Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Laurie G. - Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

This is my fourth visit to Playa Del Carmen since 2000. We love Mexico and the Mexican people. They are very welcoming and friendly and always make you feel special. These RIU Palace resorts are some of the best in the Caribbean and are usually a first choice for us no matter the country or island. The food, service, rooms, grounds, and staff are all amazing and at a very appropriate price.

Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with the beach this time. Apparently the 2006 hurricane and erosion have greatly diminished this beach. While the beach and overall area are still quite nice, you no longer can stroll down the flat sand beach like you can at other Caribbean locations. A beach walk today is more of an adventure, more like an obstacle course. There are huge sandbags (see those whale like humps in these photos) that are placed all along the beach in front of the hotels to affect the erosion. Not sure the sand bags are working and they are not my favorite part of the beach. Some hotels are being affected by the erosion more than others.

I did find some sandbags useful to lean against however.

There is still a great area of undeveloped beach beyond the hotels. It was quite a walk from our resort in terms of distance and challenge. It was an adventure; we walked up and down the sandbags, through shallow water in front of some hotels, and encountered some sandbag staircases. The journey was only half the fun because when we got past the hotels the beach was pristine. It was a perfect setting for taking some pictures.

The best part was the wedding party that had the same good idea. We didn’t even notice them until the groomsmen started whistling at me (at least the groom didn’t whistle, I think). Who would have thought I could wear Malibu Strings to a wedding!?
Once we finished our photo shooting the walk back to our hotel took us right past the rest of the wedding reception. We had quite a few laughs imagining the groomsmen’s stories. I hope the bride has a good sense of humor!

Later during the vacation we decided to do a photo shoot out in front of our hotel. The beach wasn’t too crowded for some reason; maybe it was the extra strong breeze that day or the time of day. We took our pictures relatively early and enjoyed the beach for the rest of the day. Well I guess the pool bartenders weren’t too busy and had a good view of the beach. I got some nice compliments and more smiles as we came off the beach for happy hour. This one bartender was my biggest fan, even out of my bikini. I never waited long for a drink for the rest of the week.

The resort is fun even off the beach. It is beautifully landscaped and has lots of birds and small lizards that are fun to watch while lounging at the pool or sitting on a bench taking in the surroundings. The birds make great sounds, quite different than any bird sounds I’m accustomed to which adds the tropical paradise ambiance.

One of my favorite things in Mexico is Mariachi. The music and the outfits are awesome. Everyone is having a better time when there is a Mariachi band around.

The resort also brings the shopping to you. A few nights a week they invite local craftsmen to set up within the resort and sell everything from jewelry, to art work, handicrafts, clothing, cigars, etc. It adds a nice energy to the evening after a tough day playing on the beach. The resort also hosts specialty drinks on different nights, like Tequila shots. I’ll stick to something a little lighter and send in my husband for this one.

Outdoor dining is a treat coming from New England and the dining area is beautiful. Having breakfast and dinner outside really enhances the vacation.

Hope you enjoy my perspective on Mexico Playa Del Carmen. Now go get you Malibu Strings and get out on vacation!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jody - Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is located just south of Cancun. It's about a 45 minute ride from the Cancun airport. A very nice, clean small city with lots to do. After traveling all day it was nice to be greeted with a glass of champagne and a cool hand towel upon our arrival and a very speedy check-in. The Royal Hideaway Resort and Spa is a beautiful gated resort. This resort was a perfect setting for the family wedding we were attending.

There are about 200 rooms in this beach side resort, so you really do not feel like just another tourist on vacation. There are about ten or so "villas" each only 2 to 3 stories high. Each "villa" had it's own concierge to assist you with your dinner reservations and all accommodations with your stay. Being an all-inclusive resort, we took advantage of the 24 hr room service. Great food and perfect portions. We didn't get to try out all the restaurants during our short time there. But what we did have was most scrumptious.

The staff couldn't of been more attentive. Before anyone in our group finished a drink, another was arriving as if they could read our minds. Since I am the only one in the group that smokes cigars, I was fortunate enough to have it literally walk by us on the beach. Not many beach vendors, but the ones that are allowed offered very nice goods. I ended up buying a box of 5 Cohiba Cuban cigars. Mmmmm what a treat. Sipping the best Mojito I've had in a long time, smoking a nicely aged Cuban cigar on a beach with white powdery sand and soaking up lots of sunshine wearing one of my favorite suits. Really who could ask for anything more.

I was told that there was a significant amount of damage to the beach due to the hurricanes of last year. They were actually adding sand to the beach while we were there. It really didn't distract from any part of the trip and was actually nice to have the 'sand bags' create little tide pools to dip in. They had water crafts available for any type of water sport and their own lifeguard.

Because we were only there for 3 days, the beach, sun and saltwater was our priority. So having my Malibu Strings suits were definitely being put to good use, I just wish that we had more time there to wear them all. By far, these suits could not be any more comfortable. I truly feel so confident wearing them in and out of the surf. We had fun running around the resort find neat areas to do a 'photo shoot'. The attention these suits get was overwhelming.

I can't thank Malibu Strings enough for being there for me, these suits will always be my travel companion where ever life takes me.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kimmy - Sint Maarten

St. Martin, or Sint Maarten…This tiny island is the smallest land mass shared by two countries…France, and The Netherlands…

There are no check points when you travel from the Dutch side to the French side of the Island…The Dutch side seems more American, and the French side is more European.…Electricity on the Dutch side is 110v…on the French it is 220v…If you want US $$ which are accepted all over the Island you should go to the Dutch side to an ATM…you will find plenty of them.

Most people either visit briefly, off one of the many cruise ships that stop at the Island for the day, or fly into Princess Julianna airport, which was recently expanded and renovated with a new terminal…expansion of the runway is underway…Speaking of runway…one of the attractions on the island is going to Maho beach and Sunset Beach Bar…which are located at the end of the runway…You can listen to the radio traffic between the pilot, and tower, then watch up close, and personal as the planes come, and go…most spectacular of which are the 747’s screaming overhead…

Some adventurous souls try to hang on to the chain link fence while the planes run up the engines for take off…I’ve done this myself…The hot jet wash and sand pelting you…quite a rush… I have seen a few less hearty souls take a tumble when they fail to hold tight… I know it sounds crazy…but it’s great entertainment…

Maho has a lot to offer…Casinos, Fine restaurants, Night clubs, and shopping…
Some of my favorites...

After a day on the beach we often stop at Sunset beach bar for cocktails, and a snack…They usually have local entertainment, and topless women drink free…yes I have had my share of free drinks…They also have live entertainment that goes into the night as well as a Bikini contest for those who dare…and a best physique for the guys…

Bamboo Bernies, restaurant, bar, night club, great sushi…Bliss, restaurant, bar, night club, they have a small pool too…very nice for lounging an afternoon away…

Cheri’s café is a must for first timers, the show hasn’t changed since our first time in 94, but you really should do it once…you’re sure to have a good time…Casino Royale…

The Q club which was featured in Wild on with Brooke Burke a while back…is a dance club above the casino…open late, and only on the weekends…and of course Sopranos piano bar which has great entertainers, usually for a month at a time…last time we had the pleasure of Heather Sullivan’s talents for our entire four week stay…We even had the good fortune to have Luciano drop by while he was on island for a concert, and do a few songs with Heather…Luciano is said to be the new Bob Marley…

Heather will be back in June 08…It’s best to grab the weekly entertainment guide to know what’s going on, and on which night it’s happening…There’s also the Platinum Room for adult entertainment.

Right next to Maho is the only golf course on the island…it is, or was part of the Mullet bay beach club, and resort…In 1995 Hurricane Luis damaged the resort, and it was never repaired…the story is someone took the money and ran…The golf course is still in operation although it is not the beauty it once was…and Mullet bay beach is still a nice beach…there are facilities and vendors for refreshments…

One thing you must know about the Island is the Bridge schedule…There are two draw bridges…one in Simpson Bay, and the other in Marigot…avoid driving near the bridges when they’re up, you will be stuck in your car for quite a while…you may as well be sitting at the bar, or on the beach, or whatever else you’d like to do…check the schedule…plan accordingly trust me…

Since we’re talking about cars and driving…you really need a car if you plan to enjoy the experience that is Sint Maarten…you can rent one pretty reasonably at the airport…they will negotiate…

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Elisa - Bare-Boating the British Virgin Islands

Exploring the British Virgin Islands (BVI) by boat is at the absolute top of our list of vacations. While it is work if you are the “captain of your own ship”, the rewards of being able to search out a deserted beach, drop anchor, and dinghy ashore with a cooler, some towels, and little more, is second to none.

Getting to the BVI can be a bit of a chore. You can connect through St. Thomas and take a ferry over, or through San Juan on American. If you chose to take another airline (we took US Airways into San Juan) then you will probably have to connect to Beef Island (BVI) by way of a carrier like Caribbean Sun or Caribbean Star. We actually chose Cape Air. They fly old Cessna 402s, which hold a max of 9 passengers and take about 45 minutes to get to Beef Island. The up side of going via Cape Air is that the customs staff at BVI is small and they have a lot of paperwork to fill out on each passenger, so if you arrive on a flight of 50, you can spend an hour waiting to clear customs. Going on a small flight gets you through much quicker. Also, when we left at the end of our vacation, the line for check in on American was packed and everybody was afraid they would miss their flight. Nobody was in the Cape Air line, so we were in and out in about 5 minutes. One note – if you change carriers in San Juan (both coming and going) you will have to re-check-in and get your boarding passes, so on the way home, that means you have to totally exit the airport and go back through the check in line, which can be very long if you are not a preferred status frequent flier or flying first class.

We always use the Catamaran Company for our charters. They are located in Nanny Cay, which is about 45 minutes from the airport (taxi is around $12pp one way). Our boat for the week was a 43ft power catamaran by Lagoon. On arrival, the office was already closed, but they had us hooked up to shore power and left the lights and air conditioning on for us. The next morning we had a brief check out and were on our way.

Day 1 – We made the trip west out of Nanny Cay and around the West End of Tortola then turned north to Jost Van Dyke, where we spent the day on White Bay. This is a great multi-purpose beach. On the west end there are watersports, a trampoline, and 4-wheelers for exploring the island. More to the center and to the east, there is only sand and vegetation. This is an area where you can go topless and be far enough from the bars and families that nobody bothers you.

Day 2 – After an overnight in Soper’s Hole (West End, Tortola) we headed back toward Jost Van Dyke and stopped for the day at Sandy Cay. This is an uninhabited island with great snorkeling, sand and sun. That night we stayed close by and anchored overnight, grilling fresh Mahi-Mahi on the boat and putting a few bottles of wine to good use.

Day 3 – We took a long cruise south and around to Peter Island, where we anchored on the south side on lovely White Bay (part of Peter Island Resort, but very desolate). Rumor has it that the house on the hillside, which you can see in some of Elisa’s pictures, is owned by Bill Gates. After a great day on the beach, we took a late afternoon cruise around the south and then east side of the island and headed back into the Sir Francis Drake channel and ended up on a mooring ball for the night in Trellis Bay, where we dined at “The Last Resort”. This was by far the most gourmet meal we had on our trip and would strongly recommend stopping in.

Day 4 – Getting up early and dropping the mooring ball at sun-up, we made a 45 minute cruise over to the Baths on Virgin Gorda. If in the BVI, this is a must. We spent some time in Devil’s Bay and then made the 20 minute hike through the caves and boulders. For lunch we made the 5 minute walk up to “Top of the Baths” where the views are outstanding. Later that day, we headed all the way east to Bitter End Yacht Club where we took a dock slip for the night.

Day 5 – We cruised the entire length of the BVI this morning, leaving Bitter End (nearby Neckar Island is owned by Sir Richard Branson) and headed west back to Jost Van Dyke, where we stopped at the tiny island of Sandy Spit. We took a mooring at nearby Diamond Cay and spend the day on Sandy Spit. About 4pm, the last of the other visitors left the island, so we had about an hour and a half alone on the island and took another round of photos for Malibu Strings.

Day 6/7 – Short trip back to White Bay, Jost Van Dyke where we spent our last two days drinking Coronas and Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar, before heading back to Nanny Cay to turn in our boat and try to figure out how soon we can make it back!

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Belle - Israel

Israel is a little smaller than New Jersey. It is similar to California in geographic diversity with mountains, desert, and world class beaches on the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

There is a lot of military, religious and cultural significance in the land of Israel making for interesting adventures and the opportunity to take lots of photos. In many places in the Middle East, wearing a bikini in a public place would get you arrested or killed but thankfully Israel has lots of places where a girl can show off her Malibu Strings.

Our journey started with a tour of the Golan Heights. While most tourists never visit the area, (Israel and Syria are still technically in a state of war) it is typically safe and beautiful but best to go with someone who knows the area. The Golan Heights is a little less than 500 square miles of high ground overlooking the Kinneret (also called the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberius). Prior to the Six Day War of 1967, the Golan Heights was controlled by Syria which used the area to stage artillery attacks on villages below. In addition to being militarily significant, the region is strategically important because it provides about one third of Israel’s fresh water supply. Evidence of the area’s recent military history can be seen today in the form of Israeli bunkers and Syrian mine fields.

Gan Hashlosha is a national park commemorating the deaths of three prominent Jewish leaders who were on a land surveying mission in September 1938 when their jeep hit a land mine and all were killed. Located a short drive south from the Kinneret, the park contains beautiful waterfalls and fresh water springs fed by an aquifer. There is an ancient Arab legend that claims this area is the Garden of Eden.

Located on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea and the third largest city in Israel, Haifa is a port city and home of the Bahai religion’s World Centre and Gardens.

North of Haifa are the ruins of Caesarea which was a Phoenician city 4000 years ago. Conquered and re-conquered many times it is best known as a Roman city and was the official residence of Pontious Pilate about 2000 years ago. You can still see parts of an ancient Roman aqueduct which transported fresh water down the beach.

No trip to Israel would be complete without a trip to the Dead Sea which is so salty that you will float but you can’t swim in it. At 1,300 feet below sea level, it is the lowest place on earth and is known for its healing properties. A short drive west of the Dead Sea, is Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. All buildings in Jerusalem are required to be faced with Jerusalem stone so they complement one another.

Eilat is Israel’s most southern city and is situated on the Red Sea between Jordan and Egypt. The road to Eilat passes through the Negev Desert. Bedouin people preserve their ancient ways of nomadic life living in tents and using camels, animals which apparently have no fear of highways. Eilat is home to some of the best diving in the world. Eilat is the type of place that makes you want to relax on the beach (or your private Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean) and drink in all the beautiful sites.

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stacie - St. Martin

My husband and I have traveled to St. Martin five or six times now. The island is owned half by the French and the other half by the Dutch, so the island has two distinct personalities. The French side has a more European flavor with fine restaurants, boutiques, pristine topless and clothing optional beaches. But be prepared to pay the price. The French side uses the Euro, and the current exchange rate is 1 Euro = 1.47 us$. The Dutch side is more Americanized with lots of bars, fast food, more conservative beaches and a more outgoing nightlife. The Dutch Guilder is at a fixed rate with the US dollar so there is no devaluation.

We always stay at Le Flamboyant Hotel, on the French side at Baie Nettle. The hotel is located on Simpson Lagoon, the largest natural lagoon in the Caribbean. It is not necessary to speak French but it is helpful to have some knowledge of the language. Most of the French people we meet enjoy trying to help us speak their language better. A three minute drive from the hotel is Baie Rouge, one of our favorite beaches. This beach is very long and offers soft sand, blue surf and two local restaurants. All of the beaches on the French side are topless and a few (Baie Rouge & Orient) are clothing optional.

Just over the border on the Dutch side is our other favorite beach, Cupecoy. This is the only clothing optional beach on the Dutch side. Johnny and Danny offer drinks and cook the best barbeque chicken and ribs on the island.

After sunning in the mornings we usually head over to the Sunset Beach Bar. This unique beach bar is located at the end of the Queen Juliana Airport (SXM). 747’s and other jumbo jets pass just 50-75 feet over your head! Photographers flock to this bar to capture photos like none other in the world.

Since there are so many great restaurants in St. Martin, all-inclusive hotel packages are not recommended. Marigot (capital of the French side) has a beautiful marina with plenty of wonderful water-side dining and shopping. Grand Case is renowned for its fine French restaurants. Simpson Bay on the Dutch side offers a more relaxed, causal international dining experience. Our favorite is Bavaria, an authentic German restaurant; be sure to get the potato soup!

If you ever get tired of St. Martin, trips to Anguilla, St. Barts or Saba are only a 1-2 hour boat ride away.

Thanks for all the great emails when I post photos on Malibu Strings. I hope to have my new website up very soon. Until next time…

Malibu Stacie

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