Secrets the Vine: an all-inclusive where luxury is no secret

Secrets the Vine puts Cancun on the map when it comes to merging the beautiful scenery of Mexico with the luxury few all inclusives can lay claim to.  When booking an all-inclusive I am usually very nervous.  It’s like putting all of your vacation eggs in one basket.  They become the go-to of your room, your restaurants, your drinks and your pool, so a bad choice can kill the vibes of your vacation in moments.  Walking into Secrets Vine solo the first night those worries vanished as I entered into the scene to their gorgeous property.  From bottom to top the space screamed luxury, from the grand entrance to bars and pools so I made sure I made myself right at home for a beautiful stay in Cancun.

So first things first is the food. I stuck to my normal rule of ordering anything they would let me get my hands on to make sure I got a taste of everything I could.  If you aren’t a little greedy at when the food is included how will the all-inclusive pay you back for the money spent up front?  So I walked right in to the Bluewater Grill and took my seat ready for a feast and a feast I was delivered! I am pretty sure the other guests wondered why would one person need so much, welp mind your business momma needs to kick her vacation off.  From that moment on anything I tasted from lunch overlooking the beach to poolside snacks to even moonlit dinner the food was consistently amazing.  And drinks, as they walk hand in hand, were equally luxurious and readily available as I double fisted my days away by the pool on drinks that were green and very, very mean.

 

Next thing up is accommodations. So I hate when a hotel shoots for the moon but barely makes it to the street light once you get out of a magnificent lobby.  Secrets the Vine had some luxurious accommodations for the rooms and special touches like a champagne bottle waiting for you made sure you would take your beautiful ocean view and not waste it.  The pools were of course beautiful but this trip in particular helped me recognize that Cancun has some of the most magnificent beaches so that is where I usually hopped off to.  With beautiful white sand and a perfect crispy temp the beaches are at the top of my Mexico list.

Last but not least of course is the fun. While some adults only all inclusives can get a little bit on the creepy old people range of things this was a great mix of reserved fun.  I like this in a hotel because Cancun gives a wide assortment of options if you want a night on the town and my mom always advised not to eat where you … well you get the drift.  With fun additions like casino nigh where the top winners took home real prizes and a live band playing at the bar you could start a laid back night at the hotel and keep the party going wherever you choose.  All in all I give the hotel 5 stars for bring together a wonderful blend of food and fun for a getaway you are sure to remember.

Packing in the adventure at Xel-Ha in Rivera Maya Mexico

Xel-Ha park takes the very best of the exotic and beautiful terrain in Riviera Maya Mexico and turns it into a family fun park that gives everyone a dose of the adventure and fun they desire.  My trip to the park was a bit of a surprise as in trying to justify the ride to get to Tulum we thought by adding more excursions to our day we would feel better about the drive time.  So after battling the sun and heat of the Tulum ruins we piled back on the bus and headed to Xel-Ha not sure what would be instore.  Upon arriving we were told the bus would not be heading out for another 6 hours and the immediate thought was of dread that there was no way two adults would make it that long in an adventure park.  Well that view was short-lived as you take a look at the map it is quickly clear that the park houses a huge assortment of treasures that normally would take days of excursions to conquer. 

From cenotes to lazy rivers to slides and pools the park literally has everything under the sun all while honoring the rich tradition of the Mayan culture.  But before conquering the fun and rides first things first, it’s time to eat.  The most impressive thing for me about the park set up is that food and drinks are included.  Yes you read right the park offers restaurants and bars that serve a huge selection of food and beverages, including alcohol are all included.  We choose the Mexican restaurant as American food seemed off in the beautiful Mexican setting and we were pleasantly surprised.  The buffet offered a wide selection of very authentic dishes as well as American fusion dishes and even some notable favorites of mine like freshly handmade tortillas and churros.  Honestly hours disappeared at the restaurant as we drank Miami vices and had shots galore and enjoyed the wonderful family fun vibe the park exudes. 

So many drinks and shots and plates of food later it was time to take on the challenge of exploring Xel-Ha.  I love swimming and fun in the sun and the expansive parks provides all of that.  Even better most of the adventures are included with the park with only a limited amount of options being an additional charge.  From biking, to cenotes, to caves, to snorkeling to bike riding to so much more the park is a perfect full day getaway.  Because the activities are so extensive and different you could spend more than a day exploring them all.  For an adrenaline junkie like me its almost too hard to decide but a definite highlight of all the activities was the river tour.  It is a natural lazy river as you begin along a tree lined stream that outlets to the larger river.  As you float along you fully appreciate the beauty of the location and the park as it is has been built around the natural beauty instead of over it.  The result is a truly unique magical adventure park that is truly one size fits all.   

Taking the usual out of a trip to Mexico with a visit to Tulum

More and more as I hunt for great destinations Tulum, Mexico has begun to pop on my must visit list and of course I always try to go where the winds take me so in my most recent trip to Cancun I booked a day tour to Tulum.  Once a busting city and port Tulum embodies the spirit of native peoples who once inhabited the land.  When trade became prohibited by invaders from the East the bustling city died and was only rediscovered as a tourist destination in modern times.  A trip to Tulum is just a short car ride from Cancun and many of the hotspots both pay reverence to the history and people that cultivated the land and showcased the beautiful landscapes of the area.

While Tulum offers some of the most amazing beaches in Mexico and popular freshwater cenotes on a day tour your limited time forces you to prioritize what you want to see most.  Without question for me it was the Mayan ruins the walled city of Tulum is renowned for.  The attraction built around the ruins features local vendors and showing and water holes, even some of the familiar sort such as Starbucks.  The fact that it is a tourist destination is well established so if you are looking for deals and steals when it comes to shopping you will not find it there.  What you miss in bargains you gain in a chance to journey back to the Mayan port at its peak.  They have Mayan pole flyers and other performers dressed in traditional Mayan clothing and performing centuries old rituals and dances.  That alone was enough to get me super excited.  Form this entrance hub you can chose to visit the beach onsite or visit the Tulum Ruins.

As history is my thing the Tulum Ruins were my top choice.  We visited with a tour that gave a brief history of the beautiful lands and people of the Mayan civilization so it really put in context just how amazing the ruins were in their time.  With the quick tour out of the way you are able to explore the seaside village.  Something about ruins always opens my mind to exploring just life was for people in this well-established civilization.  From their housing to buildings to even worship centers the city is a tribute to their advancement and ingenuity.  Do take note that although exploring is fun this is a pretty hot very open area.  There are few places to run for cover and even as early as April it is pretty hot with few places to stop and rest.  The ocean breeze becomes even more refreshing in this case as you have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Cliffside views from the ruins.  Although short Tulum was a great break from standard Cancun expeditions and when you add in excursions you can make a day or weekend of magic in this Mayan playground.

 

Adding a Carnaval twist to the Champagne Campaign with Veuve Cliquot

All the music, fun, and sun that comes to mind when you think of Miami was turned on and amplified for the Veuve Cliquot Carnaval.  This annual Veuve extravaganza celebrates all the vibrancy of Miami in a fun twist on their typical events.  As a frequent attendee for the Polo Match I was curious to see what this MIA variation brought to the table as partygoers celebrated the dancing and music of Carnaval with a Veuve twist.

So in an easy answer to the question “How was the Veuve Champaign campaign at the Veuve Carnaval in Miami?” is that it was fantastico! Set in the Biscayne Park, the venue was both centrally located and offered great views of both the water front of Biscayne Bay and neighboring downtown Miami.  The staples for veuve events were of course present as well with food trucks and Veuve bottle tents conveniently spaced throughout the celebration.  For the Miami edition I think the location layout tops even some of other popular polo venues as right away when walking in you were faced with the very difficult decision to buy a bottle or glass of your favorite Veuve.  The food truck options presented a wide range of selections from bar food and pizza to some more lavish possibilities like my choice, an outstanding lobster roll food truck.  They offered some great variations on the traditional lobster roll and the bite was the perfect base for the bottles of Veuve on deck.

What really makes this event unique is the music and entertainment. With live performances from local bands and a thrilling performance from Swing Latina there was an instant fiesta vibe tingling throughout the entire event.  What is best about good vibrations is that they are contagious so even in the threat of an afternoon Miami shower or bearing the mostly standing only seating options you still feel energetic as you sway to the beat and check out all the cool kids that are certainly in the building in any Veuve event.

My favorite things: Miami weekend pop up edition

There is something so special about a quick weekend trip because you are willing to put your foot on the gas to make sure you get all the fun in on one weekend. When your turn around trip has a destination of Miami you already know it is going to be one helluva weekend.  So while my trip to Miami was filled with pre-planned fun like the Museum of Ice Cream and the Veuve Carnival, I also wanted to make sure to get in some of my old and new favs to check off my list

To start the hotel. The location of your hotel can be tricky because you have to balance the cost of South Beach hotels with the convenience of being close to the action.  For me being centrally located in a city where you are on the move helps you keep the party going when the wear and tear of a busy weekend may start to kick in.  For this trip I pulled a sister hotel from one my Miami favs and stayed at the Redbury Miami.  This hotel is new to the SLS properties and while just across the street from sister hotels like the SLS South Beach and the Delano it definitely offers its own unique twist on luxury Miami hotels.  As the hotel has had recent upgrades it has a very retro renaissance vibe that is completely different.  The rooms are definitely a pleasant surprise from some of the South Beach tiny quarters.  With bigger spaces in both bed area and the bathroom you get more of a chance to really stretch out.  What may be missing in the lux factor is definitely made up in two other important areas, price and access.  Yep this hotel hits a much lower price point than say the SLS and offers breakfast as part of the room packages.  To add to that attraction you also get all the access to the sister hotels such as the restaurant at the Raleigh, the pool, club and beach at the SLS and even the infamous Delano pool.  If your goal is to be on the move than access alone makes the value of this hotel triple what the charges are.

Next comes the fun. Miami is a great to do a little of everything so yes to strolling clubs on South Beach and also yes to planning a more purposeful evening at a club like Liv.  With the first night being filled with Museum of Ice Cream fun we decided to check out one of the tried and true bars Wet Willies.  Located in the middle of ocean of course you head there for the strong frozen drinks but the crowd of all walks of life that frequents the bar is equally amazing in a people watching train crash kind of way.  Sunday was of course reserved for Sunday Funday starting with the infamous brunch at Nikki Beach.  While it is not for the club like atmosphere the brunch is also delicioso.  With live music and dancers, food at every turn, and drinks pouring all while enjoying the ocean breeze it is a must for anyone who likes a side of fun with their food.  And as if that was not enough Sunday Fun we headed to the pool at the Mandarian Oriental giving phenomenal views of the city and a posh place to relax or turn up as you choose.  Later on in the night we took on the challenge of Liv which of course comes with long waits at the doors and high entrance fees.   All that said wondering up on a performance of Gucci Mane and Little Wayne at the club is just a normal thing that could happen during your visit.

Finally is food. Yep there is ton of titillating treats to eat in Miami so do not dare miss out on some of the deliciousness.  This time I tried something a little new with Prime Italian.  With patio seating that keeps you in the middle of the action and food that is simply amazing it is a great way to add some real laughs into what could be a quiet evening.  When all this is done while you stuff your face with impeccable scallop stuffed lobster there is no shortage of must haves for the night.  So when in Miami for the weekend do not be afraid to take on the challenge and she just how much moving and shaking you can get done in a weekend!

Honoring the legends in our midst at the BE Women in Power Legacy Gala

In its annual celebration of the influence of women, the Black Enterprise Women in Power Summit represents all things powerful and beautiful about sisterhood and women and the unique challenges and perspectives that we experience and embrace.  The three day conference offered opportunities to learn, party, cry and challenge yourself in a way that sets a fire to your passions like few conferences have done for me.  To start off the festivities the summit pulls a surprise order, placing their signature event on Day 1: the Women in Power Legacy Awards Gala.  The gala allows women to acknowledge and uplift the greatness, challenges, and ferocity we see in heroines around us and also provides them an opportunity to share their perspective of their success.

As I pulled up in my car on the first day running in fashionably late to the gala it dawned on me I really was not sure what to expect. Going to a conference alone strips you of the option to rely on those you know to provide a good time.  Without the crutch of comfort you are forced to open your mind and heart to the people and experiences that may lie in store.  As I walked in a wee bit anxious as I maneuvered to find a seat at the gala something different happened, the energy of the women in the room began to energize me.  From friendly smiles to compliments to my dress to welcome invitations to join tables I began to understand the potential you can tap into when you have a room full of successful, driven and positive women all in one place.  Just like that this energy quickly removed the newness and new acquaintances quickly began to feel like old friends as we ate, laughed and listened to the phenomenal and inspirational stories of the recipients.

As a high point to the strong and powerful women that filled the room the Gala honored recipients who not only shined in their career but inspired others with their ability not just to succeed but to see the bigger picture of their roles as a connection for others to reach their greatness. From trailblazers in the financial world such as Edith Cooper, who climbed to elite levels in the man’s world of the New York Stock Exchange, to Jayne Kennedy Overton whose beauty only paled in comparison to her agility to spot and seize opportunities as she moved from dancer to actor to one of the first black women sportscasters.  By far, however, my favorites were Carmen Lavallade and Donna Brazille.  Ms. Lavallade has become renowned as a dancer, but in hearing this sprite 87 year old speak you realize that dancing was only the means she used to realize the beautiful spirit bursting from inside her.  As she shared her wisdom of where things had been to where things are you could not help but take a step back and think wow.  From the speakers to your fellow attendees there were so many beautiful stories left untold, to be told, and retold that compiled the history of us.  This history was best closed by Donna Brazile, the feisty political powerhouse who got the house shaking when she share the wisdom of Ms. Lavallade, to pull yourself up by your vagina.  While the comment took some by surprise the message sure should not have.  Instead of hiding behind the depiction of women, especially black women, we have to trust ourselves enough to dig deep, recognize the power blazing inside of us and prepare to unleash it on the world until others can neither dim nor deny that light.  With a fiery speak taking us through history and to the time that we now can claim as our own, the Gala laid an impressive foundation to a conference full of trailblazing.

 

(Photos courtesy of Black Enterprise)

Three days in the Bay Area

The more opportunities to explore, the merrier when it comes to weekend travel so the three for one opportunity to explore in the bay area are second to none. There are only a few places that you can get a completely different experience with each day of vacation, but the bay area is definitely one of those places where you can experience the completely different worlds of Oakland, San Francisco and Napa Valley on a relatively short trip.  So as I hopped into San Francisco over the weekend I knew I was up for the challenge of getting something new and different out of all three areas.

First up, San Francisco. This city serves an amazing mix of modern and old time charm so you can absolutely get several different vibes in this city alone.  As I have been to San Francisco before I decided to be more focused in my approach of the city, trying out things and places that were both new and old to me.  I love the shopping in the heart of the city and as the parking situation is a bit overwhelming my hotel was in the mix of shops galore.  Even in their shopping fusion the city shows is change with the time as you find time honored shops mixed in with top notch luxury stores from around the globe.  While the shopping scene in the afternoon was familiar the look for dinner was completely new.  El Mansour is a great Moroccan restaurant showcasing the international playground San Francisco has come to be.  If atmosphere and fun ambiance are on your menu you have found the perfect place.  With a feel of steeping into a Marrakesh diner and a belly dancer entertaining and encouraging diners participation you are sure to get in on the fun.  Make sure to end your night with the drawn mint tea which is a presentation with the best reward of all, a delicious product.

While San Francisco serves up tons of bars and clubs I was in the mood for a bit more intimate feel and for a nightcap I popped over the bridge to Oakland. Oakland has a great collection of bars open late, vibing with music to move your feet and all within close walking distance.  For the libation lover you can stop and hang at a bar focused on delivering hand crafted cocktails and for your party animal there are clusters of small clubs providing opportunity for those who are mover and shakers and those who like to set back and watch.

Up in the morning and now on to my next destination, Napa Valley. While traffic can make this a considerable drive out the city, you quickly get the point upon arriving to Napa that the distance was completely worth it.  The beautiful sights and sounds give a rustic country energy to your trip and I don’t think I have to mention the food and wine can have you quickly calling this nirvana.  The slower energy, drastically different from the busy streets of San Francisco, beg you to slow it down so that’s just what I did.  If chasing down the best winery is not your speed check out the beautiful city of Yountville where restaurants, bars, wineries and B & B’s are all clustered together to compact your fun and range.

To round out the fun I let my greedy girl inside run free in Oakland. From giant crab platters one night to fun and festive Cuban fare for breakfast Oakland provides the perfect medium.  With its own unique style Oakland is great place to spend your days relaxing and your nights partying.  Perfect example was a quaint brunch destination, Cana.  With great mojito pitchers you start your day off with a great brunch, but as the afternoon rolls around the focus rolls from food to moving your feet as they bring in live music to help you burn off some of your buzz and calories.  All in all the bay area gives you everything from busy city living to countryside peace and all in time to have you back at work on Monday.

Travel Tip of the Week: Fare Sale with United

Yearning to travel this spring or summer???? Well good news the fare sale competition is on and especially if international destinations are on your way now is the time to grab your tickets and get on your way.  From Barcelona to Venice and even parts of Africa the deals from New York are as low as $400.  To add icing on the cake it is a United fare sale so you don’t have to worry if you are flying the Greyhound of the air and focus your attention to planning the rest of what is sure to be a fantastic vacay!!

Here are just some of the deals you can find on Secret Flying and other websites:

Los Angeles to the Turks & Caicos for only $380 roundtrip

Many US cities to Hawaii (& vice versa) from only $395 roundtrip

Austin, Texas to Amsterdam, Netherlands for only $395 roundtrip

Detroit to Rome, Italy for only $430 roundtrip

 

Using Google Flights to find the perfect flight for your budget

Google Flights price tracking system is a great way to jump on great deals for your dream vacations.  Matching your budget for a flight the old fashion way could take hours of searches and daily follow ups just to make sure a great deal does not escape you.  In order to avoid the disappointment and near misses you can set up a flight alert on Google Flights to make sure if a deal pops up you will be the first to know.  While there are various sites offering the fare alert option, the ease and convenience of the Google option makes it one of my favorites.

First getting your fare stalking started is a breeze with google. One you have done a search for Google.com/flights you can flip a switch and turn on the ability to track prices. As it reflects your search criteria this is especially helpful if you have some restrictions in the time frame in which you can go.  It also gives great additional information like ways to save by altering your itinerary a day or two earlier or later.  These are great ways to get better bang for your buck while sticking close to the time frame you had in mind.

Secondly I like being able to restrict my options. I have fare alerts set up on other sites but mainly I only get flight deals for super budget airlines.  If you have an airline preference, Google Flights lets you specify that as well as stops preference.  Without that all that glitters definitely is not gold and while cheap you can end up with a really, really long flight on a really, really bad airline.  It may leaving you wishing you had just paid more and gotten what you wanted.

Lastly once the price tracker is turned on you not only get alerts you can easy rerun your search and have a quick graph of where the prices have gone. Knowing this gives you a good idea of when to pull the trigger and buy.  Especially if you are planning far in advance it allows you to get an idea of the trends of different airlines and for different times so you grab the best price possible, not just the best price at the time of your search.  You already use Google tons, why not let it work for you in putting together the flights for your dream vacay?

A Vegas New Year’s that gave me everything I needed

With all the razzle and dazzle that Vegas represents, wouldn’t it seem like the perfect location to bring in your New Year’s? Well for me this year the answer was yes and no.  The trip was everything I did not expect Vegas but in the perfect way.  When I first thought of the idea of going to Vegas for New Year’s Eve of course you think of all the parties and fun there is to be had on a regular weekend in Vegas.  Surely on a holiday weekend the fun is amplified.  Unfortunately while that might be true so is the traffic and cost.  I learned the hard way after arriving in around 8:30 pm that Vegas shuts down the strip after 5:30 pm for New Year’s Eve.   This means a 15 minute ride to get from the airport becomes a harrowing tale of getting around blockades taking closer to two hours.  But once you hop out the Uber you are again feeling on top of the world.  We ran over to check only to find out that hotels are limiting guest to those staying on premises for New Year’s Eve.  Okay now that is a real delay but it goes to show that good times are not always planned.

The key to a successful New Year’s celebration for me then became about hotel choice and exploring some of the other fun things about Vegas. Room choice cannot be easily corrected, so lucky for me I made a wise choice with the Aria.  As one of the more recent hotels on the strip the rooms are new and still luxurious.  As with all Vegas hotels they have their share of clubs and restaurants, even if they are not home to some of the main events.  But with an hour left to New Year’s I got my first fill of New Year’s Eve jollies with the phenomenal fire work display blasting from the roof of the Aria.  It was a great way to just stop the rush and hurry to get to the next thing and just enjoy!  From there instead of big clubs, lounges and restaurants caught my eye as a great way to have some things that feel your belly and things that fill your soul, enjoying quality time with the important people in your life.  The champagne I brought in the airport did not hurt at all as soothing my disappointment that my New Year’s did not go as planned, but instead went exactly as it should have gone.  I ended my night with late night winning on the roulette table that put some padding in my pocket and the fun mix of people circulating the table made sure to put a smile on my face.

The rest of my short trip to Vegas was dedicated to something that is equally renowned when it comes to sin city…the food. I popped into the Wynn to get a taste of a jazz brunch that had eluded me in other trips.  The Country Club in the Wynn is a popular steakhouse with a brunch that is nothing short of phenomenal.  The buffet items were barre none and I have been to a lot of brunches!  From cauliflower salad, to crab legs, to too many meat variations to name and personalized waffles this buffet had it all.  With a bottomless mimosa/Bellini, Bloody Mary selections and views of the golf course that made you completely forget where you were the Country Club had it all.  Mix in a great live band and yes even more food as you have an entrée selection at your table there was nothing more I could want from a 36 hour trip to Vegas…to my surprise.

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