The 14 Best Travel Moments of 2014

Rainbow over Costa Rica
Rainbow over Costa Rica

Each year, we like to look back on some of the highlights from our year of travels. Check out the post from 2013! We did a lot of traveling this year, going everywhere from Washington D.C. to New York City, Charleston to Orlando, Cancun to Costa Rica. We’ve decided to each pick our seven favorite travel experiences, and share them with you in no particular order.

Feel free to share your favorite travel experiences in the comments below!

Kim’s Top 7

Be Free, Little Turtles!

What fun it was to release several hundred baby sea turtles to the ocean one evening in Cancun. I got to hold three of them, feeling their flippers beat against my fingers as they squirmed to be set free. There is no flash photography allowed, as it could disorient them, but watching the tiny turtles slip and slide their way to the ocean in the dim light is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Escape to Alcatraz

After a failed attempt to see Alcatraz last year due to the government shutdown, I was bound and determined to see the famed prison this year while I was at a conference in San Francisco. It was surreal to walk the hallways and see the cells that hardened criminals once inhabited. And what an eerie calmness passes over you when you go out to the courtyard area of the prison which overlooks the city, seemingly a world away.

Science, Stars, and Sharks… Oh, My!

Exploring the Nightlife of the California Academy of Sciences was a real highlight for me this year. What a fun place! With a rainforest, aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium, this place has a little bit of everything. This adults-only event happens every Thursday night, and I just so happened to be there for Sharktober, which was awesome!

Christmastime in the City

As an Upstate New Yorker, I’ve long wanted to go to NYC to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the beautiful seasonal window displays, and this year, we finally got to do it! The City is one that always hustles and bustles, but there’s something special—almost magical—about it on an evening in December, and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it, cup of hot cocoa in hand.

Home Away From Home

I’ve often heard that some people find their “home away from home” while on vacation, but it hadn’t happened to me before. That all changed in Costa Rica. The nine beautiful days we spent at the Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo were absolutely perfect—both in our surroundings and the company. Our hosts Trish and Claudio were the friendliest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure to meet while traveling, and they made our time there an absolute joy. And, of course, we loved spending time with their beautiful dogs, Stella and Parker. What a paradise they have created in this seaside town!

Soaking in the Hot Springs

I have wanted to go to Costa Rica since high school, and one of the things at the top of my list was to soak in some natural hot springs. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was certainly the place to do it, with the beautifully manicured grounds, and gloriously warm water cascading throughout the resort near Arenal Volcano. Whether you wanted to sit under a waterfall, or relax in a shallow pool, the options were limitless, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to enjoy the water—something I had been worried about since it’s such a big attraction. It was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Christmas in Costa Rica

Kyle and I have been talking about spending Christmas at a beach for a long time, and this year, we finally did it! How amazing it was to spend the entire day splashing in the waves, and soaking in the sun. This year convinced me I’d trade a snowy Christmas for a sandy one any year!

Kyle’s Top 7

Visiting the Newseum in D.C.

Opened in 2008, the Newseum was created to educate people on the five freedoms provided by the First Amendment. Out front is a display of the front page of a newspaper from every state (and several countries) for that particular day. Aside from this very cool street-side display, the Newseum has some fantastic exhibits worth checking out. Highlights for me included sections of the Berlin Wall, a collection of historically significant headlines (e.g. outbreaks of war), a memorial to fallen journalists including a truck shot up in Sarajevo and a truly touching 9/11 memorial. Overall, I can’t think of a single exhibit that was lacking when compared to the rest – this is a must for anyone interested in some of the biggest moments in history for the last two centuries.

Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

I’ve been whitewater rafting a couple of times in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when I was a kid. The rapids are class II/III there, but are overall pretty easy to navigate. The opportunity to go again in Costa Rica was one of the things I was most excited for, and the Río Colorado just north of Liberia did not disappoint. We took a tour from our hotel in Tamarindo to reach the Cañón de la Vieja Adventure Lodge – about an hour drive. This tour featured several activities, which we’ll write about in the future, but the rafting was by far the best. There are a handful of calmer spots for you to catch your breath and overall, beginners will have no trouble tackling these rapids; however, there are a couple of thrilling drops to ratchet up the experience. You WILL get wet and it is awesome!

Wormsloe Historic Site

I wrote about this one recently, but let me sum it up for you. Wormsloe is a beautiful plantation built by one of the members of the party that founded Savannah, Georgia. Unlike other plantations in the south, this historic site doesn’t feature an extravagant mansion with large, well-groomed grounds. Instead, Wormsloe is more like a nice nature park centered on the long-abandoned ruins of one of the first homes in the area. It is known best for its gorgeous driveway, which is frequently photographed, but I really liked the tabby ruins themselves. This was my favorite part of Savannah.

Xcaret: The History of Mexico

Part of a group of attractions aimed at educating people on the history, traditions and ecology of Mexico, Xcaret is a park about an hour outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone that features a dinner show similar to Medieval Times – except that this one is infinitely better. The food is good, but the show is awesome, transporting you from ancient Maya to present day and highlighting much of the musical tradition of Mexico. Standout moments included a recreation of two ancient sports from the region: pok-ta-pok and pelota purépecha (similar to field hockey, but with FIRE). This was one of the handful of touristy things that we got to do in Cancun while we attended TBEX and it was a real joy to experience.

Visiting Charleston Plantations

More plantations… really? How many plantations can one person enjoy in a year? Yes – more plantations, but only because each plantation has its own feel. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features the traditional southern plantation home surrounded by gardens that have been allowed to grow in a more uncontrolled fashion. This means it has a much more natural look and ensures you’ll see more wildlife – we saw alligators, turtles and a bald eagle here. Middleton Place on the other hand is beautiful in that aristocratic sense – its gardens are carefully manicured and beautifully kept. Overall, both are absolutely worth the visit.

The Rides in Disney

We had a rough time in Florida this year, but problems aside – Disney has world-class rides. I’m a big fan of Expedition Everest – I love everything about it from the set dressing to the rapid shifts in direction. Kim on the other hand – she’s all about Space Mountain.

Visiting Central Park for the first time

Despite having been to New York City a number of times, somehow neither of us had ever managed to make it over to Central Park. It’s kind of a weird oversight, I know. We visited in late spring and lucked out as the weather was perfect. As we walked around, Kim pointed out that this was the first time she’d ever really liked NYC. Until that moment, both of us had always seen NYC as a dirty, busy, necessary evil that we had to visit for work or to see a Broadway show. It took us walking around the oasis that is Central Park to understand that NYC doesn’t have to be about fighting your way through crowds and running all the time. Instead, you can enjoy lunch by the boat pond, watching as people of all ages sail their miniature boats. You can stroll about, just taking in the well-kept park as people walk their dogs or play pick-up games around you. Finish out your trip by riding the carousel at least once – it certainly isn’t the most amazing carousel of all time, but it just feels like something you have to do. Overall, walking through Central Park was a standout New York moment for both of us.

Cheers to many more adventures in 2015!

Moon Palace Review

Moon Palace Pools
The beautiful pool area of the Sunrise.

This year, North American TBEX was graciously hosted by Moon Palace Resorts on their Sunrise property. While the location is outside of Cancun proper, you can easily see the Hotel Zone from their beach. Kim has already written about her most memorable experience at the Sunrise Palace regarding her finger. Her accident was hardly the highlight of our trip, but it also wasn’t our WHOLE trip. So, I figured I would give Moon Palace an overview for anyone interested in visiting Cancun and trying to figure out where to stay.

First Impression

Arriving at Sunrise Palace was pretty similar to arriving at the one other All-Inclusive we’ve been to. You get out of the car, they offer to help you with your bags (we didn’t have much, so we just held on to ours – which was a bigger deal than it should have been, but no harm, no foul) and you’re passed a cool, wet towel. The towel was nice as it was pretty humid when we arrived. The property itself makes a good impression with its ENORMOUS lobby. In the lobby is check-in (duh) and several other guest assistant desks, but the highlight is a nice bar where live music was being played as we arrived.

Here’s where things hit a bit of a bump – actually check-in was a bit of a nightmare. When we visited Sandals’ La Toc resort in St. Lucia, check-in did take a few minute, but I don’t recall it being terrible (aside from the overbearing orientation on your first full day on the resort, but that’s another story). I’m sure it was only 10-15 minutes to get checked in, but that is a pretty long time especially when you have several guests arriving all at once. I don’t run a hotel and I get that there is a lot of information that you want to convey to me before you turn me loose, but when I’ve spent the whole day traveling to get to the resort, just let me go to my room. Whatever you tell me is unlikely to fully stick anyhow.

I’d like to be clear here – the staff is not the problem. The people working the front desk were very nice and were working as quickly as possible to answer questions and get guests on their way – they just have a lot of stuff to go over. Here’s your bracelet, your key card, your packet of information. Here’s information on all of our restaurants, bars, pools, etc. The amount of stuff for them to go over is ridiculous – can I maybe have the option of the abridged version with the understanding that I will explore and I’ll give you a call if I get a little lost?

The Rooms

When we did eventually make our way to the room, I definitely was not let down. The room was gorgeous. Every balcony has a hammock, which can be a bit tough to get in and out of, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. There was a great in-room bath, an enormous shower and a well-stocked minibar (included of course). There were plenty of lights to give the room a homey feel at night and ours was on a nice side of the building so that during the day it was flooded with beautiful natural light.

Overall the room was great, but there was one problem. Trying to sort out those nice lights was like trying to walk through a maze blindfolded. Oh hey, there is a switch over there. Let’s try that one – nope, it doesn’t appear to do anything. How about this one? Oh – that turns on our balcony light. Here’s another – ah, the entryway light. Are you sure that first switch didn’t do anything? Oh, now it turns on the main lights in the room. Seriously – I’m not sure what was going on, but it seemed like the functionality of all of the switches changed based on which other switches were on. We’re not talking about a switch at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom – this was full-on lighting chaos!

The Staff

The staff of the Sunrise was very nice. Most of them seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs. The night of our arrival, we discovered that the in-room safe would not close properly due to a slight misalignment of the lock. We called the front desk and I swear the maintenance guy was there in 5 minutes. It was after 10 PM local time when we arrived and got situated, so I fully expected to be told to wait until the next day as the malfunction was hardly an emergency – I just wanted them to be aware of it. He showed up and had the lock fixed in no time. Awesome.

Also, special shout-out to the wonderful cleaning lady I bumped into when I was walking around the property taking pictures who gave me the biggest, most honest and happy, “Have a beautiful day!” I’ve ever heard. Ma’am – I hope you have that good of a day every day.

The only real problem that we had with the staff was when Kim slipped on the unmarked wet floor in the lobby. It’s 3:30 in the morning, Kim has fallen and banged up her knee pretty good and her finger hurts like crazy. The cleaning people responsible for the wet floor 20 feet away just ignored her slip. The front desk lady did her best to gauge how serious the injury was and elected to call security to see if maybe they had something to give Kim and to try to get an incident report filled out. Security shows up as soon as our ride to the airport starts shouting for us to go.

In the end, we gave up trying to pass everything through the front desk lady who spoke passable English and our own barely passable Spanish. Instead, we left to go out to the van to make sure we didn’t get left behind and miss our flight. Security seemed a bit aggravated that Kim had the gall to slip on an unmarked wet floor (when floors across the lobby were marked wet) instead of concerned (sorry to inconvenience you) and the language issues weren’t helping any of us. In all honesty, it was probably best that we just bailed to go to the airport – we would’ve been there forever getting nothing constructive done. Kim got good medical attention as soon as we got home (though the trip back was a bit rough).

The All-Included

Now we get into the real meat of an all-inclusive: How’s all the stuff that’s included!? Well… it’s okay.

The bars are great and we enjoyed spending a couple of evenings at the lobby bar. The bartenders are friendly and were patient as we explained Kim’s cocktails to them, which they produced reasonably well from our less than ideal descriptions. (I drink simpler stuff that’s a bit harder to mess up).

The restaurants are where things get a little less awesome. The restaurants themselves are fine, but the food can be a bit hit-or-miss. We only really had a chance to check out the buffet and the food was certainly mediocre. It’s pretty standard buffet fare, with the occasional bit of Mexican flair thrown in. Pizza, various veggies, rices and pastas combined with meats and cheeses make up the bulk of your options. Most of it was good. My real issue was the distinct lack of really good, really authentic Mexican food. Kim and I LOVE Mexican food and it was a little sad to be in Mexico and not have easy access to great Mexican cuisine.

Food-wise, the highlight was a little coffee and snack bar off the main lobby. Here, you could get your hands on all sorts of sandwiches, chocolates cookies, ice creams and popsicles. If you do find yourself at the Sunrise, definitely check out the popcicles at this spot. The pineapple one was very good.

The Amenities

Sunrise’s property is quite beautiful. The pool area is sprawling and overall very nice. We managed to hop in for a short dip despite a downpour on our only free day. It was a bit chilly, but that’s exactly what you’d want when the weather gets humid.

Also, the pool area features the FlowRider, a surf simulator. While we didn’t give this one a go, there is a pool bar right next to it, so we sipped a drink while we watched people get on the board and promptly wipe out. If I had to guess, it is more fun to watch those bolstered by the false confidence all those included drinks offer than it is to actually try it out. Speaking to another TBEX attendee, it was quite a bit of fun, but he was pretty sore the next morning.

That brings us to the beach. Kim talked about releasing baby sea turtles on the beach which was super fun. Aside from that though, this beach leaves a bit to be desired. The sand is nice, but there was quite a bit of debris that washed up on the shore when we visited. For the most part, this would not be a beach you’d run right out on in hopes of walking in the waves or wading out a bit further. The water is a bit murky, but overall, it wasn’t really anything to write home about. If you’re up for a game of beach volleyball though, they do have a few courts set up and the furniture for sunbathing is nice.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Sunrise was nice. The property and staff are great, but it’s not without it’s flaws. We only visited for a few days and I would rate it as an okay resort, but it was not what I would call a “must stay.” There’s nothing terrible about the place – just some minor nitpicks. If you can get a good price and you’re a big fan of all-inclusive vacations, give it a shot.

What to know if you go

Like many locations in more tropical climates, mosquitoes can be a real hassle. Keep your bug spray handy.

Also, when you are booking a trip back to the airport – forget the shuttle services. They’ll want to pick you up ungodly early and feed you a line about how it takes an hour to get to the airport and various other problems could lead to a long ride. It takes ten minutes. Especially if you are on a morning flight. We were at our gate by 4:30 in the morning for an 8:30 flight. Just get a cab and show up when you think you should get there for your flight.

Places

Moon Palace Resorts: Sunrise

Carretera Cancun-Chetumal Km. 36.5 Tamul 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
1-800-635-1836

Moon Palace Resorts: Sunrise

Carretera Cancun-Chetumal Km. 36.5 Tamul 77500 Cancún, QROO, Mexico
1-800-635-1836
http://www.moonpalacecancun.com/en

My Friend Maui vs. Ethical Tourism

"Dancing" with Maui at Sea Life Park.
"Dancing" with Maui at Sea Life Park.

In August of last year, Kyle and I visited Hawaii, and there was one thing I wanted to do above all else: Swim with a dolphin. Mind you, for someone who enjoys the water, I’m absolutely petrified of swimming in the ocean. For some sadistic reason, Kyle and I always hum the theme song to Jaws whenever we find ourselves splashing around in the waves. It doesn’t help things. Not to mention the fact that last summer, Hawaii was shark attack capital of the world! We did a kayaking/“snorkeling” adventure one day, and I asked our guide where the young girl had been killed the week before. He pointed. “That beach over there! The shark’s probably not around anymore. Look, there’s a sea turtle! Want to jump in!?” No thanks.

All this to say, swimming with a dolphin in the ocean just wasn’t on the docket for me. Kyle had always told me about this quasi-aquarium his parents had taken him to when he was little called Sea Life Park. They offered all kinds of experiences that would allow me to interact with Flipper! It was the day before my birthday, so Kyle bought me my “dolphin encounter,” which essentially had me standing in a line in a shallow pool waiting for my new dolphin friend, 23-year-old Maui, to come “dance” with me, and even give me a kiss! I know, right!? Sounded pretty cool to me. I was going to get to play with a dolphin. Awesome!

Fast forward to last month. Kyle and I went to Cancun, Mexico, for the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference. I attended for work, and Kyle to represent this little blog of ours. I had been following all the social media activity leading up to the conference, as I always do, but this year, there was a particular brewhaha over one of the pre-conference activities in which bloggers are able to participate. One of the sea life attractions was offering bloggers the opportunity to swim with dolphins. This led to a call for people to boycott the conference.

TBEX ultimately dropped the dolphin trip from the list of activities offered, and followed it up with a keynote on the first day of the conference given by representatives from the Center for Responsible Travel, and Green Global Travel. You can check out the controversy, reasoning, and solution here.

Now, I am not here to make a big statement about ethical travel. At this point, Kyle and I are writing a fun blog to share our travel experiences with you. I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, moderately aware of some of the ethical dilemmas in the tourism industry today – probably more so than most tourists, simply because I’ve worked in tourism, and I read lots of travel blogs. I am as concerned with animal rights as the next person—I’ve seen Blackfish—of course I don’t want these beautiful creatures endangered just for my brief amusement.

When I first saw a video of an elephant “painting” by holding a paintbrush in his trunk, my first thought was, “Wow, that’s amazing!” The thought briefly crossed my mind: “How in the world could someone teach an elephant to paint like that?” I stopped myself from going there. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Of course, then I read a really great post by one of my favorite travel bloggers, Matt Long with Landlopers, and quickly changed my opinion on that matter. I know when Kyle and I find our way to Thailand, I won’t be seeking out places we can watch elephants paint, but rather opportunities to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary.

But after all this, I feel slightly strange saying I’m not affected in the same way by the plight of my favorite marine friends. The whole time I was listening to the TBEX keynote, I felt like I was about three inches tall. I wanted to hide under my seat until it was over. The general sentiment was that as bloggers, we have a responsibility to help educate other travelers about ethical tourism—we need to lead by example. We are supposed to be authorities on travel, helping others to plan trips. It’s our responsibility to steer them away from experiences that are harmful to the environment and/or the creatures that inhabit it.

All I kept thinking about was my dolphin friend Maui. He seemed so playful and happy to swim up to me and give me a kiss. Was I naïve for believing he actually wanted to do that? Was I in some way hurting him by giving my money to a facility that held him in captivity? I started to hate myself for thinking if I had the experience to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing. If anything, I’d opt for the more expensive, more “interactive” dolphin swim experience.

I’m not here to lecture you on the ethics of visiting a dolphinarium. I’ll leave that to the experts. I believe it’s good to be informed—as with anything else. Here are some facts. Now you can decide for yourself.

As for me, there’s a pretty high probability I’m going to make new dolphin friends in the future. I hate that saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” but it’s true. One of these places isn’t going to close down just because they don’t have my money. There will be plenty more tourists who go, blissfully unaware like I was the first time. Next time, I’ll likely look for a place where the dolphins are kept in a larger, more true-to-nature environment—not unlike the one found at Moon Palace Resort, which hosted TBEX. It’s true that many of the dolphins currently in captivity were actually born in captivity, and would therefore likely not survive in the wild. It makes me sad to think about dolphins who only know the inside of what’s essentially a large swimming pool, but it makes me sadder to think that their lives would be in vain if no one came to visit them. Dolphin shows have always been my favorite part of an aquarium experience, and I don’t see that changing. And I’m not ashamed that I enjoyed my dolphin encounter—or the fact that I’d do it again.

The evening of the TBEX keynote, the resort offered some bloggers the opportunity to participate in a baby sea turtle release. Naturalists had picked up more than 200 turtles less than an hour beforehand, and brought them to the resort to be released. As I was handed my first baby sea turtle, I turned to Kyle and asked, “Do you think this is ethical?” I saw one of the speakers from the morning’s talk in the crowd, sea turtle in hand, so that made me feel better. But I think that’s my takeaway. As long as we ask ourselves the important questions, causing us to seek necessary information and make our own informed decisions, that’s what’s important. That, to me, is responsible tourism.

Sea Turtle Release in Cancun

Sea Turtle Release in Cancun

Places

Sea Life Park

Sea Life Park Hawaii, Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, HI, United States
(808) 259-2500

Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort

Moon Palace Golf Spa Resport, Cancún, Mexico
+52 998 881 6000

Sea Life Park

Sea Life Park Hawaii, Kalanianaole Highway, Waimanalo, HI, United States
(808) 259-2500
https://www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/

Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort

Moon Palace Golf Spa Resport, Cancún, Mexico
+52 998 881 6000
http://www.moonpalacecancun.com/

Travel Tip: Pack a First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
A compact travel first aid kit from http://www.rei.com/c/first-aid-kits.

Granted basic supplies wouldn’t have helped me in this particular situation, but I learned a very important lesson during our trip to Cancun for a conference last week: make sure to always carry some form of a first aid kit.

I know what you’re thinking. You’ll only be gone a few days. What could possibly go wrong in that short amount of time? That’s what I thought, too – I always think I’m invincible when traveling. But my four days in Mexico last week resulted in the first broken bone I’ve ever had.

We had nearly made it through the entire trip without incident. I had slipped multiple times on the slippery-when-wet marble floors at Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort at the beginning of our stay on a particularly rainy day. Eventually, I had to take my flip flops off and walk barefoot around the resort. Think about it – this is an all-inclusive with just about the biggest pool you’ve ever seen. Women bring “resort wear” which generally consists of flip flips for the pool, and heels for the evening. Either way, you’re going down on those slick floors.

And go down, I certainly did in the early morning hours (3:45 a.m.!) when the bus was coming to pick us up for our transfer to the airport. Don’t get me started on why the bus had to come that early for an 8 a.m. flight, but nevertheless, we rolled out of bed and made a beeline for the reception counter. Cleaners were mopping a large section of floor by the exit, but they had it blocked off like a crime scene with caution tape outlining the perimeter of the wet zone. I was walking about 20 feet away – the only way to get to the check-out counter. And down I went, so quickly I didn’t even realize what had happened until I was on the ground, one leg out in front of me, one knee smacking the marble, and one fingertip throbbing from a direct impact.

Poor broken knuckle

Poor broken knuckle

The cleaners and the girl at reception just stared at me. Kyle helped me up and saw I had landed in a rather large puddle – in the middle of the area that was supposed to be dry. We walked over to check out, and I realized my finger had not gotten through the incident unscathed. A man came out from a side room when he saw the tears forming. He found me a Band-Aid for my non-bleeding finger, and gave me another for the road. Fantastic. Then I was promptly chased around with paperwork – and I do mean chased – as someone speaking furious Spanish tried to get me to fill out an incident report. A translator ran behind him. The bus had already arrived and was threatening to leave if we didn’t board. I’m sure we could have waited and made the flight with plenty of time to spare, but we had paid for the ride, so we left with unsigned paperwork.

We were through security by 4:30 a.m., and thus began what I’d have to rank in my top 3 longest days of travel ever! (We didn’t get home until after 11 p.m.) I was relatively fine until our first layover in Atlanta, where I decided to ask for some better medical supplies. I had put the Band-Aid over my knuckle, which hurt the most. We eventually managed to find an information desk, and all they had was Scotch tape. I took two pieces and buddied my fingers straight. It didn’t take long for me to realize that was a really bad idea. I sat down at our gate and tried to take everything off. The Band-Aid over my knuckle (which I found out the next day was broken) hurt so much, and I started crying. A Delta employee ran over and called their internal version of 911. Several minutes later, two medical people appeared on bikes and went to get me an ice pack. They returned with a grocery bag full of ice cubes.

And that’s all the medical attention and supplies I received in nearly 20 hours of travel.

Delayed in airport 2 of 3.

Delayed in airport 2 of 3.

So, this brings me to the conclusion that travelers should err on the side of caution, and always have some sort of medical supplies with them – whether you’re accident-prone or not! I wouldn’t have had a splint with me—I’ve never broken anything in my life, so why would I just carry around a splint for the heck of it?—but I should probably have had some pretty basic medical supplies.

Here’s what I should have had – and you should, too!

 

Courtesy www.survivalmetrics.com

Courtesy www.survivalmetrics.com

Standard Strip Band-Aids – Now, you don’t have to go crazy and carry them in all shapes and sizes. That’s always better, but you can probably rig up something with a few basic Band-Aids in a pinch.

Antibiotic Ointment – If you need to use a Band-Aid, you’ve probably managed to cut yourself, so it’s a good idea to carry ointment. You could pack some antiseptic wipes, too, if you know you’ll be hiking, for example – or at least somewhere you’re not sure you’ll have great access to soap and water.

Gauze – For larger wounds than you can adequately treat with a Band-Aid, it’s smart to carry gauze. You can either get gauze and medical tape, or you can buy gauze that’s much like a Band-Aid with adhesive.

Medical Tape – Even if you bring gauze with adhesive, it’s smart to carry medical tape, too, especially if you’re planning to swim, or you’re in a place with a lot of humidity, since adhesives will likely peel off.

Ace Bandage – It’s always a good idea to carry one of these around. They roll up relatively small, and can be used for lots of situations.

Painkillers and Allergy Medicine – Naturally, it’s a good idea to carry some version of Tylenol or Advil around for everything from a headache to an ankle sprain. Keep allergy medicine on hand for seasonal allergies and even rashes or bug bites.

Small Tweezers and Scissors – Tweezers are handy for removing splinters, and you’ll need a small pair of scissors to cut medical tape.

Your Medical Information – Carry a card that has a list of medicines you’re allergic to, as well as your blood type (if you know it), and an emergency contact.

Sturdy First Aid Kit – It’s always a good idea to keep your supplies in a hard plastic container or a zip-up canvas case, mainly so they don’t get wet or crumpled in your luggage.

So there you have it: some essentials for any travel first aid kit. There are some specific travel-related kits geared toward avid hikers and outdoor adventurers, but these basics should tide you over for small injuries until you can find medical attention.

But most importantly, just be careful.

Have you ever been injured while traveling? What did you do? Share your comments and stories below!

A Musical History of México: Xcaret

Xcaret Mayan
Many actors dressed as Mayan natives greeted us as we made our way into Xcaret Park.

Kim and I recently attended TBEX, a conference for travel bloggers, which was graciously hosted by the Cancun CVB. A number of other organizations sponsored the event, including Moon Palace Resorts (Kim and I will put our review up of the resort soon) and an organization known as Xcaret (that’s sh-car-et), which hosted the opening night event for the conference.

Xcaret Park is actually only one attraction that operates under the banner of Experiencias Xcaret, an organization of various parks focused on promoting tourism that is conscious of Mexico’s rich history, starting all the way back with the Mayans. A brief look over each of their parks shows a wide variety of activities meant to appeal to everyone from adventurers to history and cultural aficionados. On opening night, we visited Xcaret Park to take in the “Xcaret México Espectacular.”

At first, I wasn’t really sure what to expect as we boarded the bus for the hour-long bus ride from the Moon Palace to Xcaret Park. When we arrived, we were herded towards… well, something. Having only done a cursory glance at Xcaret’s website, I wasn’t sure where we were headed. All I knew was that we were apparently walking through some trails that were in varying states of paved that passed some stables, galleries, gift shops and mock Mayan architecture. Overall, the evening started off a bit slow and a bit confusing. As part of a conference of people, we were part of an enormous group being led through some kind of park that was pretty populated. I would not call this a criticism because we were certainly experiencing the park in a fairly uncommon fashion. They were trying to get us to the main attraction and sat down for the dinner show we were about to experience. It was just a bit tough to keep track of where we were headed while taking in the sites of the park. Couple this with actors dressed in really fantastic Mayan garb as we approached the arena we’d be dining in posing for photo ops, it was a little frustrating to try and keep track of where we were being directed to while also trying to snap pictures and enjoy the park.

Until we were shown to our seats…

It’s like a Mayan Disney Land!

Finally we walked into an arena that was clearly built to be reminiscent of ancient Mayan temples. We were sat down front as a large group and food began rolling out almost immediately. Soon after everyone in the crowd was sat in this large arena, the lights went down and the fun began.

Those of you who have been to attractions in the US like Medieval Times may have a sort of frame of reference for what Xcaret Park puts on at night. Guests are sat all around a large central stage and fed while they take in a show. Here’s the thing though – I love medieval history and I’ve been to Medieval Times, but Xcaret’s Mayan/Mexican two hour extravaganza blows that out of the water. Featuring music, dancing, cultural pieces and a great show of athleticism, over 300 actors take the stage during the coarse of the show.

Highlights of the show include pok-ta-pok – an ancient Mayan sport where a ball must be hit through a stone hoop using only one’s hips (rules varied by Mayan subculture), pelota purépecha – a sport similar to field hockey, but with FIRE, invented by the Purépecha people, a scene depicting the conquistadors sweeping in on the precolonial peoples of Mexico and a dancing horse.

In addition to the spectacle taking place before you, Xcaret serves up some pretty good traditional food. My personal favorites included a beverage that I unfortunately cannot track a name down for, but it was basically water infused with some form of melon and possibly other flavors as well as a soup made from smoked oaxaca cheese. A variety of small starters were also passed out, none of which I can track down a name (or even ingredients) for at the top of the meal that were good, too. I never saw a menu, I was just given food and I tried everything. Don’t get me wrong – this is not a 5-star amazing food experience, but I enjoyed the meal and the real focus is the show.

I now wish that we had a bit of time to explore the park for ourselves. While these types of attractions can easily veer into the cheap and inauthentic, I found the “Xcaret México Espectacular” to be entertaining and culturally rich. If I had one complaint, it would be that the show does feel a bit too long. I don’t mean to sound culturally insensitive – it was clear to me that someone put a ton of effort into this show to make it a great experience as well as educational and they did so with great success. I also know that each scene has a purpose and is important to Mexican history and asking someone to cut even 15 minutes out of the show would be a huge task. It’s not so much that the show gets boring – I think the main problem is that the most engaging and immediately entertaining content of the show is front-loaded. The earliest parts of the show contain both the the hip ball sport (pok-ta-pok) and the field hockey with fire (pelota purépecha). While the regional Mexican music and dance at the end of the show is entertaining, there’s nothing as cool as watching guys whack a fireball up and down the arena. I touched on the importance of the structure of an experience in regards to tension or intensity overtime in my entry on my top 5 disney rides. The show at Xcaret suffers a little bit from this pacing issue.

That’s only a minor criticism though. If you are looking for something cool to do while in Cancun, I’d recommend the “Xcaret México Espectacular.” If Xcaret’s other attractions are as good as that show, then I am sure that their other parks would also be a lot of fun to check out.

Note: I apologize for the low quality pictures and video. We left our main cameras at the resort because we were not entirely sure what to expect. In the future, we will be taking those cameras with us!

What to know if you go

The “Xcaret México Espectacular” takes place in an open-air arena – you should probably bring bug spray as mosquitos are definitely in the area. The show is hosted in the Gran Tlachco Theater at Xcaret Park. If you just want to do the show, admission for dinner is $45 USD. You can also book online here to save 2 bucks.

Places

Xcaret Park

Ruta 101, Quintana Roo, Mexico
1-855-326-0681

Xcaret Park

Ruta 101, Quintana Roo, Mexico
1-855-326-0681
http://www.xcaret.com/
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