Sunday, March 25, 2012

Punta Cana

    So for March Break we did our first ever trip to a resort, and it was a fantastic time! We stayed at the Gran Bahia Principe in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and went with our friends Bruce and Carol. It's a huge resort, with about 7500 people staying there but we were in the 'Premier' section which is smaller and has it's own area (pool, buffet, lobby, etc.) so it really didn't seem crowded at all. However the beach area was for everyone so that was pretty much wall-to-wall people. The beach was a 15 minute walk away but we usually took one of the shuttles that ran continually. Our room was just great - we were in the building closest to the lobby (and pretty much everything else then) and our balcony overlooked the pool.
    It was such a relaxing week - we'd reserve some lounge chairs by the pool early each morning and spend most days hanging out in the sun, near the water. I had lots of time for reading and listening to music. We also would play games (RummiKub, euchre, rummy, dominoes, pictionary [on the iPad!]) in our room or in one of the lounge areas. We spent some time at the beach - was surprised by the steady stream of people walking along the shoreline. We took a half-hour walk down to the flea market where I haggled a vendor to sell me a t-shirt for $15.
    One day we booked an excursion for the morning so we were picked up in an open back truck and driven to another beach area, where we got onto a flat boat to head out onto the ocean. When we got out a ways we were taken to a set of speed boats where each couple got in and we took off, following the leader. I was right behind him so that helped - you just had to hang on to the steering wheel for dear life as you whipped over the waves, and adjust the throttle to maintain an appropriate distance. It was A LOT of fun! When we finished that we headed back to the flat boat and went snuba-ing, which is underwater diving without the tank (the air is supplied through a hose attached to tanks on the surface. That really didn't go real smoothly but it was still pretty cool. I found I couldn't adjust the pressure in my ears so stayed near the surface observing the fish. Beth wasn't comfortable at first about descending though after spending some time with the apparatus she probably could've done a dive. Bruce's mask leaked because of his beard and Carol started feeling pretty seasick. After the snuba activity we were allowed to go snorkelling but none of us were really interested in that. In the end we felt it was still a great experience and worth the money.
    There was always lots of food at the resort buffet and even for a picky eater like me there was no trouble finding things I enjoyed. We went to 4 a la carte restaurants too but really my favourite meal was the buffet we ate before leaving on our last day (turkey and potatoes - yum!). A few times I took my large travel mug along and filled it with ice cream, added milk and stirred up my own milk shake - that too was very good. You could get ice and drinks all around the resort and the minibar we had in our room was always stocked with our favourite drinks.
    We were disappointed with the evening entertainment though, especially when we checked stuff out the first couple of nights. It seemed pretty unprofessional and the one time the sound system broke down completely. However later in the week we tried a different venue a couple of times and the shows were much more polished and included some pretty talented performers (dancers and a circus show).
    Overall, I think I enjoyed the resort more than the cruise we went on 2 years ago, mainly because there was just so much down time (on a cruise you usually do more excursions and walk a lot more stairs - and though the food was better, there were more extra costs [tipping, drinks]). We'd love to go back with our whole family!

A Weekend in Florida

     So I haven't taken the time to write on this blog on a regular basis this year. As the new year began I couldn't decide if I wanted to keep up weekly entries. Now time has gotten away from me and it seems that I have been busier so far - I started going to the gym pretty much every day and added in some abdominal exercises too. Plus I've been spending more time with work related things.
     But this last weekend was just too special to not write down some memories. A few weeks ago Beth underwent an endoscopic procedure in London (using conscious sedation) to remove a lesion from her esophagus. Everything went well but still she was having a rough week dealing with that, along with a root canal. So I had this brilliant idea to see about flying down to Florida for the Family Day weekend in February, to see mom and dad and stay at the trailer they were renting in St. Petersburg. I was able to find direct flights there and back so I decided we would pay a bit extra and have a nice warm holiday. It was great to see Beth's reaction when I told her the tickets were already purchased so she couldn't say no.
     The only problem ended up being that mom and dad had to fly back a week ago because doctors down there discovered severe blockages in dad's carotid arteries. So the insurance company flew both of them back on the 15th. We lent them our green car so they had transportation around town and Dad was able to see his family doctor right away. He's had 2 tests so far and will hopefully get referred to a surgeon quickly.
    So then Beth and I ended up at the trailer all on our own, which seemed kind of strange. Mom had quickly packed up their things but left some food for us. It's quite a nice trailer and park and we had the use of mom & dad's van (and their GPS, which was very handy for finding our way around!). Their friends Rocco and Maxine picked us up at the Tampa airport Friday night and we used the GPS to find a nearby Five Guys restaurant right away - we got there 5 minutes before they closed at 10:00. Saturday morning we drove downtown to a substantial arts & crafts market where Beth found a cool jacket and I got a new tie-dyed shirt. Then we headed to a mall near the trailer for some more shopping. We spent a chunk of the afternoon at the park pool which is very nice (and heated!). In the evening we went to a wonderful concert by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary fame. I've listened to his music for years and have actually learned to play a number of his songs (his most famous is 'The Wedding Song'). He's a great guitar player, songwriter, and storyteller but I never expected I'd see him live (he's 74, but sure doesn't seem that old). So it was a neat surprise when I found out he was going to be in St. Pete's while we were there.
     Sunday morning Beth insisted we go to the amazing breakfast buffet at The Golden Corral. In the afternoon we drove to Port Richie for a nice visit with my Uncle Gordie and Aunt Shirley who have a fifth wheel they're camping with for the month. In the evening we drove down to the beach, where we took a walk along the shore and visited some of the shops at St. John's Pass. I got a couple of bathing suits for a good price and we picked up some fudge for the kids (for not a good price!)
     Monday morning we packed up the van and then headed to the beach for the afternoon. It was really nice soaking up some sunshine, but the water was way too cold to go in swimming. A pod of about 5 dolphins were swimming pretty close to the shore. We had packed some sandwiches for lunch and used mom and dad's cooler for drinks and snacks. Listened to music, read, did some puzzles, got a sunburn - in fact, when we got back to Toronto airport later that night Beth looked pretty red. We met the fellow who was driving mom & dad's van back to Canada at the Tampa airport and then had a nice meal at TGI Friday's in the waiting area.
    Overall, it was a very nice weekend, but it was also pretty bittersweet as we couldn't be with mom and dad. We enjoyed ourselves for sure, but couldn't help but be thinking of them.