Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Photo of the Week

Any guesses where this lighthouse is located?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Check out our review!!

Our family's Cozumel trip was featured on! Check it out and please be sure to like it!! You can read more about our trip in our recent blog post here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Family Review of Cozumel, Mexico

The tranquil atmosphere of the Presidente Intercontinental in Cozumel, Mexico quickly engulfed us as we arrived and were warmly greeted with “maloob kiin” (Mayan for good day) by the staff. We were instantly pampered with cool wet towels and drinks as the staff took care of our luggage and helped us to our room. It was evening when we arrived and the open-aired lobby was brilliantly lit by beautiful hanging lanterns with only the quiet sound of the ocean tide lapping up onto the nearby beach filling the air. Our family had been eagerly looking forward to a week of island life!

Most of our activities were booked through, a great resource on the web for anyone traveling to Cozumel. Cozumel Tours has dozens of activities, tours and excursions available to choose from and it made our activities hassle-free as we were able to do all of our research and booking before arriving on the island. And they had great discounts to boot! Here is our family’s top 20 must-do’s from our recent visit to the beautiful island of Cozumel. 

No. 20 - Chankanaab Park 
Chankanaab Park is an enjoyable family-friendly ecological park located just south of San Miguel, Cozumel. The park has a great snorkeling beach, sea lion shows, pools, a dolphin park, beautiful botanical gardens, a few Mayan ruins, and a playground for the kids. 

Also located at the Chankanaab Park is Dolphin Discovery, a trip highlight for our children. This is home to dozens of rescued dolphins and their babies. There are numerous programs available to have amazing encounters with these beautiful creatures. We chose the Dolphin Encounter since it allowed our whole family to enjoy the experience together as even Jack was able to participate. Heidi and Hallie giggled with excitement as they watched Amaya, the dolphin, perform tricks right in front of us. We even got to touch and feed her!

No. 18 - Stingray Beach
Stingray Beach is another great family-friendly encounter with some magnificent sea creatures. We waded into a shallow area where dozens of stingrays glided around us rubbing against our ankles like kittens. Their large, dark, and sleek bodies can be a little intimidating, but our guide Ramon assured us that they are completely harmless. We also enjoyed snorkeling with the rays and the many other colorful fish in their large snorkeling area.

No. 17 - Parasailing
We were thrilled to join Captain Carlos on his boat the Albatross for an exciting birds-eye view off the coast of San Miguel. This was the first time parasailing for our girls and each of them ended their ride begging to go again! I think you could say they liked it. It was pretty overcast that day so the view wasn’t as great as it could have been, but we all had a blast regardless. 

No. 16 - Day trip to mainland
There are dozens of great places for families to visit on the Yucatan Peninsula across from Cozumel - from the excitement of Cancun, to the shops of Playa del Carmen, to enormous eco parks with underwater caves to explore, to swimming with sea turtles at Akumal Bay, to the Mayan city ruins at Tulum. We decided on Tulum for our day trip to the mainland. Tulum is fascinating history on display - the remains of a walled city at least 500-700 years old lodged on cliffs overlooking gorgeous Caribbean waters and bright white sandy beaches. The views are truly breathtaking. Life on the mainland, however, did not have the same feel as Cozumel; it’s crowded and moves at a faster pace. Although we enjoyed Tulum, getting to the ruins is a bit challenging with a baby. It's quite a trek to get there involving a ride on the ferry to Playa del Carmen, then a thirty minute drive to Tulum, and finally a hike out to the ruins. We were worn out by day's end and glad to get back to the resort on the island.

No. 15 - Sunsets
There isn’t really a wrong way to enjoy a gorgeous Cozumel sunset. You could take a family stroll along a beach or book a Catamaran boat and relax on deck as the sun slowly creeps below the horizon. We usually ended up at one of the many wonderful restaurants that are situated right along the water on the west coast of the island, for a perfect relaxing dinner as the day faded into night. If only all days could end like this. 

No. 14 - Faro Celerain Eco Park
The island itself at times feels like a living, breathing organism. It speaks of a tranquility and carefreeness that other "land" does not. Visiting the Faro Celerain Eco Park, at the southernmost tip of Cozumel, you can feel this tranquility surrounding you. From this park it seems as if there is no one else in the world and civilization is a distant, foggy memory. Faro is Spanish for lighthouse and an old but delightful lighthouse sits on the coast a few miles within the park. From here you can see for miles around the ecological preserve and its marshes, coastline and pristine beaches. Once you have ascended the long circular staircase to the top of the lighthouse, the incredible view takes your breath away...and not just from being out of shape climbing all those steps. There is also a quaint little museum at the base of the lighthouse that shows what life was like on Cozumel in the 19th and early 20th century. Give yourself plenty of time to slowly wander through this ecological preserve and then end up relaxing in a hammock on a secluded beach situated at the very southernmost part of the island.

No. 13 - Paraiso Reef snorkel tour
A few of us joined Luis and Alejandro on their boat the Ciguata for a snorkel tour to the beautiful Paraiso Reef (Paraiso is Spanish for paradise - the name definitely fits!). We were led to some beautiful spots not far off the coast and only a 15 minute boat ride from San Miguel. The sea life was vibrant, the reef colorful and the water calm; everything was perfect for snorkeling. The Ciguata is a glass bottom boat, so even on the ride to the reef we had an enjoyable view into the passing sea life below. Talk to Magda at Cozumel Tours to get connected with Luis and Alejandro. They’ll make sure you have an extraordinary snorkel experience. 

We decided last minute to tag an Atlantis submarine ride onto our trip. This definitely gives you a different view of underwater sea life as it takes you 100 feet below the surface. It gives everyone a chance to see and experience why Cozumel is one of the top scuba diving locations in the world. Our tour guide told us that less than 1% of the population has been on a submarine ride to these depths! We all enjoyed the close up view of huge reefs and all kinds of sea life. This was a unique experience that our girls will be talking about for a long time.

No. 11 - Island drive
Mopeds and motorcycles are everywhere in San Miguel as they are the most common form of transportation on the island. Even families pack onto these little mopeds as we saw a family of four pass by us one evening, all on one moped! Although it looks like a fun way for couples to tour the island, we were more comfortable in our rental car with our kids safely buckled up in the back seat. A few miles south outside of San Miguel, the mopeds and taxis mostly disappear and you hit the open road as it is meant to be experienced. The empty roads are lined with jungle foliage and have an occasional off-road turn to the coastline where you might find a beach club or restaurant. The island of Cozumel is fairly small, only about 29 miles long by 10 miles wide. You can comfortably drive around the island in under two hours - but you won’t. There are too many beautiful places to stop and enjoy.
No. 10 - Scenic east coastline and beaches
After driving down the west coast highway surrounded by jungle, you will turn the corner at the southern part of the island (near the Faro Celerain Park entrance) and start an incredible coastline drive on the east coast. There are many gorgeous beaches to enjoy, thatch-roofed restaurants overlooking the sea every few miles, little road-side shops to experience, and a few natural rock formations that create blowholes as the surging ocean waves crash inland. Words can’t do justice to the beauty and relaxation of slowly cruising along this scenic coast highway, situated as close to the shore as almost any road can get. You don’t want to miss this adventure - there’s something or some place to check out along the way for the whole family.
No. 9 - Island exploring
One of our favorite family activities on an island is exploring; we love to wander and discover. Taking a side road just to see where it goes. Driving to areas on a map that look less traversed, just to see what it looks like. There is something about the excitement of discovery that is elevated on an island - you never know when you are going to turn a corner to discover a secluded beach, a tranquil bay, or a picturesque view. 
No. 8 - Downtown San Miguel (The Plaza)
A must-do for a family visiting Cozumel is to spend a Sunday night at the square or plaza right across from the ferry dock in downtown San Miguel. Hundreds of locals gather together; some to sell homemade pastries or trinkets, or dance to a local band that plays in the center of the plaza, while others just sit, visit and relax in a way that is a lost art here in the United States. You might see street performers ranging from fire-jugglers to spray paint artists to guitarists and musicians. You’ll experience a window into the culture and heartbeat of Cozumel like no other place and time on the island. The kids were fascinated at every turn by something or someone and even enjoyed making friends with some of the local children. The island has a safe and family-friendly vibe like no other place we have visited. The plaza feels like stepping back into a safer place and time, where everyone knows everyone else, like the small-town aura of a 1950’s town. 

No. 7 - Costa Brava Restaurant
During some unintentional “exploring” from a few wrong turns in San Miguel, we happened upon a wonderful restaurant with delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine and a comfortable off-the-beaten path feel to it. We especially enjoyed visiting with our fantastic waiter, Moises, an elderly gentlemen and resident of the island for 23 years. When we asked him what he thought of living on Cozumel, he answered us with one Spanish word - "tranquilo” - similar to our English word tranquility, but roughly translated means calm, relaxed or peaceful. A perfect description of island life. Numerous other long-time locals that we talked to used the exact same word when describing life on Cozumel. This little restaurant, Costa Brava, is located on Calle 7 just around the corner from the post office in San Miguel. If you want a truly authentic Mexican restaurant and the kindest waiters on the island, you must make time for a visit here. 

The Presidente Intercontinental was a wonderful home away from home for us on Cozumel. What an incredible resort, especially for a family with young kids. We were blown away from the moment we arrived. The staff was as hospitable as possible and the location of the resort was perfect (far enough outside of town to feel secluded, but close enough for easy access). The rooms are luxuriously comfortable with gorgeous ocean views. Even the oversized bathtub which served as our baby's favorite swimming pool had a breathtaking view of the ocean. Having done hours of research when planning our trip on the best family-friendly places to stay, we settled on the Presidente Intercontinental. After our time there we feel very certain that it is by far the best option for anyone visiting Cozumel.

No. 5 - Beaches at Presidente Intercontinental
The beaches at the Presidente were some of our favorite on the island and just a short walk from our room. The resort has two separate beaches that are well kept, with plenty of thatch palapas shading tables and beach chairs. It's the perfect place to relax in the shade, enjoy the cool, crystal blue water, or soak up some sun. Definitely a favorite for the girls, who absolutely love the beach.

No. 4 - Tide pools at Presidente Intercontinental
Interspersed with the beaches at the resort are some great tide pool areas. These are perfect for hopping along the rocks to look for darting crabs, shells, or various types of sea life captured in the little pools. Make sure to pack good water shoes, you will definitely need them. The proximity to the beach areas made for a fun dilemma for the girls - play in the sand and water at the beach or explore tide pools - a tough choice indeed. 
No. 3 - Chiqui Club at Presidente Intercontinental
The resort has a great Kids Club that the girls enjoyed one day; a nice way for mom and dad to get a little break to themselves (well, with Jack). The staff led the girls in several fun activities, including planting a palm tree. The green house is crowded with beautiful plants that are later used to decorate the grounds. Palm trees are planted in little cups with children’s names on them from all over the world. They also enjoyed making fish food and feeding fish off of one of the docks. And because all girls love jewelry, a favorite for them was learning to make string bracelets. These were sent home with the girls and since they weren’t quite finished being made, helped them pass the time on the flight home. 

No. 2 - Swimming pools at Presidente Intercontinental
As much as we loved the beaches, the beautiful resort pool was so relaxing to dip into at the end of the day. The pool is perfectly located between beaches and a poolside restaurant, another excellent spot to end the day and enjoy the sunset. The resort also has an adults only pool if you want to avoid all the kids yelling, jumping, splashing, and perfecting their cannonball.
No. 1 - Snorkeling at Presidente Intercontinental
The Presidente Intercontinental is a phenomenal place for snorkeling. The reef and sea life are vibrant and colorful. Several feet out from the far south dock on the resort lie the remains of an old sunken ship. Schools of fish drift and pass through the wreckage and barracudas slowly swim by, unfazed by the occasional snorkeler. The water was calm most of the time we were there, perfect for our girls, who are beginners in snorkeling. These extraordinary snorkel areas are quickly accessible, right outside the beachside rooms and just a short walk from the ocean view rooms. There are four docks off the beaches along the coastline with steps into the ocean, giving easy entry to the water. Also, in the middle of the resort is a boat dock from which you can rent kayaks, paddle boards or set up a scuba diving excursion. 

These are just a few of the many highlights of our time on Cozumel and at the Presidente Intercontinental, truly one of the best family-friendly islands and resort we have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Overall, we had an absolutely fabulous time on Cozumel. It makes for a great location for families to enjoy true island life, one of peace, calm, and relaxation - tranquilo at its finest. 
Click HERE to see our review on, visit the Presidente webpage or book a tour through Cozumel Tours.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

St. Kitts

We packed our suitcase with snorkel gear, beach toys, swimsuits and suntan lotion and headed to St. Kitts!

The island was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus, also known as Kitt for short, thus the name St. Kitts. Our time here was very short, but we enjoyed it. The maps we had weren't very detailed and the roads not marked well, so driving was a little difficult, however the island is fairly small and you can drive from one end to the other within an hour or two. Be prepared for an occasional very bumpy road.

A lot about the island reminded me of the time I spent living in Haiti. Sugar cane is growing everywhere and the island switches back and forth from both hilly and flat terrain. Little towns, mostly made up of well-worn buildings and a smattering of locals, are dotted along the main road that hugs the coastline. The highlight of our trip here would definitely be the time we spent exploring an amazing fort called Brimstone Hill Fortress (more info here on the fort:

The large fort is sprawled across the top of a sizable hill near the middle of the island and the coast giving it truly incredible views. The girls love these kinds of places, so we spent plenty of time there looking at all of the rooms and reading what they were used for - like opening a big time capsule of the past since the fort was built between 1690 and 1790.

We took lots of pictures at the fort and could have spent a lot more time there, but didn't want to miss the rest of the island.

During our exploring we passed all kinds of animals - lots of cows and goats everywhere. At one point a big mama pig came out of the bamboo and crossed the road followed by her five cute and curly tailed little piglets. At one stop we found a local young man who had an adorable little pet Green Vervet monkey named Max.
The girls took turns holding it while I snapped lots of pictures. The man was very nice and even let the girls help feed it. They now both want a pet monkey! :)
A couple of the public beaches we checked out were fairly crowded, so we passed those up and eventually found a large, secluded beach on the south part of the island with a big rusty ship wrecked right near the beach. 
We were hoping this would attract sea life, but there were only some small silver fish swimming around.

Micah, Heidi and I still enjoyed some snorkeling and watching the fish around the boat. Hallie floated along with us and looked from above the water. She enjoys playing in the sand more than the water.

These are only a few of the fun memories we made while on the beautiful island of St. Kitts and we think it makes a great place to take a family for a short vacation.