Eden Roc, Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Posted by Krista on May 20, 2015

I really should really know better. Luxury hotels in the Caribbean are for honeymooners, not solo travelers. I would have been better off at the Westin and I bet the wifi would have been faster too. But I was so pulled in by the Eden Roc Cap Cana. The photos online, the reviews, the private pool…everything was so tremendous that once my overworked brain found a (relatively) good deal on Splendia, I had to book it. And I did book it. And I confirmed with them my name and that I was traveling alone for a few days before my cousin’s wedding and wanted some peace and quiet to hang out and brush off the jetlag.

Still, the envelope in my room read “Mr & Mrs. Passportdelicious” and everywhere I went, the staff wanted to know if my husband was joining me. “Nope, it’s just me,” I would chirpily reply before delving into whatever dish or cocktail they put down in front of me.

Traveling solo in some parts of the world requires firm belief in oneself. Yes, it does.

I wanted to like Eden Roc. And I did, kinda. But it wasn’t my favorite hotel ever which at this price, it really should have been. (There’s a Grand Hyatt in Doha that currently holds pole position.) Here are my pros and cons of my stay at The Eden Roc Cap Cana…

Pros

  • I loved the golf cart that came with my villa. Me and the golf cart had a lot of good times, driving around Cap Cana, checking out the new construction.
  • The bartenders in the bar were the sweetest and nicest to me and made me all sorts of lovely rum concoctions.
  • The bath products in the room were really really nice and in plentiful supply.
  • The TV in the room was huge. If you’re into that sort of thing.
  • The beach was lovely and small and private. People online complain about this, but I really liked it.
  • I got a really good gel manicure at the spa.
  • I had a “private” plunge pool.
  • Cool iPad that controlled the lights in the room. (Although sometimes, I just wanted a switch.)
  • The hotel slippers were cute and green.

Cons

  • No Dominican rum in the minibar! Seriously…where am I??
  • Staff on the beach were fairly absent and had shorter-term memories than I do. I just wanted some water. One day, it never arrived. The next, it arrived ages later.
  • The pool area was seriously lacking in atmosphere and waitstaff, although the club leading into the pool was gorgeous and the staff there were friendly and nice.
  • Dearth of bottled water. You are not supposed to drink the tap water at Eden Roc but you’ll be lucky if you get two bottles of Dasani a day. Small bottles.
  • Late-running turn-down service. I was ready to crash by 8 pm and turn-down still hadn’t arrived by then, meaning I missed out on additional bottled water. (I suppose I could have called and asked for some, but I didn’t.)
  • $20 surcharge for room service. Seriously? I think when you’re paying this much for a hotel room, $20 extra for room service is a joke. Especially when there are golf carts.
  • My gel manicure cost $65 USD.
  • SLOW wifi, particularly during peak periods at breakfast and dinner. Again, if you’re paying this much for a hotel, the wifi better be the super-super-fast kind. (My speed tests at Hotel Wifi Test — my new favorite website — came in at a very average 2.5 mbps.)
  • My private pool was surrounded by wasps. Also, re the “privateness” of the “private” pool, anyone could have walked into the pool area at any time. And indeed they did, on my first morning when they were cutting the grass and spraying for bugs and on the 2nd morning when they were cleaning the pool.
  • Housekeeping took at least one hour to clean my villa. Yes, I counted. I came back from the beach one afternoon to see that housekeeping was inside my villa. So I drove around and around and around on the golf cart waiting for them to leave. Finally, after an hour, I gave up and just went inside. They needed about ten minutes before and then they were done.
  • Food was only so-so. At this price, I wanted to be wowed. I wasn’t.

So in the end…would I do it all over again? No. I mean, the golf cart was fun but I bet I could have equal fun somewhere else for a lot less money. The golf cart was just a bonus. Pay attention to my upcoming post on my stay in Santo Domingo for more on this topic.

I stayed at the Eden Roc Cap Cana for three nights in April 2015. Check out this post for details on my hotel stay research

Win a Free Year’s Membership to HomeExchange.com #contest #giveaway

Posted by Krista on May 18, 2015

This week, I’m giving away a free year’s membership to HomeExchange.com, a £100 value. HomeExchange.com is a global community of 65,000 like-minded people around the world across 150 countries.You may have heard of or experienced house swapping yourself. It’s incredibly fun and cheap and means you can go anywhere, live like a local, and stay for free. The money you save on accommodation can be spent on meals out, sampling the local cuisine, regional specialities, wine tasting or even the local beer! See end of post for contest logistics.

Members’ homes come in all shapes and sizes, from cozy apartments to sprawling estates and everything in between. Home exchanging means that other than the cost of getting there, a holiday anywhere in the world doesn’t have to cost anymore than staying at home.

Read what HomeExchange.com members have to say about home exchanging.

HomeExchange.com have nearly 16,000 Members who list their homes as Gourmet friendly or who are foodie fans. Have a browse of their Gourmet friendly listings for inspiration.

Home exchanging is similar to Couchsurfing because it’s free, but it’s also reciprocal. It’s also similar to Airbnb because you host like-minded people at your home, but it does not cost you any money to stay at someone else’s place. Check out these links for more info.

To enter this giveaway, do one — or  both — of these things. Yes, if you do both, you get two chances to win.

1. Comment on this blog post.
2. Become a Facebook fan of Passportdelicious.com and comment on the post about this giveaway with something like “Please enter me into the giveaway.” If you win this way, make sure you check your “Other” folder on Facebook after the contest ends to see if I contact you.

Do either (or both) of these things by Sunday, May 24th at 8 pm London time, when the contest will close. Within 24 hours, I will then use Random.org to choose a winner. (I’ll count blog comments as even numbers and Facebook comments as odd numbers.) The winner must respond with their details within 24 hours of me contacting them. Otherwise, the prize goes to the runner up! Good luck everyone!!

The Doors of Santo Domingo

Posted by Krista on May 16, 2015

I had no set expectations of Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. I just knew that as long as I was flying all the way to Punta Cana, I might as well see Santo Domingo too. It’s only a 2 hour and 20 minute drive from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo — trust me, I did it twice — but the two are worlds apart. Punta Cana is all mega-resorts and all-inclusive and casinos and beaches and spray tans. Santo Domingo is all colonial charm and street hawkers and pot holes and  UNESCO World Heritage.

In a crazy way, Santo Domingo reminded me of Damascus, without the crowds and with less clothing.

I arrived in Santo Domingo in the heat of midday. Not a good look. It took me about two hours of roaming around to shake a weird feeling that I can’t explain. There’s a pedestrian street that all the guidebooks talk about, but I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you like the cat calls. I do not like the cat calls, even when they are the multilingual cat calls. Dominicanos like to chat, which is a good thing I suppose, but a weird thing when you are on your own. Better were the quiet side streets and the lovely little doorways and alleyways where everything was quiet and peaceful and I was able to shake the weird feeling.

Within an afternoon, I fell so much in love with Zona Colonial that I barely left it. This makes me a bad tourist. A convenient tourist. But I talked to a lot of people in Zone Colonial and I learned a lot of things about colonialism and immigration and Haiti and rum and I was enjoying myself so much that I really didn’t want to leave. Even though it was hot. So hot. The Spanish brought windows that closed against the heat to Santo Domingo. The French brought the balconies to escape the heat. But on the street, where I was most of the time, there were no windows or balconies and the heat was inescapable.

Christopher Columbus discovered Hispaniola in 1492. The island was inhabited by native people at the time, and the story goes that diseases from the new world decimated the native population. But ask the locals and they will tell you about the small villages inland in the DR, where the people look like no one they have ever seen before.

I tried to ask my tour guide where his family was from originally. “Oh you know. A man came from Portugal many years ago. He had a baby with one lady and a baby with another lady and then a baby with another lady. We think there were three brothers.”

The guy you never heard about in history class — or at least I never did — was Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartholomew. Bart was the guy that established Santo Domingo as Santo Domingo. But Spain, according to the Dominicans, eventually abandoned Hispaniola and the short story is that the French took over and things went downhill quickly. Colonialism is a tragic thing and people have a lot of opinions about it, even 500 years later. Almost as many opinions as they have about baseball.

The only thing everyone I talked to in Santo Domingo could completely and totally agree on was that Julio Iglesias is not a nice person. I am not sure how he has managed to piss off so many individuals in one country (especially taxi drivers), but he has. (Julio has had a home in the Dominican for many years.)

Oscar de la Renta is held in much higher regard. Excellent regard. A good man. May he rest in peace.

These are the things I like to know when I visit a place. Santo Domingo delivered. I think it is at a tipping point. Give it some high speed broadband and the Digital Nomad expats will follow.

Win Two Free Day Passes to the Chelsea Flower Show #contest @RefreshAccom #giveaway

Posted by Krista on May 6, 2015

Chelsea2

*** This giveaway is now closed ***

The lovely people at Refresh Apartments have gifted me with two complimentary day passes to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London on May 21st so I am offering them to you, dear readers! What a great day out for you and a friend and/or loved one!! I went a few years back and loved being outside and seeing all the creative spaces…and drinking Champagne of course. (Champagne not included in tickets, just to be clear.) Public day passes to the Chelsea Flower Show have a list price of £99 each, so this is a £198 value! All you need to do to enter is comment below! See bottom of post for contest logistics.

If you’ve never been to the Chelsea Flower Show, it is a super lovely day out. All sorts of lovely gardens to wander around and lovely flowers and plants and trees to look at.

I can’t thank Refresh Apartments enough for offering me these tickets. If you have friends or relatives coming to visit London and they need a place to stay, check them out. Here’s a bit about Refresh in their own words…

Refresh Apartments has recently rebranded and launched an exciting new website, and is one of London’s premier serviced apartment providers. With a substantial portfolio that reaches across the city, they’re able to offer customers anything from a four bedroom apartment on the South Bank to a studio in the heart of Kensington. Serviced apartments offer a fresh alternative to traditional accommodation, with visitors able to enjoy a full living area, kitchen facilities and proper bedrooms, all at the same cost as an equivalent hotel room. The apartments can be rented for anywhere between one night and a whole year, meaning they can be tailored to suit almost any kind of stay!

With studio, one, two, three and four-bedroom apartments available, Refresh regularly work with a variety of different groups, from single travellers to whole families, and businesses looking to give clients and employees somewhere that they can call home during their time in the city. Refresh’s varied portfolio contains apartments within easy reach of virtually every London attraction, including the Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the many others that make the capital such a popular tourist destination.

Contest Logisitics: At 5 pm London time on Wednesday, May 13th, I will use Random.org to pick the winning comment number and a back-up comment number in case the winner doesn’t respond to my request for their mailing address within 24 hours. Crafted will mail the winner their tickets. Given that we are mailing the tickets and that the event is in London, entrants should probably live here or already have plans to be in London on that date. Refresh Apartments can be found on Twitter at @RefreshAccom.

Experiments in Blogging: Fiverr.com, 99designs.com and Other Things…

Posted by Krista on May 4, 2015

After a long period of drudgery — I think it had something to do with falling out of love with Chicago and winter boots and snow — I’ve fallen back in love with my blog. I’ve been trying to give the site some TLC after all these years. I’ve made a huge Google Doc of things I want to do with the site…there are 110 projects on the list as of this writing. I’ve already completed 24 of them and four are currently in progress. This is the problem with my historical career in the online world. I used to manage financial websites all over the globe and I always had a long list of projects to work on.

To have a website that doesn’t change and stays static feels weird to me. Having lots of projects for Passportdelicious.com feels good. Maybe I should set up a Jira!!

The projects run the gamut. A few are pretty simple…For example, I wanted to create an Amazon store of Travel products I like. (Complete!) I also wanted to implement social media icons in the right sidebar for Twitter, Facebook, etc. (Complete!) Other projects are more vague. “Figure how how to use Bloglovin,” for example. (Someone please tell me because I don’t really get it.) Some projects are a lot of hard work…like fixing all my old Urbanspoon links that got messed up when I moved to WordPress in 2010. Some I don’t even want to think about…like resizing all my photos so they fit into a different site layout. Uggh.

It would be impossible for me to do all this work myself, so I’ve been doing some experimenting.

The first experiment was with Fiverr.com. Fiverr has people who will do lots of jobs for you and your website for $5 USD. I wanted to get some feedback on the structure and speed of my site, so I paid a guy $5 to run some reports and tell me what I needed to do. One of his main recommendations was that my site was TOO SLOW. Over the years, too many plugins and too many photos have really been dragging things down. I’ve already removed about 15 plugins and then I paid Bluehost, my hosting provider, $89 to do some site optimization for me, which improved my load times immensely. I still have a lot of other work to do based on the Fiverr report, but I’ve already made a ton of progress. And I am down to just 23 WordPress plugins!

The second experiment was with 99designs.com. My site needs a redesign. I want it to feel cleaner and more modern and less blogg-y. Also, Google is now penalizing sites that aren’t truly mobile responsive/mobile ready. So I started a design contest on 99designs to see what people could come up with. I didn’t put a lot of money forward — I just ran a “bronze” contest — which was maybe a bad idea. I wasn’t too impressed with the results that I got. I need to call them and get my money back. Would I try 99designs again? Assuming no one reads this and volunteers to redesign my site…probably…but I would pay more money to access the more experienced designers.

This kinda all leads me to monetization. I don’t particularly like having ads on my site, but I need them. (I did take the ad out of the header though.) My site hosting with Bluehost costs me about $144 a year. (They are very pleasant people and I recommend them.) Backup Buddy costs me $30 a year. Moo cards…£50? After my scare last summer with the crazy song that kept playing whenever I loaded my site, I also purchased Sitelock at another $30 a year.  And don’t even ask me about that day recently when I renewed all my domains for the next 5+ years and how much that cost me. If Adsense can help me recoup some of that spend, that’s not a bad thing. So the ads will stay for now unless you have other suggestions for how I can break-even if not make a little bit of money. Also, I have some life changes coming up and truth be told, the money would be most welcome. (More about the life changes later this month.)

Ah, and content. I have made a list of 51 posts I want to write! 51 posts! Let’s see how far I get. Content is king! I need more content.

And people! The 1 year anniversary of my return to London is next month. I know I haven’t seen a lot of people that I spent a lot of time with in the days of old. That has everything to do with me and the work and the job. People, I am coming for you. Soon. I promise. Get ready for coffee.

xoxo