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Taking a Chance in Cabo

6 Apr

It’s no secret that I like to travel – especially when it involves escaping to a warm, sandy beach when good ol’ Minnesota has been boasting some of the coldest temperatures on record. More than 40 days with temperatures below ZERO, I mean — really? I had somehow convinced myself that traveling to Key Largo in December would suffice for a warm vacation until spring rolled around. That lasted until about January 1. I started looking for beach destination vacations after I somehow managed to lock myself out of the house one morning with poor baby Sophie when the air temperature was -13 degrees.

I am a huge proponent of online reviews. I don’t book a hotel room or a restaurant reservation until I’ve read at least a few reviews online about others’ experiences. Have I met any of these people before? Most likely not, but I am putting my trust in them that they reviewed the establishment honestly and fair. And to this date, I’ve had pretty decent success.

After introducing my husband to all-inclusive resorts last year, he’s basically refused to go to anything but when a beach is involved. He likes that he can go get a mango-tango fruity drink anytime he pleases (and I won’t deny I don’t mind indulging in unlimited chips & guac). I started our vacation search in Mexico – typically cheaper than the Caribbean islands, but it was spring break time…. so, yeah. For the same cost of a trip with 37 layovers to Cancun, we could get a one-stop layover trip to Cabo. Done and done.

Cabo shoreline

Our Cabo view for the week.

My last trip to Cabo was a memorable one – and not for the reasons you’d think. My cousin and I got food poisoning from one of the buffets – and I’ve never looked a turkey the same again. This time around I was determined to find a resort where the threat of food poisoning was minimized (read: waaaay nicer). One resort that caught my eye was the Royal Decameron in San Jose del Cabo; it had recently gone under new ownership and was completely renovated. The resort was significantly smaller than the Hyatt’s of the area, but still donned the same views and was competitively priced.

Cabo beach

San Jose del Cabo beach by morning.

The pictures piqued my interest so I went straight to the reviews section – nothing by 4 and 5 stars. The further in-depth I read though, I learned the Royal Decameron used to be a nudist resort of types – but under new management, changed the way they did business. The only complaint I consistently come up within the reviews was despite changing how they did business, there was still evidence of the previous ownership throughout the resort by way of provocative paintings. Through numerous complaints, current ownership – rather than replace the paintings – hired what had to have been an amateur artist to paint ‘fig’ leaves to cover certain body parts. I found the paintings more humorous than offensive – especially with the added ‘leaves’ (which looked more like Christmas trees). We decided to book the trip and take a chance on a newly renovated, former nudist resort.

Our cab ride from the airport to the resort left us feeling like we had made a mistake. When we told the cab driver where to take us, he chuckled and said, “oh, the swingers resort?” AH, what?! Had new ownership only transformed the former nudist to a now swingers resort? What did we get ourselves into?! We had a sense of relief to find out that it was also a former swingers/nudist resort.

We gambled and won. The online reviews, once again, did not lead me astray. We enjoyed our time at the modestly-clothed, newly renovated resort and would welcome the opportunity to stay the Royal Decameron again.

Key Largo, Montego, Baby Why Don’t We Go

30 Dec

The husband and I wanted a quick getaway before our puppy came. We’re calling it our “puppymoon” – is that a thing? Because it should be. There’s honeymoons and babymoons, but there really should be puppymoons. Disclosure: I am not a parent. However, I think a baby would be far simpler than a puppy.

We’ve had our little bundle of joy since Saturday, December 21.

Our last bit of peace, quiet and sanity occurred December 14-18 when we were in Florida. We had always talked about going to the Florida Keys to see what it was really like. We’d heard that it’s extremely relaxing, but the beaches aren’t necessarily the best. How can a Florida beach not be the best? My thoughts exactly.

Thanks to my awesome travel planning skills, I scored us a good deal on airfare. However, we were flying into Miami and out of Fort Myers, neither of which is near the actual island, Key West. We stayed in Key Largo, where we were one of 35 rooms in a 180-room hotel. It was perfect. The beach, on the other hand, was not what I’d necessarily consider a “beach.” We were surrounded by water, we could hear the waves crashing and the constant squawking of sea gulls, but there was no sand. The ‘sand’ on the beach was little stones – and it felt like walking on glass shards. Needless to say, we wore flippy floppys at all times. But the view was still gorgeous.

Key Largo

Key Largo was much more industrial than I would have pictured the Florida Keys – and was mostly residential areas. Maybe that is what was so serene about the place we stayed – there was NO one around and we hardly saw boat traffic in the bay our hotel was on. The only exception of a daily disturbance was the hotel’s bartender and his parrot (Mango), who lived on a boat that was docked about 100 yards from the hotel’s beach.

We ventured only to Islamorada for dinner one night, but didn’t make it any further down US Highway 1. Despite what I’ve read about US Highway 1 being one of the most scenic drives in the country, we opted not to drive down to Key West to see the southernmost point of the USA. We feared getting stuck in the two-lane traffic on US Highway 1, wasting one of our limited number of days on our mini-getaway. Islamorada was much more touristy than Key Largo – and incredibly windy. We wanted to have dinner on the water, but that wasn’t happening. The restaurant we chose had the windows closed due to high winds and fear of jumping fish from the ocean to your plate.

Our adventure continued from Key Largo through the Everglades and on to Fort Myers. The drive was only about four hours, but Pat’s very concentrated, determined driving got us there on-time (if not a little earlier). Quick backstory: Pat is mortified of snakes. Driving through the Everglades, he was convinced a snake was going to slither through barbed wire fence along the highway, over the hot asphalt and through the car floor to eat him. This motivated him to get through the Everglades as quickly as possible. Luckily, we made it to the western Florida coast in plenty of time for a beautiful sunset by the Fort Myers pier (before a delicious BBQ dinner) to cap off our trip.

Fort Myers

Ultimately, due to traffic, we didn’t make it all the way down the Florida Keys to Key West. Someday we will. Rather, we opted to soak up as much beach time and sun as we could – which in hindsight was the best thing we did, because this winter has been the worst winter ever. 40+ days below zero (temperature, not including windchill)? No, thank you. Consequently, the worst winter ever also happened to coincide with getting a puppy. Worst winter ever, times two.

Hiking Maroon Bells

10 Oct

Maroons Bells are two peaks in the Elk Mountains, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, near Aspen, Colorado. They are considered to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado.

I have a confession: prior to Jenna and Andy’s engagement, I had never heard of them. I had been to the Denver-area twice before but never ventured too far into the mountains. Now having been there, I’m furious. I’m kind of a picture fanatic (read: I take waaaaaay too many pictures) and while we wandered around the Bells for a couple of hours, I took literally 600 pictures. I was THAT in awe. Side note: the pics in this blog post are from my phone. They’re terrible compared to what my DSLR was able to capture.

I Googled Maroon Bells before our trip and the pictures online don’t do it justice. They’re beautiful. Icing on the cake? It was fall so the colors were insanely vivid – and just prior to our arrival in the greater Denver area, it had snowed, so the tops of the Bells were snow-covered awesomeness. (And never will you get me to say “snow” and “awesomeness” in the same sentence again.)

Maroon Bells

For those who have never been: it gets busy on the weekend. Unfortunately, due to our timing, that’s the only time we could make the trek out there. Also, on the weekend, you’re not allowed to drive into the park; you must bus. Since it’s their busiest time, they try to limit the amount of cars driving to help preserve the environment of the park (LOVE this place – more parks should get on board).

We hopped on an Aspen city bus to a quaint little shopping mall near one of the ski resorts (I want to say Highland?) and jumped on one of the buses to get into the park. There’s a small fee per person, but it’s totally worth it. Besides, I enjoyed the bus driver’s commentary about random Maroon Bells facts and happenings – something we wouldn’t have heard otherwise by driving in ourselves during the week. Interesting fact? They were performing a rescue of a hiker that was stuck in the mountains and had been missing for a few days.

Maroon Bells itself is HUGE. In order to get to the true ‘bottom’ of the Bells, you have to hike in about 5 miles. Since we arrived later in the afternoon and buses stopped running at 6 pm, we weren’t able to venture too much. We DID, however, encounter some park rangers who were guarding trails because some moose decided to bathe near the lake we were walking around.

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells in the fall.

We hiked for about an hour into the park, which was probably a shorter distance than we thought we went. If you’re not trained or conditioned to walk (let alone hike!) at such high elevations, you lose breath by walking up seven steps – or playing mini-golf. I’m not saying that happened; I’m just saying it could have happened.

Consensus? Go. Go now. Maroon Bells is beautiful and you feel like you’re a world away.

T Lazy 7 Ranch

9 Oct

Jenna and Andy got married in the mountains. It was a beautiful September day and it’s like the stars aligned for them on their special day; it snowed two days before and rained the day after. But the sun was shining bright, with cool 68 degree mountain air.

Their wedding was held at the t Lazy 7 Ranch near Aspen. The T Lazy 7 Ranch has been owned and operated by the Deane family since 1938. They hold weddings at their facility, but also have horse riding stables and host snowmobile getaways. You couldn’t tell the facility itself had been through any wear and tear; it was very well maintained, offering an outdoor patio off the main dining and dancing area, as well as a yard complete with lawn games, a pond filled with fish, old farm equipment used for western-themed pictures, all nestled in between two mountain peaks.

T Lazy 7 Ranch

The wedding ceremony was held in a meadow near the top of the property. Behind the makeshift altar was mountains for as far as the eye could see. Much like our trip to Maroon Bells, the only way into the ranch was by bus (or it was designed that way because of the open bar). Buses took us from the hotel, to the ceremony spot, to the facility for dinner, dancing and drinks.

T Lazy 7 Ranch house

Our own wedding aside, it was one of the best weddings I’ve been to. It was a beautiful wedding for a well-deserving couple who have been through a lot together, in one of the most amazing settings I’ve ever been lucky to be a part of. Congrats, Jenna, Andy and little Taylor!

 

A Place Where the Beer Flows Like Wine

7 Oct

“Oh yeah, and go where? Where are we gonna go?”

“I’ll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where  the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Aspen.”

As soon as we received Jenna and Andy’s wedding invites in the mail for their wedding in Aspen, Colorado, my husband walked around the house for the next few months reciting ‘Dumb and Dumber’ movie quotes to me. And it was only the beginning of what was to come once we were actually there.

Aspen is a beautifully quaint town about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Denver. The drive to Aspen is nearly as beautiful as the destination! I’m an awe with mountains though, because the closest thing we have to a mountain in the Midwest is Spirit Mountain – or my parent’s driveway. There are two ways to get to Aspen: Independence Pass on a windy two-lane highway on the edge of the mountains (literally) or the main freeway. We opted for the main freeway because they had gotten snow the night before – not exactly our cup of tea – and we were pressed for time.

Aspen drive

Driving through the mountains to get to Aspen. The view is alright, I guess.

We rented a condo through Frias Properties which was right at the foot of the ski slopes. The location was perfect. Aspen is a relatively small town, so we walked nearly everywhere we went. Our condo was on the third floor of the building and had a pretty amazing view once you stepped outside. Why would anyone who lived there ever leave?! Either way, I’m thankful they did because we got to take advantage of the view.

Aspen condo

The view from our condo rental in Aspen.

The reception dinner was at 39 Degrees, the restaurant that was a part of the Sky Hotel. The next few days encompassed mini-golfing, taking the gondola to the top of the ski slopes, hiking through Maroon Bells, going to the Aspen farmer’s market on Saturday morning and enjoying some restaurants unique to the area.

Aspen Farmers Market

The Aspen Farmers Market is several blocks long – and has everything from fresh veggies to jewelry to petting zoos!

If I enjoyed winter or skied. I would without a doubt make an annual trip to Aspen to ski. However, I a) don’t enjoy winter, b) don’t enjoy driving in the snow, much less on mountains, and c) can’t ski much more than a bunny hill or extremely easy downhill. That said, I’d glad go back in the summer or fall to enjoy the rafting, hiking or general sightseeing Aspen has to offer.