Monday, September 29, 2014

Relaxing and Enjoying Breathless

After a few days of girl time with my daughter at the ultra-luxury, super relaxing Zoetry Punta Cana, we met up with her boyfriend Matt at Breathless Resort for a different getaway at an adult-only resort with a bit more of a partying reputation.

We had suites next door to each other with patios that had views of the beach and the turquoise water from our lounge chairs, but planned to spend plenty of time separately enjoying Punta Cana.

I ordered breakfast from room service (24 hour room service is complimentary at Breathless) so I could get a little work done before I headed out into the beautiful sunshine.

The “Breathless Breakfast” covers it all – juice, tropical fruit, eggs, cold cuts, hash browns, toast, danishes, muffins and croissants. I couldn’t possibly eat it all, but still managed to get quite full.

I met with Macerana, the manager of the Xhale Club, an area at the resort where we were staying that offers extra upgrades and amenities.

Matt and Sam met up with me as she first took us down to the beach to see the Cabanas, where you can get waiters to bring you everything from sushi to cocktails. She also told us how popular the resort was for weddings and we saw a couple of popular wedding spots.

We toured the property and saw some of the many suites available, as well as the main lobby with restaurants, lounges and stores attached. 

Also upstairs in this building is the After Dark nightclub. It’s a popular spot that doesn’t open until about 10:00 pm and we planned to check it out one night.

The resort also has eight pools, one of which was an Exhale Club Pool just outside our doors. Also among them is the Tiered Pool, known more as the party area.

It was always lively with music and cocktails flowing, volleyball in the pool and dancing on the rim

I did not get to experience the spa while at Breathless, but I did tour it and it was quite impressive.

The spa has more products than I have ever seen, including an exclusive line from Bumbalina, and products for couples to enjoy together, such as Sweet Heart strawberry body treats, edible paints, and lotions.

By the time the tour was over it had gotten quite hot and humid. I went over to the Xhale Club pool and relaxed in the quite on a lounge in the pool.

Lunch was at Spoon Restaurant for the buffet. It was quite impressive with a huge selection

I had a salad with some fresh vegetables and couscous.

I went back to the pool to read and then we all watched a beautiful wedding on the beach before I headed to my room for some rest.

After my nap, I checked out a favorite spot of mine available at all AMResorts, the Coco Café. I indulged in a mocha and a freshly baked peanut butter cookie while I checked some email.

I headed back to my room and saw how quiet the pool in front was so I stopped for some laps, knowing there would be more cookies to come.

I dressed for dinner at Silk Road, the Asian restaurant.  We arrived on time, but the reservations were a bit backed up and dinner didn’t quite go the way it was expected.

I reminded myself that this resort was still fairly new and going through growing pains, and pointed out the issues to management.

After dinner, I went down to the main stage and listened to the band for a while before the show. It didn’t take more than one cocktail to remind me how tired I was and I headed back to my room. I was more than content after a totally relaxing day at Breathless.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

From Zoetry to Breathless in Punta Cana

My daughter Sam and I woke up to the warm sunshine of the Dominican Republic at Zoetry Aqua Punta Cana.

We were told that a special breakfast was being planned for us, but we certainly didn’t dream of what it was.

Our waiter appeared and set up an amazing array of food for us, along with champagne, fruit, coffee, and juice.

I had just finished Pilates and Sam was still in the Jacuzzi while he set up. She was amazed when she came out to the balcony and saw the spread. We had a long, leisurely, delicious breakfast, consuming breads, croissants, eggs, Dominican Sausage, and potatoes.

After breakfast, we met with Yarenis Nunez, Executive Assistant to the General Manager, and toured the property.

Despite the fact that they were at full capacity, the place was quiet and the guests had plenty of room to spread out.

We talked about weddings on the property for a destination wedding series I’m working on and saw the beautiful marble gazebo they use for ceremonies, which has a window that looks out to the beach.

Sam and I had some time to chill at one of the pools before bidding farewell to the resort.  It was hard to leave the tranquility of Zoetry Punta Cana. I definitely need to plan a longer visit at one of these properties someday.

Our ride came to take us to our next stop, Breathless. This was a new concept of adult all-inclusives by AMResorts for more active adults who didn’t want to sacrifice luxury.

Sam’s boyfriend, Matt, was flying in and meeting us there to join us for the balance of the trip.

When we arrived we were brought right into the lounge of the Exhale Club at Breathless. In addition to the many amenities offered by this resort (including free phone calls to the U.S. and Canada), the Exhale Club guests had even more.

There was an additional lounge with food and drinks all day long at Exhale. There was also a pool just for guests of those rooms that was right off the beach and always had waitresses available to bring you food and drinks, and the mini-bars in the room were stocked with more amenities.

Our room wasn’t quite ready yet so when Matt arrived our VIP Host, Steve, took us to lunch was at the Strip Grill. Matt and I had the burgers and Sam enjoyed the Tuna Tartare Strip.  We finished at about the same time Steve came to take us back to the lounge.

Our rooms were next door from each other and just steps from the beach, which we could see from the lounge chairs on our ground floor patios.

The rooms were quite spacious and each had a separate living room area, where bottles of champagne awaited us. My only complaint was that the rooms were near the entrance where the housekeeping and landscaping staff would come in so it was a bit noisy at times. (We were offered a change of rooms, but really liked the beach view of these.)

We made plans to meet for dinner and I didn’t take long to put on my bathing suit and head out. I started my beach time with a Blue Hawaiian. I enjoyed it on my lounge after a walk along the equally blue water. The beach at Breathless is one of the best I've seen in Punta Cana.

We decided to have dinner at Spumante, the Italian restaurant. To be honest, it wasn’t a good choice. When you go to a new resort there are always growing pains and there were a lot in this restaurant, from the organization, to the service, to the food.

I did speak to management about the problems at Spumante and was told that they were not only aware of them, but changes were already in the works.

It had been a long day and we skipped dessert at the restaurant and went straight to our rooms.  We would have four days to explore the day and nightlife of Breathless Punta Cana and were ready to get a good night’s sleep and get started. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Heavenly Day at Zoetry Punta Cana

It had been a few years since I’d been to Punta Cana. I was excited about returning to the beautiful beaches in this area of the Dominican Republic. I was looking forward to taking my daughter and her boyfriend to check out AMResorts new property, Breathless, but first we got to experience a two day girls only getaway at the perfect spot – Zoetry Agua Punta Cana.

I had spent the day at Zoetry Paraiso Riviera Maya and could not wait until I had the opportunity to return to one of these resorts. I felt it would be the perfect way to do a little mother-daughter relaxing before we headed to a more party-oriented resort.

Sam and I met at Punta Cana airport since we had flown in from separate parts of the country. It took us a little while to get through the customs line and get our luggage, but then we were whisked off by our private driver to the 45 minute drive to Zoetry Agua.

To say Zoetry is a luxury property is an understatement. It’s about “Endless Privileges,” and, with only 96 suites spread out on a large property, there was plenty of room for everyone to spread out, and plenty of staff to tend to every need.

We were greeted by nearly the entire staff and immediately handed a pineapple-filled cocktail.  Our well-stocked room -- which included a bottle of Moet Champagne and a large fruit platter -- was on the second floor with a large balcony.  We were told to call for our butler after we had changed into our bathing suits and he would escort us to lunch.

I knew any meal here would be special, but I had no idea that the Zoetry staff had prepared a private lunch on the beach for us. We ordered Mojitos and toasted to the turquoise sea while plates of food continued to appear before us, and wine was poured with each course.

Everything looked as good as it tasted and we were completely stuffed by the time we leisurely got off our chairs.

We had eaten chips and guacamole, a Caprese Salad, Ham and Cheese Croquettes, and steak, finishing with a delicious fresh fruit dessert.

We walked off some of the lunch with a stroll along the beach before heading to the spa. We went through the wet circuit, which include various showers and jets to improve circulation, and then hit the steam room and sauna.

We finished in the hydrotherapy pool before we were taken into the couples treatment room for massages.

The combination of a quiet resort, a private lunch, and two hours in the spa was enough to bring us both into total relaxation mode. We continued with a dip in the infinity pool before heading back to the room.

When we returned to the room there was a beautiful display of chocolate with cherries and strawberries that (almost) looked too good to eat.  We waited a bit as we had a special dinner planned at Zoetry's Piragua Restaurant.

The dinner was quite spectacular. We started with a Mushroom Ravioli that was more like cannelloni, with a thin pasta. It was filled with cheese and topped with tomato relish and foie-gras.

Sam had the Seafood Linguine, which was mostly shrimp, a favorite of hers. My main course was a Duck Risotto, with perfectly tender and crispy duck in a tasty sauce.

The dessert was incredible: pistachio ice cream and coconut cream poured into a chocolate cup laced with ganache on the bottom.

We sipped champagne throughout the meal and took our glasses with us to the lobby. We listened to the music for a bit and both decided we were too tired after our early morning flights to stay up for the Flamenco show so we walked back to our suite.

Our room had been transformed while we were gone with the curtains tied and the beds turned down. We were more than ready to head to sleep, dreaming of many more Punta Cana days to come. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Behind the Scenes at Ballpark Village & Busch Stadium in St. Louis

While I was in St. Louis with Mom, we drove by the new Ballpark Village across from Busch Stadium. It looked like a place I needed to explore and I made arrangements for a trip back before I had even left.

It was very easy for me to decide when to make my visit to Ballpark Village and Busch Stadium. As a lifelong New York Mets fan,

I picked a date when the Mets would be playing St. Louis. To make it even more interesting, I brought along my friend Amy – a Cardinals fan.

We were running a little late so we quickly checked into the Drury Inn & Suites Convention Center and grabbed a cab to Busch Stadium. It was close to 100 degrees and the temperature was climbing so we were happy for an excuse not to walk.

Our private tour of the Stadium began at the Third Base entrance we learned about the old and the new, the history of the original stadium and Anheuser Busch, as well as the construction of this new venue that opened in 2006.

We loved being able to get into the stadium before the game. We were able to watch some of the players warm up and even climb into the Cardinals dugout.

Amy and I also toured all the suites in Busch Stadium, each of which offers different amenities. It was certainly a day when the air conditioning would be appreciated by anyone who had suite access.

Before we left we even were able to go up to the Broadcast Booth to get a good look at how the announcers see the game.

We headed across the street and had a snack and drinks at the Budweiser Brew House before we met Andrew Hagene, Director of Marketing and Entertainment.

Andrew took us for a tour of Ballpark Village and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum. Since it was just hours before a home game, the place was buzzing with excitement.

Fox Midwest Live is the center of Ballpark Village, where everyone gathers to watch the giant sports screen, while enjoying food and drink. It has a 100 foot retractable glass roof so it is available all year long beyond the baseball season. (The venue has already had a number of live performances.)

We were thankful for the roof on this blistering day.

We went upstairs and saw some of the other options at this entertainment complex: PBR, which has a mechanical bull; Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar; Tengo Sed, a Mexican restaurant with live entertainment; and the Skybox.

Next, we took a tour of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that the Cardinals are not my team, I really enjoyed their museum. It’s actually a good history of baseball – and beer.

You can watch the game right across the street at the Cardinals Nation AT&T Rooftop or Budweiser Brew House rooftop. I was amazed at how close the field seemed and look forward to trying the experience someday, but we headed back to the stadium to watch the game.

A pedestrian walkway between the Village and the Stadium is constantly filled with fans during the games, but it didn’t take us long to walk through and find our seats.

Our seats had access to the Redbird Club, which offered lots of food and drinks for sale. We were also thankful for the opportunity to step inside to watch the game in the air conditioning whenever we wanted.

The view from the ballpark in St. Louis is one that can’t be missed. You can see the Gateway Arch and a huge Budweiser sign that certainly means more in this city than anywhere else in the world.

Although I have not had much time to follow the Mets this year, my loyalty is still there and I was close enough to recognize David Wright, whose number my daughter has been wearing for years.

Obviously, the bars are built for beer lovers here. While Amy enjoyed the brews, I tested out the wine and a Mud Slide, both of which I felt weren’t worth the price. I would suggest non-beer drinkers go straight for the mixed drinks and leave the cocktail concoctions for another place.

The food selection at Busch Stadium is enough to please anyone, from game day favorites such as hot dogs and soft pretzels, to barbecue, Polish Sausage, Mexican, and turkey legs.

Before we left, I couldn’t resist what one fan told me was “the best bargain at the ballpark,” a frozen custard cone to cool me off before I faced the heat.  It was also my ode to defeat as the Mets had fallen to the Cardinals, much to the pleasure of the local crowd.

We finished the night at Howl at the Moon in Ballpark Village. The music was not only good, it was a lot of fun as the audience got to choose the songs played. Everyone was singing along

I would definitely return there for the entertainment as well as the cocktails, which were as simple as the 100 calorie Skinny Tea (Firefly Skinny Tea Vodka and Peach Schnapps), and as interesting as Disco Lemonade (Bacardi Wolf Berry Rum, SKYY Vodka Wild Strawberry, Blue Curacao, Sour Mix, and lemon-lime soda).

After breakfast at the Drury Inn, we headed back to Champaign, already planning next year’s St. Louis trip for a Mets vs. Cardinals game – which, of course, the Mets are going to win.