Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ritz-Carlton’s Spirited New Year’s Treats

I don’t usually write about hotels I haven’t been to, but when the Ritz Carlton PR rep approached me with New Year’s Specials and unique drinks at her hotels, I couldn’t resist passing the information along – especially since she’s sharing yummy cocktail recipes!

Happy New Year, everyone!

from the The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia
Ten Arts by Eric Ripert
“Green Tea White Chocolate Martini”
Created by Steven Diaz
2 oz. green tea mint infused Godiva White
2 oz. vanilla vodka
1 oz. white crème de cocoa
House made green tea mint simple syrup
Swirl the green tea syrup and green tea mint infused Godiva White around a martini glass
Add vanilla vodka and white crème de cocoa
Garnish with a strip of white chocolate.

from the The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Degrees Bar & Lounge
“The Sparkling Melange”
Created by Christine Moore
Veuve Clicquot Champagne
St Germain Elderflower liquer
Mix and serve up in champagne flute.

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C.
Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert
“Sparkler of the House”
Created by General Manager Amy Troutmiller
1 oz. of persimmon puree
3 dashes of cinnamon bitters in a flute
Add persimmon puree and 3 dashes of cinnamon bitters to a champagne flute glass
 Fill glass with Prosecco.

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan
“Midnight Martini”
Created by Melissa Rivera
½ oz. crème de cassis
1 oz. cream of coconut
2 oz. Sky vodka
Rim the martini glass with coconut flakes to resemble stars
 Add ingredients to mixing glass, strain and serve in martini glass. 

and the
“New Year’s Toast on a Cloudy Sky”
½ oz. vanilla ice cream base
1 oz. orange juice
4 oz. ginger ale
Mix ingredients and shake lightly
 Pour over a pilsner glass and garnish with slices of star fruit                    

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing Financial Street
“Asian Mao-Tai”
Created by bartender Jessica Yuan
1 ½ oz. herbal Maotai
½ oz. Aperol
¼ oz. orange juice
¼ oz. syrup.
The trick to this Chinese drink is infusing Chinese liquor, or baiju, with local flowering herbs
After you have done that, add it to a freshly pressed whole orange with the aromatic bite of Aperol
Stirred with ice cubes and pour into a glass.

from the
The Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, Ireland
Sugar Loaf Lounge
“The Celt Cocktail”
Created by bartender Kevin Bunick
2 oz. Bushmills Irish Whiskey
¾ oz. Irish Mist Liquor
1 ¼ oz. apple juice
l fresh apple
½ vanilla pod
Place apple and vanilla in a shaker and mix
 Add whiskey, Irish mist, and apple juice and shake vigorously
Serve in a martini glass poured through a double strainer
 Top off with apple cider and garnish with sliced fresh apple.

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow
O2 Bar
“Snegurochka’s Winter Passion”
Created by senior bartender Artiom Emelstein
2 oz. Mandarin vodka
1 oz. Bombay Sapphire
½ oz. Martini Gold
½ oz. 02 thyme syrup. 
Pour, stir and strain all ingredients into a chilled martini glass
Top off with a Mandarin orange.  

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch
Spago by Wolfgang Puck
“The Ritz 75”
Created by bartender and local celebrity Scotty Moises
2 oz. organic Colorado Cap Rock gin
¼ oz. lemon juice
l/8 oz. simple syrup with ice
Shake and strain into a champagne flute
Top with The Ritz-Carlton champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

and the

“Homemade Hot Cocoa”
1 oz. vanilla vodka
l oz. Grand Marnier
Mix together and top off with baby marshmallows

from the
The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta
“Black Eyed Pea Cocktail”
2 oz. Absolut Black Vodka
1 oz. dark chocolate liqueur
Drop of dark chocolate
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass
 Place a drop of dark chocolate in the middle of a glass
Garnish with five black eyed peas on a cocktail stick.

and the
“Pecan Pie Martini”
1 oz. Captain Morgan special rum
¾ oz. Castnes peanut liqueur
½ oz. Amaretto
½ oz. Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
½ oz. Godiva caramel liqueur
1 oz. cream.
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled martini glass
Garnish with candied pecans and rim with sweet toasted pecan crusts.

Contact these hotels directly to see if there’s any rooms left for these special packages:
Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
Starting at $799 for December 31st
The Wayne Foster Premiere Dance Orchestra showcases dancers and specialty performers, along with a variety of musical styles.  Reception followed by a  four-course dinner  and midnight champagne toast.  Package includes overnight accommodations and two tickets to the gala.
Ritz –Carlton Dallas
Starting at $359 for December 31st
Receive deluxe accommodations, breakfast for two (in-room or at restaurant),  a $50 gift card to Stanley Korshak and VIP store privileges, including complimentary gift wrapping and shipping, champagne upon arrival, a mini-makeover, garment bag  and jewelry cleaning.  Also receive overnight valet parking.

Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach

Holiday Hangover Package
Starting at $569, January 1-17th
Rejuvenate after the busy holidays with daily breakfast for two (including Bloody Marys) and detox at Eau Spa by Cornelia.  The Hangover package also includes overnight accommodations with a private balcony,  two Scrub and Polish Bar experiences at the Spa and a detoxifying bath treatment.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Visit to Casablanca and Tuscany Within Manhattan

Between my trips to far off locations like Punta Cana and Champagne, France, I often receive invitations to check out events and places within the two states I am in most – New York and Illinois.   What I didn’t imagine when I headed into New York City a few weeks ago was that I would really be heading into another worldwide adventure.

I visited the Hotel Elysée a few months ago.  I loved it, but I didn’t get a chance to experience all it had to offer.  I was determined not to do the same at its sister property, Casablanca Hotel.  The Casablanca offers a whole different atmosphere than the Elysée, with a Moroccan flair and a more laid back feel.  It is literally a stone’s throw to Times Square, in fact, I probably walked by it 100 times in my life and didn’t realize all that was being offered inside.  They offer mini-suite rooms, with a separate living area, perfect for couples and families, but singles like us can also get two queen beds, with free internet and a helpful staff.

It was a getaway in celebration of my friend Lynn’s birthday and we began it at the Casablanca Hotel’s free evening reception.   I have been to many of these and hotels usually have a couple of bottles of beer and wine and some vegetables and dip.  The Casablanca, like the other HK Hotels, takes it one step further, adding Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, cheeses, fruits and nuts.  It is all served in Rick’s Café, named for the bar in the movie Casablanca

I really enjoyed the Lunetta Prosecco from Cavit, fruity and crispy, the perfect aperitif to our Italian dinner at Nino’s Tuscany.  I had been looking forward to visiting the restaurant, but as soon as I mentioned it to someone in the hotel, their eyes lit up and I knew Nino’s, located on 58th Street off 6th Avenue, would be really special.

When you walk off the street in Manhattan and into Nino’s Tuscany, you are transformed to Italian with the smells and the cozy atmosphere (definitely a great place for romance too). We sampled the starters, from the salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts to the Pasta Fagiole, followed by an al dente Spinach Ravioli and the best Crespelle (basically a thinner baked Manicotti) I’ve ever had. 

We shared a tender Osso Bucco and then finished with a Banana Flambe, made at our table.  I regret that I did misplace my wine list, but I can tell you to trust their pairing advice, as it worked to perfection.

As good as the food was, Nino’s was made even better by the delightful Irving Fields.  Fields plays piano beautifully and we had a front and center seat to make requests and be charmed by this world traveler.  He performs at Nino’s often and you must see him and listen to the experiences of this 95 year old, who has told his stories and played his music for New York City icons like Donald Trump and Regis Philbin.

We walked back to the hotel (calories in must go out!) and enjoyed a restful night at the Casablanca before feasting on their breakfast.  If you have ever been to a European hotel, you would be reminiscing with the cheese, yogurt, fruit, croissants, cereal and muffins (with some bagels thrown in for the New York flavor).  All of this is complimentary, including the cappuccinos and lattes. 

There isn’t another European trip on my schedule in the near future as I am heading down under soon, but it’s good to know that Hotel Elysée and Casablanca Hotel have two more “sisters” (Hotel Giraffe and the Library Hotel) for me to try if I need to get back that charm.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leaving Mazatlan

My last morning in Mazatlan couldn’t have gone any better, with a relaxing room service breakfast at El Cid Castillo on the balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  I was a bit concerned that the Midwest storms would upset my travel plans, but Delta assured me that all my flights were running on schedule. Or, so they said.

Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association  and Abraham of Pronatours  picked me up at my hotel for my final ride in the van with them.  (I can’t say I will miss climbing in and out of that van!) We were at the airport in 20 minutes and I went to the Aeromexico desk to check into my Mazatlan flight to Mexico City.  The clerk then advised me that the flight was running FIVE hours late and I would miss my connection.  In the next half hour she proceeded to tell me that there wasn’t a way she could get me home in the next two days unless I wanted to fly to Guadalajara and hope I could get on a morning flight! 

I was fortunate to have the travel expertise of Julio, Director of Mazatlan Hotel Association, on my side, and, after a goodbye lunch with Abraham and Maria Elena, I was off on a U.S. Air flight to Phoenix, Arizona.  It actually worked out well because during my night in Phoenix I got to have drinks with an old friend and then make a new one, Maria Rojas-Fox, an International Resorts Representative.  We had a delicious dinner at Caffe Boa in Tempe, that included great pasta, the discovery of a delicious new drink, the Nutcracker (Amaretto, Crème de Cocoa and a Butterfinger Rim), and a wonderful wine, a 2008 Szoke Matyas Irsai Oliver from Matra, Hungary.

I took an early morning flight back to Chicago (thanks for the upgrade, American) and made good use of the long layover for my connecting flight.  It was quite a different scene at home than it was in Mazatlan, with single digit temperatures and piles of snow instead of sand in front of me.  Mazatlan is definitely on my “return to ASAP” list  after a wonderful week of making new friends, eating great food, staying at beautiful hotels and enjoying the beach and culture.

In case you missed any of my adventure, here it is from start to finish…

Welcome to Mazatlan

Exploring the Old and the New in Mazatlan

Checking Out Mazatlan’s Resorts

Mazatlan Fun and Pampering

Excursions, Martinis and Almost Tequila in Mazatlan

Islands of Excitement in Mazatlan

Monday, December 13, 2010

Islands of Excitement in Mazatlan

Abraham of Pronatours and Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association picked me up first thing in the morning and I sadly left the Riu Emerald Bay.  I was quickly smiling again as I checked into the All-Inclusive Elite VIP area of the El Cid Castillo.  My junior suite was ready and I only had a short while to enjoy it before I was heading across the street to the El Cid Country Club.

The Country Club has three golf courses and eight tennis courts for use by the guests of all El Cid’s properties.  For anyone who has the All-Inclusive Elite Package, unlimited golf and tennis comes at no extra charge.  Gustavo was waiting for me at the courts for my private lesson. 

I have spent much more time watching (and photographing tennis) the last few years than playing it, but I always enjoy the chance to hit some balls.  I had a great instructor and definitely worked hard out there, picking up a few pointers for my strokes.

After tennis, there was just enough time to shower and change for lunch at the Country Club.   I started with a new favorite I discovered in Mazatlan, Tortilla Soup, consisting of tomato broth which you top with tortilla strips, avocado and shredded cheese.  It was delicious and something I will miss when I go home.  Maria Elena and I finished up and headed over to the beach for our sailing adventure.

Daniel took us out on a Catamaran to so we could visit two of the three islands on the outskirts of Mazatlan.  I had forgotten until the water began splashing over the boat just how cold the Pacific Ocean can be, but it was peaceful and beautiful as we watched the seagulls dive in to the water to fetch their dinner. 

It was about 20 minutes before we reached Bird Island, where we just stayed long enough to get some [photos of the gulls on the rocks.  Then we were back in the Catamaran and sailing to Deer Island, where our sailor docked the boat and I did some photographic exploring before enjoying the views from a beach blanket.

Since Deer Island turned out to be a bit too deserted for us, we made it back to El Cid with time to spare.  We settled in the warm pool water at the El Cid Moro with a couple of Mud Slides and slices of Hawaiian Pizza, but before long it got a bit too cold for sunbathing.  Work was calling me back to the room anyway, so I bid my guide farewell until dinner.

For the first time on this well-planned trip, dinner didn’t pan out quite as expected.  We dressed up for Señor Peppers, only to find the restaurant closed for the night.  Instead, Maria Elena, Abraham and I ended up at a local beachfront spot, Diego’s, where we made our own tacos with an assortment of sauces and shredded beef, accompanied by a satisfying Mango Dacquiri.

After a long week – and with a long day of travel ahead of me – I decided to turn in early and headed up to my room at El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel in time for eight hours sleep on my last night in Mazatlan.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Excursions, Martinis and Almost Tequila in Mazatlan

I happen to really like Mexican food, but I did enjoy the opportunity to check out the Riu Emerald Bay’s incredible breakfast buffet Saturday, settling on a good old-fashioned American omelet with some banana bread and hash browns.  I was then on my way with Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association and Abraham of Pronatours to Huana Coa.

Before she was faced with a family emergency, my friend Theresa (aka, The Local Tourist) was accompanying me on this trip and she had elected to go zip-lining through this Mazatlan excursion.  It was not something I was interested in doing, but we did decide to head over the anyway, hoping to catch somebody in the action.  We were a bit too late, but I did get a chance to speak with a Canadian couple who had a blast gliding through the Blue Agave plants (more on that in a minute) and riding the ATVs back to the starting point.

There is a lot more than zip-lining in this area of Mazatlan.  It’s home to Los Osuna, which is “almost” tequila. Just like champagne isn’t champagne unless it’s made in Champagne, Tequila must be made in the Mexican city of Jalisco to be tequila. However, the Osuna family has been making this spirit for over 100 years in Mazatlan, under the same process as tequila, using the same Blue Agave plant. I can also testify to the fact that it certainly tastes like tequila! 

I really enjoyed the Resposado, with its vanilla undertones, smooth start and sharper finish. They also make a Blanco and Anejo, all three of which are award winners. Los Osuna isn’t the only thing made in Mazatlan to drink.  It’s also the home of Pacifico Cerveza. This is a smooth beer that comes in light and regular and was described to me as Corona -- which is made by the same company -- but a bit less sour.

After the tour and tasting at Los Osuna, it was off to Panama for lunch.  This combination restaurant bakery has a big selection of local food and settled on the Asado a la Plaza, beef cubes mixed with potatoes and topped with lettuce and vegetables and served in a tomato broth.  I was told that dessert can’t be missed in this place and I settled (of course) on the Tres Chocolat (three chocolate) Cake, which was as good as it sounds.

We returned from the day’s activities late afternoon and I actually got to do something I rarely do on these trips, I went to the beach and pool at Riu Emerald Bay for an hour.  I walked along the ocean, enjoying the ease of strolling on Mazatlan’s sand, which isn’t too deep, making it easy to walk on.  I then took a swim in the warm pool and enjoyed a frozen Blue Curacao pineapple juice  blend the bartender at the swim-up bar made me before heading up to change for dinner.

Dinner was at Vittore, an excellent Italian restaurant with perfect Canneloni.  I ate with Maria Elena, Abraham and Julio Birrueta, the Director of Marketing for the Mazatlan Hotel Association.  Julio had been out of town until this point and I was happy to have the chance to talk to him about his beautiful city and thank him for his hospitality.

My last evening at the Riu Emerald Bay (I will check into the El Cid Castilla Beach Sunday) ended in their Salon Bar, home to a large selection of Martinis.  This hotel is not lacking in nightlife and has some very imaginative drinks available at the bars.  I had the Chocolate Martini which included a touch of whiskey cream for a different flavor.  Maria Elena had the Blanc, which included White Chocolate Liqeuer and then we checked out the Melon, which was also very tasty. 

The bartender was also in the mood to make some unusual shots (Dirty River, anyone?) and we felt obliged to do the spirited thing and try them along with a spirited group of guys from Romania. I  did manage to head upstairs to my suite for a few hours sleep before my final day in Mazatlan, playing tennis and sailing to the nearby islands.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mazatlan Fun and Pampering

It was one of those days where I couldn’t possible deny that I have a fun job and Mazatlan is the perfect place to have some fun!

We’ve had a bit of fog that comes and goes, blocking the sun a bit, but it’s still in the 70s with absolutely no chance of rain (or snow, like they are having back home), so I am not about to complain about not perfect weather.  My trusted guides Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association and Julio of Pronatours took me to the Cenaduria La Regional, where I had an authentic Mexican breakfast of Panqueqes, a rolled pancake with cinnamon and sugar, and Chilaquiles Rojas, fried squares of tortillas in a sauce with salsa and cheese.  It was tasty and definitely filled me up for our trip to the aquarium.

The Mazatlan Aquarium is tiny by the U.S. standards, but they are currently under construction in a number of areas, including a large shark exhibit.  We enjoyed the sea lion show and walked around a bit, checking out the turtles, alligators, stingrays, sharks and other native fish to the California Gulf.  The aquarium also has a large bird section, and the parrots were chirping away in and out of the theater they performed in.

We had a bit of free time, so Maria Elena took me to one of her favorite stores, Cielito Lindo, where I saw more silver jewelry than one can imagine in their wildest dreams!  It actually took me over an hour to go through it all and pick out some earrings for holiday gifts.   We were still full from breakfast so we decided to skip lunch and head straight to the Riu Emerald Bay’s Revova Spa, where I had the terrible job of picking whatever treatments I wanted!

I spent nearly three hours at the spa, enjoying a Mango-Passion Fruit Scrub, followed by a wrap in the same luscious scent.  As my muscles relaxed and my skin suddenly transformed to ten years younger (OK, maybe I’m taking the anti-aging thing a bit too far), I dosed off a bit.  I awakened to a glass of green tea and my therapist telling me my first treatment was over and she was beginning the massage.  I didn’t think it was possible to relax more, but I did, through the Swedish massage and then my facial.

When I left the spa, I headed to one of Riu’s six restaurants to grab a slice of pizza since I had skipped lunch.  I made it down to the beach for the first time on my trip.  It is a beautiful beach at the Riu Emerald Bay and even though it was only for 10 minutes, I got to see this incredible sunset.

I enjoyed the sunset for a bit before getting ready to head to Machado Plaza, which I had discovered on my first full day in Mazatlan.  This is where to be at night, with outdoor Mexican style cafes, live music, restaurants, bars and the Angela Pealta Theater.  It was there that I saw “El Cascanueces” ballet, better known to Americans as “The Nutcracker.”  The dancing was beautiful and I enjoyed the old theater, with its balcony’s and large stage.

We then had dinner at Las Brasas, feasting on guacamole, cheese and chips, followed by BBQ Chicken.  I also had a delicious wine that turned out to be a Blanc de Blanc by J.P Chenet, ironically, a French company.  From Machado Plaza, Maria Elena wanted to take me to one of her favorite local bars so we headed to El Mil Amores for some Mexican Karaoke and cosmopolitans.

I got back to the Riu Emerald Bay well after midnight, glad that Saturday was not an early day, but it’s an important one as I have some spirits tasting on the schedule!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Checking Out Mazatlan’s Resorts

It was another picture-perfect day in Mazatlan, where it’s hard to imagine the weather isn’t always beautiful.   I picked the perfect time to come – though there are rarely bad times – with temperatures ranging in the high 70s and the sun constantly shining.  There wasn’t any sunbathing for me, as I went touring some of the area’s newest hotels.

The day started with breakfast at La Terraza, a cute little restaurant at the Azteca Inn.  I enjoyed the chips, salsa and cheese, before having my first taste of Corn Tamales.  They were delicious (especially with the homemade salsa).  After some coffee to energize, Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association led me out to the van where Julio of Pronatours was once again at our service for the day.

Our first stop was at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay and it was indeed bonita  (beautiful).  Each suite Jessica took us to  appeared to be nicer than the last and the tropical atmosphere – complete with birds and iguanas – was more Caribbean than Mexican, making it stand out in Mazatlan.  An all-inclusive option is coming to this all-suite resort in January and it is open to couples and families, with an adults-only pool offering a bit more quiet for those not with children.

What struck me most about Pueblo Bonita was the vibrant colors throughout the resorts, especially showcased in the artwork. The spa is also incredible, with the aromas beckoning you to the Jacuzzi, Hot and Cold Plunge Pools, Steam Room, Swiss Shower, Biothermal Rain Shower, Walking Reflexology Path, Ice Station and Mist Shower before or after your treatment.

From Pueblo Bonita we were off to the Crowne Plaza Mazatlan.  Unlike most classic Crowne Plaza hotels, this one is ultra-modern, welcoming you in the lobby with views of the infinity pool that seems to blend right into the Pacific Ocean.  This resort has an all-inclusive option as well, and choices from Junior Suites to one, two and even three bedrooms with kitchens.  The views are breathtaking (photo at the top of this post), with ocean views from all rooms. The Jacuzzi rooms extremely romantic.

The Crowne Plaza has a small gym, but the ability to watch the blue waters as you walk the treadmill is a brilliant idea to get anyone working out!  The spa is intimate and complete (chocolate wrap, anyone?), with the option to also get treatments in your room o on the beach.  There are two al a carte restaurants on the premises and service is available at the pool. 

Our final hotel tour of the day was the El Cid Marina, one of three of the El Cid Resorts. This is the top of the line, with packages that include unlimited green fees for golfers. There are also options for various all-inclusive plans, allowing you to plan for all the needs of your vacation in advance.  The kids’ playground is adorable, complete with a miniature merry-go-round, and parents can bring their kids to the camp and the other resort (free transportation is provided between El Cid properties). 

The El Cid Marina is made up of all suites – up to three bedroom – with views of the new area of Mazatlan, as well as the bay and the Marina.  The grotto pool allows you to swim through the waterfalls and guests have the option of the beach by the pool, or taking a boat from the adjacent marina to a more private one.  Guests staying at the El Cid Marina can eat anywhere within the properties, giving them a choice of 12 restaurants, and use the facilities of all those hotels.

Lunch was at the Oceano Palace, where I had a delicious enchilada platter and a lively conversation with the wonderful Fermin Trucios, the hotel’s general manager and to my delight, a huge tennis fan.  We traded tales of travel and tennis before I headed to one more hotel, the Riu Emerald Bay, where I am staying for the next three nights.

I once again lucked out with a perfect suite, this one offering indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, with the latter on the deck offering views of the beach, pool and the ideal sunset.  I got to explore this bustling resort a bit in the evening, with three bars (including a 24 hour sports bar) going strong, and a selection of drinks and Martinis to keep everyone satisfied.  I didn’t spend much time there, because it was late by the time I got back from Señor Frogs.

My only previous experience at Señor Frogs was in Cancun and though it wasn’t Spring Break, it certainly had that atmosphere.  This location was a bit calmer, though not at all lacking in fun.  Tulio kept us laughing as the staff presented us with Sombreros, Balloon hats and marshmallows for throwing (yes, we had marshmallow fights!)  in between, Maria Elena, Julio and I  enjoyed (a few) of their Frozen Mango drinks, with vodka, rum, mango and Kahlua, a Tequila Cheese appetizer, Fajitas  and a Messy Sundae.  Just when I thought I couldn’t have another thing, Tulio was back with “Aqua del Rio.”  Though I couldn’t get a confirmation of the secret ingredients, my best guess was Kahlua and tequila.

Friday is a fun-filled day of touring the aquarium and its new Shark Exhibit, followed by the afternoon at the Riu Emerald Bay Spa and the evening at the ballet.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Exploring the Old and the New in Mazatlan

It was a really long day of sightseeing, hotel visits and lots of food, but don’t worry, I didn’t jump off any cliffs!

I was picked up first thing in the morning by Maria Elena of Mazatlan Hotel Association and Victor of Prono Tours, who knows everything and anything about Mazatlan.  We drove through the Golden Zone and Ocean Avenue, as I listened to the history of this beautiful city, the statues along the way and the people who live here.  We watched the fisherman, whose main object is shrimp, and saw an overview of the hotels from the original to the new. We also saw the divers who jump off the cliff (it is too dangerous for the inexperienced) as a way of earning their living, and the markets around them.

We had one picturesque stop after another and I tried to keep myself from wanting to stay and photograph all day.  We still had many more places to go.  I loved Machado Square in the Historic District and was fascinated with the European influence on the old buildings in contrast with the new restaurants and stages for live music, as well as Teatro Angela Peralter .  It is the center of the Carnival that takes place each winter (it’s in March this year).  We continued to walk through the cobblestone streets of this area, looking at the mix and new, until we got to the downtown section of the old district.

The Cathedral of Immaculate Concepcion was a strong contrast to those I had seen in France, with its bright colors, which Victor described as a mix of eclectic and neo-gothic elements.   The town was bustling as there were three cruise ships coming in, reminding me of my first and only other views of Mazatlan – watching episodes of the Love Boat!

We walked through by El Mercado (the Market), where I saw everything from fruits and piñatas to a meat section with pig’s heads.  I managed to get the image out of my head before lunch.  Never would I imagine this gal with a severe seafood allergy would step foot in a place called the Shrimp Bucket, but I had been insured the whole place was on alert to give me a safe meal, and they did.  

This restaurant is a haunt of the local and foreign famous, though it’s reasonable for everyone.  This restaurant has been around since 1963 and was so successful in encouraged the owners to also start the Senor Frog (a stop for me on Thursday) and Carlos and Charlie’s chains.  The waiters made fantastic homemade salsa and guacamole in from of our table and I enjoyed a wonderfully authentic burrito.

After lunch at the Shrimp Bucket, I had a tour of the adjoining Hotel La Siesta with its adorable indoor patio and courtyard pool.  A great little three star find in the Old District.  I was blown away with Casa Lucila Hotel, a boutique luxury property with just eight rooms and the above perfect view from the rooftop Jacuzzi.

Dinner at La Casa Country, a cute place with a very Mexican atmosphere and American country music in the background, was delicious.  I had their special Tortilla Soup, with avocado and cheese sprinkled on top.  It was actually quite light and not too spicy.  I also had a junior portion (not much room left after lunch) of the BBQ Ribs in a great sauce with a little kick.  It was accompanied by a perfect Tanqueray Apple Martini.

The Mexican Fiesta show at El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel (where I will be staying on Sunday) was a lot of fun and then Maria Elena and I stopped off at Rios Coffee Café for a wind down of chocolate and green tea.
Today I am leaving the Inn at Mazatlan and heading over to Riu Emerald Bay Resort for a few days. I’m leaving with the memory of this beautiful sunset from my balcony last night.

Hasta mañana (Until tomorrow ).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Welcome to Mazatlan

It was a long day Tuesday, with three flights and a total of 12 hours of traveling, but I have to say Delta came through this time, with great service in the air and getting my bags through to the ground. They also provided me with an empty seat next to me on each flight (though I’m sure that’s not something they want to happen.

The most unusual part of my trip was the Mexico City Airport. I’ve been in a lot of airports and I’ve never seen one quite like this. It was the most modern I’ve seen, even through customs and immigration. Their security systems are different from the U.S. and I have to say they seem to work. For one thing, you are actually allowed to bring a bottle of water through security. You can leave your shoes and your sweater on too, but before anyone worries that it’s not safe, I have to add that there are more police, security guards and workers watching than I’ve ever seen before. And, yes, people are searched, but after a few security personnel have deemed it necessary.

Although they have their own security ideas, Mexico City is very interested in following U.S. fast food. It was difficult to find anything local to eat between Starbucks, Sbarro’s Carl’s Jr, Subway, and even 7-Eleven! From there it was a pleasant one hour flight on Aeromexico before I arrived in Mazatlan. I couldn’t see much in the darkness of late night.

I arrived in my suite at the Inn at Mazatlan in time to hit the pillow, but woke up to the above view and knew the day was starting off right. I enjoyed some yogurt and pecan pancakes and am getting ready to begin my exploration of this Mexican city with Maria Elena of the Mazatlan Hotel Association.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things for the Holidays

Mr. Rebates
I know my thoughts aren’t quite as important as Oprah Winfrey (and I’m not giving away Volkswagon Beetles), but I am often asked about my favorite wines, spirits and travel gear, as well as any other tips I may have for saving money. Here are some of the things on my holiday list…

First stop, Mr. Rebates
I can’t say enough about Mr. Rebates. Not only do you get back cash from shopping, but there’s more coupons and offers on this site than I’ve seen anywhere else. Before you buy anything, see if you can get a deal -- and cash back -- through Mr. Rebates.

Must have in 2011
The Amazon Kindle is on my daughter’s Xmas list this year and it’s a must for the avid reader. The selections starts at $139, making it more affordable.

Travel necessities
I love the Packing Guides at TravelSmith. I have bought a number of their Eagle Creek Packing Cubes and they're great for keeping the suitcase organized.

There is no place like Minimus to find an incredible selection of travel-sized products. They have thousands of health, beauty, food and drink items – with free shipping to your home or where you are traveling to as long as you spend $20 (which is a lot of stuff).

A friend recently told me about the new carry-on bag from Lori Greiner and I instantly ordered one. This carry-on not only has more room than any I've seen that size, but I love the pull up plastic compartments for toiletries and cosmetics. (Just received mine and it looks as good in person!)

Bed & Breakfast
Yes, I love five star resorts like the Paradisus Palma Real, but staying in a cozy Bed & Breakfast can also be fun. is offering some great holiday deals, including $75 Off stay.

Best deal for eating out (or in)
Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia Nothing beats for gift certificates whether you are giving or keeping. There are new offers every week, but you can currently get 80% $25 Gift Certificates! Use code HOLIDAY at checkout now through 12/20/10. (I will try to update the coupons throughout the holiday season.)

While I'm on the subject of food, the Cake Boss has a new book, Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia.  Learn all about this phenom before you try to duplicate some of his tasty treats.

The lowdown on wine and spirits
It would take pages for me to go over the great wines I’ve had over the past few months alone, but here are a few that you definitely need to include at your holiday celebrations:

Anytime White
Jacob's Creek Riesling Reserve makes me even more excited that I'm planning a trip to Australia and will get to taste all their wines. (I do have a bottle of the new Moscato which I will be sure to share the details on soon.)

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc is also one to try, with an intense fruit flavor.

Anytime Red
He's not just one of the greatest directors of all time, Francis Ford Coppola also knows his way around wine. The Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cabernet Sauvignon made me stop and realize how much I could enjoy red wine.

I'd also suggest a bottle of the Rosenblum Paso Robles Zinfandel to round out the red selection.

Anytime Spirits
Tanqueray was my first spirit and it will always have a special place in my liquor cabinet. Tanqueray 10 (love that juniper) has a great holiday bottle and a new brother – Tanqueray Rangpu, filled with lime.

I'm also a big vodka fan and have found quite a few to love this year.  The thing about flavored vodkas is the don't need a mixer to make them great so you've got a drink that's easy to keep low cal.  Give the gift of spirits (or buy some for your holiday party) with a couple of my favs - Voli Vanilla Espresso, Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate, Ciroc Coconut and Effen Black Cherry.

For a selection that changes monthly (but always receives rave reviews), check out Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, you can now purchase some of their beers at Whole Foods if you can't make it to Fairfax, CA (where the food is as good as the beer.

Holiday Wine
You will never feel the need for Hard Cider again after you taste Lynfred Winery's Glogg (red) and Christmas Spiced White.  Heat them in a pot of warm water for awhile and enjoy!

Dessert Wine
Dr. Frank 2008 Late Harvest Riesling Bunch Select  has won more awards than I can list and this Ice Wine like liquid gold is definitely worth it.

Holiday Liqueur
Chambord is a raspberry liquor looks regal enough for any gift and works in cocktails, as a after dinner drink, in coffee or on cake. I also recommend adding some to a chocolate fondue!

For a real dessert-like liqueur, I’d also suggest Hasse’s Cherry Pie or Apple Pie.

Toast New Year’s off right with a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee or Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label in some Riedel Prestige Flutes. If your budget is tight, there's always Freixenet, a sparkling wine from Spain known as Cava.

The Gift of Spa
Get – or give -- a massage
I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like to spa. Spa Finder is running discounts, offering Free Shipping and gift boxing their certificates, which you can use all over the world.  You can also print out a certificate instantly if you find you need a last minute gift. Use code SHOP2X for discounts.

I’m sure you can take a good guess at what I would recommend…
Food & Wine Magazine, Travel + Leisure Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler . I also happen to be a fan of Midwest Living Magazine, which offers great stories on food, wine, spirits and travel…. MY FAVORITE THINGS!