Atlanta Native in Cancun!

I’ve been a neglectful blogger lately.  I left off waaaay back in May gloating about all of the fun things I had to look forward to: a vacation to Cancun, the East Atlanta Beer Fest, and a trip to Tybee Island over Memorial Day weekend.  All of those events have come to pass, and May flew by (I hear time tends to do that when you’re busy having fun).  June has been a very mellow month by comparison, but I’m not complaining; I needed the recovery time!

Now that summer is officially here, I am finding renewed energy for my blogging hobby, so expect more frequent updates.  But first, allow me to tell you about my first all-inclusive vacation in Cancun!

Once the BF and I decided to vacation at an all-inclusive resort, we did extensive research on resorts in our price range in search of the best value; we were willing to part with $600 – 800 per person for 4 nights (including non-stop airfare).  We eventually decided on Riu Palace Las Amercias, which topped our price range at $850ish per person, but figured the extra bones would be worth it in terms of quality.  The hotel was indeed beautiful (just as advertised in the pictures) and we enjoyed plenty of drinks and a few great meals during our stay.

As this was my first all-inclusive experience, I didn’t have anything to compare it to.  I was most apprehensive about the whole tipping thing, unsure of how much to tip, when to tip, etc… it didn’t help that most travelers we encountered hailed from across the pond, where tipping etiquette is very different.  I’d read reviews on tripadvisor.com that claimed a small cash tip at the beginning of their stay secured royal treatment for the duration of the trip.  I personally did not find that tipping resulted in a significant increase of service, but we were fine with walking (or swimming) to the bar ourselves instead of snapping our fingers at a server.

We did not venture far from our resort, which was surrounded by places like Jimmy Buffet’s Margarittaville and Hooters.  Our one excursion to the market for souvenirs was unfortunately a waste of time.  Apparently we went to Cancun during the low season, because there were not many other tourist around.  The vendors were focused solely on us, beckoning us every 10 seconds to buy the identical cheap trinkets that they all carried.  It made for a less than enjoyable shopping experience, especially since they were not willing to haggle very much.  We were ready to head back to the pool after about half an hour of shopping.

So, for the most part, we spent our time soaking up the sun, swimming in the crystal clear water, and lounging by the infinity pool with mango margaritas and mojitos in hand for 3 sun-filled days.  It was rather dreamy.  Nothing extraordinarily exciting happened, unless you count a mild case of food poisoning on the last night.  Word to the wise, don’t eat sushi in Mexico.  Should have been a no brainer, right?  We thought we could trust the fancy Japanese themed restaurant on the resort, but that proved to be a mistake.  Oops!

Have you ever vacationed at an all-inclusive resort?  What has your experience been with them?

Well, that’s all for now.  More to come soon, I promise!

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NYC: Part Deux!

Let’s jump right in to recounting the second half of my adventures in NYC,  shall we?  If you need to play catch up, either scroll down to the next post or click this link.

Saturday morning was gorgeous with temps promising to climb to the high 60’s.  A nice bike ride through Central Park seemed like a fine first activity for the day.  Even better that a bike rental was included in our City Pass.  We slept in a little later than usual, which I blame on the margaritas from the night before, so we didn’t arrive to the bike place until noonish.   Literally, the last bikes were claimed by the two people in front of us in line.  Complete bummer, but not a surprise since the weather was absolutely perfect for biking through the park, and we obviously were not the only tourists with City Passes.  We kept our fingers crossed that the tandem bike the clerk said might still be available, but ended up taking a leisurely walk in the end.

The park was bustling with locals exercising on the jogging paths, crowds gathered around various performers, sweethearts strolling hand in hand… perfect for slowing down to do a little people watching.  We exited the park through Strawberry Fields, a section of the park dedicated to the memory of John Lennon, located right across the street from where he was shot and killed in front of his apartment building.  A musician just so happened to be performing “Imagine” as we walked through – I can only imagine how many times he plays that song every day.  A swarm of tourists prevented me from taking a picture of the famed “Imagine” mosaic, but here’s what it looked like (thanks, Google images!):

After a couple hours in the park, it was time to head down to Broadway for the matinee show of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  Yes, it’s the one starring that guy from Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe.  I have only seen the first (maybe part of the second) Harry Potter movie, and was kind of surprised at how grown up he is now; it made me feel really old.  He is quite talented, I must admit.  The guy can sing, and I was impressed by a few of the dance moves he pulled off considering that he did not have any previous dance experience.  Watching talented people sing and dance on stage always puts a huge smile on my face, so the show was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.  It reminded me that I must attend more shows at the Fabulous Fox theater here in Atlanta.

We capped off day 3 with an evening cruise around Manhattan, another City Pass attraction.  I wish I had been successful in snapping some clear pictures from the boat, but we were traveling too fast and everything turned out blurry. But you can take my word for it that it was really pretty sight to see the city all lit up.

After two nights of moderate – heavy alcohol consumption, we took a break on Saturday night and just grabbed some pizza slices before heading in for a relatively early evening at the hotel.  But I didn’t regret it the next day, because I had renewed energy for our last few hours in the city!

We aimlessly strolled around Chinatown for a little while, taking in the cheap gift shops and street fish markets.  Chinatown has it’s charm, I suppose, but being being asked if I’d like to buy a knock-off watch every 20 feet got annoying pretty quickly.  I was happy to stumble upon SoHo, where a sidewalk flea market was set up and several cute boutiques beckoned me.  It was so refreshing to browse in local shops after seeing mostly chain stores that can also be found in Atlanta.  But just after we discovered this neat little area, we had to head over to Rockerfeller Center for our NBC Studios tour.

We were able to reserve Sunday tickets for the NBC Studios tour with our City Pass, even though our 3 days to use the pass was up by Sunday.  It was an alright experience, but I was a little miffed with having to interrupt my window shopping in SoHo for another tour.  It all worked out swimmingly though, because we had plenty of time after the tour to return to the area for lunch at Lombardi’s Pizza and a bit more looking around before heading to the airport.

Lombardi’s is a popular spot in SoHo, so we decided to maximize our time by ordering a pie to go and have a picnic outside instead of waiting for a table.  Our beautiful napoletana pizza was topped with pancetta and pepperoni and it was amazingly delicious!  It is on par with Atlanta’s own soon-to-be-famous pizzeria, Antico (look for a blog post on this Atlanta gem soon!) which we didn’t think anything short of the motherland could beat.

Sadly, it was time to head back to our hotel to meet our car back to the airport shortly after our late lunch.  There was so much more that I wanted to explore, but I just kept telling myself that I didn’t have to spread myself so thin; I can and will come back!  I don’t think the City Pass will be necessary for any future visits, as we pretty much accomplished all of the touristy things this go round.  Brooklyn is definitely on the itinerary, as well as at least one Broadway play per trip.  Instead of exhausting myself during the day with sight-seeing, I think I’ll take it easier so that I can experience more of the night life on future trips, too.

Do you have a favorite hole-in-the-wall bar that I should visit next time?  Which neighborhoods have you discovered with the hipest boutiques?  Please to comment with your suggestions for my next NYC adventure!

Atlanta Native in NYC! (Part 1)

I took a little trip to New York City earlier this month and had a great time exploring the Big Apple as an adult (I’d only previously been there on a high school trip).  The BF and I packed in a lot of NYC excitement into 3.5 day, thanks in part to the City Pass.  With grand notions of visiting a bunch of museums and going on a ton of tours (da-da-da-da-da-daaa!  Su-per tourists!!!), we shelled out $125 for 3 days of gallivanting from attraction to attraction. It did save

Lady Gaga, in case you couldnt tell.

us a few bucks in the end, and encouraged us to check out a few places I normally wouldn’t bother with.  Prime example: Madame Tussauds wax museum.  I’ll admit to being curious about this attraction while visiting other cities, but have never been willing to shell out the $35 for admission.  Since it was included in the city pass, the museum of wax celebrities was our first stop.  During our 20 minute visit, we took a few silly pictures with Lady Gaga, Ted Turner, Yao Ming, Miley Cyrus… you get the gist.  It isn’t exactly something I would recommend doing in NYC, but it was raining outside and it was “free”.

From there we left Time’s Square (hopefully for the last time in my entire life), and headed to MoMA for more indoor fun.  I love strolling through museums even though I’m not very educated in art history or artistic.  I particularly enjoyed the Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography exhibit where I saw the famous photo titled “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lang.  Having recently watched the movie Factory Girl, I was fascinated by the Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures exhibit, which included Edie Sedgwick’s motion picture portrait.  Museums can really wear you out though, so it was time to rest up with a nap at the hotel.

We got an absurd deal through Priceline.com on a hotel called Club Quarters, located directly next to the World Trade Center construction site.  It was a little eerie, and quite humbling, to look out the window and think that this time 10 years ago the two tallest buildings in Manhattan would have stood there.  Today, the new World Trade Center tower (F.K.A. Freedom Tower), which will oust the Sears Tower as the tallest building in the US, is under way.

The tolerable drizzle we dealt with the entire afternoon had upgraded to a side-ways downpour by the time we ventured out for dinner.  Luckily the weather was the only negative of the evening.  It was well worth the trek to meet up with some of my companion’s friends, who have lived in the city for a couple of years, at a quintessential Italian restaurant called Trattoria Toscana in the West Village.  Cozy atmosphere, excellent service and delicious food; exactly what you’d imagine a New York family run Italian restaurant to be!  A night cap at a nearby bar followed by hailing a taxi in the rain concluded our first day in NYC.

No umbrella was needed for day 2, which was a good thing because I’d left my umbrella in the cab the previous night (doh!).  While the BF went to stand in line for discounted Broadway tickets, I took my first solo subway ride uptown to the beautiful Time Warner towers.  I finally got to meet some of the people that I email everyday at work face to face, and fantasize about what it would be like to have an office overlooking Central Park.

The next stop was to take in the view of the city from Top of the Rock… Rockerfeller Center, that is.  I’d been to the observatory deck of the Empire State Building before, and had heard that the best views are actually seen from Top of the Rock, so that’s the vantage point we choose this time.  It was everything I expected it to be: lots of tall buildings!   It really is amazing how expansive and bustling NYC is.  Atlanta, I love you, but you simply do not compare!

The NBC Studio tour was booked up until Sunday afternoon, so we went on the Radio City Music Hall tour instead. Of course I knew about the famed Rockettes, but I didn’t know how massive and beautiful the theater is.  I was even rather impressed by the intricate hydraulic stage system that is more than 3/4 of a century old and deemed so perfect that no improvements have been needed.  But the biggest surprise for this dance nerd was getting to meet an actual Rockette!  I didn’t get to show off my kicking skills with her (stupid contract restrictions), but I did pose for this very cheesy picture. ——————->

Night #2 started off with meeting up some friends at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for a little sketch comedy.  Comedian Leslie Meisel had us LOLing all the way through her one woman show entitled “Love Can Suck a Dick… and So Can I”.   I didn’t make that one up, people!  You should check it out if at all possible.

Dinner, several margaritas and maybe a tequilla shot later, and it was time to turn in after a long day of playing tourist in the big city.  I’ve only made it through recapping half of the trip so far, so it is probably best to make this a two part event.  Check back soon for more on my incredibly interesting trip to New York.