Akumal Bay

On our last full day in Mexico we decided to head north up the coast about five miles to the Akumal bay to snorkel with sea turtles. The word Akumal means “place of the turtles” in the Mayan language. We had read all about the best companies to hire for the snorkel excursion and decided on the Akumal Dive Shop because of their stellar reviews on TripAdvisor. The shop was completely professional and our tour guide was highly knowledgeable about everything pertaining to the aquatic life and the area in general. When you go through them you have use of a mask, snorkel, fins and a huge locker to store all of your stuff safely while you are in the water.
This experience was agreed upon by us as one of the single greatest of our lives. Luckily we have a pretty snazzy underwater camera and used that to snap some amazing pictures that we can look back on with smiles.  The beauty that these turtles possess is indescribable and can only be understood when seeing them in their natural habitat. We saw large turtles and even several juveniles with one swimming right under us and surfacing only mere feet away. If you’re ever in the area don’t even think about missing this!
After our amazing time with the turtles we explored the beach and the local area. We dined at a local restaurant, La Cueva Pescador, that served fresh seafood and local fare. The pico de gallo was the most amazing variety we’ve ever had and the fresh mahi tacos were delightful! We finished it up with homemade ice cream at Lucy’s which was a delicious way to end a fabulous afternoon in Akumal.
If you’d like more information about the Akumal Bay turtles and how they are being protected please visit the Centro Ecológico Akumal website.
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Tulum

Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple)

While we were in Mexico we had the privilege of visiting Tulum which is a Mayan walled city situated right on the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Tulum is one of the most beautiful locations that we had ever been. The beach there was magical with the most beautiful white sand and turquoise water. There were tons of iguana and coati and it just felt like we were in another world. 
Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. 
It is inexpensive to visit at only 59 pesos per person which is roughly $4.50. It was so worth going and if you’re in the area it is a must see. We read reviews on TripAdvisor and followed them to the tee and had a wonderful time. If you decide to go arrive early! We were one of the first groups admitted in for the day and it was a ghost town at 8:00 AM. However around 9:00 there were tons of people coming out of the woodwork and there were even more tours arriving as we departed. You need less than two hours to get your fill and see everything. Also, bring plenty of water. It is extremely hot and humid there. The heat radiates off of everything in that area! Bring your camera and wear sunscreen as well. We highly enjoyed visiting Tulum and felt as if we were transported in time.

Mexican Vacation: Luxury Gran Bahia Principe Sian Ka’an

We just returned from our anniversary trip just a couple of weeks ago! We had such a great time and cannot wait to share it. We stayed at an adults only, all inclusive resort in Akumal, Mexico which is about one hour south of the Cancun airport. One of the reasons we were against traveling to this part of Mexico is because of the Cancun party atmosphere but after reading tons of reviews we decided to give the southern end of the state of Quintana Roo a try. We were not disappointed at all. Our hotel was literally carved out of an existing jungle and you can tell that whoever planned and built the resort meant for it to be this way. We stayed on the 3rd floor of the villa and we were in the tree tops! It was such a difference from the beach resort we stayed in last year but we loved it as you felt so secluded.
The resort has two on site a la carte restaurants, a buffet restaurant, a sushi bar and a 24 hour snack bar. Needless to say that we were not hungry! We had four different pools at our disposal which we only used one(we’re more beach people) and tons of nightly activities. There were bars spread across the resort with fabulous cocktails and coffee drinks. We loved the flaming Mexican coffees served nightly during the entertainment!
GBP Sian Ka’an was in the jungle so it was not beach front which we knew before we booked. It was one of my greatest concerns about booking the vacation as we are beach hounds. But we were pleasantly surprised that the beach ride was about 5 minutes on a trolley which was kind of fun! We had our own private beach with a bar and servers that came to check on you frequently and would occasionally bring by delicious fruit skewers and iced tea with lime.
Here are some pictures of this resort and it’s beach:
Resort Entrance viewed from across the highway. It was huge and there was no mistake that we had arrived.

Margaritas upon check-in and my favorite drink of the trip Mango Tango

Our room upon arrival decorated for our anniversary! Tons of chocolate and Tequila. We decided not to upgrade so this is the standard suite offered at the hotel. It was more than we needed and no need to spend an extra $1000 for the penthouse for the week. That extra money we saved is going towards another trip 🙂


Such lush jungle grounds. It was just beautiful

Four pools to choose from(not all shown). We loved the ‘sushi’ pool(above) which had like four smaller jacuzzi like pools inside it. This was a quiet area near the sushi bar to hang out. The sun beds were a nice touch as well!


The Sian Ka’an private beach! So nice! It was awesome to be able to use the beaches from the other resorts as well. We will touch more on that in another post. This was adults only and had it’s own private bar and servers to make sure that we were well taken care of. 

There you have it! You may think this resort seems small and it is but there is something awesome about GBP and that is there are actually four resorts on property and as Sian Ka’an guests we had access to all of their amenities however they were not allowed to visit our resort! We will be sharing a ton more from our trip as there was just so much to see and do! I will be reviewing everything we did and everywhere we went on TripAdvisor so more people can make informed decisions before booking their travel!

Vacation Planning

Last week was mayhem! With work and Relay for Life the Arnold’s were here, there and everywhere! During busy times I like to be able to look forward to something even if it’s just a dinner out after work. Lately though I have been focusing on something more substantial to get me through the long days…we’re going to Mexico for our first anniversary! I know right, it’s going to be amazing. How did we make this decision/afford this trip? Well we had originally planned to visit our nations capital, going so far as to price everything down to public transportation and asking advice from friends who lived there. It was pretty much set that we would be going to DC until I came home on a Friday and said that I thought we should go to Mexico…you can imagine Mike promptly exclaimed “what?” This was not the first time I brought up Mexico though as when we were planning our Christmas vacation we looked into MX first before deciding to go with Vegas as it is more expensive to visit the Caribbean in the winter than in the spring/summer. 
So I started with the hard sell on a vacay to Mexico, it went like this… we need a relaxing trip and not a pounding the pavement type of vacation, we can see Mayan ruins, you can scuba dive, all you can drink. It didn’t take Mike long to go along with it and I actually sold him on it before I could decide to actually pull the trigger. Of course I needed to research EVERYTHING that I could in a short period of time as flights had already increased in price from that very morning when I began looking. Of course I started on TripAdvisor.com and from there we made the decision to book the resort as it had stellar reviews and so did the area we are visiting. We also needed to decide on a budget and I had a plan to use money that I saved up while working part time as a Pilates instructor which paid for about 35% of the trip, which was nice since it did not take that money out of our pocket. We decided to charge the trip on our credit card(but pay it off immediately) so we could get the points and just like that the Arnold’s were booked for Akumal, Mexico! Akumal is located in Riviera Maya in between the towns of Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Akumal means ‘place of the turtles’ so we are hoping to see some while there. 

While there we plan to be a bit more active than we were on our honeymoon and visit Playa del Carmen and the ruins of Tulum while Mike plans to scuba dive in a cenote. We are so looking forward to all of it and cannot wait to report back and review all of the activities so future travelers can make educated decisions about what to do while visiting!

Our Resort
Cenote Diving

Tulum Ruins
We will have tons of pictures and advice to share upon our return! Happy vacation planning!

TripAdvisor

Being that us Arnold’s are lovers of travel and being responsible with our money TripAdvisor is our most utilized website when we begin to plan for any kind of trip to a city we’re unfamiliar with. Heck, sometimes we check it out to cities we’ve been to several times just to see if we missed anything before or if there is something new we should do/see. The basis of TA is that it allows travelers/consumers to submit written reviews of their experiences. Reviewers can also submit pictures which is the MOST important thing to browse along with the actual reviews. People from all over the world are writing and submitting reviews to TA everyday. The best thing about TripAdvisor is that it is a FREE tool that we have found to be invaluable when we are planning vacations. 
Usually when planning a vacation we first set a budget(crucial) and then look at the deals available on all of the major travel websites. If anything sticks out we’ll quickly look up the TripAdvisor rating to determine if it’s even worth our time. If it is we’ll begin reading the reviews that have been submitted most recently. We usually glance through a ton of the customer submitted pics as well. We like to see what it’s really like rather than just trusting the website of the resort/park or wherever it is that you’re going. By that time if we’ve talked about everything and I have looked for every coupon code available(dig people, dig) then we’ll book. You may think YAY we’re going on vacation, everything is planned….hold up, the fun has just begun! From then I(Jen) will read HUNDREDS(truly) of reviews about the resort, activities and transportation options before settling on what we want to do and how we want to get around. You may be asking yourself if we’re crazy… on the contrary, we are educating ourselves about where we are going and how best to spend our time and money while we’re there! While rehashing the resort reviews we usually can decide what restaurants we would like to make reservations at or what room we would like to stay in. While looking up activities we may decide that something we thought we wanted to do is not in fact for us and so we’ll pick something different. Just keep in mind that not all reviewers have the same expectations(or they may not have been rational while writing it, some people are natural critics and do not know how to compliment while critiquing) so take the reviews with a grain of salt and look at the big picture and do not focus on one bad review.
Since I am such a heavy user of TA I have decided that I am going to stop being just a user and start being a contributor! Instead of just reading the reviews I pledge to start writing them as well. I want people to be able to use my experiences to help them make good financial decisions about traveling which is not a necessary expense but a luxury and should be treated as such. Even though we are quite frugal we usually set aside money for traveling as we both enjoy it immensely! We have found that traveling to new places and experiencing new things together is good for our relationship and for our stress level so we make sure to plan small trips throughout the year. In 2013 alone we traveled to the Dominican Republic, Walt Disney World and Las Vegas/The Grand Canyon. None of these trips were booked without consulting TripAdvisor first!  You work too hard for your money to be surprised by details that you could have known before hand that would be a deal breaker for you! So if you’re like us and think that your money is important enough to check even the smallest of details then add TA to your life planning arsenal!
**This post is NOT sponsored(I wish someone would pay me, just kidding)I just wanted to give my opinion on one of my favorite websites.

Grand Canyon

I am finally getting around to sharing the last bit of our Christmas vacay and I saved the best for last. We actually went to the Grand Canyon on our first day in the desert. We were picked up at the Mirage at 6:20 in the AM and we returned at 9:00 PM. It was an extremely long day but it was life changing. I now know what people mean when they say that there is no way they can explain something. Explaining the Grand Canyon is like explaining the ocean. It is a truly majestic place and I am so ready to go back and stay at the El Tovar Lodge in the park. We went to Grand Canyon National Park which is about 225 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. After mulling over renting a car or not we decided that we should go on a tour so they could drive for us so we chose Grand Adventures Tours and I would highly recommend them. Instead of us being on a huge bus with a hundred people there were only 9 of us to go on this tour so we got to ask the guide a lot more questions and we got to experience things that other tours could not only because we had such few people. Here are some pictures and details of this amazing experience. 

Grand Canyon Train
Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Lodge

Our first view of the canyon…Breathtaking
Light snow on the canyon walls
The Colorado River
Me cheesing it up in the El Tovar Lodge

Grand Canyon Hopi House

Incredible Lodge view

I loved this tree on the South Rim trail

I was sitting on a ledge 5000 ft above the river and I felt oddly safe. In that moment I felt so alive. 

Husband being silly
Gorgeous sunset view, the colors changed automatically

After the sunset. What an amazing day!

Las Vegas: Day Two on The Strip

On our last day in Vegas I woke up feeling awful and sick but I was not going to let that stop me from making the most of everything. I will say we got up a lot slower that morning and I blame going non-stop the days prior. We were leaving on a red eye that night so we had a ton of ground to cover! Here is a taste of what we got into and ate on our last day in Vegas! 
We started the day heading south down the other side of the strip hitting Caesar’s Palace first! We had already checked out Caesar’s earlier as it was right next door to our hotel however I was dying to take a pic next to this fountain that was super packed with people every other time we had passed by it. This was around 8:30 in the morning and literally we only saw two people on the strip and they were jogging! I now believe what we were told that no one wakes up until noon in this town!

We then went next door to the Bellagio which I was super pumped about since I had heard such wonderful things. I will say that it is a extraordinarily beautiful hotel but I loved the feel of the Venetian more. The Bellagio was still decorated for Christmas and it was absolutely gorgeous. The hotel is also home to the World’s Largest Chocolate fountain which was pretty neat. 
We had lunch off the strip at In-N-Out Burger at the request of my husband. After we decided to go to Vegas for our vacay he replied with “You know that there are In-N-Out’s there!” He was very excited to get his hands on a double animal style etc…whatever that means. Anyway, we both enjoyed the cheapest meal we ate on this entire trip and I would totally go back in a heartbeat!
We kept making our way down the strip visiting The Cosmopolitan, Aria, New York New York, Luxor and Mandalay Bay. We even rode the roller coaster at NYNY and it was wild. I mean it was a ton of fun but I doubt I have ever screamed that loud!! The Cosmopolitan was absolutely amazing! It had this gorgeous chandelier bar that I recommend checking out! 
We had to head back to Caesar’s Palace to pick up our show tickets and I decided I wanted to try out a Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3. Let’s just say Mike and I were not disappointed in the Peanut butter flavored concoction. We couldn’t get enough! We both highly recommend not missing one of these!
By that time of the day we were both extremely exhausted and my feet were absolutely killing me so we decided to pick a casino to hang out in and rest. I picked PH as I was searching from Britney who had just opened her Vegas residency the night before! We did not spot Brit Brit but we enjoyed chilling for a while and playing slot machines. 

We made a reservation at Mon Ami Gabi at Paris and requested a table on the patio. I highly recommend eating there at night and sitting on the patio year round as they have heaters etc. The Paris hotel is directly across the street from the Bellagio and you can enjoy the fountain show as you dine on delicious French cuisine. We were not disappointed with our steaks and I loved seeing the show every 15 minutes! After dinner I had a hankering for cheesecake so I convinced Mike(it didn’t take much) to head over to Ceasar’s Palace to the Cheesecake factory and enjoy a slice before we went to see Absinthe. We both enjoyed the show a lot. It was a really good mix of all that Vegas has to offer. It contains raunchy comedy, acrobatic acts and burlesque dance. I will say heed the warnings of offensiveness but if you are not offended easily you should really enjoy it! We thought it was worth every penny!
After the show we hurried back to the Mirage as we were being picked up by the limo to be taken back to the airport! All in all, Vegas was a great(exhausting) time. Would I go back? Yes. Am I dying to return. No. I only say that last part because I have traveled very little and I want to see more of what the US has to offer!