Monday, April 27, 2015

Grand Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an

This resort literally has miles of beaches. If you don't like the first one you see, walk until you find one you like. [Right now there is a huge problem of seaweed on the beaches of the Caribbean. At this resort, employees removed the seaweed in the mornings.]
The Lovely Spouse and I just returned from our annual vacation.  Given it's been 2 years since our last one, this was a special treat.  We returned to a resort we previously visited, Grand Bahia Principe in the Mayan Riviera just south of Akumal, but stayed at a different section.  We previously stayed in the Coba and Tulum sections and decided to stay in the Sian Ka'an section this time around.

The Sian Ka'an lobby at night. The open air design catches every breeze through the jungle.
Grand Bahia Principe in the Riviera Maya is a very large resort with 4 sections: Akumal, Coba, Tulum, and Sian Ka'an.  Akumal and Tulum are on the beach.  Coba is on the beach side of the highway but a little ways from the beach, and Sian Ka'an is across the highway from the beach in the jungle.  We chose Sian Ka'an for this trip because it is 18+ years of age and above and includes a number of upgrades, including access to all the resorts and restaurants, and a few additional amenities.
This section of the beach had rocks, but was very quiet.
Just as with previous visits, the service was outstanding.  Typically a vacation at this property includes all you can eat and drink and the ability to book dinners at the ala carte restaurants, instead of eating at the buffets (open during specific hours) or snack bars (open 24 hours). Staying at Sian Ka'an means being able to book as many ala carte dinners as you want. We downloaded an app recommended by Grand Bahia Principe when we booked our stay and were able to easily request our room (before the trip) and ala cartes (after arrival).  

The lap swimming pool at the Tao Wellness Center.  The gym, with cardio and weight lifting equipment, is on the right. There's a yoga and meditation studio to the left.  There's also another pool to the left. The Lovely Spouse and I did work out while we were there. :-) 

There's a cenote on the property next to Tao.  In the upper right corner of the picture you can see one of the holes from the golf course.  Miss the hole and - plink! - right into the cenote.

Mariachis at the Sian Ka'an pool. 

The musicians for the Mayan show. 

One of the Mayan dancers. Much of the staff at the resort is from the local area of Quintana Roo and many of them speak Mayan as their first language.

For obvious reasons, this is called the swing bar. If you are staying in the Akumal or Sian Ka'an sections, there is palapa service for drinks. They will bring drinks directly to you at your lounger on the beach.
We had a friendly archery match with some of the other guests. I tied for first. 
During the day there were a number of activities throughout the resort.  There were fitness classes, and Sian Ka'an guests had access to the Tao Wellness Center in the jungle.  There were also shows at the pools and on the beach.  I haven't mention golf, because I don't play, but the course is, from what I've heard, very challenging.  And of course lots and lots of bars.  Evidently I don't drink nearly as much as many other that were there, but I found 2 favorite drinks.  The Coco Banana is pretty much a banana smoothie.  It was delicious with the addition of rum.  My other favorite drink was called an Iceberg.  This was one half frozen margarita and one half cerveza on draft.  It was great because it made the margarita much less sweet and carbonated.

Hacienda Dona Isabel is where the Thursday fiesta and lots of shopping are located.

There's also shopping at the Akumal Premier lobby.

If you want some beer other than the Dos XX the resort serves, go to the Corona bar in the Hacienda (extra cost). There's an added bonus that they show hockey games and other sporting events on their large projection TV.

Gorgeous Mexican artwork. I wanted to take them all home.
There was also a lot of shopping available at the resort.  I had to watch my budget in a few places because they had some awesome artwork.

I don't usually see men performing Spanish web, but this was really awesome to see during the Beatles tribute show.
There was plenty of entertainment each night.  We gravitated towards the dance and circus shows.  There were also shows for people with kids at the sections.  And our lobby had nightly singing and dancing.
We also enjoyed making new friends from around the world and hanging out at the Akumal Premier lobby.  
We also did a number of excursions, which I'll cover in additional posts.  I'll also cover the ala carte meals we had.  So how was the food at the buffets?  Just as good as I remember.

Fideo with seafood.

Cute little appetizer salads.

A variety of amuse bouche.

A fun sugar sculpture on the dessert bar.

The sushi was much better than I remember from previous visits.

One night there was also a chocolate buffet in the Sian Ka'an lobby.

I didn't take pictures of the breakfast buffet, but there were all the standard items you expect for breakfast as well as a smoothie bar where you could get every kind of smoothie imaginable.

Some of the fish seen while snorkeling at the resort.
As The Lovely Spouse likes to say: if you're hungry, bored, or sober at this resort, and don't want to be, it's probably your fault. We'll definitely be back. There are other resorts in the region, but this truly gives us the most value for the money and bang for the buck.  Other posts will follow discussing our excursions and the ala carte restaurants.

If you go, here are a few insider tips:

1. Remember the resort is located just south of Akumal, or about 2 hours south of Cancun (the closest recommended airport).  You will have to arrange ground transportation when you book the hotel.

2. The majority of electrical plugs are the US standard 3 prong in the Sian Ka'an section.  Some of the older sections still use the standard 2 prong plugs for Mexico.  Be prepared for both and bring a power strip so that you can charge all your electronic devices.

3. Learn some Spanish. It's not required and most of the staff knows enough English to help guests out with just about everything.  But learn a few words so that you can be friends. Hola, Buenos Dias, Adios, Muchas Gracias, etc.  My Spanish is about grade school level and I got along just fine on and off the resort.  I carried a phrase book to retrieve the missing pieces of my vocabulary. Be aware that if someone shouts "Cuidado!" or "Alto!" at you they're saying "Careful!" or "Stop!".

4. Tipping is not required but is encouraged.  We saw many, many people not tipping and it was fine.  We also saw many people tipping in both pesos and US dollars. Tipping, as in the US, helps establish a more personal relationship with a server.  You can choose not to and will still get the same great level of service.

5. The Akumal Premier lobby is part of the Coba resort and all guests have access to it.  It is also the best place to get a unique shot called a Mexican Guiness. It's made with amaretto and a host of other ingredients.  When consumed as a shot it tastes a bit like a Guiness.

6. It's a very large resort, however the trolleys and golf carts are there to help you get around. Drivers pull the trolleys up to the lobbies and announce their destinations.  If you don't hear them or aren't clear if they're going to where you want to go ask "Adonde va?" or say the name of your destination.  They'll let you know.

7.  The vast majority of guests are not from the U.S.  And this is pretty darned cool.  Make new friends and learn about other parts of the world.

8. If you develop an illness or a minor injury, there is a medical clinic and a pharmacy located in the Hacienda on property.

9. If you are mobility impaired, the hotel will work with you for transport around the resort. We saw a large variety of accommodations for a number of different challenges. When booking the resort please call to make sure arrangements will be possible.

10. Wifi is free at Sian Ka'an. You get 1 hour of free wifi in the lobbies of the other sections per day.  The wifi improved from our previous visits.

Disclaimer: none of the above implies any sort of endorsement for Grand Bahia Principe or the Pinero Group of hotels.  We had a good time and are sharing our experience via this blog.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Food Fight!

The first ever Aggieland Food Fight was recently held at New Republic Brewery and it was awesome for everyone who participated.

The winners were...Lew's BBQ and Big Daddy Z's!  The others defaulted on the bragging rights by not bothering to show up.  However Lew's and Big Daddy Z's showed up ready for the fight and it was a very good thing for those of us who showed up ready for the eating. And for New Republic Brewery's beer, Perrine Winery's wine, and Rio Brazos' whiskey.

Lew's menu featuring the not-so-secret ingredient: ginger.

Big Daddy Z's menu.

Delicious smoked wings. Lew's should consider adding this to the regular menu.

Tuna ceviche from Big Daddy Z's. Actually quite delicious.

Truffle fries with a Big Kahuna bowl in the background.  These are both on Big Daddy Z's regular menu.
Everyone having a blast at the brewery.
In all, I hope this becomes a regular thing, but, you know, with the other food trucks actually showing up.  In spite of all of this happening on the same day as Chilifest, everyone had a great time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Food Fight! Coming this Saturday to Aggieland

This isn't really a post, it's an announcement of something awesome coming to College Station this weekend.

Image source.
The Bryan/College Station area food trucks are having a food fight at New Republic Brewery on Saturday, April 11 from noon to 4 pm.  They each have to make $5 dishes featuring the theme ingredient: ginger.

Image source.

The following food trucks will be participating:

Perrine Winery and Rio Brazos Distillery are not food trucks, but will also be there.

I would expect to find crowds so get there early and be patient. Don't forget your umbrella!  Wunderground is calling for rain. No surprise there, given how wet this Spring has been.

For more information, like and follow Aggieland Food Fight on facebook or follow them on twitter.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Cocoamoda Pictures

Now that Chocolate: Impossible has aired I can finally post my picts of the renovations at Cocoamoda. I was there the day after the shoot wrapped to check on Ken and Jackie and have been holding on to these because everyone else involved had to abide by an NDA. For the record, they announced today they'll be serving lunch Thursday through Sunday. You can find the before pictures with my first post on the chocolatier.

I couldn't just pick one....

The event space with about a gazillion LED candles.

I kind of love the fireplace. 

This particular designer has a thing for opaque mirrors. The event space has a bar now, which it needed.

The event space is one of the prettiest storefronts in Calvert.

Cocoamoda has a distinctive storefront.

At first covering the bookshelves seemed weird. Now it seems like something less to dust. And, again, an opaque mirror.

Chocolate is the main event.

Chef Ken and Julie behind the counter. 
I encourage all readers who visit Calvert to also visit the other shops in town.  Cowboy Up has unique apparel and things like the "Good Sh**" spice mixtures. There are also antique stores, art galleries, and artist spaces.  Not to mention other places to eat and drink. Make a day trip out of it and visit them all. 

Answers to frequently asked questions:

1. Yes, you can have their chocolates shipped to your door. Go to their website and order them. The chocolates are typically $3-4 each at the store. Expect to pay additional shipping costs.

2. They now have lunch available (soup and sandwich of the day) on a first-come, first-serve basis Thursday through Sunday at the chocolate boutique.

3. Their dinners are awesome. The menu changes weekly and is posted to facebook.  Call to make reservations. Bring your own beverage. Coffee, tea, sipping chocolate, and water are available. Don't be a no-show as they make exactly as much as is needed for the people who make reservations.

4.  ALL of the chocolates are delicious.  My personal favorites are the key lime and milk and honey.

5. Yes, they cater special events and weddings. Talk with Chef Ken regarding the details.

EDIT (06/19/2015): We had a lovely dinner at Cocoamoda and highly recommend them for fine dining.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Grand Presentation for Junk Food

This isn't really a post, it's a link to something awesome on the internet. 

Chef Jacques LaMerde (very likely a pseudonym, given the name means Jack the Sh**) has an Instagram so awesome I almost want to subscribe to Instagram. Almost. Using tweezers, liquid nitrogen, and (likely) professional chef know-how he (or she?) spectacularly plates and photographs American junk food.  The results are fantastic. Don't forget to read the hilarious commentary.

The most beautiful Hot Pocket I've ever seen.  

A screen capture of one creation involving Dunkin Munchkins and Oreo birthday cake soil.   

Go here to check out the fun for yourself.