Look back at all the VIM posts (there are four total from 2014 and 2015!) and the recent CRT post for other pictures.

Full disclosure: We loved both resorts, and highly recommend either of them. It all depends on what you’re looking for from an all-inclusive vacation.

The Contenders

Valentin Imperial Maya (VIM) and Catalonia Royal Tulum (CRT)

Beach

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: Super long, which is a bit of a hassle when you’re trying to find a place to sit. Palapas are spread out, so you’ve got a bit more privacy for your lounge chairs (which are nicely padded). Lots of seaweed, and lots of waves. Drink service was consistent.

CRT: Small, with horribly uncomfortable chairs close together. No palapas, but the entire area is shaded by palm trees so you can usually find some shade. No seaweed, super calm water. Drink service was consistent.

Winner: CRT

 

Pool

VIM quiet pool on left, CRT on right

VIM quiet pool on left, CRT on right

VIM: Two main pools, one party pool and one quiet pool. Seating around the main pool is difficult to find shade. Swim up bar in main pool, walk up bar in quiet pool, drink service at both. Not enough seating, so expect to play the towel game at the main pool especially.

CRT: One pool. Nearly every seat has shade. Walk up bar, drink service. Plenty of seating available all day.

Winner: Tie

 

Room

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: We’ve stayed in the middle tier, Golden Suites. Room has a separate sitting area, balcony, and large bathroom with dual sinks and a huge shower. Toilet has a glass door. Also has a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.

CRT: Upgraded to the top tier, Junior Suite. Room has a small sitting area next to the bed, balcony, and single-sink bathroom with rain shower. Bathroom is all in one room with a wooden door.

Winner: VIM

 

A La Carte Restaurants

VIM: 6 – Italian, Steakhouse, Indonesian, Asian, Mexican, and French. Smart casual dress code (long pants and closed shoes for men). We ate at all of them.

CRT: 5 – Italian, Steakhouse, Tapas, Asian, and Mexican. Casual dress code (shorts and sandals allowed for men). We ate at two of them.

Winner: CRT simply for the dress code

 

Buffet Restaurants

VIM: Breakfast and lunch only, in the same locations. Lunch selection changes daily. Breakfast has smoothies, omelets, crepes, and other made-to-order items.

CRT: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though in different locations. Lunch and dinner selection changes daily. Breakfast has omelets, crepes, and other made-to-order items.

Winner: CRT

 

Snack Bars

VIM: Lunch service at quiet pool, plus daily changing grill lunch served poolside at main pool; ice cream machine available at beach

CRT: Sandwich/pizza restaurant at pool, plus occasional burger lunch served poolside; sandwiches and popcorn available during the day in lobby

Winner: Tie

 

Room Service

VIM: 24 hour selection; lunch and dinner menu available all day until breakfast begins; wait time up to an hour depending on when you order

CRT: 24 hour selection; after 11:00pm four to five choices available; wait time around 30 minutes

Winner: VIM

 

Drinks

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: Top shelf liquor (Grey Goose, Baileys) available; very few drink menus; wide selection of spirits, beer, and wine; Coca-Cola; extensive coffee menu

CRT: Mid-range liquor (Stoli, Bacardi); drink menus at every bar; limited selection of spirits, beer, and wine; Pepsi; coffee or espresso; smoothie bar on beach

Winner: VIM

 

Ambiance

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: Very luxurious, spread out, lots of open spaces; often noisy

CRT: Jungle-feel, no wasted space; very quiet

Winner: Tie

 

Activities and Nightlife

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: Nearly constant activities ranging from water sports to cooking classes to pool parties; nightly shows and live music; daily schedule delivered at turndown service

CRT: Sporadic activities pool and beachside ranging from volleyball to jenga tournaments; single-performer in lobby and once a week pool party (there is a disco, but we never went in so I won’t judge on that); weekly schedule posted in each building

Winner: VIM

 

Staff

VIM: Consistently good service throughout; rooms cleaned at roughly the same time each day

CRT: Consistently adequate service throughout, with a few standouts; rooms cleaned at all hours of the day (we had turndown show up at 10pm one night)

Winner: VIM

 

Check-in/Check-out

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM on left, CRT on right

VIM: Champagne on arrival, called up one by one to check-in; no wristbands; taken to room via golf cart; check-out a somewhat lengthy process

CRT: Fruit juice on arrival, standard hotel-style desk for check-in; wristbands; free to roam after check-in; check-out as simple as turning in keys

Winner: CRT (though champagne would be nice)

 

Guests

VIM: Primarily American and Canadian; mix of groups and couples; ages tend to range from early 20s to early 70s

CRT: Primarily European and couples; ages tend to range from early 30s to early 60s

Winner: CRT (guests were much less obnoxious)

 

Which Should You Choose?

VIM: If you want to drink (a lot), eat (a lot), and play (a lot). Overall more luxurious, abundant, and energizing.

CRT: If you want to swim (a lot), sun (a lot), and read (a lot). Overall more romantic, intimate, and relaxing.

Catalonia Royal Tulum

I’m getting a vacation post up…..oh a weekish after vacation. You should be proud of me.

For various reasons, Jimmie and I decided to take our vacation a little early this year. I’ll admit one of those reasons was combining the trip with a holiday in order to save vacation time at work. (Yay, adulting.) We knew we wanted something simple, something relaxing, and something beautiful. I’m sure it’s not too much of a surprise to hear we went back to Mexico for the third year in a row.

We like Mexico, though I’ll be the first to admit we’re really not even experiencing Mexico because we don’t ever leave our resort. Meh. We go with the sole purpose of sitting on the beach (or if we’re honest, the pool) with a drink in our hand. No worries, no responsibilities, no plans. Just sun, sand, and lots and lots of alcohol.

We decided to book a direct flight from Atlanta, since the last two years we’ve had issues with our flights. Thankfully, this year broke the curse, as we had completely smooth travel experiences. We drove down the night before after grabbing dinner and some takeout from O’Charley’s. Airport food is crazy expensive, and usually pretty tasteless, and getting food through security is super simple. So we feasted on chicken fingers and half a burger perhaps a bit early in the morning, but let’s just call it brunch. (Also – helpful tip – order room service your last night in the resort and throw it in a ziplock bag. It kept us from having to pay for airport food on the way home too.)

One thing I’d like to mention too – the staff at the Cancun airport are consistently friendlier and more helpful than any American airport I’ve ever been in. Case in point, I’d tied ribbons on our suitcases so we could find them easily (his is black and mine is blue), and the baggage handlers put our suitcases together in the customs area. If you’ve never flown internationally, this is a big deal, since there are about 500 people trying to find their luggage all at the same time. I think it took us maybe 15 seconds to spot ours. So thank you, Cancun baggage handlers, for being awesome.

We also arranged for a private transfer from the airport to our resort. We used Canada Transfers, and I highly recommend both them and paying for your own transport. We had beers in the cooler waiting, we didn’t have to stand out in the heat and wait for the driver, we didn’t have to deal with other people, and our driver even told us about what we were driving past.

The last two years we stayed at the Valentin Imperial Maya – I wrote a rather extensive 3-part review that first year, so no need to rehash it. Last year I kept it brief, namely because there wasn’t much new to add. We really like the Valentin, but word has gotten out and it’s no longer a best-kept secret. Which means A) the price has gone up, and B) there are more people there. We wanted something calmer and cheaper this time around, so decided to try a new place.

I’d come across the Catalonia Royal Tulum the first year we were researching, but we turned it down because many of the reviews said it was too quiet and there were mostly Europeans. This year….SOLD. It’s an adults-only all-inclusive about an hour or so south of the Cancun airport.

The resort is considerably smaller than the Valentin – about half as many rooms, not quite 300. The property is also a lot less spread out, and the beach and pool are smaller. The small size wasn’t really an issue for us, though it did take a little getting used to at first. Thankfully, everything was pretty much in a straight line, so there wasn’t any risk of getting lost….you just followed the main walkway to everything you needed.

There were some coatimundi, some iguanas, a parrot or two, and lots of birds.
They also had a little pond with some fish, so in terms of wildlife it was about what you’d expect. The whole thing feels a bit like a rain forest…which means it can get really muggy, but it’s also a bit cooler on the walkway at least. The bridge to the pool area lights up at night, so that’s kind of pretty. Eerie, but pretty.

I’ll try to just hit the high points for the rest of it.

The beach was absolutely gorgeous. Much of the Caribbean is having a seaweed problem; that’s nature. But at Catalonia, they’ve got a net out in the water which catches both seaweed and sharks. (Kidding….but not really.) The beach was pristine.

The first day we were there, I woke up super early….like 6am. I managed to hold on for an hour before waking Jimmie up and dragging him to breakfast and then the beach. It was worth it though – it was totally deserted. I think we were the second couple down there. I was able to get a ton of gorgeous photos, and the early morning light was breathtaking.

We actually didn’t spend a ton of time at the beach though, because the chairs were horribly uncomfortable. Like make your legs go numb uncomfortable. And to those of you wondering about the closeness of the chairs – it didn’t bother me, and we rarely had someone next to us, but Jimmie did get a little penned-in feeling after a while. A lot of people ended up dragging chairs out to the sun, too, so it emptied out a little as the day went on.

We spent most of our time at the pool, because the chairs were much more comfortable. One thing I have to mention is that no matter what time of day we were there, there were ALWAYS plenty of empty chairs, even in the shade. Not at all like the Valentin where people play the “towel game.” I don’t think I noticed anyone saving chairs and not using them. It was really, really nice to not have to stress about being down at the pool early enough to get a chair in the shade.

There weren’t really any activities to speak of – they did a 20-minute aqua gym every day, and some volleyball. Mostly the pool was chill and quiet, and we never felt crowded. There’s no swim up bar, but the ladies bringing drinks around do a pretty good job. Geny, in particular, was fabulous. She remembered us and what we typically ordered, and always had a huge smile on her face.

Speaking of drinks, here’s where I have to give a thumbs down….the drinks were bad. Like, really bad. Part of it was low-quality liquor, ok. But part of it was simply not being able to make a decent drink. And half of what we asked for, they didn’t know what it was, and told us no (weren’t willing to try). We weren’t asking for super weird things either – Bumble Bee, Blue Hawaiian, White Russian, and Mai Tai were all on the list of “no-go.” Seriously. We pretty much drank Mojitos and beer, with a few margaritas thrown in. And whatever this green thing was, that was really gross. (Might have been their attempt at electric lemonade – we couldn’t drink it.)

Guys, I know I like to drink, but I’m honestly not a booze snob. Make me a decent drink and I’m set, but that wasn’t happening here. Even my mimosa was crappy.

The other thing people always want to know about is the food. We had a few disappointing things (anything Italian), but for the most part really enjoyed all the food. We ate at the steak house twice, and had the best service there (shout out to Avodo!) – and I ate so much the second night that I made myself sick. We also ate at the dinner buffet twice. It had different things both times, and the food was consistently good. Same with breakfast and lunch buffets…the food was surprisingly delicious (check out my tacos!!). Lots of great choices, the food was fresh and never greasy, and there was more than enough variety. And the desserts….I’ve never been a fan of mousse, but OMG I’m going to learn how to make it now.

What else…oh, our room! So the resort has two options, privileged or not. Basically with privileged you get a fancy restaurant and a nicer room. We did not opt for privileged, because we are cheap and low key. They upgraded our room anyway, because the resort was at capacity. We ended up in a Junior Suite, which I think is the top tier room. It was fine.

If that sounds flippant, well….it was a room. It was perfectly adequate, and I never would have paid extra for it. I think the only difference was that it was a little bigger and had a rain shower (which we hated, incidentally). The rooms all face the walkway, so there’s no breeze on the balcony. And as is the case in Mexico, everything is hot as balls, so we melted the entire time, even with the AC and fan on. Jimmie hated the bed, I liked it, so that’s helpful I’m sure. *grin* They did do towel animals though, so that was fun.

So….final verdict?

We liked it, but both of us agreed it was a little TOO quiet at times. There’s no real nightlife, which is ok, but as soon as you don’t have choices you want them. The beach was beautiful, and the crowd was perfect – super chill, super laid back. It’s cheaper, but not enough cheaper that it’s completely worth it if money savings is your big driver. We’d go back, but we’d go for a shorter trip.

Stay tuned for a VIM (Valentin) versus CRT  (Catalonia) post!!!

My Obsession with Nick Carter Continues

If you’ve been here a while, you’re well aware of the fact that I’ve been in love with Nick Carter since I was 11 or so. If you’re new, just read any one of last year’s DWTS posts and it’ll all become clear.

So when I found out that he was going on tour, AND coming to Nashville, AND it was on a Saturday night, AND it was at a winery, I promptly bought 3 tickets and convinced my besties that we needed a girls’ weekend. (For the record, it wasn’t a hard sell. At all.)

It wasn’t a full weekend – in fact, it was a day trip – but it was lots of fun regardless. We got all dressed up, drove up Saturday morning, and prowled around Nashville a bit. We had lunch at Nashville Street Tacos, which is apparently a thing, but it was delicious. We split the Shred Head tacos – pulled pork topped with Mexican corn slaw, which I desperately want to recreate at home.

Nashville Street Tacos Shred Head

Then we wandered. I found this awesome blazer that I *almost* brought home for Jimmie. He’d have rocked it, no doubt, but the price tag was a bit more than I wanted to spend ($100).

Best Jacket Ever

We went in a real life haberdashery. I can’t remember the name of it and I’m too lazy to look it up, but it’s in downtown Nashville. We tried on hats.

Hats

Lydia looking glam as usual!

Strolling around some more, we found the candy store. Pretty sure my mouth actually fell open at the sight of these bad boys.

I'll take one of each, please.

I’ll take one of each, please.

I resisted, but barely.

Finally, it was off to City Winery for the concert. We had awesome seats – truly, I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house except for maybe VIP which is up in the balcony corner, kinda weird. Anyway. The opener was Riley Biederer, and she was good, but tugged on her shorts the whole show which was pretty distracting.

Riley At CWN

Oh, and I had this amazing flatbread. If I remember correctly, it’s beets and goat cheese. Probably some other stuff on there….bacon maybe. All I remember is it was heavenly.

CWN Flatbread

Finally….finally. Time for Nick.

Linda bought an epic hat that makes her look a lot like a rock star.

Linda bought an epic hat that makes her look a lot like a rock star.

Guys, he played an awesome show. And I’m not just saying that because I really like Nick Carter…he’s truly a performer. It was one of the most fun concerts I’ve ever been to. He played most of his new album, and a lot of old Backstreet Boys stuff. He even showed us a few of his DWTS moves.

I could go on and on, but I’ll just give you pictures.

Nick Carter at CWN

And now…..my 11-year-old self can finally die happy because she got to see Nick Carter.

After the show