Sandy Traveller

Have a Fabulous trip!


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What I Pack: Work Trip + an Opportunity for You!

Well Hello!! I am so very sorry for the delay. All I can say is…Life Happens! The good news is I have some travel coming up I will be blogging about and reviewing!! Now, it’s technically not a beachy or tropical locale. It is in fact a large city, BUT, it does have beaches and an ocean and I will blog about it if I darn well please 🙂 Before I go, I thought I would show you what I pack when traveling for work. This trip is for a conference that I will be attending and presenting at, so what I pack has everything to do with putting my best foot and face forward and feeling my most confident, while networking, presenting and representing my organization. Enjoy 🙂

*Note: There will be an offer or shall I say….proposition…. for you all at the end of this post, so take a look if you dare 🙂

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Couldn’t put a frame on this one because it cut off the awesome necklace

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What you see…
Top Picture: My entire skin care routine. Nothing can make a girl feel a little less confident then a big breakout before getting on stage to present to people. Flying can be tough on the skin so I make sure to bring everything I need to make my skin look and feel it’s best (also not pictured – MAKEUP!)

Deoderant…. need I say more?!?

Runners for the hotel gym! Work out some pre-presentation nerves!

Flats….it’s a big city and I intend on getting some serious shopping time aka walking time 🙂

Middle Picture:
A couple of outfits I know will make me look and feel great. I am obsessed with the grey t-shirt dress. It fits perfectly and is conservative yet sexy all at once.

Bottom Picture:
My electronic devices! (not pictured my iPhone because I took the less than stellar quality photos with it) I want to stay connected to everyone back home while I am away. Unlike a beach vacation where I love unplugging and taking space from these things.

Did I miss anything you guys think is important to looking and feeling your most confident while shmoozing?

Now… for that Proposition I promised. I have not been the most effective travel blogger as I haven’t been travelling!!! I do have a travel inspired recipe coming up for ya, plus the reviews of my work travel, but still! I need more! So, have you been somewhere that you are dying to let people know about but haven’t found a platform? Why don’t you send your review to me?!! I would love to post some peoples reviews of their recent travels.

REQUIREMENTS:
– Must have travelled there within the last 3 months
– Must not be based solely on opinion, please include facts, positive and negative and try not to tell people what they will like and not like.

Please note that I do reserve the right to not post your review if I don’t feel like it’s a good content fit for this blog. If you have a blog or website I will absolutely post the link and a bio so that people know where to find you.

Send reviews through my Contact page or send them to openheartsspace@gmail.com (yes, it’s from an old blog I tried and I haven’t updated the email for this yet….LIFE HAPPENS!)

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Macao Surf Camp Review

While I was planning the trip to Punta Cana I was trying to find something fun and a bit different to do while we were there. I had been once before and had done a snorkelling and catamaran excursion, and we had just done a lot of great snorkelling in Mexico, so I really wanted to do something different. I remembered that when I had been in Puerta Plata years ago, we had gone to Cabarete which had a big windsurfing community. I looked into it a bit more and found that there is a large surf community and culture in Dominican Republic and a surf camp with outstanding reviews near our resort in Punta Cana – Macao Surf Camp. I corresponded with them via email before we went down and set up private lessons one morning during our trip. They confirmed the reservation, let me know we would pay when we arrived and asked me to email them when we got to our resort to confirm.

The day of our lesson the van arrived to pick us up from our resort just a few minutes late, and we joined a group of people who had been picked up from different resorts on the way to the beach. There are four options for pick up times and they depend on where your resort is. Ours was close to the beach so we were picked up at 10:30am, but there was also an earlier pick up time and two afternoon times. The trip from our resort, the Iberostar Bavaro, was pretty quick; I would say 20-30 minutes max. The beach is an absolute gorgeous sight to pull up to. Beautiful water, clean sand, and waves! It is a local, public beach which was kind of neat, but a lot of tours stop there so it does have a touristy vibe as well. When we arrived to the surf school shack there were a lot of instructors and people sitting around, looking at us, and we really didn’t know what to do or where to go. Eventually it was figured out and we were given rash guards and a place to put our stuff. Just a note, we weren’t actually given lockers like it says in the Trip Advisor reviews, which wasn’t a big deal because if they stole my money they wouldn’t be getting paid for the lesson, but it may make some people feel uneasy. After a few minutes of standing around we were told to come to the sand for the first part of the lesson.

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Macao Beach

The beach lesson was taught by an older gentleman who spoke english well and was able to explain very clearly what we needed to do. He seemed to really know his stuff and I would bet he was a seasoned pro. After about 15 minutes of the sand instruction we were ready for the water and a group of instructors walked us down the beach to the spot we would be surfing. Note: for any avid surfers out there, this is a beach break so it is a nice sandy bottom, no reef to worry about crashing into. Now, the surf instructors did not really speak English, which made me think they were making fun of me because I couldn’t understand them… lol…I wish I spoke more Spanish!! Even though there was a language barrier, they had every single person in the water up on their boards, surfing the waves. If they wanted you to move back on your board they would just gently tug on your ankle or show you what your body should be doing (it’s like surfing charades!!) There were 5 of us in the group and probably 6-7 instructors in the water with us, plus the photographers….that’s right! Probably the best part of this was that they took professional photographs the entire time!! They took some of my boyfriend and I on the beach, posing with the surfboards and coconuts, and tons of us in the water. We bought the CD of about 400 photos for $50.00 which was awesome. Such a great keepsake!

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Sand Surfing

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This guy watched the whole time 🙂

Overall this was a great day. We were in the water for about 2 hours, with about a 15-20 minute coconut water break in the middle…which I desperately needed. I honestly headed in about 10 minutes before the others as my body was exhausted!! I caught lots of waves and also have photographic evidence of many wipe outs 🙂 While we walked back to the Surf Shack after the lesson the instructors broke their English out to ask us if we would be tipping them well, so we gave our instructors each $10.00. Total cost for the day was about $150.00 per person for transportation to and from the resort, surf lesson, rash guard and board rental, and photos. I would go back to this beach and surf again for sure, but since I’m so experienced now (ha!) I would probably just rent a board and skip the lesson 😉

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Have a fabulous trip! 🙂


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Iberostar Bavaro Review

I stayed at the Iberostar Bavaro, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in January 2014. I had travelled to Punta Cana once before in 2008 and remembered the amazing beach, crystal clear water, friendly people and beautiful weather, which was what made me interested in returning. There were a few reasons we decided on this 4.5 star resort in this location, including the beautiful beach, the fairly reasonable price (between $1500-$1700/person), and the reviews on Trip Advisor that rated it a 4.5 star.

Check In: We arrived to the resort around 9:00pm after about a 20 minute drive from the airport. There were 3 staff manning the front desk and check in went pretty fast. We didn’t receive any welcome cocktails or cool towels (or maybe they were warm towels? I didn’t get to feel them!), but we did observe others who arrived at different times in the week receive these things so it may have been because of our evening arrival. We had someone drive us and our bags to our room and carry up our luggage.

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There were Peacocks and Flamingos wandering the resort which was lovely

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Filtered Flamingo 😉

Room: This resort consists of 596 “junior suites”. The room we had was on the second floor, which I requested. It was spacious, with a King sized bed (also requested), and a small sitting area. It also had a balcony with a sitting area and a drying rack for bathing suits etc., which I had not seen in a resort before and found very useful. The bathroom was spacious and provided as much privacy as a frosted glass door can provide. It had a large glass shower and a small bathtub, but the bathtub looked stained and quite old, so we did not use it. There was a full sized hair dryer which was a nice surprise, not just one of those mini ones that always sucks your hair in through the back (does this happen to other people?!). There is a mini fridge that is stocked every other day with some water, pop, and beer. There is a flat screen TV that had about 10 English channels. The room was always very clean with plenty of clean towels. We received turndown service also so the room was basically cleaned twice daily, with fresh towels every time. The only exception to this was on our last night when they left our dirty dishes from room service, which isn’t a huge deal, except you don’t want ants etc.

Overall the room was comfortable, if not a little dated. The curtains and furniture could be more modern as could the bathtub. Apologies for lack of photos.

Food and Restaurants: For breakfast there is the large buffet by the lobby open until 10:00, which I only made it to once as I was on vacation…. 🙂 The one time I did make it the selection seemed wide, but I stuck to potatoes, fruit and bacon. Either way there is a lot of food so I don’t think you will go hungry. I’m not a super picky eater, but I found the food was lacking in the appetizing department at all meals. There is also a “continental” breakfast, which is just a smaller version of the main buffet, at the pool buffet and it had the same type of stuff. It was open until 11:00 or so.

For lunch we always ate at the pool buffet and pretty much ate the same foods every day, as we figured out what we liked, and stuck with it. They have a grill going there with steaks and pork chops and I tried the steaks a couple times. They were thin and contained a lot of fat, but had a nice flavour from the grill. I loved the roast chicken and ate it daily with no side effects.

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My lunch everyday

For dinner you can eat at the main lobby buffet, or reserve at the a la carte restaurants. Because guests at the Bavaro can use the restaurants and bars at the two adjacent Iberostar resorts (Dominicana and Punta Cana) there are lots of a la cartes to choose from including: Mexican, Mediterranean, Japanese, Cajun, Steakhouse, Gourmet, and “American style diner”. You can book as many reservations as you want (we had reservations every day), but only 3 at a time, which is probably so everyone has a chance to book. The food at these restaurants was better than at the buffet (OPINION ALERT!) with the best meals being at the Cajun Jambalaya restaurant.

There is also room service provided 24 hours with a small but different menu than you see at the restaurants. The chicken fingers were really good off this menu.

Overall I say the food is “hit and miss”. I definitely ate something that made me sick, as did my travel partner, so I feel like being cautious (or more cautious than I already was surviving only on French fries, pizza and bread the first couple days) is a must.

Drinks were easily accessible at the several bars and in restaurants, but we were only asked if we wanted anything by the pool twice the week we stayed. There is a beach bar with a full drink menu as well as snacks (hot dogs on a stick) but no service on the beach. The only note about the drinks themselves is you really don’t know what you’re getting. You can order the same thing several times and get a different tasting drink every time. Variety…?!

Pool and Beach: There is one large pool that is sort of sectioned into areas, as well as a great looking splash pad area for kids. In the large pool there was a shallow section with a gradual entry, and a deep end. There is also a swim up bar in another section. We never had a problem getting chairs at the pool. The animation team is often trying to get people who are sitting around the pool involved in things, so it does get loud.

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Pool

The beach is beautiful, clean and large. You can walk for a long time and check out the other resorts and there are some shops with souvenirs that you can shop/barter in, but there aren’t a lot of people bugging you to buy things on the beach. Also, if you snorkel, there are some reefs in the swimming area in front of this resort and some great fish to look at! Nice to not have to pay to go somewhere to see some fish. We brought our own snorkel gear, but you can use some for free for one hour a day from the dive shop by the beach. The water can be pretty wavy here but there were lots of people in the water all the time. It’s crystal clear and very warm.

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Beach

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Filtered Beach 😉

Entertainment & Activities: Besides the awesome and hilarious people watching, there is a disco that’s kind of neat and decorated with a giant plane (the cockpit is the DJ booth and the wing the bar top), there is also a sports bar that does Karaoke after 10:00. The lobby bars and shows are always busy…but we didn’t watch the shows. Sorry! There is also a casino that has slot machines, blackjack, roulette, and poker.

During the day there is always a game or activity by the pool and beach, as well as archery, aerobics, beach volleyball nets and soccer nets.

The only excursion we did was an awesome day of Surfing…. more to come on that in another post 🙂

Service: I don’t know if I can keep my opinions out of this one… Maybe I should say that I don’t feel like they are wanting repeat customers at this resort. Often asking a question lead to being cut off by a staff person who didn’t seem to be having a good day. One waiter at the Mexican restaurant actually didn’t speak or smile, he just handed a menu then came back and pointed to said menu as to say “what do you want” (and yes I did hear him speak so he was able). We ordered room service one night and after an hour hadn’t received it so we called and were told they had come to our room and had called us a bunch of times (we were sitting there starving and anxiously awaiting…). When we suggested they may have gone to the wrong room we were dismissed. They said another ten minutes, which came and went. I called to cancel it and the man on the phone did not apologize for any of this. Then about 20 mins later it showed up and was clearly the food that would have been ready the hour and a half before, cold and not edible. That same night we had a reservation for the steakhouse but then arrived to a “welcome dinner” (farewell I suppose as it was our last night) and we were not allowed to order off the delicious looking a la carte menu as it was just a normal buffet for the dinner. I was hungry that night….

Our last impression was during check out when we asked if our bags could be locked up in the storage room since we didn’t leave until 4:00. We were told no, but others we saw later had been able to store theirs.

Overall these are a lot of little things that just left us feeling frustrated at the end of the week. I will say that I am aware others we spoke to told us in no uncertain terms they would be returning, so they obviously had a different impression/experience.

So.. Pros and Cons???

Pros: The beach, weather, pool and fact that you can get chairs at the pool (although the pool isn’t fancy), and being able to use the restaurants and bars in the other 2 resorts.

Cons: The food, service, and overall dated feeling of the resort.

I would not return to this resort in the future.

Have any questions? Let me know!!
Have a Fabulous Trip 🙂


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Azul Fives Hotel Review

I travelled to the Azul Fives hotel by Karisma, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in December 2013. It was my first time to Mexico and was travelling with a group for a wedding. This resort is considered a “boutique hotel” so it is not a huge resort. It should be noted that we were staying with the “gourmet inclusive” package.

Check-In: We arrived at the resort after about a 45min-1 hour drive from the airport. As we were with a group, the check in was probably a bit different than if you are just one party, but it went quickly regardless. They actually take your photo and give you a card with your photo on it as your room key. This card also serves in place of the traditional wrist band you often receive at all inclusive resorts (you have to show it at restaurants etc.). Our rooms were not ready as we arrived around noon, so they kept our bags and asked us to come back in a couple hours. Our rooms were ready quickly and we returned in about an hour and we’re taken by golf cart to our room with our bags.

Room: The room was a standard room with two double beds. The bathroom was an “open concept” as it had a large open area with two sinks and then the toilet was in one frosted glass “box” and the shower was in another. The shower and toilet shared a frosted glass wall which felt a bit odd as you could see the shadow and outline of the person on the toilet while showering and vice versa. The shower had a waterfall shower head. There was a flat screen TV with some English channels; maybe ten. The balcony had a nice sitting area as well. There was a mini fridge that was restocked daily with water, pop, beer and snacks (which were two bags of plantain chips), and also a complimentary bottle of champagne on ice. The rooms were cleaned daily and fresh towels were provided, we never had an issue with the cleaning services.

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The Room

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The bathroom. Behind the glass is the toilet and shower.

Restaurants and Bars: For breakfast there is the main buffet that had all the basics, lots of breads, bacon, French toast, omelettes, as well as some Mexican dishes like fresh made tacos, guacamole, and tostadas. It was open until noon, so you didn’t have to rush there in the morning if you slept in.

For lunch there is the “sea olive” restaurant that is a sit down, menu order, full service restaurant, or the “Oriola” beach grill that has a long list of different burgers, as well as salads and wraps, which is also a full service restaurant. I personally am used to buffet lunches in AI’s so this was new. I will say I loved the food here (OPINION alert!), but I also sometimes wished I could just grab something to eat at my own pace and not wait for service. A couple of people in our party ended up waiting for about an hour for lunch on more than one occasion. (Note: the hotel website actually provides menus online so you can see what they have which is nice).

For Dinner the buffet is open some days, or you can go to the Sea Olive without reservations. Otherwise you can reserve at the a la cartes, which are Italian or Japanese. We ate at all of the options for dinner and were very satisfied with the meals. The portions are very small (the chicken gnocchi was about 12 pieces of gnocchi and 3 little strips of chicken breast, about an two inches long). We always ordered appetizers, soups and desserts at dinner and that did the trick. The Italian restaurant did have one night that was adults only, but otherwise the restaurants all seemed family and kid friendly with toys available for children to use while in the restaurant.

There is also a couple of snack bars by the pools that have very quick service of things like fresh tacos and pizzas. Room service is also provided 24 hours and has an extensive menu (filet minion!)

Overall I loved the food here. There was a lot of variety and I felt safe eating everything and no one got sick. The drinks were very sweet and we ordered Mojitos with no sugar or “not very sweet” all week. There is plenty of drink service at the pools as well as at swim up bars.

Pools and Beach: There are two pools at this resort. The main pool is an infinity pool overlooking the beach. It’s not very deep, about up to my shoulders (I am 5’7″ FYI), but has shallow areas for kids as well. The other pool winds through the villas where rooms are located. It was less busy, but had some great loungers that sat right in the water which was a nice touch. Swim up bars at both pools as well as drink service. We never had a problem finding chairs at either pool, but the Resort was not even close to capacity while we were there.

The beach was very nice, clean and private so people weren’t bugging you to buy things etc. The water was often very wavy with a “red flag”, but people were swimming every day. They have chairs and beds for people to lounge on, on the beach.

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The infinity pool and swim up bar!

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The beach…and my attempt to blur out the volleyball players 😉

Entertainment and Activities: We booked a snorkelling excursion through the hotel (the guy has a little shack on the beach beside the infinity pool), and were really happy with it. You get to rent the boat for 3 hours with your group and the guide took us to Puerto Morelos reef, which is amazing (in my OPINION)! We saw sting rays, a giant eel, a sea horse, and tons of tropical fish. We also stopped to take some pictures with amazing star fish…ensuring to get them back in the water right away of course.

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There were evening shows, such as the standard Michael Jackson themed show, as well as a beach party, fire show, and a casino themed night where they give you fake money to play games with and provide prizes. The Skybar is a beautiful lounge/nightclub on the third floor that has a large patio overlooking the ocean and pool. It has nightclub music and dancing until 1:00am. During the day there is archery, pool games, beach volleyball and a table where you can paint pottery and do crafts (lots of kids doing this).

Service: I thought the service here was great (OPINION alert). There were a few times the service in the restaurants was slow, but the staff were always very friendly and helpful. I found the animation team to be refreshingly calm. By this I mean they would only ask once if you wanted to join an activity and if you said no they would leave you be, which I personally prefer. Also they would just be around to chat, get to know you, or play a game of beach volleyball without it being a scheduled activity. They also provide a personal concierge service for reserving a la carts, booking excursions etc. which makes these things quick and easy.

So…pros and cons???

Pros: The food, service, modern look and feel of the hotel, infinity pool, beach and ocean.

Cons: Drinks are very sweet, not a big energetic resort if that’s what you want.

I would return to this resort for sure.

Have a fabulous trip!


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Welcome!!

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Welcome to Sandy Traveller! I’m Sandra, but some people call me Sandy. I love to travel, and since I live somewhere that gets very cold for much of the year, I LOVE travelling to hot climates with nice sandy beaches….have you picked up on the double entendre yet?!?

Recently I had the opportunity to go on two beach trips in a short period of time. During this time I spent countless hours researching, reading reviews, trying to find out which resort would be the best fit for me and my travel needs. It became a bit of an obsession, to be honest. The thing about reviews are often they consist mostly of people’s opinions.

Opinions. Everybody has one. No 4000 people have the same one.

This left me feeling cross eyed and confused. There were some that I found helpful, the ones that shared some tips, tricks, or specifics that aren’t necessarily shared with the resort booking information, but overall I had even less of an idea about what I wanted and if I would enjoy the resort.

When I returned from the last trip, I thought about writing a review, but instead decided to start a travel Blog that provides the types of reviews that I would have liked to read in the first place. Thus “Sandy Traveller” was born…. You get the double entendre now right?!? 🙂

So, what can you expect to find here?

– Information about resorts, beaches, food and activities.

– Fact based reviews based on my experiences.

– A couple of my very own opinions.

– And since I’m not a millionaire who is able to travel the world every month, maybe some fun travel inspired recipes, interviews from friends and family on vacations they have taken, and some other fun stuff.

What won’t you see here?

– Any review that tells you “don’t waste your money”, “worst resort ever”, “best resort ever”, “stay here it’s amazing”. I may not like something, or like something very much, and I may even tell you that, but, I will not be telling you what you will like or dislike. I just want to give you information so you can feel equipped to make a more informed decision.

– Personal travel photos of me on a beach. I will stick to photos of the rooms, beaches, pools, and food.

The first review will be up Wednesday so be sure to check back to read about the Azule Fives Resort in Playa del Carman, Mexico!!

Bon Voyage! Have a safe and fabulous trip 🙂