Monday, May 18, 2015

Resort Review: Secrets Royal Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic



Secrets Royal Beach is an adults only all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic connected to NOW Larmiar - a family all-inclusive resort.. We stayed there for 3 nights in May of 2015.

Restaurants

La Riviera - the Buffet
Seaside Grill - Caribbean inspired
Gohan - Sushi Bar
Oceana - Seafood
Portofino - Italian
Plus a private room called the wine cellar that sits up to sixteen. The restaurants do not require reservations. The buffet is also open for breakfast and lunch. A barbecue lunch is also offered on the beach. The Seaside Grill offers a la carte breakfast and lunch for those in the Preferred Club.  The close proximity to NOW Larimar makes it easy to dine at any of its four a la carte restaurants- French, Pan-Asian, Mexican and Italian. Plus NOW has two additional buffet restaurants.

We ate dinner at Oceana at Secrets and Mercure at NOW. Both restaurants had great service and adequate food. Nothing was bad, but we weren’t wow’d by anything either.  The decoration at both was impressive. Oceana had a great Sea theme that complimented the food. 

Menu at Mercure
Loving dessert at Mercure

Mercure had very elegant decorations to complement its French theme. Both these restaurants were air-conditioned. Neither had windows.

The Beach
Secrets offers two sections of beach - one for preferred club and one for all guests. 

Beach area for all guests LOVE all the shade! 

We didn’t notice a big difference between the sections. Beach service is available. The beach is nice. You can walk a long way as it connects several resorts. The beach is public so vendors did approach us to tell us about their stores down the beach. We didn’t see any vendors carrying goods. When we visited, seaweed was piling up on the beach.
Seaweed on the beach 


 The staff was out every morning with rakes and a wheelbarrow. The ocean also has sea grass as you walk into the ocean.


Secrets offers these great double decker cabanas for rent. One in pictured in the photo at the top of the page.  Anyone can reserve one for the day.  The pricing when we visited was $100 per couple plus $20 per additional person. It comes with two beds - one on top and one under the structure plus chaise charges and a table and chairs for dining. You have butler service plus a bottle of champagne and lunch.

The Pools
Secrets has a two pools: a large main pool connected to the swim up bar and a lazy river pool that winds throughout the property. 

One end of Lazy River Pool with Swim Up Suites 

Main Pool


Chairs can be difficult to find in the afternoon if you want to be around the main pool. We just put our stuff down on the ground to the side and headed to the Swim Up bar.

The Activities
Each day, you receive a schedule with the activities for day. Both the beach area and the pool area have competitions and activities. The activities around the main pool in the afternoon involved chugging a beer two of the three days we were there. For participating in the events, you get Secrets dollars you can use during a souvenir auction at 5 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The mix of people at the resort was young honeymoon couples and then a wide range of ages. In the evening, they had a main show in the plaza. It was quite a production and a lot of fun!

The Rooms

Junior Suite 

Secrets Royal Beach has two categories of rooms: Junior Suite and Master Suite.  Within the junior suite category, the upgrades are based on location and view. The Master Suites are the only rooms with a full ocean front view as they are located on the ends of the buildings closest to the beach. All rooms have a Jacuzzi tub on the balcony or patio. I would classify these as semi-private to everyone in the pool can see my business.
You can also opt for Preferred Club. Preferred Club provides suites in better locations, an upgraded mini-bar and upgraded bath amenities. With Preferred Club, WIFI is also included and you have the ability to have it in your room.

Our Experience in Preferred Club
I chose to upgrade to the preferred club partial ocean view junior suite. The main reason I upgraded but I really wanted to have a la carte breakfast and lunch. The Preferred Club also provides access to a separate pool with a swim up bar with slightly upgraded chaise loungers and a roped off section on the beach. 

WIFI is included with Preferred Club. You request a unique log in and password from the concierge

We tried both the Secrets preferred club restaurant and the NOW preferred club restaurant for breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast - Now Preferred Club has more interesting breakfast entrees than Secrets Preferred Club. Secrets had more standard options like omelets, French toast, and pancakes.

Secrets Preferred Club Breakfast Menu 

Lunch - Secrets Preferred Club had great ceviche! They also offered entrees similar to what you’d find in a restaurant. NOW Preferred Club has more traditional lunch options such as sandwiches and salads.

Pool Service - We had great pool bar service at the Preferred Club. The bar waiter would make a lap around the pool getting everyone’s drink orders then delivering drinks. It took about 45 minutes total. So you would be getting a drink every hour and a half if you ordered and then waited for a drink or every 45 minutes if you ordered when he handed you your drink. We noticed a similar system around the main pool and lazy river pool.  One day they even handed out calamari at the Preferred Club pool. 



The Preferred Club Concierge was helpful answering our questions, arranging a taxi back to the airport and with check out. Bell Services did a great job with luggage and confirming our taxi.

Overall, my husband and I were very impressed with the service at this resort. We look forward to visiting again in the future.

Tips
- If you are in a large group, be sure to visit the restaurants right as they open. The restaurants only have a few large tables so this will minimize your wait time.
- The rooms do not come with conditioner so bring your hair care products from home.

- Wine selection is limited to generic white wine, red wine and champagne. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Universal versus Disney - What's the Difference?

Universal works a little differently than Disney in a few areas. 



Park Tickets
 This is similar as you have a single park per day option or a two Parks in one day option. You must have the Park to Park ticket to ride the train between the two Harry Potter worlds. 

Meal Plan
If you are staying at one of the Universal hotels,  you can add a meal plan that includes one full service meal (entree, drink, dessert), one quick service meal (entree and drink), one snack and one non-alcoholic drink. The pricing is built into the package. 

You can also purchase basically a coupon for $19.99 plus tax that includes a quick service meal, one drink and one snack. This can be a savings depending on what you are ordering. For instance, we had lunch at Three Boomsticks. My entree and drink were around $17.99. If I had purchased the meal plan coupon,  I would have gotten an extra drink and snack for free. 


Fast Pass
Universal does not have an included fast pass option. Instead, they have Express Passes. The pricing depends on how busy the Parks are expected to be. You can choose between an Express Pass and an unlimited Express Pass. The Express Pass is good for one time per ride. The Unlimited Express Pass can be used an unlimited amount of times on each ride. When you use your Express Pass, you go to a separate faster line - just like using a Fast Pass on a ride at Disney. For the shows, you are able to enter the theater first.  Currently, none of the Harry Potter attractions qualify for an Express Pass. 

Single Rider Lines
Most of the rides have a single rider line - including the Harry Potter attractions. Thought I do recommend going through the main line once for the Harry Potter attractions. 

Memory Maker 
Universal also has an option for an included photo pass - Photo Connect Start Card. This is really just for photos at the entrances and photos from the rides as Universal doesn't have photographers around in the Parks the same way Disney does.  Pricing depends on how many days you'll be there and if you wanted an printed photos included. If you just want digital, we bought an annual photo card for $100. One feature I love is that it connects to an App on your phone so you can see your photos right away and share them on social media. You still have to physically go to the photo booth at the ride and have the photo linked to your account. 

Downtown Disney
Universal has its own version of Downtown Disney - Citywalk. Actually, I think Citywalk was the inspiration for Downtown Disney. Citywalk has a great restaurants, nightlife, movie theater, and mini-golf. We have found that the best full service restaurants are outside the Parks at Citywalk or the resort hotels. 

Parking
You have to pay for parking both at the resorts and the Parks. 

Perks for Staying at a Universal Hotels
Universal has two categories of hotels: Moderate/Value and Deluxe. 

The Moderate/Value hotel is the Cabanna Bay hotel. 

The perks for staying there are: 
- Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 
- Complimentary Shuttle to the Parks 

The Deluxe hotels are Loews Hard Rock, Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay 
The perks for staying here are: 
- An unlimited Express pass for each guest. 
- Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter 
- These resorts are close enough to walk to the Parks. They also operate water taxis that connect the resorts to CityWalk and the two Parks. 

The Unlimited Express Pass is a huge perk here if you are interested in going on a lot of rides. 

Feel free to contact me at Angie@TripswithAngie.com to plan a great Universal vacation for you and your family. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Islands Magazine Top Picks for Punta Cana

Islands Magazine named their top picks for Punta Cana:
Best for Couples: Sanctuary Cap Cana
Best for Families: Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana
Best Food and Drink: Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe
Best amenities and activities: Club Med Punta Cana
Best Standard Room: Royal Service Paradisus Palma Real

Excellence, Hard Rock, Melia Caribe and Grand Palladium were runner-ups.

Check out Islands.com for details

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gluten Free Celebrity Summit

We sailed on the 3/14/15 Summit with my celiac mom. We notified the ship in advance and let all the waiters know when she placed her orders. We had lunch the first day in Bistro on Five. They were able to bring her the crepe filling. 

Overall, she was really pleased with the offerings. In the main dining room, each item has symbols next to it with the dietary information (gluten, dairy, vegetarian or sugar-added). The waiter was very knowledgeable. Each night, she would get a copy of the following night's menu to know whether she would need a special order. She never did since there was large variety. 

We even had great success in Blu, Normandie and QSine although their menus don't have the special symbols. The chefs of both specialty restaurants came to our table to discuss the options. The Maitre'D at Qsine has children who are celiac so he kept a careful eye on table and answered all our questions. He even intervened when the person delivering the course wasn't quite sure what was gluten free. 

The buffet was less successful. She eventually was able to find a manager to give her a tour of what to eat. They did offer to go back into the kitchen to prepare her toast or other items, but that would take about 20 minutes. The pizza was terrible.  Probably a rice flour that was spongy and no flavor. The one day she wanted to get gluten-free pasta, they said they were out of it that day. 

The Gluten free bread varied a lot in quality. She got some great bread in Normandie and Blu - but the main dining room was not as good. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Anthony Bourdain Travel Tips

Check out these great tips from Anthony Bourdain.  

One Bourdain tip I have followed on all my international trips is "Find the line". If you eat at busy restaurant or a stand with a long line - the chances of getting sick go way down.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Family Travel Tips - Keeping Teens Happy



Teens can be a tough audience when it comes to vacation. Here's some ideas to ensure they have a great time as well: 

Seek out resorts or cruises with activities geared to their interests. Some resorts offer DJ Academies, Video Production Classes, or  Teen Discos. If your teen enjoys water sports, pick a resort with snorkeling near the shore or free use of kayaks. 

Encourage your teens to get involved in the planning. Let them pick the activities for a couple of days. 

Consider an trip to a different culture - Asia, Europe or South America will offer an incredible learning opportunity. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Travel Tip: Label your Carry-On


Travel tip - Many people focus on how to mark their checked bag with ribbons, stickers, luggage tags so it's noticeable on the carousel and forget about their carry on luggage. On my last trip, I watched a woman almost take someone else's bag. Be sure to put a noticeable luggage tag on the handle of your carry on bag or use a luggage grip.