The Packing List!



I've shared the top ten things you wouldn't actually think to pack on a trip to the Caribbean here (and all may not be included on the list below!), but this time I'll show you exactly what I pack for our trips to Mexico and the Caribbean... basically the 400 things you would've already thought to pack most likely, and maybe 15 you'll add to your list.  You're welcome for a big heaping helping of obvious stew. As always, I aim to please.

As promised, BUT WAYYYY LATE, get your copy of my all-inclusive resort packing list HERE. You can see a little preview of it below:



Some of this is specific to the way my husband and I travel - I carry a larger tote bag (actually, something quite similar to this one) and he carries our camera bag that has just enough room for the small items on his list. While I could probably talk him into carrying a backpack, we don't need a whole lot of stuff, so for now, this works for us.

Also note that the toiletries we include (and don't!) are personal choices. For example, I have curly hair, so I choose to bring hair gel and hairspray. You may not--substitute as needed! This is also a complete list of things we need for a 7-night all-inclusive vacation, so what we've found we need after 6 week-long trips out of the country and won't run out of--in particular sunscreen. 

As always, please feel free to email me with questions and happy packing!



My Packing Method


This post started out as being the "here's my whole packing list" post, but... apparently I can't stop typing, so in the interest of brevity, I'm only going to talk about how I decide what to pack and what my main method is.



 First of all, I absolutely hate, hate, HATE to forget things. I'm also very cheap. My husband would tell you that's a lie, but he is mainly worried about the sheer volume of my purchases, not necessarily what I spend. Apparently two boxes a day from Amazon is overkill, regardless of whether the two boxes hold $20 worth of goods, but I digress...

Moving back to hating being forgetful and spending lots of money, when you forget things abroad it can be costly. When we went to Jamaica in 2012, Jason forgot his toothbrush. We asked the front desk if they had complementary toothbrushes (because we thought we were at Holiday Inn, I guess), and they looked at us like we asked to use their personal toothbrushes. After pointing us to the direction of the gift shop, we found one toothbrush I'm fairly certain my dentist would be ashamed to hand out for free and quickly forked over $16 for it. No bueno. To that end, a small bottle of sunscreen can cost you $20, shampoo (if you don't want to rely on the complementary toiletries in your room) could be $14+... you get the idea.
     


My solution is to create a list and to be specific. I break everything down by days, and write exactly what I plan to wear each day. I don't actually make sure to wear the items on the day I write down that I will be wearing them, but writing out what I'll need on different days helps to make sure I have enough clothing for each day and also that I don't over pack. On our honeymoon I packed 12 pairs of shoes. 12. Pairs. Of. Shoes. I don't wear 12 different pairs of shoes in 6 months when I'm at home. 
 
Insert: packing list! All of my packing dreams have come true! We are never overweight when we check luggage and there's always room to bring home trinkets or duty-free liquor (holla!) on the way home.  
  

I also write out exactly what we need as far as miscellaneous items... medicine, hair ties, what I plan to put in my makeup bag, camera and accessories, tablets and accessories, travel documents, insurance and cards, etc. Being specific helps me narrow down what I need and what I can live without for seven days.

So... with all that being said and so you don't have to reinvent the wheel, I will be back tomorrow with an actual downloadable packing list in word doc format and a little explanation for some of the items on our list that you can use to help you pack for your next trip!

Hard Rock Punta Cana Review – The Food!


I hope everyone had a great weekend! Mine was lazy and wonderful. I checked things off my to-do list for our upcoming trip to Mexico and got some much-needed sleep. It was heaven and now I’m ready to jump back in time to part two of our trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and specifically about the resort we chose, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Last time I introduced you to the resort and our hotel room. If you missed it, check that post out here. This time is all about the FOOD! 

As I mentioned before, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana has nine restaurants and 24-hour room service at no extra charge. They also offer dinner at “Simon Mansion,” which is a dinner put on by Chef Kerry Simon. It’s extra and ultra-fancy, but we opted not to try it during this trip. Frankly, I read mixed reviews on it and with nine restaurants, we thought there was plenty to try that we had already paid for. 

There is a small café, Caffeto, that serves coffee, snacks, breakfast, lunch and cocktails and basically traditional American food you’d find at a Hard Rock Cafe; an Italian restaurant, Ciao; a true Brazilian restaurant that serves meat hand-cut at your table from huge metal skewers (where we also ate a breakfast buffet everyday… no skewers of meat in the AM, though) called Ipanema (ee-puh-knee-ma if you’re like me before we went and have no idea how to say that); Mexican cuisine at Los Gallos; Mediterranean salads and brick oven pizza at Pizzeto; a huge buffet restaurant called The Market; a true Americanized steakhouse called Toro that also served a traditional breakfast and lunch buffet; and finally, the teppanyaki/hibachi grill that also served sushi or traditional Chinese food called Zen

If you’re counting those restaurants, yes…I left one off. Here’s a short side story: my husband and I both love seafood—he a little more than I, but nevertheless, we always look forward to eating seafood on vacation! About a month to a month-and-a-half before we were set to head out to HRHPC, the thatched roof of the Caribbean/seafood restaurant on the property, Isla, caught on fire! We were a little disappointed, but figured it wouldn’t be too difficult to find seafood on the menu at the other restaurants. 

Isla on Fire in 2014 - Pic from here.
We never ate at The Market—we usually either had room service, food by the pool or Pizzeto for lunch and none of the restaurants require dinner reservations, so we always tried a specialty restaurant for dinner. With that being said, there was always quite a few people in The Market and the buffets were very big! 

We only tried Caffeto once for lunch. It’s basically a Hard Rock Cafe within the resort. There were burgers, buffalo chicken wraps, appetizer samplers, etc. The food was good and the drinks were even better. This one was also open 24 hours a day. 

The Italian restaurant, Ciao, was the worst place we had eaten at this resort. The food was bland and barely even resembled Italian food, unfortunately. However the restaurant itself is really cool and has an enormous wine selection that is made part of the décor. Our service was impeccable. We actually ended up leaving and getting room service after this dinner. 

Wine Selection at Ciao
Ipanema was really good. This was my first experience at a Brazilian restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. I was full before I got to try all of the different meats, but the service was great and the drinks and food were amazing. 

Dinner at Ipanema
Los Gallos was very, very cool! It was basically an upscale Mexican restaurant. There was a server mixing fresh margaritas on a cart that he pushed around the room and the food was the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten. There was also a Mariachi band and the décor was just gorgeous. (Are you sensing a theme? Love, love, LOVE this resort!) 

I’ve kind of mentioned Pizzeto, but this place was great for lunch. It was nice to come in from the pool and have a sit-down lunch. They had 10 or so pizzas to pick from, a few Mediterranean salads, and breadsticks and marinara sauce on the table. I believe we ate here for lunch 3-4 days. They also (like everywhere) have a full bar and the wine was great with the brick oven pizza. 

Our top two restaurants were Zen and Toro. Zen is your typical hibachi restaurant and experience and was as good, if not better, than any hibachi I’ve had anywhere. The “show” at the grill was entertaining and we got sushi as an appetizer. I was happy with that, because when you go to Zen you tell the waitress whether you want to eat at the grill, have sushi at the sushi bar, or eat traditional Chinese food at a table. I wanted sushi, but Jason isn’t that big of a sushi guy, so we picked hibachi (which I love, of course). It was nice to get to have a little of both.

 

 

Toro, however, was a.ma.zing. Jason and I have both frequently told friends that if our server had brought us a check at the end of the night and each of our dinners cost $50 a plate, we wouldn’t have even blinked—that’s how good it was. We loved Toro so much, we ate dinner here twice during our stay. The steaks were tender, the steak butter was awesome, the appetizers were good, the wine pairings were even better. Can you tell we liked it? If we come back, I may eat dinner here every night. Yum.

Dinner the First Night at Toro
We also got room service a few times throughout our stay and it was good. It was typical Hard Rock Café-type food like chicken tenders, burgers, pizza, cheese fries, etc., and was perfect after a long day out on the water or after a nightly show. It wasn’t the best of any food I’ve tried here, but it was definitely good for room service.

In addition to the restaurants, HRHPC has 19 bars and lounges all over the property (YES! 19!). If you couldn’t find a place to grab a drink, you were either blind or had already had too much ;) 


Stay tuned to hear all about the pools and things to do on the resort! If you missed it, check out my post on the check-in process and our room here. 

Have a great week!

The Top 10 Things You Wouldn’t Think to Pack for a Trip to the Caribbean


Jason and I and two other couples head out for Mexico in about three weeks! This is our fourth trip, but it will be the second and first trip to Mexico for the two couples that are coming with us. I shared a few tips for packing with them earlier this week and thought I’d share with you, too. Here’s a list of the top ten things I pack for our Caribbean vacations that I never would have thought to pack (or not pack!) when Jason and I first started taking trips. 

Metal Clips // Clear Baggies // Insect Repellent (40% DEET)

Metal Hanging Clips

I bought these clips originally for a cruise I went on with my mom. They are awesome! We all know how annoying it is when the resort closet doesn’t have enough hangers—these little clips help that problem immensely. They’re great for skirts or maxi-dresses that don’t stay on regular hangers and they’re great for hanging up wet swimsuits in the shower/tub area. I got mine here.

Trash Bags/Ziploc Bags 

The trash bags are great for many reasons—it’s nice to bring a trash bag so you can gather up your own trash to put outside your room when you need your trash emptied if don’t want housekeeping to visit everyday. Also, Ziploc bags are perfect when you go on excursions that require only part-day swimsuit attire. Grab a ziploc bag to throw your stuff in and everything else in your bag won't get wet. These are also great to put any liquor or other liquid you buy on your trip into when you pack up to go home.

Bug Spray

Unfortunately, I didn’t think of this one during our first trip and was eaten alive during a few walks on the beach and outdoor shows. I’m mosquito bait (Jason isn’t and escaped with one or two bites to my twenty), so now I never go anywhere without it. Now that we’re experiencing the Zika outbreak, I’m going to guess this is a no-brainer, but worth mentioning anyway!

Not Beach Towels

Just, no. These take up way too much room in your luggage (room that could be used to bring back liquor!) and most of the time, you don’t need them! Resorts will let you use their towels all week and even take them on excursions. Don’t waste precious shoe room in your luggage! Leave the towels at home.


Backpack // Waterproof Phone Bag

Cheap Waterproof Watch and/or Waterpoof Phone Bag

When we went on our first trip that we planned and paid for all by ourselves, we went to the timeshare presentation and received these cheap little rubber waterproof watches that almost looked like Livestrong bracelets. We were in a different time zone, so having those watches was a lifesaver. We had dinner reservations to make each day and also needed to watch the time for excursions so these were great.

An option if you can’t find or don’t want to wear a watch would be these waterproof phone protector bags. These keep sand, water, spilled alcohol, seawater… you name it… out of your phone! They even allow you to take underwater pictures or video. You do need to test their waterproof-ness (new word?) when you first get it by putting a paper towel into it and submerging it for a bit, but they’re affordable and come in really cute colors, which is what’s important, right?

Backpack

The first few times we went to the beach, I carried a super cute waterproof beach bag, but I won't be doing that again in the near future. I’m not saying those adorable beach bags don’t have a time and a place, but in another country on an excursion, large, open bags aren’t the most practical to take. Backpacks are my new jam—especially one that isn’t hot pink and orange striped so Jason doesn’t automatically refuse to carry it on principle. It also doubles as an awesome shopping bag while you’re out on the streets in another country. Choose one that isn’t easily opened from the back (to stave off thieves!) and don’t use any outside pockets if they’re easy to open (like magnetic closures). 

Dryer Sheets 

These are great to use to help keep the mustiness out of your clothes in high-humidity areas. Even though rooms have air conditioning, the smell of humidity still creeps into rooms sometimes. Having a few dryer sheets, stored in a Ziploc baggie until you need them, to pull out and put into your drawers or place under your bed help keep your clothes and room smelling fresh. On an almost unrelated note, I also bring 2-3 Tide pens in case of spills. These have been a lifesaver a few times! Especially when you try to pack light and plan to rewear things. Consider that extra #11. It’s free - ha! 

Copies of Your Travel Docs 

One of my biggest fears is that one of us would lose or have our passport or travel documents stolen when we’re in a foreign country. Something that *apparently* helps when this happens is to have copies of your documents with you in a different piece of luggage than what you are carrying the originals in in the event you lose them. I usually copy our passports and the credit/debit cards we bring with us and our insurance cards and put the copies in between the lining of our luggage and the outside of it so they’re not immediately viewable if someone were to open our luggage. I usually put it in a checked bag in the event our carry on is stolen.     

$1 Bills (in American Dollars) 

So being complete newbies to travelling to the Caribbean before our honeymoon, Jason and I had thought we needed to exchange our money when we travelled, which made it a little more difficult to tip because of the exchange rate. BUT… you may not actually need to exchange your money when you travel! You definitely don't have to in Mexico, the Dominican or Jamaica, but do a little research on your destination to be sure. Just make sure to pay attention to the exchange rate you’re getting if you pay for anything off the resort in American money, but really we try to pay for everything before we go, so the cash we bring is only for tipping or shopping. Bringing $1 bills in tip money makes it easy to tip when you need to and when you think it’s appropriate. We usually tip exactly as we would if we were to eat out in the U.S. and bring about $100 worth of $1 bills with us just for that purpose. 

Non-Polarized (Cheap) Sunglasses

This one may not apply to you, but we bring my iPad and Jason’s Kindle Fire to read on the plane or beach. Something we found out the hard way is that it is almost impossible to read eReaders with polarized glasses! You may want to try this out before you leave on vacation to make sure this tip is true for whatever glasses you have, but it definitely is for us! Jason brings his polarized glasses with him to wear when we go out on the water, but another cheap non-polarized pair to wear when we’re lounging by the pool or on the beach.

That’s pretty much it! I hope this list helps you the next time you go shopping for an upcoming tropical vacation.

Next time get ready for Part II to the Hard Rock Riviera Maya review!

What is something you never would have thought of to take with you on a vacation that you now can't live without? 
 

A Review of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Check In and the Room

 

Ohhhh my gosh, you guys. Jason and I went to the Hard Rock Resort and Casino in May 2014 and haven’t stopped talking about how amazing it was since. This was the second trip we ever went on with our timeshare, and it was definitely the best one so far. ***In the interest of full disclosure, these photos were in no way shape or form expected to someday end up on a blog, so I'm sorry for how crappy the quality is!


The Lobby/Main Building From the Ocean Side
Through our timeshare, we received free shuttle service to and from the airport. The driver picked us up at a kiosk inside the airport and led us out to an air conditioned van. The drive was quick, easy and took us straight to the front of the hotel.  

When we arrived under the enormous, gorgeous awning at the front entrance, a bellman (? Security Guard? Man With Clipboard?) met us at the door and asked us our names. We told him who we were, but he had trouble finding us. I told him we were there through an RCI exchange and he quickly led us over to two nice ladies at a private check-in desk who were expecting us. I received a rose and we both received a tropical drink in a champagne glass. We were officially on vacation! 

I can't stress this enough...this place is huge. There are 12 suite buildings which are each the size of a regular Holiday Inn on this property, 13 pools, 9 restaurants, 17 bars and the lobby area is basically a mall with the casino as an anchor and a conference room the size of a football field on the other end. No exaggeration. 


Resort Map
I had done my research beforehand, and knew which buildings were closer to the beach. There are two rows of buildings that run parallel to the beach. The row closest to the lobby/mall area were the “B” buildings, and the buildings closest to the beach were the “A” buildings. We were originally assigned to a B building and asked to switch to an A building. We were immediately reassigned to building 8A. Seriously. Immediately. That has never happened to us before. We asked if there were any ocean view rooms available, and she didn’t even blink! She looked in the computer and there weren’t, but she basically acted like if there had been we would’ve gotten one.  A++++ in my book. (For the record, having the room would have only added one +. We loved the room we got that much.)

The Clipboard Man had directed the bellmen at the front to take our luggage when he led us to the check-in counter and once we were checked in, a bellman took us in a golf cart to our room and carried our luggage in for us. We tipped him a few dollars and immediately unpacked and changed into swimwear.

The closet was a good size and had plenty of hangers for my dinner dresses and Jason’s nicer polos. The safe was also a standard resort-size safe. It was about a foot high and 12-16 inches wide. It was plenty big enough for my Canon DSLR, my iPad, Jason’s Kindle, wallets, passports and my Sony NEX camera. And yes, I travel with two cameras, and I’m a terrible photographer. #judgeme

Standard King Room
One of the highlights of the room in my opinion was the pull out liquor dispenser! It’s basically this little cabinet thing built into a cabinet door that has a clear glass window so you can see which liquor you’re trying to dispense to yourself. Ours had tequila, vodka, bourbon and rum. We also had an abundance of Sprite, Coke and Coke Light (Diet Coke) to mix with them in the mini fridge. There were also a few bottles of water. 


Our favorite cabinet.


We were able to get a room with a king size bed. It also had a little bistro table with two chairs, a TV with cable (with 2-3 English-speaking channels that mostly only showed Mom and Big Bang Theory), and…yes, you’re reading this correctly…a two-person Jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room. THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM!

It was actually nice because there weren’t any bugs like there are when there’s a Jacuzzi on the balcony, but it was the only tub in the room or bathroom…so that was kind of weird. All-in-all though, we were highly impressed with the room.


Balcony Seating
The bathroom was just as amazing as the room and only about half the size. The shower had two shower heads and Jason and I got in the shower when we first got there (fully clothed! No TMI here!) just to see how big it was. I reached my arm out and couldn’t even touch him! 

The toiletries smelled like heaven and were from the spa. They had a sewing kit, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shower gel, soap and a hairdryer available for use.




One thing that was kind of weird was that there were slippers available to use and there were hangers in the closet explaining how to buy robes like the ones in the room in the Hard Rock Shops, but there were no robes. We like spending a day in the sun, taking showers and lounging around the room before dinner in robes so I was kind of disappointed that ours were missing. We mentioned this to our concierge during our welcome meeting (more on that later), and she said she would send us some but never did. Whomp whomp.

I had read on TripAdvisor that some guests thought the beds were hard, but we never had that problem. We do like firmer mattresses, though, so that could be why we were pleased with ours. Nevertheless, there were a million pillows, the temperature in the room was easily controlled via the in-room thermostat and we were always comfortable. What can you complain about?

We also always had really good luck with the cleaning staff. The room was always cleaned, they straightened up everything, we never had any trouble with theft (and I accidentally left my iPad charging on the nightstand while we went to dinner one night) and the bedding was changed when we wanted it to. One interesting feature about the room is that there are two buttons by the door that look kind of like light switches, but they have symbols on them that look like women. One has an “X” through the woman and one doesn’t. It’s an alert to housekeeping that you do or don’t want to be bothered as opposed to those flimsy “do not disturb” signs that always fall off. If you press the button with the X, housekeeping staff either won’t or can’t enter with their keys—I couldn’t figure out which, but either way, they didn’t come in when it was pressed that I could tell.

View from our balcony.

Speaking of light switches, one final thing to note if you do stay at the Hard Rock PC, when you check in the desk attendants will tell you to watch a channel on the TV in the room to get acquainted with how the lights work and the different features of the room. We kind of laughed when they told us this.“We aren’t idiots!” we said. “We know how to use light switches! Please! What kind of people stay here that can’t work a light switch?!” …My last piece of advice to you today is to watch the TV channel that tells you how to work the lights, ha! It’s not complicated, but it’s counterintuitive and it will keep you from yelling at your significant other when he turns off his bedside lamp and the overhead lights come on… only to walk to the wall and turn off the overhead light and his lamp turn on. Their lighting does not a happy marriage make. Ha! 

Stay tuned to hear all about our food experiences, the pools and beach and the things to do on the resort.