Category Archives: Travel

Sneak Peak: Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun (2nd Trip!)

What can I say? We loved the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun so much we just had to go back.

We actually planned to do a Mountain trip this summer, since we were in Mexico in February. But when I started looking at prices, we realized we could do a return Royalton trip for about $200 more. Tough decision, no?

So we’re off this week to sunny Mexico for our second trip to the most luxurious resort ever. Or maybe not ever, but that we’ve been to. I’ve got lots of ideas planned for this trip, including a list of “Drinks to Order at an All-Inclusive Resort,” so feel free to throw out some ideas for me. Just make them quick, since I’ll only have a few days to snap relevant pictures!

In the meantime, check out my first review of Royalton Riviera Cancun, my comparison of two of the Mexico resorts we’ve been to (I’m still slacking on the updated comparison!), and the best part, all the foooood. I’m making a beeline for that Pad Thai when we get there. Seriously, my priorities are to take pictures of everything I drink, eat all the Pad Thai I can stomach, and order room service every single night.

I’d thought about leaving the resort for once, but….nah. I like reading and relaxing too much. Speaking of reading, later this week I’ll share what’s in my beach bag. If you want you can place bets on what I’ll actually read.

We’re going with friends for the first time since 2014, so that’ll be a fun and slightly different experience! We booked a swim-up room again, and our fingers are crossed it’s the same one we had last time. I’m looking forward to seeing if Karina is still serving drinks in Hideaway!

As for drinks, any suggestions?

Travel: DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards in Baxter, TN

All the best people were born in July.

I can say that, since both Jimmie and I are July babies. We also happen to have a dozen or so friends who were also born in July. It’s a good month for a birthday.

A few weeks ago, a couple of our July-birthday friends invited us to take a wine tour for a joint birthday celebration. Turns out there’s a wine trail not too far from us (two, actually), so we loaded up the car and headed west to DelMonaco Winery and Vineyards in Baxter, TN.

We had a great day with friends new and old!

For those not familiar with the area, Baxter is one exit past Cookeville on the way to Nashville. Remember Cookeville from my Crawdaddy’s post? Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much in Baxter, though apparently there is a really good restaurant that we didn’t get to. Next time. (For those interested, DelMonaco is part of the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.)

DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards

DelMonaco is one of the few wineries in Tennessee that grows their own grapes. In addition to the wine, they’ve also got an incredible event space. It’s genius, really, since as our tour guide told us, they make just as much money from their events as they do from their wine. If you live in Middle or East Tennessee and need a wedding venue, definitely check them out.

We paid $15 each for the tour and tasting, which got us a 45 minute tour and samples of all 14 wines. Yes, that’s a lot of wine. Most of DelMonaco’s wines are sweet wines, typical for the area. I learned that for the most part, the grapes we’re familiar with (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) don’t survive in the U.S. Only the West Coast and a few places in New England have any real luck with them. Bad soil, pests, fungi, and inhospitable climates cause problems everywhere else.

But, that just means American winemakers have had to get creative. Some wineries purchase those more elusive grapes. Others grow America-friendly grapes like Muscadine and Concord. Still others make wines out of fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, and peaches.

Needless to say, this wine drinker learned a lot on the tour.

The Tour

First of all, it was hot as blazes. Our tour guide took us through the venue first, showing us their different event spaces. I loved the Grand Bella, the main room. It’s got these gorgeous glass doors all around. You’ll have to take my word for it, since I failed to turn around and take a picture.

The Grand Bella at DelMonaco Winery

The outdoor areas are very nice too, and have killer views of the vineyard.

I absolutely adore this picture of us in front of the vineyards.

Next we walked down to the vineyard, where we learned a little more about the history of the place and some of the fun events they host. There’s a wine train – the train tracks run right by the winery – that brings people in from Nashville. You ride a train (drink wine), tour the winery (drink wine), and have a party (drink wine). It sounds like it might be one of the best things ever.

Concord Grapes at the DelMonaco Winery

We didn’t wander the vineyard (we were all melting), but we did snap lots of photos.

Another good one!

And some of us might have tried the grapes.

I’m thinking about framing this one and hanging it in my kitchen. That’d work, right?

Concord grapes are divine, friends.

Where the magic happens!

After the grapes, we went into the blessedly cool air-conditioned wine-making room (I can’t remember the proper term, sorry). There we got to hear about how they make the wine, how they bottle the wine, how they label the wine, and how they store the wine. All I remember was that it’s very similar to making beer, and that they do only about 4,000 cases of wine a year. I should have taken better notes, but I’ll just go back for the wine train and update you then.

On a side note – I was very disappointed to know that they don’t actually crush grapes in a giant vat with their bare feet. I’ve wanted to do that ever since watching the (albeit terrible) movie, A Walk in the Clouds. Anyone with me??

The Tasting

We actually did the tasting before the tour, since we were waiting on another couple to meet us there. Fourteen wines is a lot, and since you taste from dry to sweet, it quickly becomes A LOT.

DelMonaco Winery Wine Tasting List….side A.

Jimmie and I are dry-wine drinkers, so for the most part, we had a hard time with the wines. We could appreciate the flavors, and there were a few that we would have been able to drink a glass of if we’d needed to. There were a couple that I’d have added carbonation to, and a handful that I simply could not finish my taster of. But, we also liked some – the Chardonnay was quite good, and I typically don’t like Chardonnay. It’s got apricot and fig flavors, and oddly enough, you can actually taste the fig. The Merlot and Noiret were also good, though slightly too fruity.

Don’t let our experience put you off though – our sweet-wine loving friends bought like 8 bottles. They loved the wines.

I took like 8 pictures before I’d let anyone drink it. I’m that person.

After our tasting, we bought a bottle of Chardonnay and took it to the patio for a picnic lunch of cheeses, fruits, veggies, and meats. It was a wonderful meal, despite the heat, and the wine paired perfectly with the food.

Our glorious picnic

It was a fun-filled (HOT) day, and despite not loving all the sweet wines, wine is wine, so we left happy. It’s nice to know we have such a beautiful, relaxing place here in Tennessee, and I can see myself going back with a group of girlfriends to spend some lazy Saturday.

I believe you can order DelMonaco’s wines from their website, or if you’re local, it’s a quick day trip. And if anyone does that train, I want to tag along.

Travel: Crawdaddy’s Restaurant in Cookeville, TN

Last week, I shared our lunch date at Sammy B’s in Lebanon, TN, on our way home from Nashville. The type A personalities will be annoyed to know that we also had lunch on the way to Nashville – but I wrote the posts out of order, so you’re just now seeing it. *Grin*

The drive from Knoxville to Nashville doesn’t have a whole lot of large towns with food choices that aren’t chain restaurants, but so far, we’ve managed. On the drive out, we stopped in Cookeville with the intention of eating at The Cooke House. We’d tried to make it there on a previous trip, but the restaurant was closed for a private event. Wouldn’t you know – it was closed this trip too.

Cookeville is roughly halfway between Knoxville and Nashville, and it’s probably the biggest city you’ll pass on the drive. It’s home to Tennessee Technological University, and has an adorable downtown area. Since the Cooke House was closed, we turned to Crawdaddy’s.

Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill

Crawdaddy’s is a Creole-American restaurant in Downtown Cookeville. It’s housed in a 100-year-old building with a spacious patio.

Crawdaddy's Entrance Cookeville

Entrance to Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

Crawdaddy's Patio Cookeville

Patio at Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

In the 1930s and 40s, that patio was home to the Fox Cafe. A fire destroyed the building in the 1960s, and the space stayed vacant until Crawdaddy’s incorporated it into their restaurant.

History Crawdaddy's

History of Crawdaddy’s Patio

Crawdaddy’s prides themselves on being a friendly, welcoming establishment. Our service was adequate, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it exceptional. Staff were courteous, and our food was delivered quickly.

The Food

I wanted everything with goat cheese, but eventually settled on the Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries. Jimmie had the Citrus Glazed Salmon, which came with mashed potatoes and fried green beans.

Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries at Crawdaddy’s

The wrap was stuffed full of grilled mahi mahi. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t finish it. The mango added a nice flavor. The wrap was your standard wrap, though it ended up getting a little soggy. I’m not sure how that could be avoided unless they grilled it. The fries were good, and reminded me of Arby’s curly fries.

I forgot to get a picture of Jimmie’s salmon. The portion was a little on the small size – 4 ounces, which is great for lunch. Not sure if it’d be enough for dinner. The citrus glaze was reminiscent of an Asian marinade, but the goat cheese threw it off a little. Here’s where I have to admit that goat cheese does not, in fact, go with everything. His mashed potatoes were cold, and the fried green beans were actually roasted. Despite all this, he enjoyed it quite immensely.

Tree at Crawdaddy’s

My favorite thing about Crawdaddy’s was the atmosphere. I loved the patio’s New Orleans vibe. The downside was the number of flies relentlessly attacking our food, but I suppose that happens when you dine al fresco.

I’d like to go back and try more of the menu, but there are a couple other Cookeville restaurants I might try first. But, if you’re a fan of Creole or Cajun food, definitely add Crawdaddy’s to the list of restaurants to consider when making the drive between Knoxville and Nashville!

Travel: Sammy B’s Restaurant in Lebanon, TN

We recently spent the night in Nashville as part of a quick trip to see a concert. The next morning we woke up a little early, but neither of us felt like exploring the city. (We missed our pups!) Rather than waiting around until restaurants in the Nashville area started serving lunch, we decided to hit the road. When we saw the sign for the Lebanon outlet mall, we figured it’d be a good place to stop and grab some lunch. And some shopping, obviously.

Lebanon is about half an hour East of Nashville. I’ve been there once, and that was to pick up the shark puppy last year. I’m pretty sure we ate McDonald’s for dinner that time.

Turns out there are actually quite a few non-chain restaurants in Lebanon. Jimmie wasn’t feeling Mexican or sandwiches, so we ended up at Sammy B’s.

Sammy B’s

SammyB's

Sammy B’s is a casual upscale American restaurant located right next to City Hall in the Castle Heights area of Lebanon. It’s in the former home of the Castle Heights Military Academy’s President. The place has both a patio and an atrium, as well as plenty of room for private events. The food is classic with a twist, and everything is homemade. They even cut their own meat.

sammyb'sentrance

The attention to customer service and detail shows in both the service and the food. While we had a dedicated server, each staff member came by to check on us as they walked by. If they saw we needed a drink refilled, they refilled it. When a server brewed a fresh pot of coffee for another table, she topped mine off. The staff were courteous and friendly, and though it may sound cliche, the place oozed Southern hospitality.

The Food

Both of us had a hard time choosing because the menu is enormous. Our server recommended the Fish and Chips, Lobster Roll, and the Rajin’ Cajun sandwich. I had my eye on the Reuben, and when she said she’d already put in two orders for it that morning, I knew it had to be good. Jimmie chose the Trifecta and Chips, which was fish, shrimp, and chicken (and fries). I chose sweet potato fries for my side; he wanted to sub out the coleslaw on his platter, but that wasn’t an option.

SammyB'sReuben

I’m a sucker for a good Reuben, and this one didn’t disappoint. My biggest complaint with Reubens is usually that there’s too much dressing and not enough sauerkraut. Sammy B’s has the perfect ratio, and their sauerkraut is nice and tangy with a hint of sweetness. The marbled rye was toasted perfectly, the cheese melted just enough, and the corned beef (thankfully) wasn’t too salty. The only thing they could have done differently was slice the corned beef a little thinner. I had to do a lot of chewing, but then again, it just meant I ate more slowly. Not a bad thing.

SammyB'sTrifecta

The Trifecta had the fattest fried shrimp I’ve ever seen, and the strangest looking chicken tenders. Both tasted delicious, with slightly peppered breading. The fish was a little on the thin side, resulting in more batter than fillet, but was still packed with flavor. I stole Jimmie’s coleslaw, and appreciated the subtlety of the dressing – again, not too overpowering, with just the right amount of tang. Clearly, the chef knows how to balance flavors.

After lunch I snapped a couple photos of the Castle Heights Military Academy (now City Hall) because look at that gorgeous building.

Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN

Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN

Next time you’re in the Lebanon or Nashville areas, make sure to stop at Sammy B’s!

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

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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.

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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!