TripAdvisor Review: Mayan Adventure

As the third (and likely, the final) TripAdvisor review of our Mexico vacation, I offer my recap of our day on the Mayan Adventure Snorkeling Tour with Aventuras Mayas.

My husband and I booked the Mayan Adventure Snorkeling Tour via the travel rep at our hotel during our April 2010 vacation — we’d known we wanted to go snorkeling, but didn’t know where. I’m so glad that we ended up with this tour!

Our guide, Julio, drove our tour group from Playa del Carmen out to Akumal, our first of three snorkeling locations. There, he distributed life vests (manually inflatable), masks, and individually-wrapped breathing tubes. After renting some slightly suspicious-looking snorkel gear on a previous vacation, I was glad to see the focus on hygiene.

There was also a focus on environmental awareness, mainly centered around sunscreen. My husband and I had been told by our travel rep that only biodegradable sunscreen was allowed; truth be told, though, the guides would prefer that snorkelers not wear sunscreen at all, since even the biodegradable versions need sunlight to biodegrade. We’d already slathered it on in our hotel room previously, though, and I can attest that most of it had washed off by the time we got to the underground cenote at the end of the tour. Julio suggested that those who are highly susceptible to sunburn simply keep their t-shirt on, although he didn’t force us to shower off any previously-applied sunblock.

We snorkeled in three locations: an ocean inlet, an open cenote, and an underground cenote. Julio made sure to point out all the potential dangers and wonders of each spot. We were especially glad that he showed us a map of the ocean inlet, as my husband and I got separated from the group and had to find our way back on our own! (Both of us wear glasses, and there were several red-shirted tour guides for various groups, so one red guy started to look like another…) Apart from that minor scare, the snorkeling at Yal-Ku Lagoon was beautiful.

Our Tour Group

The open cenote that was next on the agenda included a diving platform and a zipline, for the adventurous types. I passed on both, but my husband did the zipline and loved it! Several people jumped off of the diving platform multiple times. Not as many fish as in the lagoon, but the water was crisp and cool and refreshing.

The underground cenote was even colder, but was completely breathtaking. A few beams of natural light filtered from above us down into the deep, and the crevasses below us seemed to go down forever. The beauty was amazing (and was, unfortunately, too dark for my underwater camera to capture).

Lunch is included in this tour, which we hadn’t realized at the time of booking. The food was delicious yet basic: chicken, tortillas, rice, beans, all fresh and very welcome after a morning of snorkeling.

I brought a camera with an underwater case, but there were some staff photographers at certain locations — at the zipline and diving platform, and in the underground cenote. They took some candid shots at the open cenote, and some posed shots of couples and family groups at the underground cenote. The price of the photos was extremely reasonable: about $20 for a CD-R of the candid and posed shots, plus some stock photos of the cenotes and wildlife.

Overall, this was a fabulous experience. Highly recommend!

Snorkeling Self-Portrait

TripAdvisor Review: Alltournative Mayan Encounter

This week’s review, posted to TripAdvisor, details the fun we had going on a Mayan Encounter with our tour guide, Rodolfo:

My husband and I went on the Mayan Encounter in April 2010, and had a fabulous time! Our guide, Rodolfo, had a great sense of humor. He also made sure to keep the youngest member of our tour (about age 9) safe and engaged.

The day started with a trip to the ruins at Coba. We were the only two people in our group who opted not to rent a bicycle or take a “Mayan Limousine” (bicycle taxi) out to Nohoch Muul. If I had it to do over, I would have gone ahead and spent the extra money for the taxi. While the walk wasn’t difficult, it took up valuable time — we had just enough time to walk out, climb the stairs, take a few pictures, and come back, and we were the last ones back to the van.

After the ruins, we headed to the Mayan village, where we stowed our gear and went for a walk in the jungle….

I also brought a waterproof camera with me, and was discreet about photographing, as there are Mayan photographers with Alltournative that take photos during the activities. Rodolfo asked us, in his own dry and amusing way, not to interfere with the photographers on-site. He also made it clear that he wouldn’t be climbing down into any ravines to fetch lost cameras. I believe his quotable on the subject was, “Too bad, so sad.” Cameras ARE allowed, but you bring them at your own risk.

Rodolfo and the Shaman

The activities aren’t necessarily done in the order they’re listed on the Alltournative website: we rappelled into the cenote first (after being purified, of course), then went down the zipline, then went canoeing. The rappelling was the most nerve-wracking for myself and my husband, but also very high on the fun factor (for me, anyway). The most dangerous, though, could well have been just walking in the jungle! It had just rained, so the ground was slick, and there were rocks and roots everywhere. My husband and I were glad to have worn our hiking sandals, and I would encourage anyone going on this tour to consider a pair. I would have been uncomfortable in closed shoes, especially with either damp socks or no socks at all after swimming.

The rappelling could have been disastrous, but wasn’t: at the very bottom, as I was settling into the inner tube that was waiting for me in the cenote, my hair got caught in the hooks and ropes of the rappelling harness. The native guide in the cenote called up to the people back at the top of the rope, and they hauled up on the rope just enough to free my hair. An incident that could have ruined my entire vacation in a very major way ended up being just a 30-second blip in the fun.

The zipline was brief but enjoyable. We each got a helmet and a wooden stick to be used as a brake. For those of us larger types, the brake didn’t seem to do much, and the photos of us at the end of the zipline were basically us with expressions of abject horror that we WEREN’T STOPPING — but there was a foam sleeve around the zipline at the end that finished the braking process, thankfully.

The canoeing seemed to be just a timesink — something to allow the staff to finish up the meal preparation and photo transfers — but it was relaxing and enjoyable nonetheless. It had been years since either I or my husband went canoeing, so just tooling around a lake was fun and relaxing.

The Mayan meal was simple and delicious: chicken, beans, empanadas, tortillas, rice, and flavored waters (I’m a big fan of the tamarind water).

Mayan Lunch

After lunch, we got to view the photos taken by the staff. There were a few that were well-composed and better than your average snapshot, but a single printed photo cost $20, and even the package deals (digital photos on CD) were entirely too expensive. I’m glad I brought my own camera, but disappointed that the staff photos were so overpriced.

On our way back, Rodolfo took us past the Alltournative shop for a “technical stop” and a round of tequila shots (for those of us of age). Unfortunately, he didn’t mention that he wanted to do a toast, so one person grabbed her shot, and the rest of us followed suit while Rodolfo was away from the table for a moment. When he came back and saw that we’d already finished our shots, he seemed very disappointed that we hadn’t gotten to toast our day together, “but this time we do it the American way, no?”

Overall, this was a great way to try some new things, see some amazing and beautiful sights, and learn about the Mayan culture. To Rodolfo — I had a great time, and I hope you weren’t too intimidated by my TripAdvisor hat. I wasn’t really a “secret shopper.” πŸ™‚

Diana at Nohoch Muul

TripAdvisor Review: The Royal Playa del Carmen

As the first of several reviews I’ll be writing about our experiences with the businesses and services in and around Playa del Carmen, QR, Mexico, I chose to review our resort, the Royal Playa del Carmen.

Despite a few negative experiences I felt necessary to point out, I gave the resort a rating of five out of five. My review reads, in part:

In a nutshell: The Royal has spacious rooms, a beautiful beach, delicious food, and impeccable service. There were negative points, of course, but the positives far outweighed those.

We stayed at the Royal for six nights, and ate at every restaurant at least once. Maria Marie, the French-Mexican fusion restaurant, quickly became our favorite; we’d had little to no prior experience with pricey French cuisine, and discovered that we love the selections at Maria Marie. Second on our list was the 24-Hour All-Inclusive Snack Bar, oddly enough. They had hors d’oeuvres that were appropriate for the time of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night), plus beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, so it was a great place to stop in at off-times: for an early breakfast before a tour, or in the afternoon if we were planning a late dinner.

Regarding our room (Junior Suite): It was easily the largest and most posh room we’ve ever stayed in. The ceilings were amazingly tall; the bed large and comfortable, with plenty of pillows to choose from; the AC worked splendidly, as did the ceiling fan; and the double jacuzzi was much appreciated.

[The] negative points really were far outweighed by the fabulous experience we had at the Royal. There were beach chairs both in the sun and the shade (which we, as pasty white Midwesterners, highly appreciated), with servers who brought us beverages as we read books and surfed the internet on our smartphones using the resort’s free wi-fi. The service at all of the restaurants was nearly impeccable: never before have I had my chair pulled out for me AND my napkin laid on my lap. The food was delicious and attractive, and the desserts (especially anything involving chocolate) were absolutely amazing. And whenever we were at a loss as to where to go or what to do, we’d simply stop into the Lobby Bar and enjoy the comfy chairs, the breeze, and a few drinks. (And the wi-fi.)

As far as relaxing, resort-style beach vacations go, this was an amazing experience. I would definitely recommend the Royal to anyone who is considering a vacation in Playa.

For my full review, along with photos of The Royal, visit my list of reviews on TripAdvisor. They take a few days to approve reviews, so it should be posted by early next week was posted on Wednesday.

Rate iPhone Apps Friday: Fitness Edition

Gymboss (3 β˜…)

The highly customizable multiple timers are the main selling point of this app, and is the reason why I’m keeping it on my iPhone, despite its major flaws. As others have mentioned, the timer pauses when the iPhone screen locks; also, the individual elements within a timer aren’t editable (to change duration or alert sound). The sounds available are also very limited, and aren’t able to be previewed while setting up a timer.

With a few adjustments, this could be an excellent app. As it stands, with its flaws, it’s pretty good for free.

Other fitness apps I rated today:
Interval Timer (4 β˜…)
Weight Watchers Mobile (4 β˜…)
SparkPeople Diet & Food Tracker (4 β˜…)
iFitness (5 β˜…)

New Nightly Ritual

facial products
[Taken 11 Feb 2010 | 1/25 sec @ f/6.3 | ISO 800 | 50mm | ambient light, handheld]

Just ordered some new facial products from SpaGoddess on Etsy, after reading an interview with her in Ready Made magazine. I’m not usually one to get overly excited about such things, but these are definitely worth trying. I’m not ashamed to admit that, the day these products arrived, I washed my face RIGHT AFTER DINNER. I just could not wait.

I purposely bought several sample sizes of different products, to give them a test drive. I already have an idea of what I may be ordering again in the future (including one item she included for free!), and what I may pass on next time. Even the products that haven’t completely sold me, though, feel better than the over-formulated, chemical-laden commercial products I’ve been using. These products from Angel Face Botanicals (aka SpaGoddess on Etsy) literally make it a joy just to wash my face at night. Highly recommended.

Rate iPhone Apps Friday

I’m taking a page from Garrett Murray’s playbook, and participating in Rate iPhone Apps Friday. In his words:

It’s that time again: Take 10 or 15 minutes out of your day today and rate/review some of the apps you use on your iPhone in the App Store. Most people have tons of apps on their phones, many of which they love, but we’re all guilty of forgetting or not bothering to review them in the store.

Today I reviewed Smart.fm (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…) and Echofon Pro for Twitter (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…).

Alas, I am discovering that, by using applications that my husband actually purchased and authorized me to install (up to 5 computers can be authorized, don’t ya know), I will be unable to write reviews of many of the apps I have installed!

So, despite the fact that that people who need to see these reviews won’t know they exist, I’m still going to write them anyway, and post them here on my blog, starting with Echofon.
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Wii Fit Revisited

I bought the first Wii Fit game and balance board back in May 2008. I used it for a while, but eventually got tired of not having the option of doing an entire workout β€” just individual exercises, one at a time, even when the game suggests several specific exercises to do together. (“Is that a yoga pose or a strength exercise that it thinks I should do next? It doesn’t say…”)

Today, I picked up Wii Fit Plus for $19.99 β€” not a bad price for a new game! Despite the “Plus” moniker, which might suggest you need Wii Motion Plus to play, it seems to only require the normal balance board (as far as I can tell). So far, I’ve only had it re-weigh me (I’ve gained six pounds since the last time I played, earlier this year), so I can’t speak to the game’s new features (including customizable workout routines), but you can bet I’ll be talking about them later.

What was particularly fun, though, was getting Aaron back on the balance board. I made him get on it back in May of last year, to record his weight and input his info, and he hasn’t touched it since. It’s been 508 days, and he’s lost over 67 pounds:

down 67.5 pounds!

It took his Mii from looking like a Weeble-Wobble to looking like a normal, cute, superdeformed Aaron. Awesome!