Friday, January 26, 2018

Ocean Maya Royale for the 8th Time! Playa del Carmen ~ January 6-13, 2018

Eight times.

While we've been to the Riviera Maya 11 times, we have been to this awesome place eight times. Steve and I are so fortunate to have the opportunity and mutual desire to do this time and time again.
It’s incredible.

If you’ve read this blog, then you’ve read about Ocean Maya Royale all seven times. You know about the restaurants and you know about the food. You may have an idea of what we drink, our daily routine and that we love to relax and literally do nothing but spend time with one another. I’ve decided to take a different approach with this post. The redundancy of me writing the same thing can get old and while a few things have changed; what we love so much hasn’t changed a bit. I’ve decided to write about all of the things that we love about this time together at this remarkable place we now refer to as our second home.

If you're a fellow traveler and looking for additional information, following these links to my previous seven visits to OMR - July 2017 OMR, January 2017 OMR, July 2016 OMRMay 2016 OMRJuly 2015 OMRJuly 2014 OMR and July 2013 OMR
 Some people get it, but others ask, “Why do you go back to the same place EVERY TIME?” I could go on and on for days about why we visit the same place. Better yet, I’ll bring you with me and from the moment you step foot onto the resort we will relax, have fun and be treated like royalty. Who doesn’t want that!?!
Nevertheless, I’ll save you the time and money and let you simply read as I give you the TOP FIVE reasons we keep going back…
Reason #1 - The Staff
First and foremost, the people. With very little turnover, we continue to see the same staff members over and over again. We are recognized by everyone from senior management to housekeeping and groundskeepers. They are as excited to see us as we are to see them and we are welcomed with open arms everywhere we go. We’ve established legitimate friendships with some of these people and our mutual kindness is far from artificial. We care about them and we care about their families. They will continue to give us a hard time because we still speak muy poquito Español, even though we’ve been there so many times. We keep promising each other that we’ll be better next time, but I guess we just learn one phrase at a time, such as “mas vino Rosado espumoso por favor" (Thanks Oscar!)

Miguel, Jorge, Yovanetti, Manuel, Oscar, Karolina and Eber all go out of their way to make us feel like we're the absolute best!
We've become friends with Guest Services manager Miguel, so he and his wife took us out for dinner one night at Don Sirloin. It was a great time and Miguel even sported his new Cavs shirt!
Reason #2 - Comfort

There is no learning curve. From the moment we sit our butts in those first class seats, we are on vacation (I say that like that's the only way we travel! hahaha).

On a side note, we finished in 2nd place in our fantasy football league this year (1st last year!), so we tell ourselves this is our reward. In reality, we earn each and every one of these trips with our hard work in our non-fantasy world. The first class upgrade is just the icing on the cake!

Once we arrive, we know exactly where to check-in (and by whom), our ideal room location, what we’ll eat for breakfast and lunch and our favorite meals for dinner at every restaurant. We know what to drink and we know who makes them the best. We know what to ask, when, where, etc. etc.

 Our favorite meal was at Blue Moon where the wonderful Jorge greeted us every night. We loved the grilled shrimp with angel hair pasta in saffron sauce as a starter, followed by the beef filet as our main course. The desserts were quite good, particularly with a glass of Rémy Martin cognac.
Our drinks of choice are widely known across the resort. We (almost) always start dinner with a glass of sparkling wine, following by rosé wine. On one particular night, the resident sommelier (Oscar) indulged us with my favorite - A bottle of sparkling rosé! It was so special. They don't offer it anywhere at the resort and he saved it especially for us. First class service.
In the privilege lounge, we enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ordered the same dish for breakfast every day - a fruit plate in addition to little ham and cheese croissants with a fried egg on the side. Steve switched it up and ordered omelets as well. The beautiful view and champagne was a welcome bonus!
Privilege lunch had a large variety. We preferred the chicken fingers and club sandwich.
The biggest change this visit was the Privilege dinner menu.  With more of a steak focus, you pick your cut of meat, side dish and sauce. Of course, appetizers and dessert are also available.
 The best change was the addition of Liquor 43 to the privilege drink options. We enjoyed it most poured over ice cream! Yum. Ron and Jean are sure to consume bottles of this sweet elixir when we return in July.
 La Dolce still has the best atmosphere, but it's hard to compete with the steak at Blue Moon! We enjoyed the salad, soup, chicken parmesan, salmon and pizza.
We stopped in at El Charro for their fabulous ceviche appetizer before heading elsewhere for dinner. It's just as good as we remembered! It's so fun to bop around and try different courses at the various restaurants.
We loved making carnitas tacos at El Charro for lunch. The outside grill also had a nice variety for a quick bite.
There was always something going on at the party pool. One day they had a Grill & Beer Fest with burgers, hot dogs, chicken and pizza with a wide variety of toppings.
While we don't frequent the buffet at La Hacienda often, the fruit is delicious and they have great ingredients for salads and sandwiches at lunch.
On our day of arrival, we celebrated the Three Kings' Day Celebration and the pastry chef made this gigantic cake. It was very impressive!
Because there is no learning curve, we can take a nap every day and not feel like we missed out on anything, other than another cocktail we didn’t need. After all, our daily siesta is an integral part of our vacation! My complete adoration for efficiency is when I am able to maximize every second of my vacation by being on vacation. While Steve says I liberate myself from my obsessive structure, I still don’t deviate far from a routine. My vacation routine is just a little different than my home routine J
Reason #3 - Our Happy Place

OMR has unequivocally become our happy place. Date night every night is so much fun.

We get dressed up and have a fancy martini at the lobby bar before heading off to our three course meal complete with both sparkling wine and rosé wine. Dinner is followed by another drink at the bar, but this time either a Manhattan, Rémy Martin cognac, 1800 Añejo, or Liquor 43. It depends on our mood, but nothing crazy. Just relaxing and fun. It’s literally our perfect date on repeat night after night.
Reason #4 - Smiles
The views (and feelings) are permanently ingrained into us. When we’re having a rough day, can’t sleep, or eagerly anticipating our next trip, we have a clear and crisp vision of our paradise.

Talking through what our day at OMR looks and feels like brings about a calmness that is hard to explain. It’s a feeling where you just can’t help but smile, and I love to smile.
 Reason #5 - Climate and Location

The bitter cold in Cleveland can be brutal and the reprieve from winter hats and gloves is amazing. Simply put, on our day of departure, it was 5°F in Cleveland and when we left for home the following week, it was 82°F in Playa.

We're used to the cold and we don't expect anything less in the great city of Cleveland. But imagine, sitting next to the pool where the sky is so blue with barely a cloud in sight. It feels so good, but it gets a little too hot, so you can't help but jump in the water to cool's priceless.
Non-stop flights from CLE-CUN is another huge bonus. While Cleveland isn't a small town, we unfortunately don't have many non-stop International flights. We live barely 15 minutes from the airport and United has the ideal flight schedule. We are literally door to door in 5 hours and enjoying paradise by 11 am.
I also may have a slight obsession with having a great tan. I mean a real tan where I have "worked hard" with the perfect sunscreen, cocoa lotion, exfoliate regimen. It takes a lot of practice and I've become somewhat of a master of my craft. I got a great tan on this trip and I have the perfect weather to thank.
There is nothing like a walk on the beach with the warm breeze on your face and the salt water washing up on your feet. It's both cozy and refreshing at the same time.

...and when I return home, I can always count on my brother Sean to bring out my tan the best!
Well, there you have it. Another fabulous trip is in the books! We napped, stay up past our bedtime and slept in every day. The reprieve from work and my obsessive structure was priceless. The sun and heat that was often painful was amazing, and the laughter, silence and pure bliss shared with my best friend is what dreams are made of. More than anything, we were treated like family. This was our 8th visit and we'll continue to return again and again. Sending love to our OMR family and know that well be back in no time! Cheers!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Local Food & Wine Experience Tour at The Lakehouse Inn & Winery - Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend a VIP Food and Wine Experience at The Lakehouse Inn & Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio. The invite was extended to me and six other travel writers from Northeast Ohio, Toronto and Pittsburgh and Steve was able to join me for a small fee. Karen, Sam and Nate Fagnilli were gracious hosts who taught us about the region, the wine and the food. They have such passion and we were very enthusiastic learners. Overall, it was an incredible experience!


Geneva-on-the-Lake and Crosswinds Grill hold a special place in our hearts. It's an easy 60 minute drive from the West Side of Cleveland and takes you to a place that is very different from Cleveland. While many people visit during the summer months, Steve and I particularly enjoy visiting during the off-season. We have been on several wine tours and most importantly, we've enjoyed dinner at Crosswinds Grill. Crosswinds is a secret food haven in this quiet part of the state that features fresh and locally unique cuisine. Their steaks, burgers, pizza and charcuterie are some of the best we've ever had and we knew this VIP experience would not disappoint.

The history of Geneva-on-the-Lake and Ashtabula County is interesting. Donned Ohio's first summer resort, Geneva-on-the-Lake has been welcoming summer visitors for over 130 years. Even Cleveland entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford vacationed and camped here in the early 1900's. Like me, these men really knew how to find a good deal!

 The main strip in downtown Geneva-on-the-Lake is reminiscent of an old beach town boardwalk with arcade games, pizza shops, hot dog stands, and ice cream parlors nestled in between the occasional corner pub. While downtown is vacant during the off-season, the area continues to thrive from June-September.

Our overnight accommodations were in The Lakehouse Inn, which is a bed and breakfast located directly on Lake Erie. The Inn affords guests the opportunity to experience a relaxing, enjoyable and fulfilling experience, without ever having to leave the premises.


Mid-week (Sun-Thurs) stays during the off-season start at $99 per night and $159 Fri-Sat and they always have affordable specials and packages to entice visitors. Some examples are: Winter Wine & Dine Package, Winter Getaway, Senior Citizen Discounts, Girlfriends Spa Getaway, Anniversary Packages, and more! I recommend you check out their website for the full list of packages and specials. There is something for everyone!

In-season rates are higher, but affordable and weekends sell out fast. Similar packages are offered to combine your stay with wine, food and fun.

There are five standard rooms with either a king or queen bed. We stayed in Room #1 located on the first floor of The Inn. The standard rooms are small, but sufficient.

There are also three one-bedroom suites, which offer a large Jacuzzi tub in addition to a living room and small kitchenette. 

The three cottages on-site are located outside of the Inn. Each has two bedrooms, with a living room and substantial kitchen space.

The beach house also had a full kitchen with one king bed and gorgeous views.


Included with my Experience was a spa service at the onsite spa. I opted for the manicure and pedicure combo. It was perfectly relaxing and highly recommended. Spa services start at $29 for a manicure and $59 for a 30-minute massage. The spa also has several packages for those looking for the entire spa experience. 


Adjacent to the spa is a small event room that can host up to 40 guests year-round. We enjoyed a light lunch in this room.

Crosswinds Grille is the on-site restaurant. Not only is a beautiful, delicious and local breakfast included with the Lakehouse room rate, but they also offer dinner and a full-service bar. We've eaten at Crosswinds several times. Their charcuterie, burger, filet and farmhouse pizza have knocked us off our feet time and time again. We just can't go anywhere else when we're in the area and we couldn't wait to see what they had in store for us.

Breakfast options were limited, but incredibly delicious. We've never actually stayed at The Lakehouse Inn, so we've never tried their breakfast. That will never happen again! We started with an oatmeal, yogurt and granola parfait. For my main course, I ordered the corned beef hash and it was arguably the best hash I have ever had. The corned beef was cut into small chunks and tossed with perfectly seasoned potatoes, and then topped with an over-easy egg. The picture just couldn't do it justice, so I'll leave it up to your imagination.

Steve ordered the Farmhouse Breakfast, which was also outstanding. I mean look at that bacon. That's real bacon!


Lunch at Crosswinds started with a side salad made from local greens from Red Basket Farm, banana peppers from Rainbow Farm and charcuterie from Na*Kyrsie Meats.

For our main course we were offered four different types of wood-fired pizzas - pepperoni, vegetable, cheese, and vegan vegetable. The dough was perfectly crispy on the outside, but with a doughy interior and the cheese was ooey and gooey with nicely charred toppings. I promise none of it went to waste!

Dinner was quite indescribable. The attention to detail and thought that went into the composition and pairing of wines for our five-course meal was flawless.

First up was the beet salad made with greens from Red Basket Farm, roasted Rainbow Farm beets, Na*Kyrsie Lonza, candied walnuts, and Just Perfect Vinegar Co. apple cider vinaigrette. The salad was paired with The Lakehouse Inn Winery, 2016 Apple Cider Wine (local-sourced apples from Brant's Apple Orchard).

Farmers Floyd and Amy Davis from Red Basket Farm even joined us for dinner. What a treat!

 Our seafood course was the Shrimp & Grits made with sautéed wild gulf shrimp, Shagbark cheddar and bacon grits and Na*Kyrsie Sweet Nduja. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the cheesy, buttery, bacon-y grits were a match made in heaven. This course was paired with The Lakehouse Inn Winery, 2015 Grand River Valley Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay.

Our vegetarian course was a Parmesan risotto with carnival squash and walnuts. The risotto had a perfect bite and literally melted in your mouth. This was paired with The Lakehouse Inn Winery 2015 Grand River Valley Pinot Noir.

Our beef course was a boneless short rib with braised navel and a parsnip and potato puree with Rainbow Farm Brussel sprouts and Avant Gardens mushrooms. This hearty course was paired with The Lakehouse Inn Winery, 2016 Grand River Valley Merlot.

Our fifth and final course was the Heavenly Kathy Joe dessert with Maple Ice Cream, Bissell Maple Syrup, and Seven Brothers Wheat Whiskey.

It's hard to describe in words how these complex, yet simplistic flavors all came together for one glorious meal. I'd be happy to do it all over again...

Outside of the Inn and Crosswinds Grille, the area has a lot to offer. Branding themselves the Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail, there are 29 wineries (23 in Ashtabula county), making it the 6th largest wine region in the country.

The local wineries, The Lakehouse Inn, nearby Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake and local restaurants, like Crosswinds, are making this area a year-round destination. While they sit on the shores of Lake Erie, they have so much more to offer than sunshine and beaches.

 We took a short walk down Bridge Street in the Historic Ashtabula Harbor. Once one of the busiest ports in the world, this port has provided economic opportunity, recreation and entertainment to generations of Ashtabula residents and visitors. Over the past decade, the harbor has developed into a more vibrant area with unique boutiques, bars and a robust food scene to give visitors the opportunity to enjoy the harbor year-round.

Fitzgerald's Wine Bar was a beautiful space with a great retail wine display and a large selection of local wines.

We also stopped by Briquettes Smokehouse and Marianne's Chocolates. Marianne's supplies all of the chocolates for The Lakehouse Inn.

 The area is host to 29 wineries, both young and old, and all with a different story. We were guided on a short wine tour of the area where we visited three wineries and one distillery. Having visited the area several times, Steve and I have a good handle on the wine scene and definitely have our favorites. There are still several we have yet to visit, which is just another reason to return!

Kosicek Vineyards was our first stop. The Kosicek family has been grape farming in Northeast Ohio since 1929. In 2012, third generation farmer Tony Kosicek, and his wife Mauri established Kosicek Vineyards. They farm premium grapes located within the growing areas along the Lake Erie shore and produce a range of red and white varietals sourced from the estate vineyards. Tony Kosicek was there to pour (and sell!) wine and even took a group picture. Thanks Tony!

They have some pretty awesome labels too!

Next up was M Cellars. Derived from a passion for wine they discovered at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Matt and Tara Meineke have worked long and hard to turn their passion into a reality. Their hard work came to fruition when they opened M Cellars in 2012. Their Dry Riesling is one of our favorites.

Just across the street from M Cellars is Red Eagle Distillery. Since 2012, Red Eagle Distillery has been crafting spirits using locally grown ingredients. Their bourbon uses local corn, wheat and barley, while their Rye uses a blend of Ohio rye, malted barley, and corn. Their vodka is made from grapes from their own vineyard, and their brandy is made from grapes aged in their own bourbon barrels. All of this magic takes place in a beautifully preserved barn that dates back to the 1800's.

Our third winery stop was the unique South River Vineyards, located across the way from Red Eagle. While others took the short ride, Sarah and I decided to walk amongst the vines!


South River Vineyards is also known as the "church winery" because it is housed in a century old church from Shalersville, Ohio. After seeing the church while at a stop light in Shalersville, owner Gene Sigel moved the abandoned church, piece by piece, to Geneva. The church was built in 1892, so in an effort to keep the church's long history alive, the winery still maintains the original pews, interior door, wainscoting, flooring, and some of the stained glass windows. Since 2002, South River Vineyard has established itself as a quiet, relaxing, and one of the most unique places to enjoy a glass of wine.

Sam and Nate Fagnilli provided us with a very special wine and charcuterie tasting to end our experience. Na*Kyrsie Meats is a special project for Chef Nate and he gave an up-close and personal tour of the facility.

Following the tour, we had a wine tasting and pairing with Sam where we enjoyed four Lakehouse wines, including their Cabernet, Saignee Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, and Apple Cider Wine alongside a plethora of Na*Kyrsie Meats. Delicious!

We took home some of our favorite wines from the visit in addition to some of Nate's Tuscan brand salami.

Whew! What an awesome two days. I highly recommend anyone visit Geneva-on-the Lake, The Lakehouse Inn and Crosswinds Grill. It's a respite from the busy city and a true gem in Northeast Ohio. Thank you again to Karen, Sam and Nate Fagnilli. They were incredible hosts and I have no doubt they treat all of their guests with the same reverence and respect.


Read what my fellow travel writers had to say about their stay!

Charity Crawford:
Sarah Jaquay:
Bruce Schinkel: