Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cancun vacation review: Dreams Riviera Resort & Spa

The Resort

From the moment we arrived at our gorgeous destination, the bellhop put us at ease and made sure we checked our baggage and troubles at the entrance. During check-in we were greeted with ice-cold glasses of champagne and water before we were directed to our immaculate octagonal rooms. In addition to an amazing shower, our room also included a double vanity and a whirlpool bath large enough for two. Prior to booking our trip I read that the bathroom is not very private and this is certainly the case. The toilet is enclosed behind a frosted glass door with transparent borders as is the shower. But as a married couple, this posed no problem.

We also enjoyed a fully stocked mini bar which was regularly stocked with water, beer and a variety of soft drinks. Best of all, the resort is all-inclusive! Having stayed at two all-inclusive resorts prior to Dreams Riviera Resort & Spa, I can truly say that this resort lives up to its promise as top shelf drinks were prominently displayed and served. Even so, you always have the option of splurging on added extras like a bottle of wine or champagne.

Though the resort is much larger than we expected, it is very well organized. It is also family friendly with great activities and entertainment for children. In some reviews, I read complaints of the hotel being overrun with children. This was not the case when during our stay and the children we saw were very playful and well-behaved. My husband, in-laws and I traveled during the off-peak season (May 9th - May 16th) and found it well below capacity, which was beneficial for us since we're not a hard-partying bunch. Overall, the service was impeccable during our stay and the level of cleanliness was outstanding.

Our room entrance (1341) was facing the sports bar, so it was a little noisy in the evenings. It didn't bother my husband, but since I have hypersensitive hearing, I relied on my earplugs so I could sleep. Our balcony, complete with outdoor furniture, overlooked the gardens, pool and ocean. Soft music is piped throughout the resort's halls and walkways throughout the day. Since I don't mind this type of music I didn't mind, but I can see how some might grow tired of it after awhile.

Another thing I must note is the fact that a lot of weddings were held during our stay. Each day there were at least one or two weddings taking place, which made dining a bit more challenging since restaurants were closed for the private events. There was a definite transition from the time we first arrived to the day of our departure. By the end of the vacation we couldn't help but notice more guests arriving. The number of guests more than doubled. Furthermore, there were quite a few rowdy obnoxious people who seemed to relive their drunken college days despite the fact they were 35+ year-old parents. Nevertheless, we didn't allow this to put a damper on the nearly perfect days which preceded our final evening. Besides, there are bound to be a few noisy people no matter where one travels, particularly if alcohol is being served.

The entire staff at Dreams Riviera Cancun worked VERY hard to provide the best service possible and keep the hotel immaculate. Not once did we encounter a rude employee, even though some of them were visibly tired.


Every restaurant we tried was interesting and had tasty menu selections, but we preferred Oceana, Seaside Grill and El Patio. Porto Fino and Bordeaux were excellent as well. Himitsu was decent, but overrated. There were limited selections as far as breakfast dining, but the buffet breakfast at the World Cafe was good. We read that there was a casual elegance dress code for some of the restaurants, but noticed that while we adhered to the code, there was a notable inconsistency in its enforcement. There were some guests who dined in t-shirts and very casual clothing while others were turned away to change their attire. In addition, not all restaurants are open each day. However, the resort distributes a daily schedule so guests can plan their meals accordingly. Most, if not all, waiters work on rotation between restaurants, but we found the service impressive. Angel and Jimmy were exceptional!

During the week we were there, I tried a few interesting drinks. Purple Rain (gin, cranberry juice, Blue Curacao liqueur, sweet and sour mix and soda water) and the Watermelon Mojito were all pretty good. Everything I tried was pretty light for the most part, which worked well for me. However, I liked the Mojito the most. My husband enjoyed Coronas and Tequila. We only had the chance to visit the Barracuda bar once, but the atmosphere was unlike any of the few bars I've ever visited. Located right on the beach, guests can lounge on one of several swings suspended from the bar's roof. My husband and I made a very brief visit to this sports bar and we weren't very impressed with it. Possibly because it wasn't our scene. We're a laid-back couple that isn't too keen on excessively noisy places. The best lounge, in my opinion, was the Rendezvous Bar located in the main lobby. In the evening, the space comes alive with amazing live entertainment which add to the magical atmosphere. It's a wonderfully laid back place to relax after or prior to the fine dining Dreams Riviera has to offer. The shrimp tacos at Oceana were incredibly delicious!!!


I'm not much of a swimmer, so I'm nervous when it comes to venturing into deep water. However, I was comfortable in every pool at the resort. However, we spent most of our time in the infinity pool. It was gorgeous, clean and usually at just the right temperature.


We enjoyed a daily refreshing dip in the surf. Sand was very soft and clean. However, the churning ocean sweeps seaweed ashore. Though nothing can be done to tame the unpredictable tides of nature, the seaweed is cleaned every morning. In spite of it all, we were able to make the most of our time sunbathing and enjoying cold drinks while admiring the beautiful beach scenery. I read of difficulties getting a decent seat, but during our stay we never had a problem. Granted, we were staying there during the off-peak season. I can see how seating may be an issue when the hotel is at full capacity.


The spa is the best I've ever visited! But it's not without a price. Even with the coupons applied, it costs a pretty penny for a full experience. My mother-in-law and I indulged in hydrotherapy (incredible!!!!), hot stone massages, facials, tropical oasis body wraps and paraffin foot and hand treatments. Gabriella, Yuribia and Norma were excellent. The staff were very courteous and did everything they could to ensure that our experience was as pleasant as possible.

The gift shop is small, but offers a lot of interesting items and trinkets as well as basic necessities you may have forgotten to pack. My favorite shop at the resort is definitely the jewelry store. The prices were reasonable enough for my husband and I to purchase some cool, unique gifts for several people.


Chichen Itza
I feel so lucky to have been able to tour the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza! Our guide, Oscar, was fun, charismatic and very informative. The magnificent structures were a remarkable sight to behold and are a true testament to the genius of the Mayan people. Most memorable is the demonstration of how the serpent God Kukulcan's temple was built to mimic the sound of a bird known as Quetzal. Furthermore, a strategic series of claps can be echoed from the pyramid to chirp the name of the Mayan God. It was at once chilling and amazing to hear the history of this newly declared world wonder. Our guide, Oscar, did a remarkable job transporting us back in time to where this landmark was a thriving society of remarkable individuals.

Unfortunately, I feel I must caution those looking to tour this incredible site--there are countless vendors throughout the property who WILL attempt to sell you items. It is very important that you not stop to talk to them or you will lose track of your tour guide. And believe me, it would really suck to get lost there, especially in such hot weather. Also, the tour was highly commercialized from the beginning. We were taken to three separate vendors selling things like jewelry, calendars and Mayan liquor. The tour guide offered to photograph us, but we declined. When we returned to the bus from the tour, there was yet another vendor selling custom bottles of tequila. To our amazement, one of the bottles bore the image of the couple seated across from us. Then it dawned on us that the photos the guide had taken earlier had been processed and placed on the bottles for sale to the respective visitors. I found it disconcerting and sneaky that this wasn't mentioned at the time the photos were taken. Other than these issues, it was an enjoyable experience. With each day the minuses fade, leaving positive memories that will last us a lifetime.

Before returning to the hotel, we paid a visit to the cenote. Though beautiful, it was intimidating due to the fact I can't swim worth a damn. Even so, I wasn't about to pass up the once in a lifetime chance to take a dip in such a gorgeous environment--with the aid of a life jacket, of course. As I descended the steps my apprehension escalated, but after some coaxing from my husband I slowly climbed in via the ladder. The water was very cold (about 60 degrees or so). Tiny catfish were swimming all around, but it wasn't enough to distract me from my fear. After a few moments of clinging to my husband for dear life (my life jacket was slipping) I decided to exit the water so he could enjoy the rest of his swim in peace. But hey, at least I went in.

The following day we booked a shopping trip through one of the tour companies at the resort. It was a great trip and we managed to pick up some really cool souvenirs for friends and family. After that, we spent the final day of our vacation just as we started it, relaxing at the resort and admiring the serene landscape.

To summarize: I can't say enough wonderful things about Dreams Riviera Cancun. I'd definitely recommend it those looking for a great vacation. And did I mention shrimp tacos? :-)

Feel free to check out my vacation photos.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Life. The mysterious phenomenon that engulfs us all. Many seek its true definition while others run through it with wild abandonment.
Life. That unclassifiable morphing structure which is limited only by our imagination and genuine desires. Deeper than any ocean, more vast than the endless depths of space, so large that despite humanity's collective efforts to capture and suspend it in time, it will inevitably manage to elude us all, maintaining its control. We expend much time and energy on looking for the answers in the star-encrusted universe. We search for new life on distant planets while we ignore and destroy our neighbors on the one we inhabit. Often, it is not until we witness the diminishing form of life, carrying them into the unknown horizon of existence that we finally voice appreciation for the people and things we once took for granted. But the acknowledgement that should have nurtured and cultivated these beings during the spring can do nothing more than mark the wintery grave of what once was. The swift evolution of life's phases waits for no one. Isn't that reason enough to shower one another with love while we still can as we go through the turbulent rotation of life's seasons? What is the sense of hoarding it until we fade into the sunset?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Poem: One Final Contribution

An earth-bound celestial creature, born from another,
Initially helpless and in need of nurturing during my infantile stage.
But when strengthened, I venture deeper into the world;
fading in the day, shining brightly in the depth of night when I'm most needed.
At my prime, I use my light to guide others,
but there are days when I regress, needing illumination from others.
This symbiotic exchange endures years of tumultuous changes.
Then comes the day for me to leave it all behind.
Before I return home, I make one final contribution;
I reinforce the earth with my burdensome exterior,
it is not needed for the trip I am to take.
But the memories of my experiences are all my own.
That, and the emotions they trigger, are the only parcels I carry with me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Some Exceptions May Apply

New York City has some of the best restaurants in the world. Still, some exceptions may apply...

During my second year of college I received homework assignments that required me to visit areas of the city with which I was unfamiliar. My husband (boyfriend at the time) accompanied me on one such adventure. I figured since he was still relatively new in town it would be a good opportunity for him to see the sights. We made a day out of it and had a good time at a museum--the exact name of the museum escapes my memory due to the unfortunate experience that followed it.

Evening was rapidly approaching and the rumbling of our tummies signaled it was nearly suppertime. In retrospect, I now wonder if the gastro-internal turbulence was actually a desperate warning of things to come. After wandering the area in search of sustenance, we decided to visit a small pizzeria. The fact that we had bypassed the place twice before finally venturing inside should have been a warning, but we were both tired, young and naive. The first thing we noticed that was a bit odd was the smell, or lack thereof. Being a native New Yorker, I had never been to a pizza shop that lacked the fragrant aroma of garlic, herbs and freshly-baked dough. Then again, I was still recovering from a cold so I thought, perhaps, that was to blame. The food choices looked decent enough so we both ordered chicken slices. The man behind the counter, presumably the co-owner was very friendly and happily prepared our order. As we waited, we noticed how empty the place was, but we rationalized it by figuring it was either due to the location or the time of day.

After receiving our food--and I use the term loosely--we took a seat by the window and started our punishment. In the middle of the first bite I was hit with the fact that there was something unusual about what I was eating. It was the smell. As I mentioned earlier, I was getting over a cold, so I thought my sinuses were doing weird things to my olfactory senses. I locked eyes with Max. He seemed okay and we continued eating. All the while I figured I needed to make an urgent doctor's appointment to get some medicine for whatever the hell was going on with my nose. Each time I went to take a bite, my nose was bombarded by a smell reminiscent of moldy gym socks and stray wet puppies. It led me to question the true origin of the meat used to prepare this highly-disappointing meal.

My stomach got the signal and my nose waved the white flag as I surrendered eating and concentrated my attention on my soda. That's when Max dropped his slice on the tray and said: "I can't eat anymore. This shit stinks!" to which I replied: "Seriously? I thought my nose was playing tricks on me." That said, we decided to high-tail it out of there. However, Max, who was not yet fluent in English had a few parting words for the inept pizza maker. "Thank you for your services, but you need to do something about your pizza because it STINKS!!!" he proclaimed.

Clearly irritated, the thickly-accented man defended his stinky wares by retorting: "My pizza doesn't stink! YOU stink!" He was still yelling after as we made our exodus. If only he had put as much passion into his food as he did defending it, we would never have gotten into this altercation.

At least ten years have elapsed and Max and I still bear emotional scars. If we think about it long enough, which we try not to, we can still smell the horrifying stench of the attempted meal. Now, every time we go out to dine we make it a point to do a thorough scent check upon entering any restaurant. If it doesn't smell like food, we immediately reverse course and seek food elsewhere. We don't know what ever became of the shop, but we strongly doubt they're still in business. I can't help but think what a travesty it was for such an establishment to call themselves a pizza shop. Honestly, I feel if the Italian mafia ever got wind of that place it would have been on the news; the owners' skeletons found inside the burnt building with their kneecaps mysteriously broken, or something like that. One positive thing to be said about the experience, aside from our obvious survival, is that I gained a burning desire to prepare my own meals and to prepare them damn well so I don't have to rely solely on restaurants for my culinary pleasures.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Five years after my husband, Max, and I got our cat, Bazik (aka Bazilio), we finally came to the point when we could no longer put off having him neutered. The first four years were tolerable, but Bazik's temper was quickly becoming unmanageable--I have many a scar to prove it. He always preferred to hang out with my husband rather than me, which is probably why we disagreed over the procedure for some time--I was for it, he was against it.

Although I'm 5' 6" and... I won't say how many pounds, it was becoming abundantly clear I was outmatched by this nearly 2-foot, 16-pound feline beast. One day, after enduring a particularly maniacal attack, I vehemently decided that this 4-legged ankle biter had tasted my blood for the last time. After careful research, I found a vet and we headed off to the appointment.

The environment was clean and the staff was professional. Max and I took notice of the prominent sign which stated: 'PLEASE KEEP YOUR CATS IN THEIR CARRIERS'. We half-joked that its placement was the result of prior chaos in the waiting area. When we were called I couldn't help but feel concerned for the doctor and her assistant since they were both about a foot shorter than me and didn't have a whole lot of body mass to them. Then I noted there was a 2 to 1 ratio and figured it would even out since the two women had each other for backup.

I was surprised at how Bazik allowed the doctor and assistant to place him on the table, pet him and perform the superficial examination without any major fur flying through the air. 'Perhaps this isn't going to be as bad as I thought' I figured. Then they brought out the thermometer and proceeded to take his temperature from his second business end. That was the plan, anyway. In a split second, my cat went from the male version of Hello Kitty to the feline equivalent of Cujo. He made it abundantly clear he was not willing to become anyone's bitch. He lashed out, prompting the veterinary staff to resort to Matrix-style evasion tactics. And, just like that, Bazik quickly dispelled any suspicion I had of him being homosexual. From a safe distance, Max and I attempted to calm him down, but Bazik wasn't hearing any of that. Seeing that taking his temperature would be impossible without risking life and limb, the doctor decided to skip it. Bazik, however, was still pissed and voiced this fact with a barrage of hisses.

The next part of the checkup was to take a blood sample. I knew that would be an impossible task. I told the doctor: "I think he'll take your blood before you take his." She agreed. It was decided to take his blood once he had been knocked out for the procedure. Max and I were told to return in a few hours to pick him up--by then, we were told, the drugs will have mostly worn off.

During this time I felt guilty about the whole thing. Maybe it was the fact my husband and I were dining at an Italian pizza shop while our beloved cat was losing his meatballs. I really love Bazik and didn't want him to go through such stress, but we were left with no other choice. When we returned to the vet, we noticed the doctor was no longer wearing her hair out. It was tied in a high, messy bun and she looked as though she had been to the gym. The doctor who had performed the procedure was now wearing fresh bandages on his hand that weren't there when we had left. There were a couple of other pet owners who had come and gone, inquiring about their companion's behavior, to which the doctor gave answers such as: "She was a little nervous, but did well" and "Oh, he was very well behaved!" When it came time for us, the doctor's smile faded. In as polite a way as possible, she said Bazik "...was a challenge"

Finally, he was brought out. As we looked into his carrier we could see he was obviously still loopy as he swayed his head like Stevie Wonder and staggered around like Captain Jack Sparrow. Immediately after Bazik's recovery, Max and I noticed an immediate change in his behavior.

Two years later, he's still as active as ever--perhaps even more so--and he now naps on my lap frequently (something that was once unheard of). Every now and then he still eyes my fuzzy slippers, blankets and robes, no doubt reminiscing about the salacious times he used to spend with them. But he still seems puzzled as to why he no longer gets beyond second base.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


The spirit of Valentine's Day is a noble one. However, such an outpouring of love and affection should not be reserved for one day alone. Every day presents the opportunity to take the love we have within and spread it just as easily as we would any other emotion. The magic and wonder of it extends beyond the designated day of ceremonious romance filled with the dazzling adornment of gems, flowers and candy. Love and romance, though associated with the aforementioned, does not depend on the physical.

Love and romance are not governed by a set of rules that say you must act in accordance to a specific ritual to express them. When the commercialization of the day has been peeled away, we are reminded of something timeless--the presence of love itself. Love holds no set time for dashing away on an adventure into the land of dreams. It does not dictate when or how you should dance on a moonbeam to your heart's content with the one you love, even if that person is yourself. Love operates on its own time, so it seems impractical to try to contain it within the confines of a single day. It is much too vast and powerful to remain restricted. And so, it is no wonder that we are sometimes inconvenienced when it spills out of the cell to which we've designated it, flooding weeks, months and years, interfering with our carefully laid out plans.

Love is not always convenient or easy. In fact, it can be downright scary when we find ourselves engulfed in the unpredictable grip of its tide. However, it is certainly always worth it since love has the remarkable ability to heal the spirit and unite the divided. To some, love seems elusive and unattainable. These illusions distract us from the truth--that everyone has the capacity to give and receive love. However, finding it seems challenging because it seamlessly camouflages itself within the unlikeliest of places in our lives.